Sati, your bio reveals that you have traveled to far flung places across the globe before landing in Honolulu. I was fortunate enough to visit Maui as a child and remember clearly stumbling upon the locals performing traditional dances for the tourists. It left quite an impression! Do you feel the local flavour of the places your pass through, or live in, find their way into your artistic endeavours?
Good question. Sometimes I do, yes. But the stories that truly haunt me, that I can’t let go of, are the ones born in a landscape that I am quite familiar with, such as my childhood in Massachusetts, or in Hawaii (where I have now lived for 20 years).
You work at an art museum. The collection of artefacts for the viewing public is such a fascinating, specialized field. In your work at the museum, is there an object or an art piece you look forward to seeing every day?
This is a hard question to answer because there are many. Having worked at the museum for nearly 16 years, a number of the works now feel like old friends! If I had to choose only one, though, it would be our 11th- century Chinese wooden sculpture of Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion, or mercy. It is one of our most popular works, and this enlightened lady is far ahead of her time because she transcends gender– historically she has been depicted variously as either male or female.
I began working at the museum only a few weeks after 9/11, and it was such a sad, unsettled time. I was far from my East Coast family & friends, and worried about them. I often visited Guanyin during breaks to absorb some of that serene energy. I suspect I will be visiting her a lot in 2017, too. 😉
Having experienced a melange of cultures, did you happen to pick up any interesting folklore, folk tales, or fairy tales in your travels?
Certainly. Ghost stories and other supernatural tales have always interested me, and they are told everywhere in the world. In much of the United States, though, there is generally a fair bit of skepticism that accompanies the telling. People say things like: “I don’t really believe in ghost stories, but…” Perhaps with a little laugh or an eye-roll. In other areas of the world, there is more acceptance. In some places, it isn’t even a question. It is understood that our ancestors might come back to visit, and that we should probably take care of them in the afterlife, just in case. This sort of thinking has various origins, including ancestor worship and Buddhism, and has permeated the social fabric of many countries.
For example, in China, ghosts are usually vengeful. So there are things that are done to appease them–such as the Hungry Ghost Festival, which is celebrated in other parts of Asia, too-Singapore and Malaysia, to name a couple of places. Other Asian countries with strong beliefs in ghosts include Thailand, Japan, and Tibet.
While living in Japan I became fascinated with female ghosts. They are hard core–tough and seriously scary, considered capable of all kinds of terrifying things (remember The Ring??) in their quest for revenge. There is one lass with vampire-like tendencies called the yuki-onna, or snow woman, who is believed to freeze men to death during sexual intercourse. Other ghosts are known to devour children, remove testicles, or cause natural disasters, among other things. Not the sorts of creatures you want to bump into in the middle of the night!
This doesn’t really qualify as a folk tale, but you can’t talk about female Japanese ghosts without mentioning the Tale of Genji, (c. 1008), considered by many to be the world’s first novel, and written by a woman–Lady Murasaki Shikibu. One of the major themes of this complex work is revenge, and female ghosts and instances of spirit possession recur throughout the pages of the story.
You chose to tell the story of Beauty and the Beast, a beloved tale with roots in the story of Cupid and Psyche. However, one could say we encounter beasts all the time in our daily lives, whether it’s someone who we clash with at work or in the home. Have you any experiences with real life “beasts”?
Well, my first passion is reading. But I have a young child and work full time. So my biggest challenge is taking time away from reading–and, yes, family–so that I can create something of my own. But although (to me) reading is like breathing, unless I am occasionally writing as well, I do not feel balanced. We escape when we read, and we escape when we write. But the escape when we write allows us to explore our psyches and work out issues in a way that we cannot when reading someone else’s story. I mean, we might identify strongly with a tale and feel tremendous empathy. But it is a different experience. It doesn’t provide the same cathartic release that writing does.