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Jiwon Chung Workshop: Theater of the Oppressed

Posted on by vidya_bhamidi@berkeley.edu
Filed under: Performance

Movement, Bodies, and Relationships of Power, Oppression, and Resistance

Theater director Jiwon Chung recently led a Global Urban Humanities (GUH) workshop in which students considered systemic violence through a series of exercises based on the work of Augusto Boal. City and Regional Planning student Jeff Garnand, who participated in the workshop, reflects on how physical movement helped students from many disciplines consider power relationships.

Coursework in the humanities and social sciences often – should, must – bring students into contact with systems of oppression, hierarchy, and domination. And all students have had experience with these forms of power in their own lives in various institutional and social settings. Many have studied, and some have participated in, resistance movements that seek to challenge the exercise of power as a form of domination themselves. But how often are we provided with a forum in which to consider these manifestations through the methods of theater and performance?

 

The Global Urban Humanities program brought together students, faculty, and engaged members of the community for a workshop on considering systemic and structural violence, offering them the opportunity to work with Jiwon Chung, a theater practitioner and adjunct faculty member at the Graduate Theological Union with a long and deep connection with Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed.

 

Chung uses Boal’s work as a way of helping students and communities recognize both the targeted and diffuse operation of oppression, and then using the format of movement, performance and theater as a generative space for conceiving forms of individual and collective resistance and counternarrative to advance social justice.

Workshop participants came from a range of fields in the arts, social sciences, environmental design, and humanities, bringing to the workshop their own disciplinary expertise and epistemologies. At the opening of the workshop, we were invited to meet each other, wandering the room loosely and encountering our fellow classmates and beginning to create webs of connection and affinity through prompts offered by Jiwon. The exercises became increasingly intense, as participants engaged in relationships of power through body movement, and were asked at each turn to reflect upon how it felt to be dominant and oppressed within a given scenario.

In one exercise, the entire class was engaged in movement that tied each participant to multiple other participants; I happened to be at the center. Small movements on my part had dramatic effects on my fellow participants one or two levels out. There was a cascade of power in each gesture: a small movement of my hand sent people sprawling across the floor at the periphery, struggling to keep up under the constraints of a system which had been imposed without consultation or consideration of the participants.

Jiwon invited us to reconsider these dynamics, inventing new ways to respond to the exercise of power that was happening right in front of us. We were able to respond to power, to critique and resist it, at some points ignore it or create alternate ways of being in our autoconstructed system that respected, or attempted to respect, the needs of those who were oppressed in these embodied relationships. The oppressed were able to respond both as individuals and collectively, to reshape the dynamics in the room toward a more just relationship.

A major strength of the workshop for attendees was a very visceral experience of power, as well as seeing visually and experiencing through the body the relationships that people are placed within knowingly or unknowingly, and the points at which empowerment over one's own or collective decisions is truncated or constrained, as well as the slow unfolding of possibilities to modify those dynamics. Jiwon was a very sensitive and attuned facilitator – I really appreciated his style and attentiveness to power and the attendees as intersectional subjects nested in webs of multiple and varied power relationships. Part of what I hope we are all getting in our coursework and time at Berkeley is a facility for empathy, and the workshop was an excellent way to further develop that facility in everyone who participated, regardless of their chosen field: empathy should know no disciplinary boundaries.

At the end of the workshop, everyone agreed that they had learned a great deal through working with our bodies, with feeling, exercising, and resisting power. Participants came away with a mindfulness and a deeper understanding of the ways that power works overtly and also very subtly, and opened our minds (and bodies) to the ways in which oppression is exerted within and across disciplines and in society at large. We could see clearly that there was no easy answer, and no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing oppression and power, but in experiencing its effects through our own bodies we gained in our consciousness and awareness a somatic understanding that can and will carry forward into our own academic, social, professional, and personal lives.


