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Inspiring Peace in Dangerous Spaces

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, December 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The image of Buddha is serene and lovely and visually beautiful in a garden, says sculptor Indira Johnson, but it serves a different purpose when it appears in harsh and dangerous spaces. Dozens of sculpted Buddha heads are emerging in unexpected places in troubled Chicago neighborhoods, and Johnson hopes their presence will be a catalyst for conversations about peace and nonviolence.

In a story by Mark Guarino in the Christian Science Monitor, Johnson explains that she is convinced public art can serve social issues and alter the way people think about their environment. She approached community organizations and activists and suggested using her sculpted Buddha heads in ways that could generate discussions about peace. The heads are incomplete. They appear to be growing out of the ground, out of sidewalks, near train tracks, in parks, near schools and in what she calls marginalized spaces. Johnson suggests her symbolic intent was to make the heads seem to emerge from earth, "Just like all of us ....growing in our self-realization and spirituality." Johnson isn't promoting Buddhism or any religion. Her goal is to provoke and inspire transformative thought.

The effort was started by Ten Thousand Ripples, an art and civic engagement project Johnson launched a year ago with the nonprofit organization Changing Worlds. Communities were offered ten heads each, and local people chose where to place them. Johnson wanted people in the communities to respond in their own way, and she reports that they have. The heads have been moved around and made to face in different directions. One head decorated with painted makeup was later cleansed and painted white. In Albany Park community residents said the sculptures were a call for peace and harmony, a message that fit with violence prevention, youth training and conflict resolution efforts begun in response to gang related shootings.

In an interview with Jenniffer Weigel in the Chicago Tribune, Johnson, a native of Mumbai, India, who attended the Chicago Art Institute and made the city her home decades ago, talks about her art and a universal desire for peace and a better future. She thinks individual experiences with art can help people think about huge concepts like peace and how an individual can have an impact.

"I like the metaphor of ripples," Johnson said, referring to the title of her organization. "It was based on the idea that your actions go on and live past you."

Read the Christian Science Monitor Story here, the Chicago Tribune story here, and to learn more about the Buddha project visit

Tags:  art  buscell  community  complexity matters 

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