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Designing and Curating Perceptions of Vodou (Part Deux)

Posted by Plish on November 8, 2014

At the end of my last post on the Vodou Exhibition at Chicago’s Field Museum, (you might want to click the link and give it a read if you want to come up to speed,) I mentioned that I’d visit the exhibition again  and see if my thoughts changed.

I did.

They didn’t.

Friday night was an event in which Chicago’s Haitian community welcomed the new exhibit with delicious verve (See Figure 1 below).  It was a great opportunity to speak with artists and others about the exhibit, to get their opinions.

Many of theirs were similar to mine.

However, I did do something different this time. I spent more time looking up at the banners, and I spent more time on the artifacts that didn’t appear to be from secret societies.  (I didn’t just look, I studied, read, worked at really trying to understand.) In the end, this lightened the experience considerably, but did it dispel the overall dark vibe of the exhibit?

No.

What will help?

My suggestions for event would be the following.

  1. Change the banners that are used for publicity.  They contain Secret Society Lwa.  Do something lighter.
  2. Tell a story with the exhibition.  Start with the misconceptions you want to dispel, the points you want to get across. Then start dispelling and telling the story of Haiti and Vodou. Explain the day to day in Haiti and where Vodou fits.  Show how it interacts with other religions – perhaps even how families often practice Catholicism and Vodou simultaneously.
  3. Build an elevated area that is behind a red curtain (or make the curtain look like a forest covered mountainside. )  Entitle that section: “Inside Vodou’s Secret Societies”.  Maybe put a small disclaimer at the beginning saying small children might be disturbed by what’s inside.  Put those Secret Society artifacts (an example of which is in Figure 2 below), behind the curtain and out of the main stream of the exhibit.  Make sure it’s not somewhere in the middle of the exhibit.  The Secret Societies are not mainstream and mixing these artifacts in with the everyday artifacts mischaracterizes what many people experience in everday Vodou.  However, Secret Societies need to be referenced in the everyday exhibits- after all, they did indeed impact Haitian life. I also believe that ‘hiding’ the Secret Society artifacts will do another thing: people will slow down.  When people are in fearful situations, they tend to move more quickly. If you want people to move slowly and observe – hide the dark stuff.
  4. Children are noticeably absent from many of the videos and explanations.  Of the Haitians I spoke with, all of them had non-intimidating memories of Vodou as a child.  They remember the brightness, the music, the activity on Holidays.  If a child can feel it, adults will too.
  5. Move explanations closer to artifacts and make them readable without having to bend neck or body.  Bring banners closer to eye level.  Create exhibits that allow the most visitors to stand straight and tall.  Haitians wanted this (and still do!) and Vodou helped them.
  6. Include more ways for people to interact and touch.  Granted, the artifacts at the exhibition are were used in Vodou and as such, are not open to touching.  But, there are other ways to help people to hear, taste, feel, smell, touch.  Drumming is key to Vodou.  Let people make virtual drums (or real ones!) Get innovative!
  7. Provide more of the beauty of Haiti! More green, more color, breezes, salt water aroma, music, you get the idea.  Vodou is about the interconnectedness of all things, life, death, sky, earth, plants, water, etc.  Set more of the context, not just socio-politically (which incidentally, this exhibition did a better job of doing.)
  8. End the exhibition showing how Haiti is growing (albeit slowly and painfully at times) and what challenges lie ahead.  Reiterate how Vodou has been a misunderstood part of the process, that Vodou comes from the heart of the Haitian culture and it’s been responsible for establishing a spirit of  (and physical!) freedom in a nation.  Show bright artwork that comes from Haitian artists, even those works from those mounted by spirits.

With the above changes, I believe the exhibit would better accomplish its goal of dispelling misconceptions of Vodou.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you’d do!

Consul General of Haiti, Lesly Conde

Figure 1. Consul General of Haiti, Lesly Conde

Secret Society Lwa

Figure 2. Secret Society Lwa

Yes, I even spent more time looking at the mirrots

Figure 3  Yes, I even spent more time looking at the mirrors.  This was one of the more mellow looking mirrors

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Posted in Arts, Authenticity, Conveying Information, creativity, curation, Design, Education, Experience, Information Visualization, Politics, prayer, Religion, Spirituality, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How Curation and Design Didn’t Dispel the Darkness of Vodou (Which is NOT Voodoo)

Posted by Plish on November 3, 2014

I had an opportunity to go to a Member’s Only night at Chicago’s Field Museum.  The event was in honor of the opening of a new exhibition entitled: Vodou – Sacred Powers of Haiti.

