“We’re happy!” declared the Burmese refugee group as they finished their Des Moines Art Center tour on May 8, 2014. This was the culminating activity of their four-week art class. According to the ELL teacher at Lutheran Services in Iowa, “many elderly clients are dealing with vision, hearing and general health problems. Some have endured torture and malnutrition… Many … have had no schooling in their own country…”
The language barrier makes it difficult to know much more than this about our art students but we can tell that some have formal art training, and we know that several were weavers before they came to the US. They often use English letters and numbers in their designs, as well as images from their native lands. Art is proving to be a universal language.
This spring session was the third one for several of the refugees, some from Burma and some from Bhutan. People in both ethnic groups arrived in the US after many years in refugee camps. It’s hard to imagine an environment more different from south Asia than Iowa.
We focused on batik during the spring session. It is a universal medium; every culture around the world has developed an art form based on a resist process. The medium brings out the refugees’ love of fanciful designs and bright colors.
The First Unitarian Church will host an exhibit of the class’ work in July. The Church is prepared to collect a donation from anyone who wants to purchase the artwork. Proceeds will be used to purchase personal art supplies for students in the program.