GUH FACULTY JASON LUGER’S REVIEW PUBLISHED IN ANTIPODE

Posted on by Anne Jonas
Filed under: Art

Global Urban Humanities faculty member Jason Luger is co-teaching the GUH Core Seminar in Spring 2018 with Angela Marino: Populism, Art and the City. He recently published a review of  ArtWORK:  Art, Labour and Activism by Paula Serafini, Jessica Holtaway, and Alberto Cossu inAntipode. Here is a short excerpt from the review:
"Contextually, the volume fits well amidst geography’s creative (re)turn (De Leeuw and Hawkins 2017), and also the convergence across several fields where the political–and political socio-spatial relations–has once again become central to discussions (as Dikeç and Swyngedouw 2017 argue). Serving as a bridge between the parallel and related–yet often disciplinarily distinct–literatures on art geographies, politics and political economy, and comparative urbanism, Serafini et al.’s volume represents an important effort to bring these areas together. While other recent works (e.g. Luger and Ren 2017; Zebracki and Palmer 2017) likewise approach the flows and networks of art’s relationship to the urban landscape (or “artscape”), this collection zeros in on the production, embodiment, and practices of processes that are both the art’s subject and involved in the art’s impact and meaning (p.2). This less conceptual, more descriptive focus on the political production of art, rather than just a focus on the meaning/interpretation of the art itself is welcome. The volume is also pointedly political, which is required in these insurgent (and populist) times."
The full review can be found here.

About Jason Luger - 
Jason is the co-editor of the volume Art and the City: Worlding the Discussion through a Critical Artscape (2017), and his research has been featured in academic journals such as CITY, Antipode, Geoforum, the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, and Media and Culture. 

About the authors of artWORK - 
Alberto Cossu is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Milan, Italy.
Jessica Holtaway is a PhD candidate in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College, University of London.
Paula Serafini is a Research Associate at CAMEo Research Institute for Cultural and Media Economies, University of Leicester.
The book is available for purchase here 

About Antipode - 
Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography is a peer-reviewed scientific journal published five times per year by Wiley-Blackwell and produced by The Antipode Foundation. Its coverage centers on critical human geography and it seeks to encourage radical spatial theorizations based on Marxist, socialist, anarchist, anti-racist, anticolonial, feminist, queer, trans*, green, and postcolonial thought. 


On statues, and what can and cannot be said

Posted on by Tina Novero
Filed under: Art, History

From the Berkeley Blog: http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2017/08/18/on-statues-and-what-can-and-cannot-be-said/
By Andrew Shanken (GUH fellow and co-instructor of the GUH course City of Memory )
August 18, 2017

I’ve been loath to write about what’s happening with Confederate statues, but a few sleepless nights cured my diffidence. As an architectural historian who works on memorials and has dabbled in the history of historic preservation, I’ve vacillated over the years between a Ruskinian position (“let it moulder”) and a Rieglian position, trying to establish some basis, however culturally relative, for how we value parts of the built environment.

My first thought on the matter at hand is that there have been waves of iconoclasm since memorials and statues first became fixtures in the built environment. While the present phenomenon is part of a modern reaction to what are essentially political interventions in the built environment, Romans regularly cleared out the statues that cluttered the Forum. It was a form of political erasure, a fine art for any successful autocrat. France experienced moments of “statuophobia” tagged to the waves of revolutions that swept through that country in the 19th century. More recently, statues came down after the fall of the Soviet Union and its former puppet states, Saddam statues fell in Iraq, and across the world reactionaries have used iconoclasm as a form of violence manqué, often alongside actual violence. This sort of erasure has been a tool of the left and the right; iconoclasm is not a politically fixed act.

But it is erasure and this is a point that we need to explore a bit more vigorously. What are these statues saying and should we be silencing it or responding to it? I’m not totally sure I know the answer to that question.

There is, luckily, a history of contest in the south over Civil War and civil rights statues, one explored in a recent book by Dell Upton: What Can and Can’t Be Said. The title gets right to the heart of it. We are witnessing a rupture in the basic conception of what can and can’t be said publicly.

White nationalists, emboldened by the present regime, feel empowered to speak and are using monuments to do so. This is not a new use for these monuments, but the situation is amplified, acute, raw. These monuments are linguistically flexible. They can be quietly beautiful one moment, a seemingly harmless piece of civic adornment—and many were erected, we have forgotten, during the reign of the City Beautiful—and harnessed for evil in another. People have rushed in to counter the darkness unleashed in places like Charlottesville verbally, bodily, and violently. The violence has a larger context, of course, but some of it may issue from the fact that these statues are bold: tall, dignified, larger than life, often aesthetically powerful, and laden with layers of dark history. Going back to Upton’s title, what words can possibly counter that! Fists, lassoes, physical force of some sort seems to be the answer for many people. Where words fail to win the day, the statue comes down.

But should it? It is, I suppose, not enough to argue that these statues are artistically significant. Beautiful things get destroyed routinely. We may rue their passing, but preservation often has a mightily precious view of artistic and age value.

Perhaps there is some verbal or cultural equivalent to a martial arts move that could turn the power of these statues against them. Can they be lampooned, subtitled or otherwise diffused by further intervention? At the moment, I think not, at least not now. If Americans were capable of meaningful, civil dialogue, the white nationalists would not be marching and Antifa would not be storming the marches. But perhaps these statues have a role to play down the road, didactically, politically, aesthetically. I was astonished to learn that there has been for about 20 years a return to erecting Stalin statues in the former Soviet lands.

Serious dialogue begins with empathy. Perhaps we might begin that dialogue with a considered act of empathy toward these statues. They are prisoners of war, in effect, and deserve that consideration.


Celluloid Landscape

Posted on by Tina Novero

Celluloid Landscape
From the Arts + Design blog: arts.berkeley.edu/arc-fellows-celluloid-landscape/
By Gene Stroman and Chip Sullivan (2017 ARC Fellows)
Spring 2017

Cinema can be useful for landscape architects and other designers of the built environment. Over the course of the Spring semester, Professor Chip Sullivan and I have been exploring this proposition. We have delved into the body of previous theory on the intersection between architectural design and the art of filmmaking. We have also enthusiastically worked our way through a list of “Landscape Films”, where landscapes and urban places take on more of a central role than just the setting for a story to take place; films that we believe are pertinent to the design and understanding of cultural landscape. This research resulted in a series of provoking conversations about film and landscape, ranging from the particularities of set design to the landscape philosophies of certain filmmakers and their works. These weekly conversations provided a basis for further writings and drawings on the topic, and a new lens from which to approach our daily landscape design practice.

So, what exactly is so compelling about the art of cinema, and how can it influence environmental designers? The list is long, and we have only begun to scrape the surface. On a practical level, cinema can function as an important research tool for designers to study the histories, existing conditions, and cultural perceptions associated with a site. Moving image can also function as a form of representation that can help to express the more ephemeral qualities of site design like light, sound, movement, impermanence, and other spatial qualities that are not as effectively covered in the toolkit in use by designers today.

The history of motion picture is filled with examples of landscapes that are specifically designed and created for film, for example the artful, modernist garden of Villa Arpel in Jacque Tati’s Mon Oncle (1967) or the landscape that is used as a production camp and staging area to drag a 320-ton steamship over a mountain in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest (Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog, 1982). Chip maintains that many of these filmic landscapes are more successful than those designed by architects, city planners, and landscape architects. The apparent success and popularity of these filmic landscapes provoked our curiosity about the process of filmmakers, and we found that it is actually very similar to that that of the Landscape Architect; there are many lessons to be learned from a filmmaker’s approach to research, concept development, representation, storytelling, and much more. One shared interest of ours is the potential of dreams in landscape design, and we looked into the process by which filmmakers have long been able to tap into this wellspring of creativity, excelling in the translation and testing of their dreams manifested in celluloid dreamscapes. Idiosyncratic as this example may be, the synergies between the two disciplines are plentiful and can provide new insights for the development of our discipline.

Many of these topics are considered and written about more extensively in a blog that we kept over the semester, Celluloid Landscape. We hope to keep posting on this page, and will publish a selection of the research (both writings and illustrations) in a pamphlet this summer. The ARC Fellowship has provided us with the opportunity to build on the interests and research we’ve developed individually over the years, but this time in a collaborative academic setting that has allowed for critical dialogue and a more effective process for shaping ideas. The research we’ve pursued has been invaluable to our own practice, and we hope that this interdisciplinary investigation can help to stimulate new ways for those in the architectural disciplines to perceive and design the world we inhabit.

--

Chip Sullivan is a Professor, Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, author and artist who teaches in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. This year he was awarded the American Society of Landscape Architects Jot Carpenter Teaching Medal, the ASLA’s highest honor for education. His latest graphic novel “Cartooning the Landscape” was recently published by the University of Virginia Press.

Gene Stroman is a Graduate student in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. With a previous degree and professional background in Urban Planning, he is especially interested in cities and the way in which places accrue meaning and cultural value over time. Gene is currently serving as the managing director for Ground Up, the Department of Landscape Architecture’s student-run journal.


Awakening the Dragon: Art, Urban Space + Authoritarianism

Posted on by TIna Novero
Filed under: Art

By Tina Novero, Program Coordinator, Global Urban Humanities

The latest Global Urban Humanities Brown Bag lecture on cities featured urban geographer Jason Luger, lecturer in the UC Berkeley Department of City and Regional Planning. Luger’s talk explored the tensions between art activism within the authoritarian confines of Singapore.

Luger explained that organization and mobilization around an annual firing of two remaining “dragon kilns” provides a metaphor for the underlying power of community efforts toward social change. The annual 3-day “Awaken the Dragon” festival involves thousands of local participants in making ceramics that fill kilns measuring over 88 feet in length.

While Singapore’s government supports the arts as a nation-building strategy, the process of art-making often involves input from diverse stakeholders. Art-making provides a platform for national discourse on a wide range of pressing social issues from censorship of theater to LGBTQ rights.

“Art-making–and the artistic encounter–is one way that critical voices can emerge through the nooks and crannies of the authoritarian structure,” said Luger.

Luger’s research was conducted in 2012-2015 and included interviews with artists, activists, and state officials. He is currently co-editing a book entitled Art and the City: Critical Artscapes / Resilient Artists (Routledge, 2017).


Nevertheless, She Persisted: Women and Land Rights in China

Posted on by Tina Novero
Filed under: Art+Village+City, China

 

By Susan Moffat, Project Director, Global Urban Humanities Initiative

The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China promises women equal rights. But in reality, many women have to petition for years to secure equal legal rights to their village lands. Their dogged persistence is a striking example of the way quiet, long-term activism can bring about changes to people’s “right to the city,” said Lanchih Po at a recent talk sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative at UC Berkeley.

“Their activism is not photogenic,” said Po, an associate adjunct professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at UC Berkeley, who described women who singly or in groups of two or three show up at village offices without banners or fanfare month after month, or bring lawsuits that can stretch on for decades.  “They are considered a headache by local officials…they are persistent for years and years. They just don’t go away. You should see the faces of the officials when the women show up—it’s like they’ve seen a ghost.”

Po studied a town where a woman named Hui protested at the village office three to four times a week for more than ten years.  “I’m so angry - I have difficulty breathing…I can’t stand how they look down on women,” Hui said.

For several decades, Po has been conducting research on villages in southern China’s Pearl River Delta, focusing on the activism of women seeking their share of rights to communally-owned rural land. In the fast-urbanizing, densely populated area around Guangzhou and Dongguan, just up the Pearl River from Hong Kong, these citified “rural” lands often generate significant income when used as sites for factories or real estate development.

