Local Art News
Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic *
A retrospective of one of the most buzzed about contemporary artists whose work draws accolades from museum folk and man-on-the-street alike. The not-even-40-year-old Wiley marries hip hop swagger with his large scale aristocratic portraitures, casting black and brown folks (some famous like Michael Jackson and some not) in regal stances amid luscious, often opulent backdrops. It isn’t just his paintings, featured on posters and bus ads around town for this show, but the stained glass windows that will knock you over with their profoundly stunning message of race, power and representation. The show opens today with a free public celebration from 5 to 9 p.m. featuring music, art and performance.
If you go: Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, Seattle Art Museum, through May 8 (Suggested donation starts at $12.95) — F.D.
Hugo Literary Series: D.A. Powell, Heidi Julavits, Sierra Nelson and OCnotes *
Following their theme of riffing on clichés, this Hugo Literary Series event — the first of the year — explores “What Goes Around Comes Around.” Speakers include local poet and performer Sierra Nelson and San Francisco-based poet D.A. Powell, whom the New York Times gave the glowing praise: “No accessible poet of his generation is half as original, and no poet as original is this accessible.” However, I’m most excited for Heidi Julavits, whose 2015 book The Folded Clock: A Diary blew me away, eluding categorization. The book is a collection of observations and meditations with all the captivation of good fiction, the relatability of memoir and the nourishment of poetry. Buy tickets now before this sells out!
If you go: Hugo Literary Series, Hugo House, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 (Tickets start at $10) — N.C.
Roméo et JuliettePhoto © Angela Sterling
I’ve lost track of how many different renderings of this Shakespeare story I’ve seen. Film adaptations, theatrical productions and West Side Story, to name just a few. But I’d argue nothing is quite as masterful, quite as stunning in capturing both the agony and the unbridled ecstasy of young love than this full-length ballet, a ballet I could take in over and over again. There’s Prokofiev’s magnificent score, played by the much-lauded Pacific Northwest Ballet orchestra. There’s the scenic design — sleek, curved, sculptural — that slide from side to side. The costumes underscore the on-stage emotion: tender at times or dour and combative at others. But it is Jean-Christophe Maillot’s choreography that is exquisite, achingly so. An arched back, a face gliding up and down a leg, or a pair of palms pressed together and squiggling in the air — so much is expressed in such singular movements you’re left wondering whether it’s worth seeing any other version of this story ever again.
If you go: Roméo et Juliette, McCaw Hall, Through Feb. 14 (Tickets start at $30)—F.D.
Bushwick Book Club Presents: Original music inspired by Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus
Café Nordo, Friday 2/12 – Sunday 2/14 at 8 p.m., $65 (pricier on Valentine’s Day)
Members of Bushwick Book Club Seattle read a book, and then through musical performance they create one-of-a-kind shows inspired by a particularly wonderful piece of literature. The events often take place at Café Nordo, whose beautiful Pioneer Square space, and mission of providing unusually scrumptious and captivating dinner theater complements Bushwick perfectly. This time, they take on Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus, creating an evening of “music and dining inspired by early 20th century smut.” Chef Erin Brindley’s menu is alluring in and of itself: goat and farro-stuffed Swiss chard dolmas, and kombu butter poached oyster mushrooms with lavender honey bubbles. Singles and couples alike are encouraged for what’s sure to be a tantalizing night.
If you go: Bushwick Book Club Presents: Original Music Inspired by Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus, Cafe Nordo, 8 p.m. Feb. 12-14 (Tickets start at $65) — N.C.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
A window washer with ambitions as high as a skyscraper follows the guidance of a trusty business book to climb the corporate ladder. As a plot line, I thought, OK. But this production sent me to Cloud 9; non-stop, toe-tapping fun galore. Every musical number is a winner (“Coffee Break,” “Been a Long Day”) delivered by a whole host of locals (Eric Ankrim, Adam Standley, Sarah Rudinoff) who could not be any stronger. And did I mention Norm Rice is the voice of the book? A wickedly good time particularly if you’re the sort who works a day job and hums show tunes at your cubicle.
