When Statues Hurt

In an open letter, academics and artists have urged NYC Mayor de Blasio to remove five public monuments and statues they say exhibit and promote racism.

The letter’s signers, who include the well-known artist and art historian Deborah Willis and the art critic and theoretician Hal Foster, argue that the monuments and markers honor figures who represent a variety of racist views and practices.

Importantly, we must ask: Do these statues qualify, though, as art? If so, why so? If not, why not? And why should we ask such questions in the first place? Do these questions matter against the larger issues of racism and prejudice?

The statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, on 5th Avenue at 103rd Street, is one monument petitioners want removed from public display in the city. Credit The New York Times

Questions worthy of our consideration…

New Series Announcement

From Plato to Public Enemy, people have debated the relationship between music and justice—rarely arriving at much consensus over the art form’s ethics and aesthetics, uses and abuses, virtues and vices. So what roles can music and musicians play in agendas of justice? And what should musicians and music scholars do if—during moments of upheaval, complacency, ennui—music ends up seemingly drained of its beauty, power, and relevance?

University of Michigan Press is proud to announce a new series, Music and Social Justice.  This endeavor welcomes projects that shine new light on familiar subjects such as protest songs, humanitarian artists, war and peace, community formation, cultural diplomacy, globalization, and political resistance. Simultaneously, the series invites authors to critique and expand on what qualifies as justice—or, for that matter, music—in the first place. Music and Social Justice lends a platform for writers who wish to submit traditional scholarly monographs. The editors are equally enthusiastic to work with authors and artists who wish to unsettle the discursive norms of conventional academic prose in the name of rhetorical experimentalism, anti-capitalism, neurodiversity, and radical collaboration.

Music and Social Justice has assembled an Advisory Board who are active and activist leaders in their fields: Naomi André, Suzanne G. Cusick, Ellie M. Hisama, Mark Katz, Alejandro L. Madrid, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, Carol J. Oja, and Shana L. Redmond. The Advisory Board will work closely with the editors to seek out prospective authors, open lines of communication, and review submissions.

For more details on the impetus behind the series, including short interviews with the Advisory Board, please see http://musicologynow.ams-net.org/2017/10/announcing-music-and-social-justice-new.html.

Please direct queries and proposals to series editors William Cheng (william.cheng -at- dartmouth.edu) and Andrew Dell’Antonio (dellantonio -at- austin.utexas.edu), or University of Michigan Press Editorial Director Mary Francis (mfranci -at- umich.edu).

Chicago’s Floating Museum

How can art transform a landscape? And who have access to such transformation? The River Assembly Project not only confirms that art has the power to transform, but also declares that each and all should have access to art’s potentials.

Turning an industrial barge into The Floating Museum, Chicago’s local artists, with various arts and cultural organizations, came together to “create temporary, site-responsive museum spaces to activate sites of cultural potential throughout Chicago’s neighborhoods.”

According to the creators of the project, first it’s important to talk “with community leaders, organizations, and artists who are deeply invested in their neighborhood.” Then they “nurture new connections between communities, institutions, and the people these spaces serve.” The results of this process are “installations are platforms for engaging communities and celebrating the art and culture being produced by our neighborhoods.” In doing so, The River Assembly Project “bring[s] together the work of … dispersed locations in a traveling museum that celebrates the energy” of Chicago.

The Floating Museum showcases visual arts, media, and performances by more than 30 local and national artists, including:

Miguel Aguilar (aka Kane One), Tiaybe Bledsoe, Marcus Alleyne, Hebru Brantley, Marcus Davis, Asia Delores, Bill Douglas, Louis DeMarco, Kameco Dodd, Marcus Evans, Assaf Evron, Krista Franklin, Maria Gaspar, Tracie D. Hall, Jeff Harris, Adam Hines, Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford, Yashua Klos, Gaby Ibarra, Kopano (performance), Faheem Majeed, Christopher Meerdo, Ciera Missick, Cecil McDonald Jr, Jesse McLean, MonAerie (performance), Derek Moore, Dan Peterman, Cheryl Pope, Pope.L, Fernando Ramirez, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Cauleen Smith, Sheila Smith, Edra Soto, Lan Tuazon, Maria Villarreal, Roman Villarreal, JGV/WAR (J. Gibran Villalobos & Wil A. Ruggiero), Amanda Williams, Bernard Williams, Avery R. Young & De Deacon Board (performance)

Music and Social Justice Resources Project

The Society for Ethnomusicology is currently collecting news items to include in its online repository: applied project news, educational outreach program news, organizational endeavors, and research projects.  We are grateful to and inspired by the Society for Ethnomusicology and their thoughtful attention to connections between music and social justice.

The Society states:

The Society for Ethnomusicology’s Music and Social Justice Resources Project is a repository of material on how people worldwide are currently using music to address issues of social conflict, exclusion/inclusion, and justice. We welcome notices on public events (e.g., rallies, performances, conferences) and other general news; proposals/reports on projects involving community engagement, activism, or advocacy; syllabi, lesson plans, and other educational material; information on activist organizations; and research articles.

To submit initiatives related to music and social justice for inclusion in the online repository, go here and follow the online instructions.

By way of example, meet Musicians Without Borders. Founded officially in 2000, this world-wide organization has been working with local musicians and community organizations to build sustainable community music programs. Why music? The organization states:

Where war has raged, people need everything to return to life: food, water, shelter, clothing, medicine. But more than anything, people need hope. To reconcile, people need empathy. To heal, people need connection and community.

Music creates empathy, builds connection and gives hope.

Rwanda Youth Music is one of many of Musicians Without Borders’ projects.

 

 

The Very Decency of Paula Vogel’s “Indecent”

Paula Vogel’s Indecent is a play about our past, present, and future; it is a play about the many ways society judges its people; it is a play about GLBT rights; it is a play about the good and bad of humanity; but it is also a love story—a love for theater and the transformative powers the theater holds for audiences and players alike.

Structured as a play within a play, Indecent retells the history of Sholem Asch’s 1907 Yiddish drama, God of Vengeance. After touring the world to critical acclaim, and at its Broadway debut at the Apollo Theater on 42nd Street, Asch’s work was shut down in 1923 for obscenity; all the actors were arrested given the drama’s exploration of same-sex love. Asch’s work is pinned against the backdrop of anti-Semitism—additionally, general anti-immigration sentiments—in the United States. So largely, Vogel’s Indecent illustrates the ways in which the oppressed maintain their identities and dignity when pushed to the margins.

Interestingly, Asch’s play is as relevant today as it was, then, when it toured the world. And so Vogel’s prism-view of God of Vengeance refracts the very essence of today with incredible clarity and precision. Vogel states:

I didn’t anticipate that Indecent would be as relevant today as it is; we are witnessing an upheaval of fear, xenophobia, homophobia, and, yes, anti-Semitism. We are in the midst of the strongest white nationalism since the 1920s when American borders were closed to immigrants. In this moment of time we must say that we are all Muslim. We must reclaim the importance of our arts and culture. We must remember where the closing of borders in the 20th century led nations around the globe.

Crossing Point Arts

Can the arts make crucial differences for those in need? Meet Crossing Point Arts. This non-profit organization harnesses the social, cultural, emotional, and political power of the arts and helps survivors of human trafficking reclaim their sense of selves through art-making. From their website:

Crossing Point Arts was founded by a small group of New York City activist artists. This group came together to offer their hearts – and their art forms – to survivors as a step towards managing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In workshop format, participants have the opportunity to be guided by Teaching Artists and Expressive Arts Therapists in singing, song-creation, dance, visual arts, poetry and theater.

The mission of the organization: “to bring the healing and restorative power of the arts to survivors of human trafficking through expressive arts workshops, helping them to release trauma, reclaim their once-silenced voices and learn long-term coping strategies.”

See their newsletter here: Crossing Point Arts – Spring Newsletter No. 5

In the Voices of Their Own

In Artistic Citizenship, Aria Fani examines Persian literary cultures, specifically in Afghanistan. For Fani, and for Persian peoples, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979-1989) ignited a heightened awareness of concepts of citizenship, homeland, and exile. In the absence of a centralized political body in Kabul, Persian poets expressed variegated narratives of what constituted Afghan “identity” and loyalty to the nation.

Poetry of Afghanistan maintains ancient roots. And for thousands of years in Afghanistan, various peoples and forms of poetic expression have been and continue to be sites of resistance and, therefore, artistic citizenship. One such form is the “landay.”

As journalist and poet Eliza Griswold notes, the landay is:

an oral and often anonymous scrap of song created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Traditionally, landays are sung aloud, often to the beat of a hand drum, which, along with other kinds of music, was banned by the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, and in some places, still is.

Travelling in Afghanistan, Griswold collected numerous landays for the book I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan.

And since then, the New Zealand born composer Gemma Peacocke has set these two-lined poems in the multimedia work Waves + Lines for soprano, chamber ensemble, and electronics.

Hear this evocative work live on June 22 at 8pm, at Roulette. Here is “Love” from Waves + Lines

Soprano: Eliza Bagg
Pianist: Borah Han
Percussionist: Adam Holmes
Double bassist: Shawn Lovato

Recorded by: Yi-Wen Lai-Tremewan
Mixed and mastered by: Gregory Wayne Hanson Jr.

Text from:
I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan
by Eliza Griswold and Seamus Murphy

 

Voices

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence includes any

willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically; however, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.

Domestic violence is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. It is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior that is only a fraction of a systematic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence can result in physical injury, psychological trauma, and in severe cases, even death. The devastating physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and last a lifetime.

In response to domestic violence, one letter to the editor of The New York Times asks: “Do we endorse this cruelty in silence? Or do we stand together to protect the most vulnerable among us?”

Artist Cat Del Buono is standing up and outwardly doing something about this. In one such project, Voicesfunded by a grant from Baang + Burne Contemporary, Del Buono spent two years

interviewing domestic violence survivors at shelters in Miami, Hartford, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C. After filming only their mouths to keep the women anonymous, Del Buono created an installation of 20 small monitors with the lips of the survivors speaking of their personal experience. When viewers walk into the exhibit, the multiple voices create a symphony of unrecognizable words. Only when you approach an individual monitor do you hear their personal and traumatic stories and how they have gotten out of their situations. The necessity of this movement on the part of viewers acts as a metaphor: only when one gets close do they learn of the individual’s traumatic experiences. As a society, we must not allow the epidemic of domestic violence and those who are affected by it to remain an invisible, inaudible crowd of statistics.

Here is a sample of one of the video installations

Voices has travelled across the United States, and was recently exhibited at Blue Sky GalleryBronx MuseumWinthrop UniversityArt Palm Beach, and Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami where it was accompanied by a panel discussion open to the public. Local NPR radio host Bonnie Berman moderated the panel consisting of domestic abuse survivor, a local advocate, teen violence advocate, the museum’s director of international programs, and Del Buono.

Del Buono received a BA from Boston College, an MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and attended the graduate film program at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Trained as a photographer and filmmaker, Del Buono creates video installations and public happenings. She incorporates performance, interactive video, and humor as ways to engage and impact her viewers.

 

For Freedoms

The heart of Artistic Citizenship asks artists of all kinds, whether amateur or professional and across all arts domains, to ask critically important questions, such as:

What responsibilities do artists have to engage in art work for social transformation?

One organization—or, “super PAC” as they call themselves—aptly named “For Freedoms,” not only interrogates this question, but also activates this question for those whom engage with their artistry. As Celia McGee writes:

Founded by Hank Willis Thomas, a photographer and conceptual artist, and Eric Gottesman, a video artist and activist, the super PAC is named after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” wartime address in 1941 — a call to safeguard the freedoms of speech and worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear.

Contributing artists and photographers include Carrie Mae WeemsRashid JohnsonXaviera SimmonsAlec Soth, Bayeté Ross Smith, Fred Tomaselli and Marilyn Minter. Their works will be used for billboards, building signs, subway advertising, Internet memes, social media and select print advertising, potentially even yard signs, and ultimately an art show at the Jack Shainman Gallery in Chelsea.

For Freedoms describes their mission as follows:

As the first artist-run super PAC, For Freedoms uses art to inspire deeper political engagement for citizens who want to have a greater impact on the American political landscape.

WE BELIEVE

We believe that artists, and art, play an important role in galvanizing our society to do better. We are frustrated with a system in which money, divisiveness, and a general lack of truth-telling have stifled complex conversation. We created the first artist-run super Pac because we believe it’s time for artists to become more involved in the political process.

What can we learn about the role of art in politics from For Freedoms? We leave this up to you to decide. For now, we urge you to think-through today through the lens of the actions and activism of For Freedoms.

A Jim Goldberg photograph from the Postcards From America series. Jackie Smith, protesting gentrification in Memphis, at the site of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., now the National Civil Rights Museum.

Once You Are Not a Stranger

Janis Brenner & Dancers premieres Once You Are Not A Stranger. Created in collaboration with Bosnian-born, electro-acoustic composer Svjetlana Bukvich, costume designer Sue Julien, lighting designer Mitchell Bogard, and installation artist Eva Petric from Slovenia, this 45-minute, interdisciplinary work investigates notions of “empathy in a multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious world and uses the dance company as a microcosm of this world.”

Video projections are embedded in the center of an elaborate set-piece, playing a personal and imagistic role in the work. Performed with live music, including Ms. Brenner on vocals.

After a meaningful tour to Sarajevo, composer Bukvich and choreographer/singer/actor Brenner spoke about collaborating. As Bukvich states:

Janis and I conversed about things that interested us and empathy came up right away, as did the need to really hear one another. I spoke about walking in someone else’s shoes – feeling wise – and how that impacts the strangeness in any relationship…Visually, the piece unfolds in wavy patterns which “freeze” on occasion, or so was our intention. There is a hanging set piece onto which video is projected in the same fashion. With each unfolding, messages becomes clearer, there is a shedding, a letting go, a cutting into deeper layers of pain and, yes, beauty and goodness which lurk in all of us. Like taming a wild animal, the piece comes to terms with its audience. The music is complex and electronic at first, then becomes gradually acoustic, with a string quartet, then a voice, a scrape of a shoe, and into silence. Art-rock-meets-electronic experimental-meets-old world sentimental.

For more information on the premiere, visit Gibney Dance.

In the mean time, watch the ETHEL String Quartet perform an arrangement of this work. The following segment was performed as part of Composers Concordance’s Roundtable concert at (le) Poisson Rouge on January 26th, 2017.
Video by Eddie Papetti