Art exhibit celebrates partnership of Emory freshmen and Clarkston refugees

By Beverly Clark | Emory Report | Dec. 20, 2012

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The exhibition is on display through Dec. 31 at the Clarkston Community Center. Photo by Cheryl Crowley.

Emory College freshmen and senior refugees from around the globe found common ground through Chinese calligraphy this semester, the results of which are on display in an exhibition at the Clarkston Community Center.  

"Clearly Manifesting Luminous Virtue" displays the beautiful works of brush calligraphy created by the Emory students and elders taking English classes in the community center's Senior Refugee Program. Despite their differences, the Emory and Clarkston students proved to have much in common: all were newcomers to the Atlanta area and all were devoted to learning.  

The Emory students first learned the basics of the classical Chinese scholarly art of calligraphy, and then collaborated in studying it with the elder refugees. With the support from Emory's Office of Community Partnerships, the group of 16 freshmen made weekly visits to the Clarkston Community Center to chat in English and share the enjoyment of writing with a brush with refugees from places as diverse as Bhutan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.  

"While it was not always possible to communicate with words, students learned to appreciate each other with gestures, smiles and patient brushwork," says Cheryl Crowley, associate professor of Japanese, who developed and taught the freshman seminar, "East Asian Calligraphy in the Community."  

The exhibition's title is a phrase from one of the freshman class' textbooks, "The Greater Learning," a condensed version of Confucian teachings and one of the most influential works of Chinese ethics, says Crowley.  

"'The Greater Learning' essentially provides another road map to ethics and responsible engaged behavior," Crowley explains.  

"The book explains that students should try to fulfill their potential by study and practicing the arts, including calligraphy. By improving themselves and their character, according to the 'Greater Learning,' students are able to support and improve the character of their families. By supporting families, they create community. By creating community, they bring peace to the world."  

The Emory students explored the possibilities of putting these abstract ideas into practice with the Clarkston elders.  

"The students wrote reflection journals, and many noted how eye-opening it was that they were able to find ways to get in touch with the humanity of people very different from themselves," Crowley says.  

The exhibition is on display through Dec. 31 at the Clarkston Community Center, 3701 College Avenue, Clarkston, Ga. 30021, 404-508-1050.

Additional funding was provided by Emory's East Asian Studies Program and Confucius Institute.