The activism of women takes place in the jurisdictions known as “villages,” which have far more autonomy from the central government in China than “cities” do–even when the villages are surrounded by metropolitan sprawl and physically look quite urban. There is an ongoing battle for power between these islands of village government and the central government.  

The villages jealously guard their right to self-determination, including the right to limit the number of villagers who are named as members. By limiting who counts as a citizen of the village, the more-or-less democratically elected village leaders maintain the value of each citizen’s share of the communal land and the revenue it generates.

Excluding village women who marry men from outside the jurisdiction is a key strategy for reducing the dilution of shares.  But in recent decades, these “waijianü”  or “out-married women” have been lobbying for their share of the villages where they or their ancestors were born. When the village claims women are no longer citizens of the village because of divorce, widowhood, or “outmarriage,” the women find they are counted as aliens in their native place.

So they petition higher levels of government for protection, much as African Americans in the American South looked to the Federal government to protect their rights against discrimination by local authorities.  Still, the central government struggles to enforce national laws.

“In China there is no shortage of beautiful laws, whether environmental or relating to people’s rights, but the problem is always implementation,” says Po.

Po says the protesting women in the villages are asserting their rights in a way that is rare in China—by citing the Constitution. “They are asserting their right to the city and their right to change the urbanization process not only through issues of resource distribution but by demanding acknowledgment of their membership in the community.”  These issues are not unique to China, said Po, noting that this kind of “politics of recognition” (following Charles Taylor) does not solely have to do with economic benefit, but also the right to political visibility.

On the one hand, urban village jurisdictions in China represent important zones of resistance to central state control where unique urban physical form and social relations flourish. On the other hand, they are sometimes bastions of discriminatory local customs. When local elected officials deny the citizenship of people in their midst and more distant unelected state officials seek to force that recognition, the picture of democracy and the right to the city becomes very complicated, indeed.

You can see Po’s research on other aspects of Chinese urban villages here:

Asymmetrical Integration: Public Finance Deprivation in China's Urbanized Villages,” Environmental Planning A, Vol. 44 Issue 12, January 1, 2012.

Property Rights Reforms and Changing Grassroots Governance in China’s Urban—Rural Peripheries: The Case of Changping District in Beijing,” Urban Studies, Vol. 48 Issue 3, February 2, 2011.


Reflection: Using Bodies to Measure Public Space

Posted on by Ashley Hickman

One young woman guides another, who is wearing a blindfold, in touching a wall

Environmental design starts with the body as well as the site. In the course Cities and Bodies, taught by Global Urban Humanities Project Director Susan Moffat, students from a variety of disciplines are exploring the physical dimensions of urban form and experience. On September 27, 2016, choreographer Erika Chong Shuch and urban designer Ghigo di Tommaso led the class in exercises designed to sharpen awareness of how we use our senses to understand space and place. They also discussed their cross-disciplinary course Public Space: Placemaking and Performance.

Undergraduate Architecture student Ashley Hickman describes the two-hour session:

During the presentation, Chong Shuch said she was a performer who likes to make people feel uncomfortable. She described Di Tommaso as a urban designer who, by contrast, seeks to make people feel comfortable. Their presentation was focused on exploring and challenging our own feelings of comfort and discomfort in space.

Chong Shuch and Di Tommaso began the session with a series of exercises designed to test our feeling of comfort in a group of people. Once we we had arranged ourselves comfortably on chairs in a circle, Chong Shuch instructed us to quickly move to something that was physically uncomfortable. Some placed chairs on their heads, carried many bags at once, or hugged a trash can while standing on a table. While unpacking the feeling of discomfort, people explained they felt “unfocused” and “antagonistic.” Chong Shuch then asked for everyone to remain in their uncomfortable position while trying their best to make themselves somehow comfortable. One person explained that she made herself comfortable by “becoming internal.” Another participant said that, to the contrary, sharing a gaze with another uncomfortable person was comforting to them.