One of the highlights of the night was a discussion led by Field Museum Exhibit Project Manager, Janet Hong. On the panel were Dr. Serge Pierre Louis and Kira Tippenhauer.  Both people are Haitian born, and brought unique perspectives on Vodou (which is considered different from Voodoo, which is identified with New Orleans)

From Left to Right: Dr. Serge Pierre Louis, Kira Kira Tippenhauer, and Janet Hong.

Figure 1  From Left to Right: Dr. Serge Pierre Louis, Kira Tippenhauer, and Janet Hong.

To start the discussion, Ms. Hong asked for Dr. Serge’s and Kira’s impressions of the exhibit.  Their answers were not, judging from the reaction of Ms. Hong, what she expected.

Kira’s first word was “dark”, and she spoke the word with a hint of disappointment in her voice.  Clearly she did not want to say those words.  She struggled for more words…  Dr. Serge chimed in and agreed, and used the word “ferocious”, to which Kira agreed it was the word she’d been searching for.

Dark…Ferocious…

Those are the types of words you’d expect to hear from people who are unfamiliar with Vodou.  Those words describe my impression of the exhibit and the impressions of others I spoke to as well. Unfortunately, those were the impressions that the exhibition team was trying to dispel: “…the exhibition team made a concerted effort to eschew the image of vodou as a “scary” or “spooky” subject…seemingly-macabre motifs like skulls, bones, skeletons and weaponry are represented in a reverent light, similar to the role of decorated and candy skulls as part of Dia de los Muertos in Mexican culture. Images of Vodou as dark and death-centric stem from misrepresentations the exhibition aims to dispel.”

So, where did the exhibition go wrong?  How does something that’s supposed to dispel perceptions of darkness, perpetuate it? How does darkness permeate when Haitians live in perpetual summer, lush greenery, flowers and nature, and live life filled with joyous dance, song, and savory foods?

It’s not like the exhibit was designed in an asympathetic manner.  The exhibit was co-designed by Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique, who is a PhD anthropologist and practicing Vodou priestess.  Yet, design and curation did not harmoniously weave an experience that dispelled misrepresentations of Vodou, and instead, darkness prevailed over experiential light.

Why did this happen?

The exhibition is not brightly lit. (The pictures I took below give the impression lighting was quite bright. This is a side-effect of the camera settings used because flash is not allowed)

While not necessary per se, there is scant multimedia and no interactive technology  at all.  Again, Vodou seems to be very tactile and sensory based.  Not having ways to interact in some way was a negative.

The layout was not easy to take in.  There is a wall explaining the history of Haiti’s struggles and victories and it runs into a wall at the end.  When you finish reading you are right next to the entrance to the exhibit. (This is visible in Figure 4. below.  The ending is behind the lwa in the corner by the drapes.) You literally have to start the exhibit over again, and you’re put into the flow of those entering.

Then there’s the  upper and lower displays.  Even though everything is on one floor, it is actually split into two halves, either by accident or by design.  Sculptural works are on ground level, and beautifully decorated, brightly colored ceremonial banners, as well as many artifacts, are hung high above.  As a result, artifact descriptions are not correlated directly to their artifacts in an intuitive manner, hence there’s confusion about what description belongs with what.   The descriptions are also written with uncomfortably small letters.   It forces people to bow their heads and/or hunch their shoulders and/or bend ever so slightly to read.  This posture is uncomfortable and is also one of vulnerability, and people don’t like to be vulnerable in front of something that they don’t know, especially if it looks scary!

Forcing people to look down also had an unfortunate side effect.  Beautiful, sparkling banners that radiate light,   Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Arts, Case Studies, Conveying Information, curation, Design, Experience, Information Visualization, Politics, Religion, Society, Spirituality, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Inspiration from “The Rebbe” into Redesigning Healthcare, Starting with the Word We Use

Posted by Plish on June 14, 2014

While driving to a 24 hour Walgreens in the wee hours of the night, I was listening to the radio and heard an interview with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History.

Rebbi Telushkin pointed out that the Rebbe believed in the power of words and he made it a point to use optimistic, positive words.   So strong was the Rebbe’s belief that it influenced the author, Rabbi Joseph, to use the words “due date” as opposed to “deadline” when talking about projects.  “Due dates” are synonymous with births, “deadlines” with, well, death.

