WEDU Arts Plus


Episode 918

Aarushi Pratap is an artist, athlete and recent graduate from Plant High School who has overcome obstacles with autism and is now pursuing her dreams in the arts. New Mexico photographer Herb Lotz shares his images. A collaborative effort in Ohio aims to teach incarcerated women how to tell their stories through film. Pop surrealist Mark Ryden takes his vision to the American Ballet Theatre.

AIRED: September 24, 2020 | 0:27:25

(upbeat music)

- [Announcer] This is a production of WEDU PBS,

Tampa St. Petersburg Sarasota.

Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus is provided

through the Greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts loving donor who encourages others

to support your PBS Station WEDU

and by the Pinellas Community Foundation,

Giving Humanity a Hand Since 1969.

- In this edition of WEDU Arts Plus

and enterprising artists takes advantage

of her super powers.

- She would learn how to solve from watching YouTube videos.

And she immediately,

kind of started creating amazing dresses

and she would sketch her designs first

and then create the dresses then.

- Capturing transformation through a lens during war.

- What happens to young men when they come

into a situation like war,

what they look like in the beginning

and what they look like at the end.

But I also think you see a loss of innocence.

- Telling personal stories on film.

- When we were asked to write a short story,

I just kind of figured, like, "Write what you know."

So I wrote about a girl that was a heroin addict,

trying to get treatment,

and just the reality of what that looks like.

- And making art on paper come to life.

- That was the challenge to go

from something you're just kind of dreaming up to something

that will physically work.

- It's all coming up next on WEDU Arts Plus.

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Hello, I'm Dalia Colon and this is WEDU Arts Plus.

Aarushi Pratap was diagnosed with autism

at the age of two, but this has not slowed her down.

The Tampa resident and recent Plant High School graduate

embraces life through her passion for art,

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- Art and drawing and sewing is very important for me

because it has a creations on it and colorful on it.

I draw with some sketch pencils and watercolor pencils

on my sketchbook.

And sometimes I design some dresses

in graphic art on my computer.

- I think she's always been a fashionable person.

I think it's right from a very young age,

She would be really cool clothes for herself,

sometimes very flashy because kids go through that stage.

- A lot she would struggle with her language

and she had pretty limited vocabulary,

until I would say she was even 10 or 12

and would kind of see her art

as her style communicating.

- First time I saw her drawing was probably when she was

about three years old.

She would just for hours drawing

and we would get her sheaves of paper.

And then when we would pick up the drawings,

we figured out that they were actually telling stories.

Those were the earliest, "Wow" moments, I would say,

in the sense that she did this whole series on pigs,

and there was this character called Piggy

and Piggy would fall in love, Piggy would face rejection.

There was absolutely no formal training in the early years.

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- I liked to watch the fashion shows and I got inspired

from there and I designed some clothes

and I saw lots of clothes.

- And then when she was about 13 years old,

someone saw her drawings at school

and they were gonna have this fashion show

for fashion design students.

So they said she young but her artwork is great.

And we would love to showcase Aarushi's drawings

as dresses in the fashion show.

She drew like four dresses

and they converted it into a dress.

And I think that kind of sparked something in her.

- When she was 13 we actually bought Aarushi

her first sewing machine.

We didn't know the source of it,

we were not much of help,

but she would learn how to sew

from watching YouTube videos.

And she immediately kind of started creating amazing dresses

and she would sketch her designs first

and then create the dresses then.

- I think I love vintage clothes

and I love the vintage things and sometimes love vintage.

And sometimes I love new fashion look.

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- Special Olympics has been a major influence in her life,

the kind of opportunities she got playing sport.

It just boosted her confidence

and her ability to connect with people.

- Any sport that I would bring up to her,

she was willing to go and try it.

She managed to go to State competition

for stand up paddle, won gold.

She won gold for Cheerleading Competition.

She won gold for bocce ball.

She was in our basketball team and also swimming.

There was nothing Aarushi would not try.

Her resilience was impeccable.

- What it helps, athlete like Aarushi

is to become more confident and also to kind of get

into a lifestyle which is more active.

So it's been a life changing experience.

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- Aarushi was one of nine student athletes

throughout the country that were selected

for the Special Olympics USA Game Logo.

