Art emerges from tragedy, as it should

Response: Fiber, water, even drumbeats bring solace in the aftermath of shattering events.

Terrorism Strikes America

September 17, 2001|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

In a sun-lit studio at the Maryland Institute College of Art, students sew felt, beads and prayers into amulets of hope.

In the back yard of a Waverly gallery, a Baltimore artist transforms a reflecting pool into a tribute to the impermanence of life.

At St. John's United Methodist Church in Charles Village, 70 drummers slap and beat a plea for communion with the Creator.

Across Baltimore this weekend, artists instinctively responded to the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York. They sought understanding, solace and a therapeutic kind of forgetting through their work - and in turn allowed others to find the same.

For some, it might have been too soon to absorb the horror in a meaningful, creative way. But grief and disbelief led other artists to ancient and elemental forms to pay tribute to those who died, and to say a joyful yes to the life that remains.

At first, a few of the young Institute artists hesitated to lose themselves in their work. How can it matter when rescue workers were pulling untold bodies from rubble, they asked one another and their teachers. Richard Kalter, the school's philosopher in residence, reassured students.

"The artist has something to say we may not immediately think we need," he told them. "We need it more than ever for psychic and spiritual strength."

Artists exist "to witness the feelings and aspirations" of humanity, he said. It is their role to respond to shattering events in a way that is as or more persuasive than a military or extreme religious response.

Kalter reminded the distraught students that it was they who could potentially break through the sickeningly repetitive television images of the World Trade Center towers crumbling in a heap to create a new way of seeing the world, and to find metaphors that could link all human beings.

Artists can teach others "not to be afraid of the unknown," to see it in a "kind of a divine way that frees us to get more perspective and understanding of our situation," Kalter says.

Charms against evil

Borrowing the idea from Baltimore fiber artist Sonya Clark's Beaded Prayer Project, two Maryland Institute professors supplied students with felt, beads and simple instructions for creating their own charms against evil and injury.

The nearly 20 students at work on Friday afternoon formed an instant community stitching "Pockets of Hope," each with a wish, hope or prayer sealed within.

"It is really a meditative kind of process," said fiber arts professor Annet Couwenberg, who created the continuing workshop with colleague Piper Shepard. It's a tactile, intimate way of expressing one's emotions, she said. Amulets, created as a source of healing and protection, are "found in all kinds of cultures."

Desmond Beach, a 23-year-old fiber arts major creating a richly beaded felt cocoon for his prayer, said, "You need something tangible you can hold."

Within her felt pocket, Ana Zavaljevski, who spent much of her childhood in Belgrade, placed a hope: "May sunshine unite people and radiate warmth throughout the land."

Terry Flynn, a fiber-arts student and 46-year-old mother of three, said the methodical work "makes me feel centered. It makes me feel better." On her felt amulet, Flynn has made a broken beaded chain that will appear mended by a larger beaded chain.

Maryland Institute student Ann Fortune, 19, lost her father on Pam Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie when she was 7. Now her financial guardian, a banker who worked in the World Trade Center and had become like an uncle to her, is probably dead, too.

As she fashioned her charm, Fortune thought about all the children who lost a father or mother in Tuesday's attacks: "I know what it feels like to grow up without a dad."

Reflecting pool

On Saturday morning, Baltimore artist Curt Iglhaut waded in the icy water of the backyard reflecting pool he has created for a show at the Sassafras gallery across from the Waverly Farmers' Market. He has reconfigured the peaceful pool to remember and honor those who died. He has installed a geometrical stainless steel model of a skyscraper in the pool, and he is creating dark stars out of negative space left by square mirror tiles he has carefully placed on the pool's bottom.

The outline of the tiles, arranged in groups of five, create pentagons. A half cube made of beveled mirror glass floats in the water and is made whole by its reflection. Light dances on the walls, ripples through the pool, flashes off of the etched totem, reminiscent of the World Trade Center.

Iglhaut's work is about change. Water "has no boundaries," he says. And light is "both form giver and thief." Reflecting upon his reflecting pool, a person can realize "nothing is permanent," Iglhaut says. "Life has a beginning and an end. We see that especially now."

The pool's constant metamorphosis helps one to "embrace that you can only control so much," Iglhaut says. "You have to embrace that it's not going to be stable. That makes the work live even more."

Healing rhythms

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