Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cloth: A Performance by Regina José Galindo

Regina José Galindo, Reconocimiento de un cuerpo.
Performance at CCE, Córdoba, Argentina. 2008

Friday, October 2, 8:00 pm
A performance by Regina José Galindo
Exit Art
475 Tenth Avenue
(co-sponsored with Exit Art and the Parsons School of Design/New School)

Cloth is the final part of a performance trilogy titled "Crisis," for which Regina José Galindo will enact a series of transactions that reference and critique our current moment of economic and political instability.

Related Event
Saturday, October 3, 2-6 pm
Human Rights and Human Wrongs: Performance and Politics in Guatemala
A Symposium at Parsons/The New School for Design
Kellen Auditorium, Sheila Johnson Design Center
66 5th Ave @ 13th Street
A symposium featuring Regina José Galindo and visiting artists Anibal Lopez and David Pérez Karmadavis, who will discuss their art and its effects on their homeland and abroad. In addition, panelists Johanna Burton (Whitney Independent Study Program), Kate Doyle (Guatemala Research Project), Jill Lane (New York University), and Silvia Vega-Llona (The New School) will reflect on how cutting-edge art practices intersect with social and political issues in a global context.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Metamorphosis, A Fantasy Bellydance Concert from Venus Uprising

a Fantasy Bellydance Concert
featuring all-new choreographies, costumes and concepts
crafted to entice your heart and your senses.

"Immerse yourself in rich movement textures, sophisticated music, and the diverse aesthetics of contemporary bellydance, performed by trend-setting artists and born out of our passions, hopes, struggles and spiritual search.

Our theme for this edition is Transformation.
There are catalysts, journeys, and evolution in every dance..."

Hosted by the New York City bellydance salon Venus Uprising , this event is in its 3rd year of semi-annual concerts bringing together star dancers to create unique and unforgettable dance images, highlighting each artist's signature style.

The event will be held at Merce Cunningham studios. It's a big space,
but previous shows have been sold out... To purchase your
ticket, or for more information, visit


October 2 Friday - 9 p.m.
October 3 Saturday- 8 p.m.
wine reception after Saturday's show

Merce Cunningham Studio,
55 Bethune Street, NYC , 11th Floor
(Greenwich Village, Bethune & Washington)

$30 adv | $35 door

Please note: No shoes allowed in theater.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Big Dance Theater at the Kitchen: Comme Toujours Here I Stand

Comme Toujours Here I Stand

The Kitchen: 512 West 19th Street, New York City
October 1-4 and 7-10; All shows at 8pm
For tickets:
If you need further information, please contact:

"Big Dance Theater's new work, entitled COMME TOUJOURS HERE I STAND, re-invents Agnes Varda's classic New Wave film, CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 for the stage. Shot in Paris in 1961, the film tracks the early evening hours in the life of a marginally talented pop singer, as she waits to hear if she has terminal cancer. The Company uses the script as a found object to create an intimate portrait of a woman shadowed by death, while still caught up in the breezy pleasures of the day: shopping, visiting, strolling. The piece serves also as a critique of the flexible and facile nature of the medium of film, when set against the hand made qualities of live dance and theater.

BDT teams up with video artist Jeff Larson to make Cleo's activities come alive via the intersection of three rolling walls and decidedly low-budget video, fracturing space to capture the agile quality of film. In a unique collaboration between costumes, set and video, the clothes, and wallpaper merge on video into one expressive medium to describe the vivid, colorful interiors of a filmic world. BDT's innovative use of dance as staging will collide the fear of death, the minutiae of everyday life, and the beauty of a city."

The work is directed by and choreographed by Annie-B Parson with co-direction by Paul Lazar , and with the original title song by Robyn Hitchcock. Commissioned by the French Institute/Alliance Francaise in New York, with residency support by Les Subsistances in Lyon France. It premiered at Les Subsistances' Ca Tchatche Festival April 23-26 2009 and will have its NYC premiere at The Kitchen Oct. 1 --Oct 10.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Free Palestinian Nonviolent Activist Mohammad Othman!

Mohammad Othman was detained as he tried to return to Palestine from Norway, on the border between Jordan and the West Bank.

As far as we know, Mohammad is currently being held for interrogation at Huwarra. He met with his lawyer Thursday, September 24th, and will be held in front of a court on Tuesday, September 29th. He has not been interrogated and has not been informed of the charges against him.

From the facebook group dedicated to him:

"Israeli occupation forces detained Mohammad Othman on the 22nd of September, 2009. Mohammad was detained while trying to return to the West Bank over the border from Jordan. Mohammad has spent the summer touring Europe, and was returning from his latest trip to Norway.

Mohammad is 33 years old, and has dedicated the past ten years of his life to human rights causes, particularly the non-violent struggle against the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank.

Mohammad is from the village of Jayyous in the occupied West Bank, and the village has lost most of its privately owned land due to the Apartheid Wall. The land is now confiscated by Israeli settlements, which are deemed illegal under international law.

Mohammad has an extensive network in the international solidarity movement, and plays an important role as the youth coordinator for the non-violent Palestinian Stop the Wall campaign. Mohammad has dedicated his life to tell the world about the war crimes and crimes against humanity that is being conducted by the Israeli Occupation Forces in the West Bank."


اعتقلت قوات الاحتلال محمد عثمان في الثاني و العشرين من سبتمبر 2009.محمد اعتقل بينما كان يحاول العودة الى الضفة الغربية عبر الحدود مع الأردن. محمد وقد قضى صيف بجولة في أوروبا ، وكان عائدا من رحلته الأخيرة إلى النرويج.

محمد هو 33 سنة ، وكرست السنوات العشر الماضية من حياته لقضايا حقوق الإنسان ، لا سيما في النضال غير العنيف ضد جدار الفصل العنصري في الضفة الغربية.

محمد هو من سكان قرية جيوس في الضفة الغربية المحتلة ، والقرية قد فقدت معظم احتياجاتها من الأراضي المملوكة ملكية خاصة بسبب جدار الفصل العنصري. الأراضي التي صادرتها الآن المستوطنات الإسرائيلية ، والتي تعتبر غير قانونية بموجب القانون الدولي.

محمد ديها شبكة واسعة في حركة التضامن الدولي ، وتلعب دورا هاما حيث شارك الشباب منسق لغير العنيفة الفلسطينية وقف حملة الجدار. محمد كرس حياته لنقول للعالم عن جرائم الحرب والجرائم ضد الانسانية التي تجري من قبل قوات الاحتلال الإسرائيلي في الضفة الغربية.

To take action, please click the link to the Wordpress blog set up to follow his case. His court date is approaching quickly, please sign the petition to demand his release.

Proposals still being accepted for performance festival Geographical Assemblage: Mythological Landscapes of the Body

Festival: Geographical Assemblage: Mythological Landscapes of the Body

When: Fri. Nov. 27th and Sat. Nov. 28th.

Where: subterranean arthouse in Berkeley, California

What: Theatre, dance, music, multidisciplinary, time-based art, workshops, talks, readings, etc.

Email proposals to Festival Curator: Catherine Duquette at:

Proposals due: Oct. 1 or sooner!

Festival Inquiry:

What are the borders, texts, practices, and narratives that define phenomenological body and social body? How do these corporeally defining devices relate to land and designed environment?

The subterranean arthouse invites proposals for performances that flirt with, taunt, beg, or defy these questions. Theatre artists, dancers, musicians, multidisciplinary and time-based visual artists, please propose 10 to 40 minute pieces meditating on “Geographical Assemblage: Mythological Landscapes of the Body.” Proposed workshops may be up to 90 minutes long, time permitting.

