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Exploring the Sacred Places in Our Communities: A Precis of an Article by Mark A. Graham

This is an article that is worth taking the time to find and read.  It is interesting and there are more than a few smiles related….

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Article:  Exploring Special Places: Connecting Secondary Art Students to Their Island Community

Author:  Mark A. Graham

Source:  Art Education, Vol. 60, No. 3 (May, 2007), pp. 12-18.

Published by: National Art Education Association.

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27696211

My copy was downloaded on October 1, 2014.

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My Precis

Expanding personal and sacred place to include community, through art, can break down barriers and lead to the type of experiences and understanding that brings about responsibility and social change.

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My Precis Expanded (a summary of the original article):

Research suggests that art education must have a compelling personal and cultural context if it is to succeed in creating new ways of thinking, knowing and representing. Artmaking in the classroom provides an opportunity to give form to the transformation and reshaping of ideas, experiences and materials into meaningful representations. This article describes the efforts that one group of students made to understand their community and history through art.  Our lives are often led within a fractured world that has become a place to be taken for granted, owned, used up, and discarded. Place-based education aims to bring together nature and communities by breaking down isolation and emphasizing responsibility.

Life is about possibilities and art connects life through associations.  Transcendent art can be filled with sacred images or images that the artist held sacred, thereby attaching meaning and revealing aspects of nature and reverence without religion. By making ecology of place the focus of their work, many contemporary artists are attempting to connect community and the preservation of the natural environment.  The aim of exploring and learning about the ocean, animals and trees that we share in our communities is to cultivate a thoughtful awareness and a sense of reverence towards our homes.

In a museum, detailed images are constructed and places depicted in order to build a vocabulary to further help us in the exploration of another’s place. To define sacred place through experience and memory, students were asked to share details of personal spaces that they considered sacred. In the area surrounding the school there is an 18th century graveyard as well as abandoned excavation sites, parkland and shoreline. Armed with sketchbooks and cameras to record nature’s resistance to America’s consumer culture, the students appeared in the classroom each Monday with a collection of images and questions. These questions facilitated discussions about home and homelessness and about our place in this world and our responsibility to others.

The students began a collage with photographs they had taken.  The photographs  were soon joined together into paintings as images of rocks, ocean, trees and street formed various personal meanings within the larger images. Borders that both connected and displaced became a theme and, as confidence grew, one student added family to her paintings and eliminated some of the isolation of displacement. A photographic collage of Main Street not only contained the sophistication of adolescent conversation caught up in music, fashion and identity, it was a reminder to us that a street is a panorama of architecture, trees and water connecting a small area (community) to the greater community of city, state and country. Bridges joined communities and in a collage, a bridge can also work to manipulate time by joining together the past and present.

The conversations and images came together in the final exhibition. Each student prepared and displayed a written commentary about their work. Each piece was mounted and hung in a sequence that included preliminary plans, sketches, studies, and final paintings.  The exhibition introduced other members of the community to our newly discovered sense of place and it was a success because it connected the artists (the students) with their environment (their home) on a level that brought awareness not only to them but to the community.

In order to understand our history we must learn it. Personal history can be found in our communities and in special places that help or have helped to shape our identities. Sharing, or teaching, is often referred to as the best way to learn and in this instance, visual art precipitated the sharing of personal interaction with sacred place.

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I found the original article through a journal search using JSTOR. This one was a bit tricky to find. My copy came from here: http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.kwantlen.ca:2080/stable/10.2307/3981182?origin=api

JSTOR is in the process of ‘freeing up’ some of their journals so that we can borrow the older articles to read. I am hoping that this might soon be one of those journals….. If you have any trouble locating the article please contact me or, call your local college or university library for assistance.

The Re-Making of History…

I want to explain this precis a little bit before you read it.  I have struggled with this one.  The article is the story of an archaeological site that became a museum.  It is only one of a multitude of post-WWII stories.

At Toro, it wasn’t actually history that was reworked, it was pre-history.  What was done was to rediscover a people that had been there 2,000 years before and to give the people of post-WWII something to work towards and to live for.

There was a conscious decision made, to either rewrite or abandon certain aspects of history and prehistory and to take only the positive and politically correct bits of Toro’s prehistory and fold them into a past that could bring Japan together as a community. The true story of the Yayoi people of Toro is not in this article nor is it likely to be found in the museum at Toro. The true story of Toro may not ever be found as the site was completely excavated and used to help bring together the broken pieces of a post-WWII society. It was one of many ways chosen to reestablish a place in the world for Japan and the Japanese after World War II.

