aava Weiner has just finished teaching their final class of 2020 and now they’re sitting on our video call coffee mug in hand—tired and excited for a break.
While Weiner is currently braving the below-zero temperatures of a proper Chicago winter, Weiner was born in the sun and heat of Israel. When they were only a toddler, their family moved to the U.S. for parents’ jobs and proceeded to live all over; by age 12, Weiner had lived at nine different addresses.
Eight years ago Weiner settled in Chicago, where they now teach fifth grade. “Ten minutes is all you have,” they laughed, describing the fleeting attention span of their students in a Zoom classroom.
Weiner is no stranger to the sustained focus required in learning; they’ve spent more than six years pursuing higher education, first earning a Fine Arts degree from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. Unlike with many young artists’, Weiner says their family has always been supportive of their artistic path, which makes sense: they recognized early on that art, in all its manifold forms and crafts, was Naava’s calling and everyone — including Naava — knew not to question it.
Following their graduation from Bezalel, they moved across the Atlantic to pursue their Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During their time at SAIC Weiner specialized in Fiber and Material Studies, working with textiles in its many iterations. Their studies brought them to a Chicago middle school, where they taught a fashion class.
“It was amazing to see my students with the costumes they’ve made themselves,” Weiner recalled.
“I enjoyed teaching them how sizes aren’t real — they’re a concept made up by clothing brands. [...] How, if tags with sizes bother them, they can just cut them off. How sizes won’t be a problem if they make their own clothes.”
Teaching fashion not only opened Weiner up to pursuing more teaching opportunities, but reminded them of the importance of not letting societal structures and labels define a person or their inherent worth. Weiner believes we’re often made to believe we can’t do certain things and, thus, we never really try. To them, art’s a big example of this ‘leave it to others, who can’ mindset. “Everyone can draw or paint, everyone,” Weiner said. “I want to teach people they can make art and it’s not difficult to create.”
Listening to Weiner explain the negative space by gesturing to the emptiness formed between their hand and side, when they prop their arm on their hip, I remembered being told by my middle school teachers that I couldn’t really paint. I wasn’t told to keep trying. Then, I thought of my high school friend Alex, who gave up trying to draw his own comic book about a Russian furry politician, Mr. Bear. He was told he couldn’t draw lines or hold a pencil like an artist by our art teacher. I feel fairly certain that if he wasn’t discouraged, Stan Lee would’ve had a competitor to watch out for. I made a mental note to text my friend about the class Weiner will be teaching with PULP in the new year: “Let’s Get Physical: Figure Drawing for the Absolute Beginner,” a course dedicated to exploring the drama that is the human body in motion, featuring models of all sizes and gender expressions.
While teaching art, Weiner made sure to keep pursuing it for themselves as well. And as many artists do, Weiner decided to go to therapy and tried art therapy along the way. Naava says they were pleasantly blindsided by their discoveries. They found themselves feeling emotions the intensity of which they’ve never experienced before. For Weiner, there was an especially cathartic je ne sais quoi to feelings expressed through pen and paper.
“It talks to the part of the brain that doesn’t understand text,” Weiner explained. “It was too intense for me and I stuck with talk therapy in the end, but it’s great. It can make you feel things you didn’t know were there.”
Weiner worries people’s distrust in their own ability to make art might deter them from discovering their true capabilities, imagination and creativity. They believe this distrust doesn’t come from an individual’s understanding of their passions through exploration, but rather society dictating where we belong — how we must be the best or drop our efforts altogether.
As a person whose life revolves around art in its many forms, from fashion to painting, to occupational therapy, Weiner has first-hand experience of how liberating knowing you can create feels. Teaching “Let’s Get Physical” is Naava’s lesson and gift: holding a pencil means you’re already holding it like an artist.