* The study of the earth and its features
* The study of the distribution of life on the earth, including human life and the effects of human activity

* A collection of persons or things
* The state of being assembled

* A collection of myths belonging to a people and addressing their origin, history, deities, ancestors, and heroes.

* An expanse of scenery that can be seen in a single view
* An extensive mental view
* An interior prospect

* A mass of matter that is distinct from other masses
* The entire material or physical structure of a person
* A group of individuals regarded as an entity

To give shape to. . .


Artists of all levels and experience are encouraged to apply; pieces at any stage of development are welcome provided that they’ve reached a stage benefiting from an audience.

In approximately one page, please provide the following:

*Clearly define the proposed performance and how it relates to mythological landscapes of the body.
*What stage of development is the piece? Has it been shown before, if so, where and when?
*Technical requirements if any
*Indicate whether you are available for both days, 27th & 28th, one or the other.
*Brief Biography
*Please also include supplementary materials indicative of the proposed presentation.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hollywood's Reel Bad Arabs: Problems and Prospects Presentation and Discussion with Dr. Jack Shaheen

* I have heard Jack Shaheen speak live before and I can't recommend it enough. If you are in New York and interested in media representations of Arabs and Muslims--or of PoC in general-- go .

Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU presents:
Hollywood's Reel Bad Arabs: Problems and Prospects Presentation and Discussion with Dr. Jack Shaheen

Friday, September 25, 2009
NYU Tisch School of the Arts
Department of Cinema Studies
721 Broadway, Room 648

RSVP today! online at
or email:
or call 212-992-9653.

For more information, visit

This event is free and open to the public.

"Dr. Jack Shaheen presents his groundbreaking documentary and his new books
Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs After 9/11 and Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, which dissect a slanderous aspect of cinematic history that has run virtually unchallenged from the earliest days of silent film to today's biggest Hollywood blockbusters. The works explore a long line of degrading images of Arabs — from Bedouin bandits and submissive maidens to sinister sheikhs and gun-wielding "terrorists" — along the way offering devastating insights into the origin of these stereotypic images, their development at key points in U.S. history, and why they matter so much today. Shaheen shows how the persistence of these images over time has served to naturalize prejudicial attitudes toward Arabs and Arab culture, in the process reinforcing a narrow view of individual Arabs and Muslims and the effects of specific U.S. domestic and international policies on their lives. By inspiring critical thinking about the social, political, and basic human consequences of leaving these Hollywood caricatures unexamined, Shaheen challenges viewers to recognize the urgent need for counter-narratives that do justice to the diversity and humanity of Arab people and the reality and richness of Arab history and culture."

The talk and screening will be followed by a discussion and Q&A with Dr. Jack Shaheen and Jack (John Kuo Wei) Tchen, founding director of the A/P/A Institute at NYU. Co-sponsored by the Hagop Kevorkian Center and Near Eastern Studies; Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program and Department of Cinema Studies at Tisch School of the Arts; and the NYU Center for Media, Culture and History/Center for Religion and Media.

Pig Iron Theatre Company Workshop: The Grotesque

My friend Aram, who is co-teaching this workshop, sent me a message letting me know that there are still places left. Contact Pig Iron using the email address below to indicate your interest.


"From Gothic statuary to South Park, grotesque characters have performed the essential, painful, and hilarious task of breaking down the pretensions and hypocrisies through their corrosive, scorched-earth parodies of social order. The Grotesque is a carnivalesque world of exaggerated absurdities - a parade in which society's ridiculous underbelly is displayed for appalled and amused passers-by.

In this workshop, acclaimed teachers Quinn Bauriedel (director of Pig Iron's Live Arts smash WELCOME TO YUBA CITY) and Aram Aghazarian (graduate of the famed London International School of Performing Arts) will teach students to create their own hyper-satirical characters, using their own experiences and frustrations as a channel for their mocking voices. The workshop will culminate in a soiree of short grotesque pieces developed during the workshop in collaboration with other students."

COST: $400
($375 if registered before Sept. 19)

Location: Philadelphia, TBA

DATES: Sat. Sept. 26 3-6pm,
Sun. Sept. 27 3-6pm,
Wed. Sept. 30 6:30-9:30pm,
Sat. Oct. 3 3-6pm,
Sun. Oct. 4 3-6pm,
Wed. Oct. 7 6:30-9:30,
Friday Oct. 9 6:30-9:30,
Sat. Oct. 10 3-6pm,
Sun. Oct. 11 3-7pm (with a final showing)

Email with an introductory message
explaining what draws you to the workshop and your performance
background. Upon being accepted into the workshop, we require a $100
non-refundable deposit. The remainder of the fee can be paid on the
first day of the workshop.

QUINN BAURIEDEL, a co-founder and Co-Artistic Director of Pig Iron
Theatre Company. Quinn is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Ecole
Jacques Lecoq in Paris, and has performed in nearly all of Pig Iron's
original works; in his capacity as the head of Pig Iron's education
programs, he has taught workshops at Harvard, Princeton, the
University of Virginia, Stanford, Brown, Wesleyan, Georgetown, and
many others. In addition to his teaching work with the company, Quinn
also is a faculty member at Swarthmore and at the Headlong Performance

ARAM ALAN AGHAZARIAN, a graduate of the London International School of
Performing Arts, is currently at work on Please Make Us Happy or
Protagonismo! with Rhode Island-based ensemble, Burvil Hoist. His work
as a performer-creator includes Pay Up (Pig Iron Theatre Company),
Speak, Mascot! (Workshop for Potential Movement), Dilated (Fresh Meat)
and Lowbrow (Parsley). This November, Aram travels to Alaska to join
Perseverance Theater for their production of Eurydice.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How Can We Make Art From the Suffering of Others?/ Fernando Botero: The Abu Ghraib Series at the Berkeley Art Museum

Fernando Botero: Abu Ghraib 66, 2005;
oil on canvas; 13 x 12 5/8 in.; gift of the artist.
Photo: Sibila Savage.

The ongoing challenge for artists who engage with contemporary politics has to do with representation. How is it possible to represent the horrors of war without glamorizing it? How can artists employ images of suffering in artworks without becoming complicit in the circumstances of their initial production? With the so-called "War on Terror", this question becomes pointed since that enterprise has depended so heavily on objectifying Arab and Muslim bodies through photography. From the perpetual surveillance of ordinary Arab and Muslim Americans to footage of the formerly dapper (if tyrannical) Saddam Hussein looking crazy/ homeless après-spider hole, successes in the War on Terror have been measured through the careful construction of images that support the "Crusader" narrative reactivated and deployed with such force by the Bush Administration. Of course, the ultimate expression of the violence of objectification (and the objectification of violence) in the "War on Terror" are the Abu Ghraib photos. Carefully posed and snapped by US military personnel at the prison, these pictures functioned both as ritualized humiliation and its memorial. This dynamic recalls the early uses of photography to categorize black bodies post-slavery and as a central part of the practice of lynching. In her excellent book Scenes of Subjection, Saidya Hartman argues against the reproduction of such images, asking, "What does the exposure of the violated body yield?... Are we witnesses or are we voyeurs?" She writes,

"I have chosen not to reproduce (these images) in order to call attention to the ease with which such scenes are usually reiterated, the casualness with which they are circulated, and the consequences of this routine display of the slave’s ravaged body. Rather than inciting indignation, too often they immure us to pain by virtue of their familiarity—the oft-repeated or restored character of these accounts and our distance from them are signaled by the theatrical language usually resorted to in describing these instances—and especially because they reinforce the spectacular character of black suffering. (Hartman, 3)

Hartman's point, that the reproduction of images of black suffering participates in the economy that supported slavery in the first place, is a good one. But beyond merely reproducing images of suffering bodies generated by post-slavery racism or the Jewish Holocaust is the use of such images in artworks designed to critique those institutions and practices. When it comes to the Abu Ghraib photos news organizations struggled with how to reproduce them and most settled on blurring out the faces and genitals of the Arab and Muslim prisoners whose naked, tormented bodies are on display in them. Many artists too, hesitated, perhaps overwhelmed by the casual horror of the Abu Ghraib images. But not Fernando Botero, the Spanish artist whose trademark fat, cartoon like figures have been reproduced in dorm room prints and posters for years, immediately began to create work based on these images. A show of this work is opening today at the Berkeley Art Museum. Below is Curator Lucinda Barnes' description of the show.

by Lucinda Barnes,
Chief Curator and Director of Programs and Collections at BAM/PFA

"Although the U.S. military ceased its operations at Baghdad’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison several years ago, the 2004 revelations of prisoner abuses there sparked debates—about torture, military ethics, and the role of the United States as a world power—that are far from over. Internationally acclaimed artist Fernando Botero (b. 1932) offers a powerful vision of the atrocities of Abu Ghraib in a series of fifty-six paintings and drawings, which has now returned to Berkeley as an extraordinary gift from the artist to the permanent collection of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Thousands of Bay Area visitors first saw this group of works in early 2007, in an exhibition at UC Berkeley’s Doe Library organized by the Center for Latin American Studies, one of the first presentations of the series in North America. The Colombian-born artist has made this magnanimous gift in response to the enthusiastic interest in the series from the Berkeley community and in recognition of Berkeley’s historic role in the arena of free speech.

In May 2004, The New Yorker published one of the first accounts of abuses at Abu Ghraib, written by Seymour Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist who first came to renown for exposing the My Lai Massacre in 1969. Hersh’s article, “Torture at Abu Ghraib,” was a horrific account, drawing heavily upon a fifty-three-page report by Major General Antonio M. Taguba detailing what the general described as “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at the prison. Hersh enumerated many of the sickening abuses and humiliations detailed in the Taguba report, and also described the now famous photographs that had been released just the week before on 60 Minutes II.

Fernando Botero read Hersh’s article while on a flight to Paris, where he lives and works. Even before the plane landed, Botero began sketching the horrific scenes that he imagined based on what Hersh had written. Back in his studio, Botero continued drawing and painting in an intense torrent of work that continued for fourteen months. Botero numbered the works in sequence as he made them, “Abu Ghraib – 1” and so on, as if creating a chronicle of his own response. In an interview with UC Berkeley professor and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, Botero remarked, “What I wanted was to visualize the atmosphere described in the articles, to make visible what was invisible.” During his 2007 visit to the Berkeley campus, Botero told San Francisco Chronicle critic Kenneth Baker that his Abu Ghraib paintings were works “of imagination and not documentary.”

Fernando Botero’s early interest in art was sparked by an exhibition of works by the famed Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Siqueiros; noting that “they made the reality of the country the subject of their art,” Botero saw in their paintings a “direct way of speaking.” As a young artist, Botero traveled to Europe to study the masters in Spain and Italy. Based in New York in the 1960s, later settling in Paris, Botero became known for lively compositions of volumetric, sensual figures. Yet his works also have often criticized military juntas and dictators as part of Latin American history and culture, as well as the violence and drug wars in Colombia. These works clearly show the influence of the Spanish master Francisco Goya, who mocked the royals and the Church of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Spain, and whose famous series Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War) responded with outrage to the brutality of the Napoleonic invasions, through which the artist himself lived.

Fernando Botero: The Abu Ghraib Series celebrates the artist’s gift to BAM and to our community, and honors the return of these provocative works to Berkeley. The occasion has also sparked the concurrent exhibition Material Witness, which brings together works of art from the BAM collection that, like Botero’s work, offer distinctive, critical views of current affairs and cultural memory."

Where: Berkeley Art Museum
When: opens September 23rd
Address: 2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, California, 94720
Phone: (510) 642-0808
Website: Official Website
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Closed: Monday, Tuesday

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Leyya Tawil’s Dance Elixir with clarinetist Kinan Azmeh

Alwan for the Arts Presents

Leyya Tawil’s Dance Elixir with clarinetist Kinan Azmeh
Friday, September 25, 2009 9:00 P.M.

Featuring guest dancers Xan Burley, Jordan Risdon and Alex Springer

Tickets: $15.00

"Contemporary dance choreographer Leyya Tawil and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh offer an evening of solos and duets, both composed and improvised. Tawil performs her solo Mercy Starts Now (2009) to an original score by Topher Keyes. This is the third work in her Saints and Angels series. She also offers a sneak preview of You Are Now X, a trio for NYC-based dancers Alex Springer and Xan Burley. Azmeh will perform a selection of composition selected from his touring repertory.

The evening will also feature a series of duets for Tawil and Azmeh. Both accomplished composers/performers, they approach their duet improvisations with a clear structural and expressive intention.


LEYYA MONA TAWIL is the Artistic Director of Leyya Tawil’s Dance Elixir. She approaches dance from an architectural perspective and infuses her movement-driven works with a deliberate eye on contemporary style and symbolism. The result is a body of work that reverberates with meaning and is delivered with fierce technique and formal structure.

Ms. Tawil has received numerous grants and awards and her work has been presented nationally and internationally including at the Beirut International Platform On Dance 2009, the San Francisco International Arts Festival (SF), abd The Flea (NYC), Ms. Tawil last performed at Alwan for the Arts in winter 2008.

KINAN AZMEH was born in Damascus. In 1997 he became the first Arab to win premier prize at the 1997 Nicolai Rubinstein International Competition in Moscow. He is a graduate of New York's Juilliard School, and of both the High institute of Music and Damascus University’s School of Electrical Engineering. Mr. Azmeh has appeared worldwide as a soloist and composer in the world’s most prestigious concert halls and has shared the stage with Marcel Khalife, Francois Rabbath, Mari Kimura, Elliott Sharp, Katia Tchemberdji, among others.

 Mr. Azmeh's compositions include several works for soloist, orchestra, and chamber ensemble, film, live illustration, and electronics. His multimedia work “Gilgamesh” with visual artist Kevork Mourad has been touring the US and the Middle East since 2006. He has recorded several albums with his ensemble HEWAR, among others. Mr. Azmeh is artistic director of the Damascus Festival Chamber Music Ensemble, with whom he released an album of new music written especially for the ensemble by various Arab composers."

Alwan for the Arts
16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor (bet. Broad & Broadway)
New York, NY 10004
(646) 732-3261

TRAINS: 4/5 to Bowling Green; J/M/Z to Broad St.; R/W to Whitehall St.; 1 to Rector St. or South Ferry; 2/3 to Wall St.; A/C to Broadway-Nassau
BUSES: M1, M6, M9, M16, M20.
BIKE: Hudson Rvr. Greenway, East Rvr. path, Liberty St., Broadway, Water St.
Google Maps:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Tell Her the Truth" Tony Kushner & Alisa Solomon on Seven Jewish Children

I am posting this essay as part of my ongoing examination of Caryl Churchill's play Seven Jewish Children, A Play For Gaza. Playwright Tony Kushner, perhaps best known for his play (in two parts) Angels in America, A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, and writer, teacher, and dramaturg Alisa Solomon are prominent American Jews who have been outspoken anti-Zionists. This essay, in which they discuss their admiration for Churchill, discomfort with her play and support of its message is an important addition to the discourse around it. I am posting it on the weekend shared by Eid ul-Fitr and Rosh Hashonah because I think this essay is an aspirational model for talking about Palestine/Israel. Beyond their excellent analysis of Churchill's play, it is a rational, compassionate and thoughtful exploration of the emotional territory that too often drifts into screaming anger, racism and violence. Solomon and Kushner's essay originally appeared in the April 13, 2009 edition of the Nation.

