The Role of Artists When Peace and Justice Are Scarce

The artist behind the graphic design of the images for the Novena for Peace and Justice is Angelo Alcasabas, a parishioner of the Chruch of St. Francis of Assisi.  His genenrosity to share his talents made a huge impact on capturing visual attention of the participants of the Novena. He now describes his creative process while he engaged with social justice issues in the context of prayer and reflection throughout the Novena project.

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Senior Art Director Angleo Alcasabas

QWhat is your work and profession? How long have you been a graphic artist and any background you can share to help readers appreciate your artistic talent?

AA: I am a Senior Art Director and designer at a creative marketing agency that’s unique for creating content and strategies that target and empower the LGBT community. I’ve been creative ever since I was child, always inclined to take my thoughts and make them real somehow. My interests range from fine arts to digital media, and even music. So when I have an idea, I think in those forms.

Q: How did you come up with the concept for your graphic designs for this project and how did you decide on the elements and color schemes?

AA: The concepts for each illustration were inspired by what I read in each essay or statement. I read them a few times to see what phrases and thoughts arose to the surface and provided me a direction to take the illustration. I also took into account my reaction to the subject. In doing so, I created a visual that not only supports the article, but articulates my personal view on my the issue. The colors derive from “American” colors but adapted to be more eye catching. The style is very graphic in order to be simple and clear, but retains the natural shapes to be tangible and recognizable.

Q: What thoughts, feelings and ideas came to you while you were crafting each graphic representation for each novena day of prayer? How were they helpful or not helpful in the process?

AA:  One question I had for myself is what will I do to forward these issues beyond just crafting these illustrations. For my creative process, I had to read the essays too, and in doing so, I am participating and therefore called to do something. I am still asking myself that, and I am sure many people reading these will encounter the same challenge. I am glad that I can use my gifts of design and art to help causes, but I personally feel that I need do more beyond the computer or the pencil.

Q: Of all the pieces you created which one is your favorite? You can include the ones that weren’t published.

AA: I like them all for various reasons, but the one that got me thinking a lot is the racial justice one. I feel it is a good marriage between symbols (blind justice and the cross) and illustrates the essence of God’s love which is blind to our differences. In addition, the cross seems to personify Jesus with his arms holding us equally. This concept came quickly into my head, but I didn’t realize it’s full depth until I finished.

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Graphics for Day 6 of the Novena: Racial Justice

Q: What do you think is the role of art in pursuing social justice and how do you think artists ought to respond to this new era of legitimized and normalized exclusion?

AA: The artist, through his or her lens, translates what he or she sees in the world. Some artists choose to keep their thoughts to themselves, but in today’s climate, there is greater need for the artist to be thought leaders and to help others to see things they may not otherwise notice or care about. Art is a visual articulation of a reaction, a feeling, and an idea, or even 50 ideas. In terms of social justice, it’s role is to carry and communicate those thoughts to create solidarity and bring awareness to issues. The artist therefore is messenger and a champion of ideas. If we recall the image that illustrator Jean Jullien made after the Paris shootings (a combo of the peace symbol and the Eiffel Tower), it was shared like wild fire and we saw quickly how many people were unified in support of Paris during that time. In addition, the reason why quote images do so well on Facebook through shares and likes is because people feel it echoes what they have in their head or what they already said to others. Art therefore can validate and support people. In the end, art and the artist have the power to make the world a better place.

Q: How does your faith impact your art and how does art impact your faith?    

AA: My faith impacts my art through the process of creating the art. Sometimes, I start something and I have no idea what or where the answer is. Faith comes in when I trust that in the end, I will find the answer. In one way or another, I do find a solution, sometimes when I least expect it. The power of art, like music, is something magical. It reminds me that God is present and works through the things we create. Our work is an extension of us, so if we are “channels” of God’s love and peace, therefore our work functions the same way.

Q: What are your take-aways from this project?

AA: Use your gifts or what you are good at to speak up and take action. We are all powerful, and if we trust in God, anything is possible.

Meanwhile, apart from his job, Angelo continues to seek and welcome opportunities throughwhich he will be able to reach out those who have not realized their empowered state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cultural Equity

Access to art especially among minorities and people of color is not just about the ability to appreciate art through free museum passes and free public art spaces, although they are essential. Access also entails dismantling obstacles that hinder artists from the margins to represent their underrepresented and sometimes misappropriated culture. Beyond skill, style and method, art as voice and narrative is an inalienable right of expression particularly for artists from the margins to tell their stories and assert their identity.

By realigning resources to help disenfranchised artists reclaim their culture and art, society is able to welcome cultural creators and contributors rather than groom individuals who must wait in que for their turn to have their culture validated. When this level of social justice happens on the structural level of artistic expression, it translates to cultural equity.

