The Prophetic Realities Project
That’s just one of eighteen painted portraits of spoken word poets, ages 15-20, from the Bay Area featured in The Prophetic Realities Project. Evan Bissell (friend and Wesleyan alum) is the artist responsible for bringing this imaginative and innovative project to life (also made possible via Cultural Equity Grants program @ San Francisco Arts Commission–gotta show love to the generous donors to encourage continued support for the arts). Rather than re-interpret Evan’s specific vision for the project, I thought I’d share his ruminations on the process straight from the source:
“This project is an ode to imagination. When I say imagination, I do not mean to limit the word to construction paper, glitter and gluesticks, though those could also be included in what I mean. When I say this project is about imagination, I think specifically of bell hooks writing in ‘Teaching Community’ about the ‘prophetic imagination’. In expanding on her own transformative relationship with art, hooks writes, “Individuals from marginalized groups, whether victimized by dysfunctional families or political systems of domination, often find their way to freedom by heeding the call of prophetic imaginations.” Or I think from Arundhati Roy. When speaking about India’s reliance on dams, purported to be helpful but proven to be devastating, she writes, “In order to hope, we have to break the faith.” This imagination, breaking the faith with the status quo, requires, like all living things, space to grow, be supported, food and love. Imagination is disruptive, imagining ‘success’ outside of the American dream threatens the fabric of the mainstream national identity as consumers, not producers. Imagination is a door to truths, and as truths are often intentionally obscured in our lives, our schools, our relationships or our workplace, that muscle can be severely malnutritioned.”
“The Prophetic Realities Portrait Project is about education as transformation and the potential of all people to be educators through this imagination. It is about the individuals and creative community who, through their creative process make that type of education not only possible, but central to the way they live. The project is a documentation of the ways that people educate/transform themselves and the people and society around them through spoken word and writing specifically and imagination and art more broadly” — Evan Bissell (Read more here)
One of the tightest parts of the process (in my opinion) involves Evan and the poets selecting various sites around San Francisco to install the portraits. Passerby’s are given the option to call a number (no extra charge, this isn’t a scam) and listen to the poem corresponding with each poet’s portrait. How ill is that? The words of these eighteen poets are made accessible to whoever dials! It’s really that simple and yet I’ve never heard of or seen anything like it. Major props to Evan for making it all happen. Too often we conceptualize interesting and potentially ground breaking ideas and fail to follow through. It should be mentioned that these selected poets are not “random” they all work for “the dynamic and inspiring literary education organization”: Youth Speaks. (Peep the website, it is hella tricked out). It should also be mentioned that today marked my first day working for Youth Speaks (more info to come) and wow y’all, I haven’t felt this genuinely engaged in and excited about an organization in a hoooooooot MINUTE. Even today’s orientation meeting got me crazy juiced to start performing at high school assemblies around the Bay Area and facilitating workshops. Basically: I’m feeling ready to tackle life’s challenges and unwilling to compromise my vision for what is possible. I was sitting in the orientation meeting, looking around at the other poets and I had this corny and very real feeling that I was exactly where I needed to be…that I am exactly where I need to be. It’s an indescribably comforting and necessary moment of clarity. My apologies for that digression but I had to make it clear how a) AMAZING Youth Speaks is and b) announce my official participation with it. Word! Ok, back to the project. For folks in the Bay, you should come to the opening reception of an accompanying installation at Intersection for the Arts in Frisco on September 26 (next Friday). For everyone else, check out this website where you can listen to the poems and peruse the virtual gallery showcasing all of Evan’s beautifully rendered portraits. Whether you see the portraits on the street, online or in a gallery, you will surely be impressed and inspired by the boundless imaginations of these eighteen aspiring poets. So, what are you waiting for? Check it out!!!