Monday, May 30, 2011

Trash Transformed Art!

My experience in the remote village of Natonin has me deeply inspired.. Their vibrant culture, the beauty of their environment, the trash problem in the community, and the amazing weaving of the women have sparked inspiration.

I have begun work with the local weavers to create an amazing series of trash canvases. Using the vibrant colours of the cleaned trash, combined with the traditional weaving, the local symbols, and my expertise laying out a fine-art painting, the co-creations will be dazzlingly beautiful.

The woven, pixelared effect of the wrappers, is so cool, so slick, so pop-art-colourful, so texture-rich, it almost doesn't matter what makes the picture! As Marshall McCluan says "The Medium is the Message". I am going in the direction of Québécois artists Yves Gaucher and Riopelle, to keep it ultra simple and let the colour combinations do the talking.

The weaving - photo by Muriel Bakker

Weaving is part of the culture, from loin cloths, blankets, abaca hats, to a new way of weaving trash wrappers.

The medium of these pieces will be transformed trash-- and all that this symbolizes. But even more so, the medium will be the process: a global collaboration that reinforces the precarious traditional values and environment of an indigenous community. In contrast to missionary or development work that brings something new, this process will be a way to reinforce that which is already there -- the weaving, the culture, the symbols, the nature.

I have budgeted out the preliminary village costs to create and ship the first canvases to a friend in Victoria B.C. Its about 1400$ to get the first ten paintings done. That's nothing of course-- that's the price for one small painting in a Canadian gallery! And that price revolutionizes a village! It includes not only paying the weavers, shipping, my expenses but also setting up the basic town recycling infrastructure, a town clean-up, training and recycling signs and directions. This infrastructure would then give the women a boost to make the hand bags, wallets, and other trash-woven goods they have already started making on an experimental scale. And then, if one or two additional paintings sell in Canada, that funds the next wave of creation and exhibition.

To start though, we'll take pledges from 10 people in the Victoria (and BC) area to get the first 10 paintings done. Price 140$ each!

One of the women weaving - photo by Muriel Bakker

Preliminary Painting sketch of woven green packaging with black symbols (size 30' x 20'): man: people / horn: unite / shield: protect / house: our home / flower: the environment / axe: work + persevere

In Natonin, environmental consciousness is precariously low. The folks don't realize the immense wealth of biodiversity, natural beauty, water, and their own indigenous culture they are surrounded by. The issue of throwing trash into the ditch is just the tip of the iceberg.

Art making, in particular mandala making, is all about raising consciousness. Personal and collective. This will be a bold experiment in both! The canvases that will result will an inspirational story of transforming problems into solutions.

Preliminary Painting sketch on my iPhone : woven green and red packaging with black symbols (size 30' x 20')

Friday, May 27, 2011

Trash Transformed by Indigenous Culture

I am in awe of this amazing weaving technique they have developed to transform junk food wrappers into bags and useful items here in the villages. There is rich artistic potential here for a collaboration between an international artist and the native community.

Traveling in developing countries I've always been flabbergasted by the litter that contaminates the beautiful landscapes. In Canada, growing up, we were deeply instilled with "Put Litter in it's Place" And so, we learned at the earliest age, that wrappers go in the garbage can, and that cans and bottles go in the blue recycling books.

Here and in so many developing countries trash and litter is everywhere. Why? The reasons are manifold-- lack of education, lack of disposal and recycling resources and an abundance of massive marketing pressure to consume the corporate manufactured foods.

In places like Natonin, traditional foods and their "packaging" were always completely biodegradable. You can chuck a banana leaf wrapper or an orange peel into the ditch no problemo. The concept of garbage is completely foreign. In fact the word in their language, is foreign. 'Basura' (from the Spanish).

Yet, this weaving technique, using the old ways, reclaims the irresponsible corporate trash and creates something startlingly beautiful.

Here you can see my new little bag. It is made by friend Brenda in Natonin. Her weaving uses Coke bottle wrappers to make repeating patterns and colours!

Its an awesome pratical example of what we did with the Omen-Lahe Mandala of transforming trash with indegenuous culture back into something beautiful. Her's is both useful and beautiful!

Just as the First Nations back in the Canadian prairies woukd use every sinew of a slain buffalo, now too the packaging can be reclaimed from the corporations to make something beautiful, useful and... Saleable!

I am scheming with Brenda to do a series of large "paintings" in this way. They would essentially be rectangular "canvases" made of the colourful metalic weaving. We would focus on simple designs with a striking colour scheme that portrays one of the village native symbols.

As Marshall McCluan says "The Medium is the Message".

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Omen-Lahe Mandala Movie

Here it is! The movie of transforming trash into a mandala with much meaning. I am thinking that through working with village, a series of trash-transformed paintings would be a real success....

During the 'Gag-gag-ay di Dumap ay Youth Summit on the Environment', 85 youth from the remote and mountainous region of Natonin gathered to co-create the Omen-Lahe Mandala. Together they picked-up, washed, cut and transformed the "trash" littering the streets and forest of Natonin using the ancient and sacred art of the mandala. Using the symbols of Natonin, their mandala represents the resolution of the youth to Unite (horn), Protect (shield), Work (bolo) and Persevere (axe) in 'Omen-lahe' (moving forward) to keep Natonin a beautiful place to live. The 'Omen-Lahe Mandala' is a wonderful example of how we can work together harmoniously to realize our dreams, transform our problems, and make our community and world beautiful.