We moved on to exploring social discomfort. For most, social discomfort involved touching or looking at a stranger in a way more intimate than usual. Participants leaned on someone they didn’t know, squatted above someone lying down, and moved much closer together. One participant explained that as her body started working together with another body, she began to feel more socially comfortable than she initially had.

In the next exercise we began by walking aimlessly around in a sea of people attempting to make meaningful eye contact. Chong Shuch instructed us to stop and make eye contact with one person with whom we would now be paired. The exercise entailed one partner being blindfolded and the other leading the blindfolded. Throughout the entire exercise we were not allowed to speak to each other and were allowed only to guide our partners using touch. I was blindfolded first and my partner slowly began to lead me around the room, out into the hall, and into an adjacent room. As I gained trust in my partner we began to move more quickly. I touched the materials of the wall and room around me with my hands, and eventually I was led to sit down.

We then switched places and I led my blindfolded partner around the room, feeling the walls and furniture, and finally to a seated position. The exercise had scripted moments in which Chong Shuch interjected and gave directions to the seeing partner. It also allowed for unscripted moments in which the partners were allowed to explore their own interpretation of the instructions.The exercise concluded with 2-minute free writes on the topics of protection, comfort, and delight. Di Tommaso and Chong Shuch explained that successful public spaces need to provide these elements.

Di Tommaso and Chong Shuch then described a semester-long course in which they had employed exercises like this.  Through team and individual experiments the students in that class created a provisional, working definition of the term “public space,” drafted and endlessly revised on a crowdsourced online Google Doc that was itself an experimental object.

Throughout the session, although some of the exercises were uncomfortable to perform with a stranger at first, my feeling of comfort evolved. By the end of the exercises it no longer felt awkward to lead a blindfolded stranger across the room by holding their hand. The session ended with a general feeling of comfort.

The most important lesson I learned from this presentation was the difference between social and physical discomfort in space, topics which are very applicable to my field of architecture. The exercises made me more questioning of the experience in public space, for example, how someone uses a bench. Say the bench is unused. It could be either due to social or physical discomfort and separating the two could be of use when studying it. The physical discomfort could relate to the feeling of sitting on it while the social discomfort is that it is too close to a busy street. If a designer is to assume it’s physically uncomfortable and simply replace the bench with a new, more comfortable one, they might miss the true reason it’s unused. I will now think of and use this distinction between physical and social comfort in both my studies and future practice.


Publication: No Cruising: Mobile Identities and Urban Life

Posted on by Anne Jonas
Filed under: Art, Geography, Los Angeles

The first Global Urban Humanities research studio, “No Cruising: Mobile Identities and Urban Life” took place in Spring of 2014, co-taught by Margaret Crawford (Architecture) and Anne Walsh (Art Practice). With six PhD students, three MFA candidates, and one undergraduate student from a diverse set of disciplinary backgrounds, the course took on Los Angeles and the multiple themes generated by the concept of mobility (and its inverse: immobility). Over the course of the semester, students visited LA multiple times and explored the city via car, bus, light rail, walking, and running, focusing on the circulation of bodies, stories, designed forms, performance, identities, labor, opportunities, and relationships.


Street sign saying 'No Cruising' against blue sky background


Out of the studio comes a new publication documenting these projects, also titled No Cruising. Student essays are accompanied by rich images of urban life, archival materials, and maps that reflect the social, political, cultural, and environmental histories that shape current experiences of movement and entrapment within the city infrastructure. These projects upend dominant myths of the city (spoiler alert: people do walk!) and disturb established spatial arrangements through performance and imagined design.


Book cover for 'No Cruising,' - A drag queen in a leopard-print blouse stands in front of a train, fanning herself with a lacy fan


As the faculty advisors write in their introduction, “The No Cruising projects address human agency–transit activists, artists and gallerists, teenage drag queens, and Midwestern, Mexican, and Taiwanese immigrants–as well as monumental forms like the Watts towers and palm trees, and finally the expressions of invisible but potent agents such as seismic and spiritual force fields.” This beautiful publication weaves together distinct experiences across a landscape, offering readers a chance to dive into the many complex threads that make up life in this iconic city.


