1. Manga Evolution

    March 2, 2024 by Nefertari J. and Esha V.

    Driving Question:

    How can Japanese visual storytelling techniques document historical and cultural events?

    Module Summary:

    The Manga Evolution module explored how Japanese visual storytelling techniques document historical and cultural events. The module covers traditional Japanese art forms like sumi-e (ink painting), ukiyo-e (woodblock printing), kamishibai (oral storytelling), and manga (contemporary art form).

    The students practiced dynamic movement in sumi-e, created layered prints in ukiyo-e, analyzed anime like “Demon Slayer,” and learned to read and draw manga. They visited the Manga Museum in Kyoto, attended drawing workshops, and honed their storytelling skills by creating narrative storyboards based on photos taken in Hiroshima.

    Field experiences in Kyoto and Tokyo included visits to the Studio Ghibli Museum, TeamLab Planets, and the Tokyo National Museum. The final project required students to choose a significant historical or cultural event in Japan, create an eight-frame storyboard, and bring one panel to life using their chosen medium.

    Esha V.’s final product is a scaled-up version of a Hanafuda card of her own design. This artwork incorporates watercolor, an element she integrated based on her experience with sumi-e. Through practicing sumi-e, Esha learned about opacity and color, skills she then applied to her final product. By iterating on her design and creating multiple drafts before commencing the final piece, she ensured she evaluated numerous ways of presenting her ideas. This thorough process allowed her to ultimately decide on a composition that effectively communicates the story within the frame.

    For her final project, Nefertari J. chose a historical and cultural event to explore the meaning of being in Japan: the Atomic Bomb. Creating a storyboard helped her turn complex events into a coherent visual story, enhancing her narrative skills, whilst the module’s workshops and practice improved her artistic abilities. She examined the distinctions between Japanese culture and her own, particularly the Atomic Bomb.

    Balancing research, creativity, and technical skills, she thoughtfully selected scenes, showcasing her growth in visual storytelling. The project refined her techniques and allowed her to experiment with traditional art forms.

  2. Snapshots of Nature’s Symphony

    December 4, 2023 by Keetah B.

    Driving Question:

    How can the art of analogue film photography serve as a powerful conservation tool, revealing the intricate interplay between plants and animals within vulnerable ecosystems?

    Module Summary:

    The module titled “Snapshots of Nature Symphony,” explored how analog film photography can serve as a powerful conservation tool by revealing the intricate interplay between plants and animals in vulnerable ecosystems. They began by explaining their use of pinhole cameras, which were made from cans and operated by capturing images through a small hole acting as a lens. These images, initially inverted, were then processed digitally to reveal their true colors.

    The students also learned from Doug Gimy, a renowned wildlife conservation photographer, who taught them how to create compelling stories using photographs. Additionally, they experimented with cyanotypes, a photographic process that involves creating images on fabric or paper using light-sensitive chemicals and natural elements like leaves and flowers, which were then developed in sunlight.

    A visit to the zoo provided them with insights into ongoing conservation efforts and allowed them to apply their film photography skills to capture images of wildlife. They also had the opportunity to visit a dark room, where they learned about the film development process, including techniques such as developing, stopping, enlarging, burning, and dodging.

    The module included a field trip to the Daintree Rainforest, where they engaged in field studies to analyze water quality and learned about local conservation initiatives. They also designed and printed conservation-themed t-shirts using a silk-screening process, which involved coating screens with emulsion and exposing them to create designs.

    For their final project, Keetah B. wanted to focus on the relationship between wildlife conservation and the dying cultures of the aboriginals while also celebrating the diversity and beauty of Australian nature. In the Daintree, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people are nowadays part of the wildlife conservation effort, but in the past, they had their land taken away from them by colonizers who destroyed their native land. Although these issues mainly occurred in the past, there are still cases of this today. A sacred birthing hole was taken away from the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, and they are no longer allowed on the site. Not only that, but climate change and other environmental factors pose a huge risk to Australian wildlife conservation, and the Daintree is not exempt from this. Although it has been around for hundreds of millions of years, it can very quickly be destroyed by human actions.

    Keetah wanted to bring these themes together into one image by taking a piece of aboriginal culture, the boomerang, an object known for “coming back,” and placing it with the wildlife that is at risk, all while showing the beauty that is important to preserve.

  3. Search & Rescue

    December 3, 2023 by Keetah B.

    Driving Question: How can I improve my diving skills through the SSI Stress and Rescue Course and apply them to the artistic practice of jewelry making to create jewelry inspired by the ocean?

    Project Summary:

    Keetah’s project “Search and Rescue,” creatively combines her passion for rescue diving and jewelry making. Her journey began with her first diving experience, which was life-changing despite initial struggles with focus and awareness. This inspired her project goal: to improve her diving skills through the SSI Stress and Rescue course and apply these skills to create ocean-inspired jewelry.

