Color Up the Dark: an art project in Slums

When I was 2, I did my first painting and dreamed to be an artist, sadly when I grew up everyone told me that “painting can be your habit, but don’t let it delay your study and work !” Gradually I forgot my dream to be an artist.

Until I was 23 and I went to Iran, where all females need to cover their whole body except face, lots of people have misunderstanding of them, but they are actually the same people with us with same kind and honest heart, I had a desire to paint these women with bright colors, to show their freedom and a rich inner world behind dresses and appearances. So I decided to be an artist and paint the Persian Princess.

My Inspirations come from my experience in Iran and different countries, poetry, drama or fairy tales that inspired me, and everything happened around the world.

As what Picasso said “Every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”, since I started to paint, I became a child again and recover my curiosity, imagination, and creativity.

I founded my art website mowenart.com and have viewers from 70+ countries, someone told me that “I admire the way how you follow your heart and just be yourself, you really inspired me! ”

click photo to know more about Mowen
click photo to know more about Mowen

The more I paint, the more questions I start to ask, what’s the meaning of art? What’s the social responsibility that artists should take? How can art change the world?

I remember that French Artist JR once took photos for Palestinian and Israeli with the same job, and pasted their photos on the wall between Palestine and Israel, to raise awareness of peace and humanity. He made me realized that Street is the biggest art gallery and every passerby is the audience waiting to be awake.

What happened in Manila Slums

There are around 4 million dwellers living in Manila. Tondo is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped areas of the country, where drug crimes and gang crimes happened rampantly, the government couldn’t manage it, and people dare not to go there.

But I still find one NGO and have the local guide took me to visit the slum Baseco, to do a research about their issues on poverty, water, education, houses, sanitation and so on. What impressed us most was that among 200,000 people living here, only 3500 students study in 2 primary schools, most children couldn’t get the education, they started to help parents to earn money since 4-5 years old, to pick up the plastic at trash beach, or peel the garlic. They have nothing to do, so fighting and brawling become common among teenagers.

I mentioned these to friends living in Manila but most people are accustomed to it, they told me “This is Manila, the government does nothing, we couldn’t do anything. ”

I was thinking, why not use art to help them? When Mowen asked some moms in the slum if they want their children to do paintings with Mowen, they were so excited “Yes! I want my children to know how to paint, not only peel the garlic ! and I want to have a beautiful house !”

As what a famous Chinese poet wrote “I’m a willful child/ I desire to erase all the sufferings/ and draw a window on every acre of the earth/to illuminate all the darkness in our eyes”

Yes, I choose to be these willful children, to help these children in slums enjoy the opportunities of painting and creating, to paint with locals on their houses and streets, to bring happiness, hope, and love to them, and raise awareness of slum issues and let more people help them.

So I contacted a group of Filipino artist to learn how to do graffiti and cooperate with them for the project, these artists host art exhibitions and sell paintings in the gallery, join international graffiti competitions, cooperate with famous brands, but they also have a big and kind heart to go to the slums and communities to do painting for children.

 What are we going to do?

Step 1: Art Workshop

  • Welcome games & Introduction 
  • Discussion & Brainstorm: The children are divided into groups to discuss the issues of their slum — “what I want to see my slum look like”, then choose the theme of paintings and murals.
  • Sketch training: They create their own paintings on paper with acrylic and oil pastels, and explore the meaning behind the painting and colors.
  • Snacks and painting materials are provided, and children are gifted with art supplies after.
  • Case: In a vulnerable community-based in Mandaluyong, we run a 5 hours art workshop for 80+ children from 5 to 14 years old, on the theme “home”. Most children portrayed home as not just the physical house but family and love. Others expressed home as something that made them sad because of the lack of food or space.
click photo to read the story
click photo to read the story

Step 2: Mural & House Painting

  • Design: Together with Filipino artist, the murals are designed based on the theme that we have discussed with locals during art workshop.
  • Mural: With children in the slums, the artists painted murals on the wall and houses of slums.
  • House and street: Working with the locals, all housing and streets in the slums are painted into colors and design.
  • Case: in one community we cooperate with 10 Filipino artists to paint happiness with children.
click photo to read the story
click photo to read the story

Step 3: Leadership Camp

  • Target: Workshop participants.
  • Opening Games: Get to know each other better
  • Review: Issues of slums, my contributions to the art project, my learnings through art.
  • Leadership training: Empowering the children to strive for a future they dream for. Focused on attitudes such as being action-oriented, having a positive attitude, resilience, integrity, and teamwork to improve their situation.
  • What’s next: Set personal goals and commitments to become a better citizen for their future. Closing activities

After the Project: 

Step 1: Showcasing the Impact

  • Exhibitions: inviting photographers and influencers for photo shooting and impact exhibition in gallery
  • Video Documentary: shoot the process of the project and make into a documentary to broadcast online
  • Media: cooperate with magazines, newspapers, TV, and social media channels to showcase the project and raise awareness of issues in slums.
  • Others: join forms/conference/workshops to make presentations and speech to raise more awareness.

Step 2: Support Children and teenagers for Art and Education

  • reward participants book and art materials
  • cooperate with galleries and online platform for art get funds to support children run regular art workshops in slums

Step 3: Tourism & Business opportunity for slum 

  • Design souvenirs from paintings and murals, like postcards, posters, t-shirts, etc.
  • the slum after painting will be more attractive for tourism especially slum tour, we can do entrepreneurship coaching to locals on how to run a small business to get income for better life.

Why do we choose Crowdfunding?

As a Chinese, I launched the crowdfunding project in China for the art project in community and slums, to our surprise, on the first day there were 100+ Chinese supported 2000+ USD to the art project, they said how inspired they were and hoped to help these children, before the crowdfunding, when I talked to a leader of the government, he didn’t believe the meaning and who will support a person without “background and resources“, but after he saw the crowdfunding result, he changed his idea and would love to support the project.

This made me realize how can a group of people to change the top’s decisions, the more people to join and support, the more awareness we could raise, the more change we could make, this is why we choose to do the crowdfunding in the global network.

Some people have asked us, why a Singaporean and Chinese want to change the slums in the Philippines, for us, it’s just because we have seen what happened here, and want to do something for another group of humans, and make the world better together.

In the end, no matter who we are, we are all human beings and love always wins.

Support the art project in slums at Kickstarter:  Color up the Slums of the Philippines 

Mowen Li

the Philippines

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