PORTLAND — In the further-evidence-that-the-world-is-getting-smaller department, we give you “Dunia Moja,” a print exchange between members of Peregrine Press in Portland and a group of women from the east African island of Zanzibar.
The art exhibition, on view through May 28 in the Lewis Gallery at the Portland Public Library, is a collaboration between artists working on different sides of the world. They’ve never met, never really talked and barely exchanged written words, but the artists worked together to create a series of colorful prints.
In some instances, Peregrine artists created prints and shipped them some 6,000 miles to Zanzibar, where women artists there completed them by leaving their own artistic marks. In other instances, the Zanzibar artists made prints and sent them to Maine to be completed here.
“This is much more than a geography lesson,” said Kate Cheney Chappell, one of the Maine artists contributing to the project. “It has opened our eyes to a much larger world.”
It began when Portland artist and Peregrine Press member Alice Spencer traveled to Tanzania on an artistic and economic development mission. She was called to the African country to help teach women there how to make and sell prints. She demonstrated block printing and silk screening, among other techniques.
“Alice brought the idea back to do this exchange, and it grew from there,” said Chris Beneman, a press member who is helping to organize the show.
“Dunia Moja” is the Swahili translation for “One World.” It is an apt name for this exhibition on many levels.
Because of deep personal connections, Portland has had a presence in Tanzania for some time. Portland Museum of Art director Mark Bessire and his wife, Aimee, have long been active in the East African country. They founded the first East African Biennial, and Aimee Bessire founded and directs a school there.
The Bessires will deliver a lecture on contemporary east African art at 7 p.m. Friday as part of an opening reception for the exhibition. The reception is from 5 to 8 p.m. at the library.
This print exchange deepens that relationship, said Sissy Buck, another Peregrine member, because it has encouraged the artists to pay close attention to their partner-artist’s mark-making techniques and to come up with a gesture that complements what came before. “It pushes your boundaries, and forces you to really think outside the box,” she said.
Chappell, writing about the process for a gallery note, said, “It is a curious experience to touch paper and ink handled by someone worlds away, to respond and lay my own impression upon it. It takes much care, respect and contemplation. Working together this way makes me feel closer and connected. There is a quiet understanding of something common and vital to both our lives, which is the act of creating.”
Zanzibar is part of Tanzania in east Africa. The island is situated in the Indian Ocean, about 25 miles off the Tanzanian coast just south of the equator.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: