Reflections of Healing


What sustains life in the City of Oakland, and how do we model the world we want to see?

This summer the Oakland Library will display 8 murals celebrating the people of Oakland. Planned as part of the library’s teen Summer Passport Program, the murals testify to the power of youth leadership by portraying today’s community healers when they were 15. Created by artist Brett Cook with Life is Living/Youth Speaks, each mural appears at a different library branch. See more information below.

Project: Reflections of Healing is a multi-faceted process of community building that includes the collaborative development of eight large-scale public works featuring Bay Area residents – each pictured near the age of 15 – who through practice or legacy demonstrate healing. The pieces will be made by over 2000 Life is Living attendees and Brett Cook, through an integration of the creative processes of Cook, Marc Bamuthi Joseph and, Youth Speaks.

Reflections of Healing will culminate with temporary and permanent installation of the large-scale public works across Oakland. In addition, the works will be used in the set for Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s full-evening performance work “red, black and GREEN: a blues”, which will premier at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (SF) in October 2011, and will be presented at the Walker Arts Center (Minneapolis), The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts (Houston), and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Theme: By collaboratively creating reflections of health in our actions and through objects, there is an inclusive action of healing that reflects and manifests a living and loving community.

Concept: Reflections of Healing is anchored in LIFE is LIVING (LiL), a national initiative of Youth Speaks that establishes a new model for partnerships between diverse and under-resourced communities, green action agencies, and the contemporary arts world. The campaign includes a traveling environmental caucus & concert, an invitational Graffiti Battle, live action sports, sustainable materials construction projects, and a Speak Green youth poetry event.

After the first LiL Festival in 2008, Youth Speaks staff began a series of discussions with Brett Cook with the intention of expanding the organization’s collaborative process of working with and celebrating diverse communities and individuals – and their stories. As creative people who reflect the voices of an emerging cultural majority, Cook, Joseph and YS believe that their arts practices must echo and sustain the lives of the communities that they engage.

Expanding the reach and interactive opportunities of LiL, Cook will create a structure for the collaborative development and creation of eight portraits. Pictured near 15 years old, the subjects both reflect the message of collective potential of the age group that Youth Speaks serves and converse with the organization on its 15th anniversary. With a focus on portraits of community champions when they were adolescents, the project reflects new definitions of youth identity while producing a city-wide installation that celebrates past, present, and future models of healing.

Social collaboration transcends individual privileges where separate expectations are replaced with equality, and collective self-interest. By creating experiences of dynamic demographics, with exercises that everyone can create in, there is a collective unification, a support of new community that is inclusive in its being. At the center of these exercises for positive shared experience is an artistic representation of diverse partnership and healing.

Method: Youth Speaks staff joined Cook and a cross section of Life is Living community partners to determine 8 subjects. The portrait subjects – chosen from different time periods – include food activists, city workers, musicians, educators, parents, poets, and rising leaders gone too soon.

Each subject, and in the case of those who have passed, family members and/or close friends, will be asked to generate a question about healing. The questions from each of the participants will then be combined into an interview sheet that will serve as the basis for an intimate interview process between the portrait subjects, Cook, and LiL co-founder Marc Bamuthi Joseph and documented by Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi. By combining everyone’s questions, the participants democratically define the parameters of the dialogue with equal freedom to answer questions of their own creation as broadly or specifically as they wish.

Working from photographs of each participant, Cook will create original drawings that will form the core of the portraits. The interviewees and volunteers will be invited to Brett’s studio/practice center in Oakland to be further integrated into the art-making process through sketching projections of Cook’s drawings onto prepared non woven media and framed wood panels. This initial transfer of smaller drawings to the large-scale materials is a unifying experience that helps to connect participants deeply to the project as well as serving as an engine for interpersonal connection, healing, and joy among the subjects, volunteers and artists.

