The freedom of art.
You don’t need to have a child to agree that children have incredibly rich inner worlds; you just need to have been one. But sometimes adults forget to speak their language, and don’t understand them. Art allows children to shine in a way that can reveal more about the way they think and feel than anything else. That is why MINI, together with the multidisciplinary artist Fico Guzmán, launched a project in the SOS Children’s Villages of Poland to support its young refugee inhabitants and to allow them to express themselves – what they think, how they feel – through art. Let Fico show you how he gives children a platform, and the special value he sees in every single flower that children paint.
It takes about a one-hour drive through the Polish countryside from Warsaw to the SOS Children’s Village in Siedlce. MINI has been supporting the initiative for a long time, through donation drives, or through direct action. Since April of last year, a group of MINI employees have dedicated their time to supporting SOS Children’s Villages in Poland to alleviate the suffering of children displaced by the war in neighbouring Ukraine. With the motto "We help to spread BIG LOVE" and with multi-layered measures such as School Starter Kits, and the involvement of MINI customers via European trade partners, various efforts have already been made. Another such important initiative is the collaboration with Federico Guzmán, better known as Fico, who accompanied us during our visit.
The SOS Children’s Village in Siedlce can be found just on the edge of the little green city. Siedlce features small houses where Polish children, as well as refugees from the conflict in Ukraine – some adults, but mostly children – live. It is not uncommon to find a single adult leading an entire household of different children. While conditions seem good, children need more than that.
Whether through play, through sports, or through talking, there is just so much going on in a child’s mind that they need to express. And that is where Fico Guzmán, the multidisciplinary artist from Seville, Spain, comes in. He leads a project he himself whimsically calls “SOS Artventure”: he travels to different Polish SOS Children’s Villages, where he paints on walls and then invites the children of the village to paint whatever they want on his work and to complete the giant mural.
“My image is like a trampoline, which allows them to invent something on their own.” Fico understands that it would be much more difficult for a child to just start scribbling on a big white wall. “I need to give them this jumpstart for them to just let go and be free.” And when he says free, he means absolutely free. To him, when children paint over his painting, it doesn’t detract, but only adds to its quality. That is why he feels there is an undeniable truth to Picasso’s famous quote. But how does a mural like this get made? Fairly simply, in only a couple of steps.
An independent artist and researcher from Sevilla, Spain who loves to create individual as well as collaborative work. He’s worked with different human rights initiatives in Colombia, Western Sahara and Spain. He describes his art as “play, a tool of social transformation as well as an unlimited path of self discovery.”
Fico spent multiple months in Poland, working on different murals in different locations all around South-eastern Poland. Before he travelled to Eastern Europe, he came up with a couple of design ideas based on the walls he knew he would be working on. But of course, as with any artistic process, he too is open to new impulses and inspirations. In Poland he was inspired by the various forests and the flora he came in contact with. He may lift these objects into his murals or borrow shapes, colours, or themes. What is important is that the finished work gives children a sort of canvas on which to express themselves.
After he paints his mural, it’s time for the children to get to work. “I tell them that I am an artist from Spain, that I want to create this participatory mural with them. I show them the materials they can work with: the water, the brushes and the palettes. And they can do anything they want. They are invited to take over the walls. To express themselves and play freely.” During our visit he was working on a new mural to be painted together with children in Wola Wodyńska about 30 km from Siedlce.
His – or rather – their mural here began with a snail, with its spiral house separated into multiple sections, each showing colourful natural objects that Fico found in Poland (like sunflowers). And while the snail is a common illustration in children’s books, Fico sees it as much more. “I like the idea of the spiral being an infinite line of creativity. It is a structure with lots of different sectors, but it invites children to continue this infinite spiral with freedom. It is a structure that is designed to give freedom.”
But Fico has other shapes as well, including one he calls the “Peace Train”, which is another example of him gaining inspiration from local sources. While he was already working in Siedlce he found the local train industry to be fascinating. He passed by an old train next to the SOS Children’s Village every day, and it got him thinking. Fico knew that his next mural would be in Bilgoraj, less than 100 km from the border between Ukraine and Poland. He knew that in this location, the children painting with him would be Ukrainian refugees. He also knew he’d have a long low wall to paint and so he took the imagery of the train and it fit perfectly to the location and helped inspire the children as well.
To Fico’s joy, the children took to the idea of participatory murals immediately. “They are collaborative, quiet, they spend a lot of time painting a flower and they work incredibly hard on details, using their brushes or even their fingers, or sometimes they work with a sponge.” Fico – who does a lot of participatory art projects, as well as solo work and research – says the Ukrainian children of the SOS Children’s Villages were the most attentive and contemplative children he’s ever worked with. Whether that is because their circumstances have not allowed them many opportunities for self-expression, he doesn’t know for sure, but he is very happy that he is able to work with them. “They take a long time with the motive they are painting, and they talk to each other; they say, ‘How are you doing this? How are you doing that?’ It’s a very nice atmosphere. What surprised me is that they don’t get bored; they don’t ruin something out of frustration. They work very carefully, with a lot of attention.” And such attention is something Fico is always pleasantly surprised by, especially in his line of work. “We live in a culture without attention; we’re easily distracted. That is what I found different with these children; they are more patient, more focused on their work.”
He specifically points out a little flower to explain how and why children’s artwork is so special.
“If you look at children’s artwork with cynical eyes, you might think it’s naive or banal, but if you look at it through loving eyes, you’ll see that everything essential to the object of the painting is there.” It seems like the children inspire Fico, just as much as he does them. “I tend to want to paint like these children, because you look at the flower, it’s like a monument, it’s something totemic… so simple and so strong. I look at it as a sign of inspiration.” Fico does multiple sessions of painting for each group of children. After a session, when the children are finished, Fico gets to work again. He starts adding background elements, such as hills, caves, and forests, to connect the separate elements together. “Children work on parts, and I work on the whole. I find the idea of how the part relates to the whole very beautiful. While children are focusing on a very small part of their world [their part of the mural], my job is to harmonise, to unite different elements.” And in this way the mural gains new elements each time Fico visits, as the children will use the new parts he paints as another jumping-off point. In theory, and if the wall was big enough, the mural could go on forever. That would probably make the children – and Fico – really happy. Its because of this dedication to self-expression and the spirit of giving that has made the project so important that he has planned a special gift for each and every child who participated in the murals. They will receive a unique diploma that features their drawing with their name on it signed by Fico as well, as an artwork they can keep for the future.
That is why leaving Fico, the children, and their murals behind is such a strange experience: you’re leaving behind a work of art that is only finished when the children say it is. That is why MINI thought it was such an important project to support. We like to think we know the value of self-expression and understand adults’ and children’s desire to create. But when coming face to face with these murals, which were created in such tragic circumstances, we think it’s best to take a step back and appreciate their pureness and beauty.
MINI's commitment to SOS Children's Villages has been unwavering, and various national sales companies make significant contributions to support it. For instance, MINI Italy provided a booth at the International MINI Meeting in Florence to raise greater awareness of the organization's work. In Poland, MINI's collaboration with Fico is just one of many actions taken. MINI offers career orientation days for children living in one of the children's villages and organizes workshops where participants can learn more about jobs at BMW and MINI. Additionally, MINI Poland plans to provide school supplies to schoolchildren. MINI Germany initiates various activities at dealerships to collect donations. Furthermore, there are Social Days where MINI employees volunteer for a day at local SOS Children's Villages. Everything MINI does for SOS Children's Villages is focused on providing better opportunities for the children living there.
Autor: David Vass / Fotos: Federico Ciamei.
Hinweis (English disclaimers below):
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