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Islamic Community Center of Illinois Elementary School, Artist in residency 2016


I recently completed a short six visit residency at the Islamic Community Center of Illinois Elementary School through Urban Gateways, Chicago. Here’s a quick rundown on how it went:


I had the pleasure of meeting with ICCI’s coordinator (and Kindergarten teacher) Mona Askar, where we discussed the basic logistics and the overall expectations that ICCI hoped a visual arts residency could achieve. This was ICCI’s first visual arts program they ever brought into the school, so the staff and students were anxious and excited to get started.

We settled on a few basic guidelines. We agreed that we would use abstract art as our launching pad, and the first day would be dedicated to looking at examples of contemporary abstract art, along with how these artworks relate to Islamic architecture and design, and how math concepts, such as symmetry, materialize in visual form in nature.


All age levels were asked if they could “speak” back to a work of visual art by creating their own “answer” to an artwork they were asked to speak to. We used the minimalist work of the great painter Carmen Herrera, and the students had fun and stayed engaged during this simple exercise.


K-1st graders utilized the time learning how to fold, to cut and to glue, and most importantly, play. We mixed math vocabulary into our beginning exercises, banking that the seeds we planted would help them later on in practical applications in math and science classes. This was a constant throughout all grade levels, and we enhanced the mathematical language in an age appropriate manner.


Our 2nd and 3rd graders began working on radial designs that focused on pattern, rhythm and



Our 4-6th graders concentrated on pure abstraction, and working within limitations. Ms. Askar

Was hoping that our oldest students could work on a collaborative project that would lead to a permanent artwork, being that one of my personal missions has been to get contemporary art in as many schools as possible, I devoted most of my time and energy into making that happen.


We decided to use paper and tape as our media, it’s relatively easy to use and requires no prep and very little clean-up, I only had 6 hours of total time to work with each age group.


In order to create an even handed collaboration, where every student could feel like a vital part of, I had to sell the group on a concept to keep it focused and cohesive. I broke it down into a 32 piece grid, using 12” x 12” squares. We had 24 students, and 32 squares to fill, so a handful of them volunteered to create two works. They were limited to using only black and white tape on either gold or silver metallic paper, and red and white sticky dots. They all agreed to make a unique abstract composition, and allowed me to use their artworks to build one single piece.


I mounted the pieces on MDF board in two pieces, diptych style, to allow for the works to either be hung together or in separate parts of the building. When I brought the delivered works back to school after a two week break, the kids were genuinely and pleasantly  surprised at what they saw… They were all extremely proud of their collaboration and we just spent the final hour reflecting on a job well done, and celebrating with an art free for all for the whole day, which was started in earnest by our 1-2nd graders earlier that day. They spent the day making their own personal tape artworks to take home, and they all got to contribute to our temporary abstract tape mural on the wall…But the best part was destroying it at the end of class!!


Big thank you to Mona Askar and Ola Ayyad, our K-1st grade teachers, , Edina Cubic, and Jennifer Greenberg, our 2-3rd grade teachers and Manal Mullah and Wafa Mohammed, our 4-6th grade teachers for all of their help and support.

Lastly, thank you to Principal Mohammed Elnatour for letting Urban Gateways be a part of ICCI life for a short but productive time.


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