ESH mural draws inspiration from the migrations of both butterflies and humans
Monarch butterflies have long been a source of curiosity and delight for N–2 students; every year, kindergarten classes watch with joy as caterpillars they raise become beautiful, milkweed-loving pollinators. A new project by the Changemakers, a kindergarten classroom, is using these beloved creatures as symbols to highlight important human stories. Through sharing their mural with the N–2 community, the Changemakers are, true to their name, creating a difference through community art and putting an ESH hallway through a breathtaking metamorphosis.
To prepare for the undertaking, Lead Teacher Kiran Younus and Assistant Teacher/Artist Liz Parr worked together with the students to expand their understanding of art as a form of social expression. “This project is a great example of young artists also being researchers and collaborators,” says Parr. As part of this research, the classes visited a number of murals in Hyde Park and Pilsen, as well as the studio of Pilsen-based mural artist Hector Duarte. The supplies for the students’ mural were then purchased through the Gunvor Refetoff Memorial Fund, a philanthropic endowment which supports hands-on arts and crafts activities at Lab each year, adding another source of community support to the project.
The Changemakers also explored indigenous cultures and artwork from Mexico, where many butterflies from North America migrate every year. “For many Mexicans, and especially those who reside in the Monarchs' migratory path, the butterflies hold a special part in their local or family tradition,” explains Younus. “Particularly for the Purhépecha and Mazahua indigenous peoples, as well as others in central-western Mexico, Monarchs represent the souls of their ancestors returning to visit them for Día de Muertos (Fernandez, 2017; National Geographic en Español, 2018).”
The mural was also inspired by conversations about the migration stories of individual students’ families and the many reasons why humans might migrate. “[The students] realized that sometimes it is for reasons under their control and other times it is not,” says Younus. “Sometimes people must move because they are unsafe. Some of our children even connected it to the current situation in Ukraine where people are leaving because they have to.” These discussions were an important aspect of the project for Younus, in the hopes that their content “deepens the children’s understanding of each other, their individual family journeys, and the meaning of home.”
The final result, located in a first-floor corridor on the north side of ESH, is a beautiful combination of images and text capturing both the freedom of butterflies in flight and the ideas and reflections of the Changemakers themselves. “There are so many journeys people can have in their lives,” one part of the mural reads, echoing the thoughts of a student. “Home is important because it protects you to feel safe,” says another. As more students journey through their time at ESH and find their home there, the artwork of the Changemakers will remind them to approach life’s travels with both curiosity and empathy.