Skip to content

Posts from the ‘RISD Maharam Fellows’ Category


Nearing the End!| Eden Tai | 2019 PH

It feels strange to attempt to complete a video when there is still so much to learn about tong cao and the revival effort led by the Taiwan Tong Cao Association. However, it is important to use this remaining time to produce material for both the association and Irene to use for submissions to future funding!

current view of my computer screen 🙂

In addition to preparing the video for output, Irene and I will be giving lectures at the Taiwan Nature Trail Society on November 21st. Our advisor, Kuei Mei, organized this opportunity for us. Irene will talk about papermaking and lead a demo on shifu (paper thread), and I will present some of my work from my degree project and the Maharam Fellowship period. Making this lecture has encouraged a lot of reflection on how my thesis work (which is conceptually inspired by the history and uses of artificial flowers) connects to my current experience recording the tradition of pith flower-making. This will be my first artist talk outside of a school setting, so I am looking forward to trying something new.

Our most recent trip out of Taipei was a couple days ago, to a town called Xiluo in Yunlin County. We were scheduled to meet an artist who has previously worked with tong cao. As we had to catch a bus back to Taipei the same night, the interview was brief, but very worth it! I continue to be amazed at Kuei Mei’s talent for and commitment to connecting people.

still from our trip to Xiluo a few days ago- Kuei Mei explaining that she hopes the tong cao revival will inspire conservation efforts for other natural resources in Taiwan
Irene and Kuei Mei look around Xiluo;
we have some time to spare before we meet our interviewee
spotted one of our teacher’s favorite flowers
Kuei Mei shows us around a bamboo house which she helped construct with a
team as an effort to preserve local knowledge of using natural materials.
This is where we will meet our interviewee.
Cao Chang, an artist who participated in a tong cao exhibition organized by Kuei Mei, speaks to us about what it was like interacting with the material.

During our next trip out of Taipei, we will go to Hsinchu to visit our friend Bawdu, a Hua Yuan member who is the leader in reviving tong cao cultivation practices in his village. Last time we visited his farm plot, the plants were not yet flowering, but this time we will get to see the tong cao in bloom. He explained to us that because tong cao flowers during the colder months in Taiwan, it is a good resource for pollinators who typically have greater access to flowers in the springtime. Fingers crossed that we will get to see some bees!

Until then, I will continue my daily search for cafes with power outlets and keep working on post-production for this video~


Imagining New Agricultural Landscape of Providence, Jisu Yang, B.Arch, Architecture, 2021


Changes happen when people who hold similar missions gather to form a community. At the beginning of my fellowship, Eliza and I visited Father Lennon community garden, a 50ft x 70ft sized plot located along Camden Avenue. What really surprised us was that the garden is entirely covered with weed and it did not have any vegetables growing on the land. I felt a strong urge to raise more attention in this garden since, with a little bit of help, the garden may grow and flourish as an active food hub for the neighborhood. The challenge was that the neighborhood was a low-income housing area where people did not have access to phones and computers. Hence it was difficult to establish a solid structure for organizing the garden. 

When I raised this issue to my supervisor, I was notified that there is a clear boundary for how much government can provide support for individual gardens. Community garden gets established because the community gathers and requests the government to provide fundamental resources such as land and water. Yet, it is not the responsibility of the government to maintain individual organizations of the garden and if this becomes the task, they cannot maintain large network of the garden system. 

Instead of giving up, what I chose to do is to reach out to Eliza and see if there is anything we can do to re-activate the garden. Looking at the map, I realized that the community garden is located between the Recreation center and elementary school. Although those institutions do not hold responsibility for taking care of the garden, I imagined what if they collaborate to run programs for participants and students and maintain the garden? In this case, it is a win-win situation for both academic institutions and community gardens? I shared all of these thoughts with Eliza and she also thought it was a great idea to maximize assets of existing contexts. After reaching out to Shawn from the Recreation center, we had a meeting and eventually organized a date for communal weeding! Fortunately, we were able to find a connection with the organization in Providence College who are commissioned to do service for community works! August 25, there were lots of people including students from Providence College and people from the neighborhood who gathered and helped clean the garden to have it ready for fall seeding! 


maharam persp1Prairie street view

maharam persp fin 1Imagining a new street with more agricultural practice in Providence

My ultimate learning from working with the Parks department is that there has already been a lot of movements on urban farming and food justice. My focus during the fellowship was to create a common ground where different organizations and movements come together. As an architecture student, I often imagine what would it be like if the reality is a little different from what is right now. August 27th, on my last day of working in the Parks Department Botanical Center, I couldn’t stop but keep thinking what would it be like to walk along the street that is full of trees and planters? What would it be like if these dead parking lots are turned into public gardens? What would it be like to take berries from the street when I feel hungry? What would it be like to encounter a pocket of green space in the middle of a dense urban district? What would it be like to harvest corn next to the bus station every morning on my way to work? What would it be like to go out on the street every weekend with my children to take care of trees and planters?  

