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NewsJan 28, 2021

Paper Theater Project to bring Latinx stories to a small stage

Expressive Arts Therapy student Silvina Ibañez awarded grant from City of Boston

Artwork of red flowers and a butterfly
All images courtesy of Silvina Ibañez

By Georgia Sparling

Expressive arts therapists often use the simplest of materials to help people convey their thoughts, feelings and experiences. That holds true for Silvina Ibañez’s Paper Theater Project, an initiative to bring together the stories of Latinx people in Boston through the creation of handmade miniature theaters.

Ibañez, an Argentinian visual artist in our Expressive Arts Therapies graduate program, will implement the project with a $1,000 grant from Radical Imagination for Racial Justice (RIRJ) program. Launched in 2020, RIRJ is sponsored by the City of Boston and Massachusetts College of Art and Design to “support artists’ creative practices and their collaborative world building visions for racial justice.” Ibañez is one of the first artists to receive the grant.

Silvina Ibanez headshot in black and white
Silvina Ibañez

The opportunity came just as Ibañez was studying paper theaters. Originating in the 19th century, these cardboard and paper cutouts allowed children to recreate the popular pastime of going to the theater.

“These little toy theaters conveyed a lot of art modalities — painting, collage, drama theater and you can add music,” says Ibañez.

As she began to learn about paper theaters and to make her own, she says, “I found them very restorative. My experience was a healing experience because my own narrative emerged from the process with an unusual opportunity of expression.”

Through her own paper theaters, Ibañez could express herself in a new way as she created characters representative of important people and moments in her life. One recent creation comes from an encounter she had as a teenager with a child who lived on the streets of Buenos Aires. The little boy loved the fragrance of her hair, so whenever he saw her he would approach her and smell it.

Images of a paper theater

“This simple gesture taught me about the importance of things we take for granted, like having access to clean water, taking a shower and washing our hair,” says Ibañez. “I hold that experience close to my heart and I remember it as the first time I consciously asked myself what I could do for others.”

Ibañez says she’s been active in social justice and community service most of her life. While living in Mexico, she began combining art with her service to vulnerable populations. When her family moved to Boston a few years ago, Ibañez got involved with a number of nonprofits and ministries. Joining the Lesley community helped her to further develop these interests.

“One of the things I love about Lesley is it gave me a lot of background and training in social justice and racial justice,” she says.

From offering spiritual support to patients at a local hospital, to bringing art to elderly Latinx individuals, to engaging with people in homeless shelters, Ibañez began to hear the stories of people in her new community while also witnessing racial injustices in the populations she served.

Photoluminescent images of flowers

“You see who is represented there and who is not,” she says. “Every time I talk with people and listen to their stories, I feel surprised and humbled and always I feel this call to honor those stories. The way I honor those stories is to make them visible.”

The grant provided a way for her to bring the Paper Theater Project to Latinx communities in Boston.

“It’s more to speak about the daily life of people and to honor those stories that many of us don’t have the opportunity of learning or knowing about,” says Ibañez, who plans to host two multigenerational workshops later in the year, in person, if possible.

The grant program will provide support and training to each artist as well.