Image of original advertisement for the Dunham School and Dance and Theater, NYC
Katherine Dunham was born on June 22, 1909, to a French Canadian mother and an African American father. Dunham started showing an interest in dancing at a young age. Dunham was known as one of the first dance anthropologists, and started the first intentionally touring predominantly Black dance company with its own codified dance technique. Dunham majored in anthropology at University of Chicago where she was introduced to the idea of dance as a cultural emblem. In June 1935, Dunham went on a field research trip to the Caribbean as she was intrigued by African dancing approaches. On the islands of Haiti and Jamaica, holy ceremonial dances were presented to her. In 1936, she returned to the US with new approaches for expressiveness and movement that she combined into dance styles that revolutionized the industry. Dunham was tracing her own roots and saw dance as a means of communicating, expressing life, and the act of living itself. In 1940, she established the Katherine Dunham Dance Company which quickly rose to prominence as the top place to teach dance performers. Dunham is recognized for making African aesthetics accessible to a global audience and establishing African dance as a recognized art form. For two decades, her "Dunham dancers" performed on the road, thrilling audiences all around the world with her energetic and dramatic performances. Dunham also was an outspoken advocate of racial equality. She boycotted segregated venues in the US and used her performances to amplify struggles against racism and other injustices. She garnered widespread attention when she went on a hunger strike to denounce the American government's practice of deporting immigrants from Haiti. It is noteworthy that Katherine Dunham has guided various talented fellow students, including Elvin Jones who later followed Katherine’s path at becoming a devoted choreographer of Black Social Dance and Community Modern Dance at the Northwest School. Elvin Jones also shares a common interest with Dunham in investigating dance styles and cross-cultural exchanges in the African diaspora. It is a pleasure that Elvin has bequeathed his dancing wisdom and embedded his knowledge in African diaspora traditions in the NWS community.
I titled my Wayfinder ``Steps of the Gods,” which was a dancing progression created by Katherine Dunham; the phrase is first mentioned in Katherine’s documentaryFree To Dance (2015). She set out as a mission for her fellow dancers to accomplish "the Dunham Technique," a combination of European dance practices and traditional African dance movements. To honor Dunham’s devoted time in Haiti, I included the image of Haiti’s national bird, the Hispaniola Trogon, as the main figure on the front of my Wayfinder. The Trogon bird symbolizes goodness and light so that’s why there are light-blue clouds and the sunbeam surrounding it. Additionally, I included hibiscus, Haiti’s national flower, to represent the beauty and bravery of the Dunham dancers. On my Wayfinder's back side, I collaged photos of dancing that Katherine Dunham included in her full-length ballet in January, 1938. It is my intention to make my Wayfinder a reminder for my audience that the scars within our hearts are no greater than the delight of dancing in the awe of the daily wonders of life.
Photograph of Katherine Dunham, 1946 from James E. Arsenault & Company.
My sketchbook included the definition of “a monument,” a statement of power and presence in public (including ephemeral monuments); Wayfinders; monument landscapes; and so on. Moreover, intending to dismantle the racist George Washington monument, I decided to make a collage of that racist monument photo and transformed it into a piece of art of the Ghibli character Totoro which I titled “The Big Friendly Giant.” After going to the AIDS Memorial Pathway, I created an imaginative Wayfinding map from the printed copies of the photos that I took, and I wrote out a brief description of my feelings and memories of each location on the pathway. Finally, I picked the Mountain Hemlock Bonsai (in training since 1995) as it is one of my top 5 favorite Bonsai from the Pacific Bonsai Museum and I did a watercolor version of it.
Video from the Bonsai Empire.
Location of the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way, WA.
I am Ri, The word “Ri” in the movie Rio – a film about a blue macaw named Blue. I’m in the NWS Class of 2024. During my free time, I enjoy reading about numerology, astrology, and Chinese zodiac as it is entertaining to know some fun facts about someone's birth chart. Nightbirde is one of my aspired people and her inspirational documentary has positively changed the way I perceive faith and life. One of my favorite Nightbirde's sayings that I live by is "YOU CAN'T WAIT UNTIL LIFE ISN'T HARD ANYMORE BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO BE HAPPY." So please find HOPE in the HOPELESS TIMES y'all ^^
Great thanks to Julia Freeman and Kate Boyd for your support on helping all of us make and learn about the monuments. Shout out to Connor Virzi for being an incredible editor and for helping my writing easier to understand. Thank you to James Blake for making the skeleton of my Wayfinder.