"Where I Belong" Grandma Cares Exhibition

For over several months, Cultural Canvas Thailand and Grandma Cares worked together in organizing a series of photography workshops teaching the Grandma Cares children basic photographic technique. This collaboration resulted in the exhibition, “Where I Belong,” which documented the lives of these children of whom come from a family affected by HIV/AIDS. The 12 photographers, aged 10-16, have been taken under the care of their grandparents. Although the shape of each child’s family has changed, they continue to cherish those closest to them. The children explored how to express abstract concepts such as “family” through this visual medium, and were asked to photograph what “family” means to them. Armed with a camera and roll of film, each child created their own definition of family. The resulting exhibition included over 30 photographs, a snapshot into each child’s life, their perception of family, and a world shaped by difficult life experiences. The photographs depicted both the places and people that contribute to their sense of belonging.

In addition to the photographs, the Cultural Canvas Team and local artists created “The Family Tree.” An 8-foot tree was constructed to portray what family means to the Children at Grandma Cares and symbolized how their perceptions of family are all different yet come from the same roots. Gold leaves were added by the kids of Grandma Cares, revealing what family means to them by writing words on the leaves expressing ideas of belonging. Viewers of the exhibition were invited to add their own leaf to the tree and write on it what family means to them. Red leaves were hung on the silver tree, symbolizing those who are or have been personally affected by HIV/AIDS. A giant mirror was also displayed with information about HIV/AIDS in Thailand. This encouraged audiences to read about HIV/AIDS while looking at their own reflection, addressing the fact that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate or remain in any specific group of people. It touches us all, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic status.

More than a hundred people attended the opening reception of “Where I Belong.” Following the opening, we moved the exhibition to Think Park where numerous shoppers of Nimmahamin Road stopped by to look at the photos. After one week at Think Park, the exhibition was moved to the International Schools in the surrounding area. Kids at the schools eagerly added their thoughts on family to “The Family Tree.” The tree grew and grew.

The goals of the exhibition were met with the successful introduction of the Grandma Cares children to the greater Chiang Mai community and the funds raised to sponsor more children. The children's documentation also raised awareness about the effect HIV/AIDS has on families, and how often this population is overlooked. The success of the exhibition and our realized goals are evidence that art is a powerful medium for change. Art serves as a catalyst to bring all populations of people together, regardless of gender, race, or age.

Thank you to all who contributed and went to the exhibition. We could not have done it without your support. Thank you Wad, P'Ben and everyone else who helped move the enormous and heavy "Family Tree" to each site (I am sure you will all be happy once it finds its permanent home). Thank you to the CCT team who worked long hours and weekends setting up, taking down, and setting back up the exhibition. Thank you to the International Schools who hosted the exhibition and were incredibly welcoming. And a special thanks to Grandma Cares and the kids whose creativity in photography and dedication made this exhibition happen.


Photography and Body Mapping- New Life Final Workshop

This Thursday was the last workshop in a series of workshops with the New Life Center exploring the concept of identity and culture through several non-verbal mediums. Between the second lesson on Image Theater (read Alice’s blog below!) and the final workshop, the girls attended an organized outing to Chinatown, Warrot Market to continue exploring themes of identity, culture, and tradition through the new medium of photography. Instructed to take pictures of people, food, crafts, and other things that represented themselves and their culture, the girls went on a scavenger hunt through the market collecting images to later discuss and add to their body maps.

Kristy, Amp, Ashley from the New Life Center, and I accompanied 11 girls through the bustling streets of Warrot Market. Armed with cameras, the girls excitedly walked by, snapping pictures of vendors selling fish, fruit, and flowers. We looked like a tour group parading through the market with our cameras and received some confused looks, but generally shop keepers were excited to have the girls take pictures of their livelihood and invited them into their shops. The girls especially enjoyed taking pictures of the hill tribe bags, clothing, and fabrics.

Warrot Market served as a wonderful setting to explore the concept of identity for it displays many traditional hill tribe handicrafts and varying cultural characteristics found in the girls home origins—food, shops, clothing, people, fabrics, etc. Warrot Market allowed the girls to discover aspects of their culture and tradition as well as components of contemporary society. The market is an appropriate microcosm of the juxtaposition of old and new in Chiang Mai, Thailand. By exploring the market through pictures, the girls were confronted with opposing concepts of identity found in the modern city and traditional hill tribe.

