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Wabi-sabi – Flawed Beauty

Celebrating classical beauty comes easily. Finding beauty in the mundane requires a little more work, but the artists at Maury Elementary (1250 Constitution Ave. NE) are equal to the task.

This spring, art teacher Lauren Bomba introduced her kindergarten and first grade classes in Studio Maury to the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi—an aesthetic sensibility based on the concept that both life and art are beautiful not because they are perfect and eternal, but because they are imperfect and fleeting. “Nothing lasts; nothing is finished; and nothing is perfect” — a message that resonates with children who began life during the dislocation and disruption of the pandemic.

Ms. Bomba cited “Stumpy,” the Tidal Basin cherry tree; she and her students adopted him as their “Wabi-sabi icon of resilience and beauty in the imperfect.”

The students were outfitted with digital cameras and sent out in teams, roaming the streets and alleys (chaperones in tow) to capture images of delight in spaces where it might be least expected. The artists zoomed in and out, finding balance within their compositions and capturing the imperfect beauty of their school neighborhood: a broken tail light glinting in the sun; the stark geometry of a chain link fence, heroic weathered pickets, richly-rusting metal pipes, a decaying paper bag, moss covered concrete, water dripping from a plastic trash can, nails encrusting a light post like barnacles on the hull of a ship. The results are truly stunning.

A selection of the work is now on display at the Young Artists Gallery (ground floor, east of the main staircase) at Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. It’s hard to believe that the collection was created by such young children; it would be impressive, even from adults. Ms. Bomba invites you to “come see for yourself what this Wabi-sabi thing is all about!”  The show will hang through the middle of June.  

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