Editor’s note: This article is one of an occasional series on community artists in Milwaukee.
When Muneer Bahauddeen considers the role of art in the community, he is reminded of the Booker T. Washington quote, “Cast down your bucket where you are.”
Bahauddeen, a community-based public artist, said the quote is one of the reasons his home and studio are located in the Washington Park neighborhood.
“That’s what I’m looking at when I’m in this community: fresh water,” Bahauddeen said. “I would love this community to be flooded with artisans — not necessarily artists, but artisans make a deeper investment in the community.”
A skilled ceramicist and print maker, Bahauddeen also works with local arts organizations, such as Express Yourself Milwaukee.
Bahauddeen received a degree in ceramics and print making from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1985. He moved to Milwaukee in the 1990s where he and his wife taught art at University School of Milwaukee. In 1999, Bahauddeen left teaching and pursued making art on his own.
In school, Bahauddeen fell in love with the slab roller, which flattens clay. Eventually, he received a commission and purchased one for himself. The slab roller and ceramic flatwork combined his interests in ceramics and printmaking.
“I do a lot of flatwork and I think I do that because working flatwork is also like working a surface of paper, which to me is like printing,” he said. “Those things went together.”
One of Bahauddeen’s public art projects is what he refers to as peace posts. When he leads a workshop on peace posts, he has participants write their hopes and dreams for themselves, their family and their community on strips of paper. Then, he gives participants large pieces of clay so they can design their own tiles.
Bahauddeen chisels out 12-foot-long cedar posts and sets the hand-made tiles inside. But before he glues in the tiles, he takes all of the messages participants wrote and sets them inside the post.
“So, these ideas, these prayers, these visions participants of the community have written are now out in the community and reinforced by the tiles they have actually made for the project,” he said.
Examples of peace posts Bahauddeen has worked on with community members are located near the Express Yourself Milwaukee studio, 3331 W. Lisbon Ave., and outside the Lisbon Avenue Health Center, 3522 W. Lisbon Ave. Bahauddeen said he has also worked on peace posts at the Heart Haus, 325 E Euclid Ave., and other locations in the Riverwest neighborhood, as well as in Uganda through the organization Grandmothers Beyond Borders.
Bahauddeen also works on the artistic team at Express Yourself Milwaukee, as a visual artist.
“Muneer is really a hard worker,” said Lori Vance, founder and executive director of Express Yourself Milwaukee. “He’s kind of a roll-up-your-sleeves, how-can-I-help kind of guy. He’s really a wise person.”
He joined Express Yourself in 2006 and said he enjoys the experience of working with other artists in the Washington Park neighborhood.
“Maybe four or five of us of a team of 15 live in the community and others come from different parts of the city, but it’s very rich, very committed and very healing,” he said.
“Art drives everything and to have art in the community, because it is such a healing force, is absolutely necessary,” he said.