I got the opportunity to meet with THE Wiz Kudowor. I don’t even have the words to capture the greatness and impact of his artistry, but he’s one of the legendary Contemporary Artists to come out of Ghana, West Africa and beyond. Wiz and I met on a Wednesday afternoon in his studio and spent almost 3 hours going over his work, his journey as a contemporary artist, Pan-Africanism and identity through our work/ vice versa. I was literally all smiles through the meeting, so excited to be in the same room as this pioneer in the industry who had so much wisdom to share. We bonded over our shared love for painting as he showed me his various works, our thoughts on some of the newer artists and the amazing work they were doing and how much the Ghanaian art world keeps evolving. Particularly in West Africa, it was interesting to hear how when he was starting off in his career, most of his work was either exhibited in the US, Asia and within the African continent, Nigeria. Focusing on Nigeria in particular, we acknowledged how impressive the Nigerian art culture and appreciation was and still is, to the point where Ghanaian artists were so valued in Nigeria during the earlier days in his career because the Ghanaian art market itself was still growing. Interestingly, to this day Nigerian art markets and culture still continues to evolve so beautifully, and we conversed about how good it is to be seeing some of that energy reflected in the growing Ghanaian art world also.
I think something that really stood out to me during our conversation was how important it was to have representation from curators, dealers, gallerists and even admirers coming from the region (Ghana and West Africa). Conversations about exploitation of local artists and artisans are not had enough. Even with more and more local curators starting shop and setting up their galleries and offices in Accra and other parts of Ghana, there are still some notable Gallerists and galleries that are taking advantage of the “African Art” (a tag we both expressed funny thoughts about haha) excitement in the art world and making more profit than the artists who are underexposed and super excited to share their work. I mean business is business in the industry, but there is also an element of care and hopefulness that comes from curators and dealers of the same culture as the artists wanting to share the works for the passion, sweat, relatability and connection of and to the work. Regardless, I personally am glad to see more galleries like Artists Alliance by Professor Ablade Glover, The Noldor Residency and the woman run ADA Gallery sharing the works of the artists they have in residence while also uplifting their lifestyles and potential! I think this was important to document in my journey because a huge aspect of this project is not only to give a few artisans the opportunity to have access to larger markets through the diaspora and locals. It’s also to highlight how important and beautiful it is to support their work, engage willingly and purely with their talent and stories and to share and love the work because it is a representation and documentation of our collective pasts, presents and future through their talent.
ABURI – JOSHUA OHENE
I also took a trip outside town to the mountains in Aburi because I’d heard a number of artisans usually set up their work stations along the roads. I met one especially cool man, Mr Joshua Ohene, who shared had a variety of works from large scale drums to stools, all carved by him. He is Akuapem, a tribe from the Eastern Region and a lot of his work captures tales and narratives passed on generationally. He actually learnt how to carve from his father! I was intrigued by the process that goes into his carving, from having to get a permit to go into the forest to chop the wood, the process of preparing the wood before its carved to how they now go about deciding what narratives to tell in their work. ‘Struggle Woman’ was one of the works he described to me, where he was capturing the life of many women he saw around him in his community. Carrying her child on her hip and a basket on her head to sell in the market (not with the intention to glamorize her struggle I think, but rather to acknowledge the sacrifice and hard work of a lot of the women in the community, being care takers and bread winners also ). Most of our conversation was in Twi so the direct translations can be interpreted a little differently. I was very drawn to his narratives and work generally, and being one of the first artisans I had to communicate throughout in Twi, it almost felt like I was really just learning from an elder or grandparent about our art culture – more specific to the Akuapem region of course – but it was really cool seeing how narratives that you’d typically hear in our oral histories are being inscribed and detailed into these pieces.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how while I’m learning so much from some of the people and artisans I’m meeting along this journey, it would be interesting to see how their work could be brought together in a space or an event to promote not just their market bases, but the lessons, educating and just warmth and knowledge that comes from encountering these creators and their works. Also, I think moving forward another direction I’d like to take is perhaps meeting with people already doing curatorial work and learning how they not only gather information form their experiences (related to this project), but also how to intentionally create impact through their curating, be it from the artists to spectators/ consumers or just in the work gathered (still figuring out my thoughts on this but basically, some guidance from people already in this line of work or doing similar projects might be really cool in shaping the experience)!
Initially I had wanted to add a study on local architecture in this experience (largely for personal reasons relating to my architecture experience + general growing interest in local architecture). I decided to focus on the artisans and artists this summer, however I still got the opportunity to visit a few sites in the Dodowa area where a lot of building techniques and old buildings have been preserved for some time. I’m glad I got to explore these sites as I got to see how people in the area were. still practicing what i would describe as rammed earth methods of building coupled with the now typical cement support to almost achieve some sort of balance either in starting off to build or in terms of building maintenance. Super cool! Especially seeing how these methods transcended between building home like structures to even cooking ovens and shelters for gardening. I’d love to explore more of that in the future I think.
Stay out of the conversation.
Twenty to forty years ago, speaking of this massacre was not only prohibited but many were also executed for even mentioning it. I’d never heard of the stories as a kid. What I have observed throughout my journey, there was a definite fear of remembering the past. Although it has been thirty-plus years since lifting more than half a century of martial law, terror and miscommunications exist.
“We don’t talk about politics” or “Keep politics out of this” was what I got a lot of times when starting conversations about the massacre.
For one of my past projects with Kiong Seng, we made a poke-a-present game filled with stories of the massacre and had the public interact with it. The game was laid out like the map of Taiwan. We walked out into the streets and invited passersby to participate and “win a prize.” When they poke through the map, they will find stickers and a letter. In the letter, we wrote the stories of the massacre in that region. Then, we encouraged the participant to write their thoughts on a post-it note and cover up the hole they had just made.
