Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Significance of the Metamorphosis Community Mosaic Mural

 As I've been applying for grants, seeking donations and promoting the Metamorphosis mural project, I've been describing the theme and message as a celebration of diversity and inclusivity, personal and societal transformation, and of individuals becoming their most authentic selves.

That's the nutshell version. Yesterday, I was asked to further elucidate the message of the project for someone interested in organizing a group butterfly-making event. I've been trying to organize the miasma of my thoughts on the subject, but I find it impossible to condense it into one clear statement.

This is in large part because I do not believe in hitting people over the head with art, especially community-based projects. I feel it is my job to amplify the voices of the participants, and to do my best to include marginalized perspectives. This is not a project that was commissioned by an entity to make a particular statement; it is a grass roots project that I felt motivated to offer my community. 

A mock-up of the mural concept on the wall at 425 4th Ave. Olympia, WA

The foundation of the concept is rooted in my conviction that a diverse society is stronger, richer and more fun than homogeneity. When we embrace each other's differences, we all benefit from the unique strengths that we collectively bring to the table. In the current climate of culture war, I am gravely concerned for the safety and well-being of my LGBTQIA, BIPOC, and Jewish friends and family. 

It is not my place to position myself as a spokesperson for any of the above-mentioned groups. My hope is to include as many voices as possible of those who are marginalized and those who support them in a message of solidarity.

An early sketch of the central figure, showing a nondescript figure emerging from a chrysalis, proudly spreading their new, colorful wings.

My design features a central figure that is humanoid, rising up from a chrysalis, spreading brightly colored butterfly wings. The person is is not flesh-toned and non-gendered and is meant to be a holding place for visitors who will have their picture taken in front of the mural. The actual figure is being rendered in mirror with any features being subtle suggestions. My hope is that the viewer will see themselves reflected back. It represents personal transformation: becoming our most authentic selves.

Freedom of Expression is an important foundation of American values, and it is currently under attack. How and whom we love, how we dress, how we perform - as long as we are not harming or inhibiting others, it is no one's business. 

That sums up the foundation of my intention when designing this mural. But I also feel the butterfly symbolizes more metaphors that are relevant to current events. For instance, for Mexican culture, the butterfly/mariposa is believed to be the spirit of ancestors coming to visit. This is reinforced by the timing of the annual Monarch migration, when swarms of Monarchs return to Central Mexico near the Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead holiday. My spouse is half-Mexican and we have traveled quite a bit throughout central and southern MX. 
That's my kid at a Monarch Sanctuary in Michoacan during the 2016 migration.

All of the giant clusters hanging from the trees are masses of butterflies!

The butterfly (usually a Monarch) is a ubiquitous symbol in Mexico and for Mexican Americans, representing the act of migration. Immigration policies in the U.S. are extremely problematic, and the results are devastating. It is impossible for me to facilitate this mural without acknowledging this layer of meaning and metaphor.

The significance of the butterfly for the Indigenous community is connected to that of Mexican tradition by nature, in that this continent was originally inhabited by Native people, without a dividing line where one stopped and the other began. For Pacific NW tribes, the butterfly is an important part of storytelling; a character representing transformation, metamorphosis, beauty, balance, and grace. The butterfly is often depicted in Pacific Northwest Coast Native mythology as the companion, scout and spokesperson for the raven. Some of my closest friends (more like family) are part of that community, and I know how important the butterfly symbol is to Diva (member of the Kuruk tribe/Polynesian, but raised Skokomish and a gifted Native storyteller.) Diva is a treasured member of our chosen family, so I can't facilitate this mural without recognizing that connection.

That sums up my own personal thoughts on the message in this mural, but I feel strongly that everyone should bring their relationship with the butterfly symbol to the project. I hope it will resonate with people near and far, instilling a sense of shared experience and mutual support.

A participant.

Priscilla and Em with Christi on the right.

Christi helping a young participant.

The big wings on my deck.
One of many butterflies already received.

Another butterfly from Joan Pliska.

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