LSA/SEAS senior explores ethnobotany


Mahalina Dimacali sees the world as a vast collection of cultural landscapes. Her perspectives were heavily shaped growing up with her mother, who shared the values and importance of their Filipino heritage.

“I come from a culture where art and nature and community all intersect, and I hope to continue to honor that,” Dimacali said.

A photo of Mahalina Dimacali
Mahalina Dimacali

A self-described non-traditional student, Dimacali enrolled at U-M at age 27 and will graduate at 30. After high school, she worked for years in education, collections care, and maintenance in land-based museums.      

“During my time in these spaces, I really was seeing the harm in the way that we talked about the land, and I thought that it was a very Eurocentric and separate way of understanding the land, water and beings within. So, I was curious about what we could be doing to change that,” Dimacali said.

While taking courses at Washtenaw Community College, Dimacali discovered U-M’s Program in the Environment, a joint interdisciplinary undergraduate degree through LSA and the School for Environment and Sustainability.

After three years in the program, Dimacali has been able to focus on ethnobotany — the ways in which people interact with land and nature in regard to culture and society — with a minor in museum studies.

U-M’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens featured two of Dimacali’s exhibitions earlier this year.

“Rooting Reciprocity” paired plants with teachings written by global Indigenous community representatives. Each piece also was accompanied by a life-sized portrait that Dimacali created with Anishinabek artist Zoi Crampton.

“Kina n’da-nowendaaganag” (Anishinaabemowin for “all my relations”) featured artwork from 14 Anishinaabek artists that conveyed their relationship to the land.

Both exhibitions were received positively for honoring community voice and stepping outside of western-academic tradition.

Dimacali recently was hired as a full-time program coordinator at the U-M Museum of Art, where she will continue after graduating, and also will work on a public resource site for justice-informed museum practice. She also hopes to continue curating community-informed exhibitions in partnership with the Native American Student Association and the Oceanic Student Association.

In the future, Dimacali plans to return to pursue a graduate degree to focus her studies on Austronesian art and hopes to one day become a curator of this type of art at a museum.

“Historically, museums have been and continue to be places that cause harm, but I do think these spaces have the ability to lend themselves to providing space and resources to learn about each other. I see opportunities for repair and community building here,” Dimacali said.


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