A crucial resource for many disenfranchised artists is space to showcase their work. Why? Many of these artists will never have the financial leverage to compete for prominent exhibit spaces in the metropolis. According to Michael Styles Verruto of Eden Gate Equity, usually developers build cultural centers for these groups of artists they are trying to help. Once the infrastructure is completed, these artists are the very first ones to be excluded because of the exorbitant rent they have to pay for these spaces.

Since 1983, through the founding leadership of Ellen Baxter, Broadway Housing Communities (BHC) in Harlem has disrupted this system by offering artists from the margins rent-free gallery spaces. BHC owns three separate galleries and the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum.   These spaces have become highly accessible oases of culture where empowered artists shape the cultural landscape of a marginal section of New York City. This community-based solution addresses a real need where everyone is drawn into mutual participation.

Ofelia Rodriguez, community organizer and one of the institutions of BHC, describes how she felt strongly about bringing art into the early spaces of BHC, “Because many of our tenants with mental illness did not want to get out of the building, I thought of bringing the community outside into the building through the arts.” For more than three decades BHC has sustained this structure to mutually benefit the artists and BHC tenants in a manner where uplifting human dignity is a priority.

A recent exhibit by Dominican artist Carmen C. Cordero – “Diaspora of the Mass”, portrays her lived experience of the diaspora that happened in Haiti shortly after the earthquake in 2010. Carmen witnessed the multitudes of Haitians who fled to neighboring islands while escaping the ravage of the earthquake. Her exhibit depicts her imagery and experience of human struggle in crisis. More so, it is a viewpoint whose narrative is uniquiely Dominican.

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Diaspora de un Cardumen by Carmen Cordero in Rio III Gallery

 

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Carmen C. Cordero with her obra at the Rio III Gallery

Performance arts is another important exhibit especially by residents of the Harlem community of artists. Jazz player Marjorie Eliot known for her Sunday free Jazz concerts in her home graced the Rio III Gallery with her genius, “In the Quiet Night-Time of My Sleepless Dreams”.  Her calibre is an example of art that shapes and contributes to the artistic landscape of New York and the world of Jazz by embodying Harlem through her musical genius.  Her Sunday free concerts is the brand of social equity that also pervades the cultural sense common among Harlem artists.

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Written and directed by Marjorie Eliot, September 2016

It is this kind of cultural conscisounsess in which art, from a cross-section of diverse artists constructs sustainable life sources in a community.  The expected outcome of cultural equity is not only free expression of culture but the establishment of cultural identities as invaluable resources in a wider transformation of a community.  Whether it be a correlation or causality, when cultural transformation is within sight, people empowerment is not far off.

 

 

The Eighth Work of Mercy — Care for Creation will be defined by creative initiatives that take the level of design beyond the box and into an appreciation for ecology within the creative process of restoration.

Bernadette Sarouli had worked in a packaging  firm in the San Francisco area until June 2015. Her office window used to face the back of her building where she saw deliveries and garbage pick-ups day in day out. It dawned on her how many oil containers, cartons and slats came in and out of their food service provider’s kitchen. Her curiosity consumed her so that as early as 2012, she had already started her research and development on a design whose goal was to totally eliminate waste.  She discovered that those oil plastic containers were unrecyclable and ended up in landfills due to their exposure to air contaminants. Worse still, billions of these oil containers and packaging wastes occupy volumes in landfills apart from the water bottles that form islands in our oceans. “I thought about this huge problem but I remembered how David defeated Goliath. In my mind I believed I could do something about the problem.”  Hence defines the start of Bernadette’s creative process.

Armed with her patented stainless steel fustis, Bernadette quit her job after three years of research and development. Still in the San Francisco area, she and her husband Lane Landry, placed betas for their company, Eco Refill Systems, LLC.  Somewhere in the process they discovered something more signficant in the cooking oil distirbution system.

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Author, Br. Ramon Razon with CEO and innovator, Bernadette Sarouli and her husband and Industrial Officer, Lane Landry

The problem was not only about the plastic oil jugs but all the packaging it included that inhibited these items from being recycled once they were exposed to air contaminants and residual oil. The food service industry would never spend more than they have to just sanitizing these units and packaging. As a result, they moved to integrate delivery and distribution into their business so that food service providers who place their orders would only have to turn the spout of the stainless steel fustis and let oil drip unto the cooking pan. This ushered the inception of the closed oil distribution system which meant total convenience to service food providers for the same cost but minus the hassle and waste when using plastic oil jugs.