The purpose behind the game was not only to spread awareness of this historical event but also to start a conversation. We saw many parents telling their children about this historical event and many elders willing to share their stories with us. However, there were still many that refused to write anything. Some think we were bending the truth, and few told us not to dwell in the past. Despite the mixed results, this activity presents the current situation of transitional justice and remembrance of the massacre.
A pop sound is made when they poke through the map, made of heavy-weighted paper. It is an aggressive and nerve-wracking action of breaking something that looks perfect and well-sealed. Similar to the process of uncovering injustices in the past. The participants read the stories of the past. Some stayed silent while they absorbed the pain in the letters, while others were in awe that they had no idea of a story so close to them. When they choose to write on the post-it note, they are in conversation with the past and themselves. It perpetuates the constant revisions, understanding, and reimagining of history, thereby preserving it. In the end, the map was filled with colorful post-its representing the beauty of diverse opinions and people on this land. Even though some holes are not poked through or covered up, it also shows the continuation of working through and discovering more stories and more conversation.
Keeping the conversation going
For this recent mapping project, I was interested in the act of remembering and memorial. There are many ways to remember a historical event. Though in recent years, the government has made 228, February 28th, a national remembrance day of the massacre, I realized that many still don’t know what that day is for.
I begin by thinking of how to map the act of remembrance. The first thought that came into my mind was the few memorial statues and sculptures in each city. Upon further research, most of these sculptures had misinformation or that it had a lack of maintenance. Conversely, we also have a lot of statues of the past dictator in almost all public schools. This dichotomy of historical sculpture and statue preserving two different ideologies interested me.
I began to invest in different memorial sculptures and designs, trying to understand why people don’t know about them or don’t care. I organized and collected all the other monument places on a spreadsheet. I wanted to apprehend how younger people, like me, think about this issue. Therefore, I planned a road trip, inviting many to join my conversation on the 228 massacre. Many were students like me. Most of them had little to no knowledge of this historical event. I started the road trip by introducing the historical event in the city we were in, encouraging them to ask questions and share their thoughts.
I was really surprised by how a lot of the conversations turned into. One of the participants, whose political stance was more towards the party involved in the massacre revealed that their relatives were political victims. Though they understand the historical trauma, they still believe in their political views. While I traveled to the different cities, telling stories and talking to people, I kept reflecting on the purpose of this trip.
After the conversation – now what?
Why is it essential that we talk about the past?
This is a question I asked all my interviewees and myself.
History is not about the past. It is the present and the future.From the tour guide for GinSan 228
It’s important to talk about it because we can now. Being able to speak freely and have conversations about it, whether pleasant or not, is a privilege.one of the interviewees as we drove through the city of Pingtung
To me, the current conclusion I have, talking about the past, is human nature. We like to remind ourselves of what happened yesterday. When the elders speak about the past, they are not just talking about the horrendous past, but also about their past. The history they lived through. Just like how in some of the historical tours, the purpose was to learn about the city’s past.
Learning about the collective past is a way through personal history. Regardless of what side of the story you are on, active learning and listening are love. Love to the land.
This is similar to those whose loved ones were lost during the massacre. Preserving history was an act of preserving their loved ones. Giving their stories truth was a way that we, who were fortunate to not have to go through the same trauma, can respect their love.
Remembrance of the traumatic past of this land is to remember it was once loved.
Remember the land.
Love the land.
Sidenote: There have been dramatic political changes recently with the visit of US Congress Representative Nancy Pelosi. Broadcasts of China’s aircraft and military drills around the island report non-stop.
Regardless of what happens, life goes on. There will be hope as long as we’re alive.
Unlearning and Relearning Design Pedagogy: Mei Zheng BFA ID 23’ and Carmen Belmonte Sandoval BFA ID 23’
Unlearning and Relearning Design Pedagogy
Mei: Hello, everyone! My name is Mei [they/them]. I’m a rising senior in Industrial Design with double minors in Nature, Culture, Sustainability Studies, and History, Philosophy, and Social Sciences: Scientific Inquiry at the Rhode Island School of Design.
For our Follow the Fellows, my partner, Carmen Belmonte Sandoval, and I will be taking turns each to share our own perspectives throughout this Maharam Fellowship.
Introducing The Pathways Program
This summer, we are working with HYPOTHEkids [a K-12, STEAM-education non-profit located in West Harlem, NYC] and Beam Center [Brooklyn, NYC] teams to redefine design pedagogy through the Biomedical Engineering and Design Thinking lens. In addition, the Pathways Program [a 6-week accelerated program collaboration between HYPOTHEkids, Beam Center, and SolarOne NYC] has already kickstarted and had our 2-week portion for July 5th, where we redesigned educational materials with considerations of students who’ve newly immigrated to the United States and are in the process of getting their GEDs. In this program, we’ve developed a multilingual curriculum to make heart rate monitors through guided activities, presentations, workshops, and celebrations for these hands-on experiences.
As we began our Maharam Fellowship, we centered, firstly, on the experiences of these students through empowerment in understanding the many different ways of communication to inspire co-creation and collaboration.
6/13 – Starting Adjustments, Virtual Programming
For our Maharam Fellowship, we are collaborating with HYPOTHEkids. When we started, the first couple of weeks were mostly us getting adjusted to moving, getting acquainted with learning materials, and meeting our vibrant internship advisor and Bioforce Program Director at HYPOTHEkids, Liv, along with HYPOTHEkids staff members! In this process, both virtual and transitioning to in-person, we understood the limitations of our proposal, which included the engagement of public space [i.e., collaborating with NYC public parks and NYCHA], and that plans do change as time goes on.
During these virtual meetings with Liv, we discussed further the planning of the expected weeks along with the existing Biomedical Engineering Design materials to construct learning lessons to be flexible and interactive. Carmen and I recognized that though these processes are similar, the effectiveness remains in how the content is made accessible in context. The question that came up for both of us was,
- how might we develop these multilingual materials visually to align both content to context? How can we utilize design to inspire joyful and accessible experiences?