'Tell Her the Truth'

By Tony Kushner & Alisa Solomon

"Israel's recent bombing and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, Operation Cast Lead, killed 1,417 Palestinians; thirteen Israelis were killed, five by friendly fire. Thousands of Palestinians were seriously wounded and left without adequate medical care, shelter or food. Among the Palestinian dead, more than 400 were children. In response to this devastation, Caryl Churchill wrote a play.

Churchill is one of the most important and influential playwrights living, the author of formally inventive, psychologically searing, politically and intellectually complex dramas, including Cloud Nine, Top Girls, Fen, Serious Money, Mad Forest and Far Away. To this body of work she's now added the very brief (six pages, ten minutes long in performance) and very controversial Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza. The play ran for two weeks in February at London's Royal Court Theatre and is being presented across the United States in cities such as New York (Theaters Against War and New York Theatre Workshop), Chicago (Rooms Productions), Washington (Theater J and Forum Theatre), Cambridge, Massachusetts (Cambridge Palestine Forum) and Los Angeles (Rude Guerrilla).

While some British critics greatly admired the play, which was presented by a Jewish director with a largely Jewish cast, a number of prominent British Jews denounced it as anti-Semitic. Some even accused Churchill of blood libel, of perpetrating in Seven Jewish Children the centuries-old lie, used to incite homicidal anti-Jewish violence, that Jews ritually murder non-Jewish children. A spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews told the Jerusalem Post that the "horrifically anti-Israel" text went "beyond the boundaries of reasonable political discourse."

We emphatically disagree. We think Churchill's play should be seen and discussed as widely as possible.

Though you'd never guess from the descriptions offered by its detractors, the play is dense, beautiful, elusive and intentionally indeterminate. This is not to say that the play isn't also direct and incendiary. It is. It's disturbing, it's provocative, but appropriately so, given the magnitude of the calamity it enfolds in its pages. Any play about the crisis in the Middle East that doesn't arouse anger and distress has missed the point.

The now-rote hysteria with which non-Israeli criticism of Israel is met--most recently dismayingly effective in quashing Chas Freeman as President Obama's nominee to chair the National Intelligence Council--has a considerable and ignoble record of stifling opinion and preventing unintimidated, meaningful discussion, in the cultural sphere as well as in the political. The power of art to open us to the subjectivities of others is especially threatening to those who insist on a single narrative. Hence efforts to shut down exhibitions of Palestinian art all over the country, most notoriously, perhaps, in 2006, when Brandeis University officials removed paintings by Palestinian teenagers from a campus library exhibit, "The Arts of Building Peace."

Theater, arguably the most humanizing of art forms because it begins and ends with human presence, with an encounter between spectators and living actors, has often attracted the ire of people grimly determined to maintain the invisibility of others. It's been twenty years since liberal stalwart Joe Papp caved to pressure and canceled appearances at the Public Theater of a visiting Palestinian troupe, El Hakawati. In the decades since, American discourse around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has only become more vituperative and polarized, as the New York Theatre Workshop learned three years ago when it announced, and then retreated from, plans to present My Name Is Rachel Corrie.

With its title, its subject matter, its distillation of that subject matter, of a long, tangled, bloody and bitter history down to a few simple strokes, it's hardly surprising that Churchill's play has elicited outrage. The hostile reaction to Seven Jewish Children has been amplified by the context of a frightening wave of anti-Semitism in Britain and elsewhere, and exacerbated by the tendency to misread a multivocal, dialectical drama as a single-voiced political tract.

Even among those who are anguished and appalled at the catastrophe in Gaza and repulsed by the invective being hurled at Churchill, some are likely to be startled, if not to say troubled, by the play's blunt assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a Jewish-Palestinian conflict. Even those familiar enough with Churchill's work to recognize in Seven Jewish Children another installment in her recent move toward poetic compression--and Beckett proved how profound dramatic minimalism can be--may be taken aback by the play's brevity, by the playwright's implicit rejection of the idea that the situation in the Middle East is too complicated, too impacted, too needful of historical exegesis and balancing points of view to be responsibly explored at anything other than great length.

There are passages, particularly in an ugly monologue near the play's conclusion, that are terribly painful to experience, especially for Jews.

It's difficult to imagine that the author didn't intend to court outrage, whether or not she anticipated its ferocity. This imputes nothing to Churchill of the mischievous or sensationalistic. Her play's political ambitions are at least as important as its aesthetic ambitions. Moreover, it would be disingenuous and, in a sense, a betrayal of Seven Jewish Children to insist upon a calm, quiet reading or hearing free from the voluble passions it has enflamed. The fury that rises up around this conflict, and the cowed silence that is that fury's inevitable concomitant, are simultaneously the object and subject of the play. It's an incitement to speech and an examination of silence; in its content and through its inevitably controversial reception, it describes what can and cannot be said.

Why is the play so short? Probably because Churchill means to slap us out of our rehearsed arguments to look at the immediate human crisis. No wonder it smarts. The play dares reduce the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the kind of stinging simplicity of Neruda's lines, "and through the streets the blood of children flowed easily/like the blood of children."

Why does the title use "Jewish" rather than "Israeli"? Because all the children the play revolves around are Jewish, but not all are Israeli. And because not all Israelis are Jewish; a sizable minority is Arab. More important, because her play addresses the worldwide Jewish community. Our history of diaspora and persecution led to the founding of the State of Israel, which claims to act on behalf of all Jews. We have an impact upon its policies. Many Jews, including the two of us, feel profoundly connected to Israel and concerned for its fate; Seven Jewish Children is speaking to us.

Why does the play feel, even to those of us who admire its virtues, so peculiarly and, at times, almost brutally painful? It is an exigent text, a rapid public response to and at the moment of slaughter; and, remarkably, as few such texts are, it is contemplative, interior, almost entirely soft-spoken, and demanding.

The play consists of seven sequences, each composed of approximately twenty simple sentences, almost all of which begin with the words "Tell her" or "Don't tell her." There is no place-and-time setting specified for the sequences, and the lines are not assigned to specific characters. In fact, there isn't a character list or even a suggested number of performers, and the text looks less like a play than the poem it also is. Nonetheless, it's clear that these are discussions between the parents, adult relatives and guardians of a young girl, presumably a different little girl in each sequence, who the playwright specifies is not on stage, not seen. It's also clear that the first of the seven sequences begins during the Holocaust; then the play moves successively to the founding of the State of Israel, the displacement of its Palestinian population and the intensification of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, arriving, finally, in a very dark, very dangerous moment--probably, although this is not made explicit in the text, concurrent with the military operation and humanitarian disaster in Gaza that occasioned the play. All else--the cast's size, gender, age (as long as all the players are adults) and ethnicity, as well as all staging choices--the playwright leaves to the director and actors.

The central issue being discussed, in each of the sequences, is what the little girl should or shouldn't be told regarding her circumstances; the tenor of the debate changes as the circumstances change. In the first section, the child faces immediate danger of arrest and murder by the Nazis. Her survival requires that she have an awareness of the seriousness of her situation without being traumatized into paralysis or dissociation. The play begins:

Tell her it's a game

Tell her it's serious

But don't frighten her

Don't tell her they'll kill her

Tell her it's important to be quiet

Tell her she'll have cake if she's good

In the next sequence, which takes place sometime immediately post-Holocaust, telling or not telling revolves around questions of memory and mourning, of protecting a child from the emotional annihilation of a grief too weighty and of a knowledge of evil too imponderable for her youthful capacities.

Tell her this is a photograph of her grandmother, her 
 uncles and me

Tell her her uncles died

Don't tell her they were killed

Tell her they were killed

Don't frighten her.