The company’s goal is to eliminate all packaging wastes in the delivery of cooking oil to food service centers in the San Francisco area by providing a

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Bernadette’s patented design of a stainless steel oil fustis

closed oil distribution system. Whereas the open oil distribution system exposes oil and its containers to air contaminants, the closed system guarantees that delivery is done directly from bulk storage to kitchen users. This system radically eliminates any use for packaging. Eco Refill Systems delivers and replaces empty oil fustis as often as any food service provider needs to. Bernadette went to Twitter San Francisco and presented her service to their cafeteria. She had not have the chance to  finish her spiel yet when Twitter director concluded, “This is a no brainer. We’re on board with this.”

Currently their business is confined to the San Francisco area and is growing steadily. As it is, they are able to eliminate 14,383 plastic gallon containers annually from being abandoned to landfills. This does not count the plastic lids and labels, the contaminated carton packaging and residual oil that are eliminated altogether. Their business has no competition and they have still a long way to go in engaging the food service industry to consider their company’s impact on the industry’s green practices. However, Bernadette and Lane are genuinely passionate about their quest to take down a Goliath in a systemic environmental degradation through their closed oil distribution system.

Eco Refill Systems’ goals are to refill, re-use and restore. Of these is a striking statement that comes from restore: “Our vision captures the ideal of food waste returning to the farmers whose hands and backs nurtures the earth.

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Refilled stainless oil fustis ready for delivery; completing a 100% zero waste  distoribution cycle

This is the cycle that completes our mission and lends California our sustainability philosophy.” This embodies the integral ecology (Laudato Si , #137) which Pope Francis exhorts us to realize – to integrate care for creation in our concrete locations in society and within our relationships. The redemptive value of integral ecology hinges upon our compassion to direct and fashion our ablity to design and create solutions that bind the wounds of the Earth and of our relationships to one another. Bernadette and Lane started their company not only with the needs of the planet in mind but also of the people living in this planet. They have their hearts burning with urgency behind the Eighth Work of Mercy.

 

 

 

 

Art by Design; Green by Nature

The Artists of St. Francis Residences: Raul de la Torre

         Being in St. Francis is in and of itself a huge life source for Raul de la Tore, a resident artist in St. Francis Residence 3. He is encouraged when patrons buy his paintings and other art pieces because it satisfies him to see his patrons “like what they see”. This is very important for an artist like Raul.

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Grasshopper; Lineoleum Print (2014)

Art means empowerment for Raul. In 1984 he received treatment in VA Hospital, being once a military personnel himself. In 2004, Raul joined the community of St. Francis Residence 3. Without any background in art, he immediately engaged with different media such as color pencils, acrylic paint, linoleum and ink print upon joining his new community.

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Resurrection; Linoleum Print (2014)

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No Title; Linoleum Print (2014)

Raul asserts, “I feel good. When I do art, I feel that I’m not going to get sick again. I feel busy and productive.” Overtime, he developed and found his style in the varied media he has explored.

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No Title; Oil on Canvas (2015)

         Sketching and color pencils are more appealing to Raul because to him “they are not messy.” He finds dot line drawing entertaining. At the same time he prefers abstract composition because for him his art “doesn’t need to be realistic”. He finds inspiration from magazines, art books and catalogues. From them, he creates his own synthesis of his art.

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Raul with his artwork

The Artists of St. Francis Residences: Judy Ruttinger

“I wanted to be an artist since I was a child.” This is how Judy Rutinger describes her passion as an artist. Judy once worked for twelve years as a commercial artist for W.T. Grant Company Chain Store. Apart from her two courses in visual arts she is basically a self-taught artist. She once attempted to go to art school but she could not afford it. She found a clerical job at W.T. Grant until an opportunity opened for her to create line-pen-and ink drawings for employee training books.

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Judy with her dytpch, completed towards the end of December, 2015.

Her art appears to be influenced by her engagement with photo or hyper-realism, “I really wanted to be an illustrator like Norman Rockwell.” Judy’s media involve colored pencils, water colors, and pen and ink. She used to use oil paints but she found mixing colors exhausting.

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Judy has an exquisite talent in painitng floral pieces with water color.

Finally, around 1980 Judy fell ill and could no longer hold her job. She is now in her 17th year in St. Francis Residence III. However, it is clear that her illness was not able to take away her lifeline – art. “I find personal pleasure and a sense of achievement when I do art. I am always working.”

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A gift offered to Br. Ramon by Judy.  A resurrection piece, very different in style with more stress on pen and ink.

Her satisfaction does not end there because she continues to explore other techniques to make her art fuller and more meaningful for her and hopefully to her audience.

 

The Art of DeMoss: Angels and Their Pizzazz

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is a fascinating sacred space packed with symbolic art work that inspire worship and prayer. The tapestries are of course world-renowned. However, a very subtle but striking showcase are the candelabras that are buttressed on the walls of the nave.  Taking a closer look, I felt hooked into deciphering the type of personalities these angels represent.

Max DeMoss drew his inspiration from actual interviews with people who identified angels in their lives in the form of their friend, neighbor, and family.

