REVIEW: Athi-Patra Ruga- Penny Stamps Speaker Series.

img_3197Tonight’s choice of organ music was none other than “Over the Rainbow,” from the Wizard of Oz, a fitting tune considering featured guest Athi-Patra Ruga recently put on a show of the same name. Ruga framed his lecture by talking about self-made superheroes, these characters or rather, avatars, that he has both created and embodied to deal with past traumas. These figures have become the central focus of all his varied artistic ventures throughout the years.

performance1One of the very first avatars he created was “Miss Congo,” who he describes as a “club kid.” At this time he took up tapestry work, saying that he would prefer to define his own fate, and his own story, rather than let others do so for him. In particular he wanted to explore the way that black women have been portrayed at art.

The next character he explored was “Injibhabha,” which translates from his native language of Xhosa into alopecia, or hair-loss, in English. This character was created directly in response to a specific incident that occurred in his life.  Ruga had been in Switzerland when he saw a poster featuring cartoon white sheep kicking a cartoon black sheep out of the country, with the message promoting “cleaning up” the country by forcing immigrants out of the country.  He had built up in his mind Switzerland as a kind of utopian space, but in this moment it all came crashing down.  He did a piece of performance art in which he dressed up as this avatar by sewing together an outfit of “costume afros,” and entering a pen of white sheep.  He continued to experiment with this avatar for a while, and some of the photos he took at this time of Injibhabha are placed below.

The Death of Beiruth
The Death of Beiruth

The next character he began exploring was “Beiruth,” which was made in response to a news story covering a South African woman that had been attacked by a man in a taxi for simply wearing a miniskirt.  Beiruth was meant to be hyper sexualized, and create an immediate reaction in those that come across her.  However, eventually the weight of these issues began to wear on him, and so he “killed off” both of these characters with a dramatic photo of Beiruth standing in front of the crashing waves.

screen-shot-2012-11-28-at-1-13-59-pmHis next major avatar was “Ilullwane,” which refers to a bat, or in the context of his culture, a boy who goes to circumcision school as a rite of passage. Many young boys would die because of infection and ill treatment during this process, and those who leave the program would have to face heavy social stigma.  He wanted to create a “superhero” that would provide inspiration for these young boys. This idea led to several other interesting works.  One of which being, “The Body in Question.”  He showed the video below during the presentation.

With this series he hoped to raise awareness about transgender rights. One of his more elaborate works with the avatar of Ilullwane involved a performance act in an Olympic-sized swimming pool and 12 synchronized swimmers.  The photo gallery below shows just some of the images from that performance.

night-of-the-long-knives-i1The most recent of his series is “The Future White Women of Azania.”  Azania is a word used to reference the East African coast line since at least 14 AD among the Greeks.  The major motif of this series is Ruga’s body entirely covered in balloons, and by popping these balloons he is “shedding his identity.” This project is ongoing, and he continues to find new ways to explore this series, already producing everything from sculpture to photography to textiles.installation-view4


The presentation ended with the premier of Ruga’s new video, “Queens In Exile,” which marks the start of yet another character. The video started out with Ruga dressed as a queen, with extravagant jewels and costuming.  The video took us through several distinctive sections before ending with the shot you see below.  You can see a clip of the video, and hopefully eventually the full video on Ruga’s Facebook page.


I also got a chance to attend the Q&A session immediately following the presentation.  Nearly every lecture has a Q&A session, and I’ve always found them to be tremendously enriching. This time Ruga discussed in further depth his thoughts on the recent US election, the current trend towards conservatism globally, his process for getting into character, and the influence the internet has had on his life and work.

The Stamps Speaker Series is held every Thursday at 5:10 PM at the Michigan Theater.  There are only two more presentations this semester, but the series will pick right back up next semester.




PREVIEW: Jake Shimabukuro, ukulele

This Wednesday, November 16, the University Musical Society is bringing ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro to the University of Michigan!  The concert will take place in Hill Auditorium at 7:30pm.

Photo taken from

Shimabukuro started playing ukulele at the age of four, and now he is doing concerts around the world!  With a four-stringed instrument, he is able to play anything from classical music to popular songs such as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  More information on Jake Shimabukuro can be found at his website:

Photo taken from

Tickets are on sale for $16.00-$60.00 (depending on the location of the seats) at

REVIEW: Mary Mattingly- Stamps Speaker Series

The room was solemn when I first walked in, the lights turned low and the entire auditorium awash in a deep green glow.  After a brief introduction, Mary Mattingly took to the podium.  With a silent video of a burning boat playing on the screen behind her, Mattingly opened the night’s lecture with reflections on img_3145the election, which had only been decided in the wee hours of that very morning.  Instead of directly addressing the results, she chose to highlight the slew of emotions many were feeling that night by delivering a poem, an amalgamation of the various responses she had seen across social media, interspersed with her own reflections.

Mary Mattingly started out her presentation by giving a brief overview of her artistic journey.  With a formal training in photography, she now uses it in three different ways to interact with her work; as a proposal and reimagining of existing locations, as a documentation of the sculptural work that she does, and as an element within the sculptures themselves.   Her current work is focused on several ideas, such as reimagining and making a statement on public food, transforming industrial equipment into sculptural ecosystems and exploring our relationships with objects.

She then began to take us through some of her more recent projects.  “Wading Bridge,” in Des Moines, IA is an invitation for locals to directly interact with the Raccoon River, which is considered both polluted and dangerously swift. The piece was commissioned to inspire thoughts and discussion about water quality in the area.

Another one of her current projects involved the construction of a park in New York City.  The following clip shows some of the process, as well as the final product of this project.

