Missionary Kid Explores Self Through Art
GWU Senior Elisa Beekman Reflects on the Fragments that Fuel Artistic Expression
A memory is a tricky thing. Though grounded in real experience, a memory is changedâfragmented, filtered, colored and shapedâby the very process of remembering. A memory is both old and new, both known and powerfully mysterious. Indeed, memory is artâand the pictures our remembering produces are the masterpieces of our lives.
Just ask Gardner-Webbâs Elisa Beekman. The senior art education major recently won a prestigious Nolle Scholarship at the Alpha Chi National Honor Society conference in Baltimore, Md., for a collection of collages, acrylic paintings and watercolors inspired by memories from her childhoodâa childhood most Americans canât even imagine.
Beekman grew up in Papua, Indonesia, an archipelago nation of 13,000 islands full of tropical rainforests and volcanic mountains, teeming cities and tribal villages, where more than 170 million people speak over 250 languages. Though technically an American (Beekmanâs parents are American missionaries in Indonesia), Beekman was born in Papua and lived there almost exclusively until she moved to the U.S. as a 19-year-old to attend Gardner-Webb, where she is preparing to teach art in the North Carolina schools and, eventually, in an international school for missionary kids.
âSometimes I forget that most Americans just donât understand my childhood,â she says. âItâs not their fault. They just donât know what Papua looks like. With my artwork, my motivation is really to share those experiences and help others better understand who I am. Hopefully, as they look at my art, theyâll get a little glimpse of what Iâve seen, and theyâll see the glory of God in it.â
A lifelong artist, Beekmanâs memory is a mĂ©lange of hues, textures, sounds and associations from her childhood in Papua, a mental tapestry that motives both the product and the process of her artistic creation. That blend is best exemplified in one of her favorite styles, the collage.
âWith collage, I work with fragments, putting them in and taking them out, all while looking for clarity. Thatâs just like what I do when I recollect my childhood, with all its fragments that make me who I am,â Beekman says.
The centerpiece of the Nolle Scholarship collection, âSelf-Portrait,â is a collage that blends pieces of hand-stained tissue paper, fragments from magazines, portions of Beekmanâs journals and pictures from her sketchbook into a stunning portrait of Beekman, gazing downward in contemplation, against the backdrop of the lush Papuan landscape. Forming the sky are her fatherâs airplane (he is a jungle pilot), a picture of her older brother, childhood letters, a plane ticket to Asia, and a map of Indonesia. Adorning her neck are Papuan beads, a symbol of Beekmanâs spiritual connection to the Papuan people.
âItâs interesting how abstract and fluid memories are. I start with a pictureâan idea of what I want to accomplishâbut as I work with it, I think of deeper meanings, relationships between different memories, things happening in the present that are tied to the past. The work becomes a new thing entirely. Thatâs precisely how âSelf-Portraitâ developed.â
The result, Beekman says, reflects her inherently âfragmented identityâ as an American in Papua, a Papuan in America, and ultimately, as Christian who, in the words of C.S. Lewis, was âmade for another world.â Taken alone, no one piece tells her story. Taken together, the fragments cohere to form a masterpiece.
© 2014 Associated Baptist Press, Inc.