By Natchasiri (Froy) Kunaporn
Two weeks have passed and the wall is still empty. At noon the wall is hit by the huge African sun and is blasting legit heat waves, it hurts my eyes to even stare. It’s even bigger now with the lime on. When I was painting the top part of the wall, my legs were shaking, one hand with the tray and one with the brush. It was only 5 meters high, but having a phobia for heights, I would say it’s quite an achievement getting myself to even go near that ladder.
The design is nearly ready, with a plot twist at the end when we found out that the wall is not as symmetrical as we thought it would was. The contractor shamed the paint we got, and the roughness of the wall literally devours my pencil when I try to sketch. I realized I couldn’t draw the grids alone, so two of my colleagues and a couple of little Malawian boys were helping me hold the strings and eyeing the straightness; it was fun and rainbows until I realized that the bottom part is also not straight. So I slowly crawl back into my thinking hat to think of a better way to map the design, and probably map my whole plan.
While sitting on the porch of the community center, looking out as the little helpers are playing jump rope with the strings. I would describe the site as rocky, rough, uneven, and full of construction bits and shards. They boys had no shoes on, and every time they land on the ground from jumping there is a huge THUD, THUD, THUD. My initial reaction would be ‘Stop you fools! You’ll all hurt yourself!’ But a part of me was so amazed by the constant laughter and that none of them were bothered by my horrified expression, I just watched. Nothing happened. My background music continued to be laughter’s of Malawian kiddies. As I gazed off at the sunset I realize I need to grow tougher skin, not just on my toes, but everywhere. I must overcome that stupid ladder, but also my mind has to be tougher and more critical.
If I have to describe my approach to art, I would say that I am very stubborn and that I get attached to ideas that lead me being not very open to critics. I take many things to heart and find it hard to believe that there is a ‘better way’. What I need to work on is being very open minded about ideas of others, even the people who are not familiar in my area. I remember having a very strong dislike for abstract art and realizing later that my work has some degree of ‘abstract’ in it.
My obsession with symbols plays a big part in my lack of critical thinking. I get attached to putting symbols in my work without making it come out naturally between my research. It slows me down most of the time. I find that I work the fastest when I see and hear things from other people, not when I try digging in my brain to find something that is not there. During the period of this course, we put a lot of emphasis on the importance of dialogue. Being engaged in deeper conversations will assist our journey in experiential learning. Being ‘searchers’ instead of ‘planners’ will eventually produce a richer result.
By Natchisiri (Froy Choi) Kunaporn
Growing up, I see myself as an active listener and a nosey observer. I look up at the clouds and never fail to see some sort of picture. There was a period when I was convinced that I was a cloud expert. In long car rides, as the cloud moves along with us, I can go on forever about what is happening up there. I also love listening and looking for the changes in tone and expression so if charisma is a person, I am her audience.
A lot of unexpected events happened today. Other than exchanging a portrait of the contractor for the use of the ladder through the course of the project to finishing a third of the mural design, the massive wall of the community hall is already being plastered by my newly made friend. I spent nearly the whole day with him, surprisingly the language barrier did not affect my learning, and I observed what he was doing. The owner of the tuck shop helped me translate some sentences which surprisingly are not technical at all, especially when I was learning how to plaster a wall. ‘Iwe Sekerera’ means you are smiling or literally ‘you smile’; I kept saying that to the man plastering the wall when he wasn’t smiling as much, as a gesture to reassure myself to stay out of guilt for not being so much help to him (I was terrible at throwing the cement to the wall). Because I was saying that multiple times to him, it was our own personal greeting style. It reminded me that nourishment was necessary when building relationships, and observing is the way to go.
Sometimes when I spend too much time looking at the wall, it gets bigger, and I have felt very discouraged about my project because of how I want it to have a very high impact. The book I am reading now is called ‘About Looking’ written by John Berger. He is a critic and writes a lot of small chapters on all different kinds of art. A quote from a French book during 1950’s about La Tour when translated is “Painting is a magic interpretation of the most profound thoughts and the most beautiful dream” (112), which sheds a bit of light to my doubts. An idea does not happen in a day, it requires a lot of trust and research and a lot of looking.
However, being creative has a great burden to it. For example, when we suggested that the mosquito nets could be used as a football net, it sounded like a very good idea at first but Dr. Stonebanks told us that when fishermen were using the mosquito nets as fishing nets, the rates for Malaria shot up exponentially.
If I can ever master the art of looking, I am pretty sure I will become a cloud expert when I retire.
Berger, J. (1980). About looking. New York, NY: Pantheon Books
About the Blog
Since 2013, students participating in Transformative Praxis: Malawi have been writing blog posts reflecting on their experiences of participating in action research in Malawi. The original blog with the full archive can be found here