Thursday, March 26, 2015

DIY Art: Framed Places of Memories

Two months ago, I went to China and spent a week in Chengdu, Sichuan (my hometown) visiting my relatives. I don't get to visit often, probably only once every two years or so. Every time I go back, I'm struck by how much the city has changed since my childhood and continues to change. The roads get wider and the buildings get taller; one lane streets open up into two lanes and, just a few years later, expand into four lanes. Low row storefronts that had just converted into six story walk-ups are now being knocked down again to make way for high-rise apartment buildings four to seven times as tall.

The rate of change is astounding, at times disorienting, and most of all, bittersweet. I'm proud to see the once quaint city of my birthplace transform into a urban metropolis and emerge as an international travel destination, but as mom and pop noodle shops give way to Pizza Hut's and street market vendors are ushered indoors, I couldn't help but feel that I'm losing the place I once knew so dearly.

So much of our memories are attached to places. Familiar sights and landmarks orient us and endure as the backdrop of our past. What if those places ceased to exist? Would my stories and memories become less real and more like legends?

I knew I wanted to preserve the memories of my birthplace and childhood with a map. I also wanted it to be more than just a piece of paper stashed away in a drawer; I wanted it to be a visible reminder and a portal to where I came from. So why not frame it as art?

A map is a great way to memorialize a special place or your travels. More than pictures, which are individual snapshots of specific moments in time, a map provides context and can unit entire stories that are representative of a period of time.

In my framed map of Chengdu, I can see my entire childhood. I can pinpoint the locations of my childhood home, my grandparents' homes, my elementary school, local parks and shopping centers. In these places lie the memories of spendings weekends at my grandparents' house with my cousins, going to the park for picnics with my entire extended family, and bustling summer evenings at the night market. I can literally trace the route I used to take walking from my school to my grandparents' house.

Another thing I really like about this simple project is that it serves as an understated yet meaningful piece of art that can fit anywhere in your home. It holds a travel story without having to be a photo collage, and it's certainly a conversation piece.


Picture frame (I used an Ikea "RIBBA" frame)


1. Open your map and lay it on a flat surface. Use the mat from the photo frame to see which area of the map you want to display.

2. Once you've decided on the map area, hold the mat in place and use a pen to trace around the entire outside edge of the mat. Cut out the section with scissors.

3. Put it all together and you're done! That was easy :)

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