Student Work:

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Kam Heritage Project: Preserving Chinese Minority Heritage, Supporting Local Identity and Raising Local Wages through design

Visit Kam Heritage Website







Cultural and social sustainability, and responsible design practices are recent topics discussed at the national level in graphic design. The university also encourages the development of sustainable practices. I have taken undergraduate students on research trips to a Kam minority village in China where the students learned about socially responsible, community-based design techniques and cultural preservation.

While in Hong Kong, I supervised a $190,000 documentary project that sent nine groups of students to the village. While at Pacific, I took one student and my colleague, Jennifer Little in 2010 and two students in 2011 with me. My students obtained support from Pacific Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships while I was supported by Rupley-Church Grant for International Understanding, Eberhardt Research Fellowship and Scholarly/ Artistic Activity Grants.

While it is optimal for students to be immersed in a community, it is also possible for students to make an impact long-distance. I have created a series of projects that introduce Arts 75: Graphic Design I students to community-based design, global perspectives, fair trade and cultural sustainability. Working long-distance with a community of Dimen in China, students have digitized unique local design motifs and proposed simple products that can be easily made by the villagers and sold to visitors to improve Dimen’s standard of living. The motifs are be part of a digital library that will be handed over to the village and is already used in promotional materials. I have taken the student product prototypes and further refined in collaboration with local artisans. We developed products that are currently sold in US to support the Dimen community. The students also developed a coloring book based on local animals that will be given to school children as a reward for participating in workshops and that will bolster their local identity and pride in their village.

In collaboration with Shanna Eller and her Sustainability Office, I have organized two sustainability exhibitions in the Reynolds Gallery and the Art Department Foyer, coordinated art department entries and installation, and created class assignments for my classes that addressed sustainable issues.

The project received 2013 and 2014 SEED award honorable mentions. Standing for Social Economic Environmental Design, SEED highlights best practices in the field of Public Interest Design.


Preserving Cultural Heritage: Replicating the Papermaking Process Example

In 2010 I took Anastasya Uskov to a month-long research project that documented the few remaining women artisans of the Kam minority village of Dimen, China. Anastasya worked with five elderly women artisans and their friends to learn their unique craft techniques. She also helped with interviewing them.

Uskov wrote about her experience:

From this trip, I began to see preservation in a different light. I observed the hardship that the people of Dimen had to endure without amenities such as electricity and running water, and began to understand their motivations to want to build a better life for their children by moving to large cities. I became disheartened when considering that their culture may be the price the people of Dimen have to pay in order to gain modern convenience. However, after extensive discussion with Professor Lee, I began to understand that the research work were doing was already a step towards a more comprehensive system of preservation. It was empowering to realize that thanks to our effort, some of the Kam culture is already preserved for future generations to rediscover.







Supporting Local Identity: Anastasya Uskov: Through Young Kam Eyes

Under Lee's supervision, Anastasya Uskov worked with Kam minority children in Dimen village on a photo documentary of the children’s environment in 2011. The resulting photographs and writings were exhibited at an exhibition that Lee curated on Dimen in Pacific’s Reynolds Gallery in 2012. The viewers saw the uncensored world of the Dimen children through their eyes. The children themselves contributed to cultural preservation. The experience has built their self-esteem and pride in their heritage. The relationships with the children have been used in the consequent projects, building a foundation of young people interested in preserving their culture.

Learn more about the project




Supporting Local Identity: Their Then and Now by Joanne Kwan

Student Joanne Kwan interviewed five young people about their experience in the village and created a graphic novel with a chapter devoted to each person. The novel is written in English with plans of translation into Chinese.

Joanne Kwan writes about her aims for the novel:

Ideally, this book will inspire people to cherish their cultural heritage and possibly lead some to start researching their own roots. The second goal I hope this book will accomplish is to promote global unity on a small scale. Through the story, people will be able to relate to those who are different and learn to appreciate the differences in culture that makes all groups of people unique...

...The village of Dimen is constantly changing; nothing is the same from year to year. Aspects of their culture are in danger of going extinct. Hopefully a look into the lives of Dimen’s people will raise questions of how their traditions can be preserved and how our own individual familial customs can be as well.

Learn more about the project / Read the Novel



Supporting Local Identity: Coloring Book

Marie Lee's Spring 2014 Graphic Design I students developed a coloring book that aims to strengthen Dimen children’s awareness of their local identity. Based on Marie Lee’s photographs of animals she encountered in Dimen, the drawings encourage children to take pride in their wonderful environment. Eight books were handed out to children that participated in the screen printing workshops.

Learn more about the project







Supporting Local Identity: Indigenous Motif Library

Working long-distance with a community of Dimen in China, Marie Lee's Spring 2014 Graphic Design I students digitized unique local design motifs that has since then been used on products developed by Dimen artisans. The motifs will become part of a digital library of indigenous motifs to be given to the Dimen community.

Learn more about the project




Raising Living Wages: Product Prototypes

The Spring 2014 Arts 75 Graphic Design I students proposed simple products that Dimen artisans can easily produce in the village with available materials and sell either in village stores or market abroad. The students have applied local aesthetics and design motifs to the items. Based on the project's outcomes, the Kam Heritage Project team has work with Dimen artisans to realize these ideas in the local setting. The ultimate goal is to empower local artisans and designers to carry their local identity and cultural heritage into the digital age by giving them the tools and technological knowhow.

Learn more about the project




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Interdisciplinary Collaboration
Motion Graphics
Interactive Design
Packaging and 3D
Portfolio Development