Inspired by Inocente | Marquetta Johnson

As a teaching artist working at a museum I am often presented with opportunities to develop workshops in support of an exhibit or a work of art. However, recently I was asked to develop a workshop inspired by the documentary film, Inocente which chronicles the struggles and triumphs of Latina artist Inocente as she strives to live life as an artist and overcome homelessness in Los Angeles.  As I watched the trailer, I was captivated by a statement that she made regarding keeping a positive attitude each day.

She said that she needed to do art every day to keep her sanity and stay positive so she used what was always available and that was her face. She used makeup and face paint to create beautiful Arabesque designs on her face that shouted out to the world: “See the person I am on the outside and know that I am beautiful on the inside, too.”

After viewing the trailer, I developed an art experience in which participants were photographed in black and white, given this photo copy and encouraged to use black sharpies and colored pencils to decorate their face and then cut it out and incorporate it into a collage with a painted background that reflected their personal outlook and aspirations.  As I developed the sample, I was surprised at the feelings that creating this collaged self-portrait brought me. As I decorated my face, I felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for myself and the inherent beauty that surfaced as I worked to develop the designs and symbols in this work of art. I saw myself as bright, bold and intelligent. It was my hope that this energy would be felt by all of the participants in the experience.

On the day of the workshop, the High Museum hosted a showing of the film Inocente and hired three teaching artists to present art experiences inspired by the film to teens from the Metropolitan Atlanta area.  As I was setting up, I could feel the energy flowing in the Greene Family Learning Center as we prepared for the activities.  Once the film was over, the teens joined the teaching artists in the workshops. There were about twenty adults and teens in my workshop space.  I shared directions for the art experience and stood back to observe the art-making and hear the comments of the teens as they worked.

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For a moment, there was total silence as teens painted their backgrounds and formulated their designs. I could feel the engagement and excitement. Then, once everyone had settled on an idea, I could hear the buzz of conversation as people expressed their joy and delight in the activity we were all experiencing.  Everyone was feeling the good flow of creative energy as we all participated in art-making.  All of a sudden a petite, soft spoken young woman came in the door and I knew it was Inocente.  We were introduced and I had a moment to share my sample self-portrait collage with her. She seemed to be pleased that her life was inspiring other teens to make art and to be grateful for the opportunities in their life.

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imageInocente and Marquetta

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I, too, was grateful for the moment. I appreciated using my teaching artistry in such a deep and meaningful way. I also appreciated the fact that Inocente took a few minutes out of her busy afternoon to join my teen participants in painting and experiencing the camaraderie that evolves in a moment of creativity. As the session grew to a close, I saw the visual evidence of a successful art experience.  I saw people that did not want to put their glue bottles down.  I saw teens that had made new friends and acquaintances.  Last, but not least, I saw personal expressions of awe and wonder in the form of self-portrait collages inspired by a young hero named Inocente.

The film Inocente won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short, February 2013.

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