Muse/News: Ceramics Competition, Black History, and Ai’s Memory

SAM News

“Celebrates everything that goes into the work of the performance artist”: For Observer, Dan Duray features Anida Yoeu Ali: Hybrid Skin, Mythical Presence, now on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

On Seattle Met’s list of “Things to Do in Seattle”: Last week’s Saturday University on February 10, which features a lecture and performance exploring the transmission of spiritual knowledge, or ilmu, in East Javanese performing arts.  

Local News

Seattle Refined interviews Aaron Murray for their “artist of the week” series. You can see some of his clay creations at SAM Shop. 

“Otherworldly landscapes and an upside-down volcano”: Another excellent round-up of arts happenings from Crosscut’s Brangien Davis. 

Thanks to Jas Keimig for this “Event Guide to Black History Month 2024” from South Seattle Emerald. Mark your calendars!

“It’s February, which means it’s time to highlight and uplift the rich history, culture, and traditions of Black people in the United States. We even have one extra day this year (Feb. 29, it’s a Leap Year!), which means you have ample time to make your plans…”

Inter/National News

Karen Ho for ARTnews reports on the arrival of “The Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down,” a new reality competition television show for ceramics on CBC guest-judged by actor Seth Rogen. The article mentions another judge, ceramicist Brendan Tang, whose work is in SAM’s collection and on view now in Chronicles of a Global East.

Via Min Chen for Artnet: “Airplane Mode: 7 Artists Who Were Nerds for Aviation.” Yep, Alexander Calder is on the list for his moving sculpture at JFK Airport and his designs for jets.

Jonathan Landreth for the New York Times interviews Ai Weiwei about Zodiac, the artist’s new “graphic memoir.” 

“The idea was to gather things from my memory, like a timeline, and offer mystical stories from China’s past. I explained it as a mix of memory and mythology.”

And Finally

Let’s “watch this” again.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Jo Cosme.

Professor Christina Sunardi on the Spiritual Knowledge of East Javanese Performing Arts

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics on Asian art and culture across time. On Saturday, February 10, Christina Sunardi, Associate Professor in the School of Music at the University of Washington and Chair of the Department of Dance, will explore the spiritual knowledge, or ilmu, that performers imparted on her while conducting fieldwork on gamelan music and dance in Malang, east Java from 2005–2007. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Sunardi about what visitors can expect to learn about in her upcoming talk, her travels in Malang, and the raw, emotional power of the performing arts.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

CHRISTINA SUNARDI: I will present some of my research on ilmu (spiritual knowledge) that performers imparted and encouraged me to obtain while I conducted fieldwork on gamelan music and dance in Malang, east Java from 2005–2007 and subsequent visits. I intend to analyze the importance performers placed on ilmu as substantive, embodiable knowledge, often secret and esoteric, which can be physically transferred from one being to another, or from an object, and which provides the ability to do something remarkable or remarkably well, including performing music, dance, and theater. I will contend that through their ilmu-related beliefs, practices, and verbal discourse, Malang performers were maintaining and producing local systems of knowledge, transmission, and competence. I am also so excited to be partnering with master gamelan musician and puppeteer Ki Midiyanto as he demonstrates how one of the instruments from the gamelan ensemble is played throughout my presentation. We’ll also allow plenty of time for questions from the audience!

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

CS: Although it’s hard to choose just one, one experience that may be of interest is the ceremony that my first dance teacher in Malang facilitated to ensure that my studies of gamelan, dance, and the Javanese language would go smoothly. I now understand this ceremony as him preparing me to receive ilmu. I remember feeling a tingling sensation on the back of my neck during the ceremony. Maybe it was the smell of the burning incense cubes, or that I was moved by my teacher’s wish for me to succeed, or maybe it was both—I haven’t totally sorted all of that out yet.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

CS: Ooh! I really love this 19th-century Wayang Topeng Mask. I had the opportunity to study masked dance while in Malang and it is such a beautiful, entrancing form. I love how the individual dancer sort of disappears into the character and how the dancers can make their masks come to life. ilmu can certainly be involved with this, as I will speak about in my presentation!

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

CS: Thank you so much for inviting me and thank you so much to those who are interested in attending. It is always such an honor to be able to share my research and to share what I have learned from the artists I was fortunate enough to study with during my fieldwork.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

CS: I hope this is not too bold, but my book, Stunning Males and Powerful Females: Gender and Tradition in East Javanese Dance (University of Illinois Press, 2015), may be of interest.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Steve Corn & Christina Sunardi.

Curator Yayoi Shinoda on the Traditional Japanese Art of Mended Ceramics

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at the Seattle Art Museum. On Saturday, January 13, Yayoi Shinoda, Assistant Curator of Japanese Art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art will offer a discussion on the Japanese tradition of mending damaged ceramics to bring them renewed life. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Shinoda about what visitors can expect to learn about in her upcoming talk, how her research on mended ceramics began, and the intimacy of this time-honored practice.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

YAYOI SHINODA: My presentation will focus on the practice of mending ceramics in Japan’s Edo period (1615–1868). The ceramics I highlight were used in tea practice and cherished by their owners, and their restored bodies embody the care they received. Some repairs were made visible intentionally—with some including gold embellishments—that bestowed a new a significance to the original ceramic work. Today, this practice of visible mending is fondly called kintsugi, and has garnered the attention of scholars from a variety of specialties, including psychologists.

My research on this topic began several years ago when I wrote a term paper for a seminar I took at the University of Kansas. The course focused on the transcultural exchanges between Korea and Japan from ancient times to today. One of the areas I love to research is ceramics, so I decided to study a 16th-century Korean bowl that became a tea bowl in Japan. The large bowl is made of a porous, soft porcelain and features a dramatic repair of golden filling along its body. It is such a fascinating work and I knew I had to learn more about it. I had many questions: What is up with this dramatic change? Why and how did that happen? Are there more examples like this? When did this kind of mending begin? After that semester, I continued to study that bowl and others like it. Eventually, Dr. Halle O’Neal invited me to dive into the topic further. My presentation at this January’s Saturday University will be based on my scholarly article on mended ceramics that was published last year.

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

YS: My research journey took place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I could not travel anywhere, not even locally. However, the Nelson-Atkins collection has some ceramics with visible mends, so I was able to study them. Also, thanks to the dedicated librarians, museum colleagues, and other professionals throughout the US and Japan, I was able to access resources remotely. I was fortunate to meet lacquer artists such as Naoko Fukumaru in Vancouver, BC and Gen Saratani in New York via Zoom. And I hope to visit them soon now that we are back to traveling more. Their insights were critical for me in thinking through the meanings of different repair methods and philosophies.    

In assessing the Nelson-Atkins’s collection of mended ceramics side-by-side, I found myself considering the intimate connection shared between the tea bowls and their owners, whose names may be known or unknown to us today. The works also display the owners’ taste and sensibility, which likely guided the mending technique and material choice. Another issue that emerged during my research was how little we know about the people who mended these works or when they underwent their bodily change. Although I intend to introduce a few examples of recovery stories in my lecture, many tea ceramics’ physical transformation processes are unrecorded. This is the focus of my ongoing research and may require me to travel in the coming months. Looking to the future, I would also love to learn more about how tea practitioners in the Edo period used the ceramics they had mended.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

YS: There are three objects in SAM’s collection that pique my interest. One is Tea Powder Container from the Edo period. The bags made of exquisite textiles speak to the immense significance the owner placed on the container, which is important in thinking about human-object relationships. The second example I love is this beautiful Tea Bowl (“Fuji”) by Ryōnyū (Raku IX; Japanese, 1756–1834). The area in which the glazed and unglazed segments meet creates a striking landscape that resembles Mount Fuji. The lens to see this kind of “accidental” effect as a landscape also applies to appreciating mended ceramics’ transformed bodies. Lastly, I want to spotlight Tea Cup, named “Red Plum in Winter,” by Dōnyū (Raku III; Japanese, 1599–1656) because of its charming and carefully mended embellishments made with gold powder. The fine golden lines gently transform the cup’s body, while also testifying to the care it received from its owner.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

YS: This is a tough question to answer because of the many informative resources that already exist. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Courtesy of Yayoi Shinoda. Tea Bowl, Japan, late 16th to early 17th century. Glaze stoneware (Karatsu ware) with lacquer mending. Overall: 3 x 5 1/2 inches (7.6 x 14.0 cm). Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 32-62/6. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Tea Bowl, Japan, late 17th century. Stoneware with pinkish white crackle glaze (Gohonde ware) with lacquer mending. Overall: 3 1/2 x 5 5/8 inches (8.9 x 14.3 cm). Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 32-62/2. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.

