Mary Mihelic, Running Girls: Part 3

A series of artworks about the Chibok kidnapped schoolgirls.

Australian international advisor, Dr. Stephen Davis, contacted Boko Haram commanders and arranged for sixty of the girls to be freed in a goodwill gesture towards a peace deal with the government.  At the time, the girls were held in Cameroon and the commanders agreed to drop the girls at a specific location. They brought them in twenty different trucks.  Only 15 minutes before Davis and his team arrived, the girls were kidnapped again by another group which demanded ransom for them.  So the deal failed.  (In the end, the original kidnappers got the girls back.)  One of the truck drivers was a young man also kidnapped by the Boko Haram who took advantage of the situation to help a few girls escape.  The girls he helped hid in the bushes.  One of the girls had somehow managed to keep her cell phone from getting confiscated the entire time and had it in her bra.   The girls had no idea where they were or which direction they were heading.   When the one girl called her family, they told her to walk west by following the sunset.  The girls were eventually reunited with their families.   The text in this artwork reads “follow the sunset”.   The numbers relate to the phone number the artist would have called when their age and lost.  The N relates to North and Nazarene (which Isis is painting on the doors of all the Christians in Syria and Iraq).  The 5 and the 740 are the numbers the artists would have dialed when calling home.

Running Girl Number 5740

Running Girl Black Hole

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The artwork is based on a love letter found in one of the kidnapped schoolgirl’s notebooks in which she wrote, “When I’m away from you, I’m still with you.  When my eyes are closed, I could still see you. When I’m awake, I still dream of you.  When I feel, I have everything.  I still need you and no matter what, I will always love you.”   So this artwork reflects on this schoolgirl’s romanticized young love and juxtaposes that against what has been reported to have happened to her and so many of the girls including rape, pregnancy and forced marriages.  Some of the girls have been used as suicide bombers.  Other have been radicalized.  


The artist collaged the photos she studied while making the artwork with her old discarded drawings (her notes) and cut them to symbolize a notebook paper’s ripped edge.  The wire is symbolic of notebook wires and bomb wires.  The star pin on the mask is two-toned like bullets symbolizing education and being shot at.  The other star pins are made from bicycle LED lights as a metpahor for what the schoolgirls should be doing.  The mask references everything from the the Boko Haram and the Guerrilla Girls to superheroes and Pussy Riot.  (In some countries, even the people seen arresting suspected ISIL members are now wearing masks.)


The imagery on the photo-collage on the side alludes to gargoyles; each has been given the face a someone who was harmed by this war.  (These are also images the artist studied while making the artwork.)  The gargoyle builds on the history of the Church and how it used gargoyles to illustrate evil.   The artwork asks us what all this evil did to this schoolgirl’s love.  


Mixed media on paper

60" x 44"

2015

Running Girl Number 35

Running Girl Number 38

The artwork is inspired by the young women studying art at Ocean College.  During my artist residency there, I was in a room full of young girls drawing a still life in the middle of the room.   The still life included a sculpture of a woman’s torso.  I also sketched the torso and placed it in the womb of this drawing as a symbol of stillborn babies (since many of the kidnapped girls have been or are pregnant.)  The art reflects on how young women learn to draw and how creativity can be nurtured and grow or die.   It comments on how the families of the kidnapped schoolgirls lives have been stilled by their kidnapping and for them time is still.  The running girl is holding a scroll which is the symbol of St. Sophia of Rome (she is known as the ice saint and here the scroll alludes to diplomas.  The saint reference symbolizes life being frozen in time). The blue bicycle light symbolizes a diploma and a halo.  The darkened bicycle light symbolizes death.  The timeline on the left runs vertically and hints to notebook holes and textbook timelines.  The dates are out of order since, according to Christian theologian C.S.Lewis, God is timeless.  So in this timeline which includes past, present and future events, they do not happen chronologically.    Events listed include: 1920 when women won the right to vote; May 7, 2015 when Michelle Obama joined the #bringbackourgirls campaign; circa 27 when Mary Magdalene was not stoned;  99 Ka when the Mitochondrial Eve lived in Africa; and 1890 when 150 to 300 Lakota women and children were killed at Wounded Knee.


Mixed media on paper

60" x 44"

2016

Running Girl Number 18

During the former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathon’s rule, 13 billion dollars disappeared from government funds.  The signs point to corruption in that government at every turn.  This artwork plays with his name, where the letter J stands for both Jesus and Jonathon (good and evil).  The text art Goodluck running down the leg wishes both the girls good luck and the world good luck fighting corruption and evil.  

