Why did you become a Teaching Artist?
I wanted to find a way to work with diverse groups of people as a creative co-conspirator, an “outside voice” of inspiration and encouragement. I’ve worked at Indianapolis Arts Center, IMA, Art Mix, private art tutoring, senior citizens’ groups, Indiana School for the Blind, and other more traditional schools. In non-school environments, people may choose to enroll to learn a skill, or to be in the company of like-minded individuals. Working in schools is different. I have great respect for classroom teachers, art teachers especially—most of them are making things work despite many obstacles. In a classroom you are trying to engage people who might not like you, or do not want to be there, so your victories are hard earned, and very valuable. When I come to a school with a collective project to explore, I am bringing something new, maybe unexpected, maybe pushing students to work together, or appreciate each other for reasons other than power, or class hierarchy.
Being a teaching artist also helps me stay alert and take risks in my own work—like developing and executing huge translucent murals with help from over 600 students! You get into your routine when working alone in the studio, and maybe tune out the outside world for very good reasons…but there are times when you need to reconnect, and absorb new energy, especially from young people (or very old people in some of my work). Makes you humble, and grounded.
Can you tell us more about those huge translucent murals and how that was a risk for you as an artist?
Translucent murals were done at Maple Glen Elementary School in Westfield, IN. I originally proposed a textile installation, but it was the principal’s dream to install stained glass—economically. I appreciated the passion for that vision, so I took a risk, and proposed an 8 feet x 12 feet Plexiglas window with lighting behind it, to imitate stained glass. I had worked in this technique before, but on a much smaller scale, so this proposal was scary for me, but it worked. I had 25 classes—all school, including special education and Kindergarten classes—paint small pieces of film with textures, then cut, and layered all 600 of them into a translucent mural. It was wonderful to see kids excited, pointing at parts of the mural, claiming “their” textures!
What do you enjoy most about your art?
I am absolutely in love with colors, textures, and shapes of the world, but my work comes from inside—all the stories, all the emotions, and all the things not suited for words are showing up sooner or later. I grow art pieces like trees. The seed may be an emotion, or an event, or a thought, but over time in the process of making it, the work kind of tells me what it needs. There is a lot of standing and looking involved.
I like to provoke a conversation with my art, be it a painting, a sculpture, or a “useful” thing, like a painted dress, or a scarf. I once made many “cocoons,” small textile sculptures with a curve in their shape to be held as a baby. It started as an act of wrapping fabric to soothe myself, and then I started to sculpt faces for them, some of people I know, some of inspiring characters. One of the faces was “Alice,” after Alice Sommer, a 110 year-old Holocaust survivor and musician who was a young pianist while in a concentration camp. She survived by playing music for her fellow inmates. I watched a video of her talking and was deeply moved by this woman’s life force and intelligence.
I do not try to explain everything, or tell people what to think, so conversations happen spontaneously. I do not seek to “accomplish” anything. I am sending my questions and my vulnerability into the world, hoping to hear back from people who are also seeking something, and hurting, and looking for answers.
What is your favorite thing about being a Teaching Artist?
My favorite thing about being a teaching artist is connecting with people of very different walks of life in the process of making art together. I believe all art is personal, and a way of telling a story about one’s life.
I love seeing students break out of their fears of being “bad artists,” “not talented,” etc., and find their own way. I help them by sharing my own doubts and trials in art making. I tell them a story about one artist I admire—accomplished, with paintings in many museums, in her 80’s and still telling me that she is nervous to start a new painting. It never stops being hard! I say that if it feels easy, you are not discovering anything new, and not growing. Together, we break art making into simple enough steps (basic shapes, textures, working with music, etc.) Also, I do not bring erasers…
Sofiya Inger is a visual artist who works with textile, acrylic, and mixed media to create paintings, wall installations, and unusual sculptures. Originally from Russia, Sofiya decided to become an artist when she was in middle school, and she’s been using colors and textures to explore life ever since. She has a degree in Fine Art and Art Education from Kirov Art College.