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They all were flown into Orlando

and they were asked to make their own design.

- And I designed these 10 logos and I got inspired by others

and other athletes.

- What the design team did is that they got a composite

of all those logos and they created a final logo,

which is like everybody's voice.

- Aarushi became the spokesperson

and was flown up to New York.

I was able to be interviewed live on Fox News

and they presented a USA 2022 Logo

for Special Olympics USA Games.

- Even though Special Olympics seemed

to be something that was doing

with her fitness and her sport.

It seemed to open up all of these other avenues in art,

which hadn't before.

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- That Ms. Radigan was helping me

to set up my Aarushi Seamstress Alteration Business.

- If they needed mending needs,

if they needed to have dresses made,

Aarushi had a business right at school, we had staff,

we had students and Aarushi kept busy daily

with different projects that students

and all would ask her to take care of.

- I think that's where the sense of, "I can sell my work

"and my services, and I can make money out of it."

- I sell the masks and jewelries in Etsy Shops

and I started in 2019.

People like the designs,

it's made me feel happy and confident.

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I'm decided to go into South Eastern university

at college for people with learning disabilities.

- This has been my dream.

Aarushi becomes independent and lives by herself,

goes to college.

And it's all coming through because of her

because she aspired for it.

- It's a very bitter sweet expedience for us.

I think we will definitely miss her.

She has this strong urge to be independent,

to have a kind of a full enjoyable life

and that's what the college experience is gonna do for her.

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- I noticed that she has this way of finding meaning

in her own art, which kind of centers her ability to think

that I'm really good and therefore my life is gonna be good.

Even though that anxiety is there,

she's able to find that anchor again and again and again.

- And she actually shows us the fact

that despite your neuro diversity, despite your challenges,

how you can be positive,

how you can wake up everyday being happy,

looking forward and loving what you are

and loving what you do.

- My autism it's kind of learning disabilities,

kind of spectrums.

Spectrum means that it's colors on it.

It has the colors on my brain and then visually on my brain

because I have my autism, it has my superpower.

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- To see more of her work visit,

pratapaarush.wix- site,com/aararooni.

When her blots was drafted during the Vietnam War,

he made sure to bring

along his prize possession, his camera.

He took hundreds of photos of soldiers,

and now the Santa Fe, New Mexico photographer

reflects on his experience.

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- Initially, when I had landed at C Chi

we were hit by some rockets and mortars,

and I saw the buildings blown up.

Very, very quickly, you realize things happen in an instant.

So I took my job very seriously,

and that was to protect my communications unit,

to be that good soldier,

to be the best little soldier in the world.

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What it felt like to beat a bunker,

I can still feel that today.

When I was a young person, I loved the night.

I used to love to go out and look at the stars and the moon.

And that's one of the things that I feel like Vietnam,

that experience took from me was the night became unsafe

because that's when most of the enemy activity happened.

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I had studied photography.

So when I was in Vietnam,

I kept my camera with me pretty much all the time.

And it always had film in it.

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One of the things that I see when I look at my images

is over that period of a year that I was there.

What happens to young men when they come

into a situation like war,

what they look like in the beginning

and what they look like at the end.

And you can really see some level of maturity

but I also think you see a loss of innocence.

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That optimistic young man,

who might've been in the beginning is not there anymore.

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When Bob Hope and Ann-Margaret came to C Chi in 1968,

there was a big deal.

So there was this field full of soldiers.

It had to happen very quickly to see this show

and then to disperse because a rocket

or a mortar coming into that a number of soldiers

would have been devastated.

In the photographs that I took of that,

you can see in the soldiers faces some of their exhaustion,

some of their observance of what's going on,

and you see the weight on their shoulders.

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I have a wonderful image of one

of the young fellows who came to work with me

and in the trunk, by his bed, the trunk is open

and there's a photograph of his girlfriend.

Who he married as soon as he got home.

He was one of the most innocent young men that I knew,

he was much younger than I was.

And there's a photograph of him sleeping during the day

and you can just see the innocence in this young man.

And he survived this.

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I think that through my photographs,

I can connect with people.

I can make an image that represents something

about who we are as people.

It's more about what we hold as a body of life,

as people I thing it's what I photograph.