The Rebbe carefully chose his words and therefore used the phrase beit refuah, when he spoke of a hospital.  Translated it means ‘house of healing.’  Most people used the term beit cholim, which means ‘house of the sick’.

Think about that.

When you hear the word “hospital” what do you think of?

If you’re like most people, you’ll probably say, “That’s where the sick people are.” Maybe you’ll mention something about people getting better but, odds are, the first thing that’ll  probably come to mind is sickness, not healing.

That’s interesting because the word “hospital” comes from the Latin word hospes. The word meant a foreigner/stranger or guest.  It’s actually the root word for “hospitality”, “hostel”, “hotel”, and “hospice”.

Do you consider hospitals synonymous with hospitality?  While the Ritz-Carlton has given customer services lessons to healthcare facilities, and many hospitals are upgrading their food quality and redesigning their interiors, the cultural change hasn’t occurred yet.  People still don’t identify hospitality with hospitals.  For that matter, unfortunately, I don’t believe that healing is identified with hospitals. I’ve even heard of hospitals being described as those places where people get sick!

Some places are making the change and trying to change peoples’ impression of what healthcare facilities represent.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America has taken the step of using green colors and logo that has a tree and a person playing and a dog.  They clearly want to convey their commitment to life and living.  Their facilities are even designed in V-shapes, almost like open arms.  They really don’t look ‘hospitally’. Check them out some pictures here.

The lesson here is that language is important.   From healthcare terms, to renaming strategic plans, to renaming project ‘post-mortems’, I believe it’s important that we use terms that take us in positive directions and make us think of what it really is that we want to accomplish.  Too often we just use common phrases, seldom taking the time to understand the impact of those terms in shaping our worldviews and how we approach problems.

Whether it’s healthcare or a relationship you’re trying to improve,

think about the words you use,

think about the metaphors that describe your challenges,

think about the ramifications of words,

and choose words that build up, that inspire, that give life, that cause you to look at people and situations in new and exciting ways.

The Rebbe would be happy…

 

 

Posted in Customer Focus, Design, Healthcare, innovation, Religion, Service Design, Social Innovation, The Human Person, Wellness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Innovation in Non-Profits and Churches

Posted by Plish on April 14, 2013

Through the folks over at CreatePossible, I found out about this great event called Co-Lab, for non-profit organizations and ministries.

As part of Co-Lab, there was a session entitled “The Theology of Innovation.”  It’s a great video of two people sharing the story of their church and their quest to embrace innovation and be true to their Faith (which contrary to what many  would think, and as the session presenters point out, a conflict between innovation and religious communities doesn’t have to exist.)  There are also multiple other sessions on the Vimeo Co-Lab site on Future Trends, and the future of Non-Profits to name a few. They’re worth checking out.

Even if you’re not into Christianity, it’s a fascinating insight into how people react and deal with design thinking and innovative processes. These folks even went to IDEO for assistance in this process. (Next time, just give me a call 🙂 )

Looking forward to your thoughts!

(Note on the video: When the woman speaks in the presentation, her microphone level is lower so you may have to turn up the presentation at those times.)

Posted in Authenticity, Co-Creation, creativity, culture of innovation, Customer Focus, Design, design thinking, innovation, Religion, Social Innovation, Spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Art, Lent(?), and Innovation

Posted by Plish on February 24, 2013

artlentinnovationmichaelplishka

“Art, after all, is about rearranging us, creating surprising juxtapositions, emotional openings, startling presences, flight paths to the eternal.”   – from The Art of Possibility by Benjamin, and Rosamund Stone, Zander.

A friend of mine read the above quote and said, “Sounds like the purpose of Lenten Services.”

Brilliant!

She juxtaposed art and spirituality in a wonderful manner.

I’m taking it one step further.

The purpose of being rearranged is so that people can improve their relationships with each other, with the Eternal and with themselves.

So, if we become open and have flight paths to the eternal, are emotionally vulnerable, become aware of others and their needs, what types innovations would we bring into the world?

“Every good painter paints what he is.” -Jackson Pollock

I would say that every person creates from what she is.  If we become rearranged as mentioned above, our creations naturally reflect that which we are realizing in our lives.

Try this thought experiment:

What would a doctor’s office look like if it were designed by the Dalai Lama? How would people be treated? What would waiting rooms look like? Would people feel more nervous or less than they do now? What would it sound like? What would the air taste like?