How do we make this happen?

To make imagination come true, I believe we need to form a community of people who hold similar faith, who is aware of the environment and who believes in creating a better world by making simple changes. Although my fellowship ends, I gained huge confidence and courage to continue my research and role as an environmental activist to seek other opportunities to work with the community leaders in Providence to construct new branding of urban agriculture in Providence.



Thus the blue undulates- Yiyi Wei, BFA Glass, 2019

Chang Tang: Tibetan for ‘the great flat plain of the north’ 

After light enters the atmosphere, the shorter wavelength of the spectrum is scattered into many directions by the air molecules. It dissimilates. It wanders. It travels together with the sublime, remains deep down and far away, making the sky, the ocean, the distant mountains, the melancholy longings or the cavities of our memory appear to be blue.  

I remember the blue

drawing a line between turquoise and sapphire

I remember the fresh smell of Kobresia mixed with animal droppings after that mid-summer hail. We were out on a hike to search for antelopes’ bite marks and to learn which kinds of vegetation they’d prefer. The ice hit us while we were on the ground, looking for the marks leaf by leaf

I remember watching the mountains far away turn foggy and white. The storm lasted probably twenty minutes in total. The blue sky slowly disappeared, re-appeared 

The clouds cast a foggy shadow beyond  and the coldness gave my exposed skin a prickly tingle

I also remember a different coldness emitted from the solemn Purogangri glacier, brushed against my skin 

And the sound from the melting ice gliding through the crevices of the rocks, harmonizing with a plastic flower that played chantings of buddhist prayers on loop 

I remember the feeling of thrill and fear when a male wild yak stood on the hill right next to the road. It was startled by our truck, flanking its tail and kicking its hooves, forcing us to back away. And the same thrill and fear I felt when encountering a family of Tibetan brown bear, a mother and two children, while we were on a motor bike 

And the tranquility of observing a big group of wild donkeys feasting, mating and an antelope sprinting around faster than any other being on this plateau

I remember our sorrow and apologies, for bringing disturbance and fear

And I remember the blue undulating between here and there

Casting a veil onto the mountains’ reflection and the defrosting land. The colorful vegetation looked like deep-ocean-creatures, but miniature in size, budding from Earth at places they never used to appear. And onto the roads that now are lost. 

Sometimes I imagined the lakes and rivers have a blue sheet of glass underneath, silvered by the sunlight at dusk. Reflecting onto the creatures that tread on this ancient soil

the fleeing hooves, the anxiety of a mother, the dry and sharp coldness from the highland moon and the rhythm of ravens’ love song 

I accidentally saw a pair of ravens practiced their mating dance in a village that we stayed overnight. At first I only heard them when I was on a walk. I looked around and searched for the source of the sound. It was foreign and beautiful. I was surprised that these large, scary-looking creatures can make such elegant, adorable sounds. I walked around the corner and there they were, in the middle of two mountains of trash disposals. The image was jagged but graceful. They didn’t care about my presence so I stood there along side with a pigeon, and watched them. Soon, I became self-conscious, feeling like an intruder to a private and sacred ceremony. So I slowly walked away. The pigeon stayed. 

I was lucky that I encountered this ritual and remembered it. There are many songs chanted on this highland, carried away by wind and devoured by the horizon, extending to infinity.

That I would never hear.

The Third Pole is silent  and that silence is the blueness of its soundscape A gift from the boundless flatland hovering over the evolution and extinction below, creating a tint of tranquility

The wildlife patrollers told us many stories of Chang Tang’s trespassers. Some came to conquer the land, some came to test their own limits and some came to seek for an end. In time the past will decay, becoming a part of the blue. Are they all trespassers? Or are some of them just souls pursuing the sublime and longing to be lost? That I do not know. 

Rebecca Solnit talked about losing oneself as a “voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away.”

