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Issue 2 Highlights: A Closer Look Into Emma Tolliver’s “The World We Constructed”

My piece*, a mixed-media piece utilizing photography, wood, vinyl fabric, gouache paint, zip-ties, and yarn, is about coming into one’s own.

I created the drum itself in a workshop with the members of Pamyua, a Yup'ik musical group from Alaska. With members Stephen Blanchett, Phillip Blanchett, Karina Møller, and Ossie Kairaiuak, I spent an afternoon creating a Cauyaq drum: a traditional Inuit and Yup’ik drum. Pamyua had gifted me a platform for artistic expression through their ways of knowing: drum-making and playing. I left the workshop carrying a revelation with me that I could not identify at the time.

As an artist, I was compelled to return to the drum months later and reshape it with my own ways of knowing: visual artistry. The face of the drum became a mirror, reflecting my histories that have shaped my identity. It tells the story of my 할아버지 (romanization: harabeoji, Korean for “Grandpa”), who immigrated to the United States to flee a traumatic situation. On the first piece of land that he owned in the United States, he built himself a koi pond, and it was the first time he had toiled on land to physically create something for himself.

I have created a drum with the image of a koi fish pond on the face of the drum; I am carrying the world my grandfather created and I am creating my own world in the process. This is the revelation I experienced in the drum-making workshop with Pamyua; I am coming into my own identity and personhood, and I am doing it because of, not in spite of, the people and places who came before me. My grandfather and I found ways to take up space and to express ourselves by constructing worlds for ourselves, and we did it through each other, through those around us, and through nature.

It was a revolutionary revelation: to weave together how my identity had become a force and to recognize that I carry my ancestors with me always. To come into my own is to bring with me the lives of my relatives and the lands that they stewarded. To construct the world is to construct what I have inherited from my family.

In a space with other artists and creators, this piece was brought to life. I am thankful to Pamyua for sharing their time, space, and artistry with me, to Dr. Jessica Bissett Perea, Dr. Maria Marco, Dr. Stephanie Maroney, and Dr. Aviaja Lyberth Hauptmann for introducing Pamyua to me, to my ancestors for making me what I am today, and to you for allowing me to share my artistry at this time and in this space.

To see more pieces from talented artists from around the word, read Issue 2: Identities under the “Read” section of our website!

*Tolliver’s piece was originally published in Issue 22: Hereditary of Kindergarten Magazine.

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