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September 8, 2023

The invitational trip in Yunnan with Rye Wave — Chenxi Wang, BFA ceramics 23

by Chenxi Wang

The location of this south-western frontier county Conggang on my Chinese map.

The landscape of the Mountain Gaoli at Conggang, Yunnan.

I am sorry that I began my Maharam fellowship in person quite late, following the completion of my local residency in the United States and the return of all my belongings to China. However, this delay did not equate to minimal participation in meetings and communications with the collaborative NGO organization, Rye Wave. I truly appreciate Rye Wave’s patience during all those Zoom meetings and online chats.

In Conggang, Yunnan, where Rye Wave initiated its non-profit ritual art education program, approximately ten young volunteer artists conducted eight innovative art courses. I was honored to preview and co-prepare for the art classes with the rest of the artists from Rye Wave. Even though I just audited most of the syllabus meetings online from July 4th to July 10th, I gained a clear understanding of Rye Wave’s rural educational goals, styles, and methods while discussing the syllabus and teaching process led by Miao Linyu.

The communication between us and the local residents in person

For instance, after researching and visiting those minor ethical families,  we learned how to use simple language to engage with local minors aged 10 to 14 years old. Some kids might have never left the village, so we had to consider introducing basic art materials and tools that were not easily accessible in Conggang. While auditing and observing volunteers specifically involved in this Yunnan program, I fully comprehended the challenges of conducting art education in rural China, especially one in ritualistic situations. Establishing an avant-garde art space in a frontier county of China is demanding, exhausting, and time-consuming, yet Rye Wave has persistently invested three years.

  • Linyu Miao 
  • The leader of Rye Wave 
  • BA undergraduate of Barnard College, Columbia 
  • Now she is working as a journalist for independent publications

After I arrived in Conggang, Yunnan, on July 24th, I joined the large Rye Wave group, which had already established local ties, engaged with the students’ families, and conducted art activities. It was also the first time I met the leader, Miao Linyu in person since we have known each other through Instagram for more than half a year. I was curious and excited while stepping into neither this minor ethical village nor a big voluntary artist group.

  • Meeting with the rest of the volunteers and teachers in Conggang, Yunnan
  • Discussion with ten art teachers from Rye Wave about the preparation for art classes and the results of local family and minor ethnical cultural research.

The first day of our art summer program began at the local residences’ basketball playground. Kids who registered for the program and we teachers were sitting together and listening to the speech given by Linyu Miao. Some of them even did not put any shoes on. First impression with Conggang County–Wild.

There was a little mix-up that our opening conflicted with the residents’ basketball practice. It was quite awkward and intense when they thought we occupied their playground without permission from the local administration. And they started to get mad and present some wild and violent tendencies. I have to admit it was chaos for a while. But we solved the little trouble after carefully and patiently explaining to them what happened and why we were teaching for free in this county.

The big group of artists at Rye Wave and I was arm-wrestle with Xinpei

I did not create any art classes for the children in Conggang, Yuannan, but I still built up a close relationship between the artists from Rye Wave and the ritual kids. I guided a small group of children to use the camera and make some portraits for each of us. It was also engaging and enlightening for me to briefly participate in the art classes, activities, and experience in person with those children from the realistic Chinese countryside.

Photography team and me

Our artworks

me and my drawing in an observative drawing class

The Recess —— Basketball Hour

Class time

The 10-day audition with the first program of Rye Wave in Conggang is not easy. I started to grasp the cruel problem involving local administrators, political organizations, residents, children, and artists within a realistic society. The poverty of their family, an incompleted system of elementary education, limited geographical conditions, developing family educational awareness…… Like Miao said, we little art student NGOs can not entirely address the systemic inequities deeply ingrained in Chinese rural education, a challenge that the CCP has been working on at its national administrative level for years.

Nevertheless, the united teamwork, young energy of Rye Wave, passion from the artists, and the smiles of the children inspired and empowered me to reflect on my section of the program in Shenhou, Yuzhou, Henan. I got more confidence and responsibility about making efforts with my coming section.

The night of the Mountain Gaoli

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