20 Neighborhoods at Centro Autónomo

Teaching Artist Silvia Gonzalez and teaching assistant Claire Jakubiszyn tell us about the workshops at Centro Autónomo

July 7

Many of the women at Centro Autonomo indicated an interest in the ideas of community, shelter, and expression. We had a fantastic first session, really getting to a clear understanding of assemblage. We had a great time looking at and discussing various art works, where the women had the opportunity to see a variety of styles they had not seen before.

Great conversations about feminism, empowerment, longing, family, and representation really jet started what became our first creative making session. Upon viewing the materials laid out and explaining a couple of techniques, the women began to look at how materials could be organized to create meaning. Many of them chose to use the boxes or rounded plates as a symbol of the self in the process of exploration and discovery.

More than anything, this first session served as an opportunity for the women to create dialogue; it was a time for them to really envision creative ways to voice ideas and thoughts. The women expressed gratitude in having a space to talk with others, and find peace for themselves. A daughter of one of the participants jumped right in and made her own assemblage through which a story about her flying like a bird emerged.

The first workshop represented a time that women could find rest, a sense of belonging, and a space of personal release. The enthusiasm and energy in taking positive risks and building meaning through materials was evident as they left the session, in gratitude, and looking forward to next week.

July 14

This week the women exchanged experiences relating to the self identity. Many of them were enthusiastic about jumping in the art making process after sharing past memories that began to trigger imagery.

We went through the yo soy, Where I am from, poem as a starter to get them thinking about themselves. Some women expressed themselves more poetically in verbal format, and had a difficult time engaging in visual dialogue of the self. It also sparked conversation on the importance of self-care and self-awareness.

Women worked through these ideas with energy and conviction, after reliving important memories and discussing hopes for themselves. It was clearly important to all of them that self-reflection was actually happening in a very safe space. That space allowed for connection making: many of the women, bonded as a result of the conversations, seeing that they had a lot in common, or discussing the impact of memories in constructing who they are now and what they want for themselves, their families, and their futures. It will be a great transition into family/home for next week. Most of them do a great job at discussing these themes already.

July 21

This week the women focused on family and home. We did an exercise representing what a family is and does. The responses were based on a family that is very together, that grows and learns together. The art making session was more difficult this time around. The conversation seemed to be the most fruitful, while the art making brought challenge in interpreting those conversations. It was great mostly because the women brought their family to the session, a granddaughter and daughters were present this week and also took part in the art making.
The most exciting thing to see was the collaboration happening within the family to make art work that represented ideals of family. Most women related to the rounder shapes when representing family. This was tied to our initial ice breaker where women represented family with gestures of hugging or holding something precious. It will be interesting to see how community and neighborhood are discussed and represented this week.

July 28

This week the conversation began with ideas of self and womanhood as we reflected past weeks and art work created. The transition occurred when the women were prompted to think how they take part in larger communities. They were asked to consider what communities they belonged to and how that affected them. We began by brainstorming the big idea community. Women listed both abstract and concrete ideas of what community can be. Community is unity, togetherness, family, women, albany park, Centro Autonomo, and neighborhoods in Chicago among many other things.

As they considered how they were part of these different communities, something discussed that really remained with me is the idea that as women we are part of a collective group of people, though we are not ignorant we are often ignored, this is an oppressive system to resist. As such, our greatest potential lies in creating and sustaining community. The women agreed that they are the ones raising family, they are the ones working to make a future for their children and therefore they are the ones that must continue to form communities among themselves to support one another.

Because the conversation began with health and beauty issues, many of the women started to consider how they have to come together as community that defies and resists pervasive media that tells them women can only have a domestic role. We also agreed that as women, we cannot be so harsh and critical against one another, but rather really be a network of support and honesty to one another. In other words, we must honestly accept ourselves, and we must honestly support each other. As the conversation shifted, the women began to consider how they have become a much more connected group of women as a result of doing this art workshop every Saturday. They began to talk about how the Centro Autonomo is a big identifier of community. It is a place where they can discuss and learn with one another. This discussion and learning only furthered as they went right into a productive session of art making.

August 4
This last week at Centro Autonomo was a very busy and exciting time for everyone. We had time to reflect and think through together everything learned together. The women added finishing touches to their work. Many of them talked about how impacted they felt as a result of this project. The women talked about having a sense of belonging to a larger cause. They were grateful to discover just how much they could express about themselves through art. A sense of community was most felt in the way they talked about each others work and their own.
Through this project many of them talked about having a new sense of support for themselves and a motivation to more actively seek out self-growth. Having found an outlet through art to better facilitate conversations was  a big take away. Many of them talked about continuing to maintain this space with each other. Knowing how to organize and be there for each other made them excited to continue to host workshops in their community. Now that they are familiar with the process and importance of having safe space to create, talk, and inspire, they want to continue to make a tighter and larger group for more women within their community. Making honest and powerful declarations about their own potential and fulfillment has become a great motivator for encouraging others to do the same. Passing on these ideas of empowerment have become a matter of responsible action; there is a sense of responsibility in helping other women find themselves emerging into their potential and fully embracing themselves in the process.  It is a desire to build and support a larger family among them, as women, mothers, and community members.

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