All nine panels of the mural representing the nine major ethnic groups of Eritrea were temporarily hung at the residence of Chargé D’Affaires Natalie Brown, for a reception at the residence.
Nebraska artist Kristin Pluhacek traveled to Asmara, Eritrea to facilitate and work side-by-side with twenty-four Eritrean artists representing the nine major ethnic groups of Eritrea, to create a nine-panel mural, each panel representing one of the ethnic groups.
This was Kristin’s second trip to Asmara with the U.S State Department, engaging in outreach and cultural diplomacy. She has been able to build on relationships established on her previous trip to envision and coordinate this exchange art project by working with the same core group of artists.
Kristin began with research in Omaha and assisted in providing materials so the mural could be created in Eritrea in different configurations and iterations. This allowed the individual panels to both be portable and hang in a variety of spaces as single panels and as a whole. The Eritrean artists worked in groups of two or three each to a panel. The panels were painted in a shared space “with the idea that they would ‘speak’ to each other while in process, knowing that these panels might eventually be displayed as a group.” The mural’s inaugural display as nine-panel installation was at the Residence of the U.S. Chargé d’Affairs Natalie Brown in Asmara, during a reception attended by Kristin and her artist partners in Eritrea, as well as members from the Eritrean government.
Though much of the time in Eritrea was given over to working side-by-side on the mural panels, Kristin Pluhacek was able to give a few presentations at the American Center and conduct informal visits to artists’ studios and art academies in Asmara. The participants at these presentations and visits “…were incredibly engaged (and patient, as I could only communicate in English) and seemed to be very excited about what I shared about my classroom assignments and examples that were made by my US art students. The participants especially clicked with the ideas of expanded creativity and openness in the classroom.” Her own visit as part of an artist exchange program, and the broader idea of Artist-In-Residence was especially intriguing to the participating visual artists.
The unique opportunity of a return trip to the same community gave Kristin the opportunity to develop strong relationships and build on what had previously been accomplished—maintaining excitement while also giving space to step back and plan. Pluhacek maintains contact with a number of the artists she met and worked with throughout her travels, keeping up-to-date and exchanging images.
“The relationships that I gained with many of the artists with whom I worked on this project are very strong, and we continue to remain in contact via social media, keeping one another up-to-date on personal and professional activities and exchanging images of our artwork. There seem to be so many cultural similarities between Asmara and Omaha that I would one day love to connect the Eritrean Artists with the Omaha Art community.”