Professor Julie Nelson Davis on the Life and Career of Katsushika Ōi

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at the Seattle Art Museum. This month, Julie Nelson Davis, Professor of Art History and the Department Chair at the University of Pennsylvania, will offer a discussion on the style, career, and legacy of renowned artist Katsushika Ōi on Saturday, December 9. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Nelson Davis about Ōi’s relationship to her famous father and her contributions to his studio, her favorite artwork in SAM’s collection, and more.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

JULIE NELSON DAVIS: I’m looking forward to sharing my research on Katsushika Ōi, the daughter of the famous ukiyo-e master, Katsushika Hokusai. Some people may be familiar with the Japanese animation, Miss Hokusai, that tells a fictionalized version of her life. I’ll talk about Ōi’s life and work, as we can reconstruct if from period evidence, and investigate possible ways that her contributions to Hokusai’s studio might be further revealed. Much of my previous work has been about women in early modern Japan and about collaboration between artistic producers; I’ve been thinking about Ōi as part of this larger investigation.

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

JND: This research developed out of a project I was doing with the British Museum, and our group met a few times in Washington D.C., London, and Tokyo to discuss our work together, looking at paintings in storage, and viewing the British Museum exhibition on Hokusai in 2017. I also previously had the chance to travel with some colleagues to Obuse, a small town east of Nagano, to visit the Hokusai Museum and the Gansho-in Temple. Hokusai and Ōi traveled to Obuse in the 1840s on an invitation from an acquaintance, Takai Kozan. Kozan built a studio room for Hokusai and Ōi, and we were able to visit the house and see the studio. We also had the chance to look closely at a sketch in the museum’s collection that shows Hokusai’s plan for a painting he designed for Gansho-in, as well as to look at the two famous festival carts with paintings attributed to Hokusai. We then went to the temple to look at the ceiling painting of a magnificent phoenix. It was a beautiful, partly sunny, cold December day, and as we walked from the museum to the temple, we passed many traditional houses where people were drying bright orange persimmons; the rather monotone landscape and the coldness of the day helped me imagine what Hokusai and Ōi’s experience of working in Obuse might have been like. 

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

JND: Who can choose just one thing! If I must, I’ll say the Poem Scroll with Deer by Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Hon’ami Kōetsu, the beauty and rhythm of the painting and calligraphy is stunning. I still remember seeing it in storage when I was a grad student, seeing it unroll and glisten under the light. It was gorgeous.

SAM: What is one fact or story related to your lecture topic that the public would be surprised to learn?

JND: Perhaps that it was rare for women to work as professional artists in early modern Japan. Ōi was one of the exceptional cases. Many women worked in the period, but most worked for their family businesses, in shops, or in other roles. Few women had the opportunity to pursue careers as painters, and those that did were typically able to do so only because their husbands or fathers were also painters. (This was also often the case for women in other parts of the world at the same time.) Ōi had the opportunity to learn to sketch and paint in her father’s studio when she was young, becoming quite proficient. She left Hokusai’s studio for a few years to marry another painter, but after their marriage ended, she returned to work alongside her father for the last twenty-two years of his life. 

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

JND: There isn’t one yet! But to learn more about Hokusai, I’d recommend reading Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave (British Museum, 2017) or, of course, seeing the exhibition at the Bowers Museum through January 7, 2024! I wrote a small book as an introduction, Picturing the Floating World: Ukiyo-e in Context (University of Hawai’i Press, 2021) for people curious about the Japanese prints, paintings, and illustrated books in the ukiyo-e genre that might also be of interest.

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

JND: I hope that they have a wonderful experience seeing Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence at SAM.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Courtesy of Julie Nelson Davis. Night Scene in the Yoshiwara, 1850, Katsushika Ōi, ink and paper drawing, Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Tokyo. Poem Scroll with Deer, 1610, Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Hon’ami Kōetsu, ink, gold and silver on paper, 13 7/16 × 366 3/16 in. (34.1 × 930.1 cm) Overall: 13 1/2 x 410 3/16 in. (34.3 x 1041.9 cm), Gift of Mrs. Donald E. Frederick, 51.127, photo: Seiji Shirono, National Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo.

Dr. Saloni Mathur on the Life and Legacy of Amrita Sher-Gil

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Renegade Edo and Paris: Japanese Prints and Toulouse-Lautrec at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. This month, Dr. Saloni Mathur, Professor and Chair of the Department of Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles, will offer a discussion on the paintings of revolutionary 20th-century South Asian artist Amrita Sher-Gil on Saturday, November 11. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Mathur about her reaction to seeing Amrita Sher-Gil’s Self-Portrait as Tahitian for the first time, its similarities with Native contemporary artist Wendy Red Star’s Four Seasons series, and more.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

SALONI MATHUR: I will be speaking about Amrita Sher-Gil (1913–1941), the part-Indian, part-Hungarian painter who stands at the cosmopolitan helm of modern Indian art. She was the first Indian to receive artistic training in Paris, attending the École des Beaux-Arts from 1929 to 1932. The biracial, bicultural, and bisexual artist was described recently by Time Magazine as “shockingly modern.” My talk will focus on her extraordinary painting, Self-Portrait as Tahitian (1934), in which she was supposedly responding to Gauguin’s stylization of the female nude.

I remember experiencing a sense of vertigo after first encountering this painting in response to the dizzying set of questions it raised. What were the conditions that made possible such an account of Gauguin by a non-western woman in 1934? What precisely was meant by Sher-Gil’s self-conscious placement into the body of a Tahitian nude? And how could art history have missed this painting, so deliberately a citation of art historical precedent? 

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

SM: Self-Portrait as Tahitian was housed with her descendants in a private collection for a long time. I traveled to Europe to study the painting on two occasions when it was displayed as part of larger exhibitions. The first time was for the exhibition Companionable Silences curated by Shanay Jhaveri in Paris, France in 2013, and the second was for Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany in 2017.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

SM: I’ve always been a fan of contemporary Native American artist Wendy Red Star’s Four Seasons (2006) print series in SAM’s collection. Here, Red Star parodies and undercuts exotic stereotypes of the Indigenous woman by repeatedly stepping into the photographic frame herself. The way she challenges the conventions of looking with her own physical presence resonates a great deal with Amrita Sher-Gil’s own gesture of subversion in Self-Portrait as Tahitian, painted some ninety years ago. In both cases, the young non-white, female artist rejects the terms of her own objectification, and steps into the canvas or photographic frame to assume a new command of their situation.

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

SM: The Delhi-based contemporary artist, Vivan Sundaram (1943–2023), a major figure in Indian art who sadly passed away earlier this year, was also the nephew of Amrita Sher-Gil. A significant corpus of his work dealt with the legacy of his famous aunt. His Re-take of Amrita series of black and white digital photomontages based on archival photographs from the family archive are especially powerful. Using digital technologies, Sundaram reconfigures these photographs in highly creative ways, and recasts the family in new roles, retelling his family history.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

SM: Amrita Sher-Gil: An Indian Artist Family of the Twentieth Century. Schirmer/Mosel, 2007. This catalogue—created as part of an exhibition previously held at the Tate Modern in London—includes many of Sher-Gil’s paintings alongside Sundaram’s Re-takes series.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement

Photos: Courtesy of Saloni Mathur. Self-Portrait as Tahitian, 1934, Amrita Sher-Gil. Oil on canvas. Four Seasons series: Indian Summer, 2006, printed 2016, Wendy Red Star, Archival pigment print on Sunset Fiber rag, Sheet: 23 × 26 in. (58.4 × 66 cm), Image: 21 x 24 in., Gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D., 2016.13.4. Bourgeois Family: Mirror Frieze, Vivan Sundaram, digital photomontage of archival print, from the Re-take of Amrita series, 2001–02.

Dr. Gregory Levine on the Unusual Buddha in California’s Redwood Forest

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Renegade Edo and Paris: Japanese Prints and Toulouse-Lautrec at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Dr. Gregory Levine, a professor in the history of art at UC Berkeley, California, kicks off the series on Saturday, September 9 with a discussion about a peculiar Buddhist sculpture in the Bay Area forests. SAM spoke with Levine about Buddhist visual cultures, investigating archival discoveries, and the emergent field of arboreal humanities.


A man smiling against a background of green leaves

SAM: What can we expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture?

GREGORY LEVINE: A decade or so ago, I came across a black-and-white photograph of a quite peculiar and large statue of a Buddha preserved in the Bancroft Archive at the University of California, Berkeley. The photograph is startling. It shows this statue——constructed in the late 19th century by a group of American, self-styled “renegades”—in a North American old growth forest but without surrounding architecture. Who would think, right? The photograph was taken not far from Berkeley, across the San Francisco Bay. What’s going on in this photograph, I wondered, what’s the story here? Who made this statue, why, and—since it is not immediately recognizable in the Bay Area today—what’s become of it? How does this statue’s particular story, as we recover it today, inform the sorts of stories (art historical, historical, religious, and social) we tell about Buddhism and Buddhist visual cultures, be they stories told in religious spaces, museums, domestic, online, or retail spaces? What happens when some of these stories are more complicated than they seem—not simply fascinating but troubling? How do we respond in ways that acknowledge the different pasts and presents of art and visual culture, and imagine and work towards just and inclusive futures?