A man in a wide brim straw hat, his face in shadow, stands on top of a bicycle in a dark parking lot


Students in the course:

  • Ying Fen Chen, Architecture PhD
  • Sarah Cowan, Art History, PhD
  • Jason Fritz, Art Practice, MFA
  • Megan Hoetger, Performance Studies, PhD
  • Kathleen Irwin, Architecture, MS
  • Lee Lavy, Art Practice, MFA
  • Fabian Leyva-Barragan, Art History, Art Practice, and German, BA
  • Michelle Ott, Art Practice, MFA
  • Sabrina Richard, Architecture, PhD
  • Noam Shoked, Architecture, PhD
  • Alec Stewart, Architecture, PhD

Rue Mapp on Outdoor Afro and the Nature of Race

Posted on by Crister Brady
Filed under: Oakland

The stereotypical American explorer of wilderness is usually portrayed as a white male. The word “urban” is often a code word for “black.” Oakland native Rue Mapp stands stereotypes on their head. She grew up with a deep appreciation of nature developed over summers at her grandparents’ ranch in rural Lake County. She has become nationally recognized for her leadership in encouraging fellow African Americans to get outdoors. On September 13th, she came to speak to the course Cities and Bodies, taught by Global Urban Humanities Project Director Susan Moffat.

Crister Brady, a student in the class who is pursuing both and MD and a master’s degree in Public Health, describes the two-hour session:

Rue Mapp is founder of the Oakland-based national organization Outdoor Afro, “a network that celebrates and inspires African American connections and leadership in nature.” Mapp’s talk on “Black Bodies in Nature and Wilderness” illuminated our class readings and the week’s theme: “the Nature of Race.”

Rue Mapp rock climbs outside, smiling

 

Our readings addressed American conceptions of race, wilderness, and the freedom to move through public and natural space. We took a look at the Jim Crow-era Negro Motorist Green Book, which served as a guide to lodging and restaurants with practical and safe resources that  “assured protection for the Negro traveler.” Gillian White’s Atlantic article noted the “defensive and proactive mechanism” of the Green Book. We also read an interview with the renowned author James Baldwin that connected directly to Mapp’s work: “What one has to do as a black American is to take white history as written by whites and claim it all…”  

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in an essay written to his son from the book Between the World and Me, identified racism as a visceral experience for black bodies in contrast to “the dream” lived by much of white America, which enjoys access to safe public spaces under a veil of “American innocence” that accepts racism as “beyond the handiwork of men.” Similarly, William Cronon in Uncommon Ground explores the concept of an uninhabited wilderness as a human invention set aside initially for the wealthiest (white male) citizens as a form of “cultural imperialism.”

Mapp shared stories and photos from her youth in the outdoors, her high school days in Oakland, and her experience as a re-entry student juggling parenthood with the pursuit of a degree in art history at UC Berkeley. After graduation, she grew Outdoor Afro from modest beginnings as a blog into a national organization.

Rue Mapp speaks to the class, sitting around the table

 

Two aspects of Mapp’s story that affected me most as a medical and public health student were her focus on the healing communities through the power of being in nature as a group and her focus on families and caregivers. Given the recently documented and ongoing police violence towards black communities, Mapp and Outdoor Afro have organized “healing hikes” as a way to respond and return to the healing power of nature that has brought black communities together in the US for centuries.  

In a blog post after the first healing hike in 2014 following the death of Eric Garner during the course of his arrest in New York, Mapp wrote, “We recall how Harriet Tubman led our people with and through nature to help us find freedom. The March on Washington brought together thousands of all hues in a national park to demand civil rights.” I was struck both by the creativity of this approach towards violence, but also by the power of calling upon a community’s own history for strength. By stepping outside of the cities that hold violent memories and confrontations for many people of color, healing was able to occur.

