Lily Tran

Narrative, Memory, and Healing

Posted by Lily Tran on November 16, 2011
Nov 162011

Working on the kid’s storytelling kit for the final proposal and exhibition, my contribution lies in the creation of the costume pieces and larger props, including sketching, designing, and gathering materials.  Working with Faye and Giacomo, we have been sketching and designing the costume and the prop pieces to ensure a consistent visual language and aesthetic throughout the pieces.

Working in a group began as an intimidating task. As a group focusing more with culture and people, the form of our project arose organically; the project has become an amalgam of all of our interests and strengths. As with any group work, we all had some difficulty adjusting to different working styles, but upon settling on a final product after much discussion, we defined the major components of the project and then began to delegate the components to the group. We are continuing to figure out each other’s working styles, but we are now aware of each person’s responsibility.

Thinking about mythology and folk tales, I began the project reflecting on how traditional narratives can tell whimsical and memorable stories about events such as the creation of the earth and solar system, war, and the creation of elements in the world around us. Mythology and folklore have always piqued my interest. I loved Greek mythology and Japanese folklore as a child. And as the child of Vietnamese refugees, I always enjoyed hearing my parents tell legends and myths. As I grew older, I began to gain interest in Latin American folklore. Storytelling has a way of preserving the traditions and the events in a culture unlike any other form of media. Storytelling evolves with the teller, evolving through time, but also continuing through time.


Hades and Persephone, Bernini 1621-1622

In addition, stories serve as a common ground; a shared experience, a shared knowledge. Myths and folklore across cultures often have similar stories and characters. Stories and myths can unite people, allowing for discussion about other conflicts to be discussed. Often, conflicts worsen due to a feeling of distance, a mutual lack of understanding between two parties and an increasing belief of the difference between them. Upon finding one similarity, the distance decreases, perhaps bringing some basic understanding that the two parties do not differ as much as assumed and facilitating discussions about the greater conflicts at large. This was the strategy behind  Nixon’s Ping Pong Diplomacy and the New York Philharmonic’s performance in North Korea.

Upon reading about the difficulty of preserving a sense of community needed to encourage reconstruction in Minamisanriku, I immediately began to think about folklore. As a culture with strong traditions of folklore and mythology, I began to think about how narratives, especially in a culture with a history of continued narratives, could allow the community to feel together again and improve the status of reconstruction for Minamisanriku. And with that interest in the power of narrative combined with Faye’s, Jackee’s, Giacomo’s, and Sei’s interests, our children’s story playtime kit emerged.


The Old Man Who Made Trees Blossom

Violence Transformed

Posted by Lily Tran on November 7, 2011
Nov 072011

Spoken word



On April 12th of this year, various members of the Urbano Project exhibited their works at Violence Transformed at the Massachusetts State House. Violence Transformed this year included performances from Urbano’s spoken word teen curators,  Pedro Reyes’s Palas Por Pistolas, and many pieces from Urbano’s young artists. The event embodies the idea of using art as a form of empowerment and a way to address issues in the world around us. Here, the pieces of the Urbano Project focused on violence and how it permeates the lives of teens living in the Boston urban environment.







What is Violence Transformed?

Violence Transformed is a series of events and exhibitions dedicated to violence: how it interrupts life, how we approach it, and how we work to change and reduce it. The exhibit began in 2007 through the Cambridge Health Alliance. Since then, more organizations and artists have begun to participate in the annual exhibit.


Art and Voice

Posted by Lily Tran on November 6, 2011
Nov 062011

“The physical voice is an expression of our social voice and through its use, we either reinforce or shift our sense of power”

-Heather Chetwynd, “Releasing Voices, Reclaiming Power: The Personal and Collective Power of Voice”

Chetwynd, in her article, discusses the role of liberating one’s physical voice to galvanize people to act and to express their thoughts. Her connection between the vocal and the ability for activism raises the general question: how can any form of voice prompt action, provoke people to release their thoughts and opinions to the public?

We use the term voice to describe an author, an artist, a creator’s style and way to express a message, much as we use our own voices to communicate messages. Though these manifestations of voice provide us greater freedom to convey our opinions and judgments, the world around us often restricts our voices.

A voice can be visual, aural, or both, and all forms meet their restrictions. Institutions and social norms often restrict the voice, malevolently and benevolently. Cultural beliefs and standards also restrict all forms of the voice. Our peers restrict our voices. Our own fears restrict our voices.

Media culture embodies and silences voices simultaneously. Mass media transmits voices from the people whom they determine are the most significant. In the process, we hear voices we would not hear, but consequently, we  often overlook voices closer to us.

