Correction: Volume III Issue 7 dated March 10, 2015

It has come to our attention that the article “Artistic development in the Liwa desert” reported that Glen Kilian Koh ’18 said students spent less time on writing and improving their writing during the UAE trip. However, while students were asked to do many free-writing exercises to get ideas on the page before reflecting upon them, writing and improvement of their writing were also key focuses of the trip.


story Marusa Godina

Artistic Development In The Liwa Desert

Chu Hsien Lim’s final project. (Chu Hsien Lim)


Twelve Yale-NUS College students traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during spring break, where they attended various workshops to refine their self-expression skills. Spending two days in the Liwa desert, the Learning Across Boundaries (LAB) participants had the opportunity to develop their own artistic projects by exploring notions of Writing, Art, and Identity with guidance from Professor Heidi Stalla, Assistant Director of the Writing Program. She was assisted by Diana Chester, a lecturer and Capstone Advisor for the Arts at New York University Abu Dhabi, Rebecca Tannenbaum, a senior lecturer of humanities at Yale-NUS and Caroline Manela, a Yale-NUS Dean’s Fellow.

Participants stayed at an artists’ retreat developing their projects through a special methodology called ‘Form-Shifting’, developed by Ms. Stalla and Ms. Chester. In an email interview, Ms. Stalla described it as “a creative pedagogy that invites participants to engage with evidence and develop ideas through both visual art and writing exercises.” According to Ms. Stalla, it helps participants explore a topic from different perspectives and experiment with various forms of expression.

According to Lim Chu Hsien ’18, Form-Shifting involved pairing participants less familiar with each other. After spending ten minutes in silence, they interviewed their partner about anything that they were curious about. After that, they wrote a poem about their experiences, before translating it into a visual art piece. Lim said, “It was extremely insightful as I got to spot similarities and differences about myself in the respective stages. Seeing how one stage connected intricately with another illuminated some aspects of myself, which were deeply buried.”

The participants also shared that the artistic prompts were open-ended. Jane Zhang ’18 gave an example from a cafe that they were sitting in—they had to focus on every sound, every color, every person that passed by and every feeling that passed through their heads to finally put their thoughts on paper. According to her, the main learning point was discovering the importance of effective observation.

The workshops were intended to guide participants on a path of artistic self-discovery. Glen Kilian Koh ’18 noted that students were told to spend less time on writing because it was more important to see what preoccupied them rather than to work on improving their writing. The participants shared their work and exchanged ideas but did not criticize each other’s reflections. Zhang added that the workshops made her realize that she had not been writing for a very long time and that it was a very powerful tool for self-expression.

The final project too was very open-ended—at the end of the trip, students were asked to find things that caught their attention. “My final art piece tied together different parts of the trip that struck me: the love note found in the sand which reminded me that we all are so similar despite different backgrounds, a mirror to represent the reflections about myself and my identity, and sand which amazed me with its ability to so quickly erase all evidence of being,” Zhang said. Lim created a sand bed, made of broken pieces of glass and a mattress. She said, “The bed is a metaphor for my introspective self, the question mark represents the constant searching of identity and the broken pieces of glass symbolize the excruciating process of being honest with one’s identity.”

Participants found the workshops meaningful and memorable. Koh said, “I believe we all uncovered something about ourselves that was very unexpected.” Ms. Stalla shared similar sentiments: “I was thrilled with the LAB—everything came together. Rebecca Tannenbaum, Diana Chester, and Caroline Manela were fabulous co-leaders, and student engagement was creative, sensitive and inspiring,” she said.

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