Our main goal for this collaboration is to introduce and engage new design thinking tools to inspire hands-on, intergenerational learning amongst all. Even with the change, we noticed that the connections to our initial proposal remained centered with the Pathways Program, as it asks us all [students, educators, facilitators] the question of,
- how do we intend to arrange “with” and not “for” marginalized students to create spaces of empowerment, agency, and accessibility that are expansive?
We are prepared to be flexible as this experience emerges, with pursuing these initial activities and goals as discussed:
- Interacting with staff members [i.e., Curriculum Specialists, Directors, Coordinators, etc.] in re-formulating pilot lessons about STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, and Mathematics] and inviting collaboration between other local non-profit organizations.
- Participating in these workshops’ planning and assembling process and the on-site presence of HYPOTHEkids.
- Researching and assessing successes in the engagement and cost-effectiveness of developing this new intergenerational educational curricula.
- Developing educational and accessible engagement artifacts/skills to continue memorable learning experiences.
Truthfully, we both arrived and started our Maharam Fellowship a bit earlier than most of our cohort in late June and wanted to take some time to sit with and reflect on our insights before we shared them, as these moments are ones to remember.
6/18 – Mei: With my suitcase and duffle bags in hand, traveling by train from Providence, Rhode Island, to New York City, I felt this readiness to undergo a series of transformations and the willingness to “not know.” Such acknowledgment of this gem of “not knowing” was shared through the knowledge of Alexx Temeña, founder of the School of Embodied Praxis, and the 2022 breath fellowship, a virtual eight-week residency collaboration between the School of Embodied Praxis x The Haus of Glitter strengthening the art and practice of care in rest to which I’m so grateful to have been a part of, to recognize that rest practice allows the embodiment of fluidity in design learning, design learning is not linear, hence: to know is to “not know”; to rest is to protest; to learn is to practice. So when I finally found myself in the abundance of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, I knew there was much to learn from my surrounding community and what could emerge from this experience.
Thank you for the warm welcomes from my fellow roommates, Noah [RISD Arch 21’], Marc [RISD Furn 19’], and Sruti [RISD Furn 19’] [always felt your presence here], for creating such a space for slowness and kindness, even when I got the entrance key stuck the first day.
6/20 – Planning In-Person, Seeing HYPOTHEkids
Upon arrival at HYPOTHEkids, it was exciting for us both to see how lesson plans were developed on-site by staff and distributed through assembled kits. In addition, we met Christine Kovich, Executive Director of HYPOTHEkids, and Liv Newkirk, Bioforce Program Director and Internship Advisor, for the first time in person!
We began our mornings brainstorming ideas, writing notes, and sharing feedback through Miro. This helped us construct goals, deliverables, and methods to redesign this curriculum. Within this week, Carmen and I referred to visual learning methods from our past studio experiences at RISD, which inspired us to experiment with programming. Miro helped us define our core questions, to then we were able to prompt conversations that needed to happen about access to equipment, language, and space.
Unlearning and Relearning Design Pedagogy
Mei: This fellowship experience will significantly impact my social practice, as it’ll engage, firstly, why we designers are integral and essential in co-creating these opportunities that offer expansive ways of design thinking. In exploring these vast methods of teaching and learning with the community, I spent these initial weeks reading into and practicing more profound mutual aid and rest. I like to imagine a future where we: the critical experimenters, visionaries, healers, and more [who care and engage in these collaborative settings for equity, liberation, justice, and solidarity] co-creating spaces of mutual aid and solidarity as to accessibility and social justice [refer to Deepa Iyer’s, The Social Change Ecosystem Map, 2018]: co-liberation. In redesigning even this curriculum around materials on Biomedical Engineering Design, that is digestible and slow, we unlearn harm in the ways that design teaches us to move linear/fast, and we relearn that this process is emergent/slow. Celebrating each other through this joy is what I find in a community that holds you and others tenderly.
“If you think that this work is like programming a microwave, where an input leads to immediate output, that’s capitalism speaking.”[Rehearsing Solidarity: Learning from Mutual Aid, 117]
In the upcoming weeks to share, we’ve continued designing the curricula through experiential learning [i.e., by practicing Arduino at Columbia’s Biomedical Engineering Department] and met the creative and passionate students at Beam Center. We also began teaching the first week of the Pathways Program! We continued to follow the goals of accessibility to language and collaboration between all students to offer these many pathways to understanding.
Thank you for finding time to come along with the beginnings of this journey in unlearning and relearning design pedagogy.
Into Their Culture
I was out of quarantine. I was excited since I was finally able to enjoy the other half of my program in person. On the same day, I drove non-stop from Chengdu to Sêrtar County, to find Zhou Ba, the coordinator of LDONGTSOG. Sêrtar County is remotely located on the border of Qinghai Province and Sichuan Province, with an altitude of around 4,100 meters above sea level. However, Sêrtar is still a five-hour drive away from Kehe Village, where the base of LDONGTSOG is.
In the following two weeks, I will be living with Zhou and his family. I will make use of this chance to observe their lives and learn some Tibetan language. Thanks to the seminars I held, I already had a basic understanding of the culture that I was going to enter: their religion, their history, their customs, etc.
On the night that I arrived, I was welcomed with a cleaning ritual by Zhou Ba and his wife Mu.
Tibetans believe the smoke of birth leaves can clean away the dirt.
As a gift of exchange, I brought them the book Everest from the United States. It is illustrated by Lisk Feng, a former professor at RISD.
