A San Francisco Bay Area native, Praveena loves slam poetry and cold cliffy beaches. Her belief in the power of storytelling feeds her daily practice. She is a maker of higgledy-piggledy to-do lists, vegan cuisine, and the occasional scrapbook.
Atticus Finch was born in 1960 with Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill A Mocking Bird. But, he was really conceived on December 25th, 1956. That morning, Michael and Joy Brown gifted Lee a Christmas miracle: a modest note that read, "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” Stupefied, Lee thought it was a gag gift but the Browns insisted that they were feeling financially comfortable and assured here this investment, “was not a risk. It’s a sure thing.” She immediately left her job as an airline reservation receptionist and became absorbed in her passion: writing.
I feel like the time I have in Thailand is a gift from the Browns; I have space and time (four months down, six to go) to explore a research topic I care deeply about, experiment in the art world while curating a show in May, and invest in my personal growth by simply living in a new country/culture/language.
I resonated with Haper Lee’s sheer disbelief in receiving this magical opportunity, but wonder if she too struggled with creating structure in a year where there is not much of a distinction between "personal life" and "professional life"-- when do you put your work away? At its core, my "job" is to build relationships with researchers, artists, and community members. My “methods” have included extending dinner to drink whiskey with villagers, biking along the Mun river with NGO liaisons, and pitching my art exhibit with potential artist collaborators in settings I least expect it (while at a cafe, at a music festival, on public transportation).
Dome (Atithep Chanthet) is a photojournalist for Isaan Record, student at Khon Kaen University, and friend from Columbo Craft Village. We first connected over our shared interest in land rights in Isaan and belief in the power of storytelling while he roasted coffee at a friend's cafe/home (pictured above).
I spent my 23rd birthday weekend at Isaan Kiow with friends. During the final hours of the music festival, I started chatting on the top of this truck with Naliwan (pictured on the right), the brilliant curator and activist behind “Trucker Daughter.” She shared a range of stories spanning the hardships Isaan truck drivers face from the sugar cane industry to the artist truckers who build furniture out of metal scraps they are left with. As the sun set, I was left ruminating on trucker culture, waste management, and what it takes to deem someone an “artist”?
Sharing a giddy moment with P’Jon (pictured above). He has served as an excellent community liaison for my research, connecting me to village leaders from the five zones where I plan to conduct walks. Here, he surprised me with a spare bike for a sunset ride along the Mun River after a long day of recruitment and planning.
In a departure from eating three meals a day, some choose to eat when hunger approaches; I apply this gut check to my work too— if I feel like I need to spend a few days cafe hopping to catch up on IRB protocol and survey design/documentation, I lean into that desire and get into my paperwork groove. Such gut checks have also inspired intentional time plugging into different pockets of communities in Khon Kaen: agriculture students, teachers at the faculty of fine arts, jazz musicians and baristas, Isaan Record, study abroad students, a young Thai law student activist group (Dao Din), etc. I feel proud of the progress I’ve made in these relationship-building efforts, yet eager to deepen them and explore further. More time, increased language acquisition, and a hungry attitude are the tools I need to forge on.
I closed 2019 in Khon Kaen with a collection of homey niceties that evoke the same satisfaction I’ve felt in American metropolises. Akin to the warm fuzzy feeling I float in when a barista at my neighborhood cafe knows my name and order, my morning runs by Kavi Garden, charmingly overgrown plants at Sri Brown Cafe, and the buzz of hipster students scooting between classes brings me relaxation and regimen. As my project picked up, my dreamy Khon Kaen honeymoon simmered and I sprinkled in weeks of living out of my duffel bag, long bus rides to Ubon Ravchathani, and late night IRB paperwork. Shaking up my routine has made room for interesting couch surfing stories, a dose of stress, and moments of spontaneity that make me savor the independence and autonomy I have been gifted this year.
On my most recent trip to the Mun River, I reflected on the ways in which connecting in ordinary settings can actually be excellent ecosystems for grassroots activism, art, and change. Rooting my work in connecting people and ideas has meant prioritizing building and nurturing my relationships here.
“However, political mobility continued but in creatively smarter ways. Exercising, informal tea gatherings, sitting around, reading books, standing still, and other forms of trivial activities were turned into political symbols to glue the structure of their sentiment, while other types of activism were prohibited. I am more interested in how people try to mobilize their political or social critiques than what was censored in an art gallery” - from On Socially Engaged Art In Thailand: A Conversation