Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Green light’ welcomes refugees to Houston, Rice’s Moody Center for the Arts

Proceeds from light sales, made from recycled materials during artistic workshop, will help support Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston

A group of refugees and migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Cuba gathered in the Moody Center for the Arts’ Central Gallery on a recent Monday afternoon to participate in “Green light — An artistic workshop.” Initiated by the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson in March 2016 in collaboration with Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary in Vienna, “Green light” addresses the international refugee crisis and the ongoing phenomenon of economic migration both metaphorically and practically.

Participants in the “Green light” workshop assemble the sparkling, lantern-like lamps in the Moody Center for the Arts’ Central Gallery. Photos by Jeff Fitlow

The Moody, which opened to the public Feb. 24, is the site of the first installation in the United States of “Green light.” The project testifies to Eliasson’s belief in contemporary art and its potential to initiate processes of civic transformation.

“The success of this project lies within the people,” said the Berlin-based artist, who visited the Moody March 20 to meet with participants and give a public talk. “The success is not just the refugees or economic immigrants; it’s really all the collaborators,” Eliasson said. “There is a very strong tendency to see refugees as resourceless. One of the strategies of the ‘Green light’ project is to promote the idea that refugees are also resourceful; they’re full of potential.”

Nearby, the participants worked at tables on which the sparkling, lantern-like green lamps’ components were laid out. Installations of the stackable, modular lamps, designed by Eliasson and made from recycled and sustainable materials, are presented on the main wall and hang from the ceiling in the Moody’s Central Gallery. The lights embody the clean, simple, eye-catching and also complex concept of the project, which began in late February and will run through May 6. The workshop takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.

“I very (much) enjoy this perfect project,” said Hayfaa Al-Gbiogboi, a refugee from Baghdad. Mohammed Sheik Horo, a refugee from Syria, also said he enjoys being involved. “Good job on the work, everything,” he said. “Thank you very much.”

“On a metaphoric level, the project gives the green go-ahead light to asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants by inviting them to participate in an extensive multifaceted program of shared learning,” said Alison Weaver, the Suzanne Deal Booth Executive Director of the Moody.

In addition to the lamp workshop, the project includes language courses, seminars, artist’s interventions, screenings and other initiatives that respond to the needs of participants. For example, they were recently introduced to baseball by Rice Athletics, who presented a lecture and led a practice session to prepare participants to watch their first Rice Owls game. The Moody also partnered with the nonprofit Freewheels Houston and the student-run business Rice Bikes to provide the refugees with refurbished bicycles for their use.

Olafur Eliasson, right, visits with Hayfaa Al-Gbiogboi, a refugee from Baghdad who is participating in the project.

The proceeds of the sale of “Green light” lamps ($350 each) will be donated to the nondenominational Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, the partnering nongovernmental organization that assists refugees and migrants in the region.

A space for exchange and encounter

“An integral component of the project is that university students and members of the public are invited to join the participants in this collaborative process of artistic fabrication and learning,” Weaver said. “This creates a space for exchange and encounter between people from different geographic, social, economic, linguistic and educational backgrounds.”

Camila Kennedy, a Jones College senior majoring in sociology and Spanish and Portuguese studies, is a regular volunteer for the project. “I love cultural exchange,” Kennedy said. “I’ve worked a lot with refugee communities throughout my time at Rice. This was … a more unique process. I was involved in actually creating things with other people.”

“As an educational and creative center located in Houston, now one of the most diverse cities in the U.S., the Moody is especially suited to host ‘Green light’ and the public discussions that the project aims to generate,” Weaver said.

“Green light – An artistic workshopwill be hosted by the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia as part of the exhibition “Viva Arte Viva” beginning in May.

For more information and to learn how to participate, go to http://moody.rice.edu.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.