Muralists in the Making: an Interview with Jazz and Jess

Authored By:

Sabine Williams

A few days after beginning working at the service site, an administrator asked me whether any of the CIEE students had experience making murals, as they wanted to have one decorating one of the walls lining the main entrance of the school.  When I relayed this to the group, Jasmin Ortiz (Jazz) and Jessica Kaplun (Jess) stepped up, and subsequently worked with a professional painter, students at the lyceo, and other CIEE participants over the course of our three weeks in Santo Domingo to create the mural

Sabine Williams (SW): So what is the mural about?

Jazz: So they wanted a scroll and they wanted us to make a background and include themes that we thought were reflective of the school culture and Dominican culture.  We included boxes so that they could put pictures of students from different grades and from the summer camp.

SW: Okay, could you describe what is on the scroll? How is it decorated and how did you come up with the design?

Jess: So first we went around and asked the students what they thought were things that represented the school or that were important to them and their culture.  We got a long list of suggestions and then I sketched out the design: there is a palm tree, a sun, books, baseball, basketball, soccer. There is a heart with a dove in it to symbolize love and peace because that’s important to them.  There’s the world, there are two kids holding hands, there are paintbrushes because they really like art, so there is just a bunch of stuff that students thought was important to the school.

SW: And did the Lyceo students participate in the painting process?

Jazz: Yes. We had a couple kids who would help us mix the paint; some who had experience painting helped us with that.  A lot of them just loved watching us paint in general because they love art. We also created a tree that had the school symbol and we had them put their handprints all over with paint so that they could be included and involved in the process. Students of all ages helped us a lot.

SW: Did you collaborate with anyone else to do the mural?

Jess: We had the muralist who did other murals at the school help us out, his name was Hector. He outlined our sketch for us and then did all the major painting, like painting the entire wall white for the background. He helped us make decisions on the color scheme and figure out other details.

SW: Great, and what was it like collaborating with him?

Jazz: So Jess made the sketch, and we told him what we wanted to do, and he said “Okay, I’ll help you make it work”. We also agreed on the colors we were going to use, and what would go where.  He would watch us and if we needed help, he would help us.  He wanted us to do the work because it was our mural to do.

SW: And did you communicate with him in English, Spanish, both?

Jazz: It was a combination, he knew English and sometimes if he didn’t have the words he would speak Spanish and I understood, so I would translate and we would respond in English or Spanish.

SW: Have you gotten any feedback about the mural so far?

Jess: Yes, we’ve had people say they think it looks good, to keep up the good work. I think we would be happier if we had had time to finish it fully, but we did what we could.

SW: Who was this feedback from?

Jazz: We got a lot from students because when they were sick of class or taking a break they would come sit and watch and say “Oh I really like this, this is cool, I’ve never seen a vision like this before”. Teachers would also come and watch and give us feedback.

SW: Was this a way for you to build relationships with some students, or not so much?

Jess: Yea, because some students came every day to help us out so we would talk with them a lot.

SW: What language were you using most to communicate with them?

Jazz: It was a combination. Most of them only spoke Spanish and one of the students (Javier) who spoke both English and Spanish would translate. But we would try to talk to them in English and in Spanish – they would teach us Spanish and we would teach them English, so it was an exchange during the process of making the mural.