When I was little I used to love to put together puzzles. They were mysteries to solve. They had clues to unravel, not in words like in the novels I read, but in the little bits of images. If I could just figure out how all these different shapes worked together I would be rewarded with a beautiful, united picture.
But creating an image of what unity really looks like is much more challenging, which may be why local artist Matt Moran has chosen a puzzle as his medium for presenting us with a visual of the concept of unity in a beautifully diverse and disconnected world. And why he is quite literally turning the canvas over to others to create the pieces.
Moran told me that the spark for launching the Unity Puzzle project came from many long conversations with a friend from Africa about the cultural divisions that still persist in this global community, and the fear, isolation, and violence that can surround someone over the way they identify themselves.
But as a muralist and sculptor, Moran believes in the power of a blank canvas to allow people to create a new image of their world and their vision for it.
So drawing on mural exchange projects he has facilitated with local high schools and sister schools over seas and the concepts of community quilts, Moran has created a project where he is enlisting the community at large to create a puzzle that will not come together in one homogenous image. Instead hundreds of pieces all identical in shape but different in decoration will come together in one striking tapestry.
It has been a whirlwind from idea to implementation. When I met with Moran to learn about the project and receive instructions for my puzzle piece he was covered in white paint from prepping the hundreds of mini canvasses and awash in nervous excitement.
Pieces have gone out to people near and far of varying ages, genders, races, religions, professions, and socio-economic status. Artistic skills are not required. What is required is dedication to the vision and the timeline. Moran will be showing the first incarnation of the finished Unity Puzzle in October at the We Are Industry gallery in Monrovia.
Moran, who certainly has the talent and passion for his craft to be taking on the big galleries in Los Angeles and New York but is content in his hometown for now, says that if the project comes together like he wants he is anxious to expand its reach in other settings and possibly online. Moran has in fact worked around the world, and clearly learned a love of artistic heritage from his past experiences.
Eventually he will scan all the puzzle pieces. On the front of each piece participants create an image that represents them in any way, any medium they wish. On the back each person answers a few questions and provides a brief bio. That way it can stay anonymous or viewers can see who is behind each piece of the puzzle. When it goes digital it can be even more interactive, searchable, and interchangeable.
He would love to be able to reach out around the country and around the world. We joked about finding a scientist to represent Antarctica, but it seems completely achievable when you see the enthusiasm and genuine care for representing humanity in Moran’s eyes.
He looked around the bar where we were talking, and where a crowd had spontaneously gathered to raise a toast to a friend who had just died too young, and said that just the diversity in this room alone fueled his passion for the project. And he said he had complete faith in his artists and non-artists alike that the final puzzle would be perfect.