In the final workshop, the girls spent time looking through the photos they took at the Market and selected some of their favorite images. Amp prompted them to discuss the meaning of the photo and its story, describing why they like it and how it expresses their culture and identity. It was so much fun watching the girls look through the photos they took and proudly sharing them. One girl showed a picture of the flower market and stated it was her favorite because these were the flowers she wants for graduation. Several of the girls presented photos of the hill tribe market, depicting brightly colored bags and clothing. Many of them discussed their sense of pride and honor of their culture and the desire to share their culture with other people.

The workshop concluded with everyone adding the photos to the body maps that they had made in the first workshop. The body maps, with the photos, were shared with the group. Many of the girls’ explanation of their body maps advanced greatly from the first workshop. Mouths that were originally described as “used for talking” advanced to symbolize the desire “to learn, teach and share my ideas with others.” Several of the girls addressed the power of expressing themselves through the camera, stating that the photo allowed them to “tell their story.”

This series of workshops was an incredible experience. The knowledge and resiliency of these girls is moving. Working with such a strong group of girls and women who have been survivors of so much hate and violence, left me believing in the possibility for change and empowerment. Thank you New Life for inviting us to be apart of your amazing organization and thank you to the girls at the Center, you taught me so much and brightened my mornings with your enthusiasm and welcoming smiles. I look forward to reading about the next workshop with these extraordinary girls.



Image Theater – Empowerment through Physical Self-Expression

Following Tuesday’s fun, engaging and thought provoking Body Mapping workshop at the New Life Center Foundation, Cultural Canvas Thailand returned on Thursday for the second in a series of workshops exploring themes of image and identity. The Body Mapping workshop was a real success, giving the girls the opportunity to express themselves in terms of ‘body’ and ‘image’ in a non-verbal and creative way. It also gave us the chance to get to know the girls. Please read Christa’s previous CAP Volunteer blog to read more about this great workshop. The second session at the New Life Center Foundation involved a workshop using ‘Image Theatre’, an empowering technique developed by the Brazilian director Augusto Boal. Like Body Mapping, Image Theatre is a therapeutic tool which allows individuals to express sensitive thoughts and feelings without the need to vocalize them.

The New Life Center Foundation, which supports young women and girls from ethnic minorities from the Mekong sub-region who are at risk from, or victims of labor exploitation, human-trafficking, and sexual abuse, are a recently partnered organization, and currently in their first project with CCT. It is clear however, from only a couple of sessions with the girls, that it will be an extremely worthwhile and beneficial partnership. The young women at New Life are a joy to work with, being responsive to and engaged with various therapeutic arts activities. It is certainly evident that the recovery process, education and support network at the New Life Center really works for the girls and encourages communication, cooperation and respect for one another, equipping them with the skills required to reach their goals and aspirations.

Image Theatre is a mode of performance used in Augusto Boals' ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’. Theatre of the Oppressed is a method developed by Boal, using theatre as a means of knowledge, transformation and empowerment, allowing participants to overcome feelings of oppression and trauma. Various techniques or activities are used as part of this process.

The philosophy behind Image Theatre is that the body is the first and foremost means of expression and that by using the body, rather than speech, the normal filters or 'blockades' of thought are bypassed, allowing the individual to express sensitive issues without the need of vocalizing them.

Image Theatre allows participants to rapidly sculpt their own or each others bodies to express thoughts and emotions. These images and emotions are then placed together as group images and brought to life. Boal encourages participants to immediately create an image, rather than think about it first, as this would defeat the purpose of creating raw unrefined images of issues and emotions. Participants are then given the opportunity to change the image, as part of the process of empowerment. The ‘ideal image’ can then be created, in which the negative emotion or oppression is overthrown. The method is often used to explore internal or external oppression, unconscious thoughts and feelings. It is a flexible tool for exploring issues both with groups who are confident with drama and those with little or no experience. There are no lines to learn and nobody has to 'act' or move around in front of others. Image Theatre enables participants to explore their own feelings and experiences in a less forbidding way than that offered by improvisational, or vocalized techniques.