Two days later, Zhou Ba took me to the Sertar Larung Five Science Buddhist Academy (色达五明佛学院，གསེར་རྟ་བླ་རུང་ལྔ་རིག་ནང་བསྟན་སློབ་གླིང་). The main entrance is closed for outcomers due to COVID, so Zhou Ba guided me to bypass the examination spot by climbing the hill. What an unusual way to greet this splendid architectural complex!
After we climbed over the hill, I saw thousands of red wooden huts packed in the valley. According to unofficial data, the academy grew to 20,000 students, despite the government’s efforts to reduce the number in recent years. I saw Buddhist temples with gilded roofs amidst the red ocean, flashing against the sunshine. Monks and nuns walked about in maroon robes, chattering in Mandarin and Tibetan.
It was only then that I realized when I was visiting the largest Tibetan Buddhist institute in the world.
The Buddhist academy is modernized though. I bought Zhou Ba a cafe chat, and asked him some questions about LDONGTSOG. He shared both his expectations of me and the difficulties that LDONGTSOG has faced. During the conversation, I saw Zhou’s deep compassion on animals and the environment.
I was grateful that Zhou Ba took me to this Buddhist Academy when I first came to Sertar. Because it wasn’t until I visited here that I realized the importance of Tibetan Buddhism to the locals. Only with sincere religious beliefs can Tibetans build a school spanning across the valley in just 40 years.
Suddenly, the argument I mentioned in my last post has its reason: the best way to educate traditional Tibetans about the environment is through religion.
Then Go to Their Nature
One week later, I begged Zhou Ba to take me to the forest at Kehe Village. As Dr. Losang Rabgey, the founder of a Tibetan cultural NGO, advised me, “Your design will be different even if you breathed the air in Tibet.” I wanted to see the vegetation, animals, and cultural life of LDONGTSOG in person.
I met other group members of LDONGTSOG at the village. They took me to the primeval forest. The forest was a place signified by its biodiversity. At the foot of the mountain, it was the typical scene of a temperate monsoon climate. Tall trees and wild strawberries were visible. The landscape transformed into rocks and grass resembling those on a plateau as we ascended the mountain. At the top, we held a worship ritual for the mountain god Dongge. Zhou Ba said it always rained after the ritual was performed.
At night, I saw the most brilliant starry night I have ever seen in China. I used to believe that city pollution had caused the stars to fade, but now I see that they still shine where there is nature. Protecting this pristine region from the consequences of human civilization became spontaneous for me.
LDONGTSOG is going to host an eco-trip in August. I intend to write some instructions for the tourists coming to Kehe. Additionally, I will design pamphlets and maps that tell the story of LDONGTSOG. I am driven to use my writing and design so that visitors to Kehe will value the local nature and culture just as much as I do.
Physical Connections and Developments — Lucia Li, BFA ID ’24
I’ve settled into a comfortable rhythm between the two different sides of my work with Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ), and have been able to exercise some familiar designer muscles while also pushing myself to experiment with designing for education, outreach, and advocacy. So far, I’ve worked to develop digital materials for organizational development to bolster and consolidate LEJ’s public image. Also, I’ve continued to commute in person to southeast San Francisco to tag along with some of the programming that LEJ hosts for their resident “Eco-Apprentices,” a workforce-development program that trains young adults for future green careers.
As I learned more about LEJ and its operations, I started consolidating this knowledge into physical products to help with outreach for their programs. This was something we had discussed from the beginning — my directors were incredibly excited to have physical materials that they could use while tabling at community events or when networking with SFUSD school teachers and administration. The first of these materials is a simple brochure that highlights some of the environmental education opportunities LEJ offers for inner-city youth, for whom the chance to recreate in nature is a rare treat. By bringing these programs into a physical, visual and easily-accessible medium, I hope to help bridge the technological gaps present in the local community and bring opportunities to access green space to more local youths.
Additionally, I recently worked alongside both LEJ and representatives from CA State Parks to help bring a several-year-ongoing interpretive board project to a close. The boards will highlight green infrastructure in the community garden and provide enduring information about LEJ — a part of a new stage of revitalization to Candlestick Point after closures and roadblocks that had been inflicted by the pandemic. If all proceeds according to plan, the boards should be installed by the end of August, and hopefully I’ll be able to see them before returning to RISD in the fall.
I briefly mentioned the Eco-Apprentice program before, but to elaborate: the EAs learn a wide variety of workforce-development skills to prepare them for future careers in education, advocacy, and stewardship. Among other things they conduct field experiments at sites of environmental and historical note, restore native coastal wetland habitat, and lead interpretive nature programming — all brought together by immersive, collaborative programs with other community organizations and the youth they serve. Over the summer, I’ve grown quite close to, and have learned so much from this cohort of Eco-Apprentices — and am so grateful for all the wonderful experiences and knowledge they’ve shared with me.
Throughout a lot of this process as I’ve been thinking about the outreach side of my work, a similar theme has come up again and again — access.
When speaking with LEJ’s executive director Dr. Hollis Pierce-Jenkins, she mentioned that an issue she’s noticed when working to expand LEJ’s outreach efforts is that a lot of the lower-income, BIPOC members of the local Bayview Hunters Point community are very “old school” — relying largely on word of mouth and physical notices to communicate about community happenings. In an era where social media marketing is king and in person events of all sorts have been so heavily impacted by COVID-19, how do you appeal to both young people interested in environmental issues but also the local community with limited tech access? Even broader, who is your target audience — tech-savvy young people who might be from the broader SF community, or the people right next door? LEJ has grappled with this conflict for quite some time, Dr. Hollis said to me, especially when trying to draw in more involvement from the latter group of people. As such, I had to pivot to focus a lot more on analog — paper materials and connecting face-to-face — at community events.
For the past two weeks, alongside continuing to make the website and mapping the historical event, I have been interviewing people who have previously worked with the organization with walking tours about the massacre. Due to geographical constraints and timing, some were online, and some were in-person.
