Art Review: Artists Without Borders

Lucas Zheng, 7, New York

What's Artists Without Borders? "It's a Colombian guy teaching Japanese culture to Chechen kids in Russian," says Hector Sierra, the founder. He started Artists Without Borders to give children affected by war "food for the soul," noting that NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) offer food or medical assistance but nothing for the heart. "We give them some hours of entertainment and fun to at least forget for a moment. It's very cathartic for them," he says.

Sierra first encountered ethnic conflict as an exchange student studying film in Ukraine and Georgia at the end of the Soviet era. Over six years from Brezhnev to Gorbachev, he witnessed long-suppressed animosities reemerge in the fragmenting USSR.

Hector Sierra, founder of AWB, and 8-year-olds at Kurihara Kita School in Adachi-ku make Christmas cards for New York kids

Sierra came to Japan in 1994 to continue his film studies as a Mombusho Scholar at Nihon University. AWB came out of a trip Sierra made to Kosovo to finish his graduate film. When he saw the fallout of the civil war there, Sierra knew he had to help. He started AWB, packed boxes of crayons and origami paper, and returned to the refugee camps and schools in the divided city of Kosovska-Mitrovitsa three months later.

Over the last three years, Sierra and AWB have conducted eight missions to troubled areas like East Timor, Chechnya, and Serbia. In each location, Sierra leads the children in two main projects: drawing and origami. When asked to draw "my city," most kids recount the recent horrors they have experienced—tanks, bombs and massacres invading their lives. On his recent trip to New York, many kids at PS 89 and PS 234, both about a block from where the World Trade Center towers fell, drew the twin towers in different stages of destruction.

A "dream city" drawing session usually follows. The results would seem banal—a simple house with two windows, a door and a chimney—were they not created by displaced kids living in tents or other temporary shelters. As for origami lessons, Sierra says that folding paper into hopping frogs or inflatable cows empowers kids and builds confidence by teaching them how to make their own toys.

Ideally, Sierra would like to set up permanent missions, but AWB lacks funding. Each trip's shoestring ¥500,000 budget covers airfare, accommodation and living expenses. With no regular sponsors, Sierra relies on sporadic donations, cooperative airlines (Austrian Airlines helped him get around the Balkans and Georgia), periodic fundraisers (see below) and his own Spanish- and English-teaching jobs. He is also working with a major Japanese publisher to produce a book of children's drawings from his missions by the end of the year. (Besides donations, people can help by volunteering. For more information, visit
The business side of AWB may be a struggle, but for now Sierra seems content to be making a difference. "War is a tornado of intolerance, so at least I have to try to help the victims of the strife ... I really feel like this is what I was meant to do," he says.

Salsarity Sunday, a fundraiser to support Artists Without Borders' upcoming two-month mission to Afghanistan, will be held at the Pink Cow, Sunday April 21, 5-10pm. The admission (¥4,000 adv/¥5,000 door) includes dancing to Tokyo-based Cuban salsa band Pedro Valle & Afrocubanos, fusion home-cooking from the legendary Michael Gover, two drinks, and salsa lessons by Hector Sierra himself. For reservations (until Apr 18), call Hector Sierra (03-3550-7053), Michael Gover (03-3487-2136), or Eiko Sugiura (044-814-0206). The Pink Cow, Jingumae 1-10-1. Tel: 03-5441-6777. Nearest stn: Harajuku or Meijijingumae, exit 3.

B u y  i t  o n l i n e !
The Prado Paintings

449: Between Reality and Dreams: 19th Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum
448: Quobo: Art in Berlin 1989-99
447: Scandinavian Landscape Painting in the 19th Century
446: Peter Bellars: Par for the Course
445: Doug Aitken: New Ocean
444: Andrea Zittel: A-Z Garments Series
443: Sebastiao Salgado: Exodus
442: Dumb Type: Voyages
441: Tadanori Yokoo: All Things in the Universe
440: Jean-Marc Bustamante: Private Crossing
439: Joan Miro : 1918-1945
438: Modern Paintings of Mongolia
437: Manit Sriwanichpoom: Bangkok in Pink
436: French Drawings from the British Museum: From Fontainebleau to Versailles
435: Muneteru Ujino: Japan Series
434: Photography Today 2: Site/Sight
433: Rirkrit Tiravanija and Raymond Pettibon
432: Three Young Artists from Korea
431: Dynastic Heritage of Korea
430: Seoul Pop
429: Dreams & Goals
428: Since Godzilla
427: Yoshihiro Suda + Tetsuya Nakamura: Un Monde Revé de la Main
426: GA Houses Project 2002
425: Sesshu: 500th Anniversary
424: Luis Barragan: The Quiet Revolution
423: The Mori Arts Center/Young Video Artists Initiative
422: The Adventures of Tintin
421: Session - Super Eccentric of Japan's Warring States Period
420: Jorge Pardo
419: Artists Without Borders
418: Dennis Hollingsworth
417: Masterworks from the Prado Museum
416: JAM: Tokyo-London
415: Digital Beauties
414: Arika Someya
413: MOMAT
412: NW House
411: Mariko Mori
410: Sonia Delaunay
409: Buckminster Fuller
408: Wusheng Wang
407: Tokyo Architecture #2
406: Tokyo Architecture #1
405: The Art Ahead
404: Table Manners
403: Tom Sanford at Tomoya Saito Gallery
402: Nambanga: An Anthology of World Manga
401: Masterworks from MoMA
400: Spencer Tunick: Nude Adrift

Issues 500+
Issues 499-
Issues 399-


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