Arts & Culture

Earth Manual Project: Learning Disaster through Arts

Innovating to save lives.
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In the past year, Indonesia has suffered a series of unfortunate natural disasters, and this issue has raised concerns and awareness in disaster preparedness. Educational campaigns and seminars have been conducted, and heavy investments have been made toward innovations that could save lives. Meanwhile in Dia.Lo.Gue, an art space located in South Jakarta, disaster preparedness takes on a whole other form - an art exhibition.

An extensively collaborative venture, the Earth Manual Project (EMP) is the effort of various organisations: the Japan Foundation Asia Center, Dia.lo.Gue, FFFAAARRR, LeBoYe Design, DUSDUKDUK and MILES Film, Design and Creative Center Kobe (KIITO) and Plust Arts.

First originating in Kobe, Japan in 2013, it has now traveled to Southeast Asia and North America, exhibiting projects by artists, architects, designers, and other creatives from all over the region.

B-SIDE chats with Adhi, Program Officer at The Japan Foundation about the project, and how participating artists have successfully integrated aesthetics with crucial, useful information for its audience.

Where did the initiative for Earth Manual Project first come from?

The initiative of this project came from a Japanese non-profit organisation, called Design and Creative Center Kobe (KIITO), based in Kobe city, Japan. It is a community of designers and creative workers, where most members have first hand experience in several disasters in Japan, especially the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake that hit Kobe in 1995.

They realised that as creative workers, they have the ability to create modules for people to learn about how to survive disasters – while it is happening, and after it has happened. All in an interesting way.

From then on, they started to collect stories and lessons learned during the earthquake, transforming them into interactive disaster education projects, while searching for similar projects in other disaster affected areas (including South East Asia) to connect and learn from.

They eventually came to The Japan Foundation. It just happened at that time, The Japan Foundation was also preparing our own project on Disaster Education + Creativity, called the HANDs! Project (which then also exhibited in EMP), targeting young professionals from various background in Asia.

Even prior to the EMP, The Japan Foundation also understood that natural and man-made disasters are a collective issue in Asia. Since then, disaster education has always been a main focus of The Japan Foundation’s projects. So when KIITO came with this initiative, the Japan Foundation was more than happy to collaborate.

The purpose of this exhibition is to educate the society about disaster readiness. In the bigger picture, what is your personal take on using arts as an educational tool?

With The Japan Foundation, I’ve been working on a lot of disaster education projects. I have to admit it is not easy. To learn about disasters is very important. To know what to do when it happens, and how to survive right after is very very important.

However, only a few people want to talk, listen or learn about it. Simply because it’s a heavy topic to talk about, because disaster is always closely tied to sadness and grief, and other times it’s too technical and boring.

I believe that we need to change our approach and methods of education. Creativity is needed. Designs need to be eye-catching to be tools of learning, whether it is a project or product, imbued with short and easy to digest step-by-step learning process. Once you get their attention and they’re interested in what you’re serving, they will start learning and digging from more information themselves.

My favourites are the projects that used games as tools to educate children. The children were playing, while learning simple instructions on what to do before, during and in the aftermath of a disaster. So yes, creativity is a very important educational tool.

How do the artists combine the learning about disaster management with aesthetics and creativity?

For this Earth Manual Project Exhibition, we collaborated with many artists. Each of them have their own expertise and experience. But I can safely say one thing they have in common is research. Either drawing from their own experience, or by collecting experiences and stories from survivors. Once they have enough valid data, they crafted their creative products/projects based on their own expertise.

How do you personally perceive disaster readiness in Asia? How do arts and this exhibition contribute to this matter?

Disaster awareness and readiness in Asia varies. Japan is quite ready compared to other Asian countries. Their disaster education is quite advanced, having implemented frequent disaster drills since the kids were in kindergarten. We cannot find this preparation in other Asian countries, specially in South East and South Asia. For example in Indonesia, those who learned are those who actually have had first hand experience. It has to change, and honestly this has started to in the last couple years.

People now feel an urgency to learn about disaster education, and how to survive.

Not only for those in affected areas, but elsewhere too.

What kind of artworks were exhibited and what kind of messages the artworks tried to convey to the audiences?

In this exhibition, there are various projects and products exhibited. For example, Emergency! Kaeru Caravan! (Japan) is an emergency drill program for families; this has become extremely popular in Japan for its engaging educational programming. It’s conducted in tandem with a popular toy exchange event. Versions of the Caravan have traveled outside Japan and as of March 2018, they have been conducted in 19 different countries.

Our HANDs! Project (Japan, Indonesia, and other 7 Asian Countries) is an annual youth exchange initiative to learn and produce innovative disaster prevention programs and involves young professionals and students from 9 countries in Asia with 100 participants and 27 outcome projects since 2014, reaching out to 90,000+ people on the ground level. It has received numerous mainstream media coverage in ASEAN countries and Japan.

Others include Core House (Indonesia) which is a minimal shelter unit designed to be built on and expanded at later points, providing disaster survivors freedom to use the unit to suit their needs.

We have three goals in this exhibition, one is to create awareness, and the second is to get people prepared. The third is targeting creative workers in Indonesia, to show them that projects and products like what we exhibit exist and are important, to show them that they can use their expertise as a learning tool to convey important messages. We want them, to create their own Earth Manual Project.

Can we expect similar exhibitions to be held in the future?

Yes! As of now, we are in the planning stage of conducting the next Earth Manual Project Exhibition in Indonesia, which will be in Yogyakarta, by end of this year.

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