    The first part of her project involved taking the stress and rescue course to enhance her diving abilities, specifically focusing on identifying and managing stress in underwater and above-water situations. This included completing an online course with extensive note-taking, pool diving sessions to reinforce basic skills, and an open water dive where she successfully applied her new skills in real-world scenarios, demonstrating improved awareness and ability to assist others.

    The second part of her project combined her newfound diving skills with jewelry making, inspired by a conversation with her instructor about underwater treasure hunting. She decided to create jewelry from materials found in the ocean, using a wire wrapping technique that suited her aesthetic vision. After some trial and error with materials, Keetah crafted her final pieces using sea glass, seashells, and other natural elements, completing a project that symbolized her love for the ocean and her growth as a diver.

  4. Aboriginal Art

    by Maya G.

    Driving Question:

    How can I showcase my understanding of aboriginal culture through my own original aboriginal inspired art piece?

    Project Summary:

    With a deep admiration for Aboriginal art and a passion for creating art herself, Maya G. undertook a personal project on the topic of Aboriginal art, exploring the fine line between appreciation and appropriation.

    Maya’s project was driven by the question of how she could showcase her understanding of Aboriginal culture through her own Aboriginal-inspired artwork. Despite reaching out to various museums, artists, organizations, and communities, she received no responses or insights from them. This lack of external input underscored the importance of recognizing two critical points: first, that her art was not truly hers but the work of Aboriginal people and their culture; and second, that her artwork was not for profit but solely for her own educational purposes.

    To create her piece, Maya engaged in several steps. She visited museums and cultural sites in Melbourne to understand how Aboriginal people create and talk about their art. She then focused on three main components: storytelling, symbols, and outlines and drafts. For storytelling, she chose to depict her family history, which was personal and meaningful to her. In terms of symbols, she researched and incorporated various Aboriginal symbols used to represent maps, dreamtimes, and real places. She then created multiple drafts to accurately represent her family’s history, ensuring the final product was both colorful and meaningful.

    Maya’s final artwork depicted her family lineage, with generations represented and significant symbols integrated to show the passage of time and the presence of her ancestors. She included the Sun and Moon to symbolize the passage of time and stars to represent deceased family members watching over her. Despite the personal significance of the piece, Maya concluded that it should not be considered Aboriginal art because she is not an Aboriginal artist. She emphasized that non-Aboriginal creations labeled as Aboriginal art undermine the authenticity and cultural heritage of true Aboriginal art.

    To symbolize her understanding and respect for Aboriginal culture, Maya ultimately chose to destroy her artwork. This act was a statement against the appropriation of Aboriginal art by non-Aboriginal artists, reinforcing the importance of preserving the authenticity and cultural integrity of Aboriginal art.

  5. The Little Frog’s Dilemma

    June 13, 2023 by Samara M.

    Driving Question:

    How can I use my personal life experiences to write and illustrate a children’s book that explores the topics of race, culture and identity?

    Project Summary:

    Samara M., one of our senior students, shared a deeply personal project inspired by her multicultural background, having lived in Kenya, China, Malaysia, and Tanzania. Despite loving books like “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” and “The Gruffalo,” she felt a lack of stories that reflected her unique experiences.

    Identifying as a third culture kid, Samara highlighted the challenges and feelings of isolation that come with this identity. To bridge this gap, she created a children’s story that resonates with the third culture experience and beyond.

    Samara conducted research across schools in Kenya and Tanzania, revealing a significant underrepresentation of black characters in children’s books. Motivated by these findings and Susan Sontag’s belief that stories shape our world, Samara wrote “The Little Frog’s Dilemma,” a tale set in a pond divided into four regions, each with distinct skills.

    The protagonist, a frog with parents from different regions, embodies a blend of these cultures but struggles to excel in any single skill. Despite initial failures in dancing and magic, the frog’s unique croak, a metaphor for its mixed identity, ultimately earns it the honor of performing for the queen.

    Through this story, Samara aims to reflect diverse experiences and foster connection. She encourages everyone to embrace and share their personal narratives, believing they have the power to ignite empathy and break down barriers.

    Samara’s hope is that “The Little Frog’s Dilemma” will resonate with readers and become a cherished story, inspiring others to create bridges through their own unique tales.

  6. Photography Oaxaca

    July 21, 2022 by Raf W.

    Driving Question: How can I create a photo album capturing the true essence of street art in Oaxaca City?

    Project Summary: Raf’s personal project is about photography and photo editing. His project aimed to capture the essence of street art in Oaxaca. Due to the fact that Oaxaca has an abundance of incredible street art, Raf felt it was of high importance to capture this beauty using photography and exemplify it using Photoshop. You can see the pictures Raf has taken and edited below, which hopefully provide a sense of Oaxaca’s beauty.

    Student Reflection: This project gave me the time to just pause amongst all the craziness in a term. When taking photos, I felt relaxed, and that I was really appreciating Oaxaca for what it was. I learned that if we don’t pay attention to the small details of a given environment, we might miss its beauty.

  7. Al Khail

    July 18, 2022 by Bido H.

