Athens Photo Project at KMA: For Keeps: Cyanotypes as Memory Exchange

Hello! My name is Basil Masri Zada, and I am the Graduate Associate of Multimedia and Technologies at the Kennedy Museum of Art since 2015. I have had the chance to work in the different departments at KMA in assisting and preparing exhibitions, creating and installing technologies, managing the Family Art Encounters, and other activities. But today, I will tell you about my experience in facilitating a studio activity with a class from Athens Photo Project led by the artist Lori Esposito.

Throughout my years at KMA, while working with the Education Department, I have had the chance to facilitate and assist in many tours. For each tour or class visit, we create educational and interactive activities to complement the content of the exhibition tour. One of the activities of last semester, Spring 2019, was creating a cyanotype by arranging leaves and plants on a treated light-sensitive paper and making any composition or arrangement that the participant wanted, which you can read more about here.

On September 13, 2019, the Athens Photo Project, led by the artist Lori Esposito, arranged to have a tour at the Kennedy Museum of Art and the OHIO University Museum Complex to visit the interdisciplinary exhibit Through the Appalachian Forest. Then the group participated in an interactive cyanotype workshop facilitated by myself as part of an art assignment from their instructor titled For Keeps: Cyanotypes as Memory Exchange. The instructions were to bring with them a collection of organic matter and several small items from their daily life.

Through the Appalachian Forest is an interactive exhibit that invites visitors of all ages and abilities to become re-enchanted with the Appalachian forest. The show includes a collection of plants from the field collections the Floyd Bartley.  It also includes a massive interactive, hand-painted mural and soundscape depicting over fifty native, introduced, at-risk, and invasive species. Esposito herself was the artist that designed the exhibit, and I participated in creating the soundscapes.

The group was around 15 people, and they were diverse in their artistic backgrounds and goals, but they all loved art-making to express themselves. The Athens Photo Project is “a vibrant community of artists dedicated to using photography as a tool for self-expression, personal growth, and social change within the journey of mental health recovery.”

Their tour started in the exhibit with their instructor, and then the group moved to the educational studio on the second floor of the museum. Each artist brought their items with them, most carefully considered as they wanted to experiment and create. After the initial instructions and talking about the history and techniques of the cyanotype as an early photographic technique, each artist made several experiments trying different organic materials, salts, plants, peals, pens, fabrics, toys, miniatures, and many others.

The artists arranged their compositions, waited for the Ultraviolet lights to make their magic, and then developed their cyanotypes with water. Each artist had so many ideas, and I had great conversations with the participants about art and art-making.

They then wrote a personal reflection of their composition in the form of stories, jokes, and poems and were expected to create three-toned, subtractive charcoal drawings inspired by the cyanotype when they got back to their classroom.

This workshop was a unique experience for me as an artist and educator as I witnessed how the artists from the Athens Photo Project pushed the activity that we designed for them to new fields beyond the technical limitation of the medium. I want to share with you some of the final results of this collaborative workshop.

Click here to learn more about the Athens Photo Project

Photos Credit: Lori Esposito