American Arts Incubator: Women’s Empowerment 

10 May 2019 - Rachana Khatri

The American Arts Incubator was jointly launched on the 5th of April, 2019 by the US Embassy in Kathmandu and Nepal Communitere. American Arts Incubator is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in partnership with ZERO1 that sends U.S. artists abroad to collaborate with local communities for a month-long incubator. As part of the program, American Artist Jennifer Berry led 14 Nepali participants for a month to work on art projects with the theme of women’s empowerment.

Through the arts incubator, skills in art, technology and entrepreneurship are transferred between different communities and countries. Jennifer Berry, who live in California, spoke about her interest in the intersection of technology and art, and its power to bring about social awareness and changed. She brought machines such as the Cricut Cutting Machine, and taught the participants how to use it as well as the 3D printer. She also taught the basics of digital fabrication. “I was impressed by how every single team used at least one of the new pieces of technology in making their art projects”, she said.

The four teams created innovative and participatory projects that would engage the public around the theme of women’s empowerment. After many project development and research days, the project concluded with an open house at Nepal Communitere from April 25-27, 2019. The event, which was open to the public, saw a huge turnout. The public got to participate in all of the projects.

Visitors got a chance to walk through a door/portal in the shape of a Yoni, where they saw themselves coming out of a vagina, to symbolize its importance in our lives. They then got creative brochures and information sheets that spread awareness about reproductive health. They then got to go to a chiya pasal, or tea shop, and play a game that’s similar to Snakes and Ladders, but one where you go up or down in the game based on women’s major life events.

After that, the people could go to an exhibit where they could identify sheets with their own goals and desires, and take pictures with them. They then would go to the Communitere courtyard where they could pick a thread from a box with a phrase they identified with, which dealt with topics such as facing negative remarks about how appropriate their clothes were, or how much they had been affected by sexism. They would then weave the thread into the loom. In the end, a colourful carpet, full of meaning, was created.

“It was pretty remarkable how quickly the groups came together and moved forward with their projects and the ideations. It was in part because we spent time talking about women’s empowerment in a safe space where people could be honest with each other. There was a lot of trust within the groups, and so it was pretty great to see projects that pushed the limits and really explored topics that were very much on the edge”, said Jennifer.

The open house event concluded with a panel review of all 4 projects. In the coming month, one of the participants will be chosen to go to the US on a fully-funded trip, and meet with all the other selected American Arts Incubator program participants around the world, and learn more from their experiences.