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Folk Arts Initiative

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Time for “ćejf: enjoying life the Bosnian way!

On April 5th, anthro and Honors  students in  “Aesthetics Across Cultures,” spent the afternoon with Bosnian community members in Syracuse. At the Bosnian Eurobazar, they learned to “ćejf” with  Samir Malovic, who is the data administrator for the Honors Program. Samir gave an engrossing and informative talk about the history of the Balkans and the culture of his native land, Bosnia, and introduced the students to “ćejf-ing.” According to Bosnians, the concept is untranslatable in English, but it is very important to understanding the everyday aesthetics of Bosnian culture. The students experienced one form of ćejf by eating savory Bosnian foods, indulging in traditional homemade sweets and listening to Bosnian music while drinking Bosnian coffee to their hearts content--all made and served by our Bosnian hosts, Kasim and Mrs. Muhovic and their children, Selma and Almas. 

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"On Saturday, October 26 anthropology honors students enrolled in "Folk Arts, Festival and Public Display" taught by Felicia Faye McMahon engaged with community members from DR Congo at Refugee Resettlement Services in Syracuse.  Through their storytelling Makene, Kiza and Tamone introduced students to their unique traditional arts. After the two hour program, the students enjoyed a traditional Somali meal at the nearby African International Restaurant, a popular community gathering place frequented by new immigrants to Syracuse from East Africa."

McMahon_Folk Art Oct 2013  McMahon_Folk Art Oct 2013_2


Folk Arts Faye McMahon

Cultural Connections:

McMahon Interviewed by Schweinfurth:


On March 22, 2012 Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement became a living classroom for undergraduates in ANT 300/HNR 340/360 (Folk Arts & Festival) who had a cultural history lesson while they learned to cook  traditional foods with  refugees in Syracuse--Lay Lay from Burma, Patience from DR Congo and Sadiya from Somalia. After a shared meal with their hosts our students washed all the dishes, pots and pans--while learning a few words in Swahili, Somali and  Karen (Burmese) languages AND singing a traditional Congolese song with Congolese singers, Kiza and Makere!

Folk Art Image  Folk Art Inititative 2011-12  Folk Art Initiative 2011-12 (3)      Folk Art Initiative 2011-12 (6)    Folk Art Initiative 2011-12 (8)    

Refugee artists from DR Congo, Burma, Somalia and South Sudan at SU Showcase:

McMahon give talk at human rights forum

Anthropology Honors Students Engage With the World in Our Own Backyard:

"McMahon talk focuses on folk arts as ’significant social capital’"

Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy Didinga Performance 9/20/09
Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies Lecture 8/11/09
SU Department of Anthropology Creates Folk Arts Lending Library for Community Members

Chicago Folklore Prize for 2008 is Felicia McMahon’s Not Just Child’s Play:  Emerging Tradition and the Lost Boys of Sudan

Folk Arts PhotosAs Chancellor Nancy Cantor has made clear in her Soul of Syracuse initiative, a truly great university looks beyond its own walls to serve the larger community. The Department of Anthropology is working toward establishing a Center for Regional and Transnational Cultures to connect with non-profit organizations in our region and to build on existing programs at Syracuse University and organizations across the region.

Our purpose is to document, interpret and celebrate regional cultural vernacular expressions, in the forms of oral literature, music, dance, and material culture of older immigrant groups as well as new refugee communities who have relocated to our region. The already existing regional cultures, ranging from the established communities like the Irish and Ukrainians, continue to draw influences from their original cultural centers, and this is further enriched by the arrival of new immigrants from those original homelands. In addition, more recent immigrants from Bhutan, Burundi, Burma, Sudan, Congo, Liberia, Bosnia, Kosovo and other new groups are establishing new cultural communities in our region, while at the same time maintaining significant transnational cultural ties with their former homelands. Our goal is to identify, to interpret and to present the formative cultural fermentation going on in the present regional landscape.

History of the Initiative:Dance

In 2005 Chris Decorse enlisted the help of folklorist and research professor Felicia “Faye” McMahon to develop Folk Arts: Soul of Syracuse, the first traditional music and arts public programming in the city of Syracuse that focused  on the traditions of refugees. These newcomers to Central New York included Bosnians, Congolese, Mandingo-Liberians, Sudanese DiDinga and Dinka, Burmese-Karen and Meskhetian Turks (Ahiska) of Russia.

