Student Portfolio: uab whisper away

After my arrival at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in September of 2014, students from the Intermediate Sculpture class presented a UAB Prayer Flag Project installation proposal to a committee of UAB reviewers including Associate Professor of Art History Cathleen Cummings, Campus Architect Christopher Faulkner, Abroms-Engle Institute for the Visual Arts Curator John Fields, Department of Art & Art History Chair Lauren lake, and Manager of Campus Services and Grounds Tim Sullivan. UAB Assistant Professor Doug Baulos and Birmingham artist Carrie Bloomston had been working with UAB’s Department of Art & Art History, the College of Arts & Sciences, and the Birmingham community to produce multi-colored prayer flags to celebrate the arrival of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Birmingham in October called the Happy Flag Project. Once over 1,500 prayer flags were produced and collected, the Intermediate Sculpture class was challenged to propose, fabricate and install a large-scaled installation in the Abroms-Engle Institute for the Visual Art’s Sculpture Garden that incorporated all the designed prayer flags.

The Intermediate Sculpture students had designed an installation that created large flag-shaped assortments of the individual colored flags to be installed in their intended order titled Whisper Away. The arrangement of the flags starts with an individual flag and then rises up to a union of multiple flags. This was meant to tie into Birmingham’s history of the Civil Rights Movement and symbolizes the coming together of different cultures to form a true community. Members of several different ethnicities had participated in the production of the prayer flags, which also furthers the idea of community. Under each colored assortment, the students included areas of meditation for people to interact with the flags and their environment. These provided a place where members of all ethnicities and cultures could join together in peaceful reflection and enjoy a true sense of community in appreciation of art and Birmingham’s history.

Once the proposal was approved by the committee, the students conducted multiple community sewing days where other students and people from the Birmingham community would help pin and sew the prayer flags. Once all the sewing was completed, the students worked together to prep the large sections of color prior to the installation day. The actual installation process was graciously assisted by UAB Service and Grounds as to not put the students in any danger and help them achieve their intended goals for the project in a safe manner. The UAB Services and Grounds staff were happy to help as they often stated that they rarely get the opportunity to be involved with such unique projects.

Whisper Away was on display for six days and the final installation was successful in that it encouraged audience participation; it was visually stimulating from both a distance and up close; and it became a symbol for what can be accomplished when a community works together as a whole. The configuration of the installation allowed accessibility to the wind from all sides to carry the flags’ prayers throughout the area. Due to the allotted exhibition time, the flags were not able to naturally unravel in the wind, however, the prayer flags were later burned in a ceremonial burning performance the following year during finals week. The burning of the prayer flags is an important ritual within the Tibetan culture so that the smoke may carry the blessings of the flags to the heavens. The ritual was a great way to consummate the college’s year and to properly relinquish the hopes and wishes of the UAB Whisper Away installation participants.