Lauren Elder is one of 5 artists selected in a competition of over 200 submissions for the exhibition Art/Act: Local- Sea Change, currently on view at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, CA until the end of May. We interviewed Lauren to learn more about her art, her experience in El Salvador, and how she uses her work to promote environmental justice.
An artist develops her passion
Lauren Elder graduated from UCLA with a degree in Fine Arts, with an emphasis on sculpture. Initially, she applied her sculpture training to professional work in scenic design which often involves painting very large backdrops for dance and theater. So, while not trained as a mural painter, she transfers her scenic design experience to the outdoors. Almost all of her artistic work is now focused on large scale community design-build to support the well-being of the environment. She always chooses to work in public space, with low-income communities where the need is greatest and where the impacts of systemic “disregard” are the most evident. Lauren believes that “beauty confers dignity, and this quality raises people’s spirits to take on other challenges.”
Lauren takes on EcoViva project in El Salvador
Former Executive Director, Karolo Aparicio, met Lauren during EcoViva’s signature year-end event in 2017. Shortly after introducing Lauren to EcoViva’s work and learning about her experience, EcoViva sought out Lauren to spearhead the Community Murals Project in El Salvador. She was tasked with producing three murals in three communities in three weeks along with Bay Area muralist, Cristian Muñoz. Lauren and Cristian took turns designing the murals and painted side by side with many community residents from 7 to 70 years old.
This was one of the most heartfelt and profound experiences of my life. The first week of my visit was filled with astounding personal stories about surviving the war, rebuilding communities and recuperating from natural disasters. The challenges were staggering and were matched by equally impressive perseverance. It was both humbling and daunting to to be asked to transform this into visual images, especially given the very compressed time frame. It was a very equitable and happy process in spite of the intense heat, the long hours and the wobbly scaffolding.
The inspiration behind the Sea Change drawings
Lauren created the 5 large pieces of new work in conversation with Ginny Tominia (Chandra Cerrito Gallery) who served as curator for the David Brower Center.
I would have preferred to return to El Salvador to connect more directly with the tortugueros (sea turtle egg collectors) by hearing more of their stories and drawing from life.”
Lauren’s initial sketches were further informed by photo images from both EcoViva’s Interim Executive Director, Ana Luisa Moran Ahern and Emily Parker, a conservation scientist, environmental activist and recent graduate from Scripps Institution of Oceanography who completed her thesis work with EcoViva in El Salvador. Emily’s powerful video “Hatching a Plan” is exhibited among the drawings, making the two mediums perfect companions.
From their narratives, it was clear that the tortugueros had come to see their connection with the sea turtles as far more than a source of additional income. They are proud of this special relationship; it is a vital part of their culture and they want to ensure that their children continue to share in this experience. I was so moved by their stories that I started drawing non-stop when I returned to the Bay Area. There is a powerful intimacy and sensuality in the gathering process: large bodies, squatting on the sand, handling the eggs with delicacy, then transferring them to the hatcheries and finally sharing the joyful liberation process with whole families.”
What’s next for Lauren & how you can support EcoViva
Lauren would like to return to El Salvador and maintain an active relationship with the community arts program in the Bajo Lempa. She experienced so much raw talent and such desire to create that she would like to support an ongoing training program that can lead to job skills development in illustration and animation – among other creative disciplines. In addition, she is always seeking other community contexts to launch or support design-build projects.
You can support Lauren and EcoViva by purchasing one of her large pastel drawings or learn more by attending the Berkeley show, which runs through May 29. Please contact Lauren to inquire about the artwork. Net proceeds from each purchase will go toward EcoViva’s sea turtle conservation programs in El Salvador. You can also make a donation to support our community work across Central America.