I stepped on this terrain with (I assumed) ideas and questions that I wanted to pursue. Yet my memories of the world I use to know dissolved a little bit more as more time we spent seeking on this mysterious highland with very little oxygen and traces of people. Without experiences and preparations, I stumbled upon this realm of lost and present and unknown by accident. Chang Tang made me chase the blue and eventually surrender to the present that is now was.

After we came back from Yingjiang with Cloud Mountain Conservation, I asked Liang a question. I wondered, if the population of Skywalker Gibbon is low and the conservators’ chance of reviving the species is minuscule, then what is the purpose of their effort? “I’m not sure” Liang told me at first. He paused for a second and added “but we’ve got to do something now, right? Who knows what will happen in the future. At least we did everything we could.” This very short conversation lingered in my mind while I was at Chang Tang plateau

facing the ancient yet young geography of this northern flatland and the species that will disappear someday or transform into something new

I now understand that he is also a fellow voyager to the far away blue

Purogangri Glacier from a distant

to the flora

and to the fauna


Proceed to Chang Tang- Yiyi Wei, BFA Glass, 2019

The trip to Chang Tang, now recalling from memory, feels like a distant past, even though the last night we spent at the plateau was only a week ago. 

By the beginning of the last month of the internship, Liang and I arrived at Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Situating at 4000 meter above sea level(approximately 13120 ft), Lhasa is the center of temples and Tibetan buddhism pilgrims, the home to Dalai Lama, the intersections of different businesses, the high light of chapters in history books and the holy land of hippies.

It is, also where the headquarter of WCS’s Tibetan branch office have placed themselves. In a two stories apartment-styled home, total number of four employees wrote proposals, had meetings and prepared for their many journeys into the wilderness of Chang Tang. 

Lan Zhou Jia and Duo Jie Jia are the two Tibetan employees who had been working for WCS for couple of years. Lan Zhou Jia is a very quiet middle aged man with two adorable children. Liang told me not to under-estimate Lan Zhou Jia’s shyness. “He transforms into a super talkative, passionate ‘beast’ when he’s advocating the importance of conservation to Tibetan nomads,” he said, “the perfect man for community works.” Duo Jie Jia (he preferred us calling him Duo Jie) is relatively younger and came along with us on this trip to Chang Tang. Later on I found out that he is very fluent in English, Mandarin and Tibetan as well as being really knowledgeable in plant species and their latin names. There is also Liang, my supervisor and Jia Jia, a girl from Beijing, who I never had a chance to meet since she had been out on a business trip while I was there. 

There were five of us went up to Chang Tang together in total. Liang, Duo Jie, Ling Yun, Ya Ya and I. Ling Yun just finished her postdoctoral position at Beijing University, researched specifically on snow leopards in the highlands and worked as one of the core researcher at Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve that I mentioned in the first blog post. She is now very interested in studying the ecology niche of ‘hoofed’ animals (wild yak, Tibetan antelope, gazelle, wild donkey, argali and Marco Polo sheep) in Chang Tang. Ya Ya (nickname) is from Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region adjacent to Tibet. Started as a bird watching hobbyist, she established a non-profit organization called Wild Xinjiang, couple of years ago. This organization gathered volunteers across ages and disciplines to advocate for the biodiversity on the vast landscape of Xin Jiang. 

a photo of the five of us couple of days before we came back from Chang Tang

Being the only person came from a greatly different education background(different fields and educated in a different country), they were very curious about my purpose there. While trying to explain my intension in cross-discipline learning and collaboration, I realized a gap in the communication between my interest and their understanding of contemporary art. Liang thought that after I learnt about conservation in the past month, it would be a good time for me to put together a presentation and show them the world of art that I was interested in. 

The presentation was really a tool for igniting conversations, which worked very well among the five of us. That day we spent a lot of time together while in the office, or out for a walk, or over hotpot, talking about Joseph Beuys, social sculpture, performance lecture, pedagogy as art, community, history of science, the collective knowledge, the imagined future……

Ling Yun explaining the methods her and Liang designed for this research

With a lot of new thoughts and ideas on our minds, we shopped for supplies, packed our pickup truck and soon got on the road to Chang Tang.

Our truck got stuck in the mud not long after we got on the road
the beginning of the trip


Coexistence: The villager, the gibbons and the conservationists- Yiyi Wei, BFA Glass, 2019

At the beginning of each meeting, Liang usually preferred a general information on villager’s perspective of Tianxing’s situation.

