“A system that sorts by birth lottery is unbelievably bad for society,” said Mitch Kapor yesterday, on an inspiring panel about how educational innovation is inseparable from educational equity at our Digital Media and Learning Conference, “Beyond Educational Technology: Towards Connected Learning.” Kapor is one of the great innovators of the digital age (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitch_Kapor), developer of Lotus 1-2-3, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Society, and now passionately dedicating his efforts to advocate for more equitable, fair, humane, and inspiring educational system for all Americans.
I was listening to Mitch’s talk when I received an email from my friend Lisa Lesniak ( http://lisalesniak.wordpress.com/ ) with three images from the powerful exhibit she is having in Los Angeles, at one of the most famous zipcodes in America: 90210. “Among You,” part of the Drawn to Compassion series, will be hosted by All Saints Episcopal Church on Friday March 16-18, from 6-930 PM, at 504 North Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, 90210. http://www.allsaintsbh.org/2012/02/24/art-exhibit-among-you-drawn-to-compassion/
The exhibit is of loving, compassionate portraits Lesniak has made of the homeless people she serves as a “stylist.” A brilliant artist in many media, a professional textile conservator, a costume designer for the movies, and even a professional dresser of rock stars and movie stars in her varied career, she now dedicates every Monday night to the homeless who come to All Saints. Lesniak works in many media. In this series, simple line drawings, so expressive, remind me that Lesniak was also a ballet dancer, who understands the beauty of a line as connection.
A lifelong student of meditation, a practicing Buddhist, and a social activist who uses her art to help us see social inequality, Lesniak does more than draw from the homeless subject as her “muse.” She also uses her talents as an artist, conservator, and costumer to help them. Instead of just giving them the clothes donated by the rich of Beverly Hills, every Sunday Lesniak carefully matches the donations to the style of the person receiving. She styles them, helping them to pride and identity, to some beauty in a life that, for most, eludes them, sometimes for decades.
“Among You” comes from John 12:8, “You will always have the poor among you but you will not always have Me.” Lesniak’s contemplative practice as a volunteer, bringing her professional training to the dressing of the outcast and demoralized, is one of the most beautiful, powerful, touching expressions of compassion I know. I hope you will see this exhibit if you are in Los Angeles on March 16.
Once, I was driving through Beverly Hills with Lisa Lesniak and she waved to a handsome, well-dressed man in his twenties or so on a street corner. The smile that crossed his face was beautiful, beatific, and also revealed some missing teeth. Until that moment, in his designer clothes and in the gleam in his eye recognizing Lisa, I might have thought he was a hip actor, in Beverly Hills after a shoot. He was a homeless man, from the shelter, walking, with pride and beauty, “Among You.”
Some artists have the gift to make us see what our own assumptions make invisible. And then some activist-artists, like Lisa Lesniak, take that vision and transfer it back. The person of the portrait is not just some “muse” but a real human being whose life can also be transformed by art. In this case, Lesniak performs that work, taking couture bequeathed by those who have passed away in 90210, one of the wealthiest zipcodes in America, to those who live in poverty amid wealth. It is an act of “the tactility of contemplation.” Lesniak says, “compassion resides in the in-taking from wherever you come.” So it does. And in the recognition of human dignity, beauty, pride, and expression revitalized in these remarkable portraits.