Murals will bring art, life, culture, and beauty to the walls of our house or community.
Boolarra Historical and community Mural
After living more than 16 years in Adelaide, in October 2010, I moved to a small town in Gippsland Victoria called Boolarra . Boolarra, with a population of about 600, is surrounded with wonderful natural beauty: farms, hills, creeks, and lakes. A couple months after I moved to Boolarra, the owner of the local shop asked me if I could paint a mural on the wall beside the shop. I proposed the idea to the Boolarra Community Development Group. The Group agreed to pay the cost of the project, material and installation, and I volunteered my time to do the job.
I wanted the mural represent some elements of the town’s past, present, and future. I set for a research on the Internet, local museum, university, and aged people who could remember anything of the past. I learned that this community had been involved in three major activities: butter factory, timber mill, and railroad. The Boolarra Historical Society provided me with images and information regarding the Boolarra’s history. Local primary School introduced two young children, representing future, and I took pictures of two cows to represent the present.
The overall size of the mural is 2.4 x 10.8 meters comprising of 9 treated exterior plywood. The plywood panels were painted then installed on the wall. I have adhered to the technical procedures in choosing the right surface and material and preparation of the surface, painting techniques, and protection of the painted surface.
SUNRISE CAMBODIA MUSICAL BUILDING MURAL
After my first two-week residency in the Sunrise Children’s Villages, Geraldine asked me to come back and paint a mural around the wall of the music building. It took me more than three months to prepare all necessary designs, descriptions and rationale. I also researched about the type and quality of the surface which had been painted with some local exterior home paint in yellow colour. Since I was not happy with that surface as a foundation for the mural, I asked the maintenance personnel at the Centre to remove the all surface paint and undercoat. However, they decided that it was not necessary to do this. In December 2011, I went back to Cambodia to finish the job within two weeks. Upon arrival and examining the walls, I decided that the paint and its undercoat should be removed. It took four days to complete this part of the job.
Description and Rationale
Within the heart of the conglomerate of The Sunrise Children’s Village in Phnom Penh Cambodia there is a uniquely designed building to be used as a musical centre, where music students could learn, practice, and play music. The building looks like a huge three-meter-high pipe made of concrete, with a cup in the shape of a border hat at the top. The total external circumference surface of the building is approximately 86 square meters including two doors and six windows. Sunrise Children’s Village is like a river in which many abounded, homeless, and orphan children flow through constantly – some come to join the crowd and some leave to another level of care. The children notice the building every day, and some of them use the building as a musical centre. They are all influenced by its spatial particularities, its inclusive purpose, and the content of its exterior and interior space.
I believe an exterior mural within the children’s living and learning environment should contain life enhancing images. Such images encompass learning capabilities about human and the environment and have positive and encouraging effect on children. The mural should create a special place for all of the children, including those who may never use the building to learn and practice music. Such a mural should intend to bring hope, appreciation of life and its manifestations, such as nature, music, beauty, and so on. The mural is a wonderful brain-building visual stimulus; therefore, it should enrich the learning environment as one of the most important foundations for a child’s brain development. In an enriched environment, children find opportunities to experience life through touching, listening, playing, dancing, looking, and so on.
Thousands of people from around the world come to visit the Village every year. These visitors either are sponsoring or are potential sponsors in the future. These visitors are part of the Village’s community which respect and support the children’s right to be happy and become a healthy world citizen. The mural should act as an art temple, which transmit a sense of hope, care and respect for children and the environment as the two most precious elements of our future. The visitors should enjoy viewing the mural and take a positive message with them. As an artist, I have been assigned a tiny spec of the universe, and I have had the intention to make it as meaningful and beautiful as possible within the time and material constrains. I feel proud and fulfilled in creating a mural which would have positive influence in the children as well as the adult.
Sunflowers are the most dominant part of this mural. It represents the Village itself, Geraldine the founder of the Village and her main messages of love and light. Sunflowers are also a symbol of abundance, happy and shiny faces which transmit positive energy to the viewers. I also interpreted the section as the heart and the diamond on the ring-like building, and it represents the sparkling and shining soul of Geraldine.
