Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Art+Life+Kenya project finished =)

A while back ago, I posted that I was going to contribute an art piece for Art+Life+Kenya.  Well, I've busted my butt and finally finished my piece, so I'll start from the beginning...

I originally heard about the Art+Life+Kenya project in March 06 when I picked up a "Natural Awakenings" know, one of those free magazines that they have in front of REI.  The article was entitled, "Kenya Smiles:  'Message in a Bottle' Project Report".  It spoke of a small group of people travelling to Kenya to visit a few orphanages and Kibera, one of the largest slums in the whole of the African continent, in order to see the conditions the people and the children lived in.  They focused their efforts to research about children who had been orphaned due to AIDS. 

From that trip, the group brought back 350 "Messages in a Bottle" -- drawings from the children.  Artists contributing to the Art+Life+Kenya project would then make an art piece inspired by the Message in the Bottle.

I went to the website listed in the magazine, but there was not much too it.  I put the magazine down to be lost in a pile of more magazines and forgot about it...

Fast forward to late August/early Sept of this year.  Cynthia, a fellow jeweller and inspirational person, told Sarah and I about the project.  I knew I had heard of it.  She brought a copy of the article, and it was the same one that I had read months before.  One of the main coordinators was her friend, and Cynthia jumped to the cause, passing out messages for artists.  To enter the juried competition, you had a deadline of Oct. 1st.

I never got a message in a bottle.  Instead, at last minute, I got a child to sponsor.  My project was now dedicated for Anastasia, the older of two sisters, who inspired the entire Providence Children's Home and Community Center.  The Home is a home for children who have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.  Anastasia's story is extremely sad.  Her parents, upon finding out that they had AIDS, decided to take their own lives, leaving Anastasia and her sister to live with their uncaring relatives (I believe abusive).  Needless to say, Anastasia and the other children in the orphanage have been given a second chance -- a home, an education, and a place to dream.

Anastasia - 9 yrs old

I spoke to Annie, one of the coordinators of the Art+Life+Kenya project.  She went down there and spoke with Anastasia quite a bit.  Annie told me that Anastasia wishes to be a veteranarian one day.  She is very bright, full of questions, and speaks English very well.

Going on that information, I just made something that came from my heart.  I was inspired by my trip to Tanzania in Dec 05/Jan 06.  I remembered looking at the landscapes, scenary, flora, fauna, as we passed by in the minibus going from Nairobi to Arusha.  It was all still fresh in my mind.  I knew what I wanted to make...

I had spent most of my money in Tanzania buying kangas, a traditional fabric worn by women in East Africa, folded in different ways to create outfits.  They usually have a bold print or motif in the center, then a patterned border, and a Kiswahili saying that reflects upon its wearer.

I decided to make a quilted wallhanging.  The top portion would be the kanga, the bottom portion would be a scene -- Kilimanjaro in the distance, the plains in the front with a giraffe, elephants, baobab and acacia trees, so common in that region.  I selected a kanga that was mostly natural colored -- tannish-orange, black, and white.  I bought this kanga from the Darajani Market, a bustling local market in Zanzibar Island.  I pieced together the bottom portion out of scrap fabrics and fabrics that I had inherited.

Laying out the materials -- kanga, the start of the bottom with the general shape of Kilimanjaro, photos from my trip

The larger shapes of the bottom portion were easy to figure out.  However, how was I going to make a giraffe and elephants?  I decided to print a large image from my picture collection, trace the image and cut it out in fabric, using interfacing to back the fabric.

Photoed giraffe translated to fabric giraffe, spots painted on with fabric paint

It took quite a while to piece the bottom section, but it turned out better than I had expected.  I started out with the larger background shapes -- Kilimanjaro and the plains (horizon).  I added felt clouds, shrubs, an acacia tree and baobab tree, then placed the giraffe and elephants on the piece.

Sewing the glaciers of Kilimanjaro

Pinning the plains to the bottom section

Sewing the giraffe in place

Once I put the bottom section together, I sewed the kanga to the bottom section.  Then, I placed borders to the sides and top and bottom of the larger piece.  I had to use my floor to lay out the backing fabric, batting, and quilt top, since it was quite large...and with 3 dogs roaming around wanting to lay on the quilt, it proved to be a task.  I safety pinned all layers together in strategic places to get me started.  I quilted from the bottom up, because I wanted to make sure that the bottom section was nicely done.

Quilting in progress

The quilting itself took countless hours to get the details.  Next, I made bias tape out of the same courdoroy material that I had used for part of the plains scenary.  I also make curtain rod loops out of the same material.  I sewed the bias tape and curtain rod loops to the edge of the front side, then flipped it around to the back and hand stitched the back of the bias tape to the quilt.  I reinforced the curtain rod loops with extra stitching.  And at that point, I knew that I was almost done...

The original kanga has a Kiswahili saying on it that doesn't fit what I want to say with this project.  I made my own Kiswahili saying to put on the kanga -- "Haba na haba, hujaza kibaba" -- "Little by little, fills the pot".  I thought this saying was appropriate for this project.  My interpretation of the saying is that the artists contributing to this project as individuals - one project at a time - will add up so that collectively, we will all make a difference.  I printed out the text in bold font, placed it under my fabric so that I could trace it, then traced it on off white colored muslin with a fabric marker.

Making the Kiswahili phrase

I used my serger to finish the edges of the muslin fabric, then sewed the saying over the original one.  And viola!  I was finished!!!

Project completed

Bottom details

I called Cynthia this morning, and she's going to swing by my work tomorrow to pick it up.  I missed the juried contest deadline, but there was no way I could have finished it in that short amount of time considering the level of detail I put into this project.  I am proud of this piece -- it's the largest quilt I have ever done (I'm not much of a quilter), it challenged me, and it made my creativity flow.  I hope it brings in a good bit of money for the orphanage.  :)

Art auction at the Austin Childrens Museum -- Oct 21, 2006 -- 7pm to 11pm.


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