Their answer was always positive. 

Recent years, Chinese government had been promoting conservation. Meanwhile many Chinese local conservation organizations such as Cloud Mountain started to emerge.

Under the increasing awareness of conservation, villagers had paid a lot more attention to Tianxing for the past years. Forest rangers had detected newborn Tianxing in some of the areas. Every morning, people living around the habitat can hear Tianxing wailing at each other, across mountain ranges (one of Tianxing’s distinct characteristic is that they communicate through wailing at each other far away) 

surveillance setups in the forests for monitoring Tianxing's activity
surveillance setups in the forests for monitoring Tianxing’s activity

They said hunting in general had disappeared because of government’s strict policy. Poaching or other illegal activities does not exist either. Although in some villages people admitted there are still a few of these activities left.

An overarching characteristic of these villages is that they are all in different levels of poverty. The reason is partially because of the villages being situated in remote areas and enclosed by the mountains. Many of the villages we interviewed had a large population of children or elderlies. Increasing tuition fee for children and medication bills became one of the burdens for every family. Also as the result, young people stayed home instead of working in bigger cities so that they can take care of their children and parents. 

For most people who stayed, there are only a few sources of income, and none of them had made enough money for living. Bamboo forests around the villages provide them bamboo shoot for food(yet tall bamboo tree is also an important vegetation for Tiangxing to be mobile in their habitat). Crops like rice, tea (some areas), nuts and sugar cane are planted in the fields for a little income. 

We encountered Guan Men Jie (Close Door festival) a tradition for Dai ethnic group. A beginning of three months summer agriculture works and no weddings should be performed until after the Kai Men Jie (Open door festival) that signifies the end of this period of time.
Women from the village carved sculptures from sugar cane to worship the buddha.

Similar to villagers in Myanmar, people in Ying Jiang also cultivate a plant called Cao Guo. It is a ground covering plant, with approximately only 9 ft tall and in the same family as cardamum.

Many years ago, Myanmar had a big snow storm that killed most of their Cao Guo, which then led to a price bloom for this plant in China. Cao Guo had dominated villager’s income. As the result, people in Ying Jiang had increased their Cao Guo’s cultivation area and led to disruptions of Tian Xing’s habitat. Cao Guo also requires abundant water, not too high in altitude, and tall trees (so they can be shielded from the sun.) Because the plant is relatively low to the ground comparing to the trees Tian Xing relies on, the plant itself isn’t completely a direct emergent conservation threat to Tian Xing, but there might be many potential indirect threats as the consequence of cultivating Cao Guo.

Red berries of fresh Cao Guo

The bubble of Cao Guo economy popped therefore the price dropped significantly, Unfortunately 2019 had been a drought year, which resulted in very minimum Cao Guo harvest right now. The villagers’s general income had decreased by a lot. 

On top of that, winter in Ying Jiang is very cold due to high altitude. Every family in these villages has elderly and children. They are desperately in need of logs to get through winter. Some spend money to purchase logs in the village. Yet with the un-diversified sources of income on top of decreasing value of Cao Guo, many villagers sometimes do not have a choice other than make lumber for themselves. 

Similar situation happens to house constructions too. Under poverty, some villagers cannot build houses that are made out of concrete. The cheapest way is to go into forest, cut down some trees and build the house by themselves. 

Therefore, when their will of saving a species is confronted by practical income and basic survival, who are we to criticize that they choose to survive a winter instead of saving a tree or two for the animals? 

Liang and Cloud Mountain Conservation’s job here is to find possible solutions, that these villagers don’t have to rely so much on cultivating Cao Guo; don’t have to cut down trees to have warmth in winter, or to have a comfortable home; don’t have to worry so much about not be able to pay for their children’s school, or pay the medical bills for their elderly. And still many more questions asking to be sought out. 

Beautiful hand woven women’s textile for marriage. The craft is almost lost in China. Because Ying Jiang shares a boarder with Myanmar, therefore some cultural traditions are shared too. Many women import their traditional clothings directly from Myanmar for important occasions. The old lady sitting behind was a little confused by our presence but later on she stroked the fabric gently, carefully folded them up piece by piece and put them away.

After we came home from this field trip, I had a long conversation with Liang, talking about our general understanding on conservation, as well as the phenomenons that him and I had observed in the past few days. 

