Painted in collaboration with the local community & children; an educational mural commissioned by Project Tamar, combining scientific theories, self directed education & art techniques to tackle local environmental issues.
We were asked to paint a rather dreary wall in the Marine rescue center of O Sitio do Conde in Bahia, Brazil. The manager of the center, João, who was almost certainly reincarnated from the ancient noble turtle, explained that he thought a timeline of the evolution of life on Earth would be an interesting talking point for the predominantly creationist beach town. And luckily, the wall was 30 meters so the entirety of life on Earth could fit easily - kidding, it took a while to summarize over 6 billion years. But we got there, and in the process we made the mural into an opportunity to get to know the town, its beauties and its beasts.
So first, to intrigue you a little let me list the techniques we used within the making of this mural, I have added some links that summarize these theories:
Self-directed Education; Evolutionary psychologist Peter Gray explains self-directed learning fundamentals
Alpha Askew: the theory of bullying within all mammals; Developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld
Beauty Theory: within art, psychology & physiology; Denis Duttons' explination of beauty thoery within our species evolutionary origins
Jackson Pollock general splashing techniques (Chaos Theory); Professor Jim Al-Khalili's documentary on how order emerge from disorder.
Up-cycling techniques to reuse rubbish
Play Theory; Stuart Browns' pioneer research on Play
a smidgin' of Biology
As with all good stories, let's start from the end...
How the mural concept dynamically evolved...
The mural was made with the paint the Marine Center already had, so it wouldn't cost them anything. We started with the Primordial Soup of life on Earth; went through every pivotal stage of evolution, ending with the most recent species that emerged, us, Homo Sapiens.
Our original plan was to draw out the timeline first, then create a collage out of the rubbish we collected with the kids from the local Capoeira school.
...We ended up working mostly with the kids who lived nearby and had no school to go to due to strikes. This rapidly made us adapt our mural plans to fit their needs to have a blast and be awesome... For example, instead of us quickly drawing out the timeline, then covering the entire thing in up-cycled rubbish with the kids, we incorporated the kids into the drawing stage because they wanted to participate. The challenge was to avoid the mural looking like a kid-doodled medley; adhering to the kids needs and enthusiasm to participate, and accessorizing the ways in which they wanted to take part, which was a feat in it's self as they were remarkably efficient at everything, and finally, having the greatest environmental impact while doing it.
The Primordial Soup:
Play Theory meets Jackson Pollock meets water balloons...
To make the Primordial Soup, we filled water balloons with water-soluble paint and handed them to the kids to smash them silly against the pre-drawn outline of the waves. It was hilarious and we got a wonderful Pollock splash effect on the wall. It 'distracted' the kids long enough for Drew to get on with painting more of the timeline, and we were careful to pick up the plastic residue of the balloons. And in the process we learnt some fundamentals of physics to make the balloons actually splash. Play theory meets art and physics - LOL.
Filling in the Evolution Timeline drawing...
Beauty Theory meets Self-directed Education with a touch of Alpha Askew
Drew was sketching out the timeline with all the animals weaved into each other with a pencil first. The kids were so eager to help that they would pick up the paint and pencils and just have a good go, making it more of an Eton mess as opposed to a valiant testimony of life on Earth to challenge the Creationist status quo. But the kids just kept turning up and insisting to help us... It turned out the school was on strike so they had 'nothing better to do', and thus the mural's fate was sealed... the kids were sticking around, and we had to come up with as many ways for them to participate in the mural without sabotaging the initial brief.
At first they tried to paint over Drew's outlined drawings, but they did a messy job and got bored... they wanted to just draw their own thing freely, which made sense... each had their 'drawing specialty': some were very good at bees; others at tulips or roses, so we set up a kid-run drawing school within the mini mural workers [and might I add they were the best assistants we ever had - they would turn up in 35 degree heat, come rain or shine, smiling and ready to go.]
