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All eyes on Franklinton: Second Sight artists bring surroundings to light

Get Well – Franklinton. by Mona Gazala, a Franklinton resident and artist. The artwork is part of the “Second Sight” exhibit featuring vacant homes in Columbus neighborhoods. Credit: Courtesy of Mona Gazala

For two Franklinton creatives, art is platform they actively use to connect to the community.

This month, the Second Sight Project will debut its latest exhibition, featuring the latest series by founder Mona Gazala and current resident artist Tala Kanani.

Gazala founded the Second Sight Project in 2012 after coming across a vacant, vandalized home in Franklinton. Nearly five years later, the project has expanded to include three homes that offer short and long-term spaces for artists in a live-and-work residency program, and encourages close interaction with the surrounding neighborhood.

In her latest exhibition, “Home Town,” Gazala explores vacant homes in Franklinton and seven surrounding neighborhoods, including Linden, Milo Grogan and King Lincoln. Inspired by the beauty within these destroyed homes, Gazala said she used her photographs to uncover issues that stem from economic instability.

“I don’t see the series that I did as an answer to the problem so much as a form of journalism in and of itself, whereas art and journalism don’t necessarily solve a problem but they put it out there –– they give it a voice and have other people examine it,” Gazala said.  

As both an artist and activist, Gazala said her work centers around social equity. By presenting her series “Get Well” in the “Home Town” exhibition, Gazala said she aims to call attention to Franklinton’s vacant homes, which make the neighborhood vulnerable to crime and will require a solution in the future.

I do a lot of work with the community of Franklinton and a lot of times my art is also activism,” she said. “I, as an artist, and I think a lot of artists, can see vacant houses in different ways. We see it as a beautiful ruin, and there’s a beauty in the decline of buildings in many different ways. But, from the community standpoint, it’s the result of economic instability.”

Tala Kanani stands in her studio in Franklinton, a neighborhood located southwest of Ohio State’s campus. Credit: Courtesy of Tala Kanani

Along with Gazala’s exhibition, the Second Sight Project will debut Kanani’s exhibition “The Color Experiment #1,” which explores the experience of color and the feelings related to it.

Located at 735 Sullivant Ave., next door to Gazala’s exhibition, Kanani separates a large room into three smaller ones –– each engulfed in a different color.

Kanani said each room will bear an individual theme, with the first room centered around the color green. An Iranian, first-generation American, Kanani said the color is not only representative of Islam and the idea of paradise, but also is symbolic of the heart chakra, which, in traditional Indian religions, is one of the seven centers of spiritual power in the human body.

The exhibition also will consist of a violet room, based on the third-eye chakra, in which third eye keepsakes will be sold for as little 25 cents, which Kanani described as “commodifying something spiritual.” The final room will be based on the color blue, representative of the throat chakra and acting as an active room filled with machines and steam throughout the exhibit.

“The color portal was an idea about an escape, a way of physically walking into a small space and mentally going to a different world or a different mental state and hanging out in there and then walking out of the space,” Kanani said. “In my mind, you would be transported to something different.”

After working with Second Sight, Kanani said the idea of escape is evident in the area just east of Franklinton, which appears to be “a different world,” unaffected by the issues seen within the community.

“I think the idea of escape is important or is evident in this area, especially with what’s going on as far as poverty and there’s a lot of human trafficking, there’s a lot of drug use –– there’s poverty in general,” she said. “I think that giving people a way to escape that and having a moment of freedom [is] what I hope to do for some people.”

Though the galleries are not related, Gazala noted similarities in that both exhibitions demonstrate the effects of one’s environment.

“[Kanani]’s work is about how color and how your surroundings affect you, and she focuses on the area of color,” she said. “Mine also is about how your surroundings affect you because we’re surrounded by vacancy here. There’s kids growing up in this neighborhood that go to school, that play and walk by these vacant homes every day, and how does that affect the people that live here?”

The “Home Town” and “Color Experiment #1” exhibitions will take place at Sign House at 735-737 Sullivant Ave. and will open on Jan. 19. Admission is free and open to the public.

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