From what I had discovered, in a general picture, a conservation organization’s job is to design structures based on the state of the habitat and analyze the possibilities of each different outcome in the process of conservation. In Ying Jiang, they first came up with assumptions of possible conservation threats (Cao Guo cultivation as one of the many for Tianxing, for example.) Then, with the threats identified, to raise questions like ‘how is cultivating Cao Guo a threat or ‘is the threat coming from the location of the crops or the methods of growing.’ Having these question in mind, the organization then needs a methodological way to find out answers to these questions.

A forest ranger boiling lemongrass tea for everyone in his house

The structure of conservation strategies is like the heart of the project that also has its own fluidity. Designing it should consider not only science (biology, environmental science, microbiology, botany etc) but also sociology, humanity, history, economy, psychology, art and much more. Each action might have multiple potential outcomes that then determines which actions might be better for that specific time and place. It is fascinating to see the factors of certainty and ambivalence, which seemingly are opposite to each other, be synchronized and be harmonious with each other. The push and pull is achieved by a repeated process of raising and resolving questions that derived from a pool of cross-discipline knowledge. 

I couldn’t help but wonder— under the umbrella of conservation strategies, what is the perspective of art? Does art, as a potential element in a conservation plan, only engages at a certain stage of this plan? Or maybe art has the potential to understand the unknown a little more with imagination. And while navigating through a void of incognito future echoing with questions, maybe imagining the beauty of uncertainty and possibility is a piece of gracefulness that art can bring to the table of humanity? 

a very special beetle we came across on a hike


Field trip to Ying Jiang: Immersive study on conservation- Yiyi Wei, BFA Glass, 2019

After I have done some general research on the spectrum of elements involved in conservation, the rest of July proceeded into the next stage of learning: field observation. Through first hand experiences, the goal is to understand more deeply into NGO’s role in conservation. I am learning an organization’s way of gaining information on the species that it is studying and the methods it uses to construct conservation strategies specifically for the area of interest. 

Liang recently had been collaborating with another Chinese local conservation organization Cloud Mountain (Yun Shan), as their conservation expert counselor. 

Cloud Mountain has been working with one critically endangered species called Skywalker hoolock gibbon (Hoolock tianxing).  As one of the few species named by Chinese, its major habitat is situated in western part of China and some part of Myanmar that shares a boarder with China. Yet due to unstable political situation in Myanmar, the status of this species in Myanmar remains unclear. On Chinese side of the boarder, Tianxing is distributed in 17 fragmented forests, with less than 150 individuals left in total (there is a chance that these Tianxing are the only ones left in the world.) For this field trip, we focused on a county called Ying Jiang, where it shares this boarder with Myanmar.

Skywalker hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock tianxing)
photo credit: Cloud Mountain Conservation
Distribution map of Tianxing in China
Photo credit: Cloud Mountain Conservation

This species is named Tianxing because it spends most of its life on top of trees, rarely coming down to the ground. Tianxing’s habitat requires a healthy ecosystem and because of that, it is almost impossible for the animal to be raised in captivity. Therefore, the presence of this species in an area is also a symbol for high biodiversity. 

Ying Jiang county, La Ma He village

For the past many years, Cloud Mountain had been focusing on scientific researches of Tianxing. Around their research base, they familiarized two Tianxing in order to study and observe closely. 

Even though some of Tianxing’s families are surviving in the protected forests, where human disturbances are forbidden by law, many of the families are still active in forests around villages, outside the protected zones. 

Meanwhile, villagers’ lives are also dependent on those forests. With large overlaps with Tianxing’s habitats, a healthy balance of co-existence between human and animal became a major concern for Cloud Mountain Conservation. For this field trip, Cloud Mountain planned for an early-stage, community-based investigation on villager’s and government’s understanding as well as concerns around their shared forests. 

village enclosed by mountains that are Tianxing’s habitat

Between July 15th and 19th, we first went to Bao Shan(city) outside of Ying Jiang and met with  their government’s deputy director of Preservation branch. Then we drove to Ying Jiang county  town, where we also met with Ying Jiang’s deputy director of Preservation (the meeting happened on the very last day). The town acted as a base for us to visit four villages—Jing Po, La Hong, La Ma He and Xiang Bai. These villages are more remotely situated in the mountains, which each required us driving for couple of hours.