Our mini muralists went about drawing on rescued paper from the waste paper basket. They created an in-house competition of who drew the best creatures, asking us to give them new challenging creatures to draw. They then asked us to judge the best drawings, which really didn't feel right at all, so like any decent 'boss' we 'delegated' the judging to the kids themselves: 'who did they think drew the best bees, butterflies or tulips, and that little person would then be voted in charge of helping the other kids get there bee drawings up to scratch. The great thing is each kid had their strength, and on the whole learnt nicely from each other. I say on the whole as there was one kid who had some trouble, but I will get into that in a bit. We used a technique from Beauty Theory to eventually get the kids to paint their 'strong drawing' on the wall.
In Beauty Theory there is a phenomenon of repetition being aesthetically pleasing to us... literally anything repeated will look good to us: from a lid to a piece of poo, repeat it enough and it's basically art. This applies to symmetry, vallies and certain colour coordination...
So all the kids needed to do is repeat the same drawing over and over, teach the other kids to draw the same thing over and over, and voila, there was a lovely Matisse style background to our pristine timeline. We showed them a few tricks of perspective in the drawing, but mostly as they asked, and at the end they were very happy with the results, as were we. Below you can see the tulips, bees and roses. We also used our hands as texture for the snake skin and everyone was very happy. Actually that is not true, one kid fly-kicked another... we didn't see it, but this is the queue for Alpha Askew!
This little one was beautiful and fiery, very clever and the youngest. She got frustrated because she wanted to be the leader, but being the youngest, little attention was paid. When she lashed out we took her back to her mama, explained the situation, and felt terrible walking away... we felt like we should do more than just hand her over. The next day she came back with her mama and some beautiful dream catchers she'd made to apologize. We set about making amends with the kids... kids are so forgiving they didn't even expect an apology. However, we knew it was likely to reoccur, so we utilized the Alpha Askew technique we had researched. In this theory you need to first find the bully's remorse - their 'tears' as the Doc put it (this had just occurred with our little fly-kicker); and secondly, give them a caregiving role to awaken their nurturing instincts. To do this we found some younger kids to participate, and our little fly-kicker was charged with helping them get the confidence to draw her infamous tulips on the wall. She was very pleased with her new position and went about teaching her students the art of tulip painting. The littlest was convinced he couldn't, but his tiny teacher encouraged him so lovingly he finally managed to pluck up the courage to have a go on the wall. It was wonderful. She shone, and we learned a valuable lesson on bringing out the best in kids.
What we learned...
In general these kids were amazing... All the kids in the Capoeira school learned honour and respect everyday with their teacher Chico. One line in the song they would sing while dancing in the 'ronda' was "eu sou o defendor da natureza' (I am a defender of nature). Of course I heard that and got very emotional about everything... Chico would barely blink and the kids would line up like eager ducklings bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for anything Chico requested. He never needed to shout, if Chico had something to say, the kids would sshhh each other to be able to hear him... they loved him, and I don't blame them, he was awesome, like a Brazilian Bruce Lee, master of Capoeira who practically levitated when he danced, no wonder he earned the little ones' respect. If my French teacher could flick up to standing from lying down in a split second I would have certainly paid more attention in class! He was adored by his community, going to every corner of Conde on his motorbike to reach kids in remote parts to teach them their heritage of Capoiera... This is where we learned the true value of community-run projects, and how folklore and culture play such a vital role in helping people work together.
As defenders of nature, the kids would go out weekly to collect the litter in the village. There was plenty of it so there was always lots to do. We noticed a strange phenomenon: the kids, despite their adored Chico leading the litter-pick way, didn't always pick up the rubbish, almost like they couldn't see it. No matter what the adults did, some kids just didn't see what was rubbish. This is a psychological phenomenon where people are immune to see what they are raised with. If a kid is raised in a messy home, or litter-filled land, a messy home and litter won't look out of place or attract any attention. It sounds obvious, but it a real issue. You can educate no end that we must pick up our rubbish, but if it isn't noticed, it is to no real avail. To begin to experiment to remedy this behavior we organized an informal workshop, and tried to change the association of the rubbish, by:
1. Giving it a use:
For example, plastic bags into rope; straws into bags, bracelets etc; or bottles into pots for food.
