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UD professor explores religious differences at international artist residency in India

By Kassidy Lammers ’24

University of Dayton Professor of Art and Design Suki Kwon threw prayers to the wind this summer at the 2023 Art for Change International Artist Residency in India.

Kwon, Graul Endowed Chair in Arts and Languages, gathered with 14 other artists from across India and around the globe at the foothills of the Himalayas to create artwork celebrating the theme “The Nature of Difference.”

“The residency was focused on exploring the place, the nature and the differences,” Kwon said. “The theme could be interpreted in so many different ways. The artwork that was created under this theme represented a wide spectrum of contemplation.”

From paint to resin, the residents used a variety of media to create their artwork. Each participant’s choice of materials and artistic venues showcased how they personally explored and understood differences in nature, Kwon said.

Kwon chose to use textiles to create her piece for the final exhibition, which she titled Mussoorie Mandala. Although she was familiar with the medium, her work during the residency broadened her horizons as a textile artist.

“I was shocked and intrigued by the rich and long tradition of textile in India,” Kwon said. “I’ve been working a lot with that medium, and I was stunned by how rich and vivid the textile culture was.”

With pieces of fabric she purchased in Delhi during the first days of the residency, Kwon made a mandala inspired by Tibetan prayer flags, which are meant to spread prayers and good will with the wind in the Buddhist faith tradition.

“I hung it in the forest so all the prayers from while I was making it spread away with the wind and reached the people,” Kwon said.

The diverse group of artists collaborated for two weeks at the historic Woodstock School in Mussoorie, India, where the forest became their studio. Along with immersive engagement and art-making, they explored the ecology and biodiversity of the Himalaya on nature walks and talks led by local experts.

Kwon also spent time exploring the Catholic Marianist tradition while she was abroad. With the assistance of Vincent Miller, Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture, she was able to visit five Marianist communities in Ranchi, India. The communities, made up of both Indian and international brothers and sisters, provide educational services to marginalized groups in their surrounding areas.

“These Marianist sisters and brothers help children from families with very limited means who cannot afford or did not have the notion to go to school,” Kwon said. “It was quite magical to see what the Marinist communities are doing in India and what kind of impact they have on the people around them.”

Kwon drew inspiration from the various religious traditions she encountered in India to further engage with the theme “nature of difference.” Born and raised a Christian but heavily influenced by Buddhist culture, Kwon said she found valuable intersections between faith traditions in her artwork.

“I think the work I do is somewhat fused and integrated,” she said. “I’m making a mandala with an Indian fabric, but all these prayers are very Christian-based. To me, it's the nature of difference, but the nature of difference is integrated.”

In April, Kwon was appointed the sixth Graul Chair. The intercultural integration she experienced during her residency is something she hopes to bring to UD in her new role through specialized programming.

“Expanding my own cultural horizon really helps my goal as a Graul Chair of increasing visibility of international culture and languages and bringing those to the students and faculty,” Kwon said. “The more you are exposed to, the more familiar and curious you become.”

This fall, she is introducing a multidisciplinary experiential program centered around the theme "Arts and Language for Healing.” Programming will provide students with experiential learning opportunities in theater, film, writing, music and bookbinding from various cultures.

Kwon’s curiosity and dedication to bringing cultural diversity to UD is one of her greatest strengths, said Joel Whitaker, professor and Department of Art and Design chair.

“Professor Kwon approaches every challenge with an open, curious and solution-focused mind,” Whitaker said. “Be it in her teaching, research or service.”

At the conclusion of the residency, Kwon said she felt she had engaged in a life-changing experience that would leave a lasting impact, both professionally and personally.

“Every single day was a challenge, yet a great thing,” she said. “Every single day I felt blessed. Blessed by nature, by people, by opportunity, by time, space and everything.”

For more information, visit the UD Department of Art and Design and Graul Chair in Arts and Languages websites.

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