Mariana Corbalan starts off each of her arts-and-crafts sessions by telling children about El Anatsui, a Ghanaian man who takes discarded stuff from his town — chicken wire, bottle caps, tin can lids— and turns them into works of art.
“Today, boys and girls, you’re going to do the same thing,” said Corbalan, the education outreach coordinator at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach. “Who wants to be my helper?”
“Pick me! Pick me!’’ the children cry, their hands popping up like a game of Whack-A-Moles.
Corbalan, who has been with the Bass Museum for two years, has been hosting the workshops at summer camps and community centers throughout South Florida for the past few months. Corbalan and the museum’s mission is simple: to teach kids the lessons of El Anatsui, that is, the lessons of teamwork, community and the concept that one man’s trash is another man’s artistic medium.
As Corbalan and her group have traveled around town, they have set up tables stocked with recycled paper, asking people to write messages of peace and inspiration. It is those messages Corbalan has incorporated into the Monumental Paper Chain, to be unveiled from 2 to 4 p.m. July 27 at the Bass, as part of its Family Day.
“The Bass Museum is taking this lesson on the road, educating communities about this important artist, while inspiring people to create chains of their own,” Corbalan said.
El Anatsui was born in Ghana, but he spent most of his life in Nigeria. Throughout his career, the internationally known artist has experimented with different media, including wood, ceramics and paint. For his recent projects, he has used objects that he has found, mostly made of metal.
El Anatsui draws inspiration from the aesthetic customs of Ghana and Nigeria, and blends that with the cultural, social and economic histories of West Africa, including the slave trade and Colonialism.
In her workshops, Corbalan shares a few fun facts about El Anatsui.
“Did you know El Anatsui had 30 brothers and sisters?” she asks the aspiring artists.
Afterward, she tells the kids to write down the words or draw pictures of the people, places or things that make them happy.
The room breaks out in riveting sound.
Once the kids settle down and put their ideas to paper, Corbalan shows them how to fold the paper into a chain link. Then they work with the other children to assemble the links into one large paper chain.
“How do we put everything together?” asked Scott Schultz, 10, who was at Corbalan’s workshop at the Coral Gables Museum.
“It’s teamwork, you’ll have to figure it out together,” Corbalan answered, pointing to the other kids.
Corbalan says she emphasizes teamwork when it comes time for the children to put together the chain. “El Anatsui works with many people to create his monumental tapestries. They are a product of many ideas and many hands,” she said.
Corbalan has taken the workshop to New Jerusalem Ministry, a summer program that works with disabled kids; West Dade Regional Library; Miami Beach Regional Library; the camp at the Coral Gables Museum; and SUCCESS Miami, where they work primarily with deaf and hard-of-hearing middle school students.
Dianely Cabrera, the school and family manager at the Coral Gables Museum, says Corbalan’s workshop is exactly what her kids needed.
“I was really impressed at how she captivated all of the campers,” Cabrera said.
“It’s like turning an old car into a spaceship,” said Scott, who vowed to look at trash differently from now on.
“He’s [El Anatsui] recycling while making beautiful work of art,” added Rebecca Ferrer, 7.