We organized an informal workshop with the Capoiera kids to use up the litter we had collected so far. Then we watched youtube videos together to see what can be made from all these things.
2. Beauty Theory game with litter:
As mentioned earlier, within Beauty Theory it has been investigated that humans have certain triggers to what we find beautiful. It is theorized that these triggers are connected to what is condusive to our health and well-being: symmetrical faces tend to mean healthy people who were not effected by parasites; a green valley landscape is fertile for food; a ripe apple is yummy and nutritious, while a rotten apple can make you sick. So we took advantage of this intrinsic beauty-radar instinct to help unlearn litter being normal. We did this through a very simple metaphor/game:
We got the pile of rubbish, and asked "is this beautiful?" The kids answered "Noooooooooooo!"
We started putting the rubbish in order, grabbing just the plastic lids from the pile of rubbish and started putting them in order of colour and size, of course making a rainbow.
3. We asked "is this beautiful?", "YEEEESSS!" answered the kids
4. Then we asked them "why?" and to play with the litter to make it beautiful.
5. Soon they realized when you put the rubbish in some kind of order it becomes aesthetically pleasing.
Simple and effective...
...and obviously we wrapped the whole activity in Play Theory. The kids learned through their play, and directed the learning by figuring it out for themselves. Also, by learning how to upcycle the litter into things they wanted by researching on youtube, they could direct what they wanted to learn on thier own terms. This was so effective and the kids picked up on the straw weaves so brilliantly that they ended up teaching us how to do it!
The great thing was the next time we went litter collecting along the beach, I noticed the same kids that previously hadn't picked up the rubbish, being exited about finding the rubbish. So it helped.
And finally, the cherry on top.. the Theater...
This project was entirely adapted always to what was needed. We were given a brief, which we stuck to, but always dynamically changing how and what we did according to the situation. However, at one point we needed to get on with the mural as we were about to pass our deadline. So we needed to distract the kids for a whole day away from us. Drew had noticed one of the kids was quite a character, the Charlie Chaplin of Bahia, as he put it. So he suggested they put on a show for us in the evening. What was to come from this was glorious.
They disappeared off and we hurriedly gave the mural much needed final touches to the drawing to bring it up to scratch. After a long day we were readying for bed when the doorbell rang. The kids were giggling away saying the show was to commence in 10 minuets, and we were expected to wear our Sunday best. Intrigued, we obliged, got changed and peered outside. First the kids handed us our tickets, which were rose petals, naturally; and they had set up lighting by some log stumps, decorating the stage with flowers and petals.
There are no words to do justice to the epic performance they presented. The first show was an interpretation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but Romeo was a useless clown who was desperately in love with a Juliet who was a gold-digger, who paid no attention to him until he robbed a bank... I shit you not, it was the best performance ever, I laughed more than I have ever laughed in any show, it was witty, honest, and executed to perfection. And to top it off they had costumes, and found a role for everyone, that suited them to a tee. Our fly-kicker was a neurotic theater director bossing all the characters around, having a nervous breakdown throughout.. it was hilarious. We were hooked, and the kids performed for us every night... Prooving that kids are at their best left to their own devices and we are just there to learn from them, and for emergencies...
And the best part of all this project was that it all started because Drew was drawing on the beach and the kids were curious, drew with him, and boom, we were adopted by this wonderful community... an epic adventure of saving turtles, learning the strength of cultural heritage in community, never giving up, playing with kids, art and a touch a brilliant theater...
End note: I would like to commemorate the founder of the Capoeira School, who was sadly assassinated for his generous efforts with the kids of the community. And his friends who didn't let that stop them, and carried on fighting the good fight for years to come.
If you wish to support us supporting amazing projects, you can:
- Find out about our Mural workshops (Click here)
- Commission an artwork (Click Here)
- Download Music (Click Here)