SAM: It sounds like we’ll learn and also leave with many fascinating questions to ponder. My next question: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture topic that you could share with us?

GL: I came across this photograph not by chance but by casting out my search net widely for images of Buddhist sculpture preserved in the University of California’s digital collections and un-digitized archives (and elsewhere). I didn’t have to travel far to see some of the actual materials firsthand; the Bancroft Archive resides in the building adjacent to where my faculty office is located. The archive included other images of Bay Area Buddhas, but for this particular statue in the forest, I found myself on the road traveling across the Richmond Bridge to Marin County, to Muir Woods National Monument, and into fascinating conversations with rangers, archaeologists, and others at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Additionally, I managed to gain access to the archive and photographs of the San Francisco Bohemian Club, which “thickened the plot” in more ways than one. 

I learned a great deal as well from my often naive conversations with forest ecologists and Native American scholars—and doing so, I got a sense of the multiple histories that entangled and continue to entangle this peculiar statue and its forest (a homeland), and of the need to critically engage those different histories together in a practice of art historical ethics and care. As this also suggests, this was a “travel experience” that took me rather far from my previous research and into less/unfamiliar disciplines and knowledge systems—I count this distance covered (and more to go) as a gift, a chance to (re)shape my own learning and to acknowledge others in their expertise, communities, and commitments.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you (or connects to your topic)? Why?

GL: I am obviously drawn to the museum’s works of Japanese Buddhist wood sculpture, and of particular interest to this talk—in terms of iconography and form, to some extent—is the 18th-century statue of the Buddha Amida and the 12th-century Amida. The trick, however, is to view the museum’s statues in a kind of dialogue with the statue I present in the talk—not to somehow fully reconcile the two but to explore how visual forms proliferate, and may alter, slip (up), as they move across cultures and historical, social, and visual spaces, for various reasons and to various implication (take Sherrie Levine’s Fountain II (Buddha), for example.

SAM: What’s a book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

GL: One book only? Argh…that’s a tough one! Given the modern context of the topic and its convergence of Buddhism, modernity, and North America, I’d suggest (and admittedly the following are academic books): David McMahan, The Making of Buddhist Modernism (2008). If I can sneak in two other titles, they’d be: Joanna Levin, Bohemia in America, 1858-1920 (2010) and Jane Iwamura, Virtual Orientalism: American Religious and American Popular Culture (2010).

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your talk?

GL: It’s more a matter of what I haven’t mentioned. This talk is part of my effort to explore environmental humanities, and in particular to try to shape what I’ve come to think of as arboreal humanities. Doing so with specific attention to visual representation—how the visual arts in particular (historically, culturally, expressively, and politically diverse), are not only materially and ecologically interrelated in a simple sense with the “natural world” but are vitally important to how we understand, feel, and act, and what we value in our human and more-than-human differences and interdependent being. 

Of course there is now an immense amount of vitally important (and diverse) writing on ecological interrelation as engaged in the humanities and social sciences, multi-species theory and legal frameworks, environmental justice—writing that is scientific, Indigenous, anti-capitalist, philosophical, literary, in public health, archival as well as activist, etc. etc.…—and situated into what one writer recently termed our planetary ecological derangement (aka the Anthropocene or, for some, the Capitalocene). How do those of us who focus our interests, attention, expertise on the visual arts bring these conversations into our sensory, aesthetic, and cultural experiences and our critical and ethical engagements with the arts and visual worlds and their makers/communities? What are the overlooked as well as emergent and possible visual worlds that we as artists, viewers, critics, historians, curators, educators, and beyond can elevate or envision that will act directly and with care towards each other, human and more-than-human?

– Jason Porter, Kayla Skinner Deputy Director of Education and Public Engagement

Photo: Gregory Levine, Courtesy Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

Visions of a Coming City: William Whitaker on Louis Kahn’s Legacy in South Asia

Despite achieving a legacy as one of the 20th century’s preeminent figures in architecture, many remain unaware of Louis Kahn’s substantial achievements across South Asia and their embodiment of his deeply held modernist artistic ideals.

On Saturday, June 10, SAM’s Saturday University Lecture Series will host curator and archivist William Whitaker for a discussion on Kahn’s many travels to South Asia accompanied by rare images and documents from the Kahn Archive at the University of Pennsylvania. In advance of his talk, SAM Manager of Public Engagement Haley Ha spoke with Whitaker to understand what made Kahn’s architectural vision in South Asia so noteworthy.


Haley Ha: You were trained as an architect and currently serve as a curator of the Architectural Archives at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design. Can you tell us about your role and explain a day in your life as an archivist?

William Whitaker: I see myself, in part, as a teacher who uses collections to educate young architects and landscape architects about thinking and developing their ideas through design. Looking at the drawings of an architect like Louis Kahn can reveal much about their individual talent and way of working, but also about their collaborations with others in the drafting room, on the job site, or in conversation with their clients. The big idea is that thinking through drawings helps you to understand what is good, what is really good, and most importantly, the difference between the two. I meet with high school and college students to talk about and think through topics such as “taking notes on site.” We do this over a large table packed with archival collections: artist sketchbooks are always a favorite, but photography and other techniques also inform and reshape the understanding of place—and these techniques are not always visual! Archives provide an essential tool for understanding why things are the way they are, so incorporating the archive into public exhibitions and tours to a broader public is important to me and the work that I do.

HH: How did you first encounter Kahn’s work? What about it caught your interest?

WW: You can learn a lot from Louis Kahn. His way of working was a struggle that remains visible in his writings and lectures, as well as in the histories of the clients and staff who worked closely with him. His work was also consequential in reinvigorating architecture and its connection to history, place, and the craft of building. He brings a wonderful sense of the human element into his architecture with the expectation that places have the potential to profoundly impact the people who use them.

As an architecture student in the late 1980s, Kahn’s work was often discussed so I knew there was something to learn by looking at his work and understanding his collaborations with engineers, landscape architects, and clients. The first building I ever saw that he designed was the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California (1959–67). A friend and I drove through the night from Albuquerque, New Mexico to see the building and it was a life changing experience. Working toward my Master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania opened up the possibility of working in the Architectural Archives where Kahn’s papers and drawings are kept. I’ve been there 30 years now and continue to learn from his work on a daily basis.

HH: This month’s Saturday University lecture presents a rare opportunity to engage deeply with Kahn’s work in South Asia. Can you tell us about his time in Asia and the lasting impact it left on him and his legacy?

WW: Between 1947 and his death in 1974, Kahn traveled extensively across the continent where he worked as an architect across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Nepal, and Israel. Meanwhile, back at the University of Pennsylvania,  his “master’s studio” was comprised of 68 students from Thailand, India, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. In Japan, at the Katsura Imperial Villa, Kahn experienced the deep interrelationship between a building and its landscape, including the magnificent ways the elements of nature—from light to wind and sound—are modulated to inform or shape the human experience.

HH: Kahn, unlike many of the Western architects working in Asia at the time, engaged deeply with the social and political fabric of the cities he worked in and considered their existing architecture, histories, and cultures when drafting his designs. How will these concepts be explored in your Saturday University lecture?

WW: There are distinctions to be made between buildings that serve and support a civic purpose and those conceived of as drivers of economic development. Kahn saw his work as supporting “institutions” important to the development of individuals and their ability to realize their own worth—places to learn, places to assemble, or places that honored human endeavor. It was Kahn’s search for a deeper purpose in architecture that continues to be relevant to this day and serves as the foundation of my lecture.

HH: While Kahn belonged to no particular faith, he was drawn to religious sites and left behind many sketches of ancient temples, churches, and mosques. How do you see the notion of spirituality or the “sacred” manifest in Kahn’s work?

WW: I think you can see it in his appreciation of the everyday. Kahn has an amazing eye for such moments and this is made clear in his notion that, “A city should be a place where a little boy walking through its streets can sense what he someday would like to be.” I would point to the study carrels in his library at Phillips Exeter Academy, the candle niches of the Hurva Synagogue, or the monumental steps at the Four Freedoms Park as expressions of how an individual becomes aware that they are part of something much larger than themselves.

HH: Visitors to Kahn’s works have been quoted as having something close to a ‘spiritual experience’ while occupying his spaces. Can you explain what Kahn meant when he said that the “building is a living thing” and how this may explain visitors’ experiences at his sites? 

WW: Kahn based the conception of a building on human desire and providing a platform to support the impulse to express. As such, his buildings are an expression of human experiences and feelings. Here, Kahn is thinking in non-technological, non-practical, and non-physical terms–in his words this is “silence.” Those human impulses are then brought to “light” through all the circumstantial aspects of building–this is the brick and mortar, budget and code, and client and user part. For Kahn, the success of a building—what he thought of as “an offering to architecture”—was to be found in the structure’s ability to evoke an essential aspect of humanity. That he spoke to a brick is a well-known detail of Kahn’s persona (“You say to brick: ‘What do you want brick?’ To which brick replies, ‘I like an arch.’”). Behind that dialogue is an acknowledgment of human ingenuity, living traditions, working with materials, and more.

