Critical Reflections: The Cradle Project

The Banque Loft Building<br /> 219 Central Avenue NW, Albuquerque

Date June 30, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Author Rinchen Lhamo

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts

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If a child is given a supportive environment, a child can become someone. Give children a chance and you will discover great, great heroes in them.

Moses Zulu, Development Aid from People to People, Children's Town, Zambia

Intention is all, it is said, and every so often an idea comes along that manages to gather all of the flickers of goodwill and benevolent yearnings that are on the lookout to be ignited into a grand and blazing vision. Naomi Natale, by the force of her experiences in sub-Saharan Africa, founded and curated The Cradle Project, a fundraising exhibition that has drawn huge attention and loving concern regarding the more than forty-eight million, largely-forgotten, orphaned children in Africa, all bereft of stable, nurturing circumstances thanks to rampant disease and poverty. Natale implemented her vision-the idea to use empty cradles and falling sand as symbols representing the lost potential of these orphaned children-by inviting people from all around the world to create cradles made out of found or discarded materials. The result has been a gathering of five-hundred-fifty cradles, effectively displayed on two disfigured and unadorned cement floors, in a derelict loft space in the upper reaches of the landmark Sunrise Bank building in downtown Albuquerque. The unfinished walls and ceilings, exposing bare pipes and a kind of haunted vacancy, all contribute to the feeling of an on-the-spot, collective galvanizing impulse that inspired all the artists and schoolchildren represented in this show, to step out and make a gesture of hope. The sight of hundreds of empty cradles, missing their rightful contents and fashioned out of whatever homely materials might be at hand-common hardware, packing materials, empty bottles, light-bulbs, fabric scraps, buttons, bits of vinyl, plastic flowers, cardboard, broken chairs, twigs and driftwood, tires filled with leaves, bones-should be a desolate specter. But quite the contrary. With a recording of lullabies from around the world sung softly in the background (courtesy of Amnesty International and the Lullaby Project of New Mexico), sunlight pouring in from windows that line three walls of each floor, the effect is more a stroll through a garden of freshly renewed possibility, rather than an elegy for wasted infant lives. That latter, undeniable truth is there, but reverently remembered and acknowledged, thereby awakening the vision and will to do something about the young lives that still persist and those that have yet to come into being, born into radically more difficult circumstancesthat most of us have had reason to even imagine. All proceeds from the sponsorships and purchases of cradles (effected through an on-line auction), as well as from the sale of The Cradle Project Book (available at www.firelightfoundation.org) are being donated to The Cradle Project's partner organization, the Firelight Foundation. Every dollar raised will be granted by Firelight to grassroots organizations in sub-Saharan Africa working to strengthen the capacity of families and communities to meet the needs of children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS and famine.

To describe a few of the hundreds of cradles: Michael Cavallini created a cradle out of used clothing-striped, floral, bright, pastel fabrics-then filled it with freestanding, empty T-shirts, and titled it, Cradle Recipe: Add Children, Rock Vigorously. To build her cradle, entitled Defining Home, Crystal Martucci collected soil from various places that have meaning for her; she collected her own hair, the dreadlocks of the father of her son; she gathered flowers, vines, and branches. She then lined the floor of the "nest"€ with a blanket that belonged to her own son. Finally, in her own words, she offered the cradle "as a prayer with the hope that every child's dream of a home is realized."€ Attachment to Carry, by Natalie Wetzel, crafted out of steel, plaster, human hair, wool, fur, and silicon, is a delicately beautiful-veering-on-the-bizarre contraption. Suspended from the ceiling, it trails two limp cords with suggestive clumps that imply a flimsy anchorage. The artist's obsessive care in shaping her ambiguous form is reminiscent of Eve Hesse's slightly ominous sculptures made out of similar materials. There were shoe-cradles, a ship-cradle, a cradle built for tiny twins (Double Dreams, by Barbara Scavotto-Earley), a cradle enveloped with feather angel wings (Wings of Love, by Sue Oberman), and many, many cradles embellished with heart symbols. These latter included one that was fashioned in the shape of a coffin (Cradle, by Aaron Marie Beie). All of its hearts were broken.

Another one of Naomi Natale's great achievements here, not immediately obvious if you didn't see the show, was in moving these hundreds of artists and schoolchildren and volunteers into action, and then, as a consequence, (in the words of Elizabeth Mataka, United Nations Special Envoy on AIDS in Africa) "help[ing] us see difficult problems in a new way."€ The Cradle Project has made people more aware about the reality of children in Africa who are starting their lives with the most difficult of circumstances, and has also given us an opportunity to act.

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