Faces of Change: A Solo Art Exhibit Reflecting Childhood Resilience

Written by Sage Helene

Diane Gatterdam, whose art pseudonym is Individual Activist, is preparing for her first solo exhibition, which will open at One Art Space Gallery on 23 Warren Street here in New York City. This exhibition, entitled 21 Faces, Gatterdam focuses on the portrayal of 21 distinct faces, which represent children who grapple with the realities of contemporary society, particularly in regards to the matter of school shootings. Her work weaves together art and activism as her paintings serve as a catalyst for her audience to pause and ask themselves, “What can I do?”

Art by Individual Activist

Gatterdam has a fervent passion and drive for spreading awareness of human rights. To her, being Individual Activist means you can pick any cause you want and do something that creates awareness, whether that be tiny or small. “No one even knows about it, but you are still doing,” Gatterdam continues. “Doing is the most important thing. Everyone is an individual activist by doing.” This passion is channeled most evidently through her artwork, where she can express this frustration, sadness, but also celebrate and cultivate joy.

For over twenty years, Gatterdam has been an activist working primarily with humanist causes. “I did a protest for the 2008 Olympic Games for Tibetans in China when one of my mentors, the Chinese artist Ai WeiWei, was arrested and put in a black jail for 81 days. I felt hopeless to do anything, so I painted a huge portrait of him and, for the first time, pasted it up on the streets.”

“None of my paintings are of real children, and I did that on purpose. I don’t want to disrespect the children who died, but also the ones who survived.”

Through her artwork, she endeavors to spark dialogue and action, both online and on the streets, where her pieces serve as visual prompts for societal introspection. For Gatterdam, posting artwork of any subject on the streets poses a question to people who pass by. “Do you know the message behind street art? Do you know why these things are up here?” Gatterdam asks her viewers.

Each of the 21 faces included in her exhibition, though not a depiction of a specific individual, embodies the collective experience of children affected by tragedy. “None of my paintings are of real children, and I did that on purpose. I don’t want to disrespect the children who died, but also the ones who survived.” To begin her paintings, Gatterdam will pool together a number of faces derived from a specific nationality, age, and gender. After spending time looking at these photographs of children, she will then create her own face for that child. She strives to present the diversity within America, while at the same time cultivating the commonality these children face every day.

Art by Individual Activist

In her years as an activist, Gatterdam found that the best way to reach many people is by utilizing the streets, and that is where a lot of her paintings can be found. It not only serves as a method to spread a message but also allows all people to experience art for free. “I believe that the streets are now art museums.”

“Especially young people; if I can inspire everyday people to do something, I will never go away from this or any of the things that I have painted.”

In Gatterdam’s upcoming solo exhibition, the series stems from the artist’s fervent activism and the profound impact of tragic events, particularly school shootings. “While I was painting these faces, the school shootings were continuing. And I just kept thinking, am I doing enough? How can I get the word out there?” With every tragedy, Gatterdam channeled her emotions into art. Thus creating striking portraits that illustrate the testament to resilience and remembrance these children possess.

In her portrayal of these children, Gatterdam renounces traditional conventions of youthful exuberance. She instead draws our attention to the child’s eyes, where the depth and emotion is conveyed. “For children, their eyes, while not completely sad, tell the story of how concerned they are. They may look a little bit older; even if they are quite young, I think the stress of living like this takes a bit of their childhood away from them.” These eyes, laden with the weight of knowledge beyond their years, offer a glimpse into the resilience and burden borne by young souls navigating a world fraught with uncertainty. “Eyes are more powerful than faces. Eyes tell the story.”

Art by Individual Activist

She hopes to ignite a spark within viewers, prompting introspection and action. “Especially young people; if I can inspire everyday people to do something, I will never go away from this or any of the things that I have painted.” By encouraging individual activism and fostering a sense of collective responsibility, she aims to effect meaningful change and honor the spirit of childhood resilience. “As Individual Activist, I hope to inspire even one person to take up a case… Let’s face it, there are a lot of causes today that we can take a stand on.”

Gatterdam remains driven in her commitment to advocacy through art. She uses her platform, taking her work both to the street and her social media, to amplify the voices of those who need to be heard. She seeks to infuse her exhibit with a sense of life and inspiration. “I do not want this exhibit to be sad. I want it to be a celebration of children.” Through her portraits, she aims to illuminate the strength and beauty inherent in every child, urging viewers to contemplate their role in the well-being of future generations.

The opening reception for 21 Faces will be held at One Art Space April 25 from 6–9 p.m

Sage Helene is a writer and artist based in New York City. Having earned her MFA in photography from Rochester Institute of Technology, Helene brings a visual perspective to storytelling. With both her artwork and writing, Helene seeks to provoke thought and inspire dialogue. She currently writes for UP Magazine.