If you go: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, 5th Avenue, through Feb. 21 (Tickets start at $31) — F.D.
The Sprocket Society presents Saturday Secret Matinees *
Every Saturday this winter, the Sprocket Society presents an installment of the famous 1942 serial Spy Smasher, followed by a feature film. The feature film itself is a surprise, but this month the theme is Serial Heroes and Heroines. Not unlike the mystery Dum dum lollipop, you’re taking a gamble — but one that’s hopefully worth it for the rare treat of surprise, at the very least. Its intimate 70-seat theater and attached café retain all the charm that’s kept it around since 1968, making it Seattle’s longest continually running movie theater. While you’re there, pop over to nearby Morsel for the biscuit experience of a lifetime.
If you go: The Sprocket Society presents Saturday Secret Matinees, Grand Illusion Cinema, 2 p.m. every Saturday through March (Tickets start at $9) — N.C.
*events costing $15 or less
How does one reach the Rising American Electorate? How does she message diverse communities? How can the messages be relevant and culturally competent? For many, these are ever-present questions at work or in volunteer activities.
The Communications Hub at Fuse, Latina Creative Agency, Washington CAN, Sightline Institute, and Crosscut are partnering to present perspectives from expert communicators and members of the media. The discussion will be moderated by KING 5 News reporter Roberta Romero, and panelists will include: Joaquin Uy, City of Seattle Ethnic Media and Communications Specialist; Mohamud Yussuf, Editor of Runta News; Sian Wu, a former Board Member of the International Examiner; Chris Bennett Jr, Co-Publisher and Editor of Seattle Medium; Teresa Monzon Jones, Multi-Media Sales Executive at Univision; Travis Quezon, Editor of International Examiner; Martha Montoya, Publisher at El Mundo; and Amalia Martino, Co-Founder of Latina Creative Agency.
The panel discussion will take place on Feb. 19 at 9:30 a.m. at KCTS Studios, and you’ll have the opportunity to meet members of Seattle’s ethnic media community, hear from experts on utilizing ethnic media and learn best practices for adapting messaging to resonate with ethnic communities. Leave with a toolkit that includes press kits, ad rates, contact information, and useful tips for utilizing ethnic media. Space is limited, so be sure to register here and save a spot!
Whether you attend or can’t make it, here’s some background reading to teach you more about how to effectively reach a diverse community.
Engaging ethnic media:
“Want to speak directly to a community? Write an ethnic media op-ed,” Washington CAN, Feb. 8
“How Honest Elections Effectively Engaged Latino Voters Through Spanish Media,” Latina Creative Agency, Feb. 8
“Seattle’s race and ethnicity quick statistics,” City of Seattle, 2010
“Taylor Hoang created a megaphone for ethnic business owners,” Crosscut, Oct. 16
“Going Beyond Translation: A Professional Marketers Tips from the Latina Perspective,” Latina Creative Agency, Oct. 16
“The Power of a Spanish Language Broadcast Campaign,” Latina Creative Agency, Sept. 14
“Council to examine city support for ethnic media,” Gotham Gazette, Jan. 26
“6 ways to help immigrants and the entire state,” Crosscut, January 2013
“Ethnic media is more than a niche: It’s worth your attention,” Nieman Lab, July 2013
“Mayor Ed Murray faces ethnic media in Seattle,” Northwest Asian Weekly, April 2014
Understanding Ethnic Media, By Matthew D. Matsaganis, Vikki S. Katz, Sandra J. Ball-Rokeach
“Inside the 2012 Latino electorate,” Pew Research, June 2013.
Even for the non-religious, there’s a certain spirituality inside Moscow’s Church of Christ Our Savior. Its gold-leaf onion domes tower over the skyline of Russia’s capital city, visible from almost any vantage point. Inside, it is silent save for the click of heels resonating in the rafters hundreds of feet above. Small candles, lit in memory of the dead, fill the space with beeswax smoke. Men in sharp leather shoes and women with head scarves kneel before religious paintings – physical manifestations of prayer.
