A new exhibition at Indigo Sky Gallery focuses on the relationships between mentors and protégées. Lisa Solod takes a look.
Great artists force us to see the things we miss as we go about our day-to-day—directing our gaze toward the people and things we most often look past. A new collaborative exhibition on display now at Indigo Sky Gallery, 915 Waters St., trains our attention on the deeply personal relationships that have evolved between Savannah’s developmentally disabled community and the citizen advocates who provide support to them.
Eye to Eye: The Making of We was the brainchild of Tom Kohler, executive director and coordinator of Chatham-Savannah Citizen Advocacy, and New York artist/social change activist Beth Mount, who held a storytelling event at the Jepson Center for the Arts in September. They saw working with Jerome Meadows and other local artists as another way to strengthen the idea of what Dr. Martin Luther King called the “Beloved Community” and as a companion to Mount’s Story Quilts exhibit, which closed on Oct. 14, and Seeing Savannah: Lyn Bonham’s View of Citizen’s Advocacy and I Am the Beloved Community: Story Quilts of Our Savannah—both of which run through December 16 at the Jepson.
To view Beth Mount’s video on the art of social change, CLICK HERE >>
Tom chose five recent advocate/protégé pairings from the more than 120 pairings facilitated by his organization. The protégés are all developmentally disabled people, who are sometimes invisible in our community, and Kohler, through the art project, wanted to tell their stories—stories that had never been told.
Jerome, in turn, “chose artists who could adapt their art to this kind of project, who could create an intimate narrative with the advocates and their protégées.” Christine Sajecki, Suzanne Jackson, Jerry Harris and Veronica Cabrera joined Meadows in the collaboration.
The result: works of art that reveal stories at once beautiful, touching, humorous and powerful.
Meadows created several multimedia works around the relationship between advocate Blake Ellis and protégé Ricardo Pinckney, incorporating the things that are important in the men’s friendship: maps, wigs and earning enough money to finance Ricardo’s interest in maps and wigs.
Indeed, much of Blake and Ricardo’s time is spent in the car on road trips to and fromJacksonville, Mapco and Acme Costumes in Garden City.
Blake has served as Ricardo’s mentor for close to three years. He says that knowing Ricardo, a severely autistic young man, has “put my life in perspective.” He adds that he was looking for some kind of volunteer work to do but had no idea that his relationship with Ricardo would add so much to both of their lives.
“Ricardo is someone I doubt I would have met in my life,” says Blake, “and I doubt Ricardo would have come to my wedding two years ago in other circumstances. And sure, it can be a frustrating relationship at times. But the art project made me realize that we all need to expand our ideas of community and that both Ricardo and I have gained from our pairing.”
On the face of it, there is the practical nature of who they are and the things they do together, writes Jerome in his artist’s statement, yet on a much more intrinsic level there is what lies at the core of the Eye to Eye project—how two individuals become co-joined over time in the evolving process of The Making of We.
Meadows also produced collages on the other four advocate/protégé relationships, a wood and mixed-media sculpture about the program and an astonishing wig-map, which is just what it sounds like—a wig made of maps.
Christine Sajecki, who works in encaustics, was paired with advocate Janet Stone and protégé Judy Herbster. It was clear from talking to her that the experience affected her profoundly. She marvels on the changes Judy has made in the years she has been paired with Stone—growing from a shy woman to one who seems confident and outgoing. Christine spent many hours with the women, going to lunch, attending birthday parties and just talking. Her narrative portraits of each of the women use things from their lives. In Judy’s case: coupons.
“I was told to observe them and make the work about observing them,” says Christine, “But with Judy’s thoughtful and constant attention, I did not feel like an observer but a full participant in the relationship.
She adds, “Both of their paintings are about generosity: Janet through her attention and guidance and the space she makes for people, and Judy through her attention, affection and gifts.”
Suzanne Jackson used painting and collage with advocate Chris Middleton and protégé Ronald Brown; Jerry Harris (photography) with advocate Chuck Jones and Jafari Grant; and Veronica Cabrera (sculpture, mixed-media) with advocate Tina Schreiber and protégé Elisa Brown.
Jerome, a New Yorker who moved to Savannah from Washington, D.C.when he was asked to do a large public art piece for the city, opened his studio, Meadowlark, in 1997 and founded Indigo Sky Gallery in 2004. He emphasizes that Eye to Eye is an “unprecedented collaboration,” and that he and Tom are working with Beth Mount to take the exhibition traveling nationally.
Eye to Eye: The Making of We runs through October 28. The gallery will host a discussion with the artists from 3 to 5 p.m. on the final day of the exhibition. Indigo Sky Gallery is open Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m, or by appointment by calling 912-233-7659.