Expressive Art: Watercolor

 
 

Open windows let in the cool evening breeze as Somaieh Amini, a local Bay Area artist, set up watercolor paints, brushes, and blank pieces of paper in preparation for ARTogether’s Girls Expressive Art Workshop last Thursday, August 3rd.

As a part of their ongoing effort to connect refugee and immigrant communities with local art, ARTogether partnered with the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants (CERI) to organize an expressive art workshop for young girls. CERI, whose location hosted the workshop, is an Oakland-based nonprofit formed in 2003 by a group of mental health professionals whose mission is “to improve the social, psychological, and economic well being of refugees affected by war, torture, genocide or other forms of extreme trauma.” While ARTogether has worked with CERI in the past to provide workshops for adult women and kids, Thursday’s workshop was the first curated specifically for girls.

 
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As Somaieh Amini placed the final watercolors on the table, a group of chatting teenage girls, all children of Cambodian refugees, took off their shoes and entered CERI with boba and snacks from 7-Eleven in hand. After finishing their conversations, the girls sat down at the table set up for the workshop and turned to Somaieh for instruction.

Somaieh Amini, who led the workshop, is an Iranian artist trained in both Iran and Italy and currently lives in the Bay Area. Once the girls settled in, everyone in the group introduced themselves and, with the exception of Somaieh, admitted their inexperience with art. Somaieh shook her head, repeated that anyone can be an artist, and then began to explain the creative process ahead: wet the paper, drip some paint, make art.

 
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While all succeeded at the first two steps, the girls giggled as Somaieh asked everyone to look at their creations -- which at this point mostly looked like someone spilled a bucket of water over a scraps of colorful paper -- and explain what they saw. At first, the girls’ descriptions ranged from “red lines” to “an accidental blob of blue,” but as they continued painting and started to comment and joke about each other’s pieces, the conversation took a creative turn.

The girls started to compile a list of names, not for ordinary wet pieces of paper, but for their new masterpieces. “Heat of Passion; Lost Elephant; Christmas in Spring; Majestic Galaxy; Chicken at Sunset; Blooming in the Spring; Colorful Ocean; Blue Monkey!” The girls laughed as they shouted out these increasingly obscure names, lifting their wet, paint covered, pieces of paper into the air and insisting to their neighbor that while she may see a smiling cow face, there is definitely, undoubtedly a fish in the painting.

Who was right? Was it a cow or a fish?

Yes.

Like all other artistic masterpieces, it is almost impossible to capture the true essence of the girls’ art, and it was silly, albeit entertaining, to try. Yet, even though the cow/fish question might never be answered, ARTogether’s goals for the workshop were unquestionably accomplished.

 

As a growing, grassroots organization, ARTogether is more concerned with increasing access to art than what kind of art is actually created. While nobody doubts the massive, untapped creative potential present at Thursday’s workshop, ARTogether wants to use the universality of art to help refugee and immigrant communities express themselves and their unique experiences.

By bringing people together and quite literally letting the art speak for itself, ARTogether, with the help of the participants, CERI, and Somaieh, created a welcoming space for self-expression and creative exploration right in our backyards, ultimately proving Somaieh right:

Anyone can be an artist.

And indeed, following a positive reaction from the girls after the first art workshop that led ARTogether and CERI to make art workshops for girls a recurring event at CERI, it seems now everyone will be an artist.