HH: Lastly, if you had to choose, which of Kahn’s sites would you recommend visiting to those who travel to South Asia?

WW: This is a difficult question to answer—it’s like asking someone who their favorite child is! It is also difficult because for various reasons, Kahn’s works are difficult for the public to access. If one can manage to access the Capital Complex in Dhaka, I’d put that at the top of any list. But I would also say that there are places where Kahn ventured–the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, the “pols” of old Ahmedabad, the Stepwell at Adalaj, or seeing the landscape of Dhaka along the Buriganga River—that can shed light on his thinking. All are well well-worth a visit.


Hear more about Louis Kahn’s travels to South Asia from William Whitaker, Curator and Collections Manager at the University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design, on Saturday, June 10 at 10 am at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in the final lecture of the 2022–2023 Saturday University Lecture Series. Tickets are still available—get yours now!

– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Asian Art Museum

Images: Dhaka, Bangladesh, © by Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban, Creative Commons. William Whitaker, photo: Barrett Doherty. Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, Louis Kahn, 1959–1965, photo: John Nicolais, The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania. Louis Kahn in His Office in Philadelphia, 1970, photo: Joan Ruggles, The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania. Dhaka Complex, Bangladesh by Louis Kahn (1962–83), photo: Nurer Rahman Khan.

Mira Nakashima on the Life and Legacy of George Nakashima

“Our approach is based on direct experience—a way of development outward from an inner core; something of the same process that nature uses in the creation of a tree.”

– George Nakashima

This Saturday, March 11, the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas at the Seattle Asian Art Museum will welcome architect and woodworker Mira Nakashima as part of the 2022–2023 Saturday University Lecture Series. Mira, daughter of celebrated American architect, master woodworkers, and thinker George Nakashima, will discuss her father’s influence and legacy as the founding figure of the 20th century American studio art movement.

As the creative director of George Nakashima Woodworkers, Mira continues her father’s legacy by integrating his deep appreciation and reverence of nature with her own warmth, unmatchable prowess, and ingenuity in incorporating contemporary sensibility into his philosophy. In her upcoming talk, Mira will explore the development of her father’s lesser known spiritual spaces and articulate the ways in which they emphasize his philosophical and personal formation as an architect.

In anticipation of this fascinating lecture, Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, caught up with Mira to discuss what visitors can expect to see, learn, and experience this coming Saturday.


The Nakashima Arts Building in New Hope, PA.

HALEY HA: You are the current creative director of Nakashima Woodworkers. Can you tell us a little bit about your days as the creative director?

MIRA NAKASHIMA: First of all, ‘creative director’ is a term I borrowed from a friend of mine who heads a chamber music group, as I didn’t know what else to call myself.  When I first started in 1970, I was the general ‘gopher,’ doing everything from typing up orders to driving the truck to raking leaves, etc. As time progressed, I learned how to make the shop drawings, got to work in the shop making small objects, and accompanied my father to the sawmill. Following my father’s stroke, I began supervising the work in the shop, and after he died, I had to be responsible for conceptual as well as working drawings. There was always something to be done maintaining the buildings, grounds, and machinery, so that became a part of my job too. And after my mother died, someone had to keep an eye on the accounting. As it was a bit overwhelming for one person to do it all effectively, we hired both a manager and an assistant designer which made life more complicated, but better. As ‘creative director,’ I oversee the creation of all the furniture made here, but I am just one of the many people devoted to preserving our history and craft tradition. I usually have a hand in selecting and pricing wood for every project, create the conceptual and sometimes shop drawings, oversee the final cut lines, base and butterfly placement, and sign each piece before it leaves the shop.

Mira Nakashima at work.

HH: Your father is considered one of the most celebrated woodworkers and architects of the 20th century in the US, Japan, and across the world. As a woodworker and architect in your own right, what do you consider to be the challenges and blessings of carrying out Nakashima’s legacy today?

MN: My father studied architecture at Fontainebleau, France, worked in the office of Antonin Raymond in Tokyo from 1934-38, and was sent to Pondicherry, India in 1936 to build a reinforced concrete building, so he had deep roots in many cultures and countries of the world.

His furniture practice grew in the aftermath of World War II, embracing and manifesting Japanese aesthetic ideals during a time when they were not socially accepted and slowly making his mark along both US coasts. In 1963, my parents sent me to Tokyo to attend Waseda University where I earned a Masters in Architecture. My father went on to join the Minguren group and earned the Third Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Emperor of Japan in recognition of his cross-cultural activities in 1983. After his passing in 1990, his work became ‘vintage’—a part of the renewed interest in 20th-century design worldwide. Auction houses began selling his work both locally and internationally, leading his fame to spread.

It has been a challenge to live up to my father’s legacy and to continue the work as he hoped we would. With his book The Soul of a Tree, originally published in 1981, generations of woodworkers have been inspired to take up the practice, and indeed, to copy his designs. We strive to preserve his original methodology and mindset by working from the pile of wood he collected during his lifetime and hiring younger craftsmen and designers to learn the Nakashima way. Fortunately, we have been able to keep Nakashima alive and well, and we will do our best to keep it going beyond my lifetime.

The Nakashima family.

HH: Your family was forcefully moved alongside over 12,000 incarcerated Japanese Americans to the Minidoka Camp in Idaho when the war broke out. Could you tell us about how this period impacted your father, his work, and your family?

MN: I was a baby when we were incarcerated. My mother was traumatized by the relocation while my father made friends with a highly skilled Japanese carpenter named Gentaro Hikogawa. Gentaro taught my father many that he would not have otherwise learned in developing his craft. Fortunately, in 1943, my father’s employer in Tokyo, Antonin Raymond, had moved to Bucks County and offered to sponsor my father to work on his farm so we did not stay in the camp as long as our other relatives. While in Idaho, my father’s friend, artist Morris Graves, carefully kept our meager belongings in Seattle and returned them all to us when we moved to Pennsylvania to start our new life. My father prophetically called the move a “New Hope” and found many artists in the area to call his friends. He called the incarceration “stupid” but said that eventually, “the wounds healed over and left no scars.”

Golconde, Pondicherry, India, Nakashima Foundation for Peace.

HH: As we know, your father’s sense of spirituality deeply influenced his practice. You’ve previously been quoted as saying that for him, work “was a spiritual calling, a form of prayer.” Can you tell us about a bit more about the relationship between his beliefs and practices and explain a bit more of what you’ll be focusing on in your talk this Saturday?

MN: When my father was working on the reinforced concrete building for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in India, he learned that physical labor was “karma yoga,” no less a yoga than meditating, praying or chanting all day. There, he and the other workers devoted their time to creating a hitherto unimagined place of beauty and peace. When he visited France’s Chartres Cathedral in the 1930s, not only was it an astounding space because of its incredible engineering, beautiful sculpture, and stained-glass windows, but also because it was built over several centuries by people from all walks of life whose only intent was to create a sacred space for the glory of God. In Seattle, my father converted to Catholicism and developed a deep kinship with the Benedictine monks and their monasteries. He volunteered to assist them in not only designing, but helping construct their remote chapels by gathering materials, building technology, and hiring local craftsmen.

George Nakashima with his daughter Mira.

HH: While he considered his work as a spiritual calling, his reverence for materials was remarkable yet practical. For example, could you tell us how kodama—the Japanese belief of offering a second life to a tree—became a central belief to his practice and how it bore the iconic aesthetic of Nakashima Woodwork?’

MN: I do not think the concept of ‘offering a second life to a tree’ is particularly Japanese, but in Shinto, Druid, Native American, and other so-called ‘primitive’ belief systems, inanimate objects like trees, stones, and water are respected not merely as ‘dead’ objects, but as living examples of the Creator. Perhaps my father’s connection to trees was fostered by his early days as a boy scout where he spent long weekends hiking throughout the Pacific Northwest and sleeping amongst the trees. In Japan, the forces and forms of nature are respected, honored, and integrated into everyday life. So, it is perhaps this practice which found voice in the Nakashima aesthetic.

HH: The Nakashima estate in Pennsylvania became a National Historic Landmark in 2014. I’m envious of your beautiful home and curious to know what it is like to live in a space with such powerful intention, art, and legacy?

MN: To me, this is simply the home where I grew up and have worked all of my life. I didn’t realize it was anything special until I returned from my first trip to Japan in 1966, and not until I wrote my book in 2003 that it became clear how groundbreakingly bold the architecture was for its time. It is indeed a responsibility to maintain the property, and to allow limited access so that it does not suffer from too much traffic, while encouraging and educating people about its history. I do not live on the original property, but in a house across the road that my father built for me in 1970, so it is an easy commute but also provides some distance to the place I now call home.

