American Anthropology Association 2018

I will be presenting at the 2018 American Anthropological Association (AAA) Conference. The conference will take place in San Jose, California in November. I will be presenting my installation "Talking Lei" on Saturday, November 17 from 2:00pm-4:00pm.

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Talking Lei is a multimedia storytelling installation that explores the process of lei making as a metaphor for the embodiment of the connectedness of storytelling in physical space. This installation includes a gallery of autoethnographic written vignettes and visual arts elements. The written vignettes address issues of race, culture, and kinship. The visual arts elements include light boxes, photographs, and watercolor paintings. This installation includes a performance element in the form of interactive lei making that is ongoing throughout the installation.

Talking lei is an autoethnographic study that explores local Hawaiian identity, local Hawaiian knowledge, and the everyday practices of teaching and learning in contemporary Hawai’i. This project centers the importance of researcher identity, positionality, and reflexivity. In particular, the researcher considers how her positionality as a hānai (adopted) daughter in the context of Hawai'i intersects with her identity as a Korean Adoptee raised in the American South to create the unique experience of a twice-adopted daughter. The written vignettes of this installation examine the researcher’s identity and positionality in the context of this ethnographic study of local Hawaiian knowledge.

This installation includes an interactive lei making performance. The researcher will make hakulei, a style of lei created by bundling flowers and wrapping them together. This installation extends this metaphor of bundling and wrapping into physical space: the multimedia elements are displayed in a lei around the room, and visitors are encouraged to move freely throughout the space and interact with these pieces in whichever order they choose, creating a narrative lei of their own.

As an autoethnographic multimedia storytelling installation, Talking Lei considers emerging and unconventional understandings of methods and representation that can contribute to the ways researchers enact qualitative methodologies and envision future research. 

This installation was supported by the Rackham Graduate School and the Center for World Performance Studies at the University of Michigan. The written vignettes and photographs are produced by Laura-Ann Jacobs (University of Michigan). The watercolor art is produced by Katie Wong (University of Hawai’i, Manoa).

Click here to learn more about the American Anthropology Association

Presentation: Talking Lei

Thank you to everyone who supported Talking Lei.

This installation was my final capstone project for the Rackham Graduate Certificate Program in World Performance Studies at the University of Michigan. This event took place at the School of Education on November 28, 2017.

Talking Lei Slide
This installation is a representation of my summer research in Hawaii in which I explored local Hawaiian identity through the teaching and learning of local knowledge. The project emerged as an autoethnography with multimedia components. 

I want to thank the women who are here to make lei: Patricia Garcia, Maggie Hanna, Ashley Jackson, Debi Khasnabis, Enid Rosario-Ramos, Jenny Sawada, and Amber Sizemore. 

This project is an exploration of storytelling. These women are a part of my story, my journey. My story is not complete without them. This project would not be possible without them. They have shown up for me tonight, a symbol for the support and love that they have given to me throughout my time here at the University of Michigan. I would not be who I am without them. And I want to take a moment to thank them for being a part of my life.

I also want to take a moment to thank my hanai sister, Katie Wong, who created the watercolor title cards for each of the pieces. While she is not present in body, it does make me smile to see her presence scattered throughout this room.

I wrote that this project explores the process of lei making as a metaphor for the embodiment of the connectedness of storytelling in physical space. I recognize that we are at the School of Education and that this type of presentation is not conventional for this space. So I am going to do a bit more of an introduction than I would if this piece existed as an installation somewhere else. 

The women today are making hakulei by bundling flowers and wrapping them together. This project extends this practice into metaphor. Today to create this project, I have gathered women who are important and beautiful to me, I have bundled them together to make lei, and I am wrapping them together through the context of this performance.

My writing is displayed in a circle, a lei, around the room. I encourage you all to move freely throughout the space and to interact with these pieces in whichever order you choose. The vignettes are not meant to be read in sequence. The individual pieces of this project are as important as the work as a whole. As you move through the space to read these stories, you add another layer of connectedness: your own. You become a part of this story as well.

CWPS Capstone Presentations

Upcoming Event:  Center for World Performance Studies Graduate Student Capstone Presentations

My presentation is part of a larger event featuring the work of this year's CWPS Graduate Fellows. Session I: Laura-Ann Jacobs (Education), Alyssa Wells (Musicology), Ellen Myers (Southeast Asian Studies), and Fabiola Torralba (Dance). Session II: Kiran Bhumber (Performing Arts Technology), AJ Covey (Percussion), Sydney Schiff (Dance), Adam Shead (Improvisation).

CWPS Capstone 2017

Session I scheduled for Tuesday, November 28th at 6:00pm in Prechter Lab at the School of Education.

Talking Lei is a performance-based storytelling installation centered around flowers. The installation features a community of women talking story while creating lei kūpeʻe (wrist lei) in the wili (wrapping) style and includes a gallery of autoethnographic work by LA Jacobs. This project explores the process of lei making as a metaphor for the embodiment of the connectedness of storytelling in physical space.

CWPS Student Spotlight

School of Education doctoral student Laura-Ann Jacobs uses the Performance Studies framework to look at youth performance of identity, in and out of the classroom.

Six years into teaching in a public school in South Carolina, second year PhD student Laura-Ann Jacobs was looking for a change, but wasn’t sure she was ready to give up teaching for graduate work. After exploring programs at the University of Michigan School of Education on the recommendation of a friend, she found an exciting fit in the Educational Studies Program in Literacy, Language and Culture, where she could continue to explore questions of youth identity in the classroom, and to build a foundation for future teaching, learning and leadership in youth development and education for high school students. As a proactive grad student, Jacobs took some time to peruse the additional Certificates offered through Rackham Graduate School, and found the Certificate in World Performance Studies to be an intriguing option. Laura-Ann participated in improvised and devised theater throughout her undergraduate and previous graduate work, and saw an opportunity to look at identity from a performative framework that could augment her research in Educational Studies.

