Artist explores the meaning of mantra

By Laura Smith

News & Record/ Go Triad

Sherri Lynn Wood travels with her “mantra trailer,” helping people find the words that inspire them.  Photo submitted

Sherri Lynn Wood travels with her “mantra trailer,” helping people find the words that inspire them. Photo submitted

When Sherri Lynn Wood hitches her small trailer to her truck, she does not set out on a weeklong camping trip. She takes it to a street corner or university quad and encourages people to come inside and discover things about themselves they may not know.

Wood has been hauling her trailer around for the past two years. Her “mantra trailer” as she calls it, is visually similar to a message board seen in front of churches, spelling out an inspiring message to passers-by.

“I like to say the mantra trailer is parked at the intersection of imagination, evangelism and propaganda,” Wood said.

With the project, individuals can create their own mantras (chanted words or phrases) on the side of the trailer or go inside and record them to be posted on the Internet.

Displaying phrases like “Life is an adventure” from Davidson, “To God be the glory” from Chicago, and “Everything has its time” from Athens, Ga., patrons have been leaving their marks, and mantras, with the trailer.

Wood’s project has taken her all across the country and now to the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro in the newest participatory art exhibit, “Our Subject is You,” which displays a replica of the trailer.

“I think she’s really very generous with her artwork,” curator Xandra Eden said. “She really has a wonderful way of allowing people to be creative, but at the same time to express something about their inner selves to others; it’s something very therapeutic.”

Wood, 45, got the idea from a growing concern of how language was being used in today’s culture with repetitive phrases about the War on Terror and “advertisement bombardment,” she said. “I thought it would be good to start a conversation about how language is used in mass media and how we use it ourselves as an internal monologue.”

The artist, who lives in San Francisco, discovered the power of mantras several years ago when she began using them on her own.

“When I found there was a phrase or a word or an idea that was cycling in my mind, I began to just say it out loud,” she said. “I discovered that often I would get a new understanding about what was cycling in my mind and it changed; it became different and gave it a new meaning.”

Wood said she has always been interested in the sound of voice and wanted to share her discoveries of it with others.

Now, Wood gives others the chance to do just that through her trailer project.

“I invite people in to connect with their interior; their meditative space,” she said.

Through private donations, she traveled for about four months last year, visiting universities, community art centers and galleries. She only allows those who record their mantras inside the trailer.

“They usually come out with some sort of discovery and are more appreciative; more relaxed and focused,” she said.

Wood had been living in the Durham area since 1976 but has taken her work to San Francisco for the last year. She graduated with an MFA from Bard College and a Master’s of Theological Studies from Emory University. She is working part-time as a parish administrator at an Episcopal Church in addition to her community-based artistry.

Wood is also exploring her love of repetition through sewing, or what she calls mantra stitching — another original project of hers that will also be featured as a workshop at the Weatherspoon.

Mantra stitching consists of a group of people stitching together, saying their mantras out loud with one another.

“It’s another exploration,” she said. “It’s not about just doing something yourself but asking people to move from being in their person role to a group/member role and the tension between those things.”

For many people, she says these healing activities are “something they really feel compelled to do to stay grounded &ellipses; it brings people together.”

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