NYC dream: Connecting four artists from four corners of the world

This is a tale of three girls and one boy separated by time and space and how they teamed up because of their common passion and experience in inspiring the audience to tell their own stories via art.

Figure 1: Puppet show designed by Elisabeth Schalij at the Museum of American Indian in New York City where children interacted with the puppets created by Elisabeth as a mode of art communication.

Back in 1930s, Netherlands, Elisabeth was growing up with a dream of telling stories like that of Grimm and Anderson. Her fascination with the symbolic meaning and similarities of mythologies made her travel across the seven seas like Sinbad and to reach New York City, USA. After establishing herself as a renowned international artist, she created hundreds of thousands of art shows and workshops all around the world. The most impactful of them was a puppet show at the Children’s museum and Hudson River Museum, New York (Figure 1). With a focus on Native American stories, the puppet show inspired many including the 4th Grade students of Midland School, New York. Cornelia Mason, the 4th grade teacher recalls “How great it was to have the puppet show and especially great (and educational I might add) to have it coordinated with the subject of Indians.” On Elisabeth’s recent book “Snowbear”, a story and illustration of Inuit folklore, Jaap J. Bredee, professor emeritus of Utrecht University, Netherlands writes “I could envision Snowbear to become another classic story about the American Indians, who were treated so terribly in the past.”

Figure 2: Caroline Shaw Ometz teaching her workshop at Mendocino, California in 2013 and inspiring her students to create their own stories, exploration and questions on life in painting. 

In the meantime, as a little girl, Caroline, in 1950’s southern United States always dreamt of teaching art in a way that her students realize their natural creativity. Turning her dreams into reality, a miracle itself in her life, she taught for past 40 years in Creative Arts Center, Craft Guild, Plano Recreation center and Continental Gin Building, Dallas. Building on her own Graduate level training at SMU, UTD and University of Dallas, she provided a nurturing environment for her students to meet their individual creative need. Her most impactful teaching experience is at the Mendocino Art Center, California (Figure 2). Her student, Anne Neal, currently a sculptor herself, recalls “Caroline’s teaching has changed the way I relate to and practice art. From Caroline, I learnt to step away from focusing on techniques and instead focus on the message. I now see space as an opportunity for a fluid dialogue instead of something empty waiting to be filled.” Similarly, Roberto Munguia, Cistercian Preparatory School/ Art Department Head says “Caroline has been a real source of inspiration to our students. She has been able to facilitate their making a deeper connection with their work and to reach beyond technical proficiency towards personal inner vision.”

Figure 3: Shafaq Ahmad explaining her “Mysterious Letters – The Realm of the Hidden”, a 78 piece installation at the Sharjah Museum of contemporary Art, 2016 to the Minister of Art and Education of United Arab Emirates inspiring him about the future of Art Education.

8000 miles away from Caroline, was Shafaq. Born in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Shafaq has always been drawn to mysticism. She lived in United Kingdom, Iran and Denmark before fully realizing her artistic purpose and settling down in United States. Over past few decades she wore and switched several hats: a BFA student of Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, an MFA student of Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, a glass artist collaborating with galleries in Czech Republic and Sweden, and a multimedia artist with many solo and 70 group exhibitions all around the world. Her most impactful work involving interaction with audience and inspiring them was with the Minister of Art and Education at Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (Figure 3). Her work in connecting the contemporary calligraphy presenting mysterious letters, realm of hidden geometric and fractal patterns impacted the audience to create their own form of art and shaped the future of art educational programs in United Arab Emirates. Recently, Deborah Fleck from Dallas Morning News writes about her solo exhibition – “For big, bold and colorful see the paintings of Shafaq Ahmad.”

Figure 4: Dhruba Deb moderating a panel discussion with scientists from University of Texas and artists from Dallas and New York City at LuminArte Gallery in 2016 with his paintings in the background to inspire an audience of 140 to create their own science-based art.

Born in 1980’s Kolkata, India, Dhru had a dream of merging art and science. Just like the North East Indian folklore of “Grandmother’s tales” he flew over thirteen rivers and seven mountains to reach Dallas, Texas. His PhD studies in biomedical science At UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas and BA studies in visual art at University of Hertfordshire, UK, enabled him to communicate complex problems of science via art to a broader audience and to be involved in transforming the education in both elementary (The Hockaday School) and higher level (Center for Art and Technology, UTD). The most impactful of his interactions was at the LuminArte Gallery, Dallas (Figure 4), where he curated and participated in an art show with 50 artworks from 6 artists and scientists and a panel discussion with 2 scientists and 2 artists. This educational event enabled an exchange of knowledge and inspiration to create art of science among 140 audience members. Priscilla Di Thiene, Editor of Le Scienze from Rome recalls “Our magazine deals with a lot of scientific arguments. But, your images published in Le Scienze show such a different way to see, study, understand and approach cancer.”

Figure 5: Example of 4 paintings from 4 artists

In 2016, Dallas, these four artists teamed up realizing their common interest in telling magical stories from around the world and in the process inspiring their audience to share their own stories in visual and literary art. Just like the magical objects in their stories, they plan to utilize paintings, sculptures and storytelling in their workshops to bring out the magical creativity in their audience. Elisabeth’s paintings and story “Markel the Magnificent” (Figure 5, top left) shows how each audience as an individual has the magical ability to bring someone back to life. Caroline’s visuals and writing on “God Quest” (Figure 5, top right) encourages creative thinking and imagination of the audience in finding their inner peace. Shafaq’s paintings and sculptures on “Conference of birds” (Figure 5, bottom right) inspires deep thinking, compassion and will lift the spirit of the audience in pursuing their own creative art form. Dhru’s paintings and story “The gold wand and the silver wand” (Figure 5, bottom left) establishes the audience as heroes who look for ways and means to overcome demon-like diseases in their own lives and in the process shares their own story in visual and literary art. Together these four artists from four corners of the world show the audience that no matter where they are from and where they are now in life, everyone has a story worth telling and if we don’t tell our stories, no one else will. 

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