The COVID pandemic continues to upend memorial traditions and rituals, and rob families, friends, and communities of opportunities to grieve, console, honor, and celebrate. While we can hope that these conditions will change soon, even with increasing vaccinations, we are unable to predict the course of the virus. This community-based/community engagement project cannot substitute for the commemorations that were/are being missed. But it can recognize the role that memorial customs play in communicating community values, transferring traditions, and sustaining connections across geography, family enclaves, and generations.
For the three or four communities where I would propose to implement my project idea, the desired impact of a generative, collective process of remembrance and celebration of recently departed ancestors would be a chance to particularize the loss to the community, and perhaps open conversations about how others can carry on the legacy of those departed. The contributions of community members to an artful expression of an ancestor’s significance to their community—through stories, photos, objects, embodied remembrances— would be an act of community building, and the resulting memorial would be a testament to the community’s identity, resilience and persistence.
The spotlight that has been focused on rising attacks on Asian Americans suggests to me another area of potential impact for this project. Selecting community hubs that serve different racial/ethnic populations and cultures and sharing the artistic memorials among/across those communities would be a way of showing the universality of the human urge/need to grieve and celebrate ancestors. It could be a way of chipping at the dehumanization that seems to underlie some of the anti-Asian violence and speaking to biases held in Asian communities toward other racial/ethnic groups. Asian Arts Initiative has agreed to be a partner in this project if it were to be funded and implemented. AAI’s long history of art making for social change, and their connections to Asian communities across Philadelphia would be a tremendous asset to the design process and logistics for the project. I have also made contact with a Baptist church in North Philadelphia as a possible hub if this idea moves forward.
I have enlisted Shavon Norris, an African American woman with long credentials as a performing artist, teaching artist, and trauma-trained educator/facilitator to collaborate with me in developing and leading the project. I can’t think of a better collaborator than Shavon for a project like this one.
As far as the impact on me, I am eager to undertake art projects that would grow my experience and expertise in performative public art and socially-engaged art practice. Moreover, as a South Korean, the rising hostilities toward Asians touch me and my family directly and profoundly. I would like to use my artistic imagination and skills to find some solutions.