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Literacy in the Arts: the Museum

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A Visit to El Museo del Barrio: Voces y Visiones
by Joyce Larson

A class field trip to El Museo del Barrio inspires the students' creativity. Revisiting the metaphor and the stereotype, the group talked about how artists used their work to counter those ideas that undermine cultural understanding. The discussion began talking about how Latin Americans from different countries are not all the same, as stereotypes might lead us to believe. Each country has a culture shaped by the geography, history and the beliefs of its people. Many artists use their personal histories to inspire works of art.

Sol pointed to a canvas and asked the students to look carefully and to tell her what they saw. A large scale painting inside the museum, at first glance, reveals a jungle and two bodies holding hands. But when looked at from another perspective the other elements of the painting emerge. The students saw a pair of eyes, a nose, a mouth and the vague form of a face started to come out of the painting to them. When they started to look at the layers, they saw how it was created. In this case, they saw that the artist made use of real leaves in order to leave an impression on the canvas. In other parts, they observed that the paint was scraped away from the surface to uncover the colors under the surface.

Sol asked some questions. Where is the artist from? "The jungle." What do aboriginal cultures worship in this painting? Many students said, "sun... water... nature." How does it make you feel? One student answered, "angry, because of the colors." Another said, "scared because there is a human body and an animal face. Sol continued, "there is no right or wrong when interpreting the meaning of a piece of art. The artist may say it has one meaning, but it may have a different meaning for each person that looks at it. We don't have to identify with the artist's intention to get meaning from the work."

The students were asked to choose a piece of art in the room and to talk about it as if they were the artist. Where did they get the inspiration to make the work? The students looked at the various work and began to get ideas. The group reunited and discussed a couple of pieces. Dominican York is a flag combined from the Dominican flag and the American flag. In the center, an airplane is taking off. Joe described what that means to him, "it is two countries wanting to be the same." Other interpretations included not being here because the person is not settled, feeling like an outsider, and not being there, but wanting to be. There is a mixing of cultures and an imaginary space in between them.

Looking at Still Life: 500 Years of Colonialism, Sigfrido said that the image is like a dream. At closer examination, the students found themselves looking into the Amazon. They saw people, rivers, mountains, trees, the sky, destruction, and fighting.

The students' goal is to be creative with how they photograph their dreams. After seeing the exhibition, many had new ideas and felt inspired to get started.

They did just that, right across the street in Central Park.

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