The objectives of the drama session with the girls and young women at New Life were to explore and present physically, the themes and emotions expressed in the previous ‘Body Mapping’ workshop, and to encourage self-expression and empowerment through physical theatre. The workshop provided a space in which to share, communicate and reflect on life experience in a non-threatening manner. During the workshop, the girls were prompted with words relating to emotion and identity, derived from various feelings and ideas expressed by them in the previous session. These included a mixture of negative and positive thoughts; love, loneliness, friendship, belonging, anger, fear, aspirations, struggles, vulnerability, protection and strength amongst others, giving the girls the opportunity to identify with and express different emotions and to overcome feelings of negativity. Throughout the workshop, members of the group created and shared beautiful, sad and thought provoking images of identity, emotion and life experience, and depictions of their goals and aspirations. Self-expression through non-verbal means seemed to be the ideal way to tackle the issues and emotions experienced by these girls. The results were powerful and moving. The activities really drew out personal expression and emotion from the girls, while allowing them to retain dignity and pride in themselves. They were open, engaged and responsive to the activities, and seemed to really understand and benefit from the concept of physical expression. Each member made great effort to contribute to group images, while being acutely aware of, respectful and sensitive to each other’s individual experience. It was moving to see the way in which the way girls worked together, with an incredible sense of community and cooperation.

At the end of the drama session we gathered to discuss what had been created, allowing the girls to share their thoughts and feelings on the activities, and what they enjoyed or did not enjoy. They picked words that they liked portraying, or emotions that they identified with. They seemed to enjoy the challenge and the opportunity to share sometimes very sensitive, thoughts and feelings. It was an insightful and thought provoking session, and a joy to work with such an inspiring and courageous group of young women. I am honored to have been involved in this project and to have had the opportunity to work with the girls at the New Life Center Foundation.

The drama session was followed by a short but informative photography lesson by Amp in preparation for Tuesday's photography trip to Warorat Market, China Town, in which the girls will take pictures relating to theme of 'image' and 'identity'. They will explore this colorful and vibrant market, looking for images of ethnic food and goods relating to their culture and tradition. These photo's will then be added to their body map in the final session. Amp delivered a very useful lesson on using the cameras, changing film, lighting, composition and advice on taking good pictures and each individual was given a camera to try out. The girls were very keen about using the cameras and excited about the upcoming trip. We look forward to seeing their photographs!

Thank you to Christa, Maike and Amp for your enthusiasm, help and participation, and a big Thank-you to the incredibly inspiring, helpful and cooperative staff at the New Life Center Foundation. We really enjoyed working with you all and look forward to the next session.

On another note, this is my last week working with Cultural Canvas Thailand and I’d like to thank all involved for the invaluable experience I’ve had in my few months here. I have been most inspired by the fantastic things CCT are doing. It’s been an amazing opportunity, and has given me some of the most pivotal moments in my career so far. Keep up the great work you do and I hope to return again sometime…

Alice x


Body Mapping-- Exploring Image and Identity

This past Tuesday, Cultural Canvas Thailand conducted its first workshop with its new partner organization, The New Life Center Foundation. The New Life Center Foundation supports ethnic minority girls and young women throughout the Mekong sub-region who are at risk for, or victims of, labor exploitation, human trafficking, and sexual abuse. The organization provides multiple services to the girls by supporting them through education, ensuring a safe living environment, teaching life skills development, and enriching their lives through therapeutic art activities. The workshop we designed was intended to be both fun and engaging, allowing a chance for the girls to get to know CCT and for us to get to know them.

Body Mapping was the first workshop in a series of workshops exploring the concept of identity and body image. It is a creative therapeutic tool that brings together bodily experience and visual artistic expression. In its basic form, body mapping involves drawing one’s body outline onto a large surface and using colors, pictures, symbols and words to represent experiences lived through the body. It allows the individual to express sensitive issues without the need of vocalizing them.

