GTPulse: Traverse City Artist Created Year Long Project By Drawing 365 Eyes

Eye contact is powerful. A look of reassurance from a mother to her child, making and breaking contact with someone we’re attracted to, or looking into the eyes of someone apologizing or asking for forgiveness are all powerful and full of emotion. Eye contact can be interpretive of the things we don’t say or the things we’re trying to say, and local artist Nadia Daniels-Moehle spent a year creating an art project that revolved around the telling nature of eyes.

CognEYEzant is a play on the word cognizant, which means being aware or knowledgeable. The project was 365 days, with each day requiring Nadia to draw an eye and write a corresponding essay or poem with each eye. Each eye is drawn interpretively, and is either painted or drawn with different materials. The eyes range from a typical looking eye that’s painted acrylic on canvas, to an ink on paper cluster of people with eyes for heads that is  representative of her childhood. Despite drawing eyes everyday, none of them look the same or tell the same story. Each eye drawn had its own inspiration.

“Quite a number of them were portraits of people that I either knew, met on the street or authors I admired or maybe artists I admired. Some of them I would do photographs, some were just my imagination, but I would meet someone on the street, photograph their eye and then follow up with them later.”

Nadia likes to use her art to get out of her comfort zone and see things differently. She looked at CognEYEzant as a way to connect to people and to connect people to each other through the project.

Photo by Amy Daniels-Moehle

“I’m not saying go up to random strangers,” Nadia said with a laugh. “Be more open to people around you.”

The idea of being more aware and open to people around us was part of the inspiration for the project. Nadia wanted to translate the thought that if people are more aware of each other’s eyes then maybe they’ll be more aware of each other’s humanity. She was also inspired by an artistic rut she was in April of last year.

“I was realizing that I hadn’t had a creative practice like I had in my early teens, I felt like I had kind of lost my creativity, even though I had done some commissioned work and some juried shows. I just didn’t have a practice, so I felt my skill wasn’t growing. I realized I wanted to do something where I could do something everyday, have the commitment for a year, and let it go. I was walking down the road and I thought ‘I like to draw eyes, so I’ll just draw eyes.’”

At the time, Nadia was studying the violent history between Pakistan and India and coincidentally, Gandhi’s grandson Rajmohan Gandhi  made a trip to Traverse City for the Internationals Affairs Forum to talk with a professor from Pakistan. 

“I asked Gandhi’s grandson how people could find peace and nonviolence and be more accepting in today’s culture and he had a really profound answer but then stopped himself and said, ‘I’m not the person to ask you should ask artists and creatives.’”

The cognEYEzant project was born from these combined experiences of Nadia’s. She initially only drew an eye everyday, but later added a written component of the project.

“About halfway through the project I started writing essays and researching from different creative people I admired, and intellectual resources, and scientific resources and more about the idea of humanness and connection.”

Photo by Gary Howe

Nadia completed the project in June and a third of it was shown at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Traverse City, where she also teaches art classes. The eyes have been taken down from the gallery but are still available to look at on her website The eyes are for sale, and she has already sold some of the pieces, except for the ones that she painted or drew on the days she found difficult to work.

“Those were the days I did something very simple and they’re probably going to stay in a notebook I have, or a portfolio I have and they’re just gonna live there and be happy. They made the project possible.”

She’s not done yet. Today marks the beginning of a continuation for CognEYEzant. The first project was 365 days. Nadia is adding a 52 week installation to the project.

“This is the second year of the project and I’m going to write an essay one week and then illustrate the essay with a painting the next week.”

Beyond her artistry, Nadia contributes to the community with Look Wonder Discover, a nonprofit that she and her sister Sonja started that supports cultivating curiosity, researching and creating content supporting literacy, learning, creativity, and contemplation. She is also a board member for Grace Community Birth Center in Haiti. Did i mention she’s only 19? Nadia continues to challenge herself with artistic quests that hold her accountable to sharpening her talent and to providing work that encourages and questions the idea of humanness. Encore. 

Categories: GTPulse