Friday, July 18, 2014

Day 12: "Art is the Center of the Real World"

Another week, another batch of life changing experiences. I find it remarkable how fast time truly passes. It seems as if only yesterday I was beginning my first Social Justice class. Now, I am concluding my second week here. That means that, sadly, I only have one more left. I feel that I have learned more about myself and the world I live in, in the past two weeks than I have ever been able to before. I have truly been enlightened in ways I would have never imagined practical, let alone possible for me. I have been forced to look within myself and see that I am a catalyst for change, that I, no matter how miniscule I may feel, posses the power to make a difference. These are beliefs that two weeks ago I would have never believed I could be saying about myself. In addition, the friends I have made here are unlike any individuals I have ever met before. Each is unique in their own personal ways, and each have influenced me in multiple ways. They have forced me to think differently on issues I had once thought to have a concrete opinion of. They have compelled me to exit my comfort zone and have expanded my social life drastically. Ultimately, I cannot have asked for a better experience.

However, focusing back to today. As announced yesterday, class would begin at 10 AM rather than 9. This meant that we had a greater amount of time in the morning to either sleep in or take advantage of the free time. I, along with my floormates who were also in Social Justice, decided to take a proactive route and decided to head to the gym for an early morning workout session. Being that classes and activities had taken up most of our time throughout the past two weeks, we had been unable to officially get a good work out session in. One of the greatest things about my floormates is that for the most part, they are all very athletic and share a similar passion as I for sports. This allows us to be closer as a group as we share common interests. After about an hour and a half of a combination of different workout exercises, we headed back to the Quad to get ready for the day.

Morning session began as normal with our Qi-gong routines. However, rather than lectures or guest speakers, we read the article "To Hell with Good Intentions" by Ivan Illich. It talked about the issue concerning aid that U.S organizations, such as the Peace Corps, provides to underdeveloped countries, specifically those in Latin America. He goes to the heart of the deep dangers of paternalism inherent in any voluntary service activity, especially in any international service "mission". After reading the article as a class, we split off into to groups to discuss the impact it had had on us and what we felt about it. In our group, we discussed heavily over American aid. Specifically, we delved into the idea of American supremacy over lesser developed regions and the misconstrued belief that they need help. As talked about in the group, this issue has various different opinions that are centralized on the perspective that you view it upon. An American will obliviously have a different opinion than say an individual from Honduras. The point of view form which you view a topic is pivotal for social justice to occur, as each and every person has a different point of view. This discussion also led us to another prevalent question, "what is happiness"? Contrary to what the popular belief may be, happiness is something that is unique to every person on the planet. No one can define what happiness represents for another and therefore this leads to the debate over whether international mega-powers, such as the U.S, are correct for providing aid, that in many cases are temporary, to communities who are complicit with their current situation in life.
An Anarchist Bookstore
From the morning session, we headed into a brief lunch period, because we were going on a field trip for the afternoon session. To make travel easier, we split into different groups, each led by one of the teaching fellows. My group was fortunate to arrive early at our destination, the Magic Gardens. Being that we had a while before the rest of the class would arrive, we headed to a local book store that was well-known around the area. Having no idea why a bookstore could have such prevalence in an area, I was taken aback when we finally arrived, specifically because of the name, the Wooden Shoe: an Anarchist Bookstore. Personally, I had no idea what an "anarchist" bookstore was and was a bit nervous considering my knowledge over anarchy. However, upon entering, I found that many of the opinions I had formulated before entering had been disproved. The selection of books pertained directly to radical and conservative approaches toward major issues such as Capitalism and Democracy. 

After a while of browsing, we headed back to the Magic Gardens to meet up with the rest of the class to receive our tour. Our guide's name was Olivia and she shared a wide array of information that pertained to the artistic marvel that surrounded us. The Magic Gardens essentially was an enormous and elaborate mosaic mural. It covered both the internal and external walls of one building and a large maze next to it with a mixture of random objects, tiles and glass. It truly was an artistic masterpiece that must have required extensive time and dedication. However, the greatest highlight from our time there, apart from being able to behold such a wonderful piece of art, was actually being able to talk to the mastermind mind behind it, Isaiah Zagar. He was a man of 75 years of age who possessed so much energy and vibrancy that it was hard to believe he was really that old. He told us about his life story and how he shifted over from painting to constructing mosaics. He had once belonged to the peace core and upon returning to the U.S had suffered from reverse culture shock. It was interesting to hear how many of his beliefs, as well as his personality had been manifested into his art.
Various other artworks by Isaiah Zagar
Images from across the Magical Garden

More images of the Magical Garden
Once completing our talk with Isaiah, we headed out with two street artists who were supposed to guide us around major artistic parts of South Philadelphia and give us a bit of an introduction to what street art is. We were told how Philadelphia is one of very few cities in the world that possess its own font. In addition, we were also told how, many street artists tended to join groups, which essentially served as artistic families who supported one another, but did not necessarily live in the same areas. Each group had its own distinct name and tag that was associated with it, which was used to mark who had made a piece of work. As we were told, there are many situations in which art portrays not only emotions of an individual, but also the beliefs and judgments over society. It was interesting to see how integrated street art had become in the culture of the area. Rather than a form of vandalism, is resembled more as a method of speech, as a tool to voice ones opinions or ideas.
Examples of prominent street art
At the end of the day, I was exhausted and completely worn out. This week had taken its toll on my in terms of energy, but had nonetheless been a very inspirational, eye-opening experience that is incomparable to anything else. While I am sad that my time here is rapidly running out, I am determined t make the most out of my time and enhance my experience to the fullest possible.

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