PILSEN — Buddha heads are popping up around the neighborhood, and one Pilsen artist thinks they look a little lonely.
Started by the community organization Changing Worlds, the Ten Thousand Ripples Project installs Buddha head sculptures around various Chicago communities.
Now, one Pilsen teacher wants his students to create sculptures to accompany the heads, which were created by artist and non-violence educator Indira Johnson and represent a universal symbol of peace.
Alfonso “Piloto” Nieves is a sculptor and teacher at ElevArte, a youth arts program that organized the installation in Pilsen, Little Village and Back of the Yards.
The Buddha heads, Nieves said, offer a chance to get his students thinking about what symbolizes peace to them.
“The idea is to come out with a response," Nieves said. "To look for things we have in common as human beings. Not to focus only on one religion.”
Nieves said the student response to the Buddha heads would definitely be three-dimensional, but he is leaving all other conceptual choices up to the students.
“What I like about 3D is you can see the sculpture from every angle. I like to occupy the space and be able to walk around and see it from each angle and to understand it,” he said.
Currently, Buddha heads have already been installed near the La Casa student dorms at 1818 S. Paulina St., by the Jardin Mariposas at 1835 S. Carpenter St., and near the National Mexican Fine Arts Center at 1852 W. 19th St.
A full list of the locations can be found on ElevArte’s website.
Giselle Mercier, executive director at ElevArte, said she thinks it is important to have the community respond to the Buddha heads.
“I think the Buddha head is a very charged icon,” Mercier said. “Many of our families who are Catholic may not necessarily see it as a peace symbol.”
Mercier said violence and gang issues exist in the neighborhood, and hopes the Buddha statues would serve as a reminder of peace.
The student work will be placed next to the Buddha head in the playground at the Gads Hill Center at 1919 W. Cullerton St.
Nieves, whose typically works with clay, said placing the student response piece near the Buddha head would make it appear as if the two statues are having a conversation.
“For me art is also, you must speak up. It is your opportunity to say what it is you really want to say,” he said.