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Press Release to Media on Hilary Wallis’ Upcoming Art Exhibit on the Oil Spill and Cultural Conservancy

August 2, 2010

Hilary Wallis, Executive Director of Artfully AWARE (AfA), will be presenting fine-art, large-scale oil paintings depicting and commenting on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in an exhibit that will travel throughout the Gulf region and beyond. To be completed during the next few months, Hilary’s paintings will be accompanied by the poetry of a local Louisiana author. Money will also be raised from the sale of prints of the paintings to fund educative and healing arts workshops.

Hilary’s time in the Gulf will be an opportunity for her to dialogue with local communities on the type of programs that AfA can undertake in partnership with Louisiana-based artists and instructors to help the region through this serious environmental and economic trauma. Hilary, who embodies the mission of AfA, has often harnessed the power of the arts as a means to visually educate and generate awareness of societal issues focused around community development and social activism, and she will continue to do so through her upcoming exhibit for the Gulf community and beyond.

Artfully AWARE is a US and UK based organization that aims to strengthen sustainable futures in both developed and developing societies by using the arts to enrich, educate and empower individuals and communities. Through the implementation of its fine art, drama, dance, music and media programs, Artfully AWARE also seeks to support the development of psychological well-being, increase self-esteem and enhance community capacity building.

Where: Hilary’s paintings debut at The Blackett-Peck Gallery (509 Royal St. New Orleans, LA  504-304-6493). Other galleries TBA.

When: Fall 2010, projected to debut in November.

What: Read more about what Hilary envisions for her exhibit in the transcription of an interview with her below.


Q: When did you first think to start an exhibition on the oil spill? Was there a precise moment that prompted the vision? Was it when you first heard about the spill or when it first landed on the shore?

Hilary: At the moment I am living in Sarasota, and after the disaster began I visited a friend of mine that I went to high school with. At her parent’s place, she asked me, “When are you going to Louisiana to paint an exhibition on the oil spill?” I responded that I wondered why she thought I would want to do that, to which she exclaimed simply “Because that’s what you do.” After a few of my other friends told me the same thing, I thought about the idea for a few days and decided that they were right and yes, indeed, I had to go down to Louisiana.

Also, on my birthday, I felt that I was given a sign. Late at night, I happened to be walking down the beach on Siesta Key, and I noticed an enormous dragon with mermaids and a skull’s head all carved out of the sand. I gazed at it for a while, and I thought that this was a symbol of what the oil spill was doing to the gulf. It made me imagine the horror that I would feel if the oil spill ruined the beach that I was standing on in Sarasota. Sadly, this was happening at that very moment to Louisiana shores.

Q: Do you have any specific ideas of what you will paint?

A: It’s going to encapsulate pretty much everything: A little bit of my heritage, the positive aspects of the states that have been affected and some of the horrendous things that I have now seen here. I will also be trying to tell the story of why the Gulf is so important to America and to the world and relate it to other oil disasters elsewhere that has received little coverage. We need to understand how human beings created this through our dependency on oil and how we’re making our environment uninhabitable. I’m trying to make something at once that is very specific and yet very broad, so that everyone can relate to it. I’m trying to tell a different story than the one seen on television, the one of birds covered in oil and clean-up crews. I’m trying to tell the story of Gulf culture as a whole and why we must fight to save it. The poetry by Brenda Landry that will accompany my exhibit will be in the same vein.

Q: Will the poetry of Brenda Landry, a Louisiana poet, directly parallel the paintings you create?

A: I will paint the pictures as I go and, as I show her the images, she will create a poem based off of that. We will be working off of each other, but she and I will also be creating works autonomously from one another. She is extremely talented; she uses her poetry to help women who are victims of domestic violence. Though she proudly calls herself a simple Louisiana woman, she is anything but simple!

Q: What type of mood do you think will most characterize your exhibit?

A: There will be a mix of emotions including a lot of sadness but also a lot of hope. I will use my brushstrokes to paint about the future and the many cultures and ways of life that this region is home to. The paintings will be big enough to tell separate full stories of the oil spill, and the exhibit as a whole will be telling journalistic stories through the medium of painting.

Q: Do you see this as a sort of “visual benefit concert” for the Gulf?

A: In the presence of art, people can express their feelings in a different way. If they have the opportunity to see paintings and experience making them, it can be a relief from which hope can grow. Most people identify with one form of art or another, whether it’s listening to music on headphones, watching movies at home or attending a ballet performance.  After Hurricane Katrina, a lot of New Orleanians and other Gulf residents used live music as a tool for healing and inspiration to keep on going. We should provide the chance for individuals to tap into their own talents, gain confidence in learning something new and allow themselves to heal.

Everywhere we go there are colors, music in the air, creativity. Imagine a world devoid of that. People who are traumatized by events such as what we have seen in the Gulf, people who have lost their jobs, where they make a living fishing or where they go to the beach, need to express their anguish and grief. I strongly feel my art can help them do that. Through our exhibition, funds will be raised to provide arts workshops and programs taught by local arts instructors. Our exhibit, and subsequent programs for communities, will represent artists who actually have a relationship with both the subject and the audience.

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