On February 21, 2012, a band of young women in pink, yellow and green balaclavas came to this church, which is as significant to Russian Orthodoxy as the Salt Lake Temple is to Mormonism. Instead of candles, they had guitars and amplifiers. Their message, which they bellowed into the hall, was wholly political: The church, with political sway more powerful than even the evangelicals in the U.S., was in cahoots with Russian President Vladimir Putin. As a result, the man they say silenced opposition and bankrupted their country would never face a real challenge in national elections.
In the hours, months and years that followed, the world would become intimately familiar with Pussy Riot. For their performance in the Church of Christ Our Savior, band members spent two years in prison, sparking international outcry over human rights abuses, restriction of free speech, and the Russian criminal justice system.
Two members of the band – Masha Alyokhina and Ksenia Zhivago – came through Seattle this week for a free-form event at the Neptune Theater promoting the various causes that they champion — LGBT rights, feminism, separation between church and state — and a broader vision for Pussy Riot as a movement and not just a band. Crosscut sat down with both before the event.
There’s no denying that Pussy Riot, founded by Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, has mastered a modern brand of social media activism. It is a punk group, but there is no set lineup, and musicality is not a pre-requisite. The band’s anonymous appearances, seen by some opponents as cowardice, de-centralize its power by allowing anyone to don a mask and become a member. Many have done just that, including Madonna, who wore a balaclava at a 2012 concert in Moscow.
Pussy Riot performances are often attended by fewer than 20 people, but they all have cellphones out recording. “When we were [in the Church of Christ Our Savior], the church was quite empty,” says Alyokhina. “There were probably 10 or 15 people there.” But in the days following, the video received millions of views. “I don’t think we made the people [at the church] angry. We made angry the administration of Putin.”
Since their release, Pussy Riot has ballooned beyond a musical group, dipping its toe in more traditional forms of media and advocacy. Zhivago, among the newest members of the group, directs its efforts to free people serving unjust prison sentences. They have also launched Zona Media (Media Zone), now among the most popular media outlets in Russia.
“When the three of us in Pussy Riot were arrested, it became a movement” says Alyokhina, speaking in Russian. She describes the outpouring of support and media attention that left them well positioned to broaden their mission. “You should not expect classical waves of actions which we made before,” she says, switching to English. “They of course will [continue], but we think to build a media and a human rights project is also a kind of action. …We have to make experiments.”Masha Alyokhina of Pussy Riot spent two years in prison. She was in Seattle Monday.
The conversation around Pussy Riot’s tactics should sound familiar in Seattle. Russian laws around homosexuality are fiercely restrictive: Russians have to be careful even discussing the topic lest they risk being tried for propaganda. So when Pussy Riot forced the issue into the public view, many Russians criticized them for being reckless provocateurs.
In Seattle last summer, two Black Lives Matter protestors commandeered the microphone at a rally where presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was scheduled to speak. It sparked a fierce debate about race, who has the right to say what when, and the value of pushing people out of their comfort zones.
Alyokhina argues that questions of LGBT, women’s and prisoners’ rights must be raised, even – and perhaps especially – if they make people squirm.
“If you do not ask yourself or you do not ask your society uncomfortable questions,” she says, “you start to [get] stuck at the same level.”
THE SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY TO HOST SHAKESPEARE’S FIRST FOLIO EXHIBIT FOR WASHINGTON STATE, MARCH 21 TO APRIL 17
Cloud Gallery Presents: Scattered Showers: Tyler Nelson Reception Thursday, February 11th. Open through March 31st.
Inartsnw Presents: Art and science in the new year! The Heartbreak Science Fair! 2/11/2016 and 2/13/2016
The issue of living and work space for artists in Seattle isn’t going away soon, though the artists themselves might very well. As a Seattle-based artist who goes rather far away fairly often to work, I find the situation of how artists are faring in many places increasingly sad. The problem of urbanization driving out artists is present here in Mumbai, India where I have been at work for the past couple months.