Tell her her grandmother was clever

Don't tell her what they did

Tell her she was brave

Tell her she taught me how to make cakes

Don't tell her what they did

Tell her something.

In subsequent sequences, what can and can't be talked about are the anxieties of relocating (to pre-state Israel, although it isn't named), then the presence and forcible displacement of others (the Palestinians, again not named), the roadblocks, the bulldozing of homes, water rights. There's a shift at this point in the dialogue: the tension between assertions and their negation becomes tighter, more suggestive of conflict within the family or community, as the speakers struggle over how to deal with conflict from without.

Don't tell her she can't play with the children

Don't tell her she can have them in the house

Tell her they have plenty of friends and family

Tell her for miles and miles all round they have lands 
 of their own

Tell her again this is our promised land.

Don't tell her they said it was a land without people

Don't tell her I wouldn't have come if I'd known.

Tell her maybe we can share.

Don't tell her that.

Just before the play ends, the back-and-forth of the dialogue is stopped for the first time by a monologue. Though it's ostensibly an answer to the question of what the girl can or can't be told, that question becomes mere pretext for an explosion of rage, racism, militarism, tribalism and repellent indifference to the suffering of others. It's important to note that this monologue is neither the last word in the play nor any kind of summation or harmonizing of the play's disputatious voices. But it's near enough to the end; and expansive as it is, after so much compression, it unavoidably feels like a dreadful conclusion; to some, it's manifestly an indictment.

Tell her, tell her about the army, tell her to be proud of the army. Tell her about the family of dead girls, tell her their names why not, tell her the whole world knows why shouldn't she know? tell her there's dead babies, did she see babies? tell her she's got nothing to be ashamed of. Tell her they did it to themselves. Tell her they want their children killed to make people sorry for them, tell her I'm not sorry for them, tell her not to be sorry for them, tell her we're the ones to be sorry for, tell her they can't talk suffering to us. Tell her we're the iron fist now, tell her it's the fog of war, tell her we won't stop killing them till we're safe, tell her I laughed when I saw the dead policemen, tell her they're animals living in rubble now, tell her I wouldn't care if we wiped them out, the world would hate us is the only thing, tell her I don't care if the world hates us, tell her we're better haters, tell her we're chosen people, tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? tell her all I feel is happy it's not her.

This monologue is the "proof text" for those who've charged Churchill with anti-Semitism and worse, with blood libel, which her accusers discern in the last lines of the speech.

When the two of us first discussed Seven Jewish Children we turned immediately to those lines. We both winced when we read them; we both became alarmed. One of us was disturbed by the line "tell her we're better haters," resonant of Shylock and Alberich the Nibelung. The other focused on "tell her we're chosen people," contending that in this context it reflected a misunderstanding of the term "chosen people," casting Jewish chosen-ness as an expression of divine right and exceptionalism rather than of religious/ethical responsibility. We speculated that these two lines added fuel to the willful misreading as blood libel of the lines that follow: "tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? tell her all I feel is happy it's not her." Those who level the blood-libel accusation insist that Churchill has written "tell her I'm happy when I see their children covered in blood."

But that is not what Churchill wrote. Distortion, misrepresentation and name-calling are tactics familiar to anyone who's spoken out about the Middle East. There's no blood libel in the play. The last line of the monologue is clearly a warning: you can't protect your children by being indifferent to the children of others.

There's a vast difference between making your audience uncomfortable and being anti-Semitic. To see anti-Semitism here is to construe erroneously the words spoken by the worst of Churchill's characters as a statement from the playwright about all Jews as preternaturally filled with a viciousness unique among humankind. But to do this is, again, to distort what Churchill wrote. The monologue belongs to and emerges from a particular dramatic action that makes the eruption inevitable and horrifying.

The play traces the processes of repressed speech. The violence forcing that repression comes initially from without; the monologue gives voice to a violence that's moved inside. The play stages the return of the repressed, an explosion of threatened defensiveness that, unexpressed and unowned, has turned into rage. Encountering it is terrifying; we don't want to own it. But that doesn't mean we don't recognize it. And sad to say, there's no sentiment in the monologue's spew that we have not heard or read at some point from presumed "defenders" of Israel (as even a cursory survey of the Internet demonstrates: for example, the chilling story in the March 20 Ha'aretz about some Israeli army units making T-shirts celebrating civilian casualties and rape in Gaza).

The siege of Gaza over the past several years, which nearly starved a high proportion of the population, was unconscionable in humanitarian terms, but an even worse corner was turned this past winter. A placard at a peace-movement demonstration in Tel Aviv in January proclaimed, Slaughter Is Not Security. Apart from some brave thousands who took to the Israeli streets throughout the weeks of Operation Cast Lead, a large majority of Israelis--and their supporters in America--were convinced that the carnage was, indeed, justified as defense. Some even boasted about it. In America's weekly Jewish newspaper, the Forward, the president of the Reform movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, in an op-ed defending the Gaza invasion, disparaged more hawkish Israel supporters for "the obscene, cowboy-like delight" in "the damage Israel's army is able to inflict." But even when softened into Yoffie's remorseful notion of the Gaza offensive as a "tragic necessity, unwelcome but inevitable," the justification amounts to the same thing: better them than us. Such dehumanizing rhetoric is common in mainstream Jewish-American and Israeli discourse (and, in fact, in all military conflicts). Churchill, a non-Jew, had the chutzpah to strip that rhetoric of its hangdog, contrite camouflage and reflect it back to us: "tell her all I feel is happy it's not her."

That hideous sentiment, however, is not the play's final word. There are three more lines:

Don't tell her that.

Tell her we love her.

Don't frighten her.

A playwright's presumptuous job is to imagine others, and the others Churchill has imagined in this play are Jews. If there's anger in the writing, there's also empathy, tenderness and intimacy. Nothing is more intimate than discussions between parents about what to tell their children; no act of speech is more carefully weighed or more fiercely protected. This is a family play, told from within the family. It concludes with love, and it concludes with fear.

Seven Jewish Children is a play. It must be read with an awareness of the incompleteness of plays on paper, destined as they are for collective rather than singular experience, for warm bodies speaking the lines, for empathy, for the variability of interpretation. All plays require that directors and actors make considered choices. Performance produces meaning. If an actor stresses "tell" in the line "Don't tell her that," it might suggest, That's true, but don't let her know. But if "that" is emphasized, it might mean, How can you even think such an outrageous thing? And much will depend on how the actor strikes the first word, "Don't"--collegially or adversarially.

Churchill ups the interpretive ante by leaving everything, beyond the lines themselves, to her interpreters. The monologue and the lines that follow it will carry different meanings if spoken, say, by a grandmother with a Yiddish accent or by a young man in an Israeli army uniform. Or by, say, a Korean-American man or a Chicana. Or, since the play is so short and could be watched three or four times in a row, with the lines spoken each time by different actors. Any director and company approaching the play will have to decide whether and how the audience will be made aware of the radical degree to which the written text has insisted, through its lack of character identification or stage action, on collaboration. Surely it's essential to understanding Seven Jewish Children that against the specifics of the script, the playwright, relinquishing nearly all traditional authorial control, engineers a far-greater-than-usual slippage among text and performance and audience reception, producing an unusually large amount of room for variant readings.

And it is perhaps only on stage that the central characters of the play come into their own: the eponymous seven Jewish children who are its heroines. We never see them. Our empathic imaginations are enlisted by the playwright. We have to conjure them.

In the opening scene of Churchill's Far Away, a girl asks her aunt about beatings she's seen her uncle commit. What's most terrifying is how easily the aunt placates, justifies and quells her niece's will to question. But in Churchill's play for Gaza, the girls never stop asking.

