Arts & Culture

Earth Manual Project: Learning Disaster Through the Arts

Innovating to save lives

Words by
Joice Tentry

In the past year, Indonesia has suffered a series of natural disasters, raising concerns and awareness about disaster preparedness. Campaigns and seminars have been conducted, and heavy investments have been made towards innovations that could save lives. Meanwhile in Dia.Lo.Gue, an art space located in South Jakarta, disaster preparedness takes on a whole other form — an art exhibition.

An extensively collaborative venture, the Earth Manual Project (EMP) is the effort of various organisations: the Japan Foundation Asia Center, Dia.lo.Gue, FFFAAARRR, LeBoYe Design, DUSDUKDUK and MILES Film, Design and Creative Center Kobe (KIITO) and Plust Arts.

Originating in Kobe, Japan, in 2013, EMP has now travelled to South East Asia and North America, exhibiting projects by artists, architects, designers and other creatives from all over the region.

B-Side chats with Adhi, program officer at the Japan Foundation, about the project and how participating artists have successfully integrated aesthetics with crucial and useful information for their audience.

Where did the initiative for Earth Manual Project come from?

The initiative came from a Japanese non-profit organisation called Design and Creative Center Kobe (KIITO). It is a community of designers and creative workers, most of whom have first-hand experience of natural disasters, including the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake that struck Kobe in 1995.

They realised that as creative workers, they had the ability to create modules for people to learn how to survive disasters while they were happening and after they had happened. All in an interesting way.

From then on, they started to collect stories and lessons learned, transforming them into interactive disaster education projects, while searching for similar projects in other disaster-affected areas (including South East Asia) to connect and learn from.

They eventually came to the Japan Foundation. At the time, the Japan Foundation was also preparing our own project on Disaster Education + Creativity, called the HANDs! Project (which also exhibited in EMP), targeting young professionals from various background in Asia.

The Japan Foundation has always understood that natural and man-made disasters are a collective issue in Asia. Disaster education has always been a main focus of the foundation’s projects. When KIITO came with this initiative, the Japan Foundation was more than happy to collaborate.

The purpose of this exhibition is to educate the society about disaster readiness. In the bigger picture, what is your personal take on using the arts as an educational tool?

With the Japan Foundation, I’ve been working on many disaster education projects. I have to admit it is not easy. Learning about disasters is very important. Knowing what to do when it happens and how to survive right after is very, very important.

However, only a few people want to talk, listen or learn about it because it’s a heavy topic, and because disaster is always closely tied to sadness and grief. And at other times, it’s too technical and boring.

I believe we need to change our approach and teaching methods. Creativity is needed. Designs need to be eye-catching to be tools of learning, whether it is a project or product, imbued with short and easy-to-digest step-by-step learning process. Once you get their attention and they’re interested in what you’re serving, they will start learning and digging for more information themselves.

My favourites are the projects that used games as tools to educate children. The children were playing while learning simple instructions on what to do before, during and in the aftermath of a disaster. So yes, creativity is a very important educational tool.

How do the artists combine learning about disaster management with aesthetics and creativity?

For this Earth Manual Project, we collaborated with many artists. One thing they had in common was research, either drawn from their own experience or experiences and stories that they had collected from survivors. Once they had enough valid data, they crafted their creative products or projects based on their own expertise.

How do you personally perceive disaster readiness in Asia? How do arts and this exhibition contribute to this matter?

Disaster awareness and readiness in Asia varies. Japan is quite ready compared with other Asian countries. Its disaster education is quite advanced, having implemented frequent disaster drills even at kindergartens. We cannot find this level of preparation in other Asian countries, especially in South East Asia and South Asia. For example in Indonesia, those who learned are those who have had first-hand experience. This has to change and honestly, it has in the past few years.

People now feel an urgency to learn about disaster education, and how to survive.

Not only for those in affected areas, but elsewhere too.

What kind of artworks are on exhibit and what are the artists trying to convey to the audiences?

In this exhibition, there are various projects and products. For example, Emergency! Kaeru Caravan! (Japan) is an emergency drill programme for families. This has become extremely popular in Japan for its engaging educational programming. It’s conducted in tandem with a popular toy exchange event. Versions of the caravan have travelled outside Japan and as of March 2018, the programme has been conducted in 19 countries.

Our HANDs! Project (Japan, Indonesia and other 7 Asian countries) is an annual youth exchange initiative to learn and produce innovative disaster prevention programmes, and it involves young professionals and students from nine countries in Asia with 100 participants and 27 outcome projects since 2014. It has reached out to more than 90,000 people on the ground. It has received significant media coverage in ASEAN countries and Japan.

Others include Core House (Indonesia), a minimal shelter unit designed to be built on and expanded at later points, providing disaster survivors the freedom to use the unit to suit their needs.

We have three goals for this exhibition. First, to create awareness. Second, to get people prepared. And third, to show creative workers in Indonesia that projects and products like what we exhibit exist and are important, and they can use their expertise as a learning tool to convey important messages. We want them to create their own Earth Manual Project.

Can we expect similar exhibitions in the future?

Yes! As of now, we are in the planning stage of conducting the next Earth Manual Project Exhibition in Yogyakarta by end of this year.

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