The purpose behind these interviews was to gain an insight into how these researchers and tour guides organize and develop the route. In addition, I want to hear their thoughts on this issue. They are the medium for us to look into the past.
I was fortunate to participate in the walking tours for some of the lecturers I’m interviewing. Learning history by foot was a different experience than in the books. This experience inspired me to create this project where I interviewed these tour guides. At first, they were hesitant about why I would be interested in their story. They have always been the ones telling others people’s stories. I explained that I feel the stories being passed down might encounter alteration due to the people telling the story. I want to know their thoughts and why they are passionate about the issue. Their story is very much part of the narrative of historical memorization than the stories of victims or their descendants.
Walking tours, I believe, are very much a process of mapping. And active mapping where visitors and audience are forced to be in the landscape while imagining the past. While these routes are carefully designed considering time, geographical constraints, and storytelling, every tour is unique due to the people participating, the weather, and other unforeseeable circumstances. It is a device to the past through the people telling the story. It is also a pathway of the present.
The main thing I have taken away from these interviews is that knowing the history of the massacre is only part of these walking tours. The core purpose is to learn the city’s history. In the process of knowing where you are from, telling the story of the massacre is inevitable. Due to the nature of this historical event, the accounts of the massacre are embedded in the bricks of architecture, roads, and waterways.
For example, in one city, Tam Sui, the tour guide I interviewed, said that she didn’t care about this part of the history until her late 40s (she is now in her 60s). When she was little, she would hear from the elders that the Tam Sui River was once dyed red with blood. Ports were places one should not go, for many spirits resided there in the past. She didn’t believe what the elders said. “How is it possible that the whole river was dyed of blood? That is impossible!” It was not until she started reading more about the city’s history that she connected what her elders told her and what was documented. The port, they said, was a place where all those captured in the name of treason were excuted. Hundreds were killed, thrown into the river, reding the river with terror.
Emotionally, it was hard to process all these stories. Older generations I’ve interviewed were much more emotional and passionate about the issue. They were closer to this part of history. All of them heard stories from elders, and the terror of knowing became a passion for sharing. When I asked why it is essential to learn about the massacre and continue advocating on this issue, they said it was for the truth to be seen.
“When I was talking to the descendants of victims, they don’t want the compensation or reparation. They just want to know why. “Why was my father taken one night and never came back? “
In a text chain I had with the historian, he said,
“We must not give up the pursuit of the truth in history. The connection and emotions through the process are personal, humanitarian, and societal.”
“This is very true. Thank you so much for what you are doing. 228 is about the history of the land, but it is also the scar and pain of the land.”張文義 (Writer of Kavalan 228, oral history historian of Kavalan region, tour guide of 2022 Kavalan tour)
I am very grateful that I have this opportunity to keep their story alive.
Younger generations, like me, had little understanding of this issue until we were much older (high school or university). Most of them are passionate about this issue not because of pain but because of the unjust. There is a diaspora of identity due to the change in education. We were not taught much about the massacre in our educational system, and most of us are fortunate not to be related directly to this massacre.
When asked the same question, “Why is it important that we, the younger generation, remember and learn about this part of history?”
One answered, “It’s about justice. Why is it that the descendent of one of the generals in charge of the massacre in Kaoshiung was able to be a famous architect and have something out of him? At the same time, the descendants of the victims suffer mental disorders and societal trauma?”
Another thinks that knowing the history of your city, country, and land is important because it ties to other social justice issues such as human rights, environmental, and other political issues.
It was fascinating hearing from both sides of the generation. I started with this project wanting to know the thought process of organizing walking tours and the opinions of these historians and tour guides. I ended up with a more in-depth understanding of the gap between generations and the importance of this issue. For the older generations passionate about this issue, it is a matter of survival. Talking about this puts a light on this part of the history that is vanishing.
It is to keep this story alive, for these stories die with them.
On the other hand, for the younger generation, it is a choice. It is a choice of personal growth in learning about your history. It is recommended to choose to recognize the land and care about this humanitarian issue.
“Ms. Hung, this is a very traumatizing story for me. If it were twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have accepted your interview request.”
For me, I’m touched by their love for the land. It was hard emotionally to hear such a traumatic story. Like a boulder in my heart, I often feel unbearable emotionally. Sadness is inevitable in this process.
In the kitchen of one of the organization’s members, I sat and had a touching conversation with Araminta McIntosh, a long-time associate of the Liberian Community Association of Rhode Island. We dove into her experience fleeing Liberia to the United States and her journey to becoming a citizen. Then we touched on her narrative of being a Liberian immigrant in the ’70-the ’80s in Providence. In this 10-minute clip, the abundance of information is dense, poetic, and heart-warmly yet unimaginable.
I was shocked to learn how distant our narratives were due to the big gap between my experience and hers in Providence. What staggered me in our conversation was her struggles of working tirelessly in jewelry factories in Oneyville. She was making little to no wages and hiding from the “Grey Suit Boys,”; who were immigration officers disguised in suits looking to find undocumented immigrants working and imprison them for working undocumented. At that moment, all I can imagine is the constant fear and anxiety that encaged in Liberian immigrants’ souls at the time, who yearned for a better life for themselves in this foreign place. Also, I ponder the nervousness of using another person’s name to find a job, and manipulation of employers taking advantage of immigrants for their own profitable gain.
Nevertheless, I can envision how potent and fearless Araminta remained in those times and while filing for her citizenship. The politics and atmosphere during those times were remarkably distinct in how things operated, and how long until you received status did not matter to her as long as she was a citizen. These conversations remind me of how critical being engaged in America is; citizenship doesn’t just involve the ‘others’ in politics; instead, it opens up the room for financial freedom and better job opportunities and protects people from being deported.
