Nearly every day of my life involves mosaics in one form or another. Between collaborating and planning installations, working with students and friends or simply gluing stuff to other stuff, I am immersed. Welcome to shiny pieces...
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Today, Saturday, was spent by me making the "substrate boosters" for the flags. We are doing our best to choose a cross section of countries that best represent the student body at the school. As a nod to how I indirectly got to this place, we tucked a Ghana flag in there for good measure. You see, Jill, (my friend here in Mumbai who works at the school, and who got me the job in the first place) and I met 10 years ago when we were both serving in the Peace Corps in (you guessed it), Ghana. She is now married to a fellow from here and has been in India for nearly a decade. I am forever grateful to Jill for helping to set up this opportunity! Thank you.

Jill, myself and others in Peace Corps times...(she's the third "obruni" from the right, I'm the third "obruni from the left in the back.) This was at a conference that a couple of us put together called "Art Aid", a forum to encourage young artists to use their artistic talents to communicate about the realities of HIV/AIDS. Good times!

I consider Ghana to be my second home. No matter what I do in life or where I go, Ghana has a special spot in my heart. Since completing Peace Corps in 2004, I have been back seven times. Four of those times, we've brought groups of teens with us on what we call "service adventures". These trips usually last about 4 weeks, and the kids stay with us in our mud and thatch home in the north of Ghana. They work, play and learn and the experience is always life-changing for them. Using the P.C. model, we teach our travelers to be culturally sensitive and to appreciate the things that they take for granted back at home.

Our awesome kids, posing in front of the mosaic project we did in Tema, Ghana, in 2008
We are planning another service adventure this summer, in August 2013. There are still some spots open. If you know a mature teenager, (or older "kid") we'd love to send you more information about the trip. Send me a note if you are interested. Visit the website and blog from our last trip in 2011:

in front of our house in Ghana
We are also planning a service adventure to India during the beginning of summer 2013. Likewise, send us a note if you are interested...

Countries included in our flag banner: Lebanon, USA, Japan, Australia, India, Canada, South Africa, Great Britain, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Russia, China, Korea, Pakistan, Italy, France, Israel, and others. I wish we could do ALL the countries but there isn't room...

In other news, our mosaic is moving along slowly but surely. Mosaic is one thing you just can't rush! It is done literally one piece at a time, and there are no shortcuts. This process is also interrupted and augmented by "festival season" here. Today was the last day of Ganpati, the holy festival for the elephant god Ganesh. If I wasn't working, today would have found me at the ocean witnessing what I am told is a grand fete: the submerging of holy statues (icons) of Ganesh into water, as he is sent back home after "visiting" each and every Hindu family that participated in the ceremony. I wish I had been able to go and see, but my priority while here is the mosaic, so c'est la vie!

happy Ganpati!

Looking forward to my day off tomorrow! Shopping, maybe?


another day at the office

cutest. kid. ever.
I'm loving my new job. Finally getting into the swing of things, this week has been a whirlwind of tutorials. I have never worked with such a large group of middle school kids, and I am learning a lot myself about how to instruct them. They definitely need more concrete instructions than the older kids do.



having fun!
One thing that really works for this crowd: tell them that crazy paving is like playing Tetris with triangles. You know that game? OIS students do, and it works. It's easy to make them laugh and I am learning how to make the difficult process of learning mosaic fun for them with jokes and other playful tactics.

Figuring out what to say to them really makes a huge difference in the younger one's performance. I am amazed.

rainbow and clouds coming along marvelously.
Other news...I got to step out into greater Mumbai yesterday to go shopping for glass and bling for the elephant. We finally located the one and only dealer of Spectrum stained glass in all of India! And he led us to a man who sells glass grinders! If you're a glass artist in Mumbai in need of this info, let me know, I'll hook you up. It was a fun day which included a delicious lunch stop for some uber buttery pav bhaji (one of my favorite south Indian dishes of all time).

tree, pencil.
Today we got a lot done and I hope tomorrow will be even more productive. We finally got our mirror and pane glass in (which we are using as a booster for the substrate under some of the thinner materials). The lotus flower in the middle of the design is going to be off the hook, as yesterday we were able to get iridescent pink, lavender and white glass. I can't wait to get started!