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After the service, I could not enter the life I had left.

I didn't entirely understand why?

When I got back to Illinois, I was virtually homeless.

My parents did not know who I was

because I had really changed.

They had been watching television the whole time I was gone

and assumed I would die.

That I'd be killed in the war.

So they had really grieved my loss.

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I talk about this with other vets,

if we could do this all over again,

would we do it differently?

And most of them say no,

that what we get from the experience is something

that really affects our lives.

And it moves us along and it's extraordinary at some level.

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I think I find the strength to be who I am

in the lessons of life.

That I learned at some point that first of all,

like something like worry, worry is a total waste of time.

And when I discovered that,

I thought isn't that interesting.

I could worry myself endlessly,

but it's not going to change anything.

Being angry or resentful about situations or people.

Anger can bring forth a lot of strength but at a price,

you pay a price for it.

And so those kinds of issues in life

I became slowly unwilling to pay their price.

I'd rather live a different way.

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In the photography.

I don't know that I was trying to tell a story

as much as I was trying to protect myself,

probably from dying.

At some level taking the photographs may have allowed me

to think that I was preserving myself from death

or from the fear of death.

As you get older in life

and you can no longer see the future as you can,

when you're a young person.

All you could see really is the past

and then you can see the stories of your life.

Not everybody gets that gift you.

we die at all levels, ages in life.

And so this gift of living to the age I am now,

has allowed me to see a lot of stories that I've lived.

Not everybody gets that.

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I think I have some responsibility with that to share it,

to share those stories.


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- Lotz of his work was featured in an exhibition called

"Sleeping During the Day:Vietnam 1968"

at the New Mexico History Museum.

To learn more about current exhibitions


Pens to Pictures is an Ohio based collaborative designed

to help incarcerated women tell their stories through film,

see how the filmmaking process is helping women

at the Dayton Correctional Institution.

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Pens to Pictures is a filmmaking collaborative where I teach

and work with women who are incarcerated

in making their own short films from script to screen.

I wanted to create a humanizing platform for women

who are incarcerated.

As a society we tend to write off those

who are incarcerated, or we pathologize them upon release.

I taught an eight week short screenwriting intensive,

and it's the exact short screenwriting curriculum that I use

in my classes at Wright State University.

And after the screenwriting intensive,

we then go into about a two, three week directing intensive,

where we actually bring in professional actors to rehearse

with the ladies in the prison.

That's also where each participant meets their co-director

and emerging filmmaker or professional filmmaker

who will execute the vision of the participant

on the outside since the participant is incarcerated.

- My co-director was amazing, she understood me

and she was there throughout the process.

We learned the entire process from beginning to end.

It was amazing.

As a woman prisoner,

I feel like America's dirty little secret.

As a black woman, we have two strikes against us.

People become intimidated by us

when we are outside of their definition

of what we're supposed to be.

So it's a struggle, even in prison.

It's just like being a black woman in America,

except for it's a smaller space.

- We really built a safe space for us to share

and explore some really painful moments in our lives.

And so they all opened up.

It was a moment of freedom

that transcended the kind of physical bars

that encased their lives at the moment.

- When I got here, I was basically completely empty.

So this was one of those experiences I think

that kind of filled me back up.

When we finally got to see the footage,

it was like a mind blowing experience to think

that something that we created mentally had come to life.

When we were asked to write a short story,

I just kind of figured like write what you know.

So I wrote about a girl that was a heroin addict,

trying to get treatment

and just the reality of what that looks like.

I think that making the film was in a lot of ways,

like closing the door on my experience as a heroin addict.

I was using heroin as teenager

and so I did that for close to a decade

and slowly reaped the consequences of that.

I went through a lot, just being an addict,

being in bad relationships and had a daughter

and then became incarcerated.

I love her so much, she so inspiring.

She has so much life that it makes me want

to be more alive as well.

I'm ready to go home and be there.

- I wanted Pens to Pictures to challenge some

of the stigmatizing that goes on when it comes to the way

we look at those who are in corrective control.

The process of incarceration is so degrading

that it kind of like strips you raw.

Once you are brought through booking that process alone,

it's meant to carry you down mentally and emotionally.