The following conversation I had was with Emmanuel Nyema, a humorous, charismatic fellow. Before the camera was on, we had a compelling debate on the pros and cons of being here (United States) rather than in Liberia and the improvements that are happening back home in Liberia. That little moment taught me about the current political environment of Liberia and how certain things are distant and similar to America. As we got into the conversation of his narrative, I was intrigued by his demeanor and eagerness. He was coming to a new world and had an abundance of expectations of how things would be. However, even with preparation, things still surprised him upon his arrival, from the foods he ate to the site of rapid homelessness in his new environment. This is prevalent in the Liberian culture back in Liberia, which they expect America to be the holy grail. But unfortunately, as I realize from Emmanuel, it is not. Only those who have been here and experienced America can understand this misconception.
I found it interesting how influential the church is; Emmanuel’s fare to come to America was funded by his church, which, even though he never paid it back in total, oriented me about how the church took care of those in the congregation and the significance of community. It also highlights the church’s culture as a symbol of personal development. Another thing was his eagerness to become a citizen to participate in voting, and have his voice heard on policies and things he feels need to be changed in his community and state.
A trend I noticed quickly from multiple conversations with the Liberian organization members was how factory employment was the cornerstone of opportunity for refugees from Liberia upon arrival. However, it was not the best in terms of conditions and well-being. These stories exhibited the intersections of an outsider effect and the hope of a better future.
July 26 is a momentous day for the organization and me, this year it is Liberia’s 175th celebration of being independent as a country. A few weeks after we had recorded these intimate videos of their experiences, we wanted a way we could connect these rich stories with the community we are all part of. We concluded that one way would be to spread these videos across the organization’s Facebook page to spread these narratives wide as they may touch, engage and bring back memories to other Liberians within the community. We uncover that stories of Liberian life are a form of normalizing and enhancing the experiences we all share as Liberians. Given that within Liberian culture, these things may not even be expressed or talked about often. So we posted these videos on the page and had the community react and give feedback on their migration story.
Another thing we did was showcase a preview of the videos at an event they throw every year celebrating Liberia’s independence and showcasing how the organization has been involved in the community, its projects, and new endeavors in motion. These videos were depicted, and the community and Rhode Island residents who support the Liberian community got to see a different side of us. At this moment, I was astonished at how much involvement this organization has been within my community. They showed the ways they have given back and shown cultural pride while creating ways of enhancing opportunities for all Liberians in Providence.
Week 2-4: hosting online seminars
This summer, I am exploring different innovative techniques to help sustain a grassroot Sino-Tibetan environmental group, LDONGTSOG, located in Kehe village, Sichuan. Public education is one of my main focuses.
I once asked a volunteer from LDONGTSOG for her advice on entering the Tibetan community. She answered, acknowledging two different cultures and keeping your gesture low are the key. Keeping the gestures low, I invite you, dear audience, to do the same with me. To set aside all existing judgments, because “environmental protection,” “Tibetans,” “indigenous people,” and “nonprofits’’… these concepts are not equivalent in PCR discourses as they are in the US.
Towards the end of the Spring semester, I attended a dinner at RISD to discuss community engagement. At dinner, one of the students talked about her idea when one enters a community that he or she is not familiar with. That is not doing “research for them” but doing “research with them“. Following that, I contemplated the implications.
To “research with them” means making it clear to my research subjects that the research will have an impact on both sides, rather than hiding my purpose from the subjects. Taking this notion in mind, I came up with the idea of holding a public online seminar targeted at Chinese youth. This seminar fulfills two purposes: 1. For the Sino-Tibetan community, it is to highlight the efforts of Tibetans (such as LDONGTSOG), who have always been underrepresented in the mainstream, creating a shared space to help people understand them; 2. For me, as the researcher, it is to widen my research scope and to learn more about their culture.
Seminar as Method
From July 10th-July 24th, I have been hosting public online seminars related to the Tibetan environment and its cultural heritage. My guest speakers include normal travelers, environmentalists, anthropologists, artists, and educators. My starting point was intuitive and simple: to let more people know about the Sichuan-Tibetan nature and culture, represented by LDONGTSOG, the organization I am helping. Nevertheless, the seminar has been developed to a level that I never imagined before. I personally gained friendship and trust through the seminars. And new ideas burst out of the process.
I became the host, the organizer, the communicator, and the designer of my seminars, which left me a ton of work. Thankfully, I have found three other friends who are willing to collaborate and help. We all share the same interest in Chinese ethnic knowledge and mythology. They are: Yiwei Chen (INTAR ‘22), Chenxi Wang (Ceramics ‘23), and Yiqing Lei (Sculpture ‘23). They helped me organize meeting notes and host the panels.
It is through hosting seminars did I realize that it can be an anthropological research method. I titled it, “Seminar as Method”. This notion is borrowed from Xiang Biao （向飙）, the Chinese academic celebrity in social anthropology. He published a book called Self as Method in 2020, and tells Chinese youths “to think for themselves and through their own experiences in making sense of the contradictions around them” as if doing scholarly research1. Xiang’s idea inspired me to look at the medium of online seminars, which grew popular thanks to covid. The online seminar has become a medium for me to approach and observe my research subject.
I have found seminars a way to bond communities together, which suits the principle of “Research with them”. On the one hand, holding seminars spreads the influence of my guest speakers, who share an affinity with the Tibetan community in China. On the other hand, hosting seminars forces me to absorb knowledge in a short amount of time. By hosting the first two events (the last seminar will be happening soon), I felt such a sense of satisfaction by doing things for the Tibetan group. Also, I gained general trust from the Sino-Tibetan community and made new friends, since they saw my efforts and respect for their culture.
