Erenlai - Beacons of hope 亞洲的人文引擎
Beacons of hope 亞洲的人文引擎

Beacons of hope 亞洲的人文引擎

There are many local initiatives that deserve to be known and encouraged. Here we look at Asia's cultural innovation.




Wednesday, 02 December 2009

Yo and Waka

In a collaboration with Satyana’s Butoh Dance Troupe, bringing the essence of India to Taiwan, Yo and Waka perform bi-weekly, on a wednesday night in Beitou, Taipei. Having both spent time in India learning the instruments, they have an expert finesse to send you floating into a mystical dream world.

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Monday, 30 November 2009

Treasure Hill

Treasure Hill is located on the site of a temple devoted to Guanyin, in Taipei. Over fifty years ago, people started building their own houses, on this land owned by the Ministry of National Defense. Originally it was settled in by war veterans, but developed into a community composed mainly of poor people, migrant workers and others who couldn’t afford the steep prices in the area. Thus the inhabitants were generally a marginalised and voiceless community. In 2004, the government declared that it was going to raze the buildings in the pursuit of urban development. Students and teachers of several National Taiwan University departments along with the NGO ’OURS’ and many ’Artivists’ acted to try and save the residences. The academics and artivists attempted to support the cause, and give voice to the voiceless by putting it in a context that would be more likely to achieve government support. 

Zijie, who studies at NTU’s Social Work department was amongst those who joined the experiment. Zijie and a small group were given a place that local photographer, Li Guomin (李國民), had been fixing up, to base themselves and live from for the following six months. Many artivists resided at Treasure Hill for short periods of time, few lived for long spells of time. For Taiwan it was an experimental, but historical cooperation between art and activism. For some of those involved, it was a cultural space that had art potential, others were more concerned about the residents property rights. Their actions had both successes and failures, but finally in 2006, the government took the decision to go ahead in evicting residents and taking down buildings. When renovation is completed this year a small proportion of the residents have been promised they will be allowed back.

Yang Zijie, Li Guomin and another reknowned artist Wu Zhongwei (吳中煒), were among three people accused and sued by the government.

Two years after, the artivists and residents were evicted, Zijie reflects on the movement to maintain Treasure Hill. With hindsight, He discusses the pitfalls and difficulties involved in understanding the needs of those one is trying to help when socially engaging and which aspects he feels could have been handled better.

Introduction by Nick Coulson


Monday, 30 November 2009

Performance Klub


Yogyakarta Province in Central Java, Indonesia is a city of artists, which contains an exceptionally rich and varied architecture, painting, graffiti, tattoos, dance, puppetry and religious heritage. Thus there are a disproportionate number of artists and activists centred in and around the cultural capital. On May 27th 2006, the region was struck by an earthquake which devastated the region. The considerable destruction impacted heavily on the minds of locals and in turn changed the course of one of the world’s most unconventional art festivals. It is in Yogyakarta, three years after the earthquake that I discovered a group of performance artists, entering the eye of the storm, had used their art and their passion, to contribute to the physical and spiritual reconstruction of Gemblangan village, at the epicentre of the earthquake.

Performance Klub
Established in 2003 by Iwon Wijono, a renowned painter in Yogyakarta, the group has organised and performed at a total of four ’Perfurbance’ festivals, each focusing on a different social, political or humanitarian topic. Perfurbance #1 dealt with the issues surrounding unbridled urbanization, #2 was centred on the commercialism of education, #3 was the spiritual renewal described below, and #4 focused on global warming and environmental issues whilst experimenting with impromptu group performances exploring how artists could collectively interact with space and spectators. Furthermore all of the Perfurbance festivals attributed special importance and respect to the traditional arts and artists in each place. They also attempted, sometimes successfully sometimes not so successfully, to engage the community in the issues they were focusing on, in the hope of leaving a lasting effect, thus truly use their art for a greater good.

With the impending environmental crises, there exists no lack of new issues to throw themselves into, and PK now have plans in the works for their Food Forest Cultural Centre, their biggest project yet. The FFCC is a huge and complex initiative intended to create sustainable energy to produce food using a variety of natural methods, to give free seeds that it grows to the poorer farming communities, and eventually to set up a free school to teach and train those who might emulate Food Forest in future projects.

