Archive of Posts by Deborah Clearwaters

Deborah Clearwaters is director of education and public programs at the Asian Art Museum.

A Partnership with Chitresh Das dance company



Although still well over a week away, we have completely sold out the performances by Chitresh Das Dance Company. To learn more about how this collaboration came about, please read this interview I was asked to give for the Chitresh Das Dance Company’s blog written by Shruti Iyer.

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Our hearts go out to the people of Japan

As the world watches in horror at the unfolding catastrophe in Japan, many of us in the arts ask ourselves, how can we think/talk/work about or on art during such as time as this? We can’t. And yet, our doors are open, we have visitors coming in, and we must deliver.

I emailed all of our docents and storytellers today with some suggestions as to how they might be prepared for questions about Japan’s disaster in their interactions with visitors. I suggested that, when appropriate, they incorporate into their tours information about the recent earthquake and tsunami and Japan’s unique geography, which has been shaped by geothermal thrusts and volcanoes over many millennium. Japan, being an archipelago, has a culture inextricably intertwined with the sea. The Japanese are among the world’s greatest (and most voracious) fisher-folk. They have a tradition of landscape art in which nature is refined to its most idealized expression, and a religion focused on nature spirits–Shinto. Think of the meisho-e, or pictures of famous places, and of images of plum trees or streams abstracted into patterns of gold and line. And yet, behind the beauty of Japanese art is the reality of a cruel, impersonal natural world. Today thousands suffer and have perished in a natural disaster in Japan from which it will take many years to recover.

Mount Fuji and the beach at Miho no Matsubara

Mount Fuji and the beach at Miho no Matsubara

I advised our docents and storytellers to show our visitors the impacted areas using the maps in the galleries. Some helpful information about the earthquake and tsunami may be found on the BBC news site:

BBC also have an animated guide about how tsunamis happen

For those who wish to find out how to help, NPR has a full listing of agencies working in Japan:

Japan Society has created a disaster relief fund to aid victims of the earthquake. More details can be found at this link:

This is the link to the Red Cross’ Japan Tsunami relief:

We hope for the end to the suffering of our friends in Japan.

Chinese Language Teachers Conference in San Francisco

Teachers at the museum

The museum is proud to host the participants in the 2011 National Chinese Language Conference organized by the Asia Society Partnership for Global Learning and the College Board in collaboration with the SF-based Mandarin Institute. The conference takes place April 14-16, 2011 at the Hilton, and our event is the evening of April 15.

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Cremation Video


Bali Shortcuts: Ubud Cremation from Something Creative on Vimeo.

I am hoping the filmmakers who made this piece will give us permission to show it as part of our exhibition. In the exhibition, there will be a platform used for the actual burning of the animal coffin with the body inside, a ritual dagger that may have been used to cut open the coffin so the body may be placed inside, and a painting showing many of the cremation ceremonies.

sacred art for show?

Bull vessel for cremation

Bull vessel for cremation

Before the museum blog started I created the Bali Art Blog to post about my trip to Bali and progress on our Bali exhibition. I was reviewing some of the comments there and thought this one would be of interest to the readers of the museum’s blog about the question of whether the museum should commission funerary arts as props for our exhibition. Gus Dark wrote:

please stop playing the sacred art with contemporary art which will causing Young generation in Bali or other place will misunderstanding or misinterpreter it, until the art itself losing it meaning, losing it sacred and “magical feeling” or we Balinese call it “TAKSU”. Feel free to search and create something new based on Balinese art but please don’t put the sacred art into modern or street art things, these arts have their own place… and we all have to respect it. thank you for your concerning about bali, I love Bali and Bali will always loves you..

