Global Convergence through Art: Perspectives from a Wordsman, Thinker, Mover and Shaker
GALO: In your documentary, it really resonated for me when you said, “Perhaps America’s greatest talent is its ability to unite different cultures as one.” Does this speak to your passion for intercultural exchange? In the wake of Occupy Wall Street and other social justice movements, do you think Americans feel united now?
Zhang: No, Americans neither feel united nor behave in a united manner at the moment. Americans are currently very fragmented. But this is not to indict America; because this fragmentation is true at this very moment of different countries across the world. I think we are very diverse in terms of our representation, and arguably the most diverse country of its size and population. But at the same time, the United States is extraordinarily polarized and I think this country is struggling to find a true collective voice. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s possible. I do think that the next inevitable thing is that the voices of the world will converge. And that’s what Nationless… is about.
GALO: Your presentation at the 2002 World Expo in Shanghai gave you an initial boost in exposing your cause of connecting cultures through your film. You were asked to create a project that represented the multiculturalism of America, mainly focusing on New York. I find it great that you carry your Chinese heritage openly and with honor. What did it mean to represent the multiculturalism of America, which is inclusive of Chinese culture, to your home country?
Zhang: The Expo was a big deal for the Chinese people, and therefore, it was a big deal for my parents. For me, it’s always a great opportunity to go back to China. It’s something that I’ve been working toward, to set myself up, so that I can travel back to China and spend extended periods of time there as much as possible. It has to do with my heritage and my sense of wanting to reaffirm and cultivate my relationship with the country. The biggest thing for me was being able to do something that was very meaningful to my [immediate] and extended family in China.
GALO: Your non-profit organization Stone Forest New York is affiliated with the Emerging campaign. What are the major functions of the organization?
Zhang: The mission of Stone Forest New York is to help facilitate cultural exchange endeavors between communities worldwide, toward greater mutual awareness, understanding, and collaboration. We have done sizable projects now involving artists and communities in China, Nigeria, France, and, of course, across the United States.
GALO: The campaign has received support and coverage from major organizations like National Geographic and The Huffington Post. Just recently the Emerging documentary was selected to be featured on WNET-TV. What was your first reaction when you found out?
Zhang: As an artist you become so accustomed to the long-term struggle that these things – moments of public recognition, a momentary outburst of praise – are seen as minor victories, small battles along the way. You’ve learned that there is [still] so much road ahead that you don’t get into the habit of celebrating too much. Being selected to be on PBS is a professional gain and a nice symbol, but the most profound thing, and what is more validating as an artist, is to know that I created a work out of sincerity that touched people.
GALO: Nowadays, communicating through technology is not only widespread, but it is vital to even exist and be relevant for so many. Through the Emerging Face of a Nationless World website and Youtube, you have used digital and social media platforms to present your content. Do you find these methods to be effective versus more traditional methods of communication?
Zhang: Our spirits are becoming mechanized. Just as science — in not the name of truth, but of mass production — would have us engineer the animals and vegetables we eat (they [are] no longer free nor natural), we have likewise taken to the engineering of our bonds as human beings, made algorithms of our personalities, made industry of our brother and sisterhood. Many of us already recognize that something of great value is being suffocated by the parameters of our lifestyles, as our spirits begin to flail as if to fend off death by drowning. What remains is the identification of a new direction, an intended next step or destiny – an image of a new way of life for the human being.
The tools for media [are] no longer the communicators of knowledge sincere to our well-being, but instead our well-being [is] enslaved to the moral and cultural code of the media; and most sadly, the artists, the creators — those who would speak with utmost sincerity as to this timeless relationship shared between human and human, between human and the earth — [are] made indentured servants to paint murals and write songs to praise a plastic reality of commercial, and not human, values.
GALO: Even though this country is made up of a very diverse population, there is still some divide. For example, I live in Chicago and for a city with so many representations of different cultures, it is immensely segregated. How close (or not) do you think we are to bridging the gap as a country; as a global community?
Zhang: The most profound truth of our time, of right now, is that many of us are ready. We’re there and prepared to engage in a transcendent next step toward a new image of humankind. While globally, very primitive perspectives still exist and hold power over the minds of countless people, it is evident that many have risen into a new realm of consciousness. Our rise has been inevitable – as inevitable as the future that shall welcome us. Those who hold on firmly to these notions of national, racial, or cultural homogeneity — shackled to us from a lesser educated, lesser exposed past — are holding on to the idea of an earth that is flat.
GALO: Even in the past year there have been incidences of ignorance between race that can seem shocking. Last year, there was the woman in Ohio who posted a “Whites Only” sign outside of her swimming pool over a hair issue. And, there are still many to this day who fear Muslim American citizens. Do you think this type of ignorance can be remedied?
Zhang:I say 50 to 100 years from now, the entire world is going to look like New York City. But still, today, people from insulated, culturally homogeneous backgrounds often visit places of diversity, like New York, and feel threatened. There are fascist movements intensifying across the world in retaliation to the world’s increasing integration and diversity. Ignorance feels threatened in its shell, but the will of greater power acting upon us, has, since the beginning of time, been guiding us toward diversity. Today’s fear of a culturally converging, ethnically integrated future is a fear born of ignorance and an unwillingness to adapt, and will one day in the future be seen as quite ridiculous.
GALO: What does the future look like for the campaign?
Zhang: Ours is a very multifaceted approach right now. One important aspect of the campaign is to network and do community organizing at the global level. This includes [an] outreach [program] to establish participant communities and local teams in more and more countries. It’s all a process that we intend to undertake with as much sincerity as possible. We don’t want to create this macro-cosmic plan and impose it on communities across [the] world. We intend on listening attentively to the stories of each participating international community and gauging what the essence of our campaign means to them.
Long term, our intention is to have Nationless World contingents in countries all over the world. As an end-game, the vision is to establish a physical global infrastructure for Nationless World: physical spaces, where inspired, cultivated people from across the earth can converge to share our thoughts and feelings, to synchronize our knowledge and our plans, and ultimately, to make harmony of our voices and our actions.
To contact Zhang and learn more about involvement in the Emerging Face of a Nationless World campaign and movement, contact him by e-mail, [email protected], Twitter, @jiesongzhang, or Facebook, Jie-Song Zhang.