Artist-in-Residence Proposes Healing Through Community Art

September 16, 2009

Update 9/17/09: “What can I do,” Artist-in-Residence Claudia Bernardi asked herself and the audience of hundreds gathered in Francis Auditorium September 16.

“I can do art,” she said.

Students, faculty, staff, and community members filled the auditorium to hear Bernardi present “The Perquin Model: Art and Diplomacy in the Process Toward Justice, ” her most recent public lecture on campus. Powerful photos of poignant murals, quotations, poetry, and history lessons illustrated the initiative and its goal of promoting peace, justice, and community recovery through art.

Tragically, it seems that too many areas are affected by human rights violations like those at El Mozote (just a few miles from Perquin), and places around the globe are in need of artistic outreach and healing through creative expression, Bernardi explained. The “Perquin Model” concept — born in the El Salvadoran town for which it is named — is beginning to have similarly encouraging results in other parts of El Salvador and other countries in Central and South America, where rape, murder, and other human rights crimes have been and continue to be committed.

This spring, Bernardi will make her second trip to Perquin with Mary Baldwin college students, faculty, and others, to continue the rebuilding process. Please read more about her mission and work below.

Original article published 9/16/09:

In 2007, Argentine artist and activist Claudia Bernardi helped Mary Baldwin University students transform a blank bakery wall in Staunton into a community point of pride. In 2009, she guided the transformation of plain cinder block on campus into a story of multiculturalism, empowerment, and peace. In the meantime — through those very visual projects, powerful trips abroad with students, and memorable visits to campus — Bernardi’s vibrancy, talent, and sincerity transformed the Mary Baldwin community.

The college welcomed Bernardi to campus in September 2006 as that year’s Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Doenges Visiting Artist/Scholar, and she captured imaginations and hearts from the beginning. Bernardi opened her work and herself during that first visit through the documentary Artist of Resistance, which explored her experiences at the site of a mass civilian murder in El Mozote that occurred during El Salvador’s brutal civil war and the artwork that resulted. She shared with us how she works to reconstruct the spirit of people in that region with projects such as Walls of Hope school and open studio that she founded in Perquin, a neighboring village of El Mozote where families — and culture — were nearly obliterated by the massacre.

In 2008, Bernardi was named artist-in-residence at Mary Baldwin, and during Spring Break 2009 she took a group of students, faculty, and staff to Perquin for an intense week of living and working with the people of that community and expanding the outreach of Walls of Hope. She will return to El Salvador with another group during May Term 2010, and her continuing projects in Perquin are the focus of her presentation on campus September 16: The Perquin Model: Art and Diplomacy in the Process Toward Justice.

Using what has been accomplished in Perquin as a model for employing art and diplomacy in the process towards justice, Bernardi believes that art plays a powerful role in rebuilding communities where there has been conflict and a history of violations of human rights. The model is replicable in other parts of the world, she contends. It is a proposal for an enduring peace process.