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July 2, 2014

Festival Artists: In Their Own Words

The Folklife Festival’s Kenyan and Chinese participants are as diverse as the crafts and music styles they represent. Every person who carves, sews, paints, sings, embroiders, or dances on the national Mall has a unique story and point of view. Here are snapshots of a few Festival participants and their experiences.

Hellen Alumbe Namai answers audience questions at the end of a storytelling session. Photo by Meg Boeni

Hellen Alumbe Namai answers audience questions at the end of a storytelling session. Photo by Meg Boeni

Hellen Alumbe Namai, storyteller

(From a Festival visitor:) “How long, or how short, should a good story be?”

“At the beginning of one second, you should know what kind of an audience you have…thirty minutes is easy, but five minutes—how do I make an impact in five minutes?”

 

 

 

 

Ahmed Yusuf Suleiman carves into wet plaster. Photo by Meg Boeni

Ahmed Yusuf Suleiman carves into wet plaster. Photo by Meg Boeni

Ahmed Yusuf Suleiman, plaster worker

“Is it strange to have people watching you work?”

“No. These benches are here for you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zhang Baolin hands a panda sculpture to a little girl on the opening day of the Festival. Photo by Meg Boeni

Zhang Baolin hands a panda sculpture to a little girl on the opening day of the Festival. Photo by Meg Boeni

Zhang Baolin,  dough modeler

During the Festival, Mr. Zhang has been known to drop whatever he is working on, pinch off two tiny balls of black and white dough, and, in less than ten minutes, happily present a panda to a small visitor who has been watching him work.

“What’s special about being able to share your art with children?”

(Through a translator:) “One, it is important to respect children… I would rather teach them, but most of them are too young to learn, so I can at least give them a present. It’s also for good Chinese-U.S. relations, and I hope…it will teach U.S. children to appreciate Chinese folk art.”

 

Zhang Hongying is always happy to talk with visitors about her art, either in Chinese or through a volunteer translator. Photo by Meg Boeni

Zhang Hongying is always happy to talk with visitors about her art, either in Chinese or through a volunteer translator. Photo by Meg Boeni

Zhang Hongying, Miao embroiderer

One visitor was puzzled to learn that Ms. Zhang had a sister, and asked if her minority community was allowed exemption from China’s laws that limit families to one child. She laughed.

(Through a translator:) “We’re allowed to have two. If we don’t have more children, then no one learns the embroidery!”

 

 

 

 

Fatma Ali Busaidy explains the art of Swahili cooking as she makes bhaija (fried sweets) and potato dumplings. Photo by Meg Boeni

Fatma Ali Busaidy explains the art of Swahili cooking as she makes bhaija (fried sweets) and potato dumplings. Photo by Meg Boeni

Fatma Ali Busaidy, Swahili cook

“When you are very young and first learning how to cook, what are the first things you learn how to make?”

“When you are very young, you aren’t supposed to be near to the fire… You peel potatoes, garlic, onions. Then you learn to cook rice, make dough, roll chapati [a kind of flatbread]. You make our tea…You see your mom near the fire, and how she is, but you’re not supposed to touch.”

 

 

 

Chai Yunlong performing in one of the Tai Chi styles of which he is a reigning national champion. Photo by Meg Boeni

Chai Yunlong performing in one of the tai chi styles of which he is a reigning national champion. Photo by Meg Boeni

Chai Yunlong, tai chi champion

(From a visitor:) “Do you have DVDs?”

(Through a translator:) “No, but if you just Google it, you can see me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meg Boeni is a media intern for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage who studies journalism and Spanish at Boston University. Talking to participants—and playing Chinese hacky-sack with themhas been her favorite part of the Festival.

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