The objective was to encourage the girls to think about their own concept of body, beauty and self and promote them to express their emotions, hopes, dreams and questions by outlining the boundaries of their bodies on paper and by designing it. During the workshop the girls depicted a creative, imaginative view of their "identities" while accepting the explicit boundaries of their physical bodies as "outlines."

Amp prompted the girls to think about some things while creating their “identities”:

The body map is a representation of who we are; it can display both physical and non-physical characteristics, how we see ourselves and how we think other people see us?
How can I define myself? By my body? By my size? By intrinsic values? Personal qualities?
What colors, textures, materials can I use to symbolize different parts of myself?
What words or themes come to mind when I am creating “my body”?

After everyone’s body was created, we spent some time discussing the many ways in which "identity" can be portrayed in art by sharing our own identities with each other through our posters. All the girls participated openly and enthusiastically. Every one’s body map displayed originality and creativity. I was impressed by the ideas they came up with and how these concepts were symbolized. Many of the girls depicted themselves reaching toward something and talked about their goals and aspirations. There were many future fashion designers in the room, with bodies being clothed in well executed outfits. Sensitive issues were also brought up, commonly portrayed through imagery of the heart. Hearts were shown both bright and dark and discussed as representing the dichotomy of emotions: happiness and sadness, hope and struggle, anger and goodness. Several reoccurring themes of “protection, tradition, dreams, goals, struggles, friendship, creativity, and courage” were discussed. The girls were very supportive and encouraging of each other. It was evident that they were each other’s family and support network. Witnessing the care and compassion among the group was a powerful and moving experience.

Following the first workshops will be two lesson plans consisting of drama and photography. This will allow the girls to work with other mediums and continue exploring self-expression. For the second workshop, the visual body maps will be acted out physically, encouraging the girls to express themselves through another non-verbal medium. Our incredible Drama director Alice will be orchestrating this workshop. We are all very excited to participate in another one of her fun and creative Drama activities. The final workshop will incorporate photography, allowing the girls the opportunity to use a new medium to depict the concept of identity. The photos will be added to their body maps and the workshop will end with a discussion of the final product on the power of the non-verbal in self-expression. Keep looking for future postings about these upcoming workshops!

Thanks to Alice, Maike, and Amp for helping and participating in the activity. Your enthusiasm and creativity contributed greatly to the workshop. And a big thanks to New Life Center for inviting us to work with such an inspiring and incredible group of girls. We had an amazing time and are greatly looking forward to the next workshop!



Drama workshop at Wat Pa Pao


It’s Maike from Germany. I arrived in Chiang Mai in the end of February and it’s getting hotter and hotter since I’ve been here - in Chiang Mai, the charming city in the North of Thailand!

Yesterday we had drama session again with the kids of Wat Pa Pao Learning Center, the school of Burmese migrant workers (Krissy told about the last time) before summer holidays at school starts. Adapted to the temperature right now, we choose the theme “hot season” for our workshop.

I was a bit nervous! Didn’t know what was waiting for me when we arrived at Wat Pa Pao in the morning. The first thing the staff members of CCT told me before was: “They are wild, but it’s going to be a lovely chaos!” When we arrived at Wat Pa Pao the kids received us with cheers! They lunged at us and their eyes were shining with joy. All worries vanished into thin air immediately!

In total we had three lessons with different age groups. After an introduction by Amp, we had a warm up game we called “hot freeze”. We suggested different actions people do when it’s hot, for example: eat ice-cream, go swimming, fan from heat etc. The children moved around the room while doing the actions and froze when the music stopped. They loved acting it out; they giggled, romped through the classroom and had lots of fun! Afterwards we did an adventure trip to the sea with the younger kids. Being tired and sick of the heat, we jumped into the water and saw a lot of impressive creatures of the sea. Then, we created our own fish and went fishing in the sea. Proudly, the kids presented their self-made fish to us. The older kids invented little scenes and it was amazing to see the imagination and fun they had by doing that!

Being terribly tired but happy we went back to the Office after that unforgettable day at Wat Pa Pao with its lovely and warming kids! Thanks to Alice for her great ideas and enthusiasm and of course to Amp, Kristy and Christa for that great day!