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Local artists celebrate ‘Month of Peace’

Exploring interpretations of peace, exhibit showcases community art from varied perspectives

Walking through the Peace Art Exhibit is a Twilight Zone-esque venture.

At first, it is easy to stare with academic detachment at the results of this experiment, which gave blank wall space to various members of the Providence community and asked them to represent on it the abstract idea of peace. Viewers are not spectators of this communal exercise but participants in it, becoming an integral part of the brush strokes and marker trajectories.

The exhibit is part of Rhode Island’s officially sanctioned Month of Peace, a month-long extension of the United Nations’ International Day of Peace Sept. 21.

The Month of Peace, whose activities also include music festivals and a walk across the state, sowed its seeds in 2004 when Ginny Fox sat in a doctor’s office near the end of a successful battle with cancer. Looking for spiritual rejuvenation after her long treatments, Fox noticed a Tibetan prayer flag on the wall — an adornment used “to send out good wishes to the world,” she said. She formed the Peace Flag Project, a nonprofit devoted to promoting positivity and well-being, as an embodiment of that compassion and created the Month of Peace in 2010. The goal was to connect the personal concept of inner peace with the overwhelming abstraction of world peace, reflecting on the “in-between where we live with one another,” Fox said.

The nine students from Nathanael Greene Middle School whose posters hang in the art exhibit represented that in-between with globes, peace signs, hearts and doves. But these traditional symbols of peace are interrupted on paper by newer emblems of the world these children grew up in, such as machine guns, nuclear weapons and the burning Twin Towers.

Adjacent to the amateur posters is the painting “Paloma Triptych,” by local artist Chiara Romano Van Erp. She portrays a beautiful infusion of landscapes — flowers, a lake, a meadow, a forest and a mountain all existing in one natural yet artificial plane. Superimposed is a dove, olive branch in mouth. Though the depiction of nature is painstakingly realistic — down to the hiker on the mountain — the dove’s cartoonishly broad strokes render it somewhat out of place in an environment that should make up its home.

Two ebony pencil sketches by Simone Spruce-Torres feature a black man peacefully praying. These images strike a resonant chord against the cultural discussion following Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, Missouri, about the media’s portrayal of black youth.

But the section that ties everything together, “Voices Unfold,” was created by clients of Sojourner House, which provides an art class as part of the healing process for women who have survived domestic abuse. Each woman created a unified paper quilt out of individual squares, representing various parts of their lives, the sort of intensely personal storytelling that is impossible to relate in quips without ruining the storyteller’s autonomy over the narrative. Simultaneously inspiring and uncomfortably powerful, it allows the exhibit to come full circle, from the idealism of adolesence to the deeper capacities that come with the experience of adulthood.

Though McKenna used her knowledge of Rhode Island’s art scene to locate local artists whose themes would be compatible with the Month of Peace, the “art exhibit isn’t just for artists who have a name for themselves. If people feel like it expresses peace in a positive way, we’ll consider it,” she said. “The women (of Sojourner House) are working through what’s happened to them through booklets, and that they have that to look back on is powerful. It shows transition.”

The Peace Art Exhibit is held at the First Unitarian Church of Providence until the end of September.


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