HH: In our ongoing Saturday University Lecture Series, we’ve been exploring the different notions of sacredness within built environments amid our ongoing climate crisis. There seems to be a sense of reverence, deeper recognition, and ecological thinking that is rooted in your father’s practice. Would you agree?

MN: My father built each of his buildings with a sense of economy and ecology that was way ahead of his time. From working in Japan, he instinctively knew the principles of kimon—in Chinese, feng shui—including the auspicious positioning of buildings and usage of the rooms according to its geography, path of the sun, seasons, and source of water on the site. He selected each site because of its south-facing slope and built most of the buildings along the brow of a hill, intentionally leaving an open slope and field in the center. All of his buildings have large expanses of glass to the south, and their carefully proportioned roofs overhang to keep the rooms cool with cross-ventilation in the summer and warm in the winter with solar gain.

George Nakashima’s final project: the Reception House.

On the Pool House, built in 1960, he installed a series of water pipes along the rooftop as a way to heat the shower water by passive solar energy when no one else was even thinking of that. His last building, the Reception House, built in 1975 during the first oil crisis, has a plenum and fan system behind its Franklin stove-like fireplace to heat the entire house. There is also a cook-top on the fireplace hood and an oven compartment in the wall of the fireplace like the old Bucks County farmhouses. There is even a large sunken Japanese bath with water heated by a wood-burning boiler imported from Japan. We are currently working with the University of Pennsylvania to create an overall campus plan which will minimize our dependence on fossil fuels in the future by installing both passive solar and geothermal energy sources, and of course, increasing insulation and minimizing air infiltration without destroying the original design concepts. It’s bound to be an exciting challenge!

HH: Lastly, what kind of legacy would you like to leave behind to the next generations of woodworkers?

MN: Harvest materials sustainably and replant as many trees as possible. Know and respect the woods local to your area and use them whenever possible. Learn to do honest joinery yourself.  Do not imitate forms, but create your own. Remember that less is more; don’t complicate things just to be different.

– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Asian Art Museum

Photos: Courtesy of George Nakashima Woodworkers.

Artist Yuki Kihara on Performing Paradise and Finding Sanctuaries

Paradise Camp imagines Fa’afafine utopia that shatters colonial heteronormativity to make a way for an Indigenous worldview that is more inclusive and sensitive to the change in nature.”

Yuki Kihara

Eight years in the making, the exhibition Paradise Camp by interdisciplinary artist Yuki Kihara explores colonial histories, intersecting gender issues, and ecological crisis with rigor, humor, and flair. Comprising 12 tableau photographs featuring a cast from Fa’afafine—Sāmoa’s traditional third gender—communities, Kihara’s work summons the late 19th-century French artist Paul Gauguin and his works from “French Polynesia,” which are believed to have been inspired by Sāmoa. Paradise Camp was just presented at the 59th International Venice Biennale, where Kihara became the first Fa’afafine and Pacific artist to represent New Zealand.

Before her artist talk on December 10 as part of the 2022–2023 Saturday University lecture series, Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, interviewed Kihara about the ideas and process behind Paradise Camp, the impacts of climate change in the global south, and the meanings embedded in her grandmother’s kimono.


HALEY HA: You were selected to represent the Aotearoa New Zealand Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale before the pandemic started. What was your vision for Paradise Camp when you started, and how did it change? 

YUKI KIHARA: I was lucky to shoot the photographs for Paradise Camp in March 2020 in Sāmoa just before the global lockdown. Around mid-2020 there were numerous articles published in the global north that described Sāmoa and neighboring Pacific Islands being a “safe haven” from the COVID-19 pandemic, due to our geographical isolation during the global lockdown. Part of this perception is embedded in the Western legacy that continues to view the Pacific region as an untouched “Paradise” that masks ongoing colonial violence. The idea of the Pacific region as “Paradise” was heightened every time COVID-19 numbers were climbing at apocalyptic levels in the global north. 

The global lockdown was in a way a blessing in disguise because it gave me a gift of time to work on post-production and the editing of the exhibition catalogue for Paradise Camp while being isolated. 

HH: Can you tell us how the notions of “paradise” and “camp” came together? Covering the white walls of the New Zealand Pavilion with the oceanscape and extravagant tableau photographs, there seems to be a clear visual sensibility that you frame as “camp aesthetic.” Is there a story you want to tell with this exhibition?

YK: The origin of “Paradise” derives from the biblical story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, which forms the foundation of how the West sees itself as being heteronormative where these ideas were imposed upon “others” through the process of colonialism. However, the idea of colonial heteronormativity is questioned by the research conducted by Sāmoan American artist and writer Dan Taulapapa McMullin, who found missionary accounts dating back to 1896 which described Sāmoa’s origin story of the formation of the first humans, who were a male couple; one is transformed by the gods into a woman. This story of gender transformation is something that resonates with how gender is understood in Sāmoan culture, which traditionally recognizes four genders.

HH: For this edition of the Saturday University series, we have delved into the ecological landscape of our time and its challenged built environment. You’ve shared in an interview about your experience of flood in Sāmoa and living through its rapidly changing landscape. How did these experiences shape your artistic practice?

YK: The Pacific region has become synonymous with images of unpolluted and vacant white sandy beaches that are constantly re-created by the tourism industry. They are also commonly featured on screensavers of millions of people around the world, becoming ironic and cliché in popular culture. However, those clichéd images of white sandy beaches are real places in Sāmoa with real people who’ve lived there for generations, faced with real life issues such as climate change, given that almost 80 per cent of Sāmoa’s population lives along the coastal areas. Scientific data shows that the global average for sea level rise is 2.8–3.5 millimeters a year, compared to Sāmoa’s sea level rise measuring up to 4 millimeters a year. In Paradise Camp, I wanted to juxtapose fact and fiction in order to drive home the reality of climate change from a Fa’afafine perspective. 

HH: We’ve been navigating the extreme climate of our time and belatedly acknowledging the disproportionate impact of the ecological crisis on Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities. In your view, how does gender play a role in engaging with ecology and the environmental crisis? 

YK: Climate change impacts all of us. 80% of the Sāmoa population lives alongside the coastal areas including Fa’afafine community. But it has a particular kind of impact on marginalized communities, particularly on the Fa’afafine community because there are things that impact us more than others. And this is what I wanted to highlight in Paradise Camp, to talk about Fa’afafine experience with climate change.

HH: Your Kimono series tells a tale of speculative fiction and imaginative histories, but also of our present and perhaps our near future. Can you tell us about this work and the サーモアのうた (Sāmoa no uta) A song about Sāmoa? How did you first conceive this idea and developed it?

YK: In 2015, I came across an old kimono owned by my late Japanese grandmother Masako Kihara where the color of the kimono reminded her of Siapo, a hand-made Sāmoan backcloth made from the Lau u’a (paper mulberry tree). This was the initial inspiration to bring together textile traditions from Sāmoa (tapa) & Japan (kimono) into a cross-cultural fusion to create a series of ‘siapo kimono’ where kimono made from Samoan tapa cloth are presented as sculpture. The title of the series is adapted from a popular Japanese song entitled ‘Samoatou no uta’ in Japanese meaning ‘A song from Samoa.’ Music textbooks for elementary school students in Japan feature the song. The work aims to reframe the Vā [relation] between Japan and the Pacific and specifically Sāmoa, taking an Indigenous interpretation of trans-Pacific identity, gender, and history, while referencing my own interracial Sāmoan & Japanese heritage as a point of conceptual departure.

– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Images: Two Fa‘afafine (After Gauguin) from Paradise Camp series, 2020, Yuki Kihara. Courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand. Artist Yuki Kihara at her Paradise Camp exhibition presented at the 59th Venice Biennale, 2022. Courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand. Photo by Lukas Walker, 2022. Two Fa‘afafine (After Gauguin) from Paradise Camp series, 2020, Yuki Kihara. Courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand. Genesis 9:16 (After Gauguin) from Paradise Camp series, 2020, Yuki Kihara. Courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand. Installation view of ‘サモアのうた (Sāmoa no uta) A song about Sāmoa’ Phase 2: Fanua (Land),2021, Yuki Kihara, presented at the Aichi Triennale, Japan in 2022. Photo by Ayako Takemoto. 

Dr. Luisa Cortesi: The Art of Living with Floods

2022 has been a record-breaking year for floods across the planet, enveloping both urban and rural areas in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the US. This frightening fact leads us to wonder: How do we adapt to accelerating changes of climate and crisis?

In the nineteenth-century, Japanese polymath Minakata Kumagusu combined research in anthropology and local forms of knowledge to learn about the natural world. He campaigned to preserve local forms of knowledge while the Meji government favored European forms of academicism. And he did so as a scientist and a participant in local forms of knowledge.

