Art across borders
Matt Moffett, Tulsa Girls Art School executive director, and TGAS student Saleen display some of the art shared by Tulsa and Tanzanian students.
Some young Tulsa artists are connecting with their east African counterparts through a partnership between the Tulsa Girls Art School (TGAS) and the Tulsa-based Janada Batchelor Foundation for Children (JBFC).
The nonprofit foundation’s goal is to alleviate extreme rural poverty in east Africa by operating a home and school for girls in Tanzania, ages 3-17, who were once abandoned and abused.
TGAS students started a picture on a piece of canvas, wrote a note about themselves on the back and included their picture — sort of like an artistic pen pal letter.
Ashli Sims, the foundation’s development director, collected the partially completed artwork from TGAS students and delivered the canvases in February to girls in Tanzania, who continued the Tulsa artists’ work.
Tulsa student Saleen, 15, wrote on the back of her canvas, “I like to draw and listen to music ... I play around and joke a lot, bye.”
Tanzanian student Eliza, 16, replied:
“Hi Saleen, my name is Elizabeth Ezekiel. I am in Form Two (the U.S. equivalent to ninth grade) at Joseph & Mary Secondary School. I have two brothers. I like to sing songs ... I hope one day I will be singing like (Rihanna). Also, I like sewing class. What is your favorite class? My favorite colour is green. What is yours? Our school is very small but we have (the) best teachers. They give us a lot of homework every day and we like them. Tell me about your school. Thank you.”
Eliza also elaborated on Saleen’s drawing of an elephant by adding Mt. Kilimanjaro and a whale. Saleen says knowing the girls in Africa makes “you appreciate what you have more.”
Sims returned the canvases to TGAS in April with the Tanzanian students’ notes, photos and drawings. Some added local wildlife, trees, rainbows, raindrops or a border to the canvases.
“(The Tanzanian students) thought the canvases were really cool,” Sims says. “Some girls spent more time writing the note on the back than painting. They love sharing a piece of artwork, and the fact that it will be displayed in America blows their minds.”
The Tulsa students also were more fascinated with the notes from their African pals than the paintings, Sims says.
“The art is a communication,” adds TGAS Executive Director and co-founder Matt Moffett. “It opens their minds; we are a global village. The girls get international exposure through this.”
Tulsa native Chris Gates, founder and executive director of JBFC, moved to Kitongo, Tanzania, in 2009 after graduating from New York University. Kitongo is about 30 miles east of Mwanza, the country’s second-largest city.
The 60-acre JBFC flagship campus sits on the shores of Lake Victoria and employs more than 60 people from Kitongo and the surrounding villages.
“I fell in love with the people and culture,” Gates says of his first trip to Kitongo. “I felt drawn to make a difference. The overall hospitality of the people is overwhelming.”
Today, the JBFC girls’ home and school have a waiting list for those needing a home and an education. The first graduating class is set for 2015.
The foundation hopes the girls in Tulsa and Africa will stay in touch, Gates says. For the Tanzanian students the school is the only family they have, and now, that family extends to Tulsa.
The canvases will travel between the two groups of girls a total of two times before returning to Tulsa. They will then be stretched to a frame and included in TGAS’ annual art show July 11 at Circle Cinema, 10 S. Lewis Ave.
Also this month
Living Arts First Friday Openings
On display in the Myers Gallery, Michelle Reid’s “These Thoughts, They Travel” visually expresses the idea of thoughts taking flight and pushing through time. Virginia T. Coleman’s “The Lines of a Woman” explores the human form using simple lines in drawing and sculpture. 6-9 p.m., June 7. Living Arts, 307 E. Brady St. Free. Visit www.livingarts.org.
Gilcrease Sunday Matinee Films, “Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom”
Created for the Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture, “Juneteenth” explores the beginning of this unique holiday and its significance today. 1:30 p.m., June 9, at Gilcrease Museum, 1400 N. Gilcrease Museum Road. Free with museum admission. Visit www.gilcrease.utulsa.edu.
BookSmart Tulsa Discussion and Film Screening
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Glenn Frankel will speak about his book, “The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend,” which chronicles the history and inspiration behind the classic John Wayne Western, “The Searchers.” A showing of the film will follow. 7 p.m., June 11, at Circle Cinema, 10 S. Lewis Ave. Free. Visit www.booksmarttulsa.com.