Friday, September 1, 2006

A presentation for the TMS premiere

The following was presented at the educational forum held at the Premiere of the exhibition “Telling My Story at the Edge of Recovery: Eight African American Women’s Journey of Recovery from Homelessness in Detroit”. The premiere was hosted by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Bricktown Building, Greektown, Detroit, on June 13th, 2006. For more information on subsequent exhibitions of this traveling show, visit


Telling My Story
and the Art of Rebuilding of Our Humanity
Mara Jevera Fulmer, MA, MFA
presented June 13, 2006

With apologies to my colleagues in the arts, I offer this comment. I challenge my colleagues in the arts (and the public at large) to answer this question:

Q: What is one of the primary differences between a “fine” artist and a “commercial” artist?

A: The regularity of their paychecks.

Why does it matter?

Both “fine” and “commercial” artists may create works that purposefully communicate a message.

While commercial artists (including illustrators, photographers, and graphic designers, to name a few segments of the genre) primarily work to create a message that purposefully communicates, both commercial and fine artists may create art that serves any one of the following purposes:

To decorate…

To make us laugh…

To educate…

To make us contemplate…

To inspire…

To make us believe…

After all, what is it that we call art? What purpose may it fulfill?

Was the cave art of our ancestors a message to the next one who passes by…

“I was here?”

What purpose may it fulfill?

To make us cringe at the traumas of war?

As we contemplate the rebuilding of communities, whether it be entire cities like Detroit, or conceptual “intentional” communities such as the Detroit Sofia Community that my esteemed colleagues here are presenting here…

… I challenge artists of all sorts to put their talents to use in the support of human endeavors.

While we may fight about who and how the arts are funded, depending upon whether the art that is produced appeals or repulses us, and we may choose to believe art and artists have no business “dabbling” in political or socially charged issues, I ask you all to consider this exhibit as a challenge to these concepts.

But consider this exhibition…

“Telling My Story

at the edge of recovery…”

Has it “moved” you in any way?

Art is a collaboration…

…between the artist and the subject…

…between the artwork and the viewer…

The art in this exhibition is a collaboration on many different levels.

My role as the artist for this project has been three-fold…

First, as interpreter.

Second, as conduit.

And third, as facilitator.

As interpreter… I admit my biases. They are not easy to overcome.

We must all face up to our weaknesses.

It is these biases that we bring to our work, our choices, our everyday lives. It is the cultural lens with which we were raised… and through which we make decisions that affect others. However, I bow to my partners, the “Telling My Story” ladies, who acted as my teachers, opening up their lives and sharing their worlds with me. Their generosity of spirit was astounding as they patiently explained and shared their stories with me…

… even when I asked them questions meant to help me tweeze apart the many strands of complicated events that wove together the fabric of their lives.

Later, I would review our interview, listening to the audio extracted from the video… catching nuances that I had missed before… reviewing it all in context with their scrapbooks and photographs that they had taken.

As a conduit… I accepted my role to work with each of these incredibly gracious women, in order to bring their stories into a visual form.

More often than not, their stories, scrapbooks, pictures, writings would naturally coalesce into their charged portraits.

As facilitator… I felt charged to take their stories, images, and symbols and bring them together in such a way that reflected the nature of their journeys.

This was where I may, as an artist, make choices in composition, using juxtaposition, dynamic layout, color and scale, in order to create a more dramatic affect, highlighting certain elements, and, hopefully, drawing your eye in… capturing your attention.

This is where art intersects with social dynamics.

This is where artistic license meets human empathy.

And this is where the combination of these three factors…

…interpretation, conduction, and facilitation…

…become three steps we may all take to make change.

Change, built on lessons from those who share their stories…

Stories… that will helps us all in rebuilding our communities…

and ultimately, our humanity.


all images copyright their original creators.

Text: 2006 © copyright Mara Jevera Fulmer

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