Today, we find like-minded contemporary researchers and activists pioneering in the same spirit, gallantly moving through our challenged landscapes, cities, and neighborhoods while centering the work of local communities and their embodied knowledge of floods. Dr. Luisa Cortesi, Assistant Professor of the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Netherlands, experienced one of history’s most disastrous floods while conducting research in North Bihar, India between 2007-2008. During her multi-year stint in the region, she reexamined the ecological systems of the river and the riverine land to better understand floods and the complex interconnections humans share with nature. Her academic contributions to natural disasters, floods, and resource access have won her many awards, including the 2017 Eric Wolf Prize in the field of Political Ecology, the PRAXIS award for outstanding achievement in translating anthropological knowledge into action, and the 2017-2018 Josephine deKarman fellowship.

On Saturday, November 12, Dr. Luisa Cortesi invites visitors to learn about her travels in the North Bihar region while expanding our knowledge of flood frequency, considering the connections between water and its surroundings. In advance of this third lecture in our 2022–2023 Saturday University Lecture Series, Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, spoke with Dr. Cortesi about her background, her thoughts on the equity of knowledge, and what you can expect at her upcoming talk.


HALEY HA: Tell us about your background. What led you to your current field of study?

DR. LUISA CORTESI: I grew up in small-town Northern Italy. To be precise, I grew up in the enclave of the racist party Lega Nord during the years of brutal rhetoric against Southerners, and partially in the South, from where my mother had migrated. In the North, I was considered a Southerner and was discriminated against beginning in kindergarten. In the South, I remained an outsider associated with Northern racists. This was probably why I started questioning the meaning of ‘community’ very early on. Not only did I realize I did not belong anywhere, but, more expansively, the categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’ never made any sense to me.

I remember my parents as unconventional, critical, outspoken, and possessing a passion for social justice. Despite living in a hostile setting, they refused to consider themselves victims or superior to anyone but treated their situation as analytically as possible. Now that I think about it, their discussions, stemming from very different cultural contexts, were fertile terrain for an anthropological initiation.

HH: How has your background influenced your research interests? 

LC: A factor that certainly influenced my current research was my lifelong reverence toward water. In the south of Italy, where we would visit my mother’s family for a few months each year, running water was available only in the very early hours of the morning, which influenced our day-to-day life greatly. Whenever we would travel north to south or vice versa, we would always stop at the main river in Italy, the Po, just to admire its magnitude and revel in its grandiosity. I also lived through different floods and other water troubles that inspired my future research. For example, I remember walking through a mud flood accompanied by a major blackout during my college years—although these were nowhere near as catastrophic as the major floods I lived through while in India.

Luisa Cortesi with the Megh Pyne Abhiyan teams who worked on the Dug-Well project.

HH: What was it like working with diverse communities in the North Bihar region of India?

LC: I have traveled in and out of India in different capacities since I was 21. I feel I came of age in India. While with local NGOs and local communities in the region—not through international organizations or funding agencies—I experienced several major floods, mostly by myself while possessing coarse language skills and important academic responsibilities. Living through those floods, instead of accepting the first opportunity to leave the region, as well as the development of ethnographic skills of connection and understanding, enabled my acceptance in those communities. I feel deeply indebted to the people of North Bihar for what they have taught me. North Biharis, regardless of their formal education level, are not only experts on matters of disastrous water as my talk will explain, but are barefoot philosophers in their own right. This is particularly the case for Dalit and Tribal communities, whose experiences of discrimination are atrocious, and yet whose wisdom in all matters of life and environmental management is unmatched.

HH: What actions or approaches have you found to be successful in helping to break through the silos of social and natural science, as well as western and traditional knowledge? 

LC: Every scientist has a specialized interest. It’s not easy to keep up with one field of research, let alone multiple. But in order to succeed, scientists need to develop deep relationships with others and a thorough understanding of those individuals collaboration would be useful. My training was unique in that it combined cultural and environmental anthropology with environmental studies and water sciences. I personally do not believe in a hierarchy of knowledge, nor in the opposition that exists between western versus traditional knowledge. Have you ever tried learning a language later in life? If so, you realize that this new knowledge is neither ‘western’ nor ‘traditional.’ Rather, it is both embodied and theoretical, and explicit and tacit at the same time. As humans, we must all deal with the challenges of the environments in which we live. Dividing knowledge of these environments will not elicit change.

HH: Can you elaborate on your thought on the issue around equity of knowledge?

LC: Poverty is not only about purchasing power and/or access to services. It is about the right to knowledge, and the protection of this knowledge not only from those who want to appropriate it, but also from those who want to cancel it. Without knowing how to go about in this world, we are reduced to pieces in a machine, dependent on the words of those in control, and unable to stand on our own, both as individuals and as place-based communities. 

HH: How do you spend your free time?

LC: I  have a lot of passions! I love learning new things, even if I’m not always successful. I recently began playing rugby, which I intend to continue as soon as my team members’ patience sticks extend long enough for me to internalize the sport. I also like to experiment in the kitchen, creating new unexpected combinations for seriously eccentric tastebuds. I am smitten by combined colors, but find myself most drawn to knitted textile designers. I spend at least one day per week outdoors, generally hiking, listening, or ocean gazing—it functions as a reset. 

But I am also passionate about a side of my work I don’t get to do as often as I’d like: applied anthropology. This looks like joining a community (broadly intended, including an organization) and figuring out how to help it with its challenges. I work pro-bono involved with organizations focused on water and environmental disasters because that is what I am most competent in. More broadly, I enjoy the challenge of combining analytical and organizational skills to support a set of people in reimagining their habitat or work.

HH: At the Water Justice & Adaptation Lab, you use the term “water justice.” Could you define it and explain how it fits into the realm of environmental justice?

LC: In my experience, environmental justice, while useful at a policy level, is too vague in its applicability to water problems. To live with water requires a specific set of expertise: the knowledge of where excess water is stored, where to find more of it, and how to distinguish different waters for different usages. Being formally trained in the water sciences through my Ph.D. helped me to understand the water knowledge of those with whom I lived through water disasters and who deal with water problems on a regular basis. So, the term ‘water justice’ intends to combine and cross-fertilize the knowledge of local communities, scientists, and policymakers on an even epistemological scale.

– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Luisa Cortesi, Water Justice & Adaptation Lab.

Elevating the Spirit: Dr. Renée Cheng on Architecture’s Role in Our Lives

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2022–23 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, with nine talks by leading scholars exploring the social power of architecture. Renée Cheng, Dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington and a catalyst for advocating diversity and inclusion in the field, kicks off the series on Saturday, September 10 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum with a discussion of cultural identities and their expression in the built environment. Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Asian Art Museum, spoke with Cheng about her background, why equity matters in architecture, and how architecture can respond to ecological concerns.

“Space and culture are interconnected—they shape and reflect one another. When we understand the cultural messages conveyed via sacred architecture, we become aware of how those messages are heard differently depending on cultural identity.”

– Dr. Renée Cheng

Haley Ha: Tell us about your background. How did you first become interested in architecture?

Dr. Renée Cheng: I grew up in the Midwest—the daughter of a painter and an engineer—and in so many ways architecture is something of a combination of the two. I always enjoyed making things when I was a child. I did a lot of painting and sculpture, but it was messy stuff. It wasn’t like a kit of Lincoln Logs or Legos; it was clay and paint and messy things that were much more open-ended in what they would lead to. So I wouldn’t say that it was a straight line to architecture by any means. I actually considered medicine at one point, but I grew into really understanding my passion for making things and making beautiful things.

Later, I started realizing that it had to do with spaces, not objects, and my focus shifted over time to be increasingly oriented towards people and the collaborative ways that you have to work to build buildings. I became more interested in the interaction between people aligning around shared goals for occupied spaces and the use of space and places. 

Courtesy of UW College of Built Environments.

Ha: How would you describe your work and research to someone who has never heard of the ideas you explore?

Dr. Cheng: I am an architect and I maintain my license, but I don’t build buildings. I don’t design buildings. I teach those that will be building buildings. I also study the field itself and look at ways that it could be more innovative and beneficial to more people. There’s a lot of the stereotype of an architect like Frank Lloyd Wright in a cape, working for wealthy clients, or even, you know, primarily working for a limited number of people. I am really trying to promote an idea of architecture that positively affects more people, the idea that a well-placed window to a view or a sequence of spaces that allow you to be part of a group ceremony can elevate the spirit. It’s something that an individual might be able to do, but working together with others, really understanding the different points of view that go into making a space that works for more than one person, creating a space that’s large, larger than what one person can build is really what I what I look at in in my work.

It was not a practice in the same way that an architect would practice in an office, where there are buildings that you can show and point to and say we did that; but it’s more of a development of programs and looking at ways that the entire discipline and profession can change. My work has been primarily US-based, but I look at a lot of international examples, often in terms of the way they incorporate new technologies or legal structures of financing that allow for different ways of working. So it encompasses more than just the practice of architecture itself.