Expecting a room full of anthropologists and social scientists, she was admittedly a little surprised to realize during the first class session that many of her colleagues in this year’s Grad Cohort are in performance programs in music and dance. Ultimately, the opportunity to explore issues in Performance Studies with a diverse mix of researchers and practitioners proved to be one of the greatest assets of the program for her; Jacobs says, “I have had to practice articulating myself across unfamiliar communities, which has helped me find the right words to be very specific about what I mean and what I’m doing.” This holds equally true for explaining Performance Studies to School of Ed peers and explaining education concepts to her cohort in World Performance Studies. She has found many strong connections between the two disciplines, noting that issues addressed in performance theory are in some ways the most relevant to her research, particularly because there is so much research about performance of identity. She has also found a strong parallel in looking at literacy in everyday life and making meaning from symbols, particularly citing the work of Dwight Conquergood. While Jacobs thought the Certificate would just be a “peripheral add on”, it has become deeply intertwined in her work, and the Performance Studies literature makes up a conceptual framework for her research within the School of Ed.

During her summer research, Laura-Ann traveled to Hawaii, where she originally planned to observe how Hawaiian identity, both local and native, is performed by youth. When the arts-based youth program she was hoping to work with did not get their grant funding, she changed course and immersed herself in researching the transmission of local knowledge, histories and traditions. This included taking native knowledge classes, where a community of local women meet weekly to make leis and tell stories. Her in-field experience also led her to work more in autoethnography, stirring comparisons between her experience being adopted by a local Hawaiian family with her experience growing up adopted into a white family.  She emphasized the importance of this experience in helping her to think about her identity in her research-- what she brings, and how we perform as researchers.

Ultimately, Laura-Ann envisions a return to working with teens, doing arts-based programming outside of school, and continuing to work with performance of identity. You can see her Capstone Presentation on Tuesday, November 28 at the School of Education (SOE), Room 2202 (Prechter Lab), at 6pm.

Click here to read the Student Spotlight.

Special thanks to Ingrid Racine for writing this spotlight!

Center for World Performance Studies: Summer Research Award

Proposal funded! "Local Hawaiian Counterstories" is funded by the University of Michigan Center for World Performance Studies!

Congratulations to the CWPS Graduate Fellows:

  • Kiran Bhumber, MA Program in Media Arts: Development of “ The Electronic Shawl” (Kolkatta and Mumbai, India)
  • AJ Covey, MM Program in Percussion Performance, MM Program in Chamber Music: Musical Pedagogy of Non-­Western Cultures (India and Bali)
  • Laura-Ann Jacobs, PhD Program in Educational Studies: Local Hawaiian Counterstories (Hawaii, US)
  • Ruby MacDougall, PhD Program in Asian Languages & Culture: How Identity and Culture are Embodied/Resisted through Corporeal Performance of Ethnic Minority Dance Forms in China (Yunnan, China)
  • Ellen Myers, MA Program in Southeast Asian Studies: New and Imagined Spaces of Freedom or Confinement for Young Indonesians in Facebook, (Central Java, Indonesia)
  • Sydney Schiff, MFA Program in Dance: International Influences on Zouk Dance Movement and Culture (Toronto, Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Warsaw, Katowice, London)
  • Adam Shead, MM Program in Improvisation: Improvised Music: Narrative, Culture, and Performance (Amsterdam)
  • Fabiola Torralba, MFA Program in Dance: Queering Liminality: Migration, Space and the Decolonial Imaginary (Mexico)
  • Alyssa Wells, PhD Program in Musicology: Adaptations of American Drum Corps Rehearsal and Performance Practices (Japan and Netherlands)

Project Introduction

In her work Staging tourism: Bodies on display from Waikiki to Sea World, Jane Desmond (1999) explores Hawaii as a “destination image” (p. 12); a place with an exotic and iconic image perpetuated through commodification and mass media (mis)representation. She juxtaposes two seemingly similar but distinctly different terms: Native Hawaiian and Hawaiian native. The former refers to “those of indigenous ancestry” and the latter refers to “the Euro-American imagery about the indigenous islanders” (p. 5). According to Desmond, this exoticised and commodified destination image of Hawaiian native culture eclipses authentic indigenous Native Hawaiian identity in the Hawaii tourism industry. Because of this eclipsing and commodified destination image, Hawaiian culture appears to Euro-American tourists as unchanged by modernity and exists for tourists as primitive paradise and a place of escape. Despite what tourists may perceive, Hawaii has changed. And despite the power of this destination image, Hawaii will continue to change.

Desmond’s (1999) two categories of Native Hawaiian and Hawaiian native culture help to distinguish between an indigenous ethnic identity and how that ethnic identity may be essentialized and performed for outsiders. However, Desmond’s two categories do not necessarily capture the diversity of cultural experience in Hawaii today. In this project, I will consider an additional identity: local Hawaiian. By this term I mean individuals who live permanently in Hawaii but who may or may not identify as Native Hawaiian. This term reflects a cultural identity rather than a racial or ethnic identity.

Through this project I hope to better understand what it means to be local Hawaiian in 2017. I am interested in learning how local Hawaiians perform their local Hawaiian identities, and I plan to investigate how these performances of local Hawaiian identity counter, challenge, and disrupt the destination image of Hawaiian native culture.

Research Question: How is local Hawaiian identity performed through counter-stories?
What do local Hawaiians consider to be characteristics of local Hawaiian identity?
What (mis)representation of local Hawaiian identity is being countered?
How do local Hawaiians use different forms of representation to perform their counter-stories?