More than once in the past three years, Spokane multimedia artist Christina Rothe has been told by a stranger to go back to the country where she comes from.
Rothe, 56, is a white, English-speaking woman who was raised in Nigeria but still speaks with the accent of her native Germany. The hateful incidents were only verbal assaults, not physical attacks. But they troubled the artist greatly.
“I was reflecting on what would have happened if my accent were thicker, what if my skin color was different or if I wore a hijab,” Rothe said. “Would the confrontation have been a different outcome?”
Rothe’s questioning led her to figure out ways to confront rising hate through her art. To turn strangers’ fears into curiosity by sharing music, stories and poetry. To encourage respect for, and even celebration of, our differences.
The mixed-media artist read, meditated and took long walks in nature working to develop her artistic vision. She kept coming back to the human heart.
“We all have different languages, cultures, religions, ethnicities – but we all have one heart, whether it is physical, emotional, even metaphoric,” Rothe said. “It’s not all happy-happy, lovey-dovey, either. Both our dark and light sides are in our hearts.”
Rothe’s heart idea morphed into the “One Heart Call Project” multimedia exhibition, which opens Friday from 5-8 p.m. at Kolva-Sullivan Gallery downtown. There will be another reception on May 7 and a closing reception on May 21.
Starting Saturday, Rothe will be at Kolva-Sullivan every Saturday to answer questions from noon to 4 p.m. The collaborative show includes more than 50 works by Rothe, as well as dozens more by local high school students from Spokane’s Community School.
Artwork will be rotated every two weeks during the seven-week exhibition. To schedule an appointment or class visit, call (509) 458-5517.
From the start more than two years ago, Rothe knew she wanted to include young voices, so she reached out to Community School administrators and staff, who embraced the idea. Dozens of students volunteered to participate in the “One Heart Call Project.”
Rothe recorded the heartbeats of the students, which are incorporated into the show with help from local sound engineer Loic Gosselin of Inward Studio. Whitworth students from different countries contributed words describing the word “heart” in their native languages.
Rothe gathered video of former refugees who make up Spokane’s Neema Youth Choir at a dance rehearsal in celebration of their African culture. Other local artists also contributed poems, drawings, stories, music and dance.
Children’s book author and health coach Donnell Barlow, an enrolled member of the Ottawa tribe and Otter clan, wrote several poems for the show, including “Heart.”
Barlow likens a heart beating to “The drum beat of Mother Earth / taking shape in nature / showing compassion in human form.” Her illustration is of little girls watching their elders beat a drum together within a four-chambered heart floating in the cosmos.
Local photographer Dean Davis and Green Gables Photography took photos of all the works created by contributing artists. Local illustrator Kurt Schmierer transferred the images onto long, see-through panels that hang throughout the exhibit. The effect is meant to give viewers the feeling of wandering through the chambers of a heart.
Rothe is a petite woman with outsized energy. She learned to express her thoughts early and loudly as a young woman to pursue a career in art rather than shipping, much to her German family’s dismay.
Her studies took her to Taiwan and the United States, and she never looked back. She moved to Spokane in 2009 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2016.
“I get a little emotional about it,” said Rothe, tearing up at the memory of the ceremony at the courthouse in Spokane. “You make a conscious decision with your people around you to lay down your birth citizenship and to be here in the United States.
“I really wanted to contribute to the tapestry.”
Rothe continues weaving her story. One thread at a time.
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