This is a powerful trope in Jewish culture; it's the questioning child around whom the Passover Seder is built. We're left to hope that this girl we've never seen, the last scene's girl, won't become one of the Israeli teenagers who recently gave the truly frightening Avigdor Lieberman the highest share of the votes in a high school election poll. Perhaps she's a pain in the ass, this girl; perhaps she'll keep questioning. Perhaps she refuses to succumb to those in her family whose loving desire is to protect her by not speaking, by not saying. Perhaps she's realizing that their repression of the truth has become not only misguided and immoral but fatal; for nothing survives on lies, on a denial of reality; eventually, reality wins. Perhaps she's found out about a relative of hers, mentioned earlier: "Don't tell her her cousin refused to serve in the army."

Perhaps this girl will grow up to work for justice."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue

THE PROVENANCE OF BEAUTY. from Sunder Ganglani on Vimeo.

The New York Times

September 18, 2009

Have You Ever Visited the Broncks?

"Look closely and with care, and you’ll find images of unexpected beauty even in a landscape that at first glance looks barren and blighted. As I cruised through the South Bronx in a tour bus during a travelogue called “The Provenance of Beauty” produced by the venturesome Foundry Theater, my eye locked with fascination on the long spools of razor wire uncoiled like giant Slinkys across the top of the neighborhood’s chain-link fences and cinderblock walls. Snared in the cruel teeth of the coils were weather-beaten plastic bags that had been shaped by the wind into tattered little sculptures of strange, transfixing delicacy.

“The Provenance of Beauty” is a highfalutin title for this engrossing urban adventure, which does not conform to the standard formula for theater but does make the bustle outside the bus throb with history, mystery and meaning, as the best live performances do.

You board on 121st Street in East Harlem, donning headsets attached to small radio receivers. As the bus crosses the Willis Avenue Bridge and winds its way through the South Bronx, three narrators — two recorded and one live, sitting in the front — provide poetic commentary and factual context for the sights you see through the windows, making the complex history of a rarely celebrated neighborhood take root in your heart and mind.

For many New Yorkers — we know who we are — the borough across the bridge or through the tunnel might be another country. Manhattan dwellers are particularly susceptible to complacent insularity. I’ll admit I laughed with rueful recognition at a scene in “30 Rock” when Tina Fey’s Upper West Side-dwelling character reacts with dismay to a late-night party invitation proffered by a younger date.

“I’m 37,” she whines. “Please don’t make me go to Brooklyn.”

I saw 37 awhile back, and before I boarded the bus, my knowledge of the Bronx barely extended beyond visits to Yankee Stadium. I didn’t know it was called the Bronx after the early Swedish settler Jonas Bronck. I didn’t know the Bronx had its own flag.

But I am getting ahead of myself and shouldn’t spoil the illuminations of this 90-minute odyssey, written by Claudia Rankine and created by Ms. Rankine and Melanie Joseph, the head of the Foundry Theater, by divulging too much of the historical and demographic detail that makes up about half the narration. The other half comprises Ms. Rankine’s lyric musings on the way that the landscape shapes people, and that people shape the landscape, and the interaction between human beings and the places in which they live and work and fight to establish a sense of belonging — even places that it seems nobody wants to belong to. (A startling statistic, according to the text: more than half the population of the South Bronx evaporated during the 1970s.)

The narration is spoken in smooth, flowing tones by Raúl Castillo and Randy Danson on tape, and the affable Sarah Nina Hayon in person. Some passages are precious or arch, more empty verbiage than sense: “Ultimately the life of a place is placeless. It overflows. It waits for me to coincide with you in the same instant it waits for you to coincide with me. Now here we are despite our individual beginnings, our various islands of birth.” O.K., whatever. You can tune in and tune out at will.

One of the first stops on the travelogue is the American Banknote Building in Hunts Point, where the gentrification that has already transformed many New York neighborhoods has made a tentative foothold. This former money-minting business — called the Penny Factory by locals — is a gorgeous brick pile with soaring mullioned windows, newly adorned with bright yellow and red fire escapes and ducts that recall the colorful accents on Renzo Piano buildings.

A revitalization initiative for the Hunts Point neighborhood has also reclaimed Barretto Point Park, turning what was once an unkempt stretch of waterfront land “overrun by weeds, chickens, goats, vagrants and shacks,” Ms. Hayon recalls, into a placid, pleasant and tidy expanse. And yet this pretty, generic strip of park sits in between a fertilizer plant and a public wastewater treatment plant. Not far away looms the eerie-looking Vernon C. Bain Center, a prison barge affixed to the land like a monstrous barnacle, an adjunct of Rikers Island.

The South Bronx, it seems, has long been a favorite dumping ground for the temporarily or permanently unwanted. In addition to the treatment plant and the prison barge, it is home to 15 waste transfer stations and a massive Con Ed plant, now absurdly clad in a dainty artificial facade suggesting some perky nouveau-retro condo development in the suburbs. That familiar New York villain of yore, Robert Moses, arranged for 17 low-income housing projects to be in the South Bronx, according to the narration.

But in between the giant behemoths that dot the landscape, which also includes the big food warehouses and processing plants ranged along the blandly named Food Center Drive (“Nebraskaland,” one is amusingly called), teeming life asserts its own unruly prerogatives. I was fascinated by the welter of auto parts yards, some dank and grungy, some colorfully painted, each with its own specialty. A row of car doors neatly arrayed on scaffolding looked like a sculpture in the sky. And was that establishment we just passed really called Atlas Bad Auto Glass? Why “bad”?

“The Provenance of Beauty” is directed by Ms. Joseph and Shawn Sides, but of traditional drama there is not much, save for a lovely moment near the end of the tour, in which an emissary from the insulated cocoon of the bus enters the life of the city on the other side of the windows. The action is mundane — just a matter of somebody’s stepping off a bus — but it takes on a strange, startling significance in the context of this elegant meditation on a pocket of the city you might never think of exploring with guidebook in hand.

You’ve come to see with a new immediacy that the distance between two streets, two neighborhoods or two people, between a blighted past or a promising future, between fertility and waste, is as great or as small as we choose to make it."

* I am sharing this because my dear friend, the performance artist The Lovely And Talented Miss Toni Silver attended this performance and said, "I went... and it is really evocative and moving. I loved it." I haven't seen it yet myself but the travelogue-on-a-bus format reminds me of a similar piece called "Nights in This City" created and performed by international, Sheffield England-based Forced Entertainment. If anyone has seen either performance (or both!) I'd love to hear about it.

The Provenance of Beauty
A South Bronx Travelogue

By Claudia Rankine; created by Melanie Joseph and Ms. Rankine; directed by Ms. Joseph and Shawn Sides; project consultant, Sunder Ganglani; sound by Geoff Abbas; video by Kell Condon; production stage manager, Casey Llewellyn; production manager, David Ogle; line producer, Janice Shapiro; associate producer, Anna Hayman. Presented by the Foundry Theater, Ms. Joseph, artistic producer. On a bus driven by Mary Wallace; reservations, (866) 811-4111. Through Oct. 25. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

WITH: Sarah Nina Hayon and the voices of Raúl Castillo and Randy Danson.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Revolution In Motion: Featuring Mahmoud Ahmadinejad TONIGHT

Alwan for the Arts Presents

Revolution In Motion: Featuring Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
A Film by Milad Dokhanchi. DVD, 70 min, 2009. (Director in Attendance)
Friday, September 18, 7 PM.
Free and Open to the Public

PostScreening Discussion with Neda Bolurchi (Columbia University) and Kamran Rastigar (Tufts University) moderated by Brian Drolet (Deep Dish TV)

"'Is there anything about the west that you would admire?' This is the question that Milad Dokhanchi, a young Iranian-Canadian filmmaker poses to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Traveling from Toronto, he follows the Iranian president on his populist trips to Iran’s provinces, his cabinet meetings and industry tours, and sitsdown with him in an exclusive one-on-one interview about the world of Ahmadinejad.

