LUMUKU Interview!

Last week, our Craftland member Heather got the chance to visit Ryan Dean, the creator of LUMUKU. Here is the interview with Ryan about his bilingual playing cards!

1. I think it’s so interesting that your business Lumuku was partially inspired by your time running a studio for Turkish children in Istanbul! Please tell me more!!!!!

That’s totally true. I worked in Istanbul for five summers with some of the most enthusiastic, fun, and creative people I have ever met. Our goal was to help Turkish children learn English; the philosophy behind the program was that kids will learn so much more when they are actively engaged and having fun. I could not believe some of the activities that my co-workers dreamed up or the lengths they took to pull off all their outlandish ideas. The whole experience changed my life and was such a refreshing approach to learning. Although that program is inimitable, it sparked my own venture, LUMUKU.

2. Is there meaning behind LUMUKU?

The name LUMUKU is actually a tribute to my coworkers from Istanbul. We became such close friends while working together over the summers, but also had to spend so much time away from each other in the off-season. It’s tough to be far apart from the people you love and so as a way to express our affection for one another, we began to sign off our emails with “Love you, Miss you” and other variations of that phrase. Eventually we simplified it into acronyms and “Love you, Miss you, Kiss you”  became LUMUKU. So, the name LUMUKU is a reminder of all the many people I love and miss from my time in Turkey.

3. Your bilingual playing cards have been very popular with our customers. Please tell me how you developed the cards and what the feedback has been!

When I first started brainstorming ideas for dual language ways to engage children, I actually had envisioned wooden toys. I’m not a woodworker, though, and quickly realized that learning a whole new trade was not the place to begin! Although I’m inexperienced at working with wood, I have over a decade of experience as a printmaker! So, the question was: How can I combine print with some of the basics of language learning? I arrived at playing cards. They’re printed on paper and incorporate numbers, a simple but essential piece of knowledge when learning languages. It just took a little design tweaking to make them into dual language learning tools. The feedback has been great and I’ll be printing a new edition of the French and Portuguese cards soon!

4. We carry your English-Spanish, English-Portuguese and English-French dual language playing cards. How many languages do you speak?!

In addition to English, I speak German and Spanish. They say getting past the third language is most difficult but who knows what the future holds! Years ago when I was studying in Berlin, I actually took a Spanish language class at the university to keep up with my Spanish. It was a weird challenge because the professor would speak in Spanish 90% of the time and then explain herself in German when the class needed help. When she would do this, it wouldn’t dawn on me right away that she had changed languages; I was comprehending both. It was a cool experience!

I also know a tiny bit of Turkish and Russian too. As far as LUMUKU goes, though, I’m fortunate to have a lot of friends who have translated the card games into their own mother tongues. I am super grateful for their help!

The artwork above the table is by Lara Henderson

5. I would love to hear more about your Hands Are An Extension of Our Hearts and Change Is Within Reach prints and your experience and involvement with AS220.

After the murder of George Floyd, I was spending a lot of time pulling prints for the protests. For a while, I had been helping by re-printing one of my old designs and also printing the poster designs of other people to help prepare for marches. Nafis White, who was leading the effort, gave me some really valuable insight and said, “Rye, this is important work but I also want to see what else is inside of you.” After hearing her words, I reflected a lot. It led to these two posters and a few more. 

6. I’ve loved seeing your recent public work and exhibition at AS220! What projects are you working on?

Thanks so much for that support. The public work started as a way for me and Lara Henderson to collaborate and have some fun during the winter; we felt like the city needed a little boost of energy… and a painting of a rainbow doing a backflip will do that! Why shouldn’t there be a squid with a jetpack flying around downtown? Who doesn’t like prismatic diamonds scattered all around? We’re happy to keep adding to our city’s visual landscape.

My recent exhibition Out of the Box stemmed out of that too. Originally, I had planned for it to be a show of silk screen prints but opted to make my little characters into masonite cut-outs that I created with a laser cutter and paint. They felt like they had more presence that way. Now that the exhibition is over, some of those are going to become public art too!

7. What music/album are you currently listening to?!

I’ve been loving anything by NOVA ONE. Actually, they released a cover of Sade’s “By Your Side” at some point during the pandemic and in all honesty, I struggle to find the words for how beautiful it is.

Also Kufa Castro’s new song, “Vámanos” featuring Violeta has become the song of the summer. Please do yourself a favor and check that out if you don’t know it. It’s always playing when I get to work in the studio because it lifts my mood and energy.  Kufa is another incredible local artist who inspires me!

8. I’ve been excited to see a growing number of Craftland artists creating work in Spanish. I would love to hear your thoughts on the recent push/motivation/priority for artists to use their medium to connect with bilingual and Spanish speaking customers!

I think it’s awesome and super important! Languages are beautiful! I imagine that what you're seeing in Craftland stems from a desire to connect. Personally, I hope my language learning games bring people together on many levels. Card games are a way to share space and have quality time. We communicate naturally while playing, even without words when we laugh and smile. I’ve found that games are an effective way to learn too, because taking risks is both an inherent part of playing games and is also necessary in learning languages! So, my hope is that people not only bond through playing together but also learn along the way!

9. What’s next for you?!

Good question! In addition to creating more public art, I’m aiming to release two new dual language games by the end of the year. Be on the lookout! One will focus on things around the house; the other will feature the great outdoors! I’ve been working on the illustrations for a while and I think people will enjoy them. I certainly do! Wish me luck!

Thank you to Ryan for a delightful interview. We're so happy you're part of our Craftland family! You can find Lumuku's work at lumuku.co or on their Instagram.


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