Action at Mplus+!

Hey there, Chris here. It’s been weeks since my last post and there’s been a lot going on at Mplus+ lately, with the film project in full swing. A while back, we met with a group of students from the local university who are interning with Mplus+ during their summer vacation. None of them were directly involved with the issues faced by the GLBT minority, so it was interesting to see them discuss and interpret these issues as we sat down to the first brainstorming session in order to put together a story. One problem they all picked up on was that of acceptance, and the unique form this issue takes within Thai society. One girl shared with the group the story of her young cousin, an effeminate boy who had had a hard time fitting in with his friends, and gaining acceptance from his family. She outlines a specific incident where on putting a flower behind his ear while playing, the boy was beaten. The entire group agreed that the imagery in this story was really strong, and that it held an extremely powerful message and negative example of behavior towards GLBT youth. They decided then that their story would be a reenactment of this incident, from the perspective of the boy.
Next was the story-boarding phase. And as we allocated jobs that asked them to focus on the individual aspects of a film (sound, imagery, location, etc.) I think they really started to get the intensive process of putting together a good piece. But none the less, they took to it with enthusiasm, and when we returned they greeted us with a detailed story board, with perfectly thought out shots and dialogue, that really highlighted the important parts of the story. They had chosen to focus on the image of the flower as a metaphor, and were planning some really beautiful shots to pull it off. With this as our outline, we made plans to shoot the next day, sourcing the most convenient locations around Chiang Mai, in the form of the Cultural Canvas office, and my apartment.  
On the first day of filming, we met at the Cultural Canvas office to shoot scenes that required trees covered in flowers. The group had brought another young cousin to play the lead boy, and the boy had brought what seemed like an entire entourage of extras. The shoot went well though with takes inter-cut with trying to figure out who everyone actually was, and everyone agreeing that the kid was adorable.  We left it with a good collection of shots, and excitement for the next day when we would shoot the indoor scenes.
When we arrived the next morning however, we learned that during the night, our star had been taken to the hospital, and was unable to complete filming. What would normally be a worst case scenario turned into just a casual set back, when it turned out the people at Mplus+ had three extra seven year olds just hanging around the office, waiting on something to do. We put them through their paces with a quick but rigorous audition process, and decided on a boy who told us his name was Mickey Mouse.  At our next location, the apartment, everything fell into place, as the director and camera man really started to get invested in their work, and Mickey Mouse warmed up to the pace of shooting. It was hilarious watching them fall over themselves to get the shot, and really gratifying to see someone begin to care about getting the perfect shot in the way that I do as a photographer. Exactly what I wanted to share with the people in Chiang Mai. We wrapped up shooting the next day with a quick session to record vocals, to over-lay onto some of the shots.
The next phase of this production is the editing portion. I will be holed up in the office, splicing together their film in the hopes of creating something that preserves their message, and stands up to their initial vision. Seeing the dedication they put in, and the attachment they had to some of their images is my motivation, and we are currently working hard to get the software running on slow computers to make their ideas a reality.  A screening is planned for the 19th of April, at which we will show this work, as well as others made by the people at Mplus+, and host a discussion and interactive art piece that aims to get the community talking about the ideas seeded in the piece. Fingers crossed for the future!

School For Life – Woodcut & Print Workshop

On Thursday 17th March all the volunteers joined Bryony to do her woodcutting workshop at School for Life. We were met by a group of 30 kids. The session was meant to be for 20 participants aged 11-16 but the younger kids wanted to join in. So they helped the older ones!

We set up three different stations: cutting, spray painting and printing. Pbut and Bryony showed the kids how to draw and cut in to the squares of balsawood. They explained that the various tools created different lines into the wood and showed them how NOT to cut themselves.  After the demonstration they were split in to two groups. One group cut their images into the balsa wood and the other spray painted the paper for their own prints.  The kids had not had the chance to spray paint before and they loved having a go! After all the woodcutting and sheets of paper were finished it was time to ink up and get messy. We had a various colours of inks to choose from. With rollers in hand they made a good job of inking and printing their images. They were so enthusiastic about printing that 
it could have turned into chaos but I was the messiest out of all of them! By the end of the session we had so many colourful prints. They all looked quite different with a flower, boat and a skull and cross bone to name a few!

Thanks Bryony for making a great workshop.

