This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

A stitch in time saves everyday memorabilia

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Renowned Ethiopian artist Elias Sim oversaw the making of a huge, paneled tapestry assembled by an eclectic mix of impromptu "artists" gathered outside the Broad Art Center Monday, Feb. 2.

elias2Students, staff and even passersby expressed personal artistic statements with buttons, thread, silk flowers and bits of plastic and paper.

Although Sim works in mud, goatskin, wood and other media, this particular project was inspired by his life in Addis Ababa and its rich street life. Participants, some of whom had seen Sim’s work, reacted to their own surroundings by stitching everyday found objects into burlap canvases.

Visiting scholar Farah Sader, an art student from South Africa, stitched her country’s name in the colors of its flag.

Nancy Gracia, a visitor to UCLA’s Medical Plaza who was invited to join in as she walked by, sewedelias3 beautiful shiny buttons in a circular pattern. Concentrating intently on her project, she remarked that art “takes your mind off everything.”

There was also 9-year-old Trey who had taken a day off fourth grade to visit the campus. He proudly added his name — in cursive — to the artwork.

The project was sponsored by the Santa Monica Museum of Art (SMMoA) which is currently hosting "Elias Sim: Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart," a survey exhibition of the artist’s wide range of work. The exhibition is co-curated by Meskerem Assegued, an Ethiopian curator and anthropologist, and Peter Sellars, a prodigiously talented theater and opera director who is a professor in the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures.

Students in Sellars’ current seminar, entitled “Enlightenment: Theory and Practice,” joined in on the fun, as did their teacher, who warmly greeted Sim, his collaborator and colleague. “Hello, great artist,” said Sellars as he embraced Sim.

SMMoA had already begun the tapestry by inviting local schoolchildren to view Sim’s work and record their reactions on burlap canvases that were then moved to UCLA.

Elias-sime1
Elias Sime' with mud sculptures he created.
Some of those on campus who contributed to the tapestry Monday hadn't seen Sim's work, but quickly got the idea. And as the afternoon progressed, the six burlap panels had grown in texture and color, fueled by a kind of creative chain reaction.

The themes of this workshop will be elaborated first, by a lecture by Simon Njami at the Fowler Museum on March 19, "Africa in the World: Curating African Contemporary Art in an International Arena." Then, impressive wooden thrones made by Sim will be featured in Sellars’ production of "Oedipus Rex," conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen April 16-20 at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Monday's event was cosponsored by UCLA Academic Program Development and the UCLA Art | Sci Center and Lab.
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