3 months ago

The Global

Prof JP Singh reflects on our last deliberation day on The Global.

Gideon Wabvuta held before him a red chilli and spoke to anger and anxiety and its global manifestations.  He narrated his own story in which his mother in Zimbabwe worries about him being in Los Angeles. Gideon also described ways in which his identity in the United States is often perceived through the lens of being African American.

The Global group, last in a series of seven, used the language of spices to connect to earlier themes of the week.  Using spices as a theme was the brainchild of Nik Shahrifulnizam Bin Che Rahim, a chef from Malaysia.

Nik introduced his theme with Chinese cinnamon sticks to speak to empathy and humanization. 

Puneeta Roy stood with a bowl of cardamom, with its multiple tastes, to signify highs and lows and the connection with the global.  She outlined the need for new forms of inclusion and expansion for artists and consumers.

Natalia Mallo had a bowl of small cloves and started to sing the Brazilian song that she translated as ‘My voice is my silence and it is not less than my song.’  Natalia then related this song to the theme Voice and Silence discussed earlier during the week.

Group exercises, ranging from getting to know one’s partner to singing together, emphasized developing trust and the role of the collective amidst disparate identities.

The ‘global’ theme with respect to the week’s earlier themes was further explored through break-out sessions and subsequently by the group as a whole.

The issue of cultural identity and the possibilities of interactions across them arose in each group’s discussions. These included the place of identity amidst systemic issues, the possibilities for cultural translation, and the role of cultural syntheses.

Given the presence of spice, one group incorporated the metaphor to speak directly to the implications of fusion food as a cultural product.  One group pointed out that fusion food can be confusing, but one should still value the product.

These issues were further discussed when the Fellows discussed collectively beyond the group.  The notion and presence of cultural goods and evils and respecting each other’s cultural traditions produced spirited discussions.  Mahtab Farid urged the Fellows to focus on the good.  Asif Majid noted that even in agreeing with the ‘good’ there may be hidden issues of power that must be confronted. 

The role of historical context, ritual, and cultural specificities allowed the Fellows to point out that each person was distinct but also part of a whole. This was most apparent in the ‘song’ exercise that Natalia introduced by singing Bésame Mucho and exhorted other fellows to sing a song in any language they chose.  For a while it sounded like a cacophony.  Amidst the various songs though was the sense of singing together.

As Natalia gestured to fellows to stop singing one by one, the last fellow’s plaintive song filled the room.  Sitting cross-legged on his seat, Asif Majid sang with his eyes closed.  It was a poignant moment in which one song lingered amidst the silence of the room – but it spoke to everyone.

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