Angel Candelabra by Max DeMoss, LA Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

Angel Candelabra by Max DeMoss, LA Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels; photo by Ramon Razon, OFM

It is impossible not to feel welcomed by this angel with his/her head tilted along with his/her body; right arm extending and left arm about to reach out with an open palm.  The angel is snub-nosed, has eyes that are almond-shaped, and has high cheek bones connoting Asian features. The  delight and warmth in the angel’s smile seem to break a long wait for a friend’s arrival. Notice the folds of the angel’s robe while lifting his/her knees to communicate excitement. Were the angel able to leave what seems to be his/her wings in the candelabra just to come forward and welcome, it would.

Angel Candelabra by Max DeMoss, LA Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

Angel Candelabra by Max DeMoss, LA Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels; photo by Ramon Razon, OFM

I had to second guess what emotion this angel is trying to convey. The angel’s bronze clothing provides an effective material to communicate precise body motion. Probably male, this angel seems to stand still, with his jaw dropping as if shocked to find someone unexpectedly in an unusual circumstance. Yet, one hand is out-stretched, the other holding his halo/crown of light. Concern and surprise seem to capture what this angel depicts but certainly he is planning his next step on how to approach the viewer. This angel, like the previous one is outward-bound, ready to approach the viewer’s vantage.

Angel Candelabra by Max DeMoss, LA Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

Angel Candelabra by Max DeMoss, LA Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels; photo by Ramon Razon, OFM

With outstretched arms, this angel’s body is not just floating but ascending. This angel seem to express a desire of taking the viewer unto a place where his/her gaze is fixed. A serene, calm, and joyful face with Latino-African-American features, this angel evokes an unmitigated satisfaction of someone who understands his/her mission and is ready to take anyone up with him/her.

There are nine more candelabras in the nave.  To have these candelabras buttressed at the same place where the people of God are gathered and seated in order to worship is a significant message on the role of angels. Max DeMoss, conceptualized these angels through the lens of how people understood the role of other human beings in their lives as angelic. So yes, these angels are speaking to anyone in human terms.  Terms that are easy to understand, such as welcome, concern, open, joyful, calm, shocked, excitement — all real aspects of ourselves that help us to be less false and truer to who we are. I am convinced that the role of angels is exactly to help us realize our true selves in whatever journey we are in.  Surrounded by these angels in the nave of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the people of God are being supported and challenged to be who they really are before God in the Sacraments. This is the light which angels share with everyone.

Progress, Perspective (Week 2)

Last week started my fist on-call 24 hour duty at the hospital.  It is an interesting experience to be around with patients especially those needing critical care and attention.  Anyway, for my first on-call duty I created a back log of consults for the next chaplain who succeeded my shift and so I was flustered and a bit disappointed with myself.  I interpreted the instructions quite differently from the actual protocol and I did brood and thought about how else I could have challenged my comfort level on the procedures. I carried this frustration until I got back home.

Needing to get a a good transition, I went to my studio and continued working on my tapestry.  Progress is slow but progress none the less.

So, I cut the filling material using the pattern of the Good Shepherd.

IMG_5506After this, I cut the base fabric.

IMG_5510The more tedious part is where I layer the different fabrics.  This is where I think I made the emotional and mental transition from the frustration I had with myself at the hospital.  This is because I felt that I had to be mindful when I started pinning and tracing the pattern on the fabric. It demands attention and time.  I felt that my mind was shifting to another gear and leaving another space so that my presence brought me back to what I was doing.  Sometimes I hear people say that when they cook, work on a craft or carpentry project, or clean their home, they feel that they are leaving their worries behind.  I feel the same way.  In my case, my reality shifted to my artwork.  So something as concrete as my artwork could help me shift my focus mindfully.  After spending time doing my artwork I felt my mind went on a vacation on its own.

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Cutting the pieces of the pattern also helped me to focus on my vision without neglecting what I ought to do in the present moment where I had to trace and cut the fabric.  Surprisingly, it did not overwhelm me. Probably because I see the pieces and I know how those pieces have a place somewhere in the overall vision of the project.  There is a part of me that trusted this outlook.

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Layering was where I felt I engaged the most because it grounded my mind and senses to what I was really doing.  When I pinned the pattern on the fabric I felt the push of the pins into the fabric.  When I was cutting the fabric I tried to focus on the marked lines and felt the pressure of the scissors in my hand. IMG_5499

While I want to say that art is imagination, there is a part in the process where I had to leave my imagination behind and be in my own groove. This is what I felt when I was cutting the fabric and layering the pieces on top of each other.  

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At the end of my time with my tapestry project I felt I was at another place from where I began.  I still remember my frustration about my performance in the hospital but I now feel distanced from that experience that it merely remains an experience in and of itself.  Maybe this is what most people call perspective.