Mapp pointed out that Outdoor Afro does not focus its programs only on young people of color, but specifically on families and caregivers as those who will have the most impact on consistently empowering others to be able to enjoy nature and find their place in it. This comprehensive approach seems to be unique in a non-profit environment that involves competing for funding that specifically targets certain slices of communities.

Finally, one of Mapp’s fans in the audience, author and publisher Malcolm Margolin, said that he feels Mapp embodies the concept of deep hanging out, because of how inclusive she is in her work with Outdoor Afro and the joy she brings with her. I felt that this defined Mapp’s story well.

In terms of my own medical and public health studies with people experiencing homelessness, Mapp’s approach to community engagement and empowerment reminded me of the importance of joy and shared experience. Just as Mapp has identified, I’ve seen that issues of representation in nature and other health-promoting environments are deeply intertwined with community health.  

I’m reminded of the interactions between people experiencing homeless along the river in Sacramento and the lycra-clad road bikers and runners on the river trails. The nature trails are viewed as paths towards home and refuge by some, and by others as public space to be enjoyed and admired for its lack of a human footprint. Could the interaction between these two groups form a common ground for health advocacy or are they too incompatible with the dominant views of nature to allow for inhabited public space?


Reawakening the Sensory Network

Posted on by Susan Moffat
Filed under: Performance, San Francisco

On Saturday, February 27, Ava Roy, Artistic Director of the We Players site-integrated theater group led students in a workshop at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge to learn methods of using movement and bodily awareness to investigate public spaces.  For a complete description of the workshop, which was sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, and other experiments in dance and architecture, see this blogpost.

REAWAKENING THE SENSORY NETWORK

by Jason Prado, Master in Landscape Architecture candidate

My recent fascination with Lawrence Halprin's design process and the development of my studio design is what brought me to Ava Roy's workshop.  In studio, I have become increasingly interested in how landscape design can not only benefit places ecologically, but also how it can create a theatrical stage for people in civic spaces to perform at all scales, from concerts and protests to the stand alone street performers.  It seemed like a perfect match!

However, I was still uncertain of what to expect, as I am new to the field of making spaces and even newer to the world of performing arts.  In any case, the workshop did give me a great excuse to visit Fort Point, which is an incredible site.  From the beginning, I felt at ease with Ava.  She did not start with lecturing us or even giving us context. 

 

 

She began with awakening our senses by asking us to close our eyes for just a few minutes and allow the other senses to take hold.  What do we hear in the distance?  What do we hear at our feet?  How does that make you feel?  I almost immediately entered a calming, meditative state.  It reminded me of practicing yoga, which helps to relieve the stresses of my day and ground me in my senses, which are often blurred with all the other noise of the day.  The exercises continued throughout the workshop and helped with bringing the group together and bringing meaning to the place.  It was an effective tool to shut out the outside world and bring yourself to be with the space and notice things that would otherwise be hidden at first glance. 

That is what I found so powerful about the workshop.  This kind of approach to the space allowed Ava to be successful in her production.  She diligently studied the space in a manner that soon revealed to her where, when, and how to set up her performance and this led me to think, “How can I bring this to my design?” 

 


Jason Prado at Fort Point
Image courtesy of Hien Nguyen

 

It is often that we find ourselves glaring at our phones, listening to our headphones, browsing social media, or performing other daily rituals that allow us to be unaware of our surroundings.  And thinking in terms of design, it presents a major problem because it is very difficult to make people stop and take notice.  However, the series of exercises I just underwent revealed the space in a way that I would not have captured otherwise. 

Can I use these exercises in my site analysis?  It seemed clear that they can be another set of tools to make sense of the current state of the site.  This kind of practice can reveal the awful noise of a site but it can also shed light on the uniqueness or beauty of a site.  This is where one can harness, for example, a faint pleasant noise and bring it to the surface to contribute to a more complete design.