I’ve been living and working in South Mumbai in a warehouse (godown), because I was here in Bombay (as those in the art world still like to refer to the renamed city) for an exhibition last year. Invited back to do a larger installation this month, I came back early to build the work in-situ.
Real-estate prices and rentals are notoriously expensive in this city of close to 20 million (too much demand, not enough supply), so I asked a couple of Bombay curator friends where I might find affordable studio and living space. They both suggested an artist residency in Mazagaon, long ago a fashionable area, now certainly not, but nicely within hailing distance of the city center, near the docks in amidst rows of many other godowns.
The space is funky, very raw and spare. With a bit of outfitting, mainly draping with old patterned cloth, courtesy of several fabulous outdoor markets, it’s all quite workable. I got the proprietor to clean up the “communal” kitchen, which apparently no other visiting artist has used, and I’m all set.
There are many contiguous warehouse spaces in the complex, owned and operated by the father of the woman who cares for and feeds the artist residency. He bought the complex in the early 1970s and ran it for a number of years as refrigerated storage. He told me that energy costs made doing that today too expensive, but I suspect that as with all port cities nearly everywhere, actual perishable goods coming off ships is the least of what’s being stored, moved and traded in Mumbai.
Still, the residency is a small part of a much larger operation. Lorries, small trucks, hand-carts and men on foot with all sorts of cargo on their heads come and go, off-loading and picking up goods warehoused in the other spaces. The entire compound is completely surrounded by high masonry walls.
On the front of the complex slide two massive steel gates, hung off the masonry wall, letting godown traffic in and out, and nearby is the gatehouse where the gatemen sit, sleep and meticulously check everyone in and out. On the street side of the wall, built right up to the edges of the gates, runs a straight line of shacks or “shanties,” as they are called here, that continues for at least a kilometer, being attached to other godown walls as they continue their march towards the docks.Women from the shanties that are built against the walls of a warehouse compound in South Mumbai. Credit: Don Fels
The shacks are all two-story, with a ladder on the outside, about 6 feet deep and about that high in each story, and share common plywood/scrap wood walls with their neighbors. For the inundation of the monsoon season, they are often covered with blue tarps. Inside, and spilling out in front where cooking, eating, sleeping, washing up and much socializing happens, are extended Bangladeshi families.
There are other Bangladeshi settlements in Mazagaon, as well as other such ethnic enclaves in other parts of this rambling city. In an echo of the talk one could easily hear on the Republican campaign trail (if not so much in Seattle) or right here in Mumbai from the far right Shiv Sena, I was told several times when I arrived that my neighbors came here “illegally,” that they were all thieves, that their women never worked etc. From what I’ve been able to gather, hiring help to sneak through the India-Bangladesh border is pretty easy and pretty cheap, and therefore the flow of Bangladeshis seeking economic opportunity continues unabated.
The city authorities seem in no hurry to evict them, probably because they (male and female) do much of the work that nobody else wishes to take on. A water line runs along the wall, the squatters are allowed an hour each day of open taps. Electricity is also somehow available. Each house has a couple big blue “carboys,” blue barrels that once held chemicals, now repurposed to hold water. The city provides washing and toilet facilities nearby in small buildings run and staffed for that purpose.
On Sundays, there’s a long line at the wash-up centers for cleaning oneself up for another busy week. During the day I see few Bangladeshi men here — I’m told many work somewhere away from the shanties doing intricate embroidery for expensive wedding saris, others do basic construction work, and back of the house restaurant work. On Sunday and in the evenings, the men are back and hanging out with their families. Though eating happens late in Mumbai, the ladies begin cooking before dark in front of their shanties, so that they can still see what they’re doing.Shacks against a wall by a rail station near South Mumbai’s Mazagaon area. Credit: urbz/Flickr
The shanty life hovers somewhere between homelessness and serious poverty. But the plywood shacks provide a modicum of privacy and, even within such confined space, some storage. The women, when they aren’t out working, do lots of wash, scrubbing clothes on the pavement for a washboard, and the kids, who play with discarded objects like plastic water bottles in the street, are mostly cleanly clothed. Like kids anywhere they are full of laughter and kinetic energy.