    Driving Question: How can we model a clay sculpture inspired by Mexican beliefs and religious syncretism (the merging of different beliefs) to represent a fusion of our personal beliefs and values?

    Project Summary: Bido calls his sculpture “Al Khail,” which means horse in Arabic. It is intended to show a fusion of his values and beliefs. The wings are a symbol of freedom, ambition, and a representation of spirituality. Al Khail is inspired mainly by nature.

    Bido’s belief in “Kama Tudeen Tudan,” meaning “Good Karma,” is represented by the birds on the top of the horse and inspired by the Old Man’s Beard plant grown in Oaxaca’s cloud forest.

    Both the plant and the tree live together and are kind to each other as part of the mutualistic symbiosis relationship. Similarly, the horse was kind enough to let the birds live on top of him; it turns out the birds feed on the little creatures on the horse’s body, creating a mutually beneficial relationship that started with an act of kindness.

    Student Reflection:
    “I had a limiting belief before starting this module that I’m not very artistic — the first time I experimented with clay I found it very difficult; however, I dedicated time to experimenting with different techniques and used digital art and 3D modeling to help create my sculpture. I learned that just by accepting something and working hard for it, we can really achieve more than we expect.”

  8. El Camino 

    by Lucas B.

    Driving Question: How can we model a clay sculpture inspired by Mexican beliefs and religious syncretism (the merging of different beliefs) to represent a fusion of our personal beliefs and values?

    Project Summary: Life is seen as a transitory stage towards something greater for many belief systems. “El Camino” – meaning “The Path” – represents a merger between the Zapotec and Catholic belief systems in Oaxaca, and the most important one in the construction of Lucas’s faith, Buddhism.

    The upper part of Lucas’s sculpture symbolizes the Zapotec’s way towards Mictlan, a place of eternal peace, which consists of a nine-level journey that takes four years to complete. The cross on the opposite end is an element of the Christian faith that embraces the challenges that ultimately become our passports to sanctification. In the middle, they meet to become one, referencing both the syncretism in Oaxaca and the end of duality – a Buddhist concept of spiritual enlightenment.

    Student Reflection:
    “Over my weeks in Mexico, I could explore in-depth the values of the belief systems that gave birth to Oaxaca’s unique syncretic landscape. As I appreciated the elements of these highly different cultures, I was able to see a multitude of symbols that resembled my own faith everywhere. The final sculpture I constructed is an embracement of both my learnings and some of my most foundational beliefs about life and the universe.”

  9. Qandeel-e-Zeist (Light of Life)

    by Minahil M.

    Driving Question: How can we model a clay sculpture inspired by Mexican beliefs and religious syncretism (the merging of different beliefs) to represent a fusion of our personal beliefs and values?

    Project Summary: For her project, Minahil created a sculpture of Qandeel-e-Zeist (Light of Life), which embodies the values and beliefs that guide and enlighten her life.

    Minahil’s project blends Zapotec symbolism, the Chinese Yin and Yang, Quranic verses, Urdu poetry, and personal emblems that convey how different cultures, people, and places have shaped the person Minahil is today.

    The treasure chest represents her beliefs and values and highlights how the elements in her sculpture are invaluable to her. Leaving the treasure chest open expresses the importance of being open-minded. It further indicates how her values and beliefs are changing.

    Student Reflection: “Everyone in the world has a set of values and beliefs that guide and enlighten their lives. Through this module, I learned about my own values and beliefs in-depth, developed a greater understanding and appreciation of the personal values of indigenous cultures in Oaxaca, especially the Zapotecs.”

  10. Defining Art

    January 27, 2022 by Keetah B.

    Art is such a big part of Oaxaca’s culture and its diversity is what makes it so unique. We had the chance to talk to artists who make art for a living, and it has been in their family for 5 generations. We also had the chance to talk to newer artists who may not depend on it for an income. It has been a very interesting experience to take in all the different perspectives of these artists, and learn about how they all coexist in the same place.

    -Class of 2024 Student Keetah B..

    Driving Question: How might we convey the intersection of local arts and economy through documentary filmmaking?

    What were your goals for this module? How did you achieve them?

    During the AyAyAyAyAy module, my goals were to improve my filmography skills while gaining an in-depth understanding of art and economy here in Oaxaca.

    Through this module, we were filming and editing for hours at a time, so I improved my filmography skills through constant practice and analyzing what I did wrong and how I could improve it. We also got feedback from local videographers, which was very useful when using Premiere Pro for the first time.

    During both the weXplore and back at the main residence, the experiential learning really helped me feel like I understood Oaxacan art. We even got to take part in making the art and talk to the artists. I now have a greater understanding of the relationship between art and economy, art and politics, and art and culture. I feel that I have also learned about how vital artisanship is here and the perspective more modern artists have of artisans.

    What new things did you learn about yourself?

    I learned more about my filming style and what I can improve on when filming. I also learned that I’m a perfectionist, especially when it comes to editing.

    I learned that my perspectives of what art is and the motivations people have for art don’t always align. I also learned how people’s perspectives of art itself might change depending on why they do art.

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