Nonviolence Works is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to serve the mental health needs of adults, children, families and veterans in Taos County. They posed a provocative, soul-searching question for Taos Middle School teacher Christine Autumn to explore and share with her students through visual art: How has violence affected your life?
Autumn called the challenge a “Dr. Seuss book … with directions.” She then asked her students to consider how violence affects their world, their school and their friends. “I made it clear the exercise was not about violence in Africa or somewhere else in the world.” Other schools involved in the project include: Taos Charter School students led by teacher Katie Woodall, and Questa Junior-Senior High School with teacher Jennifer Vialpando.
The project has resulted in an exhibition titled, “Images of How Violence has Affected Me.” It will be on view from Monday (Feb. 5) through April 1 in the Encore Gallery at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.
A free opening reception, to which the public is invited, will be held Thursday (Feb. 8), 4-6 p.m., at the venue. Students and teachers will be on hand as will board members and staff from NVW.
Michael “Smokey” Martínez, an NVW board member and the Art of Nonviolence Chairman, said about the exhibit, “a lot of credit is with the teachers and how they present the assignment. We rely on their integrity, and they do a great job.”
He continued, “look at what happened recently with the scandal around the gymnastics [Dr. Larry Nassar], when those young girls were kids. People didn’t listen to them or believe them. We need to be more loving and open to what children see, even if it doesn’t jive with our viewpoint.”
The use of art as a medium to address violence is useful, Martínez continued, because “sometimes you can’t articulate. It is feelings and emotions from the heart and something you just can’t express.”
NVW board chairman Dr. Mary McPhail Gray added, “Art gives a language to experience – making it possible to process things that have happened and need to be acknowledged. It is often easier to speak in art than in other forms of communication. Art integrates emotion with experience and design in unique ways.”
Gray said this year’s exhibit is different from the previous four years because “we approached the three teachers that had been most supportive and skilled at leading their students in the creative process. We asked them to select from the works submitted. In previous years, a call went out to all schools and teachers, but these three schools and teachers have been the most skilled and responsive to NVW and to their students.”
Gray continued about the work, “You can see the despair of victimhood — or [how] speaking about how violence leaves a sense of powerlessness in its victims. There also is a sense of courage and outrage.”
Autumn said about the work her students created, “there is content with a root somewhere. The students understood the lesson.” She said she “was in shock and awe of what comes up and how prevalent it is in our community.”
Art can be a tool to the subconscious where unexpressed feelings and thoughts reside. Autumn said the challenge was “helpful in quiet ways, to start a dialogue and help the student to start processing their feelings.”
Gray said she would like the future Art of Nonviolence exhibit to include “More educational experiences for a variety of classes from schools — to comment on the lessons learned. Adult and student interactions about what the student experiences mean to the village and how adults might be more supportive.”
She continued. “These are your youth – the future of our town. As violence can be reduced — opportunities for positive learning and contributions to the community grow.”
About the exhibit, she said, “These youth are courageous and honest. Listen to them and consider how to be supportive with your talents, time and fiscal resources.”
The show includes 30 works, all framed and behind glass. Students will be present at the reception, and contact information will be made available for anyone interested in making a purchase.
Taos Center of the Arts Executive Director Deborah McLean said her art committee believes this is the most important show they present.
“The events of the past year in Taos and the nation have impacted all of us in deeply disturbing ways,” Martínez continued. “We want to give our youth the chance to express their feelings through the theme of this year’s exhibit: ‘Images of How Violence has Affected Me.’ We believe that this topic will support reflection ... We know that in past years, attendees at the gallery shows have been deeply moved by these images.”
For more information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.