Making art from tragedy


Meena Benavente. (Contributed Photos)

Enduring images of twisted tin roofs, with some wrapped around naked tree trunks and many scattered all over Saipan and Tinian, give a wordless measure of how ferocious Super Typhoon Yutu was.

Mangled tin roofs have been a ubiquitous sight since Yutu swept through the CNMI in late October. Wherever you go on Saipan and Tinian, you will see heaps and heaps of tin roofs that were stripped from so many homes and broken abodes—a reminder of so many people scattered to the winds.

Yet Meena Benavente’s artistic eye sees a glimmer of hope in heartbreak. If you have been driving around Saipan and noticed painted and restored tin sheets that spread words of unity and encouragement and felt touched by them, then Benavente’s vision has been realized.

“I just want all of us to feel that there is hope and this is my way of reaching out to people and wishing everyone the best… I hope to give hope because with hope comes everything else,” she said.

Benavente had no intention to draw attention with her paintings but her work did and, at one point, she wanted to stop what she was doing. “Then I had a group of friends that shared with me how inspired they are when they see the messages and that inspires me to keep going,” she added.

Benavente stumbled into using salvaged tin sheets as her canvas. “A few days after Typhoon Yutu hit, there were two pieces of tin in my backyard. I couldn’t stand it…so I decided to paint on it,” she said.

She did get a tetanus shot first before beginning on her painting.

Benavente, a librarian at San Vicente Elementary School, said her art is self-taught but she first makes sketches to see which ones will look good on tin.

Meena Benavente’s tin art is displayed across the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe. She uses salvaged tin sheets to create art and spread words of unity and hope to the community.

Her work right now is scattered all over Saipan: at the airport fence of the American Red Cross-NMI Chapter, along the Dandan main road, along the Koblerville main road, in front of the San Antonio clinic, at the Hopwood Middle School fence, at the Marianas High School fence, one across the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe, and one at the Garapan Fishing Base.

“I place the tin sheets on public land and do not sell these…I am not accepting money. If people donate paint or tin, they get to take a tin in return,” Benavente said.

She does commission work when she is asked to paint and makes wood signs but not right now “as tin is my focus.”

“The rustier the better, because more stories are held in rusty ones, as it probably has been through a lot,” she added.

Benavente does not see herself stopping anytime soon, since Saipan is still on the road to recovery and rebuilding.

She credits the help of her husband, Fernando Benavente, whom she calls her No. 1 supporter. “He helps me put tin on my truck and we display the tin wherever I feel is right.”

She also credits a colleague at Saipan Southern High School, Joseph Weaver, for giving her ideas and inspiration.

“Once upon a time these tin sheets kept someone or something safe… Now it is being used to spread hope, which we all need at a time like this,” she added.

Bea Cabrera | Correspondent
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.

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