25. She is But One of Many
1986, 15’ x 15’
En route to a political meeting at The Brecht Forum—which turned out to be a week hence— Thérèse “accidentally” walked into an Artmakers planning session for La Lucha. Invited to stay, she thought that, “as a ceramic artist who did not identify with painters, I would simply observe. Before the meeting was over, I had my assignment along with everyone else: to brainstorm ideas for the 4-story collective mural which she painted in collaboration with eleven other artists.
Thérèse “was delighted to discover murals.” She says, “It gave me an opportunity to ‘marry’ my two loves: art and activism. Until I met Eva, these worlds were split and separate. The idea of art serving as a vehicle for social justice was radical, new and exciting.”
For many years, Thérèse worked against military incursions into El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua by the American government. When, in 1986, La Lucha expanded to include two new murals, she designed her first ceramic and painted mural. She is But One of Many is dedicated to the disappeared of Guatemala. The mural presents a map of Central America, every country painted except for Guatemala, rendered in ceramic. Set within its outlines is an indigenous woman, also ceramic. Framing her are “the names of hundreds of disappeared at the hands of the state and police. As I wrote each letter, I offered a prayer—a silent reverence as I tried to embody the pain and profound loss in each and every letter. It was poignant.
“Painting the bottom of the mural, I had to lie on my belly. Crouched on the ground, protected by newspaper and a blanket, I looked around and realized I was surrounded by all sorts of debris— syringes and trash—common those days in the East Village. As I wrote the names and prayed, a Japanese film crew happened by and videotaped what had become a ritual. When the mural was finished, I organized an event to educate folks about the tragic situation in Guatemala. Representatives from several Central American and peace organizations spoke as did a young Guatemalan woman who had lost 17 members of her family. It was heartbreaking.”
In 1988, Thérèse and several Artmakers muralists created a series of installations for the Broadway / Lafayette subway station. For nine months, a team worked in her studio—“creating, sculpting, glazing, and mounting a 25’ x 20’ ceramic mural depicting the gentrification of Soho. The Changing Face of Soho lasted ten years at the Bleecker Street entrance to the downtown #6 train before the station underwent its own gentrification. Without notifying Artmakers, the MTA dismantled and removed the entire project prior to a station renovation.”
Living in the Hudson Valley, Thérèse is a psychotherapist with a practice in Brooklyn. She is the director of the Interspiritual Counseling Program at One Spirit where she teaches wellness practitioners, coaches, interfaith ministers, and therapists. She continues her creativity work, currently focusing on SoulCollage. ThereseBimka.com