Inspiringly, the plot of land chosen for the project was the home of the late W.S. Rendra, one of the most famous poets in Indonesia and also a dominant figure of modern Indonesian theatre, being the first to bring aspects of traditional Javanese culture to theatre. The man, who was imprisoned for his bravery in standing up to the Suharto regime, was a pioneer for activist, subversive artists, who claimed: "I wanted to introduce something new: causality. ... I wanted people, particularly politicians who were becoming increasingly dogmatic, to be able to think analytically." Daughter of the late Rendra, Rachel Saraswati (see Rachel’s performance), is now also Project coordinator and Festivals secretary for Performance Klub. Rendra became the patron of an unrestricted, free and socially engaged artistic community of which the tradition continues now with groups like Performance Klub, often still fighting for the maintenance and extension of the comparative freedoms they have enjoyed in recent years.

Perfurbance #3 - Spiritual Renewal
The festival ’Spiritual Renewal’ (Pembaharuan Spiritual) was held in Gemblangan Village, Bantul Regency, Yogyakarta province in 2006. Thousands died following the May 27th earthquake and Gemblangan Village where the festival was held, was the area worst affected, and the symbolic epicentre of the quake suffering the destruction of up to 90% of the village buildings and the loss of many, many lives. Performance Klub actively involved themselves in logistic aid from the day of the earthquake and following that helped educate the villagers whilst promoting their local traditions. In their search for ‘Spiritual Renewal’ they would raise their own awareness of the villagers’ culture and exchange artistic ideas.

Throughout the time building up to the performances, the artists conducted seminars, discussions and workshops. The topics ranged widely: from emergency relief, organic farming, food production and alternative education, to attitudes of political ideology, social customs, community self-help, mutual assistance and spiritual values; all the while respecting and developing traditional practices. For example whilst educating on health and nutrition they also introduced Sugiyanto and his herbal drinks as a source of alternative, local medicine.

At the same time as attracting a host of voluntary international performance artists from over a dozen countries, they also enlisted the support of, and mobilised the local peasant associations. When it came to the five days of performances, the artists performed on stages, in cattle fields, on intersections, in houses, by the river etc, and used a variety of different forms of expression to communicate different meanings. Rachel Saraswati used satire to highlight the identity struggle for Indonesia in a globalised world. She dressed in trash and sat in a bathtub singing the national anthem ’Indonesia Raya’ whilst her colleagues raised the American flag. Bruno Mercet from France responds with his body to the movements of small sculpture made of pliable material, to display how people have been enslaved by small objects. There were many more acts and, not to be outdone, the local villagers also performed some of their own superbly colourful traditional dances which invoked supernatural beings and other music and indigenous rituals.

For those who participated and masterminded Perfurbance#3, it was a real bridging of the gap between the theory and the practice of performance art; a bringing together of art and real life issues. Jan Cornall, a performer from the US, commented "how extraordinary that a village community and international art community would find that they spoke the same language - the language of spirit, the language of the heart" and Reza, performing for the first time, said "The village itself became the performance art, where there was no boundary between the artist and audience."

In a village in the heart of Indonesia, some went away with less inner demons, some went away with new spouses, but it seems that everyone went away with their spirits renewed.


Sunday, 29 November 2009

Awaken your Inner Guerrillero

Here, Alfie talks to us about the movement that he founded: ’Guerrilla Movie’. Due to his upbringing in Nangang which was going through all the contradictions of a poorer area in development, his work is influenced by this upbringing and has an ironic and idealist flavour. His group Guerrilla Movie was originally set up to give his own films a chance to be shown and a chance to survive. Later, they used their experience to help other young and first time directors, who had neither the resources or following to be shown at bigger cinemas. They enlisted many cafes in a project - 1st Film Festival - which showed 30 first time directors’ films in cafes, which allowed their low budget filming, despite its lack of advertising to get some feedback. He refers to his group as ’Punks of Film’ who use ’cameras and lights to make graffiti and guerrilla warfare.’ When they all started using High Definition (HD) GM started using webcams. Its the act of making art and displaying it, not the medium that counts.

They want to keep their projects original, thought provoking and underground. For example, before they started showing the films in cafes, they would use more underground, alternative locations: they projected one film onto the underside of Banqiao bridge in Taipei, under which a part of the film had indeed been shot. To make the projection possible, they ’borrowed’ the local electricity by connecting cables from the streetlights. Then they drunk beer and chewed betel nuts along with the slightly confused locals as they watched their own film play.