Projects manager Deepak, teacher Ulka, yours truly, and Ma'am B. Oberoi, (the head of the school.)

elephant: mapped out, traced onto plastic under a layer of mesh.



first glued pieces....
Today was insanely exhausting for me. I delivered six lessons on the basics of mosaic making to six adorable groups of kids. They even told me to call them my "minions", which I found hilarious.

Ulka talking to the older kids, my "team leaders". They are AWESOME artists.
There was lots of practicing, but I didn't let anyone start gluing until the end of the day.

my new friend and fellow art teacher, Shalaka.

I am so tired from working so much that all I have the energy to do is go home, eat and crash. Luckily eating entails a yummy veg restaurant just downstairs and up the road a little bit. For me tonight: palak paneer with rice and a sweet fresh lime soda. mmmmmm.

And tomorrow I can't wait to have a smoothie made in my new blender (traded for the microwave which I convinced the school I would never, ever use). I bought fruit, yogurt and honey. Bananas are in the freezer. (You do know that is the secret to a soft serve style treat, don't you?)

Good night. Maybe tomorrow my writing will be more.


getting started

It has begun! Panels are off the wall and on the floor. Tools and tiles are delivered. A small group of students have been trained.

panels laid out on the floor
our tools
I worked with 7th graders today. I taught them vocabulary words: "Everyone repeat after me: andamento! tesserae!" There will be a test and they will be doing a unit on the history of mosaics. Warnings about eye protection have been made. Tiny hands in big gloves turn out to be both adorable and hilarious. 

my sample work
Overall the kids did great. Better than I hoped, although of course there is a learning curve. We started with the smashing of ceramic tile and the learning how to crazy-pave...which is the careful arrangement of random shapes of tile into a cohesive color field. The secret to crazy-paving is to do the edges first, and then fill in the middle sections. It will take some time to master the technique. They like smashing the tile...a lot. Tile was pulverized. We'll have to work on that concept too.

They had fun. In this culture that values math so much, I notice a marked difference in the spacial arrangements. For the most part the kids today (my first group) were detail oriented and simply adorable to behold. We won't start gluing until I'm satisfied, though...


Catching up...

Following is a backlog of entries, as I haven't had much chance to get online and post. Hopefully my posts will be less few and far between as I get settled. Enjoy! 

September 18 2012

I have arrived in style!

After a 39 hour commute (which, thankfully, included a 15 hour layover near NYC and a much overdue visit with food blogger extraordinaire and old friend Elizabeth Stark of &, I finally touched ground in Mumbai last night. I was seamlessly conveyed to a lovely 4 star hotel and given the treatment I always hoped a traveling mosaic artist would get: deluxe room, gourmet Indian dinner, hot bath and a luxuriant sleep between expensive sheets on a king sized bed. Breakfast did not disappoint either. After a cappuccino, croissant and fruit, I opted for a second (more Indian) round of dosa, paratha, and sabudana. The song “I’m gonna maaaake it after aaaalllllll!” kept popping into my head, and I set off refreshed and ready to take on the world.

this is what 4 star grilled paneer looks like

I had a love affair with this king my first night.
Which is a good thing, considering the job at hand: create a mosaic mural using the workforce of dozens, if not hundreds, of Indian and international students. My job is to make sure it looks good and goes smoothly. Luckily, the support system I have here at the school is outstanding. Well funded, expertly staffed, with the highest priority placed on student and staff participation, I keep pinching myself to make sure it is not all a dream. I wonder if I’ll ever see another situation like this one again. I’ve been informed that this is going to be a media event and that prominent contemporary Indian artists will be invited to see and participate. Teachers and parents are interested in the process as well. The project has grown three times larger than the original proposal and the time frame has been shortened, but somehow, that is not stopping us. 

Is this all really happening? (pinch!)

