Benjamin Fairfield 🔈
When I first moved to Honolulu, I served as a social worker doing outreach to homeless veterans. I later moved to the fundraising office, and one year we tried a mail solicitation to local businesses in the downtown neighborhoods near the shelter. One of the response forms came back anonymously with a handwritten note that read, “I’ll give you money if you use it to ship them all to Kaho‘olawe. Get rid of those bums!” Kaho’olawe is an uninhabited island that was used for decades as a bombing range by the military. The idea that there is an “away” that we can send unwanted people, or things, to, is an unfortunately persistent and utterly false trope. Exile and scapegoating are convenient non-solutions in that they prevent us from self-examination, from dealing with systemic issues, and from constructive, compassionate, and collective action.
The string instrument used in Kaho’olawe was custom-made from found objects. To learn more about how it, and similar instruments, are made, follow Ben on YouTube @benf5222.
About the Artist
Benjamin Fairfield received his MA and PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, where he serves as lecturer and founder of the MUS311 Thai Ensemble, a place-based learning course where students scavenge rubbish from campus and create their own recycled instruments. He has led instrument workshops at the East-West Center Gallery, Downtown Arts Center, and various schools; taught music at Ala Wai Elementary School; produced a high school garage band rock album in Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer; and has published various academic articles on music in Ethnomusicology, The Malaysian Journal of Music, Asian Music, and Ethnomusicology Review. His projects are curated at his website, kanikaopala.com or on Instagram #MUS311.