April 11, 2012 12:17

Visiting artist works with homeless day center

Zada credit Jordan Green

The sunlit front room of the Interactive Resource Center on East Washington Street in Greensboro felt like Grand Central Station on a recent Friday afternoon with people coming in to take care of laundry, a newspaper staff meeting convening and various interactions transpiring among staff and the homeless or at-risk clientele who exchanged information about services or simply enjoyed one another’s company.

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

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

The change she has experienced involves personal growth through social interaction: “Being more in contact with life — everyday life — and being more sensitive to what is happening. It’s filling and draining.” She believes art should serve a social purpose, rejecting the idea of art for art’s sake. “I’ve been traveling all over the world and I’m not very familiar with the language here,” she said. “In everything I do there is a big, big, thick meaning. 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 wake up!” The mural features geometric shapes and colors. She said she avoided using faces because she wants everyone to recognize themselves in the mural. She wants people to feel happy when they see the mural, which projects a brilliant, Technicolor landscape with conventional clouds and rays of light that collide and, prism-like, refract an array of dazzling colors.

Zada’s artistic mission grows out of her experience as traveler, a role that forces her to remain open to new people and experiences. Born and raised 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 people with such problems,” she said, referring to the homeless or at-risk clients at the Interactive Resource Center. “Art is very commercial, is not as in contact with life and people as it is in the US.”

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

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