KIND’s New Jersey Office Collaborates with Artist Tamara Torres for Windows of Understanding Public Art Project

March 12, 2024

KIND’s New Jersey Office was recently nominated to be part of a public art project called Windows of Understanding whose mission is to transform public spaces into literal windows of understanding, spaces where the community can learn about the work of local social justice organizations that does not make daily headlines. Thank you to Erin Sweeney, an Equal Justice Works Fellow and Attorney at KIND’s New Jersey office, for facilitating KIND’s nomination. 

Windows of Understanding pairs organizations with an artist to create an original work of art reflecting the organization’s mission. KIND was honored to be paired with Afro-LatinX feminist artist and community activist Tamara Torres. KIND was one of 20 nonprofit organizations nominated and paired with an artist. The art works will be on display at venues throughout New Jersey from January 15 to March 31. Read more about Tamara, her work, and the piece she created to represent KIND’s mission below. 

Q: Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself? 

My name is Tamara Torres. I am a mixed media artist from Trenton, New Jersey. I have been making art for a little over 25 years now. Most of my work is focused on women’s rights or finding a light in the darkest moments. I started with photography first, which was my first love. I love photography. Then I got into collaging and later painting, abstract painting. I love abstract…abstracts don’t tell you physically what to see. It’s like an individual. Everyone has a different emotion and feeling about the same work, and I love that.  

For Windows of Understanding, I wanted to do a collage, a photo collage mixed with paint, mixed with everything all together in one bubble. KIND’s work is such an important topic and project. I put a lot of thought into it. Collaging has always been a great way for me to tell a story, through the different elements that I use.  


Q: How did your connection with Windows of Understanding and then KIND happen? 

Several years ago, Jennifer who is on the board of Windows of Understanding reached out to me. I had an exhibition at Akwaaba Gallery in Newark, NJ, and I invited her to come, and we’ve been in contact ever since. She approached me about participating again with Windows of Understanding this year and I said yes. It was perfect timing because at that time I was struggling with the idea of stopping art altogether. We talked about that a little bit, and she said, “You know, the world needs your art.” And in my head, I was just like, “Yeah, do they?” All artists go through these moments of “what am I doing?” Jennifer said, “You are going to do Windows of Understanding and it’s going to snap you back out of it.” She really wanted me to be part of it. I said yes. A few days later she let me know I’d be collaborating with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).  

When I looked KIND up, I immediately started crying. I used to be a bilingual case manager for an organization that worked with undocumented families. I was working at a middle school for grades six, seven, and eight helping these students and their families. I am Afro-Latina, and my family comes from Puerto Rico. I was the first generation here, but still, I have no connection to what these kids must feel, to come to the United States the way they do, like some of your clients or some of the people that I’ve met…This idea of the American dream becomes a rude awakening when they get here.  

When I had clients at the school, I learned so much. I started to really understand. I think a lot of people in society do not understand and even shake their head at these people. But until you actually work with these communities, you have no clue. So when I saw what KIND is doing, I was touched. I know how hard the work is. I know how exhausting it is. I know how burnt out you can get. It’s a real job, and it can really change people’s lives.  


Q: You made a beautiful, powerful piece to represent KIND’s mission. Could you tell us about the piece and your process?  

I thought about the piece that I wanted to do, and I read that in 2022 you guys had 7,000 clients. I realized I did not want to make an abstract painting where everyone has their own emotional response. I was like, no, this needs to be something that people can stop and look at and see. Years ago, I photographed this young girl—the girl who is featured in the piece of KIND—for another project where I was taking photographs of children and families. I reached out to her mom and asked if I could use the image for this art piece. She said she would be honored.  

I think her face is really haunting and has this look of, “Look at me like, this is the reality.” This is a child. I saw the image and I thought, I need to put the world in her eyes because kids have this big imagination, and they have this dream and idea of how big the world is, and this innocence. We as adults, at some point the transition happens when that is taken away. And with some of these children, that already had been taken away. That’s why I put the world in her eyes… And even for adults, you just have this idea of wanting something bigger and just kind of seeing the world bigger.  

Then I put some gold circles to represent some sort of hope. Gold like the sun, pockets or circles of sun protecting this person. Those circles are like KIND employees. 

In the background, there is darkness with some lights in it, as if heading towards a place of light. The plants coming up represent being grounded, feeling protected and grounded. Like our job was to do that. The little flower on the ear is a unisex flower because I wanted to also somehow put boys in it.  

Next to the collage, I hung 7,000 brown beads to represent KIND’s 7,000 clients. I literally put every bead with a little needle on a string. I thought if people can visually see every bead as a child, you get a sense of the amount—it’s a lot. It’s one thing for me to say to you 7,000 children. But when you see something physical, you get a better sense of the number. I hung the beads like a curtain, the image in the center and then the beads on the sides. In Caribbean culture, brown means strength, guidance, and journey.  


Q: Why do you think KIND’s mission is important? Why were you willing to do the piece?  

KIND is extremely important. Especially now in this world, I feel like they’re mothers…like these guardian angels, people who are protecting children. I know it sounds crazy to say it like that because when you’re involved in the work, you’re not even thinking like that. But when you are part of the community—I do a lot of community work—you have people say, “Oh yeah, this organization helped me.” It’s like they can trust, they can feel there’s this space for them, you know? And I know the amount of work it takes to be that kind of person. When I heard about KIND, I automatically felt like you were all like angels, protecting these people and giving them voices that they didn’t know they had, or they were too afraid to say it out loud… a protective force.  


Q: Is there anything else that you would like to add either about your work, this piece of art, or anything else? 

I’m really happy that I got to do this. Like I said, I was really considering no longer making art. Because of Jennifer and KIND, this opportunity reminded me why I make art, why I need to make art. It was a refresh button for me. I’m incredibly thankful that I got to participate and be a part of this. And Windows of Understanding is really cool because it gets these blended artists, some just starting out and others already established, and puts them all together in the same space collaborating with these organizations that are doing the same thing in different ways. It’s really cool.  


Q: I love what you said that this project reminded you why you do art. So you’re still doing art, your crisis is over? 

I am. I wrote a whole play while I wasn’t doing art because you know, that’s what you do [laughing]. That’s kind of art too. I started writing and I’m like, “Move over Hemingway. Where’s my Pulitzer?” And my husband’s like, “I bought you some canvas in case you want to paint…” He’s a writer… And I said “No, I don’t do that anymore. I’m writing now. I’m a writer.” So this KIND project came at a great time for everybody [laughing]. “Excuse me, can you please tell me where to sign up for the Pulitzer?”  My husband said, “Here’s a canvas. You need more paint.”