Butterfly is one of the most amazing creatures which emerge through a process of metamorphosis. A caterpillar becomes a colourful free-flying butterfly that loves light and flowers. It simply symbolizes change, freedom, fun and joy. Children always get excited by seeing a butterfly and love to follow it from place to place and from flower to flower. Putting several butterflies dancing together reflect the possibility of joyous moments of living, sharing and having fun together with others.
Elephants are big, strong, earthy, and they look unfaltering. In most cultures, elephants symbolise physical and mental strength, and have been considered to bring good luck and prosperity. Elephants are huge, heavy, have no wings, and can’t fly. Everybody, particularly children, loves an elephant ride; therefore, any images of riding a flying elephant enhances their imagination and bring smiles to their faces. We have seen many images and read fables of flying carpet. In this mural the flying carpet has become wings for the elephant and a seat for the children. This will enhance even more the positive effects of the image.
A tree of life, with its abundant and diverse fruits and leaves, is guarded by two strong animals, a bull and a tiger. They are looking straight at the viewers, warning them not to get close and destroy the tree. This implies the need for respect and protection of the environment and brings some hope to the children.
Monkeys are funny active and intelligent. Children always get excited by seeing a monkey, especially, when monkeys are active in some way. In this mural, I have tried to paint funny images of a group of monkeys playing music, dancing and having fun. This brings fun to the children’s learning and playing music.
Balloons are weightless, colourful, and a sign of good news and celebration. They always make kids happy and excited. It seems all kids want to fly upward with bunch of balloons. Here, the balloons, tied together, and they are soaring toward the sky. This has encouraged the undersea creatures to rush to break the boundary of the water and grab a means to fly toward the vaster space of the paradise. Among them there a couple of flying fish which have evolved to the next stage of living possibilities. They have grown wings on themselves.
Flying birds are always a sign of freedom. I think it is a human’s desire to be able to fly like birds. Again, putting several birds dancing together reflects the possibility of joyous moments of living, sharing and having fun together with others.
Words and music notes
To create some means of encouraging children to word-hunt and create an opportunity to absorb ethical and moral messages, I have added the following word throughout the mural. The words are in three languages, Khmer, English, and Farsi (Persian). These words are:Love, light, life, freedom, happiness, hope, peace, harmony, compassion, justice, concern, respect, caring, honesty, togetherness, cooperation, sharing, contribution, appreciation, fun, celebration, passion, talent, determination, imagination, discipline, creativity, integrity, challenge, balance, family, belonging, learning, nature.Finally music notes have been scattered around through the mural in order to enrich the total visual effects and emphasizes the main purpose of the building.I would like to acknowledge the valuable assistance I received from many children in painting images, writing the words and musical notes, adding creative visual stories, and therefore, making the mural more engaging, more childlike, and more personal.Art MaterialI have used, with confidence, the DERIVAN art material – Matisse, and I would like to thank Steven Paterson who sponsored all art material I needed to complete the work. I have also used the DERIVAN art material and procedures in another large historical mural in the town of Boolarra.
DUNHUANG CAVE MURAL IN CHINA
Duhuang Cave Mural
One should be crazy enough to go voluntarily to the desert of Dunhuang in China and live and paint in a cave. In 2008, I learned that Chang Jiahuang, a famous artist in China, has invited other artists to go to Dunhuang and paint in the newly made caves. Artists were provided with accommodation and food while they were there painting. I immediately sent him an expression of interest and my painting proposal. After receiving his approval and his invitation, I took a three months residency visa and travelled to Dunhuang. I became astonished by Mr. Chang’s creative ideas and the enormity of efforts made by him and his parents to artistically design, dig, and construct modern caves.
These caves have provided a wonderful public space for artists to create artworks for our present and future generations. I became enormously interested in his creative and humanitarian ideas and was glad to have been given an opportunity to take part in his project and paint in one of the caves of Dunhuang. I lived in the caves alone for about two out of three months, painting more than 15 hours daily. However, because of some complications, my painting project could not be finished within my visa expiration time. Unfortunately, due to my financial constrains, I have not been able to go back to finish my work.
