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.
My last post was a Summer 2017 journal entry, an ode to my tote bag, written on the L train in Brooklyn--
While perusing through a funky art market in Khon Kaen, her piercing stare caught my eye and she hasn't left my side since. She's poignant and pungent, graceful and unassuming. I wonder why an accessory or article of cloth can feel so intimate - perhaps it’s because objects can scoff at the idea of a life span. Tote bags survive longer than relationships and outlive its buyer. Vintage items hold memories and moments cherished by strangers- a concept that an entire market of shoppers succumb to.
Since that summer, a lot has transpired both personally and professionally. I became a member of the “grief club” with the loss of my close aunt-mother-friend-mentor, graduated from Tulane, moved to Washington, D.C. to work in healthcare research and then an urban garden nonprofit, and ventured to find joy amongst significant changes in my relationships to people and places. This October morning, I found two August 2019 doodles and journal entries that took me back to the L train: the quiet trepidation that comes just before leaving a place you love, along with its people.
A Self Portrait During Transition
What drives you? Moves you? Scares you?
The Twin Crises of Inequality and Climate Change
My Relationship to People
Loss of a Loved One
For me, August is always heavy with reflection and preparing for change- new school year approaching, summer job and accompanying fling come to a close, lease ending, preparing for a move, a dozen goodbye parties. It was the last decent month I had with Lali. My journal fills up fastest in the summer time.
Tribulations of Transition
Three weeks and change left in DC, journaling on the left side of my bed. Camera in hand, I hesitate taking pictures of my room for the Craigslist listing; should I strip the personal items from my walls? My compact English basement room has accumulated a handful of new objects over the last 8 months.
New doodles and photos splattered, sunscreen for the garden gig, and the seat of my broken orange boyfriend of a bike. Two sheets take up the most space on my walls— both old gifts from people who have shaped me through their presence and loss.
Since that 2017 summer in Brooklyn, I’ve become obsessed with artifact storytelling. From Glenna Gordon’s lyrical approach to photographing objects that depict the “unphotographable” to the Museum of Broken Relationships’ collection of exta[ordinary] mementos, I can’t stop thinking about the power of object-based storytelling. In fact, this fascination led me back to Khon Kaen, the birthplace of my tote bag, where I write from now. In September 2019-July 2020 with the support of a Fulbright Research Grant, I am conducting community-based participatory research in dam-affected wetlands in Rasi Salai in Isaan (Northeast Thailand). While here, I hope to curate an object-based storytelling exhibit.
Since its construction in 1992, the Rasi Salai Dam has led to displacement, health and human rights violations, and the destruction of natural resources. I seek to illuminate villagers’ evolving relationship to the Mekong River and wetlands over the past quarter century through an object-based storytelling exhibit, featuring 20-30 meaningful yet ordinary objects paired with first-person accounts and photography. This collection will provide a fresh look at the political ebb and flow of the Mekong River, grassroots movements, and potential solutions to achieve a planet in balance. The exhibit will travel to two Isaan cities (Khon Kaen and Ubon Ratchathani) followed by select US cities with accompanying local speakers to nurture a dialogue around identity, climate change, and successful grassroots movements in the Global South. This storytelling project provides me with creative ways to engage a larger audience and stakeholder group, elevate community voices, foster indigenous leadership and autonomy, and generate a shared and nuanced understanding of environmental health issues that impact the human condition.
I clutch my bag, and ruminate on how circling back to a person, place, or thing will never be the same as when you left it; even if an artifact remains in tact, the intangible ecosystem around it is constantly evolving. And so am I.