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“When will my reflection show who I am inside?” is a well-known line from Christina Aguilera’s song “Reflection”. To me, “seeing” is the act of experiencing something and how we perceive it reveals our beliefs, culture, and traditions. In this article, I will share my journey in search of my own reflection, much like Mulan. This quest was inspired by my recent visit to the exhibit “Safe Place in the Future? Dystopia now, Utopia never” at MCAD.
Before visiting the exhibit, I must admit that I was reluctant to go. A friend had told me there was nothing interesting to see, which dampened my enthusiasm. It felt like an ordinary day, just another task on my to-do list. As someone who isn’t particularly passionate about art, I found it complex and challenging to comprehend. I expected the usual exhibits with art pieces hanging on walls, and I would simply glance at them before moving on. The only reason I decided to go was because it was mandatory and because it reminded me of a significant event. That event took place in the same building, where I was awarded a silver medal for my journalism work. I imagined visiting the same location for a second time, hoping to develop a deeper interest. I refused to give up on myself and wore my “art enthusiast” hat as I entered the exhibit.
Experiencing the Exhibit
While exploring the exhibit, I encountered numerous artworks that subtly caught my attention. Some had an intriguing, mysterious quality that called out to me, as if saying, “Look at me, I’m different and enigmatic. Get to know me better!” I observed each piece of art and found them all compelling, but one stood out among the rest: a short film titled “Kolam” by Chris Chong Chan Fui. Unlike the other exhibits, this film didn’t rely on unique positioning or physical appearance to captivate viewers. It simply played on a plain, flat screen. Yet, it screamed for my attention. The sound of water dropping and forming a resonating audio caught my immediate interest. Something within me compelled me to pause. I thought to myself, “This is something different.” While my friend urged me to see the other artworks, finding them boring and conventional, I told her, “Wait, I want to see what happens next.” The video began by filling up a large reservoir, and the child inside me felt a surge of anticipation, as if I were about to jump into a pool myself. I was drawn to the water and the expectation of witnessing the reservoir transform into a swimming pool. When I noticed the letters “USAID,” I realized the video had something to do with rescuing people, though I wasn’t sure how exactly. My “IS major” identity stirred within me, evoking my disdain for US intervention. I felt that their efforts weren’t always genuinely helpful, often meddling in issues to maintain their superpower status. Sentences from books I had read months ago resurfaced in my mind: words like “hegemony,” “intervention,” and “agreements.” I immersed myself in these thoughts as I eagerly awaited the reservoir’s fullness. The video continued with children slowly immersing themselves in the pool. I felt excitement for them. As I watched, an assistant approached me and began explaining the video. I wanted to stop her, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I listened attentively. She revealed that the video depicted the use of the pool to help children recover from the trauma of the 2004 Tsunami that devastated their town. At that moment, my heart skipped a beat. I felt a chill run through my hands, and for some strange reason, I smiled. Goosebumps formed on my skin. Memories of my childhood, when I swam almost every day, flooded my mind. The very idea of using swimming pools to aid in the recovery and salvation of others brought me immense joy. I have always loved the water, despite considering myself an average swimmer. I gained a sudden connection with the artist, imagining that we both shared a fondness for water and swimming. I yearned to speak with the artist and express my profound appreciation for the video. Moreover, I began envisioning the swimming pool as a living entity, speaking to me and revealing that it is not solely a recreational space but a means of helping others, of saving lives. The children’s eyes, subtly capturing my attention, seemed to beckon me to join them. I became deeply attached to the video, an intense connection forming between myself and an inanimate object—a truly unusual experience for me. I reminisced about the times when I enjoyed swimming, the routines I would do for my scoliosis, the playful moments in the water, and the creation of an imaginary world where I felt like a free creature under the sea. Remembering those simple memories filled me with happiness. I realized how much I loved swimming, even though I had briefly lost interest in it. In that moment, I was reunited with my first love. This was the first time I genuinely enjoyed and appreciated a work of art. The video may appear insignificant to others, but to me, it held great meaning. It made me realize that a swimming pool can be more than just a source of entertainment; it can be a lifeline for those in need. Simultaneously, the video made me confront my apathy towards others. Its message lingered in my mind long after the exhibit ended. I considered the possibility of creating art myself, even though I had never previously contemplated it. Perhaps, like the video, I could transform unexpected objects into art. I thought to myself, “The artist behind this video is truly creative. Who would have thought that a swimming pool could be considered ‘art’?”
Reflections after the Exhibit
My illustration encapsulates my personal definition of “seeing.” It represents how individuals perceive and interpret subjects based on their beliefs, ideals, and knowledge about the world. Additionally, I believe that when observing an object, such as object “A,” there are countless ways to describe or perceive it. Even though it is just a single object, different individuals may see it in myriad ways. Each person is unique, with their own beliefs, perspectives, and understanding. Hence, a subject can be seen from various angles, not solely restricted to an individual’s viewpoint. Through my experience at MCAD, I realized that this concept of “seeing” applies to accepting other people’s perspectives as well. Sometimes, I find myself viewing things through the lens of stereotypes, justifying my viewpoint based on the number of people who agree with me. This leads me to wonder: what if I see a cross as a symbol of my Catholic faith, but others perceive it as a weapon used to harm people? Or perhaps, some people may view it as nothing more than a random object, like a rock. I can never truly know. Now, I understand the importance of being more open-minded and not unreasonably assuming my perspective is the only correct one. There are numerous valid ways for individuals to perceive and interpret an object, depending on the context.
Returning to Mulan, this experience provided me with a fulfilling conclusion. By examining the way I see things, especially the film that struck a chord with me, I was able to reflect on who I am inside. I discovered that my love for swimming remains strong and unwavering.