Sunday, 15 July 2012

Colour and a Study in Contrasts

Two weeks have passed since my last blog post and we have now successfully completed the first of the four weeks that comprise the bilingual summer camp programs at UPH. I now wake up at the lovely hour of 5:45 am to get ready to catch a bus at 7am to the neighbouring town of Santa Rita where we hold one of our camp programs. I am sure that those of you who know me well are aware of how pleasant a person I am at 5:45 am. Let's just say that it is best if few words are spoken and that I make my way to the coffee pot at the earliest possible opportunity. Somehow it is easier to wake up early in Honduras, where the roosters begin crowing at 4 am (or at 11pm if they are confused - which is unfortunately an all too frequent occurrence). 

The greatest highlight of the past week is  that I now get to teach art three days a week at camp. And each of those days I get to teach the same class three times in a row: once with the grades ones and two, once with the grades threes and fours, and once with the grades fives and sixes. I have a good life.

The focus over the last week has been on COLOUR, starting off with learning (well, at least attempting to learn) about the colour wheel and complimentary colours, leading into some pop art fun with Andy Warhol, and wrapping it all up with Wassily Kandinsky's "Concentric Circles" (a collaborative student reproduction of which is shown above). It has been really cool to see just how quickly kids catch on to the idea of abstraction. The majority of them had no difficulty whatsoever with coming up with crazy colour schemes for colouring Mickey Mouse or soup cans, and creating mini concentric circles was not a problem at all. We spent the first half of one class just drawing whatever shapes, lines and colours come to mind while listening to different kinds of music. Here is a sampling of some of the results:

The little boy who drew the first drawing above was able to tell me the meaning of every line that he drew, and what emotions he felt about each one. I also had a long conversation with one little girl all about our shared love for colour, in which we discussed how boring the world would be if there was no colour. I think that in these child artists I find kindred spirits!

The last week has been a study in contrasts on more than one level. We have been talking about contrasting colours in art class, and I have been thinking about contrast and juxtaposition as I have been playing with some painting ideas that will be realized when I am reunited with my canvases and art easel in August (SO excited for some quality music, paint and tea time when I get back!) And I have also been struck by the contrast between working with children who attend the bilingual private schools, and working with children at Camp Hope who attend the local public school. Here is an example: at Camp Hope if you ask a ten year old girl what she did the day before, she is likely to say that she helped her mom make tortillas. At the summer program, a ten year old girl is more likely to say that she played computer games. Likewise, although most of the public school kids have never seen the ocean, the bilingual students know enough about the beaches of Honduras to give me travel advice as I think about maybe possibly taking some time to find some sand, salt waves and plam trees before I head back to BC. The students at the bilingual school seemingly have much more in common with the children I have worked with in Canada when it comes to material possessions.

In this blog post I am not so much voicing an opinion as I am presenting a contrast. Like an artist putting blue and orange together on a canvas, I am trying to juxtapose in my mind the poverty and privileged wealth that surround me. Like any contrasting colour combination, poverty is only emphasized when placed beside wealth, and wealth in only emphasized when placed beside poverty. At home economic differences and social classes are less glaring and obvious as they are here, in a society where the gap between wealth and poverty is so huge. Back home, shades of blue are lost in a sea of purples and greens. Here, blue jumps out at you from a sea of orange. And I think that this contrast, however jarring it might be, is as it should be.

Contrasting colours are also called complimentary colours, and some of my more astute art students might be able to give you a few examples of some complimentary colour combinations. The contrast between stark wealth and poverty - and much as I don't want to, I must align myself with the side that we consider privileged wealth - is not a contrast that I delight to dwell on, but it is one that I am forced to dwell on by virtue of living here. As Christ says, "the poor you will always have with you" (Matthew 26:11, NIV). And I know that the same can be said regarding the wealthy. I suspect that this contrast is a constant, something that will be here forever.

Here comes my question: as I look at the inevitable difference between the poor and the wealthy, can I look beyond the stark differences that jar the senses, and can I see where they compliment one another? It is hard for me to see the positives in wealth, particularly as wealth is all too often acquired and maintained by disregarding the position of the poor and oppressed. But I do think that the good of poverty is often emphasized by its juxtaposition alongside of wealth. As someone who has grown up in economic privilege, I learn about true gratitude and true generosity in the homes in the poor.

With this in mind, I am tentatively going to cast off my rich guilt for a time - or at least just put it to the side ready to put on again when needed. Instead, I will attempt to focus on the positives, and see how I might learn more about the condition of poverty and wealth in the world through living beside them both. Just as blue and orange are not inherently "good" or "bad," I don't think that wealth or poverty can be viewed as entirely good or evil - it is how we lead our lives in whatever condition we are in that determines goodness or evil. 

Thanks for reading through these somewhat incoherent thoughts and ramblings! Thoughts and comments are, as always, appreciated :)