In those villages, we first hiked around to check out the habitat and some of Tianxing’s monitoring spots planted by the local forest rangers. (I was very out of shape for those hikes but afterwards, we were usually treated by the villagers with really nice food and very ripened jackfruits.) We then sat around and had conversations with some families all together.

women looking for ripened jackfruit by tapping on each one of them with a stick and judging the sound of it


Research on Landscape and Conservation- Yiyi Wei, BFA Glass, 2019

“When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Aldo Leopold 

A Sand County Almanac 

On July 1st, the first day of my internship, I met with my WCS supervisor Liang in Dali, Yunnan, (an adjacent province to Tibet) where my first part of internship took place. Liang established a plan in the first month, aiming for an immersive understanding of conservation and its systems. In these first 10 days, I was assigned to dive in to books/articles and a presentation, in order to get an overview of wildlife conservation’s broad spectrum. For me, this part of research is constructed on an awareness of ‘Landscape’— its broadness, diversity, inclusiveness and the problems that it’s encountering.

Geographically, Chang Tang is an area covers not only northern part of Tibet, but also western Qinghai Province, and the southern part of Xinjiang. At North, it goes as far as Kunlun mountain range and Kekexili; at East it includes Sanjiangyuan (literally means the source of three rivers, which are Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong.) Water flowing out from this region of Tibetan Plateau goes through China and countries of Southeast Asia, from Myanmar to Vietnam. 

Larger than 270,000 square miles, Chang Tang’s land is like a vessel, encompassing mountains that expand to neighbor countries, glaciers supporting human and wildlife as well as regulating temperature of the area, animals that are migrating or dispersing, and human being, who has been living in some locations for generation after generation. 

Tibet Wild: A Naturalist Journey on the Roof of the World, George B. Schaller

Tibetan’s lives are deeply interlocked with the wildlife and the environment up at the high lands.

Permafrost [rocks and soil that contains ice] determines distribution and quality of pasture, which determines the well being of herbivores like domestic yak and sheep, wild yak, chiru [Tibetan antelope], pika, Marco Polo sheep and more. These animals then affect carnivores such as wolf, Tibetan brown bear, fox, snow leopards and tigers. Glaciers, lakes, mountains and valleys create important habitats for migration and breeding. 

Speaking broadly, pressing problems come from two major perspectives— climate change and human activity. Warmer temperature from climate change, a phenomenon that is responsible globally,  creates negative feedback loops on the environment that supports life, affecting both domestic herds as well as wild animals. Melting glacier increases glacier avalanche that destroys animal habitats, meanwhile causing water level to rise up in lakes, flooding pastures and roads. Retreating glacier also leads to water shortages in villages that are dependent on it as water source. Increasingly warmer winter decreases vegetation’s growing season as well, contributing to pasture/meadow’s degradation. 

Feverish Plateau, the Domino Effect of Climate Change, Xuchang Liang

Human activity on the other hand, such as hunting, mining, increasing population, as well as  constructions like roads, fences and settlements are obstructions among wildlife habitats and migration routes. Developments that help improving the local living standards are crucial, nonetheless sometimes these developments can negatively affect human just as much as wildlife. Decrease in wild herbivores due to human activities mentioned above, results in carnivores preying on domestic herds, which leads to revenge-driven huntings toward carnivores. And this phenomenon is only one of the many. 

Qiagang Co (lake) and a village nearby. The road has already been flooded by the rising water level.
photo credit: Xuchang Liang

Therefore, I think maybe to conserve a species, is to preserve the soil that it’s stepping onto—the same soil that we are also standing on; to vitalize the food that it’s seeking for, and to understand the people whom it’s living with—the people who plays a crucial role in conservation with their behavior and awareness.

Human is an element of an interlocked, interconnected, interactive system that consists of many other elements. While we are affecting non-human entities, the consequences also reflect back to us. The first step to understanding conservation is to discern interconnected elements of the land— from ground to sky, from the disappearing animal to local government politics, from ecology to anthropology.  

Chiru(Tibetan antelope)


Still Going… — Raina Wellman, BFA Graphic Design, 2019

On top of juggling the tail end of my current projects with VIM and the New York Health Department, I’ve continued to work on my research. I’ve recently been particularly focused on methods of presenting my research as well as putting together the book I’ve been working on, “Cultures of Paranoia and Repair: Art History and Pandemic Disease.” I’m interested in the ways in which I can expand the audience of this subject matter and also publish the work and research so that it is free to the public. In terms of publishing methods, I’ve been spending some time looking into and reaching out to (free to access) places/platforms where I can blog/present the material.