Like the kids, Mumbai is full of frenetic activity, and seems on the edge of chaos all the time except perhaps a couple hours just before dawn. As raw as the godown space is, it’s quiet and peaceful and ridiculously safe. Safe because inside the walled compound in a large open yard are stored dozens of Audi cars. The Audi is the current car to be seen in here: It has cache, style, costs a fortune and is about twice the size of everything else on the road. The guards are here to protect them. Most of the cars are white (which makes sense in this tropic climate), most are SUVs (which decidedly doesn’t since the traffic in Mumbai barely moves and there is very little space on the roads) and most all are TDIs, a type of diesel that Audi and Volkswagen long claimed was extremely good for the environment.Audis sit in a compound where artists also work. Credit: Don Fels
It’s not clear to me how much the current VW/Audi diesel scandal is of concern here. Perhaps there has long been a backlog of TDI Audis sitting in lots in South Mumbai. But certainly it is true that the cars warehoused here are far more problematically illegal and questionable than the poor Bangladeshi. The fraudulent “clean diesel” Audis are contributing straight away to the city’s intractable air pollution.
While the automaker phonied up its vehicles’ environmental credentials, the families camped on the other side of the wall might or might not have legitimate paper work. But either way, they produce a net gain for the city. They are not on a public dole. And I have read in The Hindu that there has yet to be a case where an “illegal” Bangladeshi in Mumbai has been charged with committing crimes. All this notwithstanding, Audis are foreign with much “export quality” status and the Bangladeshi are foreigners with no status at all.
Recently, the father who owns the complex, and who sits in his air-conditioned office in the compound every afternoon reading the newspaper, tells me that in a matter of months, the Audis will be joined by Amazon. When he first told me about this, he said he knew nothing about this Amazon except that it was a “billion dollar company.” Whatever, the company, expressed interest in renting his many godowns in the complex for warehousing products. He assures me that the artist residency and his office will remain separate from the new corporate presence.
One of the tantalizing things about Mumbai is that it seems everything and anything is available somewhere and somehow. It’s an artist’s dream — a seeming endless cornucopia of stuff spills out of doorways onto sidewalks literally everywhere — stuff of every description, of every conceivable color, size shape and pattern. This is tangible, three-dimensional stuff, not Photoshopped photographs of on-line merchandise.
But one of the things that is in extremely short supply here is affordable artist workspace, which is rarer still on a short-term basis. The arrival of such entities as Audi and Amazon out in the boondocks of Mumbai is surely very pleasing to the likes of the gentleman who owns the godowns where I write this. But it certainly portends a future where, despite the owner’s assurances about this spot, artists are squeezed spatially and economically even more, as they seem to be most everywhere where there is a thriving urban culture.
The conundrum facing a megacity like Mumbai, and the much younger and smaller Seattle, is despite their differences, the same. Both places tout their cultural richness, but the swirling piles of money displace the artists every time. Artists are by necessity and temperament ahead of the curve. This is good, because their only salvation may be to look for a place to work in a city that isn’t thriving. The conundrum for artists, apparently world-wide, is that while it’ s stimulating to live and work in a place that says it supports the arts, an actually much more supportable life may very well be had in a place that has either fallen off the list, or never gotten on it.
As if to underline the situation, I was sneaking out of Mumbai for a few days in Calcutta, long the undisputed cultural center of India, and now left behind in the booming dust of Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. Awaiting our departure in the shiny new Mumbai airport, we were bracketed by two huge hoardings (billboards), hanging inside the hall. One was for Amazon, the other for Audi.
You might also be interested in Don Fels’ article from last June: “Revive Seattle’s creative spirit by inciting cultural trouble. “ Fels has just opened an installation, Turning Blue, at Bombay’s Clark House Initiative that deals with and expands upon the subject of two articles he wrote for Crosscut last fall, “Dangerous colors and the poisoning of the Spokane River” and “What will it take to clean up a poisoned river?“