Prior to 2005,  as a part-time instructor at Syracuse University Professor McMahon had invited refugee artists from Sudan, Bosnia and Ukraine to participate in her course, Beauty in Cross-Cultural Perspective which she taught during the university Folk Arts Liberianwide Symposium on Beauty. With modest support from the New York Council for the Humanities, as a research associate in the university's Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts she facilitated "The Wars of Our Fathers Are not Ours," a talk-performance with elders and traditional singers who were refugees of the civil war in Sudan. Also, as acquisitions editor for Voices: Journal of New York Folklore she published several articles authored by other folklorists working with refugee artists (e.g. see Voices fall/winter 2006, special issue on Diaspora/Homeland). Modest funding from the New York State Council on the Arts as well as the New York Council for the Humanities and collaboration with local church volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul (Syracuse) and Tabernacle Baptist Church (Utica) as well as caseworkers at the Center for New Americans and Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Services supported three small-scale refugee arts programs on the university campus and at the Community Folk Art Center in downtown Syracuse. These talk-performances featured speakers and traditional artists of Ahiska, Burmese-Karen, Sudanese-DiDinga and Bosnian heritages all of whom reside in the cities of Utica and Syracuse.

Grants co-authored by Chris DeCorse and Faye such as the New York State Music Fund Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the New York State Council on the Arts funded the first Folk Arts Soul of Syracuse Traditional Music Festival for refugee and Folk Arts Meskehtiannew immigrant musicians, held on October 27, 2007 at The Warehouse in downtown Syracuse. The all day festival focused on music, song and dance of the Ahiska (Russia), DiDinga (Sudan), Congolese, Liberian, Bosnian and Karen (Burma) attracted over 500 visitors and performers from the city and the suburbs as well as throughout Central New York, including Ithaca and Utica. Exposure at the festival meant additional invitations for some of the musicians: The DiDinga appeared on WCNY-TV and sang live on WAER radio; honoraria were provided by the LeMoyne College Muslim Student Association and SUNY-Cortland for the Ahiska and the Congolese to perform traditional music and dance at public programs on those campuses in November 2007. In December 2007 a group of four individuals including Faye began collaborating with members of the Lost Boys Chapter in Syracuse on The Lost Boys Cows Project. Young male refugees from four ethnic groups in Sudan are working with clay to create traditional images of their former pastoral lives in Sudan where as children they learned to sculpt from clay and to make colors for glaze made from lizard's manure, tree sap or fire ash. Local residents and businesses have donated clay, glazes and the use of a kiln.

Folk Arts BurmaIn Spring 2008 Professor McMahon taught “Folk Arts, Festival and Public Display, “ an undergraduate course offered through the Soling and Honors programs. Students in the course assisted local traditional artists who demonstrated their traditions on the Quad during Mayfest at the first “Meet Our City Neighbors” event. In the forty by sixty foot Folk Arts Tent, visitors were introduced to folk artists from Onondaga, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Congolese, Liberian, Sudanese, and Ahiska communities. In fall 2008 “Migrating Memories, Migrating Arts,” will be taught by Professor McMahon and provide Honors students with another opportunity to work with refugee and immigrant artists and musicians in our city.


Future of the Initiative:

Amid the living and vibrant cultural milieu of Syracuse, the Anthropology Department is in a position to provide sustenance in the midst of plenty. We plan to expand this Initiative to develop a Center for the Study of Regional and Transnational Cultures.

Rationale:Folk Arts DiDinga

The Department of Anthropology recognizes the need to take a leadership role in the emerging field of Cultural Policy. The establishment of the Center will enable Syracuse University to serve as an interdisciplinary node that supports the teaching, research, and service of faculty, students, and community members in their joint explorations of intangible cultural heritage and material culture, especially of the new cultural groups living in Central New York. Faculty and students will work to identify and to explore the formative cultural fermentation going on in the present regional landscape. Central New York provides a veritable laboratory for research and analysis on the relationship between minority cultures and nationalism in the formation of cultural identity in North America:

  • Anthropologists and folklorists can assist policy makers in understanding the primacy of culture in building civic capacity.
  • In Central New York the already existing regional cultures, ranging from the established communities like the Irish and Ukrainians, continue to draw influences from their original cultural centers, and this is further enriched by the arrival of new immigrants from those original homelands.
  • Significant numbers of more refugees and new emigrants from Bhutan, Bosnia, Burma, China, Congo, Kosovo, Liberia, Sudan and others are establishing new cultural communities in our region and throughout the United States, while at the same time maintaining significant transnational cultural ties with their former homelands.
  • Policy decisions have an impact on education, immigration and resettlement, food policies and international law.
  • Ethnographic research conducted by anthropologists and trained folklorists can provide the documentation of the vernacular which in turn can inform policy decisions.
  • Documenting regional and transnational cultures will in turn ensure the preservation of these regional and transnational cultural resources for use by the members of each cultural group as well as researchers.
  • Preservation requires the creating, maintaining and digitizing of a systematic archives for the preservation of intangible cultural heritage materials, especially of new refugee groups
  •  There is a need to provide adequate venues for cultural performances to showcase traditional performances, especially those of new refugee groups now residing in diaspora in Central New York and throughout the U.S.
  • Work needs to be done with media to ensure high profile of the contributions of new and older immigrant groups to American society through sponsorship of their public performances
  • Student interdisciplinary service learning through the anthropology department will have an orientation toward culture rather than social work. This means expanding the service component through engagement of undergraduate and graduate students in the living, ethnically diverse culture of the region.