My art explores the space between digital and intangible.
I studied animation in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Kinetic Imaging program, where I created several short films using puppets and other stop-motion techniques. “Living Room,” my senior thesis, is an example of my skill in constructing puppets and sets, as well as my storytelling abilities. In this piece, I explored how environment can influence or reflect a character. The grandmother seems in perfect harmony with her surroundings, her clothing matching the furnishings around her, but the granddaughter is in complete disharmony with the surroundings, illustrating the strenuous nature of their relationship. After screening my film at my senior thesis show, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who told me they had similar experiences with elderly family members. I learned how films can connect people through universal narratives.
My animations focused on family history led to an internship with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. While working at the Smithsonian, I created short videos and wrote articles about the importance of culture and how traditional knowledge remains relevant in the 21st century. While working for the Smithsonian, I assisted in the creation of an online story map for the National Endowment of the Arts. I created video clips showcasing artists’ work. The online story map will make the NEA more accessible to the general public, and people will understand the arts are a necessity not a luxury. I developed a soundscape for the National American History Museum’s exhibition on the Poor People’s March, using digital media to create an immersive learning experience for visitors and adding another layer of understanding to the artifacts on display. My internship with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage inspired me to create art about intangible culture.
My interest in cultural heritage led to an internship with The Maa Trust, a non profit in the Maasai Mara working to establish harmony between community development and environmental conservation. I created short video pieces showcasing their efforts to economically empower Maasai women. I witnessed the joy it brought Maasai women to see themselves represented in digital media.
It is assumed cultural heritage and digital media cannot coexist in the 21st century. Intangible culture can thrive in the virtual world. The idea cultural knowledge is useless in the technological age is a fallacy. The importance of traditional knowledge has not diminished in the digital age, only its appearance has altered. Now tools of expression are made out of code and computer generated images instead of wood and fabric.
Animation has always been my tool for exploring the world around me. When I was in elementary school I experienced chronic insomnia. I would stay up late, or wake up very early, when foreign and independent movies played on television. My visual and intellectual interests were heavily shaped by these night owl film festivals, viewing unconventional film techniques through a sleepy haze. I am drawn to animation because it can be used to express nebulous moments like insomnia, memory, and dreaming. Through the distortion of the world created by animation, we can better understand individual perceptions of reality. I have learned from my experiences creating visual media about intangible heritage that everyone’s view of reality has been shaped by their cultural environment. Acknowledging there are different ways of perceiving the world is essential for greater cross-cultural understanding. Animation is an exaggeration and distortion of reality, the visuals created are simultaneously familiar and alien, opening the audience’s mind to see the world from a different perspective. In a time when rapid economic development on a global scale creates cultural conformity, it is important to use media to help the international community learn how cultural diversity can be sustained. By supporting cultural differences we encourage diverse approaches to solving the world’s problems.