A woman with broom
cleans the dirt behind the shelves
and the dust off
books she hasn’t read
She threads her way
between the stacks,
the volumes and tomes
imprinting an education
by osmosis on her
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.
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?