Exchanging an Offering.
This week we were tasked to pair up with a peer who we hadn’t gotten to know yet. Nandita and I chose each other and agreed to meet on Sunday for a beer. Sunday turned to Monday and a beer turned to a coffee. We met early afternoon at a tiny cute coffee shop on Broadway called Aperture Coffee Bar. I chose to suggest this location for a couple of reasons. 1. This coffee shop was familiar to me. I knew the setting as I had gone on several dates with my partner here before. 2. Coffee is less intimidating for me. I find if I’m meeting someone new over an alcoholic drink I’m nervous with my inhibitions down I’ll be worried that I might say something stupid or embarrass myself.
We had a wonderful conversation. The first thing we realized that we share in common is that Vancouver is new to us both. I’ve been here since February and Nandita has only been here for a few weeks. We shared stories of home and the possibilities that home presented for our practice. Nandita shared with me the time when she was working with an NGO back home in India.
Nandita spent time working in a small rural Indian village, speaking with young girls about puberty and the changes in they were experiencing. These girls grew up into a family that didn’t talk about these topics, specifically about menstruation. Girls in many parts of this country get their first period with little to no knowledge of what was going on with their bodies. With limited access to the internet, media and no family willing to talk about it these girls are left in the dark about this important part of a young woman’s life. Nandita worked to break the stigma and initiate a conversation around this topic.
I found this ironic because during my undergrad I took a community arts class where my group decided to produce a project that had a similar purpose. We called it the ‘Travelling Pad’, this life-sized canvas menstrual pad was carried around campus to places of high traffic. Students, faculty and passers-by were invited to write messages, paint, splatter, onto this pad. We had a lot of conversation and raised a lot of eyebrows. Nandita told me that her work within that village similarly raised a lot of question and conversation amongst the community. I found this parallel/connection in our conversation intrigued me. Somehow, two people from disparate places, both exploring similar topics in their practice, both away from our homes but connected in the moment in this unfamiliar city in a coffee shop by these stories, it was a nice moment for me.
My process for choosing/making my artifact for Nandita was challenging. I haven’t made much more than barcodes for the past six months so needless to say the right side of my brain needed a bit of stimulating. I wanted to find an offering that would connect the both of us and also reflect on the similarities I drew from our stories of home. When I reflected on the conversations we had over coffee I wanted to offer Nandita something that connected us through story. I decided because of this commonality that we are now both calling Vancouver home I would borrow a piece of the earth here. I collected a brightly coloured leaf with the intention of putting it through my typewriter–a process I had experimented with in the past. Unfortunately, the leaves I was choosing didn’t want to co-operate. I had a couple others picked but I didn’t feel that this representation was genuine enough to give as an offering.
I went back to the drawing board, looked through envelopes and boxes of different things I’ve collected. I pulled out the experimental book design project ‘Loose Leaf’ where I first experimented with typing onto fallen leaves. I didn’t think much of it until I started reading the passages on the leaves. One stood out at me. It reads “It is the orange, brightly chirping, comfortably hanging crimson, colour of fear” taken from a poem titled ‘Tis Fall’ by Julie Martinez. The parallel I drew being the colour red as the colour of fear. We both talked a lot about fear. Fear of moving away from home, fear in our practice, fear in topics we’ve covered in our practice, fear in meeting up that day, fear in navigating the city, fear in starting our studies as Master’s students. I’ve carried this leaf around now for a few years, never holding more meaning than a portfolio piece but in these circumstances, I was able to redefine it as my offering to Nandita and the start of our friendship.