Alfie avoids conventional forms of media for advertising, preferring to alternative techniques such as graffiti and blogs. Thus Guerrilla Movies would to the largest extent possible, not spend any money on these projects. Just doing whatever necessary to allow the films to exist. Of course everyone must do what is necessary to survive, but he feels the ’system of responsibility’ and ’overtime culture’ is excessive and reduces independence and the ability to think. People shouldn’t forget their ideals, dreams and give up all the things they wanted to achieve simply because society tells them that they should compromise and conform to the ’inevitable’ norms of society.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Art, love, life, death and the spirits in Bantul

A slightly overdue medicine for spiritual renewal finally drifts over from the South Pacific seas and archipelagos ---- 2007 Perfurbance#3 Performance Art Festival, Yogyakarta Province, Indonesia

After spending the Septembers of 2005/2006 and the Aprils of 2007/8 on Java Island, I’m almost like a Java migratory bird. It can only be destiny; no other reason could explain why a Taiwanese has become so addicted to Indonesian Arts.

The island of Java is the stronghold of Indonesian arts. The three main Colleges of the Arts, located in the capital, Jakarta, Bandung and Yogyakarta, have their walls plastered in graffiti by the students; whilst their own bodies are often covered in tattoos, though in no way appear menacing. Smoking one kretek clove cigarette after another whilst listening to Bob Marley and heavy metal, painting anarchist slogans and drinking spirits made from the blood of crocodile penis! Many radical elements of western culture have transcended space and time to blossom anew in Indonesia and even if the deeper connotations are not always comprehended, rhythm is always far greater than meaning, and action more noble than thought. The artists have grown up absorbing this school atmosphere it has released an indiscernible, explosive quality about them. Furthermore, I am sure that this is more than an illusion of foreign exotique. In both life and the arts in Indonesia, the two poles of tradition and modernity coexist together, like plaintiff and defendant endlessly battling on, the richest and poorest landscapes appear on the same visual frame taunting, mocking; creating a aesthetic of conflict.

In recent years, the island of Java has had a number of arts festivals; perhaps this explosion in activity is due to the endless exhibitions, needed to allow artists to maintain material stability, and also because of the ease with which they can apply to government or foreign arts foundations for festival and event expenses (of which us foreign artists both doubtful and envious). The impressive Perfurbance #3 Art Festival (Performance Art Festival) with the theme of "Spiritual Renewal" was held in April 2006. The Director was Iwan Wijono, who was previously invited and came to perform in Taiwan in 2005. He comports himself like a revolutionary and was originally concerning himself with the problems that globalization and the expanding free market have been causing for daily Indonesian lives; while more recently due to the recurring local natural disasters, he has turned his attention to these more urgent matters.

The Perfurbance#3 festival lasted for five days, with worn-down from travel artists from a dozen or so different nationalities descending on Yogyakarta’s Gemblangan Village on April 25 2007, the province where the terrifying earthquake on the 27th May 2006 had been the deadliest, with more than 6000 villagers killed, and the village almost completely destroyed. Our art here didn’t quite seem like the truth, because the real truth was in front of us: the roof tiles from unfinished constructions, livestock wondering about aimlessly, as were the shy children; the old woman were beating the rice grain and the mother’s breastfeeding their babies. Meanwhile the performance artists accessed all areas of the village - the rice fields, the village homes, the river and even the cemetery.

Though it was blistering hot, it did not matter, for during the rainy season, the afternoon thunderstorms never fail to arrive on time, and when the rain desisted, the activities would restart. Meanwhile, to one side the young boys seemed to rather continue playing in the ditch. The traditional Javanese performances commenced on the temporary stages we had put up using steel frames. Some were serious, some kitsch, and some dances summoned and interrupted the spirits and the performances were all intertwined into the festival’s other activities. sometimes artists would go and draw with the kids or work alongside the women of the village - the women were responsible for the festival’s meals, skilfully crushing the flaming red peppers or serving sweet, hot tea.

In the countryside, especially here in the tropics, everything is slow and drawn out…

As the artists progressed with the timetable, the festival personnel acted as guides, leading the audience to the part of the village where the next act would be held. Since this was an arts festival, different forms of artistic expression came together and unfolded before our eyes; a man lying with candles lit over his whole body, another dragging a string behind him with which he collected and pulled rubbish, one smashed his own reflection in a mirror, everyone gathered and took pose in the graveyard; toy soldiers were stuck into the rice-paddies, smoke blew in all four directions and everyone was invited to gather and eat the local durian fruit...And this was only the so called ‘art’ - many surrounding events reminded us of what was real: on the third day a village grandma passed away and all the clamour of the performances had to be stopped temporarily while the artists in the village lined up with the villagers in the funeral procession. They marched up to their destination where the corpse, rather than going in with the coffin, was lifted out, wrapped in a piece of cloth was lowered into the hole in the ground, and covered very simply in soil...this was death.

