When our team first pulled up to the sculpture garden, we were overwhelmed. The garden was a plot of land that was strewn with what looked like piles of random discarded items. There were black tubes draped between bare trees, walkways made of old wooden fences with hanging dollar bills and bordered with fake flowers, pieces of playground material hanging at odd angles, giant black and white portraits of famous figures, and so much more. We were told beforehand that the garden was made up of symbolic sculptures created from recycled materials, however I wasn’t sure what message these giant piles of items were trying to tell me. Despite my confusion, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder as I stepped into the garden.
Our team met with a man named Duwayne, who had designed the garden himself. He explained how the street that the garden was located on was originally filled with drug dealers, and was an overall dangerous place. He felt inspired to create a Peace Garden that highlighted pressing social issues in the United States, such as consumerism and its impact on the environment. He led us through the garden saying very little, having us observe his art and develop our own initial impressions. We walked through a wooden maze, and inside were signs that were labeled with all forms of “FOR SALE!”, and giant piles of old technology, children’s toys, furniture, and random household items. My attention was yanked in every direction, there was so much to see. When we stepped out of the maze, we saw a river formation made out of old plastic slides, and they were filled with empty plastic water bottles that sliced right down the middle of the garden.
Duwayne led us to one of his pieces that caught my attention as soon as we pulled up to the garden. It was a giant, wooden, cross shaped coffin hinged to a tree and teetering at an odd angle. Inside were hundreds of tiny brightly colored toys-everything from alphabet letters, to toy cars, to water guns, to plastic animals. One of the toys even played a children’s song as you stood in front of the sculpture. Among the toys were tiny pieces of mirrors, so as you looked at the piece, you could see pieces of yourself in the reflection. At the heart of the coffin was a dark, rusty cage filled with twigs, bark, hair, and an apple. Duwayne asked us what he thought all of this meant.
It took a while to look at the sculpture and put together the different ideas bouncing in my head, once I got past the overall shock of the giant piece. At first, I wasn’t sure whether the dark spot in the middle represented something evil, or something good that was simply misunderstood. I could hardly look at it when it was surrounded by so many tiny toys, and so many bright colors. Duwayne explained how the sculpture symbolized how there is a way to get to the solution, we just need to work together and focus to get there. The shape of the cross symbolized the idea that consumerism has become a sort of religion, because we are so obsessed with the race of having more that it has become our only source of happiness. All the little toys symbolized the distractions we have for fixing the main problem, the environment. It also highlighted the whole idea of how easy it is to be distracted from the issue that needs to be fixed, when the brightness of all the toys make it difficult to stare into the dark rusty cage at the center. It reminded me of how in ASB, we might feel passionate about the issue while we are on our trip, however we must stay focused on bringing our cause back to campus, where we are so easily distracted by everything else going on in our lives.
The sculpture left our heads ringing with new ideas as we worked on the garden. Some of us spent time layering the ground in mulch, while others planted seeds. Some of us even helped Duwayne assemble another one of his sculptures, which featured Condoleezza Rice in a wedding dress, with a bag full of bloody money and a gun in her hands, hanging from a parachute in a tree with an evil face on the back of her head.
When we arrived back to our hostel, we prepared a delicious buffet of tacos for our Mexican Monday themed night. After dinner, we watched a documentary on the environmental, social, political, and health issues associated with the coal industry. It was interesting to see the controversy associated with the towns in West Virginia that are directly impacted by the coal industry, because although it provides many people jobs, it is also a major source of health and social problems. Just in one town located directly next to a coal mine, six people who were all neighbors drinking from the same well water developed brain tumors, even though brain tumors supposedly only occur in one out of 100,000 people.
After the documentary, our team got together to discuss our impressions of the day. We all agreed that the garden was overwhelming, and many of us had difficulty understanding a lot of the art. Although the art may be confusing to some, I felt as though it left a lasting impression of the issue at hand. Even if one does not understand the details of each component of the structure, the initial emotions that come from seeing the garden art are symbolic of the issue. The problems associated with the environment are overwhelming, and in some ways scary, just like the garden was at first site. However by working together as a community, one of the central themes behind the garden, we can work towards a solution. Using art in the community to spread an idea is a great way to appeal to different kinds of people, and to have them actually interact with the information. A flyer with statistics might be shocking for one second, but it may not last in your mind. The art in the garden really spoke to me, and I am looking forward to working there again tomorrow and learning about Duwayne’s other pieces.