Holding seminars is different from holding personal interviews. In one-on-one interviews, I post questions for myself, and the only audience at that moment is the interviewer. By contrast, the seminar is a performance for the audience, and I play the role of the host. In this case, I do not ask questions for myself but for the audience. Thus, the seminar has created a safe space to ask critical questions that seem embarrassing to post during interviews. The guest speakers answer questions in a more articulate and informative way. Besides, I can ask guest speakers to make in-depth presentations for the audience, which will be hard to request in one-on-one interviews.
It is through these seminars that I gained a deeper understanding of not only LDONGTSOG, but also the relationship between nature and the culture in Tibet.
Takeaways from the First Two Seminars:
the Twinning Relationship between Nature and Culture
As I mentioned before, it is through my seminars that I understand what LDONGTSOG(玛荣峒格) really is. LDONGTSOG is a grassroots organization located in Kehe Village (柯河村). Kehe(柯河) is the name given by the PCR after the cultural revolution. However, all elderly Tibetans refer to it as Dmar-rong (玛荣, དམར་རོང་), which is where the first two characters of its name, LDONGTSOG, originate. Dmar-rong is its own center, its own world before it is called Kehe Village. Dmar-rong’s relatively remote location has allowed Bon (བོན), the indegenous Tibetan religion, to grow there.
In my opinion, Dmar-rong has one of the most breath-taking natural views. However, this hidden gem is under threat at any time. The government is building a new road, which produces slope debris flow. Debris flow reflects the surface problems; the disease of local animals reveals the rooted illness in the environment. This results in Zhou Ba, the founder of LDONGTSOG, approaching the moss disease of local animals. The approaches that LDONGTSOG took include making documentaries, building the botanical garden, and educating local citizens.
During the seminars, I asked Zhou Ba, “Why do you focus on cultural protection if LDONGTSOG is an environmental protection organization?”. Then I realized that the traditional Tibetan culture provides a deep insight into how humans interact with nature. In fact, the most efficient way to educate environmental protection in Tibet is not through scientific data but through lamas’ lectures2. It is the religion that supports Tibetan environmentalists like Zhou Ba to insist on their causes.
In my first seminar, I interviewed a Chinese theater student as well as an avid hiker called Zhuo Xue. Xue has been teaching Shakespeare in China since he graduated from Oberlin College. He attempted to combine culture with nature. In 2019, he has organized a hiking event in Yunnan Tibet with Chaofan Han. They hiked in the daytime and read Shakespeare in the evening. After that, he entered Tibet several times, and he was mentally surprised by the Tibetan worshippers along the way.
Xue argued in his lecture that Tibet is one of his favorite sites so far. Unlike the modern-day practice that separates nature from society manually, the nature in Tibet is its culture. Sacred mountain gods live in the caves and on the cliffs. Because of the belief, the Tibetans put prayer flags in even the most dangerous spots in the yard, summoning their respects to their nature gods. Xue’s lecture showed that living in harmony with nature has been an integral part of Tibetan Buddhism. The present-day global concerns for sustainable development and conservation of natural resources are suggested by traditional values in Tibet.
Thanks to the first two lectures, I decided to look into the traditional values and practices of Kehe Tibetans. Because culture plays a big supporting role in Tibetan environmental protection. A path to civic engagement is opening up in front of me…
- David Ownby, Xiang Biao, Excerpts from Self as Method, Reading the China Dream. https://www.readingthechinadream.com/xiang-biao-excerpts-from-self-as-method.html#:~:text=Self%20as%20Method%20essentially%20tells,how%20one%20scholar%20did%20so.
- See 《守山：我与白马雪山的三十五年》, 肖林 & 王蕾, 北京联合出版公司, 2019。 Xiao, Lin & Wang, Lei. Guarding the Mountain: My thirty-five years with Baima Snow Mountain. Beijing United Publishing Company, 2019. Xiao is one of the first environmentalists in China. In this book, he demonstrates his life-long practices of environmental education as a Tibetan.
- S.M. Nair, Cultural Traditions of Nature Consevation in India, http://ccrtindia.gov.in/readingroom/nscd/ch/ch11.php
Navigating Urban narratives and Green alternatives, Ruth Wondimu, MARCH, 2023
Hello everyone! I would like to start this blog by stating that the journey so far has been an insightful and wonderful experience. Having been away from Ethiopia for almost four years, I knew that there has been so much change in the social and economical fabric of Addis Ababa, the city I grew up in. Therefore, I knew that going back to Addis Ababa to work on a sustainability project required learning about the various architectural, environmental, political, real-estate, and other groups who have been actively working here. Although one of my main objectives with this project was to create or develop the awareness behind the green industry and sustainability topics, making sure that I don’t go into this project with assumptions was very important to me.
My first two weeks in Addis Ababa had been a time of forming relationships and learning about what already exists. Addis Ababa being the capital city of Ethiopia as well as the headquarters of the African Union, is one of the oldest and biggest growing cities. I was startled by how fast the city had grown even since my last time here. With a change of government back in 2018, the new administration has shown a more significant interest in urban development specifically within the green industry. Therefore, the city has shown a greater number of architectural projects with green certifications such as LEED.
Sustainability being a very wide topic, I looked through various topics of development. At an urban scale, I noticed that there are common issues such as clean water shortage, frequent power outage, and inefficient waste control systems: all topics that are highly relevant to sustainability. Therefore, identifying a specific topic and scale was very important to me.
During a team meeting, I was able to sit down and explain my process within these early stages. Even before coming to Ethiopia, we had discussed the best ways of cultivating a shared sense of awareness through a discussion in the form of a panel. That only solidified as I continued to learn about the different groups of professionals and inhabitants within the city. Therefore, my first written task was to write up a panel proposal under the title “Navigating urban Narratives and Green Alternatives” with a specific focus on the building scale. Our ideal panelists are a list of architects, urban developers, real-estate owners, lecturers, construction workers, and a community member. The panel will be in person with a diverse set of attendees. We are planning on having it taped and hopefully streamed in some of the national tv stations.
