Above, William Jerard Coleman, of North Chicago and Waukegan, in Udaipur, India experiencing Holi, the springtime festival of colors. Coleman is now in Nepal where he volunteers at a local school.
Text and photos by William Jerard Coleman
Dear Travel Diary:
After weeks of amazing travel around northern India, I have made it to my first volunteer project. I am currently residing at Gukural Academy in Dhanghadi, Kailali, in far west Nepal.
I never believed in the phrase ‘I’m in the middle of nowhere.’ I prefer the phrase ‘I’m in the center of somewhere.’
I love to volunteer because through this act, I find access to the truest nature of what we refer to as “foreign culture.” You see, when most of us travel, we seek desperately a “sanitized” view of other cultures, other people and situations that are peculiar to us. We want to find a place in a foreign land that is “not foreign,” a place that is similar to back home. We want people to live and behave the way we live and behave back home. I find this a distant form of colonization and imperialism.
I never believed in the phrase “I’m in the middle of nowhere.” I prefer the phrase “I’m in the center of somewhere.” By calling a place “nowhere,” we invalidate its importance as it stands and create a negative essence of its current state. We then seek to make it more like a place we find familiar. Only then do we allow our minds to consider it “somewhere” or “worthy” of attention, or spending time.
But in my opinion, any and every place on the planet is worthy of attention and of spending time. If there are people there, they are worthy of attention and time, and if there are no people there, then that space can be used to spend time and pay attention to myself, the environment and the animals. This makes every step I take, no matter which direction, a “center of somewhere.”
When I volunteer, I have to see a place as a center of somewhere in order to understand what revolves around that center. Only then can I truly see what is needed to help. Only then can I understand how to revolve around the center alongside the other elements, instead of trying to make the elements revolve around me. This is how I travel and this is how I connect. In this very raw and very realistic view, I see the world, the humans and the environment. It is how I establish relativity and it gives me the energy and bravery needed to not only dissect every element of what at first feels foreign, but to enjoy every single minute of it.
There is an art to turning a stranger into a brother, a foreigner into a sister and evolving the perception of an unfamiliar person into a relative. This is my art, my writings, my paintings, even my photography; these are only extensions of that original art form. My life is an exhibition and the gallery doors are always open.
William Jerard Coleman, co-founder of The Light Years Project, is a freelance artist and global nomad. He was born and raised in North Chicago, and previously lived in Waukegan. Previously he worked for Underwriters Laboratories in Northbrook.
In 2012, after ten successful years in the corporate sector, he presented his first exhibition “Recondite Mechanics” in the loft venue of Space 1858 in Chicago.
Having established a firm grip on his dedication to artistry, he moved to Paris to further develop himself and evolve his approach to poetic influence, form & technique. After a spring in Paris, he then traveled to India where he spent time focusing purely on photography while volunteering in local orphanages and schools in the area. After developing The Light Years Project alongside Gemma Kiddy of London, he headed back to India to spend a year presenting his work through pop-up exhibitions in the streets of Fort Kochi, Kerala, India.
He volunteered for the Vikram Sarabhai Science Foundation in the local Indian village of Perumbavoor where he was commissioned to develop an exhibition for the boutique homestay, Niyati, of Southern India. In 2015, he returned home where he produced and presented his first documentary “BLACK – (N) (V) (ADJ)” while completing an artist residency in the historic Karcher Art Lofts of Waukegan.
Coleman is currently traveling around India & South East Asia, promoting The Light Years Project and adding to his expanding portfolio of artistic works. For information about The Light Years Project visit https://www.facebook.com/TheLightYearsProject/timeline.
What is the Light Years Project? “It is an altruistic attempt to give art to the worlds from which it was inspired, through grassroot mechanics and the act of gifting.” When I visit a place and get inspired to create works of art, I go back to that place and provide inspiration to the people through either pop-up art exhibitions, volunteering efforts or some other method that reaches and impacts them directly. Right now I fund the project myself. I do sell photographs and other artworks based on request. I am working now to set up an online storefront for all my available pieces.” – William Jerard Coleman