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I am feeling a time crunch despite having a month before departure.

Updated: Jun 7

I have most of my gear, though there are still a few things to gather on my packing list. Fundraising, though daunting, has been an ongoing task. The seven scholarships that I had applied to have not panned out. I have been selling my art at weekend sales as much as I can. At least this affords me studio time.

There are two wish lists set up for gear that is still needed.

Why am I going to Mongolia?

Since I was a young girl, I have been fascinated with the idea of the silk routes. Historically, much is written about the existence of the Silk Road, a commerce path that made its way from China throughout Europe from 200 BCE to 1400 CE. There have also been numerous interpretations of the artifacts and journals left by its travelers. The age and vastness of these historical trade routes are overwhelming. In the 4,000-year-plus history of trade along this thoroughfare, there are probably as many written accounts about the stories as there are narratives themselves. Debates over the legendry histories surrounding the travels of traders make it difficult to distinguish what is historical and what is a legend. Period-based stylistic writing and the cultural differences of each author have left an imprint. In some cases, this has had the power to diminish the historical contributions. Does the lens of twentieth-first-century Western culture have an impact on evidence gathering? How can we disseminate accounts of history without falling into a pejorative understanding of it? Throughout my research, I have come to understand that the medieval globalization that Western Imperialism claims credit for, is one such narrative that needs rewriting.

     My interest in Mongolia stems from my introductory statement. The evolution of tea culture during the Chinese Middle Ages includes the Steppe cultures as an integral and somewhat vivid part of this research.

     When I embarked on my dissertation studies, I had planned on traveling to Asia, but the COVID-19 Pandemic and my partner’s battle with cancer railroaded those efforts. While my dissertation is in the hands of my committee and the defense within my sites, a trip to Mongolia will help bring all the hard work to life. Truthfully, learning about the Steppes and the people who came before us without the ability to travel has built somewhat of a romantic viewpoint. However, while this is not an ideal situation, it does help to foster a heartfelt curiosity, to say the least.

     Most of what I learned in my research was sadly from the secondary sources. I am dependent upon someone to provide the narratives for me as a translation. Regardless, my research has both built an appreciation and fueled my curiosity.  There are so many questions. First and foremost, I am curious about the intersection of the tangible and intangible nature of tea and tea wares. I want to know how these objects fit into daily life. What, if any, rituals are practiced? How have rituals and objects changed in their contemporary lifetime? I want to know how faith practices influence the interaction with tea culture. How does tea culture differ in a nomadic lifestyle in comparison to a city lifestyle? I want to understand how a tsatsal is made and used.  What are the vessels associated with drinking tea? Is there a food culture that is a part of it?           

     I also want to know more about textiles, leather and other wood crafts that this region is known for. Are there limitations to these works based upon changes in the environment or living spaces. What kinds of impacts has the global need for progress effected their access to the primary materials used for creating? 

     This leads me to other points of inquiry. I am particularly interested in understanding how Mongolians interact with their heritage and material culture in general. I want to know more about the nomadic life and why some have chosen to forgo it. Has this move changed the approach to cultural identity?  Has the contained space of the city changed perspectives on cultural identity or changed access to it?

     I am interested in understanding the challenges to cultural preservation. Interaction with culture, even out of context, is a point of reference for that preservation. How does this group regard their personal stories of heritage? Are they held in high regard, or is it something that is put on a shelf to tend to other needs? How has the past influenced the present? For those who have chosen to engage in a nomadic life, what is their relationship to the land, their livestock, and their future? What are the challenges that they see as roadblocks?

     As an artist, I have just as many questions about the approach to object-making in Mongolia, both aesthetically and functionally. As an educator, learning about how others create and make art brings energy to the lessons I impart to my students. An opportunity such as this will allow me to build upon the primary resources to use in the presentation. Learning how someone engages with a material brings life to the narrative that they are telling upon completion of the work.An integral part of my teaching style is to facilitate connections for my students. It is not uncommon for them to interact with artists from all over the world. They do this through research, personal inquiry, and more formal classroom visits via Zoom. They also interact with other students in university settings that are learning similar material. The idea of the global classroom is something that I am well invested in. This experience will help me explore ways in which to open the doors further. Specific lessons related to a Mongolian experience would be based on the material culture of Mongolia. Students will engage in research on the art and artists of Mongolia, both past and present. They will be tasked with making connections to those makers if possible, and respond to their research using the visual language. This would be the case in all three studios that I teach: painting, photography, and clay.

To answer the question above: I am going to Mongolia to enhance the experience in my classroom!

As the time crunch continues, I am excited, nervous and hopeful. I cannot wait to share my traveler's journal, my images, research and the manifestation that evolves later in my studio work.

If you can help with anything on the gear list, or donate to the fundraiser, I would be eternally grateful. I will present you with a copy of the travellogue, a mounted photograph from my journey, and a small souvenir from my travels. Thank you in advance!

More to come...


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