Sparking change through “Revolutionary Words”

Community. Culture. Power. Purpose.

These words and a handful of others take center stage in a series of paintings which are part of the “Revolutionary Words” exhibit at COSACOSA art at large, Inc. in Manayunk. 

Each of the ten, bright and punchy pieces by New York based artist Hein Koh incorporates one of the words into an image meant to reinforce its meaning. 

And below each painting are questions meant to get the viewer’s mind moving on its implications and a space to express those thoughts via post-it notes.

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Some of the questions are concrete such as, “Who has the power to make things happen in your community?”

While others, such as “How do you define freedom?” are more abstract.

The show is the first of 12 stemming from the nonprofit’s 20th anniversary project, “Change in the Making”, a year-long effort that used art as a springboard for residents in 20 underserved communities across the city and globe to discuss important issues there and the necessary steps to enact change.

In Philadelphia, resident artists and members of the group’s Youth Council ran workshops and events in neighborhoods from Passyunk Square to Nicetown.

COSACOSA’s Director Kim Niemela says it was from those meetings that the nouns featured in “Revolutionary Words” emerged.

“No matter where we went, no matter what the particular background of the community was, they were all words that really meant the most to people,” said Niemela.

City residents also collaborated with Koh to come up with a design for each of the exhibit’s paintings.

But Niemela says every component of “Revolutionary Words” connects to a central question that encompasses the larger project’s scope.

“How do you get people that perhaps are disenfranchised, perhaps a little hopeless to come together and plan for the good of their own neighborhood?”

That theme will also be at the heart of a Wiki Project the group is developing to transform “Change in the Making” into curriculum that Philadelphia School District teachers can use to fulfill service learning requirements.

“Revolutionary Words” is COSACOSA’s first-ever formal exhibit at the nonprofit’s Main Street workshop.

For the past 20 years, the group has worked with city residents on large, public works like mosaics and murals.

Examples of those efforts were placed in the terminals of the Philadelphia International Airport and the patient floors at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“Revolutionary Words” is on display until Jan. 22.  The next installment of “Change in the Making” will be Feb. 5, with “Landscapes of Change: Tradition and Transformation in China.”

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