sight of elated dogs, running from dot to dot, following their noses
from shoe to shoe, were but one sure sign that Tyree Guyton's diversity-inspired
work had brought people - and animals - together on the flip-side,
here in Australia. Guyton came to Sydney from Detroit with a group
of artists, mentors, and other interested people in order to transform
communal parks through his artwork (reported here)
and to produce a series of interactive events culminating in a two
day performance in Sydney Park.
The community has been compared to Detroit in terms of social issues
(race relations and cultural revitalization), yet it hardly looks
like Detroit. The parks are impeccably kept, and the streets and buildings
are holding their own against flora seeking reclamation. Perhaps it
was the beauty of the sunny Saturday afternoon, but prior to visiting
with the residents, the deceptive perfection of the Alexandria, Sydney
area had me wondering why such a comparison was made. No amount of
funding for public grounds can mend the racked social relations resulting
from the sordid Australian-Aboriginal history that continues to have
an effect on the community.
order to do the real work of healing, it takes a group of motivated
people seeking to change the world; it takes a listening ear, an open
heart, and giving hands. In Guyton's words (quoted on the "Singing
for that Country" website) "If we are capable of landing
on the moon, building weapons of mass destruction, and fighting wars,
I say that we are also capable of bringing hope, health, and happiness
to people all over the world." Guyton, creative director Aku
Kadogo, and sound artist Patrick Abbood, along with a dedicated group
of planners devoted months (and actually, in terms of planning, years)
of their time and energy in order to provide a forum for local and
international cultural interaction.
It was a magnanimous scene. Large colorful dots were placed all over
the grassy hillside forming an amphitheatre of sorts. The basin housed
a stage whereon a band played, two MC's rapped, and young hip hop
dancers performed. Each dot displayed a painted shoe, which contained
priceless gems including either a letter or a picture from the Detroit
youth who once wore the shoe. The shoes make up a central them for
the entire project, asking "If my shoes could talk, what would
it say?" Answers to that question were provided by listening
at an audio center and to a mid-performance broadcast, as well as
through reading the letters within the shoes themselves.
Lee, a Detroit native on his first visit to Australia, was one of
the people traveling with Tyree to help work with the kids and the
art. Lee described the shoes as encouraging all of us to "choose
the right path." At a previous interactive activity under the
"Singing for that Country" umbrella at Hyde Park earlier
this month, people were invited to paint shoes provided by the project
and to write letters describing what their shoe would say if it could
talk. Lee saw the shoes used up quickly as more and more people engaged
in painting. People's enthusiasm got the best of their sneakers when
they began taking off their own shoes in desperation to participate.
Lee exclaimed, "They were actually taking off their shoes, painting
them, letting them dry, and then putting them back on to wear them
around the city!"
The Detroit group worked with Alexandria Park Community School to
produce the art and the performance. Trude Aspeling Bruce acted as
liaison between the school faculty and the Detroiters. Bruce witnessed
the children exploring new issues through the artwork, such as "where
am I now?" and "where am I going?" A group of six Alexandria
Park Community School Youth began practicing their dance performance
thrice weekly nearly three months ago. Helena Mahoney, mother of ten
year old dancer Rebecca Mahoney, sees the project as great for the
kids' development; helping the children mature through community involvement
and encouraging them to act as representatives for their culture.
According to Mahoney, the school's fantastic outreach and organization
helped make "Singing for that Country" entirely successful.
at the crowd of every age, race, and cultural background, it was obvious
that Guyton and crew had brought that same spirit that has made The
Heidelberg Project what it is across the globe to Sydney. After speaking
with people involved in "Singing for that Country", hearing
about the challenges and the triumphs, and participating in the final
production, I felt honored to be part of the human race. If these
are our representatives, these pioneers of cultural exchange and urban
renewal; if communities are capable of joining together and exhibiting
unconditional acceptance as I witnessed on this glorious day in the
Southern Hemisphere, then we've got a good deal to look forward to.