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International Museum In San Diego Looks Local For Latest Multicultural Offering

Nya Paw demonstrates the traditional Karen art of weaving on a bamboo loom at...

Credit: Brian Myers / Media Arts Center of San Diego

Above: Nya Paw demonstrates the traditional Karen art of weaving on a bamboo loom at the Karen Organization of San Diego.

San Diego’s museums showcase artwork and artifacts from around the world, but curators at the Mingei International Museum didn't have to travel far for its upcoming feature.

The Art of the People weaving demonstration is a live display of the traditional craft of the Karen ethnic group from Burma. Hundreds of members of the persecuted Karen minority group resettled in San Diego after civil war forced them to flee. The event, part of a series to showcase the diversity of the San Diego City Heights neighborhood, allows the Karen community to tout its heritage after years of persecution and instability and share its culture with greater San Diego.

Nao Kabashima, executive director of the City Heights-based Karen Organization of San Diego, said the nonprofit has encouraged the traditional weaving practice within the Karen community, but the Mingei event is one of the first times it will be shared with the public. The first public session was held at the organization's office in March, but the museum offers more space for a larger turnout.

"It's kind of giving the message to them that they have a wonderful, beautiful culture and wisdom that would be respected, and shared with others," Kabashima said.

She said many largely lost the skill of weaving after the minority ethnic groups, along with others, were targeted by the Burmese government back in the 1960s. Some spent months to years in jungles until they could safely reach a refugee camp, where they endured additional lengthy stays before resettling in a foreign country, including the U.S., Kabashima said.

She said bringing back the skill from their birthplace not only gave Karen refugees from Burma, now known as Myanmar, a skill to help them earn a living, but she also noticed it helped them better integrate in their new home.

"Finally, it's a safe place," she said.

The event is part of the "Creative City Heights" program that also involves The AjA Project, Media Arts Center of San Diego and Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, or PANA.

Johanna Saretzki, community engagement editor for the Mingei International Museum, said the grant-funded series taps into the community groups' existing programming.

“We didn’t want to just create a program and come to City Heights and you know, but really co-create it with the organizations," Saretzki said.

She said the partner organizations and museum trade off hosting the events to bring attendees to both locations. The grant also includes compensation for the participating artists and a transportation budget for the community groups, Saretzki said.

Two women weavers will perform the traditional craft during a Friday demonstration at the Mingei International Museum. Another session later this month at PANA features storytelling performances that connect to artifacts within the Mingei museum.

San Diego’s museums showcase artwork and artifacts from around the world, but curators at the Mingei International Museum didn't have to travel far for its upcoming demonstration.

Speak City Heights partners include The AjA Project and Media Arts Center of San Diego.

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