Listening to the stories, seeing the faces and hands of the 117 people who shared them, I was struck by a sense of creative limitlessness. Jonathan Harris is an artist and a storyteller. His medium is the Internet, and he uses it in ways that are fresh. He wakes me up.
Harris’s latest project is Balloons of Bhutan. Even if we know nothing else about the tiny, mountainous country, nearly all of us have heard about Gross National Happiness. In 1972 the newly crowned king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided to focus on four pillars of happiness instead of economic growth. The Royal Government of Bhutan defines the pillars as “economic self-reliance, environmental preservation, cultural promotion, and good governance.”
For close to 40 years, the world has been intrigued and influenced by Bhutan. So in 2007 Jonathan Harris decided to spend two weeks there, asking 117 people five questions:
- What makes them happy
- What is their happiest memory
- What is their favorite joke
- What is their level of happiness between 1 and 10
- If they could make one wish, what it would be
He gave them one balloon for each level of happiness and wrote their wish on a balloon of their favorite color. On the last day, all those balloons were strung up on the Dochula Pass, alongside rows of prayer flags. They bobbed in the wind, carrying something of the spirit of each person who shared a piece of who they were.
The stories are all online. Meet 19-year Tashi Dema, a farm worker with one child, whose wish is to keep a clean house and start a business. Listen to 10-year-old Dendup Namgay say in perfect English if he were king he would “help the people and serve the country.” Smile when Salamon Ali, a 37-year-old road worker from India, recalls his happiest memory, a special dinner.
The photography is stunning. The project honours the people who are featured. I meant to spend a short time dipping into the stories, but I got caught up in them. You will too.
Thanks, Jonathan Harris.