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Bali videos

Work on the videos for the Bali exhibition are in full court press at the moment. I have been working with video editors Michael Rohde (SF based) to develop six videos to play in the gallery spaces and short clips for the handheld media tour,  and Martin Percy (London based) to create an interactive video kiosk. Why are we going so heavy on video with this exhibition? The key reason is our desire to convey in an immersive way the integration of art, ritual, and performance in Bali. Today we trekked out to Richmond to interview local dancer Kompiang Metri Davies. We asked her to wear her traditional Balinese temple best for the camera, but when the interview was done she had changed back into her regular around-the-house outfit of Indian looking tunic and slacks. Kompiang told us about her memories growing up in Ngis, a remote village in eastern Bali, how she came to learn dance (despite her parents’ resistance), symbolism of the various pieces of Balinese dance costume, how the mask dances frightened her as a child, dancers entering trance state, the simple bull-shaped coffins made in her village for cremation, and about making daily offerings. You may hear excerpts of her interview in the audio tour and on the introductory video. She will perform purification dances on opening day Feb. 25 and a mother-daughter dance work on Mother’s Day family festival on May 8, 2011.

China in the 21st Century–discussion on KPFA this morning

Jeffrey Wasserstrom gave a really interesting interview on KPFA this morning about China. (He comes on at 34 minutes into the morning show).

The Morning Show – June 1, 2010 at 7:00am

Click to listen (or download)

It made me think anew about the rapid changes China has undergone over the past 40 years. When asked for his predictions for the future of China, Jeffrey said he expects China to keep surprising us since all predictions have been off base for a long time. Jeffrey, who is professor of History at UC Irvine, will be at the Asian introducing some films about contemporary China on September 5 at 11am and 2pm, and at 12pm will be signing copies of his books, including his latest Global Shanghai, 1850–2010.

Visiting Balinese Dancer

Ibu Arini

I will never forget seeing Balinese dance teacher Ni Ketut Arini in action in her home dance studio in Denpasar in Bali, Indonesia. She was teaching nearly 40 young girls to do Balinese dance with gentle, yet firm hands, and a huge smile. It was like her voice could control this 3D orchestra–the small hands, hips, and eyes moving together in the tight studio. She will be artist in residence with Gamelan Sekar Jaya this spring. Her dance workshop is already fully subscribed but she will be in a performance on April 24 at the School of the Arts.

Incidentally, I’m not sure if you can see it but she is wearing an Obama campaign t-shirt. When I visited Indonesia in the summer of 2008, many people were excited about the prospect of an Obama presidency. Sadly, it appears from this article in The Hill that the warm feelings have worn away a bit since then.

We hope somehow to get word to President Obama about our Bali exhibition so that he may in turn tell Indonesian President Yudhoyono about the exhibition when Obama visits there later this month.

Shanghai film clips

My homework this week is scanning old Chinese movies for interesting clips of Shanghai for possible screening in the exhibition. The exhibition curator Michael Knight was given a stack of DVDs from a Chinese contact with permission to use. (I think they are all in the public domain).

乌鸦与麻雀 / Crows and Sparrows poster (1949)

乌鸦与麻雀 / Crows and Sparrows poster (1949)

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“Tory Rory” Stewart is still walking

During the Afghanistan exhibition last year, we hosted a lecture by Rory Stewart (available for your viewing pleasure on YouTube and iTunesU), who is perhaps best known around the museum for his book about his walk across Afghanistan called The Places in Between.

Rory Stewart views the Afghan exhibition at the Asian Art Museum

Rory Stewart views the Afghan exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in 2008

I was surprised to learn he is running as a Tory to serve as Member of Parliament to represent the English district of Penrith and The Border, a beautiful, remote, and recently flood-plagued region along the England/Scotland border. He has written an amusing yet thoughtful account of his campagning, done, you guessed it, by walking the district and meeting people along the route, including “a lurcher called Prospero.” Those of you who read The Places in Between may be reminded of another great dog, Babur. If elected he hopes to narrow the “gap between government rhetoric and reality from Britain to Baghdad. . . . and help change the culture of government.” Good luck Rory.