ArtCorps Artist Andrea Shigeko Landin begins her conservation work by planting questions.
After much work, countless nights in which I could not get my brain to stop going over logistics, and various twists (including getting horribly sick), my workshops have begun! During the past couple months I sometimes got so caught up in this process of preparing the soil that I forgot that I was ultimately going to try to plant a seed. But now that I have my hands in the earth, I am realizing just how gradual this cultivation will be, how much patience it will involve, and how just because I may never see anything bloom doesn’t mean that it won’t ever happen.
I am working with three youth groups from a total of 10 different communities. The long term goal is to bridge the generational gap so as to continue efforts of environmental conservation, but the sound of that right now is like one of the ancient fir trees that towers over the forest−compared to the inch-high seedlings that live in the vivero (tree nursery), entirely dependent on the nourishment and climate that Don Agustín, the viverista, so carefully plans for them every day. The terms that I had used freely in my planning and with co-workers−ancestral practices, storytelling, identity, creativity−were not, I quickly realized, familiar to my youth. So we started out slow, asking questions that we were both convinced the other one had the answers to.
Our project will eventually involve collecting stories, so we discussed in our first meeting how we have to start with our own stories. In other words, before asking What is my culture?, What is its history?, Who is my community?, we have to ask, Who am I? And if we are to share the stories of others, we first have to learn how to express our own. One of the activities we did involved everyone receiving a paper heart, divided and numbered into four sections. In each section I had them put a word that signified a part of their identity−for example, woman, Guatemalan, student, sister, artist, etc. This was challenging, but eventually everyone came up with four identities. We then counted off, 1-4, and all the number 1’s had to cross out what they had in their section #1, the numbers 2’s crossed out what they had in section 2, and so on. In small groups they then discussed how their lives would be different if they were not this one word they crossed off.
It was an exercise in imagination, and not only for my students. Reflecting on my first interactions with these kids, I am reminded of the e.e. cummings quote, “always a beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question”. I can only hope that we will nourish our seeds with questions, and when an answer sprouts, we will shower it with more questions, until it grows into one of those beautiful and towering fir trees.
Tags: 48 Cantones, Andrea Shigeko Landin, Art for Social Action, ArtCorps, community-based resource management, conservation, cross-generation, Ecologic Development Fund, elders, forestry, Guatemala, imagination, indigenous, traditional knowledge, trees, Youth