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Stories have always been a great way for people to convey thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Unfortunately, they are not always available to everybody—because stories can remain trapped inside people or within cultures; because formal language and writing styles stay within the domain of experts; and because the look of books are driven by market conditions.

Over the years I have collected many stories of experiences with language access. Some tell of not being able to read a new language but seeing the foreign words as art instead, while others tell of being made to feel inadequate for not understanding a language. I have seen writing that puts form before content and I have also created books that look really unique. I want to bring all this together to make a book called FREEING! — freeing stories from language, freeing writing from words, and freeing the book from expectations.

FREEING! is about collecting stories of the openness or inaccessibility of language and culture, and turning them into a book of drawings.

A book of stories you don’t have to read but instead see, feel, and enjoy in your own way.

The design of the book will have no upside-down or right-side up, no wrong or right way of holding it.

The book will be for people of all ages and cultures, people who know English or don’t.

Sushmita Mazumdar is from India and speaks many langauges. She moved to Arlington in 1999 and after an 18-year career as an art director in India and the US she now works as a writer and artist. In 2013 she founded Studio PAUSE, where she encourages the community to explore creativity through art and stories.

FREEING! is inspired by the Asian art she has studied and helped others enjoy as a docent for 15 years, by the bookmaking projects she has taught families and children at local museums and schools, and by the work of local visual artists Mary Louise Marino and Paige Billin-Frye. 

Workshops:  Sushmita will be conducting workshops where guests can make art for the pages of their own books. The workshops are for all as Sushmita believes everyone can explore making art. There will also be book binding workshops. FREEING! will have many versions and formats to accommodate  all budgets and interests. There will be two culminating shows as well so stay tuned! #freeingbysushmitamazumdar

Sushmita is the recipient of an Arlington County Spotlight Art Grant FY2016 for FREEING! This program is supported in part by Arlington County through Arlington Cultural Affairs, a division of Arlington Economic Development, and the Arlington Commission for the Arts. 

A young girl shared the story of going to a birthday party and not understanding what her friend’s mom said. But the food was delicious anyways.
A young boy shared how he played soccer with his uncle who didn’t speak English. Unfortunately the boy had not learned Spanish.
Honduran baleadas vs American McDonalds!
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Sat, May 7, 2016, 1-3 pm., Columbia Pike Branch Library, Arlington, VA
Celebrate Asian Heritage by Sharing Your Stories
Join Arlington artist and writer Sushmita Mazumdar in her Book Art project FREEING! for which she is collecting stories of language access from the public, to turn them into art for all to experience. Share your stories and explore making them into artworks using simple materials. All stories and artwork will be displayed at Columbia Pike Branch Library in a reception on June 4, 2016 at 1 p.m. Read more about the project at #freeingbysush.

See photos from our earlier Story Sharing & Art Making events at Columbia Pike Branch Library here.


Kick-Off Event, Sat, Aug 22, 6-8 pm
Community PAUSE with writer Kim O’Connell
We kick-off this project with Arlington writer Kim O’Connell, reading her essay about her missed opportunity to learn her mother’s native language of Vietnamese, and how not understanding it sometimes creates a divide between them. And yet, even as O’Connell attempts to learn some phrases, they find other ways to connect—through a children’s song and cooking spring rolls together.

The reading will be accompanied by a display of versions of a treasured photo of Kim as a young child with her mother representing stages in their relationship, and the words of the Vietnamese song they sang.

With more than 22 years of publishing experience, Kim’s writings have appeared in Ladies Home Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Parks,, Civil War Times, and American History, among others. She is also involved in preserving and commemorating the settlement of Vietnamese refugees in Arlington after the end of the Vietnam War, when Clarendon was known as “Little Saigon.” More at

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