Ha: You’re an advocate for diversity and equitable practices in the field of architecture and built environments. Can you briefly describe built environments in both research and practice? And what role does diversity, equity, and inclusion play in it?

Dr. Cheng: Built environments really include all of the areas that are not natural, that are actively built by shaping of land and the infrastructure. It includes smaller-scale spaces, rooms like where you woke up this morning, with a particular light condition and orientation, or the transit you use for shopping or working. The room that you were in, the living structure, the transit, the infrastructure were all planned. It’s part of a city that was planned.

Volunteer Park was planned and laid out in certain ways to emphasize or enhance certain aspects through the choice of what to plant. Some of it might have been growing here and preserved, and others might have been added. So there’s all those aspects of what makes up our built environment. They were all planned, designed, and executed. Someone had to figure out how to pay for it, had to logistically make it happen, and get all of the permissions to make sure that it would work and function in the way that it was intended.

Courtesy of UW College of Built Environments.

So, what role does diversity, equity, and inclusion play, when you think of that broad definition of built environments? Historically those designers were hired by a small group of people, often very wealthy, and the input was usually fairly limited. And so in the end you ended up with some really beautiful spaces and places for sure, but also certain decisions that really negatively impact communities—often communities of color—whether it was in the placement of highways or the general economic investment in affordable housing. You had a lot of communities that were left out and negatively impacted by architecture. And so what I have worked for is to find ways to include more voices, to include more factors. When we consider what is good design and to find ways that we can accomplish them effectively, not only economically but with sustainable and good practices.

Ha: In the past, architecture has been viewed as a male-dominated field. As an Asian American architect and a woman of color, what challenges have you faced in the field?

Dr. Cheng: There is a definite stereotype of architecture as a male-dominated field and definitely the dominant culture is white males; if you look across the leaders and award winners, they tend to be white men, especially in America. In my experience as a Asian American architect, I’m the first woman dean of the college. I’m the first person of color. But I’ve also been the first or often the only designer or practicing architect in a group of academics, academic architects, or woman in a very dominant technology-related field. So, quite often these are even more white male dominated than the general population of architects. I’ve definitely experienced being the only woman in the room. This can have some positives in that you get noticed, and some negatives in that you get scrutinized, or you sometimes feel like you’re speaking for an entire group and can be tokenized.

I’ve been committed to increasing the number of women in architecture in particular since I was in school. I had an experience when I was in graduate school, where our class was composed of about 30% women who went on to do amazing things like become firm leaders, these women were just really incredible. And there was a time in our graduate studies where there were no women faculty on a fairly large faculty group. And we talked to the dean about this, and his response was: there were no qualified women to hire for teaching, and that statement was so shocking to me, and made me renew a commitment that I think I hadn’t articulated before then to change that by setting up systems and programs that mentor and initiate faster pathways through the education and the professions for women and other identities that were underrepresented in the field.

A lot of the work that I do is centered on the experience I had in graduate school, of feeling like there’s got to be another way. It’s not that there were no qualified women. It’s that they were not easy to find, or that they weren’t retained, promoted, and made visible. Because I knew that my female classmates had a lot to offer. We were probably losing a lot of amazing input as well by not having the role models to help us succeed in our field.

Courtesy of UW College of Built Environments.

Ha: What are some of the biggest challenges for ecological issues of our time, and how can architecture play a role in solutions?  

Dr. Cheng: Worldwide, buildings are forty percent of the energy consumption and they can make up eighty percent of what goes to our landfills through construction and demolition processes. You can say that you know buildings and cities bear a disproportionate share of energy consumption, and also they have a disproportionate responsibility of being a solution to the problem.

Let’s use embodied carbon, for example: the carbon that is used while you produce a building, maintain a building, and disassemble a building. It’s actually a more sophisticated way of thinking, not just of the cost of your electric bill for your air conditioning. Or consider a materials decision, and how much transportation it takes to transport this piece of wood from a place that maybe doesn’t have natural forests. Would concrete be a more economic, ecologically, and carbon-reducing choice? So, it gets pretty complicated, pretty fast, but the overall impact of the development on sustainability and climate is really pretty clear. Architects, building contractors, real estate developers, and landscape architects, we all bear a disproportionate responsibility for climate solutions, because the product of our work bears a disproportionate share of the energy consumption.

Ha: This Saturday University lecture series is focused on sacred spaces in urban settings; I’m interested in the collaborative work between UW’s College of Built Environments and the Nehemiah Initiative for faith-based congregations and the communities they serve in the Central District. It seems to have been vital for these places to survive the socioeconomic challenges in the historically black neighborhood. Can you tell us more about this collaborative effort and how this initiative played a role?

Dr. Cheng: This project is a multi-year commitment to the Nehemiah Initiative, which is a group of Black churches in the Central District of Seattle who are working together to promote their beloved community. Our college hosts a series of studio classes where students work with church leaders and community members to study the potential for church property to be developed in ways that provide housing and community spaces that can support the Black community.

We have an interdisciplinary team of faculty and I teach about the intercultural aspects of working across differences. The differences that I focus on for the class include disciplinary differences in how an urban planning student and a real estate student might think about the best use of the land. It also includes how our students can work with a Black faith-based community while bringing in their own experiences and expertise in respectful and effective ways.

– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Asian Art Museum

Photo: Renée Cheng, dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington. Image courtesy of Sean Airhart, NBBJ.

Saturday University: The Colors of Space & Time

Although the Asian Art Museum is closed until further notice, the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas is still offering their popular Saturday University Lecture Series. This season, like all SAM programs, Saturday University is being offered virtually. Another unusual thing about this season is that it’s free! Tune in on Facebook live or Zoom every Saturday through November 21 for talks on Color in Asian Art: Material and Meaning such as The Color of Space and Time presented by Marco Leona, the David H. Koch Scientist in Charge of the Department of Scientific Research at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Marco Leona speaks on recent findings on the materials and techniques of Edo and Meiji Period paintings and prints in the recording of this lecture from October 10. Japanese painters and printmakers of the Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) period achieved a rich visual language within a narrow range of pigments. Yet artists such as Jakuchu, Korin, and Hokusai produced evocative possibilities in ways far more complex than generally thought, especially in experiments with new synthetic color.

Leona shows how technological developments were not only readily embraced, and often prompted by artists and their audiences, but also that they in turn created new forms of expression.

The Saturday University Lecture Series is presented with the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies and the Elliott Bay Book Company.

Object of the Week: Story Scroll

Red is often associated with strong emotion, and not only anger, despite the name of a common red dye source: madder root.

A mid-18th century painting of Ganesh on cloth, from a village in Telangana, in the eastern Deccan plateau of India, is striking in part for its red background and red-bodied Ganesh. Painted with black outlines, with areas of yellow ochre, indigo, and white, it is enlivened with black and red dots. As Lord of Beginnings, this Ganesh was the initial image in a long vertical scroll of painted scenes, unrolled one section at a time in performances for a regional weaver community. The scroll, of which this is a section, would have originally been 30 to 50 feet long and depicted their origins from the celestial weaver Sage Bhavana. This ancestor fought off a giant demon weaver, and then created colors for the community’s use from its dead body—a scene depicted in the final image of the scroll also in SAM’s collection.  

The red of this painting may be from madder root—a dye from three species of the madder plant family that grows in areas of each continent. The few remaining painters of this Telangana tradition now use a ready-made ground red stone, but say that vegetable dyes were used previously.

At the time of this painting (ca. 1843), three red insect dyes were also available in India: lac from Southeast Asia, kermes (carmine) from an Asian beetle, and cochineal imported from the Americas. The insect pigments could produce deep reds, but kermes and cochineal faded quickly. These expensive reds required an enormous quantity of insects, as well. Madder was more available and inexpensive, more lightfast, and could produce many shades of red. A warm orange-red is perhaps the most common, with pinks and purples also possible. Madder root contains so many colors—five different reds, blues, yellow, and brown—that its dye produces a complexity not possible with synthetic dyes. It did, however, require special knowledge to make the dye and adjust the process for different shades.

Of the five red dye components in madder root, alizarin is primary, and was not created synthetically until 1869—long after several synthetic blues, greens, and yellows. Madder root eventually fell out of cultivation, and since then has been used in artisanal dyeing.

The process for creating the strong lightfast red developed in India (using a few unpleasant and smelly substances) was one of the most complex dyeing processes ever. A version known to Ottoman court painters was kept secret for several centuries.

To learn more about the history of dyes, pigments, and color in Asian art, the Gardner Center Saturday University series, Color in Asian Art: Material and Meaning, begins on October 3 with a talk by Jennifer Stager on the subject of a red pigment of the ancient world, titled “Dragon’s Blood or the Blood of Dragons.”