I’m really excited and committed to continuing this project as well as learning about new ways that visual communication can contribute to the public health field. I’m hopeful that my project/research can do important work in de-stigmatizing disease as well as showing the important relationship between visual communication, community action, public health, and the government. I want to inspire creative action as well as acknowledge the importance of good visual communication both inside and outside of government public health outreach programs (particularly in response to sticky problems). 

In this blog post I wanted to share some of the images and content I’m working with for my research. It is, of course, still a work in progress. I’ve attached screenshots of some of the intro book spreads below. I’m excited to continue working and expanding upon this project. I know that it will be a passion project for a long time.


Part of my research has focused on the rich collection of Work Projects Administration (WPA) public health posters, primarily regarding syphilis. I wanted to share a little bit about this collection, particularly because it shows an extremely artful (and artist controlled) approach to visual communication of disease supported by the government.

Between 1936 and 1943 the WPA created many public education posters, 907 of which have been archived by the Library of Congress. The New Deal program, which included the WPA, was created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to put millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Many visual artists found employment through the Federal Art Project.

Notably, the New York poster division was led by Richard Floethe, an internationally recognized German-born industrial designer. Floethe was educated by the Bauhaus aesthetic movement and the styles of this movement are evident in many of the WPA posters. Using mediums of poster production including silkscreen, lithograph, and woodcut, artists sponsored by the New Deal in seventeen U.S. states added an interesting artistic touch to public health and public information campaigns.

On the left, a poster by Erik Hans Krause for Rochester NY WPA Project published between 1936 and 1938.
On the right, a poster from the New York WPA, published between 1930 and 1950. 

To conclude my work under the wonderful support of the Maharam Fellowship, I’m sharing part of my (still in progress) book conclusion:

My archive and research proves that public health and graphic design can be influential and beautiful tools, it also shows an inspiring history of community driven action in response to large illness outbreaks. Artists, designers, authors, community organizers, and public health officials must be mindful of their power to advance fear and stigmatization. With proper organization and good intentions, these groups have the power to create positive change in the treatment of illness, in combatting stigmatization, and in advocating for equitable healthcare coverage.

A super scary and stigma-tinged advert created by the Illinois Department of Public Health in 1994. In moments of crises and fear I wonder how this type of subject matter could be best approached? It’s a difficult question…
Remember to get your vaccines for this flu season!
This graphic is depicting a smallpox vaccination (1940).
The Glasgow Corporation tram, which was created as part of the city’s Mass X-ray campaign in 1957. At the time, Glasgow has one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the U.S. The tram is an interesting spectacle as well as an attempt to reach the general public in an alternative way.

I want to extend my gratitude to Maharam for this gift of time and support, to Kevin Jankowski who has been an amazing supervisor, my incredible mentors Katherine Mastrangelo (at VIM) and Vanessa Smith (at the New York Health Department), and Matthew Landrus (for helping me to begin this research and passion project). I look forward to continuing to expand this project and to future opportunities to contribute in the public health profession.


Design Developments for VIM and the New York Health Department—Raina Wellman, BFA Graphic Design, 2019

In addition to my research project (which I wrote about in my last post) I’ve continued to work with Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) and the New York Health Department on visual communications projects.

Invitation option #1

Invitation option #2

Above are two invitation options I created for the annual Founders & Friends Gathering.

I also created these flyers for the clinic’s free series of diabetes classes.

Through the process of creating these graphic materials (as well as time spent in both offices) I’ve been able to learn a great deal about the ways in which their projects and office operations are structured.

Above: Some early drafts of the NYCMAP book.

Above: Further screenshots of development for the NYCMAP book.

I’ve particularly learned a great deal about the New York City Mural Project (NYCMAP), a project which utilizes mural making to start dialogues, reduce stigma, and support local communities. To make the event happen, the NYC Health Department works with community-based organizations, artists, leaders who live with mental health condition/s, and the community surrounding the mural to discuss and organize around mental health and wellness.

The images above are some draft layouts I created for a project I’ve been working on with the New York Department of Mental Health regarding the NYCMAP event series. We are still actively working to create a booklet that can show the impact of the project and also perhaps help others organize events with similar goals/intentions.