Shown as exhibited at the Riverviews Artspace – the backpack straps are made from old drawings -- what the artist considers her notes (which are cut into strips and hole-punched to symbolize notebook paper).  The green glow is from the notebook edges which are painted flourescent green on the reverse side and cast a glow on the artwork.

Mixed media on paper

60" x 44"

2021

The artwork is inspired by Katie Bouman, the 29-year-old computer scientist who developed the algorithm that made it possible to capture the first ever image of a Black Hole, an incredible achievement. After she became famous, a group of male scientists tried to discredit her role in the project and she was harrased online.  She became a symbol for the hostility many women scientists face.  In the end, her colleagues made it clear she truly was the woman behind the image.  Even her wikipedia page was flagged for deletion before it was corrected. Shown in cinderblocks hinting to detention centers where migrants are held.


Mixed media on canvas

60" x 48"

2021

Running Girl Number One

Running Girl Number 34

Mixed media on paper

60" x 44"

2014

Mixed media on paper

60" x 48"

2015

Running Girl Number 12


The text art “You only die once” is based on what one girl said right before she escaped from a different set of kidnapped girls – not the 276.  The Boko Haram in charge of her group ordered her to cut a man’s throat.  She refused so his wife did it.  She was with five other kidnapped girls and after this occurred she asked them if they wanted to make a run for it, reminding them that “you only die once.”  They all agreed to go.  The girls then stole one of the terrorist’s cars and drove away.  They were chased and shot at by men on motorbikes and in cars. When they finally stopped to ditch the car and run, the three girls in the front seat noticed that the three girls in the back seat were all dead. 


In this artwork the gold stars symbolize education (since Boko Haram means western education is a sin).  They also represent bullets and are two-toned with a copper portion similar to some bullets.  The stars are framed around the girl in a halo form that outlines the body and is symbolic of the outline of a body used as target practice in shooting   ranges.  


The original artwork was completed in the Summer of 2014 and put in a pile of dead drawings in the artist’s studio (of artworks she had killed).  It was then resurrected to be used for this artwork.  The phrase reflects on Christianity and the concept of resurrection which is under attack by the Boko Haram.  This is also a phrase used by ISIL to recruit young terrorists: they say “you only die once... why not make it martyrdom?”  


In addition, the gold leaf edge is derived from the ripped edges of paper torn out of a notebook.  It alludes to education as a solution to ending the cycle of violence.  It is about the transformative power of learning and education as alchemy.


Mixed media on paper

46" x 60"

2015


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Running Girl Number 32

After almost two years missing, this artwork is about the passing of time and hope.  The skirt is in the form of a calendar showing the phases of a blue moon as a symbol for a miraculous occurrence. The graduation gown is made from discarded drawings (what the artists considers her notes) cut in the form of the ripped edges of notebook paper.  The phases of the moon on the left side are in the pattern of a rosary, alluding to praying and hoping for the girls over the passing of time (and Christianity being under attack).  Detail imagery shows girls studying in the hopes the girls will return home and find a way to rebuild their lives.   The artwork is in the shape of an A+. The orange running shoe lace relates to the line running down notebooks.


Mixed media on paper

68" x 58"

2015

Running Girl Number 23

The text art “The Red Cross” is relevant since the organization was working to negotiate the release of all the kidnapped schoolgirls.  It references the cross, blood and war.    In addition, the “Nazarene” text refers to reports that ISIL is now painting N’s on houses where Christians reside in Iraq and Syria -- the N standing for Nazarene.


Mixed media on paper

60" x 48"

2015

Running Girl Number 36

The text art running across the top of this artwork reads, “God created war so Americans can learn geography.” This quote was first attributed to American writer Ambrose Bierce (approx. 1900). The star pin on the map is made from a pink LED light and glows from behind.  The pin points to the city where the artist lived when she was the same age as the kidnapped girls, attending an all-girls Catholic school, and studying geography.  The halo glow comments on how blessed we are to live in America. It also refers to how America often attempts to play God around the world.  The other LED light that flashes on and off warning of danger.  It symbolizes limbs lost and all those injured in these holy wars, spiritually, physically and psychologically.  


The lights are bicycle lights -- referencing the things the kidnapped schoolgirls might be doing if they were lucky enough to grow up in a different place on the map.  The running girl image over the map reflects on all the migrants running around the globe.  Across the top, the artist collaged the photos she studied while making the artwork (her notes) and cut the words into them in a way that symbolizes a notebook paper’s ripped edge.


Mixed media on paper

60" x 48"

2015

               Email: mihelicm@icloud.com

2015-present Copyright Mary Mihelic.  All rights reserved.