Visiting artist works with homeless day center

by Jordan Green

The sunlit front room of the Interactive Resource Center onEast Washington Street in Greensboro felt like Grand CentralStation on a recent Friday afternoon with people coming in totake care of laundry, a newspaper staff meeting convening andvarious interactions transpiring among staff and the homeless or at-riskclientele who exchanged information about services or simply enjoyedone another’s company.

The artist Zada emerged from a wide corridor at the back, at the end ofwhich a freshly painted mural radiated between the men’s and women’sbathrooms and around a pair of water fountains. She handed a rinsedpaint container to one of the clients and took a break from cleanup. Shewore flip-flops, a striped blue work shirt and green pants splotched withpaint.

Thus ended two weeks of sketches, conversations, walking toursof the city, planning and execution for a project that was the highlight ofZada’s residency at Elsewhere.“I’m sad to leave,” she said. “I think I became a bit of a differentperson through this.”On Tuesday she flies home to Seattle.Zada prefers to work with other people. She said she has been inspiredby an artist that paints the favelas, Brazilian slums, with the residents ofthe favelas, making them attractive so that they become places peoplewant to visit rather than avoid.

The change she has experienced involves personal growth through socialinteraction: “Being more in contact with life — everyday life — andbeing more sensitive to what is happening. It’s filling and draining.”She believes art should serve a social purpose, rejecting the idea of artfor art’s sake.“I’ve been traveling all over the world and I’m not very familiar withthe language here,” she said. “In everything I do there is a big, big, thickmeaning. I don’t do portraits.

The person might be a beautiful person,but what can I communicate through that? It’s giving people a little wakeup!”The mural features geometric shapes and colors. She said she avoidedusing faces because she wants everyone to recognize themselves in themural. She wants people to feel happy when they see the mural, whichprojects a brilliant, Technicolor landscape with conventional clouds andrays of light that collide and, prism-like, refract an array of dazzlingcolors.

Zada’s artistic mission grows out of her experience as traveler, a rolethat forces her to remain open to new people and experiences. Born andraised in Italy, she started traveling at the age of 13 as an au pair girl, or“an international babysitter.” Since receiving her artistic training in Italy,she has lived in Finland and Hong Kong.“In Asia, there’s a very different way of dealing with and facing peoplewith such problems,” she said, referring to the homeless or at-risk clientsat the Interactive Resource Center. “Art is very commercial, is not as incontact with life and people as it is in the US.”

Zada’s frustration with the emphasis on commercialism in the Asianart world prompted her to move with her husband to Seattle. She maintainsa studio there and also works at Home Depot doing color consulting.After her exposure to the sunshine of North Carolina, she said shehas become interested in moving to San Francisco.As Zada folded up the drop cloth, a woman emerged from the bathroomwith a small child in tow.

The child lingered and pointed.“You like my pants?” Zada asked. “They have a lot of colors. Yourshirt has a lot of colors, too.”