Pens to Pictures has been one

of those profound pivotal moments

that happens in your life.

And that challenged me to kind of look inside myself

and be more honest with who I am.

And I've learned that I can accomplish anything

that I'm worthy, that I'm enough.

- My favorite part was when we were finished,

when we got to present our films,

we had a premiere here at DCI

and the crowd's response to our films.

It was like, "Yes, did it."

Like I accomplished what I set out to accomplish.

And that was probably the best day of my life.

- I think that art gives you a way to go in and translate

that inner stuff into the outer world.

And I think that's important, people need to heal.

You don't come to prison if you're not kind of broken,

it's an opportunity and it's a gift.

- Writing that story that I wrote was very difficult.

My story was pretty painful, pretty intense,

but I was also able to see it in life.

I learned that I can push past boundaries that I had.

I learned that I can go further than I ever thought I could,

that I could face pain, that I could overcome it.

I learned that I was stronger than I ever knew.

- This experience has been transformative for all involved,

but in particular, the writer directors,

because it puts them at the forefront

of their own narratives.

It gives them a level of control and freedom

that was stripped from them.

It reminds them that they are worthy,

worthy of being seen, worthy of being heard,

that we have stories that are worthy of being told.

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- For the latest information about the project.

You can follow them on Twitter using

the handle penstopictures.

Portland, Oregon, pop surrealist,

Mark Ryden is known for his fantastical images

of the sweet and the skewed.

Now his work has found its way to the most unlikely

of places, the American Ballet Theater.

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- I was thrilled.

I mean, Alexei had...

I guess he came across a book of my art in Japan,

I guess, quite a while ago.

And he had been China in think of a project possibly

to involve me with, and then he decided he wanted

to bring back this old ballet

and we hooked up year and a half or so ago.

And he described the project to me, sounded amazing.

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Alexei has talked about that being his interest in using me

and my arts there on the surface.

There's this kind of sweetness,

but there's something underneath

that has a kind of darker or more subconscious stuff

that kind of bubbles up.

That was the challenge to go

from something you're just kind of dreaming up

to something that will physically work

and something you can dance in.

And we had to bring in experts who have experience with set

and costume designed to make up for the fact

that I've never done it before.

Those giant heads are amazing,

they're made out of a carbon fiber.

I don't know if you've got a chance to look at one closeup,

but they're just featherweight, amazing material,

pick them up and it kind of deceives your mind

how light they are for their size.


but they're really easy for them to move around.

And I mean, it's just shocking how much emotion they have.

I mean, you could see them performing on stage

with it pretty miraculous and also their vision too,

'cause they have to see out of them.

So there's little pinholes,

just kind of in the shadow areas

and the division is actually pretty good.

Ever since we arrived here,

I feel like somebody has been feeding me adrenaline

every few minutes, it's been amazing.

I'm much more of a hands on person than a director.

It's very unchartered territory

for me to direct other people.

I like to have just built everything myself.


But there's been a lot of amazing people doing great work

so it's been going really well.

I wasn't a regular patron,

but I had seen ballets every now and again.

And I always enjoyed it when I would go

but of course ever since this started,

I've become quite a fan.

I got to see Firebird last year in New York

and saw it from both the perspective of the audience.

But then also I got to see it from often the wings,

the entire production from the side.

And it was one of the most inspirational things

I've ever seen, it was just amazing.

And just having that proximity to the dancers

just gave a real appreciation

of what they do out here on the stage.

That the superhuman effort they put into it show

'cause they don't float around here magically.

It seems like it's so effortless,

but then they'll go off stage

and just kind of collapsed and exhaustion.

You can really appreciate what they're putting into it.

So it was really amazing.

(classical music)

Well, I think, if you make something that stops a person

and makes them think and question

and wonder you've achieved something positive.

(classical music)

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- Find out more about his work at

And that wraps it up for this edition of WEDU Art Plus.

For more arts and culture visit

Until next time, I'm Dalia Colon.

Thanks for watching.

(upbeat music)

- [Announcer] Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus

is provided through the Greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts loving donor who encourages others

to support your PBS Station WEDU

and by the Pinellas Community Foundation,

Giving Humanity a Hand Since 1969.

(upbeat music)