Working with deep and wounded history

seeingSometimes it gets to me – working with the deep and wounded history of my ancestors. Today I had a good breakfast conversation with a friend. She understands the work I am doing about the Japanese Internment Camps in New Mexico at the Santa Fe Art Institute. She’s lived here in New Mexico long enough to know that there is rich tapestry of different cultures and communities and that makes researching and making art about the history of the camps even more complicated. Peeling the layers back can be raw, and seeing the crisscrossing histories of: the vets who were in the Bhataan death march and experienced the brutality of the Japanese army, the injustice of the American concentration camps imprisoning innocent people of Japanese ancestry, and the Los Alamos creation of the bomb that killed so many in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’m wrapping my head around it after a month of research.

My friend said, “you are a flag bearer who makes sure people know the history so things don’t happen again.” Yet I find it so discouraging to see the Central American immigrant families being imprisoned right now.

Keeping my heart open is what sustains me. I hope to bring light and witnessing to stories of injustice and imprisonment for all kinds of people. My ritual performance will invite anyone to participate. More info to come soon.

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Elders create eco mandalas

I enjoy facilitating an Elders’ art class in San Francisco every Friday. For the past 6 weeks we have been focusing on mandalas. I discussed the sacredness of the circle symbol in many cultures, in nature, and in religion. We designed rose window mandalas based on the cathedral stained glass windows of Europe. We made shield mandalas to give us strength.

For the eco mandala inspiration, my two high school aids presented a report on Andy Goldsworthy and showed how he used things found in the environment, nature ,to create installations. I scavenged materials for the mandala creating: rose petals from the flower place on highway 92, rocks left over from Carla’s landscaping job, different kinds of rocks and colors from Home Depot, and fallen ginkgo leaves in front of Judy Johnson-Williams house. The biggest score though was from Alena Jean’s Flower Shop. Her dad had just finished pruning and I grabbed beautiful plum branches, geranium leaves, lily flower petals.

The only instructions I gave the elders were to think about: balance, color, texture, placement, and the centers of their mandalas. The elders went right to it and came up with some beautiful designs. Some of them left a lot of black around their materials, so the shapes of each petal and leaf was defined. Others piled the materials on.

I found the project to be very successful for the many different issues that the elders have: hearing loss, stroke restriction, language differences, memory and cognitive variation. Everyone was able to create the mandalas and they enjoyed seeing what their fellow students had done.

Kids and seniors create their own story

If the slideshow stops, click on the “x” in the circle in the upper right corner of the show.

Well what a fun and creative blast we had! I recently facilitated an Inter-generational Art class with Coastside Children’s Programs and Coastside Adult Day Health Center.

Why intergenerational art? I think it is important and therapeutic for different ages to have experiences together. In order for communities to be whole, they have to have respect and understanding of all its members, no matter what their age. And with our current lifestyles, many of us are miles away from our families and do not get a chance to be with our different generations. My parents are in Nevada and my mother has Alzheimer’s disease, so I have compassion and understanding for families in this situation. When my mother was living closer and at home, she and I did some art together and it allowed us to communicate in a whole new way and in the moment. I really wanted to bring this intergenerational experience out into the world.

The process – Like when you bring any kind of group together, everyone was a little shy at first, but once we got going the markers and pastels were scribbling with vigor. First we sat in a circle with interspersed seniors and kids, and did introductions. Everyone announced their favorite color and I think blue won as the most popular. Then we passed a special talking object, so when it was their turn, each person contributed to a story we made up together. I really wanted to create something together in the here and now. That way no one had to remember anything since we were making a new story. If anyone got stuck when it was their turn, some one helped out with an idea.

Communication was an issue we worked with. One of the centers assistants reminded me to speak loudly so all the seniors could hear and Emma from the children’s group did some translation into Spanish so everyone could understand and contribute.

After we finished with the story, I read it out loud to the group and then they started drawing. We made sure all the characters and activities in the story were in the drawing. The canvas was a large white paper which was taped on the round table. As the large communal art piece developed, it became a mandala of intergenerational creativity, a mutual story of their own.

The seniors asked the kids about some of their drawing and they responded with pride, explaining their art. Some of the seniors and kids worked together, each drawing their own versions of some of the characters and comparing them.

At the end of the hour, the Coastside Children sang “itsy bitsy spider” in English and Spanish, as a thank you to the Seniors.

To finish the story mandalas I added some stitching along the edges and wrote the stories in a spiral for the centers.

Here are the two stories created by the kids and seniors:

THE SNAKE, HER FRIEND, AND THE ELEPHANT – Once upon a time there was a big storm and it was very rainy. A little snake and her friend named John woke up in the morning and looked out the window. They saw an elephant in the front yard. The snake and John took the elephant to the hillside to eat some grass. The sun came out and so did the flowers. They were pink and purple. They picked some flowers and took them to grandma’s house. She opened the door and said, “Thanks for coming to see me!” Grandma cooked them up a bear. It was so salty; they had to drink a lot of water. Then of course they all had to use the potty. It was time to go, so they put on their raincoats again and ran outside. Next the snake and John and the elephant went to church to say some prayers. After a long day they all went home to see their mom and dad, who took them inside and put them to bed and everyone went to sleep.

PANCAKES AND MORE PANCAKES – Once upon a time there was a horse named Charlie and he had a pony friend named Michael. They woke up and had pancakes for breakfast and went out to have some fun. They played and played with a big green ball. After awhile they got hungry again and gobbled down some carrots. After their snack they went over to Adult Day Health Center to visit everybody. Charlie and Michael drew some flowers and some birds. Then they galloped over to see Dolly and she cooked them up some more pancakes, this time with yummy syrup and hot chocolate. Charlie and Michael heard a noise up in the sky and ran outside to see a butterfly. “Hi butterfly!” they neighed. Now it was time to go home and rest. “But, I don’t want to take a nap!” said Charlie. So Charlie and Michael played and played soccer till the sun went down. And now they were tired.

Here is the format I used for the storymaking:

Once upon a time there was a _________________named_________________ and he/she had a friend named_____________. They woke up in the morning and _________. They looked (up or out the window or where ever makes sense with the developing story and saw _______________ so they______________. ( Create the rest of the story and blanks to help develop the storyline.) Then they went to visit, etc ________________ and had a, or did  ______________. They ______________ and saw _____________. It started to get dark so they________________________. On the way back they ______________________. Why don’t we _____________said__________. So they _________.

Keep in mind you want everyone to get at least one turn to add to the story. While the story is developing write it down, so you can read it back to the participants so they can visually create the story.

Contact me, Judy Shintani, for more info on this project. I am available to facilitate Inter-generational art projects, children, and senior art classes in the SF Bay Area or can travel to your location.

“You are looking old today”

I’m reading a book right now called Healthy at 100” by John Robbins. He writes, “The advancing age wave is the most significant demographic event of our life time and is taking place in every industrialized nation in the world”.

Robbins talks about how so many Americans do not look forward to old age because the model here is sickness, helplessness, and loneliness. He talks about other cultures where old age is revered and the elders are not called “old” they are called the “long living ones”. That that makes such a difference in the mentality and health of the whole community. In Abkhasia it would be considered an insult to be told that you are “looking young”. They compliment each other by saying “you are looking old today”. They mean that the person is wise and beautiful in their maturity.

The other cultures he writes about are in: Vilcabamba, Hunza, Okinawa. I’ll report on what I find out about these place next.