Every good painter paints what he is.

And that’s the key.  Whether in art or spirituality (and many would say there is no dichotomy in art/spirituality) we have to be willing to be rearranged.  If we aren’t willing to be open to going in new directions, to explore, to feel the discomfort of stepping off precipices and trusting we will fly, then we won’t be rearranged, and not only will we not be elevated from glory to glory, but the world will not experience light which only we can share.

So what does that mean?

Listen to music…go to the theater…meditate…pray…taste fruit you just picked off a tree and write a haiku of the experience…sculpt…sing a song…

…Paint the world with what you are…Show the world that being rearranged isn’t a singular exercise in destruction, but an empowering act of creation…

Think of what the world would be if each person lived as a surprising juxtaposition, an emotional opening, a startling presence, a flight path to the eternal…

…Start becoming rearranged…

…now…

 

Posted in Arts, Authenticity, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, innovation, meditation, prayer, Religion, Service Design, Social Innovation, Social Responsibility, Spirituality, Sustainability, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Goal: Making Innovation Disappear

Posted by Plish on December 29, 2012

Some years back I was involved in an inter-religious dialogue with a Muslim group.  During the course of many conversations, one thing became clear.  My Muslim friends didn’t think of themselves as belonging to a religion, per se.  They simply were living a way of life.

They weren’t, and aren’t, alone.

In fact, there are  cultures that don’t have a word for ‘religion’ in their vocabulary.  If a word is used it is a variation on the imported word, “religion.”

The reason for this is as mentioned earlier.  People view living in a “religious” manner as a holistic experience.  There is no place that an individual’s (and community’s!) world view is not influenced by the relationship between God and Humans.  It simply “is”, and if it simply is, it doesn’t need to be labelled.

This phenomenon is present in other places in our lives as well.  Ask someone to describe how she gets from point a to point b, how he cooks a souffle, and I would be extremely surprised to hear those descriptions contain the phrase, “and then I breathe in and out,” multiple times, if even once.

It just happens and is part of the process.

That’s how an innovation competency should be.  Eventually you shouldn’t need to talk about it. Everything you do, from working in an R&D lab to Finance, to Operations, to taking time to recharge your batteries should be geared towards optimizing your innovation output. (Remember the Innovation Audit)

Yes, some of this is about consistent procedures (‘ritual’ from a religious perspective), but moreso it’s about commitment; it’s about worldview which is tied into identity and brand.

Who are we? What’s our goal? What are we supposed to do and how do we do it?  Who am I?

These are the questions that, at first glance seem to have a ‘religious’ nature to them.  But, it’s not about religion as much as it’s about human authenticity.  It’s about letting people be who they are, contributing from their strengths to help make the whole be more than the sum of its parts. If people can’t be their deepest selves, and if the innovative organization does not contribute to the making of the whole person, then the person suffers and the innovative output of the organization will suffer.

So, next time you find yourself talking about how what you’re doing is innovative, do a little reflection and ask if innovation is a core competency or a way of life.  Ask yourself if you’re doing something because you have to do it, or because you’re committed to it and the company’s mission makes sense, and what you do makes sense, when you do it.

Does this mean that there’s no questioning?

No, in fact there should be, because, just as I learned in the inter-religious dialogue, growth and building relationships is more about sharing questions than sharing answers.

Not to mention, the organization that sells answers will eventually go out of business because humans don’t buy answers – fundamentally they buy a question:

“What will my life become with this product/service/etc.?”

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, innovation, Religion, Social Innovation, Society, Spirituality, The Human Person, Wellness, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Working For Peace (From a Thankful Place)

Posted by Plish on November 21, 2012

As we here in the United States get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, we can be thankful that even with the disagreements we have, we can still go to sleep and not have to worry about missiles landing on our homes.  In other parts of the world, people aren’t as fortunate.

In the Middle East, things are particularly sensitive right now.  Nevertheless, there are those that are working for peace in the midst of turmoil.  Wednesday morning (in the US), peacemakers and educators in Israel, Gaza and Palestine will gather together in a non-violent dialogue.  You can listen and be a participant by visiting the website here.

Let’s all share from our plenty.

~peace~

 

Posted in Human Rights, innovation, Politics, problem solving, Religion, Social Innovation, Social Responsibility, Web 2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Reality Check for Sustainability in Design and Innovation

Posted by Plish on March 30, 2011

“Art should cause violence to be set aside” – Leo Tolstoy

Replace the word ‘Art’ with “Design” or “Innovation”.