Here is my initial and subsequently developed project:
- To paint, with the ancient Italian technique of Fresco and Secco, large portraits of twelve Australian children from diverse cultural backgrounds.
- To paint images of flora and fauna; such as Chinese bamboo, Australian native plants, and fruit trees, to reflect a diverse and healthy natural environment;
- To transcribe the short stories told by the children beside the portraits.
- To paint the floor of the cave in the design of the Persian Garden, so that the visitors could sit on the carpet floor to contemplate if they wish.
- To install several pieces of mirror on the walls and the ceiling so that the viewers see themselves part of the painted scene.
- To install an audio system to play recorded voices of children, nature and birds.
- To transcribe; in Chinese, English and Persian, the famous poems of the Persian poet and philosopher Saadi, on peace and unity of mankind. Note: This poem has been written above the entrance door of The Hall of Nations of the United Nations building in New York. Saadi
- To design and install two short doors, so the visitors bend on entering, as a sign of respect for children, art, and diverse cultures.
Children are the future as well as the present. They are the most precious resources we have. If we want to achieve human peace, we should allow children to blossom fully by providing them, regardless of their background, with love, protection, a healthy environment, and rich learning opportunities. Then, they would learn how to live together in harmony with themselves, others and the environment.
As Mahatma Gandhi said “If we are to reach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children”. Therefore, I believe, any activities, including those initiated by artists, designed to achieve human peace and a sustainable environment should concentrate on raising global awareness on children. As an artist, I aim to help in the realisation of this objective. I believe the modern caves in Dunhuang is the best venue to represent my work and leave it for the present and the future generations. As it was demonstrated during the Olympic ceremony of 2008, China is a country who cares about children..
About Dunhuang and the Caves
The ancient city of Dunhuang, situated in the Gansu Province, is a historically and culturally significant and internationally well-known city in China. Dunhuang had been a major stopover point on the Silk Road in the past. It was in this town that great civilizations of East and West met together in trading merchandise and exchanging cultures. It was for many centuries the capital and center of politics, economy and culture of China.
Dunhuang is a beautiful and peaceful place; it is surrounded by mountains, ever changing sand hills and desert. I particularly loved its sand hills, market and fruit gardens.
Today, Dunhuang is famous for the spectacular Mogao Grottos (caves) arts. These spectacular Buddhist paintings, sculptures, and manuscripts, are one of the world’s largest and most beautiful art treasures. They demonstrate an intermesh of beauty and devotion. The caves contain 45,000 square meters of murals paintings, 2,000 Sculptures, and 50,000 manuscripts in many languages, which made Dunhuang a tourists’ attraction from around the word. In 1987, the UNESCO put the Mogao Grottos on its list of world natural and cultural heritages.
I believe there are two major turning points in the history of Dunhuang cave arts:
The first turning point was when a Buddhist monk named Le Zun carved the first cave in 366 AD.
Le Zun, who was on his way to Western Paradise, visioned 1000 Buddhas at the cliffs of the Sanwei Mountains. He decided to abandon his trip and instead paint his vision on the cliff of the mountain. So he raised money, carved the first cave and painted in it. The news of his devotion and creative action spread and encouraged other artist to come to Dunhuang and follow his cornerstone initiatives.
After the imperial rulers of the Ming Dynasty gave up control of the Dunhuang area about 600 years ago, cave arts activities also stopped during these years. The caves were hidden until the excavations during the twentieth century, when many artefacts and manuscripts were taken away by foreign explorers.
The second turning point was when Chang Jiahuang, son of Chang Shuhong, decided to establish the Dunhuang Modern Cave Arts.
Artist Chang Shuhong, who had studied oil painting in Paris and was practicing as an artist there, returned to China in 1937 and was assigned to the conservation of the caves and their arts. In 1942 he established the Dunhuang Research Institute and became the first director of that institute. Chang Shuhong and his wife Li Chengxian contributed their lives to the protection, conservation, and promotion of this vast treasure.