Made possible by:

UNFPA-MT province
DEPED-Mt Province
Provincial Health Office
Provincial Population Office
Provincial and Natonin SK
Natonin Municipal Local Gov't Unit

Co-created by

The 85 Natonin Gag-gag-ay Di Dumap-ay Youth Summit Delegates
Mt. Prov. Summit coordinator Irene Bakisan
Special thanks to the other facilitators,
Mayor & Shirley Chiyawan, Bernard,
carpenters & great cooks.
Music of the gongs by Barangay Tonglayan

Orchestrated by artist ®

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Certified Friendly! :-)

I've never really cared much for certificates or awards. For me it's just about doing what you love to do-- and thats the reward in itself. So when I do get a reward, its an added bonus. In this case, a real honor.

I've just returned from two weeks in the isolated region of Natonin. It took me two days hike down a rough dirt road, through virgin jungle, a mountain range, and villages where I was the first white person to visit.

I had been staying and participating in Natonin's Sasaliwa Festival. It was their yearly celebration of culture and community in Natonin. Folks from villages far around had come to participate. I made many new friends, and on my walk back to civilization I was able to visit many of them. I emerged back to civilization adorned in feathers, wearing a birds nest abaca hat, and sporting a traditional tiger-grass broom-- all gifts from my new Natonians friends. I must have made quite the sight!

I also came back with a Certificate of Appreciation.

On the last day of the festival they had a an awards ceremony-- mainly for the winners of the sports, cultural games and beauty pageant. I was urged to attend.

To my great surprise, I was called up! The mayor had created a Certificate of Appreciation for me! It reads:

"To Russel Maier for actively participating in the volleyball exhibition and for being friendly to the locals for the whole duration of the 4th Sas-saliwa Festival"

Wow. How cool is that eh? It's good to be friendly!

But it was so easy. Since I was the only white person in the village everyone was always looking at me, then smiling, and I was always compelled to give a big smile back! This led to many a friendly talk in which I strived hard to learn their local dialect. And then, this lead to me getting invited to play volleyball and to almost the whole community turning out to watch the tall white guy spike the ball ("You have a strong Boom Chewog" said one of my friends).

I am really really proud and happy to have my certificate. Before I left, I invited all my new friends to sign it. It filled up quickly with kind messages in half a dozen dialects! Today, I proudly hang it on my wall here in Sagada.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CHEWOG: My new name


That's my new name. It is a custom here in the Igorot culture to have a Christian name and an Igorot or indigenous name. My new name was ordained upon a misty mountaintop.

Through my mandala making project here, I am meeting folks from every level of this incredibly remote community. The other day I joined an expedition to the summit of the local mountain. On a grassy knoll near the top, the surrounding mountains peaking through a white carpet of clouds around us, Sasaweg, our guide, turned around and gave me the name. Once we got back below to the village, the word spread. Now I hear kids using the name in the streets.

I am told the name is of a warrior ancestor. He was known for his beauty and strength. The name essentially means "Beautiful Man".


I am in awe at the honor! Back when I lived in Paris, I was just a normal guy walking the streets. My lover, a striking blond, got all the attention. Growing up, I never really considered myself "beautiful".

Everyone should spend a stint living in a community of a starkly different ethnicity. It's a fantastic experience that cuts through the massively contrived bull-shit marketing that spawns so many insecurities. It is an experience to remind one that we humans are beautiful creatures!

Here, I am as much enchanted by their smooth dark skin and jet black hair as they by my white skin and curly hair. I find them all fantastically beautiful. My goodness, the women wouldn't be single for a second back in Europe or America!

And, I am beautiful to them. We are all beautiful!

Yesterday, during a town volleyball game, the mayor, who knew I played, talked to the referee and team captains and they invited me to join. Volleyball is their big sport here, so it was an honor and a crazy challenge to be invited on. These guys were good-- running plays and positions. And, they had already been playing a whole set when I joined on the court, completely cold! Volleyball however is one of my favorite sports-- there was no way I would miss the opportunity.

However, I was wearing a sweater when I came down from the stands. I had a t-shirt in my bag, but there was no where to change. So, I stripped off my shirt quickly and... The whole crowd cheered! Wow. That's never ever happened to me before!

I am Chewog. I am beautiful!

Native Games

It's the fourth or fifth day of the Natonin village festival. I've been staying here almost a week now. I am the only white person in the village even for this event. Walking down the main street I am assailed with smiles. When i meet the folks curious looks and stares their looks always melt into shimmering eyes and great big smiles. I haven't smiled so much in a long time!

Yesterday they had the Native Games. This involved a race making rice! Dressed in their native attire, a man and a women would begin the laborious process of taking two bunches of harvested rice, separating, grinding, sifting and cleaning. All in all it took about half an hour. It was amazing to watch! This is really what they still do, so they are good at it. Natonin is famous for it's rice terraces and rice. The contest was graded on who finished first, and also the quality and colour of the rice (each couple had brought rice from their own field).

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Making a Mandala out of Trash deep in the Jungle Mountains

This morning, I step out into the sunshine to discover a foot wide, gigantic and vibrant moth sitting on my doorstep.

I am in a magical and beautiful place.

Hi there Team,

I write you from the really isolated mountain village of Natonin!  I've not had internet for 5 days!

I've been here leading the local youth in making a mandala prayer on taking care of their environment. The mandala is being made out of trasht that we picked up around the village.

 Its very remote and beautiful here.  The people and culture are amazing.  I danced with them in one of their eagle dance rituals last night. They drink the water from the river, eat the snails and crabs and eels still.  A really amazing place.

No wifi here so I can't yet post any photos.  Shortly!