A Window Story

Photo by Wayne Leidenfrost, Vancouver Sun

A woman with broom

cleans the dirt behind the shelves

and the dust off

books she hasn’t read

or written.

She threads her way

between the stacks,

the volumes and tomes

imprinting an education

by osmosis on her

uneducated mind,

so they say.

She cleans the most famous

repository of Western knowledge,

a learned space

a sacred space —

but the spines are blank,

there are unrecognized books in this collection.

She is one of them.

             . . .

I wrote this poem after reading this article in The Vancouver Sun talking about the new public art installation in the windows of SFU’s Woodward Campus. The installation is called The Primary Education of the Autodidact. “Autodidact” means “self-taught.” This two-story exhibit fills the windows of the Audain Gallery and was created by Raqs Media Collective, a 3-person artist group from New Delhi.

I would recommend reading the article and window-gazing at the work yourself if you happen to be in the area. It’s at 149 West Hastings Street in Vancouver.

Raqs Media Collective, The Primary Education of the Autodidact

If I were a teacher getting my students to discuss this textual space, I would ask them to think about the following questions:

  • what does this installation say about the way we learn in Western society?
  • what’s the significance of the art being displayed on the windows of a university?
  • what do the artists challenge in this depiction of an education?
  • what are some ways we “self-learn”? Are we encouraged to do this? What does this even look like – oral means of communicating, or not even with words at all? As I alluded to in my poem, do people recognize – and appreciate – non-traditional methods of knowledge acquiring and sharing?
  • why is the silhouette figure a woman, and presumably ethnic? What type of knowledge does she possess?
  • why are the spines and pages of the books empty? Who writes them?

Last question is for you, my readers: What “books” are you reading? What does your education consist of?

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2 thoughts on “A Window Story

  1. that poem was beautiful, Charlene. i haven’t been keeping up with all the happenings around Woodwards, but I know when I first left Vancouver it was causing quite the excitement. I hope it’s living up to its hype and infusing new life into a part of town that desperately needs change.

    as for books, i’m currently juggling my school readings and some christian life books. trying to balance ‘education from books’ with ‘education from living life’- though i find the two constantly interfere with one another.

  2. thanks for sharing your thoughts Krystle – sounds like you have a lot of different books/”educations” on the go! ya, it’s crazy how books and life constantly overlap. I actually really love it when that happens, like when I’m reading something (usually fictional) and it speaks to where I’m at in real life. maybe it’s because when we’re learning something from one source, it heightens our awareness of it in other sources.

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