Revolution In Motion tells the story of one of world's most controversial leaders, a man vilified in the western press, and whose legitimacy has been challenged by leading figures of the Islamic Republic in the wake of intensely disputed recent elections. Shot two months before Iran's June 2009 presidential elections, the film provides important background and context for discussing today's Iran, its internal power struggle, and the real character of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

During Dokhanchi's extensive interview, Ahmadinejad describes what he considers the revolutionary path of the Islamic Republic and poses it sharply against the direction urged by reformers. He also challenges the value of discourse with the western powers that is conducted on their terms, arguing instead that countries wishing to free themselves from the humiliations of colonial domination must insist that the discourse be shaped to their own interests and necessities.

In addition to the Amadinejad interview, Dokhanchi's film gives voice to a wide range of Iranian opinion from the countryside to the cities about the president and life under the Islamic Republic."

Alwan for the Arts
16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor (bet. Broad & Broadway)
New York, NY 10004
(646) 732-3261

TRAINS: 4/5 to Bowling Green; J/M/Z to Broad St.; R/W to Whitehall St.; 1 to Rector St. or South Ferry; 2/3 to Wall St.; A/C to Broadway-Nassau
BUSES: M1, M6, M9, M16, M20.
BIKE: Hudson Rvr. Greenway, East Rvr. path, Liberty St., Broadway, Water St.
Google Maps:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Taqwacores Book Launch and Kominas Live Show TONIGHT

Opening reception and launch party for Kim Badawi's book, The Taqwacores: Muslim Punk in the USA.

Live performance by the talented Kominas will begin at 7pm.

When: Thursday, September 17
Time: 7:00pm-10:00pm

Venue: Powerhouse Arena
Address: 37 Main Street, Brooklyn, NY, Untied States
Phone: 718 666 3049
Opening starts September 17th, 2009 @ 7:00pm

Exhibit ends October 25th, 2009
Admission: FREE!

For more photography on Taqwacore visit :

UPDATE: Ted Swedenburg has a great post on The Kominas and Pakistani rock in general on his great Hawgblawg.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oppressive, Bloodsucking, Arrogant, Muslim, Alien

The mainstream media are finally starting to state the obvious: The ad-hoc group of conservatives that coalesced around the nation's capital on 9/12 are motivated by racial hatred. In the New York Times, Maureen Dowd finally connected the dots following Joe Wilson's outburst ("You lie!") during the President's speech on health care reform. Dowd writes,

"Surrounded by middle-aged white guys — a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men’s club — Joe Wilson yelled “You lie!” at a president who didn’t. But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!... I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer — the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids — had much to do with race... But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it."

I am torn between celebrating this development in the mainstream media's approach to covering Obama's presidency and my frustration over the fact that it took the regular appearance of white men wearing guns and threatening violence against the President for it to happen. However, there is by no means an MSM consensus, as various voices (on the Right and the Left) are suggesting that either a) there is no racism involved in the opposition toward Obama and his policies or b) that there is no profit in publicly exploring it. The cat is out of the bag however when no less a personage than former President Jimmy Carter says, in an interview with NBC's Brian Williams,

"I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man... I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way, and I've seen the rest of the country that share the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans... And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of the belief of many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It's an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply."

I am happy that a former President (and not incidentally a white Southerner) would express this sentiment openly on a network news program, thereby introducing it into the mainstream news cycle and ensuring that it will stay there. All of this is very good and necessary.


As in the election, while the issue of race is considered (or rather, the question of whether or not it should be considered is discussed) there is still absolutely no discussion of the blatant Islamophobia and Orientalism that characterize the arguments of his detractors. While (perhaps predictably) race has haunted the discourse around Barack Obama since he first appeared on the global stage, the most durable slur leveled against him during the election was not about his racial identity, but rather the lie that he is a Muslim. This lie became racialized at various points, as when radical Zionist nutcase Pamela Geller published an "expose" titled "Obama: Arab American?", Rush Limbaugh announced authoritatively that Barack Obama was "not black" but rather is an "Arab", and infamously when an elderly white lady told John McCain that she didn't like Obama because she had heard he was "an Arab" at a campaign event... To which McCain gallantly replied "No, ma'am. He's a decent family man and citizen...", as if an Arab identity, decency and American citizenship cannot coexist. As a result, the Obama campaign adopted a chilly distance from Muslim and Arab constituents.

But this is old news now. Right? Nope.

"Ali Bama and the 40 Czars.."

The use of "Muslim" and "Arab" as (somewhat confused) conjoined slurs against Barack Hussein Obama have persisted under his presidency and so has his silence about it. This Orientalist and Islamophobic meme has evolved into (among other things) the "Birther" movement's assertions that, in fact, Obama was not born in America, and is therefore constitutionally disqualified from the Presidency. Orly Taitz, the putative leader of the "Birther" movement is an Israeli emigre who produces forged Kenyan birth certificates with alarming regularity. Her irrational opposition to Obama seems to be motivated by what editor Mark Karlin, a self-described "Jew who knows the landscape of Israeli politics" calls, a "Netanyahu paranoid style" devotion to Israel, a position that criminalizes Arab and/or Muslim identities as a matter of course. Karlin writes, "The birthers are a group of psychos... anti-Semites, skinheads, political malcontents, white firsters, and a radical right wing Jew (Taitz)... who would be shooting each other if they didn't share a common hatred of Obama and the fear of America becoming a nation where whites are in the minority and our foreign policy is to join as partners in the international community." In describing the otherwise-conflicting philosophies of the "Birthers" Karlin captures perfectly the cocktail of racist self-interest that unites them in hatred of Barack Obama. But, like Dowd, while he asserts the "unspoken" anti-black racist thread in this coalition of fringe conservatives, he neglects the obvious (and often spoken) anti-Arab and Muslim elements of their opposition.

I am not suggesting that one form of prejudice is worse than the other, but rather that they work together-- something that is particularly apparent in the viciously personal attacks against Obama. The sign pictured above, which was carried by a tea bagger during the 9/12 protest in Washington DC, illustrates this convergence perfectly. That the overwhelmingly white protesters feel "oppressed" by Obama is a classic inversion of racism in which white people imagine themselves to be persecuted and "bloodsucking" seems to be a political reference to higher taxes articulated in monster-movie terms. Calling an accomplished black man "arrogant" is a textbook racist move and "Muslim" explains itself in this context, doesn't it? But "alien" is the clincher: it unites the local "uppity black man" and the foreign "menace of the marauding Arab/Muslim horde". Dowd comes close to articulating this when she writes of efforts to paint Obama as the "Other"... but while the "Twelvers" and the "Birthers" et al have not been shy in saying exactly which "Other" they mean, Dowd doesn't specify.

I think there are two reasons for this oversight. In the United States all discussions of prejudice default to a Black/White binary and Obama is a black man. But the other reason is that Islamophobia and Orientalism are so ubiquitous in our culture that they barely inspire comment. So, Barack Obama continues to express his discomfort with any taint of foreignness that comes along with the Arab and Muslim identities suggested by his name, the Right keeps using it as a slur to generate suspicion about his motives and the Left keeps ignoring it unless it is to make a joke of it. But the persistent refusal, even on the Left, to acknowledge the Islamophobic and Orientalist elements in the racist attacks against Barack Obama only reinforces them.

Oh, and Guantánamo is still open.