On Sunday October 3, 2010, Reflections of Healing crescendos at the LiL celebratory session with coloring, personal dialogue, further documentation and free information on the legacy of each subject. Attendees to the day-long event will collaboratively color the eight large-scale portrait drawings as they are installed in DeFremery Park. This coloring exercise will be a social event, integrated with Estria’s World Famous Graffiti Battle, locally grown food, poetry and music that supplement a session of creative expression, opportunity for personal dialogue, and community connection.

To complete the pieces, Cook will return the works to his studio/practice center, where they will continue to grow with a wide array of materials including spray enamel, acrylic paint, medicinal plants, writings and photographs.

Installation: Upon completion, each portrait will live in one of four different places:

  • Become permanently installed in Oakland institutional spaces such as schools, parks, studios, community centers. (Because of the history of Life is Living, we have already negotiated with the City of Oakland’s Office of Parks and Recreation to secure host sites for these portraits).
  • Become nomadically installed in temporary public spaces
  • Become part of the sets of Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s “red, black and GREEN: a blues” (“rbGb”). rbGb is a full-evening performance work designed to jumpstart a conversation about environmental racism, social ecology and collective responsibility in the climate change era.
  • Become a part of Cook’s canon of collected and exhibited works.


Brett Cook //

Brett Cook’s work cohesively integrates the breadth and depth of his diverse – and at times disparate – experiences with art, education, science, and spirituality. For over two decades, Cook has produced exhibitions, curricula, and events widely across the United States, and internationally. His use of participatory ethnographic strategies, progressive educational pedagogy, and community organizing connect his practice to exceptionally wide audiences. His museum work includes elaborate installations that make intimately personal experiences universally accessible. His public projects typically involve community workshops and collaborative art, along with music, performance, and food. First introduced to transcendental meditation at age six Cook continues his study of contemplative traditions nationally and internationally with acclaimed yoga teachers, natural healers, and through bi-annual retreats in the tradition of Zen Buddhist venerable Thich Nhat Hanh. Cook has received numerous awards, including residencies at the Skowhegan School in Maine and the Studio Museum in Harlem. In 2008 he held the Lehman Brady Joint Chair Professorship in Documentary Studies at Duke University and the History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian/National Portrait Gallery, the Walker Art Center, and Harvard University among others.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph //

Marc Bamuthi Joseph is one of America’s leading voices in performance, arts education, and artistic curation. In the Fall of 2007, Bamuthi graced the cover of Smithsonian Magazine after being named one of America’s Top Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences. He is the artistic director of the 7-part HBO documentary Russell Simmons presents Brave New Voices and an inaugural recipient of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship, which annually recognizes 50 of the country’s “greatest living artists”. His evening-length works have been presented throughout the United States and Europe. His work has been enabled by several prestigious foundation awards including grants from the Ford Foundation, the Center for Cultural Innovation, Creative Capital, the National Performance Network Creation Fund, the Wallace A. Gerbode Foundation, the Creative Work Fund, the Rockefeller MAP Fund, the NEA, the Hewlett Foundation, and a Dance Advance award from the PEW Foundation. A gifted and nationally acclaimed educator and essayist, been a popular commentator on National Public Radio, and has carried adjunct professorships at Stanford University, Mills College, and the University of Wisconsin. Bamuthi’s proudest work has been with Youth Speaks where he mentors 13-19 year old writers and curates the Living Word Festival for Literary Arts.

Youth Speaks //

Founded in 1996 in San Francisco, Youth Speaks Inc. is a multi-faceted organization that understands and believes that the power, insight, creativity, and passion of young people can change the world. In addition to a wide variety of arts education, youth development, and civic-engagement programs that serve thousands each year in the Bay Area, YouthSpeaks house a repertory theater company (The Living Word Project) that commissions, produces and tours internationally-recognized new work in new aesthetics, host an annual gathering of young poets and poetry organizations from throughout the world (Brave New Voices), and have built a network of like-minded organizations developed on their model throughout the country.