Beatriz Sanchez Pacios
Kelly (Weith) Mellos, originally from Merrill, was one of the participants in TEDx San Diego this year. TEDx San Diego is a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization which, according to its web site, gathers “a collection of doers, thinkers, innovators, creatives, explorers, visionaries, teachers and learners, then seeks to illuminate, inspire and activate those individuals as a way to expand horizons, change perceptions, incite action and foster new connections.”
Mellos’ TED Talk, filmed in front of 2,000 people in San Diego, was titled “Make Peace with the Portrait.” She has developed the idea of portraiture as a way to connect with each other and, perhaps, a pathway to peace among different countries, cultures and communities. As an award-winning portrait artist, she started expressing how the human face has always been a matter that fascinates human kind. She left her business career to “master the art of portraiture.”
“Shortly in this new life, as I worked tirelessly trying to perfect this extremely demanding art form, I experience what can be only described as a shift in perfection, a revelation, and maybe even, a miracle,” said Mellos.
While Mellos was using her loved ones as subjects, she wondered if the same thing would happen with unkown people. Testing the theory with herself and her students, she found that it did. Taking another leap forward, she had to explore whether art truly had peace-making potential.
Inspired to “transform the hopeless into hope,” she created a portrait workshop for a group of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers through a peace program called “Hands of Peace.”
“This is a group of people who rarely have the opportunity to meet or get to know one another,” she explained. “In fact, only a small percentage of Palestinians are ever able to meet an Israeli outside of a border checkpoint of the seemingly intractable wall that has separated these two groups for generations.”
She had them portray each other.
“Many of them were sitting knee to knee with a supposed enemy, who they may have never before encountered this closely,” she said.
She noticed a Palestinian boy who was trying to draw an Israeli girl, but he was not doing the assignment. She wondered if her student might have been too influenced by messages of fear, or perhaps, the experience she thought as universal, may have not been so.
When she asked him why he wasn’t drawing, he answered, “As I look at her, I realize how beautiful she is and I do not want to disappoint her with the drawing, that it does not do justice to her beauty.”
“Generations of fear passed down to these two groups of people and this is the worst he can come up with?” Mellos said. “Reflecting upon these encounters, it is clear, there is something special in the experience of drawing the face of another.”
Kelly (Weith) Mellos is a 1993 Merrill High School graduate. She received her undergraduate degree from UW Madison and her master’s from San Diego State. She now lives in the San Diego area.