Stella McGregor of the The Urbano Project promotes the voices of teens in urban Boston. The Urbano Project serves as a space where artists and teens in the greater Boston community can unite to create art, express their experiences, and liberate their voices. The project works to teach Boston teens how to combine art and community,  representing their experiences, stories, opinions, and aspirations with art.

The Urbano Project provides art education for today’s youth in a society where arts education in public schools have begun to decline.   The organization empowers today’s teens to express their stories of living in an urban environment and in turn to encourage teens to act in their communities to make them a better place. The Urbano Project gives teens the ability to release their voices through art to raise attention on the conditions of communities near us that we often do not have a great knowledge of, in turn encouraging us to also act to help improve conditions of communities that have fallen under the media radar.

The Urbano Project uses art as a form of communication, education, and expression. The organization’s work with youth shows how art can be used to empower and liberate, to critically analyze the world around us, and to improve the world we live in.




Crisis and its Immediacy

Posted by Lily Tran on September 28, 2011
Sep 282011

The Oxford English Dictionary defines crisis as:

A vitally important or decisive stage in the progress of anything; a turning point; also a state of affairs in which a decisive change for better or worse is imminent; now applied especially to times of difficulty, insecurity and suspense in politics or commerce.

We see crisis as a state where great turmoil has shattered and interrupted the lives of individuals. Often crisis stems from political and economic turmoil but also a natural disaster. Crisis often involve great brutality and oppression, poverty and a threat to survival, and overall, a great loss of lives. However, browsing through the pages of the Human Rights Watch and thinking about the definition defined above raises two questions:

What do we consider a crisis?

How long do we expect a crisis to last?

One example of crisis in the traditional sense of the word can be seen in Burma. A former British colony until 1948, the country has been in a state of crisis since April of 1948. Since the 60s Burmese civilians have been imprisoned, tortured, and murdered in a devastating civil war against the military rule. Oppression and censorship have plagued Burma for years and most likely will continue for many more years. The election in 2010, the feigned democratic election, promises little humanitarian improvement. Throughout the war, many protesters against the ruling military government were arrested and tortured in prison. Today, over two thousand prisoners still remain in prison, including most of the monks and nuns who protested against the military government in the infamous campaign of 2007 where the military brutally tortured and arrested many monks and nuns. Though the government claims to desire to progress, the military has yet to follow even the feigned suit.

Burmese monks protesting in the infamous campaign in 2007 where the Burmese military rule retaliated by torturing and imprisoning monks and nuns. Many of those imprisoned monks and nuns are still imprisoned today.

An installation in Grand Central Square in New York in 2010.

The situation in Burma fits every element of the definition of the term crisis. We can all agree Burma has been and still is in crisis. Intervention in Burma still remains decisive and the investment of neighboring countries makes methods of intervention even more difficult to consider.

The classification of the term crisis becomes more difficult when addressing the social expectations of a society.

One example of what I consider as a crisis is the treatment of homosexuals in Uganda and many other nations in Africa. When the death of David Kato, a prominent gay rights activist in Uganda, was murdered, the world gained an insight into the hatred for homosexuals ingrained into the Ugandan society, a hatred greatly fueled by the work of missionaries. The notorious anti-homosexuality bill of 2009 proposed death for homosexuals who were HIV positive, making the punishment for homosexuality in Uganda even more draconian than before (revealed homosexuals were previously sentenced to prison). The dismissal of the bill in 2010 has quieted the world’s protest against the anti-homosexual practices of Uganda, but the bill may return when parliament meets again. And the treatment of homosexuals remains precarious; human rights activists have intervened, restoring some hope that improvement will be made for the condition of homosexuals. However the spectacle that involved international churches and the churches in Uganda during the bill’s protest have raised the complex nature of the aversion and the ideological foundation of the aversion and the punishment, making improvements on the lives of homosexuals seem grim. Though the draconian bill instilled a sense of immediate crisis, the continued prosecution for homosexuality should also be a crisis we need to continue to dedicate attention to.

Children march in support for Uganda’s anti-homosexual practices, revealing the deeply rooted resentment for homosexuals in the society.

Both Burma and Uganda stand in a state of crisis. However, for both nations, the states of crisis have existed for decades. And in both cases, the duration of both crises have reduced our attention to them. Crisis is now viewed as a time of instability, but many crises have slipped our attention because of their length. To a certain extent, we have viewed the constant instability of other nations and other nation’s policies as their own form of stability. We only see the worst moments of the struggle without realizing the perpetuation of the struggle.

More resources:

HRW’s report of the state of Burma in 2011
HRW’s report on the state of Uganda in 2011
Interview with David Kato