Plateau Engage at the Rubin Museum, Part II

This post is written by Muna Gurung, MFA candidate at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and a member of Plateau Engage, one of the Rubin Museum’s fantastic community partners. You can find out more about our partnership and this project by reading Part I here.

The second session of Comic Writing Workshop: Beyond the Hero, Villain and Yeti resumed at Columbia University over February 17-18 weekend. As Plateau Engage, we wanted the workshop participants, who were mainly high-school goers, to have the experience of being on university grounds and working in a college classroom.

In the previous session, participants had spent some workshop time drawing their characters and giving them temporary personalities and purposes for an imagined narrative. To prepare for group critiques in the second session, our young Tibetan artists were then asked to take a week to draw and write a minimum of three frames following our basic structure of a story: with a beginning, a middle and an end.

We spent a substantial amount of workshop time dividing the participants into two groups to present their work and to learn how to give constructive criticism. Participants were asked to respond as “readers” and we collectively came up with some questions that we could ask our peers:
What is the story about?
What was the most memorable part of your peers’ work?
What are the “gaps” that you experience as a reader?
What do you expect to see in between the frames and beyond?
How is the story told in terms of time? What do the zooming in and out of an image do to your experience of a reader?
How active is the main character? What does he/she/it want? Is it clear?
What was confusing or unclear?

Participants then took a moment to jot down notes to implement on their next round of revision/ development of their graphic stories.

To further the goal of instilling a sense of being part of an academic community for these young Tibetans, we had them to read two articles: “Demystifying Tibet” by Jhamyang Norbu and “Whither the Tsampa Eaters” by Tsering Shakya. We led a short discussion about these texts and the most fruitful aspect of the discussion emerged from the participants questioning areas within the text that confused them. The discussion leaders, Tsechu Dolma (Undergraduate at Barnard, Class of 2014) and Tsering Lama (MFA candidate, School of the Arts, Columbia University), also tried to connect these “academic” readings to the students’ everyday life by talking about “being Tibetan” and questioning it.

On the last day of the workshop, Sodhon-la, a Tibet-born artist, took time from his busy schedule to speak to our young, budding comic writers. Tenzin Dickyi (MFA candidate, School of the Arts, Columbia University) interpreted as Sodhon-la spoke of his journey as an artist. He started by talking about his childhood which consisted of using the ground as an easel and trading comics for food. Sodhon-la told us of his life in exile in Dharamshala, India, where he worked under the Tibetan government’s Department of Education making illustrations for textbooks used in Tibetan schools. When the Department of Education wanted to make comics for children, Sodhon-la ran into conflicts with people who seemed to have limited knowledge of comics: they had either never thumbed through one before or their ideas for comics catered towards an older readership. For Sodhon la, comics for children meant that the drawings had to be exaggerated, expressive, and not to mention, funny. He was also mindful about keeping these comics Tibetan, and so he re-used old Tibetan stories and felt like there was never a shortage of tales to be told. However, what he found most challenging was making the characters in his comics talk, walk and interact in a “Tibetan way.” Although many of his Tibetan readers enjoyed comics where he dressed his animal characters in chupas, he struggled with drawing the clothes in a manner that fit, folded and creased according to the physical movement of each character.

Sodhon-la had a chance see some of our participants’ work and he joined in providing critiques for them to develop.  He felt happy seeing these young Tibetans interested in writing comics and attending a workshop that improved their craft rather than sitting in front of a computer at home. He encouraged them to continue practicing over and over again, which was a strong final encouragement to these young participants who are beginning their own journeys as artists.

In an effort to recognize and celebrate their hard work over the course of the workshop, the Education Center at the Rubin Museum is providing a space for these young participants to present their work to an intimate group of friends, family and supporters. We are excited to go on a journey with these artists as they tell us of Tibetan penguins, of love triangles between pencils, pens and erasers and struggles of trying to fit in a community where one is different.

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