Sarah Loudon, Director, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Da Fonseca, Anais. “Replication and Innovation in the Folk Narratives of Telangana.” ScholarlyCommons, 2019.
Finlay, Victoria. Color: A Natural History of the Palette. New York: Random House, 2002.
Pavani, N. and D. Ratna Kumari. “History of Telangana Cheriyal Paintings.” International Journal of Home Science 2019: 5(2): 461-64.
Image: Section of a story scroll of sage Bhavana (Bhavana Rishi Mahatmyan Patam), ca. 1843, Indian, opaque watercolor on cloth, 58 x 34 1/4 in., Gift of Leo S. Figiel, M.D., Detroit, Michigan, 76.41

Gardner Center goes down the Silk Roads of History

What is it about Silk Roads history and art that interests so many people? In the late 19th century, German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen coined the term ‘Silk Road’ or ‘Silk Routes’ as part of his map-making efforts. After all, better maps of travel routes had commercial value for access to coal or building railroads, for instance. In the early 20th century, several spectacular “discoveries” (ie, new to the West) of magnificent troves of art and manuscripts in Central Asia and western China fueled the fascination.

Courtesy of the Dunhuang Academy, photo: Wu Jian. 

Now the plural ‘Silk Roads’ is used to better describe the many complex historic trade routes through the Eurasian continent. The idea of commercial exchange across a continent that involved interactions of many cultures, languages, religions, and arts can be such an appealing picture of cosmopolitan societies—in contrast to present-day tensions at home and abroad. “Silk Road nostalgia” refers to interpreting this history in the imagination as a time of tolerance and international understanding as well as prosperity, rooted in hope for peaceful and respectful global exchange in future.

The Jewel of Muscat, a reconstructed replica of a ninth century Omani trading ship, sails into the harbour of Galle, 116 km (72 miles) south of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, on April 19, 2010. The ship, built in a traditional design without nails and sewn together with coconut fibers, left Oman on February 15 to re-enact the old trade routes used by Arab traders, with its final port of call in Singapore, according to the organizers of the voyage. AFP PHOTO/ Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI. (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)

The fall Saturday University Lecture Series, Silk Roads Past and Present: From Ancient Afghan Treasure to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, presents current understandings in seven lectures. Beginning with a talk on the Begram Hoard excavated in Afghanistan, we consider how these storerooms from the first century CE could contain Roman glass, Chinese lacquer, and extraordinarily carved ivories from India. A talk on Maritime Silk Roads explores the shipping that actually transported more goods than overland routes, despite the persistent image of camel caravans.

Bodhisattva leading a lady to the Pure Land (detail), Chinese, Tang dynasty, c. 851–900 CE, Hanging scroll, Ink and colors on silk, Height: 80.5 centimetres, Width: 53.8 centimetres, ©️Trustees of the British Museum. 

The Silk Roads also saw the spread of Buddhism, and two speakers explore Buddhist art in China. Two lesser-known religions are introduced in a talk on Zoroastrian and Manichaean arts. And what about silk? Find out about silk and fashion in Tang Dynasty China, as trade made new textile technologies, colors, and patterns available.  The series concludes with a talk on China’s current international initiative also referred to as the New Silk Road. Please join us!

– Sarah Loudon, Director, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Image: Mogao Cave 237. Image courtesy of the Dunhuang Academy, photo: Zhang Weiwen. 

Spring Brings Trans Plants to Saturday University Lecture Series

Are you gearing up your garden for spring? Think about plants in all new ways when you attend the Gardner Center’s Spring Saturday University Lecture Series.

Join us for five talks by speakers who think about plants in Asia from different perspectives. First, on March 16, we’ll hear about penjing—the Chinese predecessor to bonsai—plus how and why a Southern Chinese style inspires contemporary bonsai artists across the world. Our speaker Aarin Packard, curator of the Pacific Bonsai Museum, explains how he first became interested in bonsai: “As a kid I was exposed to bonsai by my father and by Mr. Miyagi [from “The Karate Kid”).

Next, on March 30, Jerome Silbergeld will share his art historian’s perspective on Chinese gardens, and what they meant to their creators.

Clearly, bonsai and gardens are both art forms that are constantly changing.  The series continues through April with talks on matsutake mushrooms, eucalyptus plantations, and botanical collecting in the mountains of Yunnan Province in Southwest China—one of the world’s richest places in biodiversity.

– Sarah Loudon, Director, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Images: Photo: Pacific Bonsai Museum. Photo: Jerome Silbergeld

Donor Spotlight: Shawn Brinsfield Supports the Asian Art Museum

It’s nice to know that our community also thinks the future of the Seattle Asian Art Museum is going to be cool! More than the critical infrastructure updates to the Art Deco building that won’t be very apparent to visitors, there’s the long history of Asian culture in the Seattle area made visible at the museum. To Shawn Brinsfield, the modest expansion on the back of the Seattle Asian Art Museum is a physical commitment to expanding the understanding and appreciation of Asia. Read why the Asian Art Museum matters to this donor, learn more about the project, and stay up to date on the progress of the renovation and expansion of the Asian Art Museum.

The new Seattle Asian Art Museum is going to be very cool with more space for SAM’s growing collection, better flow and open ‘look-throughs’ to the outside. I take art lessons and sometimes they take us to Volunteer Park to draw; so I look forward to sitting on my chair outside near the trees and drawing the new large glass-walled rear addition of the museum. Ok, full disclosure—I am still just learning to draw; but it will be fun viewing Asian Art Museum visitors fishbowl-like.

The average museum-goer may not appreciate the museum’s new sophisticated climate control environment, which gives the art ‘eternal life.’ Sometimes I think about the centuries of artists who made the works inside the museum. What kind of challenges and human pressures did they have? I wonder how they would react, knowing that their year-after-year sweat and toil and evolution as artists would be preserved by loving and meticulous conservationists today. It’s my understanding that the Asian Art Museum will be an important national center of conserving Asian art. And conserving art is actually a fascinating process. Really!

My mom and her family are of Japanese descent. They were living a full life here in Seattle back in the ‘good old days.’ Grandma Benko Itoi wrote tanka poetry, the family attended art events at the Nippon Kan Theater, they danced in traditional ways at the Bon Odori. Then when World War II broke out they were compelled to destroy most things related to their Japanese culture. So, 75 years later, it’s important to me to support the expansion of Japanese and Asian culture in the Seattle area.

All the art at the Asian Art Museum tells stories of history, ideas, and ways of life. In addition to enjoying the exhibitions on wooden block prints, folding screens, and Chinese scrolls, I have loved going to the Gardner Center’s Saturday University Lecture Series and listening to experts from all over the world. I value this, especially since I help recruit speakers for an Asian art and history group in Florida.

As for the future of the Asian Art Museum, I expect that the Asian Art Museum’s growth will mirror that of Asia’s increasing presence on the world stage. I hope that it continues expanding its collection of South Asian art and continues reaching out to the growing South Asian community here in the Northwest; as well as reaching out to the non-Asian community. My spending time in India on several trips has had a significant impact on my mind and behavior. I include, in my daily life, some practices and rituals which are indigenous to India and South Asia. I have a warm and friendly feeling towards the people and culture of South Asia.

– Shawn Brinsfield

Boundaries of Belonging with the Gardner Center

Debating critical issues over immigration and refugee issues, and the security of national borders in the US can escalate quickly or quickly become tiresome. But, through inquiry, SAM’s Gardner Center offers an alternative way of engaging with, and thinking about, global events that impact us all. The Saturday University Lecture Series beginning this week, is a chance to reflect and discuss how some of these issues manifest around the world. Six outstanding speakers will consider various ways that national borders and other boundaries are created, maintained, and crossed in different parts of Asia in the winter lecture series, Boundaries of Belonging.

Two major events of the mid-20th century that resulted in new national borders—between India and Pakistan, and the formation of North and South Korea—still have resonance in international tensions. Our first speaker, David Gilmartin, looks at the Partition of India and Pakistan in terms of dividing the Indus River Basin, which was then the site of the world’s largest integrated river irrigation system. Next up is the DMZ that separated the members of so many families between North and South Korea. Suk-Young Kim considers that heavily militarized border as a site of intense emotion over the conflicting bonds of family and nation, and discusses various forms of border crossing.

Meanwhile in the Philippines, President Duterte has declared war on marginalized communities within their own nation. While most Filipinos are removed from the violence, Vicente Rafael discusses the work of photojournalists who aim to bring national and international attention to the victims of this “drug war.”

 In a comparison of the treatment of Koreans living in Japan and Japanese Americans in the US during World War II, Tak Fujitani uncovers how both governments recruited among these communities for military service as their duty to the nation, while at the same time denying them full rights.

How to imagine a refugee camp of over 650,000 Rohingya people in Bangladesh? Azeem Ibrahim shares his research conducted over several visits to Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Our final speaker, Lucinda Ramberg, considers issues of religion, caste and gender among a Buddhist community in South India.

Join us and consider the many questions raised during the Saturday University Lecture Series. Tickets are still available to the series and individual lecture tickets are sold at the door, day-of.

– Sarah Loudon, Director, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Photo: NASA
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