And let me tell you about my new digs. Seriously, I would be happy in a mud hut. (I am happy in a mud hut every time I visit my beloved Ghana!) I would be just fine with a simple, basic apartment or even a room in someone else’s house. The fact that I get my OWN apartment on the twenty first floor of a classy skyrise, with hot running water, a yoga space, air conditioning, fans, two bathrooms, washer and fully equipped kitchen, swimming pool and gym facilities is an unreal bonus. (pinch!) My bed is firm and comfortable, my ginormous flat screen television (and the microwave oven) remain unplugged. If I want cable and wifi, I only have to say. (yes to wifi, no to cable, please). And I get to take a rickshaw to work each day. I am a five minute walk from a tasty, simple vegetarian restaurant. (pinch!)

the view from my flat of the tennis courts and swimming pool

coffee and a view

my kitchen

my new sleeping partner. I miss my man.

I have a yoga room!
 And it’s festival season, apparently. The Ganesh festival is under way and I am honored to visit the house of my colleague for lunch and festivities tomorrow. There will be eating and puja tomorrow. Then, either in 1 ½ days, 7 days or 21 days (different strokes for different folks), the Ganesh statues will be conveyed to the ocean, submerged and left there. I will tell you more about this once I see it for myself but according to the people I’ve been talking to, the party is about to get started. Last time we came to India we arrived just in time for Holi, this time it’s the elephant god’s turn. Needless to say, I’m excited!

That’s all for now. I’m so happy. I wish Ryan were here with me. And my furry child Nana Mensah. But I’m not complaining! I’m living my dream and it feels good.

September 19, 2012

I had the day off today. The whole country is celebrating Ganpati, a holy day for the elephant god Ganesh.

offerings for the elephant god

transporting the idol

celebrating with neighbors

I was invited to the home of my colleague and fellow art teacher, Ulka A. A remarkable woman who comes from a family of artists, we sat on the floor of her in-law’s house and made modak (sp), which are a sweet dumpling with a rice flour pastry. Filled with sweet coconut flavored with cardamom, saffron and jaggery, these dumplings resemble flowers and have a pointy top, which I have been told is a favorite shape of Ganesh. I was honored to witness the family Arati and Puja (worship ceremony) and to participate in my own small way. Surrounded by welcoming, friendly people, I never would have guessed that I was in the midst of national award winning photographers and painters that have gallery shows in Luxembourg, Singapore and Dubai, and art in museums across the world. But I was. After the Puja I ate until I was sure I was pregnant with a food baby. The food coma that ensued lasted for hours and now I am up at an unreasonable hour typing away on my computer. 

the lovely Ulka: artist, mother, teacher, wife, friend
Before I went to Ulka’s family house, I attended the aarti at my apartment complex. Women, children and men waited at the entrance with offering dishes of sweets, spices, rice, flowers and candles. The statue of Ganesh arrived in an open backed van following a procession of drummers and dancers. We followed the procession and the statue, dancing and rejoicing to a covered stilt pavilion to await the blessing. There is much joy in the air these days, I guess. I have been told that I am just in time for what is called “festival season”. Lucky me!
arati for Ganesh

Offerings to Ganesh. All his favorite foods. We got to eat them too, and they were deelicious

new friends and family

making modak for Ganesh

he likes his treats in a pointy teardrop shape.
Tomorrow I go shopping for tiles for the mosaic. I suppose I should figure out my amounts!

September 21, 2012

Yesterday we got a ton of work done. Not only were most of the materials ordered, but the entire design got projected and traced by the 8th graders by the end of the day. This is good news! It means that we will be able to start working in earnest on Monday.

the site of the mosaic: 26' by 11'

projecting the image. look at those little ones!

already having a blast.

I had to ask the skirt wearers to step down in the name of decency

just a few of our colors.
This is one of the most amazing jobs and support systems I’ve ever had. Everyone is so accommodating and excited about the project and I feel very, very lucky. Kids are jazzed, admin is jazzed and teachers and artists are lining up to be a part of the project. Considering how little time we have to do such a huge installation, this is good news!

This is the current design for our mural.
Today involves me going to a few tile and glass shops to snatch up the last few materials we think we need. I’ll be going with the building project manager and a driver to a number of vendors to do this. We were going to go yesterday, but between Ganpati and the bund (read: holy festival day in which idols of Ganesh are immersed into pools, tanks or the ocean, and a national strike), shopping was out of the question. Today, it seems there is a lull in these activities and therefore ideal for shopping. Hopefully the monsoon rains won’t be a problem!

More soon…
Love, Kirstin