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Brave Art: The Bully Project Mural

By Robert Ordona

The global anti-bullying movement is gaining momentum as more and more artists contribute their work to a stunning digital mosaic with a powerful message: You are not alone.

Creativity and inspiration were the themes of the second day of 2014’s Adobe MAX conference. One of the day’s keynote speakers, the acclaimed filmmaker and anti-bullying crusader Lee Hirsch, showed clips from his two award-winning documentaries, including scenes from his film Bully, which gave the world a gritty, excruciatingly close-up view of kids enduring abuse at the hands of their peers.

Shortly into his address, he invited the “badass creatives” who had packed the enormous auditorium to stand up and close their eyes.

“Sit down if you’ve never felt like you’ve been bullied,” he said.

When, at Hirsch’s direction, the hundreds of attendees opened their eyes, they saw that everyone in the room was still standing.

Hirsch wanted to convey that nearly every American has been touched by bullying—whether as someone who has been bullied, someone who has bullied others, or someone who has witnessed bullying. But to the crowd at MAX he also wanted to make another point: Often perceived as outsiders, creative people are likely to have a deeper familiarity with bullying than the general population. And furthermore, creatives have a distinct and powerful tool to combat this epidemic—their art.

CHANGING THE WORLD, SQUARE BY SQUARE

The original Bully Project Mural

At the climax of his MAX keynote speech, Hirsch unveiled the Bully Project Mural, a collaborative digital mosaic that harnesses the power and passion of artists around the world in an effort to hasten the end of the bullying culture.

The original mosaic consisted of 16 squares united by Hirsch’s No Bully logo. Each square was inspired by the documentary and the contributing artists’ personal experiences with bullying—from the childlike plea framed in Ian Quhachi’s Please Don’t Hurt Me, to the harsh depiction of verbal aggression in the imagery of Flora Borsi’s Into Ashes, to the bold facts of bullying rendered textually in Brooke Lehman’s Anti-Bully Poster. Each piece magnified an aspect of the bullying experience; together, they represented unity in the artistic community—a firm stand against bullying and a show of support for its victims.

“We wanted to have a variety of mediums and points of view” for the original mosaic, explains Adobe senior art director Cindy Yep, whose team recruited the artists for the original 16 squares and curated their work. “We looked for artists who had tackled this subject before, and then for who just had amazing work. All the artists we chose were touched by [the film Bully] and wanted to contribute something from their heart.”

As the team pieced together the artists’ squares, they saw a common theme emerging from the different depictions and diverse points of view. The unifying message is, says Yep, “There is hope for people in this situation…and if we stand together, these kids don’t have to feel alone.”

GETTING ON THE ANTI-BULLY BUS

Vincent Hardy’s Sharks and a Fish

After the original mural of 16 squares was set, the Adobe team created a website to present the mural and rallied artists around the world to share their own images and stories. Says Adobe creative director AJ Joseph, “Anyone can tell their story, and anyone can submit a piece of creative that represents how they were affected by bullying.” The goal is to “push our community to be a part of this movement.”

And many have already accepted the invitation—and the challenge.

San Francisco Bay Area–based graphic artist Vincent Hardy added to the mosaic with his piece Sharks and a Fish, which illustrates his feelings of childhood helplessness when “older kids would overpower the little ones because they were bigger and stronger...and the darkness captures the notion of the unknown, where more threats could be looming.”

Another recent contributor to the mosaic is photographer and graphic artist Victoria Pavlov, a Moscow native who now lives and works in Rhode Island. Her square, No Bully, was inspired by a desire to end the pain caused by bullying.

Victoria Pavlov’s No Bully

 

Pavlov herself was bullied as a child. “I never thought about it,” she says, “because in my home country, they would say, ‘If you’re bullied, it doesn’t matter—you need to try to be friends with the people who bully you.’” But after immigrating to the United States with her 14-year-old daughter, Pavlov discovered that her daughter was being bullied, because she couldn’t speak English at the time and didn’t have the right clothes.

“I really want to stop it,” says Pavlov. “No one should be bullied—no one.” In her square, two young girls stand together, each holding a flower. “I used the flowers to represent not aggression but understanding.”

And so the mosaic grows, as new artists add their images and stories to the digital mural. “Our hope is that this will be a living piece of art that lives on and continues to populate,” says Yep.

Hirsch looks forward to the future of the mural. “In our grandest dreams, years from now, there will be hundreds of thousands of unique pieces of art and expression that will become part of this tapestry of people’s responses,” he says. “I see pain, I see hope—I see this incredible expression of an experience put into a creative form.”

From left to right: Ian Quhachi’s Please Don’t Hurt Me, Brooke Lehman’s Anti-Bully Poster, Flora Borsi’s Into Ashes

Yep sums up her reasons for calling artists to be part of the mosaic by recounting her own experience of viewing the Bully documentary, particularly her feelings while watching the heartbreaking scene in which Alex, an Iowa 7th grader with Asperger syndrome, is brutalized by his schoolmates on a school bus. “I was crying my eyes out,” says Yep. “I just wanted to get on this bus with this kid and protect him from the horror he was experiencing. And then I realized that working on the Bully Project Mural was my way of getting on that bus.”

Other artists can get on that bus, too. Learn how you can share your story, at the Bully Project Mural site.