Below are a series of posters options I created for them to use for promoting the paint festivals that they organize. I added a little to their brand guidelines, which include certain color combinations, image use restrictions, and the paint swatches.

Above and below are some images of the posters and fliers in use at a community paint fest earlier this summer:

I also got the chance to visit a few of the murals in person. I helped with a quick clean up at one of the Brooklyn schools where they collaborated on a large-scale mural creation.

There are two photos of the school below:

Working at these two organizations has been extremely rewarding. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to be immersed within these two very different health environments and to learn about the ways in which graphic design can serve them and also push the boundaries of what is expected.

While working at the New York Public Health Department I was also able to talk to a great deal of people involved in communicating and working to solve public health issues. It was really valuable and inspiring to see the ways in which they successfully tackle issues that are weighed down by a lot of stigma, particularly (in this case) drug addiction. It was also interesting to see the ways that they currently use graphic design to communicate messages and the flexibility within those visual/written applications. It made me really curious about what types of visual and written communication are most effective when trying to speak to the general public, particularly about public health issues.

I’ve included some examples of the material produced by the New York Health Department (primarily regarding substance abuse and addiction) below. I was particularly impressed that they have decided to take on substance abuse with education in mind. The ways that they approach the subjects are non-judgmental and tend to be really informative. They also produced a series using personal stories and photographs.

I’ll end this post with one more project I worked on! Some coloring book pages for VIM. They are producing them to raise awareness about their work. It was a fun little project and a great opportunity to keep working with them.

This fellowship has given me the opportunity to expand my research and really immerse myself in the public health field. I’ve learned so much about the ways in which the organizations work; from the content they take on to their complicated hiring processes. I feel like my opportunities to contribute and learn have been really successful and I am so appreciative that the Maharam Fellowship was able to support me in taking on these projects.


Sweet Potato Island from Head to Toe| Eden Tai | 2019 PH

Hi! It’s been a bit over a month since my first update. Since then, I have seen so much more of Taiwan!

a map of Taiwan, marked are the main areas we have visited since arriving in Taipei

The more people we meet up with to interview here, the more connections we make to more people and places. We are sometimes receiving more leads than we can keep up with, which is exciting but also exhausting! Many times we are working with people who have tight schedules and long commutes, so there is limited time for setting up a shot and perfecting sound. In the soggy Taiwan heat, it seems cruel to ask our interviewees to turn off their AC units and fans, which presents another hindrance to recording ideal sound. As someone who is not super experienced in documentary work, this is all a very new challenge for me. I am a slow thinker and worker trying to adjust to a very fast-paced mode of operating. However, looking back at the footage and finding the places where people really glow and feel seen through this project makes it so worth it. The more practice I get making footage, the more confident I become, and the better the video turns out.

Currently we have collected hours and hours of footage. Going into this fellowship, Irene and I expected to interview a few people and events which would be edited into a short video. However, as we come to understand how large this tong cao community actually is, we have decided to prioritize gathering footage and interviews during the rest of our time in Taiwan. By the end of December, we will create a short teaser for the project in order to apply for more funding to expand our work.

Working with the Taiwan Tong Cao Association has been an incredibly unique learning experience. Jerry and Kuei Mei have been generous with their time and connections, accompanying us to interviews and sites which often require hours of travel from Taipei. We have been working together to come up with ways to expand the accessibility and knowledge of tong cao. There is so much potential for tong cao as a sustainable material for use in children’s education, product packaging, and DIY culture (very big in Taiwan), to name a few. Kuei Mei’s interdisciplinary approach to building and supporting community is especially inspiring to me. The way she uses her resources, access, and privilege to help people and continue her mission is definitely something I want to apply to my own work. She makes friends wherever she goes, and is always excited to educate new people about our efforts.

This fellowship has given me an experience I could have never imagined in a place I have always dreamed of visiting. To be able to learn about my culture, meet some of my family for the first time, and do work I believe in all at once has been unreal. Scroll down for some stills from our upcoming documentary!

Irene and Youzi, a new friend from Kuei Mei’s neighborhood, discuss Youzi’s work as an employee at a horticulture therapy farm in Taipei
Kuei Mei shows us some of her pith paper flowers
jelly wax being poured into a vase for a pith paper flower arrangement
view from outside a storefront in Yilan, where the daughter in law and wife
of a pith paper flower master meet us for an interview
sleepy early-morning bus ride to an interview
Kuei Mei and Irene prepare lunch before a big day of work