by Brandon Vesely
STATE COLLEGE – The Penn State Downtown Theater Center hosted the Eyes to See gallery, a combination of video, photographs, and audio recording used to showcase the experiences of two U.S. volunteers in Nicaragua, Sunday afternoon.
Stelli Munnis and Veronica Winters, the gallery’s creators, hope the gallery will give viewers insight into a simpler, less materialistic way of life
“Construction is just an excuse to put people together, to build cross-cultural connections and solidarity, and to learn from each other as humans,” Munnis, who was born in Nicaragua, explained.
The volunteers worked with the Seeds of Learning Foundation, a non-profit that works to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged children across the globe, and Trinity United Church of Christ in Hublersburg, to renovate a school in the nation’s capital city, Managua.
Education is a pressing issue in Nicaragua, as just 78 percent of adults and 87 percent of youth are literate, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
The exhibit featured the duo’s book “Eyes to See: U.S. Volunteers in Nicaragua”, a photo-based chronicle of their eye-opening experience.
“We live a very insulated life here, and we have a lot of comforts,” Munnis said.
The photographs are meant to show the humanity that all people share regardless of socioeconomic status, according to Munnis.
“The people there have nothing, yet they’re so happy, so full of life,” she explained.
The group focused on painting the school and creating a pathway between the building’s kitchenette and its classrooms. Their work was hands on, labor-intensive, and immersive, allowing them to learn about and connect with the Nicaraguan people.
“There’s no cement truck that arrives,” Munnis joked.
The art display included a cardboard shanty-house and a sample meal that might be consumed by a Nicaraguan school-child. The meal consisted of a tortilla and meager portions of rice and corn.
Munnis and Winters want the mock-house to submerge viewers in the lifestyle of the Nicaraguan people.
“It’s easy to get caught up in technology, I was trying to create a place where they could forget about all that,” Munnis said.
Winters, who received her MFA in painting from Penn State’s School of Visual Arts, says the mock-house is part of a new artistic direction she’s undertaken since her trip.
“I think came back as a different person. I came back with my priorities shifted. I became more clear in my goals as an artist,” she explained. “I worked on this project because it has a clear purpose to raise funds and awareness.”
Winters hopes to use her artistic abilities as a means to expose people to different ways of life, and to make a meaningful difference in the world around her.
“We tend to think we’re different, but when you remove the material things, these walls and barriers disappear,” Munnis concluded.
She hopes this exhibit will help to tear them down.
Eyes to See gallery builds cross-cultural connections
by Brandon Vesely