About 1958, Chang Shuhong proposed the idea of restarting and revitalising the ancient tradition of cave painting, which had been discontinued for 600 years. His artistic and humanistic journey ended upon his death in 1944.
His son, Chang Jiahuang, who inherited love and passion for the art of Dunhuang caves, decides to act upon his father’s wishes. In 1998, with the support and financial aids of his mother, and by raising money from selling all his paintings, he embarks on an incredible and uniquely creative project. He established The Dunhuang Modern Grotto Art and planed to dig a new cave complex along the cliff of Danghe River, about 25 kilometres from the Mogao Grottos.
Running water has gradually cut and eroded the ground for thousands of years and created a wide gap and high cliffs along its way. Here is where, the new grottos has been made. From the top, on the ground, an opening has been dug leading down to a tunnel by 80 stairs . The tunnel, which runs along the direction of the river, is then connected from both sides to single and group caves in different shapes and sizes.
The caves located on the river side are opened to the air by rectangle shape holes (doors) above the river. The caves on the other side of the tunnel are enclosed with sub-tunnels, connecting them to the main tunnel. The total underground space amounts to 100,000 square meters.
Mr. Chang’s idea has been to continue the tradition of cave painting with new ideas, issues, thoughts and concerns; such as human peace, cultural diversity, and environmental sustainability. His vision is to create an art complex under the ground, where artists come together and create their visions of the future; where students, scholars, researchers come to discuss about art and relevant issues; where tourist from around the world can come to see the past, present and the future; where those who come under the ground view the arts, contemplate, meditate, and get charged by the power of beauty and leave the caves with positive feeling and energy.
The Buddhist artist of the past have surpassed the highest level of artistic excellence, and created beauty and promoted devotion. The present artists come together to create beauty to promote hope and a positive attitude toward life – human and the environment.
Note: There are many web sources on Dunhuang and its caves including the followings:
NEXUS MULTICULTURAL MURAL
I have painted portraits of 12 SA multicultural artists on a large mural to be installed outside of the NEXUS Gallery visible to the public. Half of the mural has been disappeared from the Gallery. In 2008, I was invited to take a residency at the Multicultural Art Centre in Adelaide. During my residency, I came up with the idea of voluntarily painting a mural containing portraits of south Australian artists who had been involved with and contributed to the Cultural Centre. The idea was welcomed by the Gallery Director, Noris Ioannou, and we decided that the mural be installed outside the gallery above the stairs, left side of the entrance passage leading to the stairs. However, this never happened and two out of four panels got somehow lost!!.
The Director and staff chose 12 artists, including Noris and myself, and I was provided with a list containing the name and contact information of the artists. I made an appointment with each artist and took photos to be used in design and painting of the mural. All artists liked the idea and excited that their portraits will be shown permanently to the public. It took about a year to complete the project. I painted the images on 4 stretched canvas made of jute. After delivery, Noris found out that due to some problems which, as I understood, were raised by ART SA, the mural could not be installed in the intended place. In 2012, I requested that the mural be returned to me because it never will be installed. The Gallery agreed to return the mural; however, as Louis Dunn, the Gallery Director, told me that after searching all places in the building, two panels of the mural could not be found.
These are the name of the artists in the mural, from left to right:
Dada Nii West African drummer: http://www.damushi.com/
Niki Sperou, visual artist: http://nikisperou.com/
Naima Hassan, belly dancer: www.bellydanceacademy.com
Stephen Skillitzi, glass artist: http://www.artlogic.com.au/artist/stephen-skillitzi
Max Lyle: sculpture artist: http://www.artlogic.com.au/artist/max-lyle
Areti, flamenco dancer: www.flamencoareti.com/
Joanna Nicoloulias, Greek Singer
Ann Newmach, visual artist: www.artlogic.com.au/artist/ann-newmarch
Neelan Patel, Indian dancer
Noris Ioannou, art historian, author, and painter: http://norisioannou.com.au/Welcome.html