Mural Making On The Tough Streets Of Brooklyn

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Chris Soria And His Merry Band

Look around Brooklyn -- brick walls spiraling in kaleidoscopical color are changing the feel of some grim inner cityscapes, largely due to thirty-three year old Parsons-trained artist and educator Chris Soria. His preferred symbol is the mandala. Working with him on these large-scale projects, that can measure twenty feet high high and as long as a city block, are neighborhood kids. Many have grown up in poverty and have a vested interest in broadening their own personal horizons beyond these streets. YogaCity NYC writer and artist Sharon Watts sat down with Soria to find out more about his interesting work and unusual band of assistants.

Sharon Watts: Why the mandala?

Chris Soria: I initially began incorporating mandalas into mural painting to break free from the rectangular confines of a typical wall, and its perpendicular limits. That led me to explore deeper into the mandala and its many manifestations. Circles of patterns have been embedded in the human psyche, both as objects and concepts--cycles of seasons, the shape of the sun and moon, even social circles--throughout the human experience.

SW: You engage community youth to work on many of your projects. One mural is at the Brooklyn Detention Center. How did that evolve?

CS: I was working with a group of youth on a Groundswell mural project in 2011. They were tasked with researching, brainstorming, and making art that explored the theme of restorative justice, a form of conflict resolution that focuses on people’s needs rather than satisfying abstract legal principles and serving terms of punishment. While researching this topic, we came across Howard Zehr’s 10 Ways To Live Restoratively, a framework for applying restorative justice into our own lives on an interpersonal and spiritual level.

The practice of living restoratively involves being aware of our impact on others and the environment, treating everyone respectfully, and viewing conflict as opportunity. I had all the participants begin by drawing a circle. Whatever followed would be created within that circle. Our discussions took place in a circle. Even our writing assignments began with a circle on the page. Meanwhile we explored how mandala-making was used by many cultures to represent wholeness and healing, how we move in circles, participate in circles of community and relationships, and how a mandala connects us when viewed from a certain perspective.