On the last day of the festival, the wife of an Indonesian artist named Ronald Apriyan gave birth to a baby girl, with a head full of thick black hair she was wrapped in a pink blanket...a new life was beginning.

Compared to other festivals, the immediate situation in Bantul seemed too tragic and some of the acts also seemed too warm, however at the same time they were very...real, so real that a year later I still remember the events profoundly. I still ponder the differences between the art and real lives. Still now I am ashamed to use my own body to make performance art...The director, Iwan Wijono, said at the end "let us hold the next Perfurbance at the foot of the volcano Gunung Merapi". Surely he was joking, we thought, but he was deadly serious and the following Perfurbance "Global Warming, Global Warning" was indeed held there. Like all the Indonesians I met he was an explosive activist.

We certainly didn’t have our expenses nor even our plane tickets compensated for at this festival, but that’s ok because this kind of spiritual renewal should always be priceless.

Translation from Chinese by Nick Coulson

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Saturday, 05 September 2009



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Wednesday, 02 September 2009



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Wednesday, 05 August 2009



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Tuesday, 30 June 2009

One 'swimming pool' for Yangjuan village

You may complain that your internet access is too slow. In Taiwan, where I reside, 5785 kms of optical broadband networks will be completed by the end of the year. However, while we’ll enjoy easier and faster surfing of the global village, the small village of Yangjuan in Southwest China is in need of 3 kms of pipes for a water network to allow easier access to this critical, life-giving commodity.

Since the school’s inauguration in 2000, cleaner water has been increasingly at the disposal of villagers. The school well did provide water to 300 students all year long but recently it seems seriously in need of maintenance, as it runs regularly dry during winter. During the summer of 2004 the first communal well was dug in the lower part of the village. However, after a few months, it met the same fate as the well of the school. People learned from that failure, therefore some of them dig home wells during the dry season, aware also that underground water is healthier than water directly taken from the river. In 2005 and 2007, on the villagers initiative, we canalized water from two sources in the hills above their houses. These small scale distribution networks were a real relief for approximately 60 households. Once again this encountered the same problem: from October to May water scarcely runs from the faucets, when it runs at all! I visited the village again last May and now they’re asking for bigger scale water works that could meet the needs of all the villagers.

Every day 5000 children in the world die from water related diseases.
At the end of 2006, the United Nations Development Program was asking the international community “to ensure that every person has access to at least 20 liters of clean water each day to meet basic needs” as “a minimum requirement for respecting the right to water—and that is a minimum target for governments.”

When we put into perspective the Millennium Development Goals: “halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation” with the needs of Yangjuan and the possibilities to improve the situation there, we feel sad and compelled to take immediate action. “The urgency of achieving the Millennium Development Goal for water and sanitation cannot be overstated. Even if the targets are achieved, there will still be more than 800 million people without water and 1.8 billion people without sanitation in 2015”. This extract from “Human Development Report 2006 Beyond scarcity: Power poverty and the global water crisis” leaves a chilling picture for the future.

On a micro level, there is hope for this small village in the mountains of Sichuan Province, crippled with all sort of difficulties. Ten years ago, the villagers had no consciousness of the need for clean water. Following the failure of the communal well, the villagers became aware of the necessity of clean water and started experimenting inside their own compounds. It was the villagers themselves who came up with the idea of bringing water from the hills behind the village. It was then easy convince them that it was better to canalized water from the source, than to take water directly from the brook. That was not a big deal to complete the job. Since we were providing the pipes and materials needed to build the water tank everybody was motivated to work together. Now, following these trials, that are far from complete successes, villagers are dreaming of a bigger scale project that could satisfy all their water needs for good. The informal network of ’friends of Yangjuan’, created and put into action using the power of the Internet, is coming together to solve any new, bigger problems they may meet in order to succeed in this huge undertaking. Who will be the responsible leader able to coordinate the efforts on a local level? Where will they find supplementary funds? How can they ensure that water taken from the brook will be drinkable at the faucet? How to solve all these problems without increasing the financial burden of the villagers once installation is completed?

In the village of Yangjuan, people leave, sometimes far away, to find jobs. Those who stay behind are the eldest and the youngest. Being forced to fetch water daily is a heavy burden when added to farming and schooling.

Water is not only the problem of Yangjuan as shown by a 2006 report from the WWF: a combination of climate change, drought and loss of wetlands that store water, along with poorly thought out water infrastructure and resource mismanagement, is making this crisis truly global.

