Sharing experiences from her 2009 Fulbright grant to South Africa, writer Kimberly D. Burge reflected on her time working with the young girls of Gugulethu — residents of a black township that is one of the only neighborhoods in Cape Town hidden in Google street view. Burge led a creative writing workshop for these girls, who were part of the first post-apartheid generation, and in the process discovered the many different forms that artistic expression can take. Burge was one of eight speakers at the independently organized TEDxFulbright conference held on June 19, in the historic Capitol Visitor center in Washington, D.C..
That evening, hundreds of participants gathered to exemplify the Fulbright mission of lifelong learning, collaboration, and exchange with others of all ages, disciplines, and vocations, and sharing “ideas worth spreading” while promoting mutual understanding and respect across cultures. It is TEDxFulbright’s continuing desire to provide Fulbright alumni a unique framework to effectively excite and join people together in working for the sake of humanity’s progress.
Centered around the theme of “A Curious Picture”, the evening’s attendees were invited to think beyond the contained boundaries of ordinary life. They were taken on a journey to explore the benefits of circus culture on urban Brazilian youth, peace-building in the 21st century, the philosophical intricacies of vocal performance, children’s storytelling and myth-making in the face of global inequality, spellbinding fractal geometry, and the incredible power of creativity as a vehicle to inspire change around the world.
“Collaborating with all of the speakers was inspiring and humbling. Learning about the work that Fulbrighters are doing around the world is truly magnificent,” said Shaz Akram, Deputy Director of the Fulbright Association and co-organizer of the event.
Each in their own way, the speakers showed their character as compassionate, socially aware individuals, and their experiences interacting with the world around them. When acclaimed artist and sculptor Janet Echelman found herself rejected from all seven of the art schools she had applied to, she applied for and received a Fulbright grant to India. When she arrived in India, but the paints she had shipped from the States did not, she was forced to imagine her approach to art through a completely different medium. She first learned the craft of bronze-casting and then, learning from the native fisherman around her, she began to create sculptures that interacted with the patterns of wind using fishing nets — which would ultimately become the work for which she is most widely known. Echleman’s art is described as sculpture without classification and experimental in nature. Like a living environment, her sculptures change with the wind and light. The are durable and permanent, while also being idiosyncratic, delicate, and ephemeral.
“Fourteen years ago, I searched for beauty in the traditional things, in craft forms. Now I combine them with high-tech materials and engineering to create voluptuous, billowing forms the scale of buildings. My artistic horizons continue to grow,” Echleman reflected during her talk.
The mission of the Fulbright Association continues to be to change the world by connecting the most engaged and talented individuals to approach our world’s grandest challenges with thoughtfulness and ambition. The evening talks at our TEDxFulbright conference exemplified the continued work and vision of the late senator Fulbright, who founded the Fulbright Program in 1946. As John Bader, Executive Director of the Association, noted, “Bill Fulbright loved to gather communities, often those with contradicting ideas and cultures. He thought that when you mix people together, interesting and important things happen.”
The Fulbright Association offers special thanks to all who were involved in TEDxFulbright: A Curious Picture, including: Kristina Hahn (TEDxFulbright co-organizer), Miguel Cruz (producer), the TEDxFulbright organizing committee, the National Capital Area Chapter, and all presenters.