Past Summer & Spring LABs Summer LAB 2019

Our See of Islands: Creative Arts and Social Engagement in Okinawa


Duration: 3 to 10 June, 2019

Leading faculty: Assistant Professor James Jack and Mr Lawrence Lacambra Ypil

This LAB was an experiential journey through creative arts in the context of Okinawan culture and history.

The Ryūkyū archipelago has a rich creative history of songs, poems, artwork and music passed on from oral traditions recorded in song books. This compilation of Omoro Sōshi showcases the literary culture in the archipelago before the invasion of the Satsuma Clan in 1609, the beginning of the occupation of the islands that continues today. These songs and poems preserve the spirits of the people as well as the essence and environment of the islands that still exist today amidst dominant belief systems from Japan. Amidst violence imposed on Okinawa in the past and continued destructive actions occurring now, these creative expressions resisted dominant narratives of the islands told by the conquerors.

This LAB investigated these social issues and explored indigenous perspectives from the point of view of islanders. The group examined the richness of local stories from the viewpoint of artists, poets and other cultural workers who embodied the spirit of the islands. At the end of the LAB, the group held a multimedia exhibition titled ‘Our See of Islands’ where each student presented a piece of art they had worked on during the LAB, using a range of media including photography, poetry, painting, audio and video.

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  • I firmly believe that the arts plays a vital role in shaping our society. Through the LAB, I had the opportunity of witnessing that first-hand. I saw how song and dance were used in protests and learned about the artists who had contributed to important political scenes in Okinawa. These experiences complemented my time in Arts Tropical Gallery, where I got to interact with some of these artists while I, together with my supervisors, hosted them for talks with the artists. My time in Okinawa is truly one of the highlights of my Yale-NUS experience.

    Alexis Chen
    Class of 2022

  • Being on the Our See of Islands LAB opened my eyes to new ways we can think about the relationship between humans and the earth. From listening to traditional sanshin music at a sustainable living collective to seeing how environmental activists fought to protect a harbour from being filled in, I saw how forming human bonds could be closely linked to forming connections with nature and how we could see Mother Earth not as a resource to be exploited but an active participant we could collaborate with in creating a sustainable future.

    Nathasha Lee
    Class of 2021

  • Before the LAB, I had armed myself with courage, fully clothed with my Vaseline and sunscreen. They say that in order to understand the stories, you need to find a way to empathise with all your heart. Flying to the beautiful island of Okinawa, I was met with numerous stories, Ryukyu music, and more importantly a 30-year struggle for acceptance of what is deemed traditional Okinawan culture. Distinct from Japanese culture yet threatened. The people. The music. The sea. They are all connected, and I learned that when one is threatened, they are all threatened.

    Faith Agili
    Class of 2021

  • I have always cringed at the word 'networking' because it makes me think of firm handshakes and suits. Little did I know how naturally this would happen in Okinawa; from interviewing the artists of BARRACK (an exhibition/art space) to event photography at a Gekijo performance, I was constantly encountering and working with new people. But the best part? I ended up managing my own artistic projects – a short film and an interactive photography website!

    Heeeun Monica Kim
    Class of 2021