Artist/activist Naomi Natale aims to connect people to global problems, will visit U. of Utah

First Published      Last Updated Mar 28 2015 11:29 am

Gardner Lecture » Naomi Natale on using art to “evoke an emotional response.”

If you want to draw attention to a global problem and raise people's consciousness about it, Naomi Natale believes, art is a good vehicle.

"Art can really cut through information, or present information in a way that immediately can evoke an emotional or personal response in people," Natale said over the phone this week from her home in Albuquerque.

Natale will discuss her merger of art and activism when she delivers the University of Utah's David P. Gardner Lecture in the Humanities and Fine Arts Tuesday.

Natale first combined art with social issues in college, where she studied photography. Before her senior year, she received a fundraising letter seeking help for Kenyan orphans. She decided to take the money she earned waiting tables to pay for a trip to Kenya.

"If I could go there and photograph what they were describing, maybe those images could help connect people to the issue and they could garner more support," she said.

After shooting in slums and tribal reserves, Natale found the art she had been doing before wasn't satisfying. "I didn't think my photographs would ever say enough," she said, adding that she stopped creating art for a couple of years after graduation.

What got her back to creating art was The Cradle Project, a fundraising art installation she launched in 2006 to draw attention to the problem of orphaned children in sub-Saharan Africa. She called on artists to create symbolic cradles from scrap material to represent the 48 million children suffering from disease and poverty, and their lost potential.

More than 550 artists submitted cradles, using material from homeless shelters, refuse from Hurricane Katrina and other items. The first Cradle Project exhibition, in Albuquerque, drew 5,000 viewers, raised more than $90,000 for charity and was compiled into book form.

Natale, as artistic director of The Art of Revolution, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit formed with executive director Susan McAllister, more recently created a project called One Million Bones. The project's goal was to raise awareness of genocide by having people from around the world create a million replica bones, which would be laid on the ground at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

"It's a difficult thing to ask people to learn more about something that's so horrific, and engage and lean in more," Natale said. "If you're an anti-genocide activist, you're pretty much the downer at a party, because who wants to talk about genocide, right?"

During every step of the process, Natale said, there are stories of people making an emotional connection to the issue. She described an instance in New Orleans where volunteers made some 80,000 bones — and organizers needed someplace to store them.

One young man offered up space in the motel his parents owned on the city's outskirts. The bones ultimately filled two motel rooms. "When I thanked his parents, they told me, 'We've never seen [him] this passionate about something, and so it means a lot for us to support him,' " Natale said.

The million bones were laid out in Washington on July 8, 2013. While in Washington, project volunteers worked with the anti-genocide group Enough to arrange 200 meetings with their members of Congress to discuss genocide.

Natale is working on an extension of One Million Bones with a group in Bosnia. The plan is to lay out 108,000 bones in July, to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide there — 100,000 to symbolize those killed during the Bosnian War and 8,000 specifically to honor the Muslim men and boys massacred in Srebrenica.

"We always knew that the project wasn't going to end genocide," Natale said. "None of these conflicts have let up."

But the human connections made have remained valuable.

"People who participated, who made bones, a lot of times the experiences of doing that were really transformational," Natale said. "People committed themselves to this kind of activism in a way that I don't think they had ever imagined they would have, especially if they had learned about these issues if they had been asked to sign a petition."


Twitter: @moviecricket



Art meets activism

Artist/activist Naomi Natale will deliver the David P. Gardner Lecture in the Humanities and Fine Arts, presented by the University of Utah College of Fine Arts.

Where » Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City

When » Tuesday, March 31, 6 p.m.

Admission » Free