Artist hopes Carrboro will see immigrants

Staff WriterApril 15, 2006 

Come the first day of May, people kickin' it around The ArtsCenter will start seeing mysterious cobalt-blue boxes in six businesses along the 300 block of East Main Street.

"Give Me Eyes" will be written on the little label stuck to the front of each box.

Lift the top. Underneath the cover will be a clue in Spanish.

But it's not meant only for Spanish-speaking people. So if you don't speak Spanish, find someone who does.

That's what Todd Drake imagines will happen.

The 44-year-old artist and art professor from Summerfield -- a town north of Greensboro -- is putting on a Hidden Art Walk in Carrboro through May. It's a scavenger hunt that Drake hopes will give people the feeling of what it's like to be new in a town.

"The idea is to push people beyond their comfort zones," he said. "What's it like to be in a place where you don't speak the language? It's a real challenge to move around when you don't speak the language."

Inside each of the six shoebox-like containers will be a pair of postcard-size images -- pieces of a 12-part puzzle. Drake calls it a pictorial narrative because, once people collect all 12 images, they will understand the story the images tell of illegal immigrants' lives.

Bilingual instructions will accompany the cards. And in case scavenger hunters are stumped, Drake will leave his cell phone number with the instructions.

But he won't give the answer, just another clue.

Each clue will lead to the next box. And they all form a circle. So, it doesn't matter where people start the search. The only box location Drake will disclose is the gallery of The ArtsCenter, at 300-G E. Main St.

Drake is a visiting assistant professor in art history at Guilford College in Greensboro, and he was a Rockefeller fellow at UNC-Chapel Hill last year, with the University Center for International Studies.

During his fellowship, Drake traveled to Celaya, Guanajuato, where many Mexicans living in Carrboro are from, he said.

There he heard the Spanish proverb, "Ojos que no ven, corazon que no siente." Its rough interpretation is, "Eyes that cannot see, heart that cannot feel," which is where he got the name for his exhibit.

"I mean, we can talk about these people doing illegal things all day long, but we need to look at their human side," Drake said. "As a teacher and as an artist, I'm interested in involving the community in what I create. ... So much of what we do in our lives is passive. This is to get people to get out to walk."

After the hunt, Drake invites people back to the The ArtsCenter to place mementos at a "Table of Honor" that remind them of their Hispanic immigrant friends, relatives or co-workers.

Participants in the Hidden Art Walk will get to keep the postcard-size images and maybe will have learned a bit of Spanish. Perhaps they'll have made a new friend, too.

So, keep an eye out for the cobalt-blue boxes. And be curious. Lift the top.

"I don't want people to fail," Drake said, "but I do want them to be challenged."

Staff writer Meiling Arounnarath can be reached at 932-2004 or meiling.arounnarath@newsobserver.com.

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