Until the next post, Kirstyn


Bird masks

Yesterday we had our second great workshop with the wildflower kids! We came there on midday and the kids were already waiting for us. We decided to have a bird theme for the next two workshops - creating a fantasy bird costume - so we started with the masks yesterday.
First we showed the kids some pictures of birds of paradise. They were fascinated by the bright colours of the birds feathers. Then they started to cut their own masks out of paper plates. We helped them to cut holes for the eyes and then we gave them wax crayons for colouring. For the next 30 minutes the kids did nothing else but draw different patterns on their masks, using all kinds of colours. We have never seen them that concentrated before! They were really into it. Then one after another finished their mask and couldn’t wait for us to hand out some blue and yellow feathers they could stick on their masks. After that there was just the beak left, which we taped on the mask and put the elastic around their heads. The masks were finished and looked amazing! Right after that they began to play with them, moving their arms as if they wanted to fly and made some bird noises.
On Friday we will see them again to complete their costume! And than they will be real birds. :)

bye, Nicola


What a busy month: finger paintnig with Boonrat, last Young Lions and story blankets!

I can’t believe how quickly the past three months have flown by. This is officially my last blog here at Art Relief, and since there has been so much going on with the playground build (also can’t believe it’s finished!) we haven’t had much time for keeping everyone updated. Here are some of my highlights from the past month.

When we started work on the playground, we had to put some of  our other workshops on hold therefore my last trip to Hope Home was already a month ago. I’ve worked nearly every week with Boonrat, a wonderful boy with cerabal palsy who is always rewarding our efforts to help him paint with beautiful smiles.  This last week however, we didn’t just see smiles, but for the first time he was really able to communicate when he disliked something - making it far easier to help him choose between paint colours, rollers or if we should turn the paper around. Not only this, but for the first time I witnessed him hold the roller and do the painting by himself! It was even more exciting when he dropped the brushes in favour of finger painting – something he had always shown so little enthusiasm for in previous weeks. It was definitely the most expressive work that I’ve seen him make and he kept painting right up until we had to end the lesson. Definitely one of my favourite workshops, and one of the most rewarding 

Photo courtesy of Jesse Mojica
 A few weeks ago was also the last Young Lions workshop as the kids were about to break up school for the summer. We decided to round up all their travels with Jessica and the other ARI volunteers with a return to Thailand, certificates for all the kids and by decorating the yard with examples of all the artwork they had made over the past semester. We showed them a slide show of some of the highlights before everyone got stuck in painting their favourite moments onto a mural. We had a lot of fun painting and I had a go at teaching Boy and Noon some impromptu salsa before the lesson, but there was a tinge of sadness that that we wouldn’t get to see the kids again, especially since I felt like I was finally getting to know them. Boy who has been really committed to coming every week was clearly feeling this too and was being very affectionate towards everybody as we wrapped up. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for next term!

My last week with ARI was by no means the least. After much preparation Pbut and I spent five days at New Life Centre (a refuge for young women in danger of abuse and forced labour), teaching a ‘Story Blanket’ workshop with nine of the girls who lived there. Day one was spent learning about storytelling through a number of games and activities, including filling in blanked out comic strips, illustrating a Shan fairytale, and ‘Japanese’ whispers: like Chinese whispers only where each participant has to write part of the story then draw illustrations with their eyes closed before folding the paper over the last cue and passing it onto the next person. This game in particular went down well as the stories had some hilarious twists and turns! We asked the girls to go that evening with their new story-journals and write ‘the story of who I am’. We wanted to give the girls a chance to show their own personal stories to others through making their blankets in the coming week.

Day 2 the girls had written their stories and some were brave enough to share them out loud – though there was little time for translating so I had to wait to be surprised at the end of the week! The afternoon we spent trying to learn a few textile techniques using old pedal Singer sewing machines. This was a lot of fun but also very frustrating for some of the girls who had not yet been taught how to sew. I could understand how they felt when I tried to have a go - with no experience using a manual machine before it’s very hard not to make them sew backwards! I was a little worried that it would be difficult for them to finish their blankets in time.

However by lunchtime day 3, even the newest of the girls was proud to have mastered the art, and we were well on our way with the blankets. We had the help of Peggy, a social worker who decided to join in and make her own story. When I arrived on day 4 I was impressed with how much the girls had worked over night, and the blankets were looking fantastic. I had no need to worry about being finished on time, as by the end of day of the day only three blankets remained to be completed.
Day 5 was exciting for everyone involved. As the last of the blankets were completed, all the girls got stuck in helping to turn the sewing room into a gallery for our own mini exhibition. At 2pm the rest of the staff and volunteers from ARI came to join us as each of the girls stood beside her work. I was so proud of them all, their hard work had really paid off! I also had the chance to find out the stories the girls had made, and was amazed at not only how much they had been through already in their lives, but how honest they were and how much they felt loved by God and everyone at the NLC. 

I have enjoyed every minute, getting the chance to know the girls, each with very individual personalities and stories to tell. I had so much fun with them all, and I was forces to brush up on my Thai vocabulary at the same time! A great success, we’ll definitely have to come back again in the future J
Well that’s it from me, what a wonderful three months.
Bye everybody!