How the Rapist Was Born premiering in London 9/28-10/17

London's Theatre Waah is premiering Sabina England's play, How the Rapist Was Born as part of their Double Dutch Espresso series, on a bill with Punam Ramchum's Jesus Christ and Chocolate Pudding. The plays run from September 28-October 17th. If you are in London, go and see it and report back.

Monday, September 14, 2009

This Week in Pictures

You are right, tea-bagger. It's not about race.

I tried to play the "race card" but I have stopped kidding myself. I can no longer deny what these protests are really about: sex. Pure, unadulterated sexual energy like this country has not seen since the 60s. The 9/12 protests were like Woodstock for overweight, middle aged, white people and their admirers. The air was sensually thick with testosterone cream, baby powder and hot dog farts and you moved as one, the crepe-y skin underneath your arms damp with righteous perspiration...

"Wanna swing?"

I tried to stay away from you tea-baggers, but I just couldn't. I am only a man, with a man's weakness. This morning I found myself sifting through Flickr accounts, searching for a glimpse of you. And there you were. There is just something about a fanny-pack over a flag-themed polo...

Tell you what, Mr. Furley. I will make your Lady's toes curl while you watch. That should de-pleat your khakis. I have some creative ideas for those wristbands. Sure hope they stretch. But don't think I am leaving you out. We can play "Gitmo: Flip the Script" once I am done here. Isn't that what you really want? Sure it is.

No , no. Leave the hat on.

Yeah, those two want to 'team Sarah all right. Ten bucks says the one on the right has Anne Murray on cassette in her Subaru. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I love Anne Murray.

Sure, okay. I get it.

Those are supposed to be dogs, with their little red tongues hanging out of their smiling mouths. Haunches tensed. Captured mid-thrust. I can see how, given the array of images to describe your opposition to health care reform you would hit on this one. It is perfectly obvious.

So, in other words, you imagine yourself bent over a table, looking fearfully (expectantly?) over your shoulder as President Obama prepares to slide his giant, engorged, Black Finger into your deepest recesses?

Is he about to turn your most private place into a Public Option, for all to see?

Do you feel helpless to stop it?

Doesn't it just make you want to pull out your... "gun"?

Psst. You. Yes, you. I see you over there, habibi. Sitting on the sidelines with your Mona Lisa smile. You aren't like the others, are you? You like to hang back and assess the situation before you commit yourself. That's because you are special.

You heard me.

Shhh. Don't bother to deny it. Anyone with eyes can see that beneath that cardigan beats the heart of a real woman, whose sensuality cannot be contained by her elastic waist pants.

And I have eyes, habibi. No, you weren't "born yesterday" and I like that. You have been around and you know how to get yours.

I know I don't look it Ma, but I am getting older too and I am growing tired of the game. I want someone who can call me on my shit, know what I'm saying? A woman who isn't afraid to admit that she has no idea what "fascist" means... and then write that out in big, block letters on a cardboard sign. If I am coming on too strong Ma, just let me know but I got to speak my heart: I see a future with you.

I just hope neither of us ever gets sick.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

This Week in TV

The past week has been a strange one in US politics. A pair of speeches by President Obama shook loose a big bunch of crazy that has apparently been sitting at home, polishing its guns since the inauguration. I have been at this activism thing for a long time so I probably shouldn't be surprised... but the outrageous lies told by conservatives about the President, his proposed reform of health care and even his address to American schoolchildren, have shocked me. Or rather, the fact that such obvious lies (as opposed to the more subtle partisan distortions that characterize day-to-day politics) would be entertained so seriously. It seems that the conservative crazies did not go away when the Bush Era finally ended. If anything they seem oddly empowered by the notion that they are now cultural underdogs, a position that suits the aggrieved nature of their philosophy. The lies conservative leaders tell are easily debunked yet still effective because their followers do not need the truth, they need to have their suspicions confirmed. For the first time since Obama entered the world stage members of the mainstream media are openly questioning the racist motivations of his detractors, which gives some indication of how blatant they have become. The entire week has been a horror show of televised faces twisted into a ghoulish parody of righteousness, from Glenn Beck to Joe Wilson to nameless tea baggers screaming into every camera pointed their way. And there have been plenty.

So instead of watching the news I am watching a special on female serial killers.

A lady criminal profiler with the over plucked eyebrows and glossy black hair of a Romulan is telling the stories of women who have perpetrated horrendous (if imaginative) murders. One suburban woman was a psychopath who murdered elderly women to pay for expensive beauty treatments, another a Victorian nurse-- sexually aroused by poisoning her patients-- who cuddled them as they died, and a third was a schizophrenic babysitter who smothered children in her care when they cried. But as I listen to the hushed voice over narration about lack of empathy, detachment and narcissistic self-aggrandizement I find myself thinking about the angry pink faces of the town hall yellers whose bizarre pronouncements literally make no sense outside of their own heads. It seems that there is no refuge from these people even amidst killer moms, nurses and babysitters. Perhaps because they have so much in common.

It may seem like an extreme comparison, but is it? In 1968 Charles Manson built a complex philosophy around the notion of a coming race war. His young, white middle class followers were enthralled not only by the notion that Manson was a Messianic figure but by the idea that Black people were secretly plotting to overtake the United States and subsequently slaughter whites. When Manson, trotted out like a dancing bear a few times a decade to say weird things to interviewers with furrowed brows, talks about racist conspiracies we take it as proof of his madness. How then should we consider the racist paranoia of, say, Glenn Beck? When magnified to an epic scale by moist-eyed figures like Beck can we not describe racial hatred in terms of pathology?

When people cling to political ideology that supports policies and legislation that are clearly against their best interests, isn't that insanity?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

New Peggy Shaw Performance, Must: The True Story

Miss America La Mama Experimental Theatre Club Performance
Peggy Shaw (at right) and Lois Weaver

The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics forwarded this message about a special performance by pioneering lesbian performer and playwright Peggy Shaw, a founding member of the New York/London based avant-garde feminist theater group Split Britches.

"Dear Hemi friends in the New York area!

We hope you can join us next
for a special evening with the one and only
in which she will perform excerpts from her new show
a collaboration with Clod Ensemble, London

"A journey through the shadows of a city,
A pound of flesh, a book of Love"...

Peggy Shaw is an independent performance artist, painter and poet whose work is firmly rooted in a queer feminist perspective, with an unceasing quest for global equality in writing, spoken word and performance. (

Where: 20 Cooper Square, 5th Floor (Hemispheric Institute)
When: Friday, September 18th, 7:00 PM
What: Peggy Shaw performs exceprts from Must: The True Story

Reception will follow."

Taysir Batniji Installation/Performance

Photo: Haupt & Binder

Atelier (22.06.2006 - 07.06.2009)
Color photograph on paper 150 x 100 cm

Hannoun 1972-2009
Installation / Performance

"The red pencil, an artists' tool, is a symbol of an art process that in (Taysir) Batniji's work is constantly interrupted; where as the sea of shavings is an obsession from childhood that he revisits to link the past with the present. The pencils, long associated with drawing, represent art he no longer practices, thereby assuming a poetic function. Their red color, barely visible, is multiplied several folds in the thousands of shavings that create a sea of fragile "petals" reminiscent of the anemones long associated with the Palestinian landscape and celebrated in poetry and song. The work is performative. Created outside a studio, it is a transient confrontation between the artist, his work and his Gaza studio (on the photo in the back) that he cannot reach."

Courtesy of Nafas magazine. Lovely.

I am continually astounded by the cutting edge contemporary visual art and performance emanating from Palestine and its Diaspora (Batniji moves between Palestine and Venice). Pound for pound it is one of the most exciting art scenes on the planet. Even more amazing given its modest size and the neo-colonial hardships endured by its people.