Design should cause violence to be set aside”

Innovation should cause violence to be set aside”

Violence 

It shares the root of violāre , from which we get the word ‘violate’.

What shouldn’t be violated?

  • people
  • conscience
  • convictions
  • relationships
  • faith
  • family
  • neighborhoods
  • science
  • workplace
  • cultures
  • animals
  • nations
  • plants
  • water
  • air
  • soil
  • world
  • cosmos
  • ???

Does your corporate culture impact any of the above in a negative way? 

Does the manufacture of your innovation do violence to any of the above?

It’s a difficult task, but not impossible.

Instead of focusing on the negative,

focus on elevating,

make all you do,

and how you do it,

~art~

Posted in Authenticity, children, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, Human Rights, innovation, love, nature, Religion, Social Innovation, Social Responsibility, Society, Sustainability, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Road to Ecologically Sustainable Design and the Sacred Space Paradox

Posted by Plish on July 8, 2010

We set things apart for special use all the time.  We keep a special set of plates and silverware for special occasions.  We give those utensils and plates extra special treatment, washing them in special ways, storing them in extra safe locations,  being extra careful not to break or chip them.

On the other hand, the every day stuff we’re more careless with.  We clean the stuff using everyday cleaning methods, and if we break something, it’s okay because we can always replace it. 

There are two different mindsets at work.  In the former case we’re  elevating objects to the level of being sacred.  We’re acknowledging that these objects are special, perhaps even holy.  In the latter, there is a sense of mundaneness – we could say that the objects are profane.  (Anthropologically speaking, sacred/profane is not equal to good/evil.  Sacred/profane can be good/bad, bad/good, etc.) 

Just like we reserve a set of dinnerware for special purposes, it’s been a common practice over the course of the last century or so, for governments to set aside chunks of land and designate them as preserves, as land set aside for a special purpose, as ‘sacred’ land.  While this is usually viewed in a positive light, and it has undoubtedly saved land from misuse and abuse, it has an interesting side effect.

Just as having the dichotomy between special and everyday dinnerware creates two sets of rules in how the dinnerware gets treated, so too, creating nature preserves as separate sacred entities fosters two sets of rules in dealing with the environment.

The two rules are, “Do what you want outside the preserves  as long as you try and minimize your impact on others and the world, but inside the preserves  nothing is allowed except appreciation and minimal interference.” 

The preserves are disconnected from the greater whole and are treated as closed, ‘sacred’ systems.  The rest of the world is viewed by default, not as “sacred” per se, but as profane.  Oh sure, people try to be eco-friendly, but we’re willing to stretch the rules a little bit because after all, we’re not in the middle of a preserve like the Grand Canyon.  Admit it, when you see a cup lying in the gutter of a city it usually doesn’t create the same visceral reaction as seeing the same cup floating down a river, does it?

And that’s the problem.

While the idea of setting aside preserves is indeed noble and well intentioned, is this really what we want?  Wouldn’t it be better if every part of the world was treated as sacred space?  How might a city be different if it treated its ecosystem as sacred as opposed to excusing it by saying, “It’s a city.  It’s okay if it alters the landscape and water absorption and wind patterns.”  Instead, if everything was seen as sacred,  manufacturing and  water purification processes would be designed with the goal of putting water back into the environment at equal or better quality than what they started with!  

This phenomenon isn’t only present on the macro level.  It’s present on the micro-level as well, as hospitals operate Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Architectural Design, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, design thinking, innovation, nature, Politics, Religion, Sustainable Technology, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Exploring Creativity and Spirituality – SoulPancake

Posted by Plish on March 10, 2009

soulpa

Came across SoulPancake

A provocative blog that is colorful, obtuse, focused, tasty and more…

Started by Actor Rainn Wilson, of the TV show, The Office, SoulPancake strives to be a place of, “debate  about life’s big questions,” a contributing voice that will, “de-lamify talk’n about God and Religion.”

But most of all, it’s about creativity and life, engaging humanity at its deepest and most profound, tasting of the waters of the font where creativity, suffering, joy, all percolate from a Divine nexus within.

Innovation, creativity, awe-inspiring design, come from an embrace and sharing of who and what we are as humans.

What do you think of the SoulPancake concept and site?

Posted in Authenticity, Design, innovation, Nature of Creativity, Religion, Spirituality, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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