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A Dinosaur With Butterfly Wings

By Daniel Whitaker, EARJ MuseOn Curator

“I am a dinosaur with butterfly wings”, reads the writing on one of the instruments in the new EARJ MuseOn exhibit “I am”. Although a bit playful, this inscription, or testimony, is one of several creative, personal, or even revealing responses to the main question posed to the students and visitors during this new show: Who are you?

A written testimony on one of the "I Am" exhibit horns.
A written testimony on one of the “I Am” exhibit horns.

If you avoid answering this question by simply responding with your name, you will notice that this query can go deep into one’s character or essence. ‘Who am I?’ may take a lifetime to answer completely (if one is truly able to do so in the end). And perhaps it is in fact, an unfair question, in that we can be so many things during our lives (and yes, that is also OK). But it is exactly this that we seek to provoke the EARJ students with; a question that has no definite answer. It’s maybe a bit like taking a Rorschach test; you answer with your interpretation of a shapeless image.

And how would you go by answering such a question? What strategies would you choose in order to construct a response? This new exhibit has a narrative structure that presents itself as a strategy proposal used to respond to the question about who we are. Starting from a neuroscience perspective and how consciousness works in the brain (the most basic form of identity is consciousness, wouldn’t you agree?), going into human migration, what constitutes our bodies, and even discussing how the algorithm might be understood to be the contemporary form of a portrait.

Student expressing identity.
Student expressing identity.

The MuseOn exhibits are made of questions. Many times, these questions are highly open in form and deeply conceptual. Like the Rorschach test, answers are interpretive… but the important thing is to have YOUR answer. And since this is a museum that embraces different points of view and opinions, what you discover, question, or even disagree with is welcome to be shared. This is also the first time that the MuseOn has designed an exhibit starting from the IB framework. ‘Who We Are’ is one of the transdisciplinary themes used in the PYP, and is coincidentally the first theme used this school year in many of the Lower School grades. But interestingly enough, the question of ‘Who We Are’ also seems to intersect other transdisciplinary themes, if we look at them within a broader scope. Can’t ‘Who We Are’ also connect with ‘How We Express Ourselves’? Or also with ‘Where We Are In Place And Time’? Could it also overlap with ‘How The World Works’ and even ‘Sharing The Planet’? It certainly seems so. Visiting students are encouraged to explore the MuseOn exhibit and connect the theme with the units they have studied (or are about to). This way the museum creates context with the school curriculum and enhances student engagement and learning.

Students using the instruments.
Students using the instruments.

The end of each visit is done by inviting the participants (be them students, faculty, or others) to use one of the hanging instruments/tools that are displayed as an educational installation, and voice to themselves and others present, who they conclude that they really are. They then complete the activity by writing the testimonies of what they have said onto the used instruments. The experiences, conclusions, and thoughts remain inside the museum in written form!

“I am my soul”, “I am human” are just some of the affirmations that have been written on these communication and expression tools. All the inscriptions are a snapshot of who each feels that they are at that moment…a small conclusion for themselves at that moment in space and time. It takes a lot of courage to be able to spell out that ‘I am non-binary’, or even that ‘I am nobody’. All answers are important, but some have emerged from a personal path of discovery (or doubt).

It is truly gratifying to see how the many visitors have contributed with their own brave testimonies. And perhaps, by giving voice to the participants, they can bit by bit say (and shout out) that they are also dinosaurs with butterfly wings!

View of the exbibit's instruments/horns.
View of the exbibit’s instruments/horns.

This article is available and can be accessed in Spanish here.

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Escola Americana of Rio de Janeiro
Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro (EARJ, the American School of Rio de Janeiro) is a twin-campus international school located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The school was founded in 1937 as a private, independent, coeducational, non-denominational day school. EARJ offers an educational program from Nursery through Grade 12 for students of all nationalities.

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