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Faculty to take part in Tibetan cultural exchange

Faculty members in the Center for East Asian Studies at KU will partner with the Mayul Gesar Foundation, a charity run by Tibetans in Qinghai, China, to develop an arts curriculum at a newly founded school for the local Tibetan population.

The Mayul Gesar Foundation and its American branch, the Blue Valley Foundation, founded the Mayul Multi-Disciplinary Technical School in 2008 to preserve Tibetan culture and help diversify the local economy. The U.S. State Department’s Ngwang Choepal Fellowship Program will allow the KU faculty to take part in this two-year, $215,000 cultural exchange program.

Yoonmi Nam, associate professor of art who has been affiliated with the Center for East Asian Studies since 2001, along with Eric C. Rath, associate professor of history; Sooa Im, graduate student in art history; and Champa Tenzin Lhunpo, lecturer in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, will take part in the program. During their residence in Qinghai in 2009 and 2010, they will work with the staff of the Mayul school to survey traditional Tibetan arts and crafts. Their goal will be to better promote and preserve the rich cultural history of the Golok region and to advise and assist the school staff in developing a modern educational curriculum, particularly in the area of the traditional arts. The group also hopes to enhance and modernize art training.

The goal is to provide important vocational skills for the young Tibetan students so they will have the opportunity to become financially independent working professionals in the local community.

“I look forward to living in Tibet and learning about traditional arts and crafts, especially in printmaking,” said Nam. “Tibet has a long history of printing Buddhist manuscripts and prayer flags using carved woodblock and water-based ink. I’ve been researching and teaching traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking and hope to expand it to include Chinese, Korean and Tibetan (art), so this will be an amazing research opportunity for me.”

Nam added, “Hopefully my experience as an artist and teacher with a diverse cultural background will be of help in assisting the Tibetan teachers in developing a modern art curriculum for their students without imposing our ways of education on them. I want to find a good balance that could include positive aspects of education from both our cultures.”

The grant from the Ngwang Choepal Fellowship also will allow five Tibetan students from the Mayul school to study at KU in the spring of 2010. They will take courses in English as a Second Language and in areas related to their needs and interests, such as fine arts, business or education. The Center for East Asian Studies faculty participating in the project have formed a study group to survey the culture and history of the region. This group will continue to meet through the duration of the project, serving as a forum and link between the Mayul school and KU in the future. The Center for East Asian Studies in part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at KU.

Future plans for collaboration include the development of a Web site to promote and exhibit works from the Mayul school, a traveling exhibition to introduce Western audiences to Tibetan culture from Golok and the establishment of a service-learning program at the Mayul school for KU students. Additionally, Hungkar Dorje, president of the Mayul Gesar Foundation and abbot of Thubten Chokorling Monastery, will travel to KU to speak at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20, at the Hall Center for the Humanities about Tibetan lay and religious education at Thubten Chokorling Monastery and the Mayul school. This event, “Religious and Secular Education for Tibetans,” will be free and open to the public.

For more information, contact Eric Rath at erath@ku.edu or Yoonmi Nam at yoonmi@ku.edu.

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