I have tried very hard not to put my thoughts into the writing of this summary.  Thoughts formed from this story belong in the discussion.  Whether you agree or disagree with my thoughts, my writing, or the writing of Walter Edwards, I welcome your comments…

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Article:  Buried Discourse: The Toro Archaeological Site and Japanese National Identity in the Early Postwar Period.

Author:  Walter Edwards

Source:  Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol 17, No. 1 (Winter, 1991), pages 1-23.

My copy was downloaded on March 27, 2014.

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My Precis

The reworking of history is not a new idea, it is an idea that works. Using only the most acceptable and positive aspects of tradition and culture, the history found at the archaeological site of Toro was reworked to give a sense of hope and belonging to the devastated people of postwar Japan.

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My Precis Expanded:

In July of 1947 archaeologists and supporters gathered for the ground-breaking ceremony at the Toro archaeological site. The end of WWII had taken a toll on the people of Japan. Her Emperor had lost the status of an immortal God and the country had been devastated. The excavation at Toro was seen as a way of bringing the people together as a community with a new found sense of history, belonging and community.

During WWII, the Toro site was a paddy field designated to be the site of a proposed propeller factory.  An excavation of fill to raise and level the building site uncovered pottery, wooden stakes and utensils. These were taken to a nearby school where the educational value was recognized and work began to turn the site away from industrial use. In August of 1943, an emergency excavation uncovered a Yayoi agricultural settlement complete with buildings and an irrigation system. Then, in June of 1945, the unfinished propeller factory and the surrounding area were razed by an incendiary bombing strike. Most of the excavated finds were lost in the fires.

After the war, the archaeologists were ready to go back and salvage what was left.  In the fall of 1946, a committee of scholars, professionals, and specialists, for the investigation of the Toro site was formed, a plan was put together, permissions were granted and work began in July of 1947. With shortages of everything, including food and money, volunteer students uncovered eight thatched roof dwellings. Wood, especially cedar, was found to be the most common material used for everyday items. Plates, bowls, spoons, fire starting kits, chairs, and sandals were found. Agricultural tools such as hoes and rakes were made of hard woods. Iron, for blades for carving knives and other implements, appeared to have been plentiful but the acidic, wet soil conditions left no traces of metal.

With the finds at Toro in hand, the head archaeologist painted a picture of a peaceful and prosperous village site. Newspaper articles kept the people of Japan appraised of the progress and letters from well-wishers were an inspiration to the volunteers. At the end of the first summer, the government pledged its support for the following years and an exhibition was opened at the Tokyo National Museum. Four years of excavation and 4.5 million yen saw the entire site excavated, preserved, and sections rebuilt and formed into a park.

Literature, folk tales and sociology had been starting to combine in pre-war Japan and the foundation of change had begun. The committee that was in charge of the excavation of Toro was also in charge of a site of unification of Japanese historic culture. Toro and the professional development of its history were providing material proof of an unknown cultural history.

Japan of the Yayoi was characterized as being similar to modern Japan. The rice paddies were neat, the dykes carefully built, the tools similar to those in common use just a few decades ago. This agricultural ethic fundamentally supported the emperor system while the Emperor was busy turning public eyes away from government and towards the remaking of history. In a nation caught up in all-encompassing western reform, the idea of a history of uniqueness was something to hold onto while everything changed. The idea was simply to take only the positive history that could help bring the people of Japan together and give it to them to use.

These were times of crisis and this was medicine that had worked before, in other times, for other cultures. Post-war Japan was glossing over its militaristic history and equipping the new “culture” with hoes, spades, and a peaceful and prosperous past. The logic used to turn Japan from a warring nation to a peaceful one was the logic of “community.”

The swing from a defeated nation to strong economic success and national identity was not accomplished by any one person, group or project alone. It was the effort of an entire community with strong leadership from the government to the educators. Even though history was reworked using only images that were of an acceptable form, the Japanese have never truly abandoned the rest of their heritage and have held onto their sense of national identity. What happened at Toro was that a nation came together as a community to remake their history and to press “an aspect” of tradition into service. This service would change the direction of the cultural identity of Japan.

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I found the original article through a journal search using JSTOR. You can find the full article here in a “read online” format:

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/132905?uid=3739448&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=3737720&uid=4&sid=21104281844051

If you have any trouble locating the article please contact me or, call your local college or university library for assistance.