By Doug Geyer
Born in the Soviet Ukraine, immigrating to St. Louis via Italy, before settling in Chicago – all prior to the age 0f ten – Anna Kipervaser’s life has been an experiment in movement.
Stepping back and out from the journey of her life thus far, it seems as though she’s been pushed and pulled toward certain places at momentous times. Perhaps by serendipity, fate, or pluck. Her obsession with surprising others and herself follows closely. A childlike desire to experience life as something imbued with magic and to pass along that passion a constant amidst the moves.
From an early age, Anna knew she wanted to be – was – an artist. A little sponge that soaked in the language and life of her surroundings. Wherever those surroundings might be. She remembers looking up at Michelangelo’s divine scene on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and telling her parents, “That’s what I want to do.” By the time she had turned a teen, chafing in the culturally claustrophobic suburbs, she was beyond eager to take herself to a new place and her art to the next level.
After convincing her mom to drive her to St. Louis for a National Portfolio Day event, she made her way through the prestigious programs from New York, San Francisco, and Boston, eager as she was to get far away from Chicago. As she and her mom waited in a particularly long queue for her top choice, a representative from the school drew the line just ahead of where they stood in line.
Anna wasn’t happy.
She didn’t hesitate to protest with vigor with many prospective schools looking on and listening in. As if they had a choice. Anna remembers hearing a voice as her venting waned, “Hey! Hey you with the spunk. Get in here. I like your spunk.”
It was Aaron Butler from the AAC.
After expressing her disappointment that the Art Academy was located in, ugh, “Ohio?”, she began to actually listen to Aaron’s thoughtful and helpful feedback.
Fast forward one year, another National Portfolio Day event in Chicago, another meaningful connection with Aaron as well as Paige Williams. Surprisingly, she found herself really considering the Art Academy, actually applying, location notwithstanding.
The rest is art history. Or herstory.
Anna brought to her education at the AAC a certain amount of what was on display in St. Louis. Not so much with shouting but with making her desires, her intentions clear. Like being taught, even mentored, by Jason Franz. It didn’t matter that she was a freshman who wanted to take a sophmore drawing class.
Jason, who is now Executive Director and Chief Curator at Manifest – a creative research gallery and drawing center – remembers how this spunky freshman inspired and empowered him and her older classmates.
“It was exciting. Admirable. She wanted to work, absorb. Even with her classmates being older, she became a class leader, a positive force. She was an enabler for me. I often talked about how we’re either on a downward spiral or an upward spiral. She was an upward spiral.”
Jason and Anna have stayed in touch since their paths first crossed and he’s amazed by her courage to transform herself from being primarily a painter to a filmmaker. He would like to think that this speaks to her character and to the quality of education she received at the Art Academy.
Anna inspired another professor with her medium-blending inclinations, David Gatten at Duke University, as she pursued her MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts. She approached him after her first class with this question, “Can I make films the way I paint?”. She recalls his small smile and his whispered yet enthusiastic reply, “Yes!”.
Another seminal event born from her time at the AAC occurred during the New York Studio Residency Program. Anna remembers waking up on what was to be the first day of class.
It was September 11, 2001.
She walked down the stairs from where she’d spent the night, out the door, in time to see the second tower fall. She and two classmates were eight blocks away.
“It’s part of what directed my future work. I saw the country, strangers, even family members, begin to see and speak about whole groups of people in a way which was similar to the way they themselves had been persecuted. Because of where those people were from, their faith. History was repeating itself.”
Anna embarked on an artistic journey which led to many trips to the Middle East. She was in Cairo when Mohamed Morsi was elected and again after the dramatic democratic uprisings of the Arab Spring. Certain places, momentous times.
After years of persevering, fundraising, and traveling, her vision to play a part in bringing together a world divided was realized with the documentary Cairo in One Breath, which continues to screen at film festivals internationally.
A production of On Look Films (www.onlookfilms.com), the film seeks to fulfill their mission to “reach across cultural divides, document cultural history and contribute to diverse intercultural dialogue, towards creating a more peaceful world.”
Anna, who received the Academy’s Distinguished Alumni award in 2016, is currently an adjunct professor at Duke, being an upward spiral for her lucky students.
“I want to take them by surprise. Create the circumstances where magic happens.”
Though Anna doesn’t typically plan too far ahead, she’s still looking forward. To teaching toward inspiration and to where life’s surprises might lead her next. To being moved by magic in all its mysterious forms.