Artist Brings Activism, Eco-Awareness to UH

Sasha Dela Among Artists at 'Systems of Sustainability'

Art can be an effective venue for communicating social, economic, political or environmental topics. It can raise important questions, initiate dialogues and express the need for change.

Artist Sasha Dela uses her creative energies to address specific issues. Her provocative "Black Water" installations, for example, address a host of environmental matters.

Through the University of Houston's Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, Dela's creative insight is being shared with University of Houston students and the community.

This semester, Dela is teaching "Efficacy in Practice," an interdisciplinary arts course focused on activist practices in the arts. She also will participate in "Systems of Sustainability" March 27 - 29 at UH, a festival/symposium presented by the Mitchell Center in collaboration with UH's Blaffer Gallery.

"Activism within the arts takes on many shapes and forms," Dela said. "Gallery pieces, ongoing research, projects and performances can express a need for change or raise questions about specific issues. For creative spirits, these are perfect venues to reach audiences."

Offered as part of the Mitchell Center's interdisciplinary arts minor, Dela's course "Efficacy in Practice" challenges students to use creativity as a tool for promoting change or communicating relevant subject matter. The class also provides historical and current perspectives on the efforts of artist-activists.

"It's been great teaching this class at UH," she said. "I have an interesting collection of students that include a theater student, biology major, a designer and fine arts students. This mix is very conducive to approaching contemporary issues from all angles and exploring effective ways to creatively communicate them."

Among the projects undertaken by Dela's students is creating videos and costumes to be used in a performance by the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange during "Systems of Sustainability."

Part arts festival, part symposium, "Systems of Sustainability" addresses the very topic that drives Dela's artistic and teaching efforts. With a range of panels and performances, the event explores creative enterprise as an integral tool for cultural growth and social change. Dela will participate in the panel "Poetics and Performance: Art in Public Spaces" at 10:45 a.m., Saturday, March 28.

The event not only complements Dela's "Efficacy in Practice" course but also her artwork. As an artist, she finds creative inspiration through aspects of our environment that many might take for granted. From urban décor to natural resources, Dela transforms elements of the ecology into provocative gallery pieces that certainly rouse curiosities.

A recent work, "Water Shelf," is composed of a metal shelf lined with plastic water bottles filled with black fluid. Other works "Black Water Bench and Volumes" and "Black Water Then and Now" follow a similar motif.

The darkened water, she said, is reflective of water and oil as Texas commodities. There are, however, deeper meanings in these works.

"We are around water constantly. Our city is positioned along the Gulf Coast, and the state has a rich collection of lakes and rivers. Plus, everyone carries bottled water in theirs cars or offices all of the time," she said. "These very bottles are actually made from petroleum, and approximately eight out of 10 of these them will end up in a landfill. There are many connections between oil and water that go unrealized. My goal is to get people thinking and, ultimately, talking about this precious resource."

Dela was raised in Atlanta but later attended college in Minneapolis' College of Art and Design, where she received her undergraduate degree. She earned her graduate degree at San Francisco's California College for the Arts.

It was during a residency in Santa Fe, N.M., that Dela developed an interest in the many issues surrounding water. As the city was in the midst of a severe drought and public utility prices were on the rise, she began to conduct research on the resource and compose works that communicated the complexity of water issues.

In 2006, Dela arrived in Houston and has continued producing water-focused works and conducting research. She is the co-director of Skydive, an artist run exhibition venue located at 3400 Montrose Blvd. Skydive hosts residencies for visiting artists to acquaint them with the city and, likewise, introduce Houstonians to new works from rising creative professionals. To learn more about Skydive, visit

For additional details on the Mitchell Center's interdisciplinary arts minor and "Systems of Sustainability," visit or call 713-743-5548.