Obama Family Visits East-West Center

President Obama and his family paid a New Year’s Day visit to the East-West Center to view an exhibition on the anthropological field work that the president’s late mother, EWC Alumna Ann Dunham, conducted in Indonesia. The family also visited the Center’s well-known Japanese garden.

The president, his wife and daughters, and his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng and her family spent about half an hour in a private viewing of the East-West Center Gallery exhibition, which includes photographs and notebooks from Dunham’s years of field research, as well as artifacts from her personal collection, including examples of metal-smithing, jewelry, leatherwork, textiles, ceramics, and basketry.

At the president’s suggestion, the family also made an unscheduled visit to the Center’s Japanese garden, where the family held a memorial service for Dunham after she passed away in 1995.

U.S. President Barack Obama and his family visit the East-West Center on New Year’s Day.   (Photo: AFP, Mandel Ngan)

Dunham, who was an East-West Center graduate student fellow in the 1970s, is recognized for her exceptional anthropology work, which focused on small craft industries in the villages of Java. Her devotion to social and economic development was evidenced by her pioneering work in the field of microfinance and gender equity.

The Obamas were welcomed to the East-West Center by EWC President Charles E. Morrison and Gallery Curator Michael Schuster, who also curated the exhibit.

Schuster said that the president and his family seemed moved by the familiar objects from his mother’s collection and the broader context of her work.

“I think it was really a meaningful private family moment for them, to be able to experience the context and importance of his mother’s work in a very quiet, personal way,” Schuster said.

Morrison who accompanied the family to the garden, said that the Obamas spent a few moments looking at the carp in the stream, and the president spoke of his parents meeting on the Manoa campus. He told his daughters that he had played in the garden as a child.

“It is clearly a place of deep significance to him, as it is for many families connected to the East-West Center community,” Morrison said. “It was a privilege to be able to welcome him home to the Center.”

The exhibition, titled “Through Her Eyes, Ann Dunham’s Field Work in Indonesia,” includes many objects loaned by Maya Soetoro-Ng, who has given several talks at the gallery since the exhibition opened in September.

“Each item and photograph in this exhibit represents a connection, a relationship, an adventure that my mother had,” Soetoro-Ng said. “For me the exhibit is about the value of courage – the kind of courage that allows women like her to forge connections and make a family with people from other cultures on the other side of the globe – the kind of courage that takes the raw material of her childhood and does something unexpected with it.”

The exhibition will remain on display through Jan. 8. For more information, visit http://arts.eastwestcenter.org.

Click here to view a CNN feature video of the exhibition.