Even in Taiwan, where tap water penetration rate hits 90.7 percent, one mountainous county only manages 45 percent.
It is estimated that the network of one water distribution company in the UK, leaks enough water daily to fill more than 300 Olympic size swimming pools! By western standards, such an amount could supply water for 2 800 000 homes…while for Yangjuan, one swimming pool would be more than enough.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Meeting Francois Ponchaud

Ponchaud on his past and current projects
If you’re ever in need of an expert’s view on Cambodian culture and society, Francois Ponchaud is the man you should look for in Phnom Penh. A resourceful peacemaker, the amount of developmental work that Ponchaud has accumulated over the last ten years in Cambodia is astounding. In his forty years in Cambodia, Ponchaud has not only witnessed the beginnings of the Khmer Rouge regime but was also one of the first to denounce the Khmer Rouge atrocities. Apart from having written hundreds of books and translating the Bible to Khmer, Ponchaud initiated many projects in the area of development and education. In a village in the Prey Veng province (Eastern Cambodia), Ponchaud built schools and a nursery, helping 265 orphans.

In Kampong Cham, Ponchaud revived the previous construction of canals of the Khmer Rouge with the help of the locals in the year 2000 after a drought in 1997 that left the villagers desperate for water. Together, they built canals the length of 6.5Km which enabled peasants to irrigate 100 hectares more land than before. In 2004, the peasants faced another terrible drought in the neighbouring commune; to counter this persisting problem caused by the global climate change, Ponchaud and the villagers built even longer canals and seven very large ponds, a hundred metres long, twenty metres wide, and two metres deep. Using shovels and baskets that were not unlike those used in the time of the Khmer Rouge, the image of the labourers at work made Ponchaud often wonder whether it was a good thing to bring back the memories of a painful past. “Sometimes I feel ashamed to make them work like this,” says Ponchaud, “but when I ask them, the villagers tell me that they are happy- knowing that whatever construction they did was done for them and that no one would be killed at the end of the day”. For every one metres cube of land transported, Ponchaud gives the workers 3.5kg of rice and 4.5kg for canal work. It is a system that the labourers appreciate as they are glad to work along with others and bring back food to their families at the end of the day.

In 2008 Francois Ponchaud decided to direct his attention to the hygiene problems prominent in the rural areas by building 64 latrines in a total of 17 villages. Ponchaud financed three-quarters of the cost of the latrine while the rest are paid by the locals. “I started with practically no money” recalls Ponchaud incredulously; it was through writing friends and holding conferences that Ponchaud managed to gather sufficient funding for all his local projects. Ponchaud continues to engage in rural development locally, but remains highly sceptical of the Cambodian government and future well-being of its people.
Ponchaud shows photos of his work in rural development and national education.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Yangjie: Mother of 24 Children

A three-storied house on a hill in Muzha, on a Saturday afternoon. On the playground, young kids take a nap after lunchtime. At first sight, you would think you are in a kindergarten. But as I enter, nannies disinfect my hands. Others are giving ‘magic cocktails’, which is medication, to some children. Upstairs, elder kids have class with a volunteer teacher.

We are in an orphanage where some children carry HIV, run by Yangjie, a second mum to the 24 children.
Yangjie’s devotion to the children is a story of love and fight for life; offering a second chance to the ones who need it the most. Words do little justice, seeing it is realizing it.

Yangjie grew up in a large family having eight brothers and sisters she took care of since she was little. After a difficult divorce, she moved to Taipei with her two children. Over there she met a young man who was carrying HIV. His friends and classmates had difficulties to cope with his illness, they were afraid of it, hence, afraid of him. Yangjie offered him to live at her place.

Progressively, as she learned more about AIDS, she took care of more and more children carrying HIV and opened an orphanage called ’Harmony Home Association’ (HHAT). There are now 24 children living there. While the youngest is only a week old, some already go to Junior High School.

While she does not have very much money, she still finds ways to take care of these children, and raise them as well as she could, offering them access to education and a healthy environment to grow up in.

Yangjie’s message about AIDS is ‘PREVENTION’, AIDS can be prevented. She also wishes more people would try to understand better this virus and spend time with people carrying HIV.

For your information you should know that most people catch HIV because their mother carries the virus, or by a blood transfusion. In other circumstances, it is very unlikely to be contaminated. Sharing a meal or drinks with a person carrying HIV is safe.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

在地大學● 全球視野


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