Paries Pictus


of an Exhibition

by Sara Nowak

Published on April 08, 2013

  • Description:

    As children most of us probably have fond memories of drawing with crayons. Some of us may even have been so bold as to decorating a wall in our home likely much to the chagrin of a parent. Imagine then, if you were a child given permission to not only color on a wall, but a fancy gallery wall, with a gigantic crayon.

    That is exactly the opportunity that South-African born Robin Rhodes gave to a group of students from PS 63 in the South Bronx. Partnering with the New York City-based organization Time In, about 50 students between the ages of six and eight were invited to complete Rhodes exhibit at Lehmann Maupin on Chrystie Street.

    For Rhodes, the chance to involve children, specifically those in an arts deprived school, was a major priority. In an interview with Blouin Art Info, the artist stated his desire to involve kids who didn’t already have art opportunities. Not only was he providing a chance for these kids to be active in making art, but he was also inviting them into a world not always that welcoming to children or different economic demographics – the gallery world. Paries Pictus brought children to the gallery, and the results of their trip carried the following gallery-goers of this show back into the world of the child. A visitor to this show would be confronted with work displayed at a lower than comfortable height for adult viewing. This too was intentional, not only of course in terms of access for the young artists, but also in giving the adult viewers a glimpse back to a perhaps long-forgotten perspective of youth.

    Arguably this exhibit was not only an “intervention” in the sense of acknowledging and remedying the art void in the lives of these children, but also the potential disconnect to childhood in the adult viewers. This exhibit served to reinforce the joys of play in childhood – the necessity of play for learning and discovery, while reminding adults of how satisfying and fruitful that experimentation could be – and therefore hopefully, how vital it is to support art education for all.

    My only qualm with this exhibit, which I begrudgingly admit because I so loved this entire concept and think more exhibits should strive toward community involvement and breaking social divides, was that the children didn’t have more creative freedom. It goes against my progressive beliefs that the kids were made to color in pre-existing outlines, such as with the ever-popular coloring book. Though as evidenced in photos the children certainly did not seem bothered by this and seemed to very much enjoy working in pairs to manipulate the oversized crayons. That necessary partnership was a brilliant touch, as was giving the children oversized tools, which has the potential to aid in the development of confidence. A small child who successfully utilizes something so big cannot help but feel powerful!

    And what a wonderful chance to do something silly. All too often today children are expected to be focused on their academics, in a misguided effort to prepare them for success in their future, when in reality, more time dedicated to play is the best preparation. In that regard, in addition to the chance to draw on walls, with absurd materials, the chance to interact with something other than a screen, was probably quite a novel and rich experience for these young children. Using their bodies to create rather than just a few fingers to manipulate a game on a screen.

    I think the access so steeped in this show was what I found most exciting, and relatable to my personal missions in education and art in particular. Rhodes effectively broke down the walls to this gallery, opening it to a different population, and let them manipulate it’s interior. He made them feel welcome in a new world. What a beautiful, subtle statement on inclusion and combating the quiet injustices of daily life.

    Paries Pictus was first enacted at the Castello di Rivoli in Turin, Italy, in 2011.

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