Hands-On: A Community Hand-Casting Project is an interdisciplinary effort between multiple writers, photographers and myself, Kara Gunter. I’m an artist and an educator living and working in the greater Columbia, SC area.
In late 2016, I began to wonder how I as an artist, could help foster empathy and connection in my community. Though we are living in the most peaceful and prosperous time in human history, in some respects the world seems like a more dangerous and unfriendly place. In that fear, we are quick to draw lines in the sand, and entrench ourselves within the communities we are most comfortable. Traditionally, those would be communities which are most like us in race, class, education level, religion, nationality, political alignment, and so on. How does one encourage folks from such disparate backgrounds to sit down for a spell and learn a bit about each other? After all, you can’t hate those whose story you know.
In addition to teaching art and making my own fine art, I have a small business in which I cast the hands of people holding hands with those they care about most. I’m invited into homes, nursing homes, long-term care facilities and hospital rooms. I’ve met a lot of people this way, and have been privy to celebrations of new life, as well as the emotional process of saying goodbye. I’ve cast an eight year old girl and her mother, who died of breast cancer just two weeks later. I’ve cast an 80 year old woman with permanent brain injuries she sustained after a fall, and her 90 year old husband, who visits her in a nursing home every week. I’ve cast four generations, all huddled around the bed of a woman in a
coma. Lest all of these experiences seem heart-wrenching, there are also plenty of new babies, moms and dads and kids during happy times, wedding anniversary commemorations, and lots of small celebrations of our connections with loved ones!
But what all of these experiences have taught me, perhaps especially the ones in which I have to choke back tears to complete, is that we all have a story or a struggle worth honoring. We all deserve eye-contact, a tender touch, and a receptive person to really hear our lives’ journeys. We deserve to be seen (and we are obligated to look) for something deeper than our skin color, our sexual orientation, our religion. We are more alike than we differ.
Because hand casting has been such an affirming experience for me, and for those who hear the stories of those whose hands I cast, I thought this could be the skill I have as an artist to create goodwill in my community. If I could bring strangers together, from disparate backgrounds, and have them touch for 30 minutes while I cast their hands and have them speak with each other while doing so, then together we would be bridging chasms that may not otherwise be crossed. What we learn about each other might be surprising, and may even the have the ability to soften our hearts toward those we previously felt no empathy for. If the project is successful, the wider community will be impacted by the ripples we create in these one-on-one interactions.
In the first round of this project, which will be completed in 2017, we will be making 25 hand casts (50 participants total). Writers will be conducting interviews with participants as they sit with each other, in order to facilitate learning about each other. Photographers will document the process and take portraits of each participant. When all of the castings are complete, an exhibition of our castings, accompanied by each person’s story and photograph, will take place and be open to the public. In the mean time, each hand-casting we complete will be featured here on the blog, and shared on social media.
We could use your help in funding our project! Donations will go to purchase casting supplies, printing and mounting photographs and literature, exhibition costs, etc. Alternatively, we could also use donations of services and materials, like printing, space to hold our casting events, media coverage, and volunteers to help organize and facilitate the project. Finally, and most importantly, we need you to share our project and fund raiser so we can reach as many folks as possible!
Thank you! And I hope to meet you at one of our hand-casting events!