In the next few weeks, my first goal is to finalize the content, scope, location, and marketing of the panel. Alongside the work on the panel, I will be working on developing content on green architecture that will be mainly used on the website and social media platforms. I invite you to follow me on this journey as I plan to share my development through a series of posts on this channel.
A GUIDE – FRED OKO
The past few weeks have been nothing short of nourishing – this is me trying not to repeat the word wholesome, but honestly nothing else can describe my experience so far. I started my journey slightly earlier than my comrades (Fellows) as I got to Ghana shortly after the school semester ended, deciding to do some exploring of my own before my internship officially started. My dad being extremely excited about my proposal, as someone also passionate about local artistry especially in the wood and metal industries, connected me with one of his classmates Fred Oko Mate.
Fred has been an artist for as long as he can remember. He is actually a sculptor, with his works ranging from large sculptures to miniature carvings on wooden canvases he’d create. I met with Fred on a Thursday morning at his home studio where he had some of his works up on display. We spoke about his journey as a sculptor in Ghana from his education to his establishing himself as a sculptor, his market base and the community of artists and artisans he engages with.
Prior to starting this experience, I had specific questions about the local artisan community in Accra ranging from the impact of their individual cultures (per tribes or ethnic groups) on their work if applicable, support of their respective crafts both from locals and the diaspora, the government or even expatriates and tourists, how they navigate the industry and if there’s a network or association that some of these artisans connect through. When speaking to Fred, a lot of my questions were naturally answered in our conversation. Interestingly his work is largely supported, not surprisingly by the Lebanese community in Ghana as we both acknowledged how investing in art or supporting artists and artisans financially is still a culture more and more Ghanaians from the older and now more, younger Ghanaian are warming up to. A large group of his market also are in the diaspora interestingly! More so the middle aged to older diaspora, among also certain ministries in the government, hotels, restaurants and banks. We conversed about the value of his work, the accessibility it sort of opened him up to market-wise and the legacy he is leaving. He actually trains younger sculptors and his son works alongside him also, establishing his own crowd of supporters and patrons! I could go on and on about my time with Fred, but my biggest take aways from this meeting was how he urged me to continue engaging more with local artists and artisans, even giving me contacts of fellow artists and crafts workers in his network to connect with. Engaging with him was truly a blessing! He was so passionate about his work, and learning how he was encouraged by his family to pursue his craft, while also passing it along to his son was even more heart warming. We spent almost 4 hours engaging and I’m dedicating so much of this first blog to my encounter with him because so far it has been super helpful and resourceful in shaping my experience!
Shortly after meeting with Fred, I officially started my internship on the 12th of June. I met with my direct supervisor and the head of the Diaspora Affairs Office. We discussed how we would be working together officially and be of best service to each other during the journey. I shared some of my insights from my meeting with Fred, alongside running some ideas I had following my first engagement experience and we had a fruitful conversation as they also shared some ideas also concerning how we would be working together from adding to their database, getting familiar with the office and meeting other members of the team officially. Since then, I have been working closely with my supervisor, updating him on some of engagements while also figuring out our database and how we will be proceeding with that, one of the most important parts of the project.
JOURNEY SO FAR
I’ve crossed paths with a number of artisans, some who I met randomly by passing by their shops and others through word of mouth or recommendations. “Crossed Paths” because we’ve mostly just been in contact, setting and scheduling times where we can meet to engage properly. With the rainy season, a few arrangements have had to be rescheduled among personal scheduling differences on both ends. I’d say between the weather and personally getting Covid for a bit, there’ve been slight delays in my engagements. However I was able to connect with a few people still, especially two other amazing artisans – one I was connected with through Fred and another I actually met 2 years ago and have been able to reconnect with!
I was given Happy’s contact through Fred, and when we scheduled a meeting for me to visit his studio, it turns out I’d actually already visited his workspace with my cousin two years before when she was looking for some ceramics. Happy shared his ceramic journey with me, also encouraged by family to go into this trade. I was glad to hear how although his support started of largely from non – Ghanaian support, more recently a lot of local and diasporic Ghanaians have actually been engaging with his work. He was excited to connect with me, clearly passionate about his work and the opportunities and impact that would come out of being included in the office’s database. This was a very heart warming connection for me because he confirmed how necessary this process is, connecting with artists and artisans, sharing their work and pushing support is. We spent another afternoon with his son and they gave me a pottery class (a service he also provides aside making Ceramics with his wife). As we were working together, we spoke more about how he actually wanted to be an architect but fell in love with ceramics in university, the impact of first 9/11 and then Covid on his business, his personal influences in his work and how he went from partnering with a group of ceramists under the renowned Unique Ceramics group and branching out to managing it on his own. He’s super cool!
Patrick and I had to connect over the phone because he had a number of orders he was working on, and he lives outside the city so meeting in person hasn’t been possible so far. I’m mostly documenting my interaction with him because he was actually one of the people who inspired my interests in engaging and learning more about and from local artisans. I met him once in traffic, he was selling bags he’d woven and they literally caught my attention, I had to buy one on the spot because I had never seen anything so exquisite. We had been in touch since then but business was pretty slow for him. Although we haven’t been able to meet in person since, I’m glad his work has gathered such large orders for him in this period ( to the point where he hasn’t been in the city in weeks because he’s been over booked)! He shared how he’s been getting a lot of local support recently, and we talked over the potential of him being a direct contact for diaspora and local interested in his work which he thought would be amazing! He currently has a few people working with him, whereas when I first encountered him 2 years ago he was working alone. He is self taught, making these bags he shared with me from his personal influences and inspiration from his akan background. I personally have one of his works and I was so drawn to it because his bags are so authentic to his style, something I’d almost describe as an Afro-modern take to oversized multi purpose bags. I’m excited for the potential being connected to more people through this experience could have for him!