One of her current projects in New York City is a “floating food forest” called Swale, located on a large floating platform.  She says the work was created in part because it is illegal to pick food from public land, whereas there are no such rules about picking food on water. The food grown on Swale is made of mostly perennial plants that were donated by the park service.  If you are interested in learning more about the project, please check out the official website, .

She then dove into discussing her influences as an artist. She says she has always been attracted to dealing with basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter.  The area in which she grew up did not have potable ground water, which lead to her “obsession” with water.  She then began to think about the way that humans will have to survive the aftermath of climate change, particularly in terms of human migration. This eventually led to her work on the Waterpod Project, as shown in the video below.

The original idea for the Waterpod Project had been to create a space that supports growing food and would also be a sustainable living environment. One of the most difficult parts of the project was simply obtaining the permits necessary to legally begin work.  Over the course of a year and a half she and her team had to collect 18 different permits, one of them being an approval to photograph chickens by the actors guild. The project was launched in 2009, and visited a grand total of 5 piers.  She and several of her friends lived on it for 5 months, after which she claims to have realized why most artists stick to working on land.

pullOne of the more interesting projects she worked on was a documentation of every object she owned at the time at .  It was an intentionally absurd project to document her shame at her own consumption.   To further drive the message home, she bundled up all of her belongings and dragged them across New York, purposefully making useful objects nothing more than a useless burden.  In turn, this project has given her a substantial amount of respect for the true value of each object.

This lead directly into her work at the University of Michigan and her newly opened exhibit, Object’s Unveiled: Boxing, Rolling, Stretching and Cutting. For this exhibit she wanted to learn more

about the background behind these objects that we study. In particular, she became drawn to cobalt, which is not only use to produce beautiful blue pigments, but is also used in defense technology and green energy. The state of Michigan has ties to cobalt as we house one of the country’s few cobalt mines. She ended the lecture on this note, ending a few minutes early due to the events of the prior day.

After the lecture was over I made the quick walk over to the Institute for the Humanities with many of the other audience members to enjoy a reception for Mattingly’s exhibit opening there that night. While a somber air still permeated the room, it was clear everyone was impressed by the exhibition. I had a chance to chat with Mattingly briefly, and got her permission to take photos of the exhibit to display on this blog.  The following were some of my favorite pieces.

If you missed the talk, but are still intrigued by Mattingly’s work, I encourage you to check out her exhibit at the Institute of Humanities Gallery, located in the South Thayer Building.  The exhibit will be up until December 15th, so head on over and experience Objects Unveiled yourself.

PREVIEW: Berlin Philharmonic

When? Saturday, Nov 12 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, Nov 13 at 4:00 pm

Where? Hill Auditorium

How Much? Students: $20, General Admission: $50 – $185

Why? It has been 7 years since the Berlin Philharmonic last came to Ann Arbor, and it is the final US tour of the orchestra with their director Simon Rattle. They are performing some of the most spectacular pieces ever composed, including Mahler’s 7th Symphony and Brahms’ 2nd Symphony. It will be a couple days you do not want to miss.

Image by Sebastian Haenel

by Kim Sinclair

REVIEW: Roméo et Juliette

Roméo et Juliette can be described in two words: beautifully tragic.  Staying true to Shakespeare’s original Romeo and Juliet, director Paul Curran took the audience on an extraordinary journey with his cast of the UMSMTD University Opera Theatre students.  And the University Symphony Orchestra led by conductor and music director Martin Katz certainly did not disappoint!

Cast of Roméo et Juliette (taken from UMSMTD’s Facebook page)

I have never been to an opera before so I didn’t know what to expect.  All I knew going into it is that operas are extremely long and I’ve heard many stories of people falling asleep during them!  But that was not the case with Roméo et Juliette.  Sure, the opera was five acts with two intermissions, but the cast kept the show moving right along.  The audience was captivated by the French singing (subtitles in English), the elaborate costumes, and the incredible set.

Janel Speelman and Tom Cilluffo as Romeo and Juliet (taken from UMSMTD’s Facebook page)

I honestly have nothing negative to say about the leading couple.  Juliette (played by Janel Speelman on 11/10 and 11/12, and Kara Mulder on 11/11 and 11/13) not only looked stunning, but her voice was stunning as well.  And Romeo (played by Tom Cilluffo on 11/10 and 11/12, and Darius Gillard on 11/11 and 11/13) was as charming and handsome as ever.  These two were hard not to fall in love with.  The talent between these two leads was out of this world.

Ensemble (taken from UMSMTD’s Facebook page)

Not only were the characters of Romeo and Juliette wonderful, but the whole cast truly did not disappoint.  Juliette’s nurse, Gertrude (played by Helen Hass on 11/10 and 11/12, and Olivia Johnson on 11/11 and 11/13), helped Juliette run into the arms of her loved one.  Friar Lawrence (played by David Weigel on 11/10 and 11/12, and Samuel Kidd on 11/11 and 11/13) was loveable in every way.  His emotions were captured perfectly throughout the whole show.  Stephano (played by Isabel Signoret on 11/10 and 11/12, and Blair Whiteside 11/11 and 11/13) may have gotten the biggest applause after her solo that opened up Act III, scene 2.  And Mercutio (played by Yazid Pierce-Gray on 11/10 and 11/12, and John Daugherty on 11/11 and 11/13) found any humorous moment that he could and soaked it in, leaving the audience in lengths of laughter.  As I said before, the whole cast was truly phenomenal.

Janel Speelman and Tom Cilluffo as Romeo and Juliet (taken from UMSMTD’s Facebook page)

The show of Roméo et Juliette runs on November 10 at 7:30pm, November 11 and 12 at 8:00pm, and November 13 at 2pm in the Power Center.  Student tickets are $12 each (or FREE with a passport voucher!) and general tickets are $22-$28.

PREVIEW: Athi-Patra Ruga- Stamps Speaker Series

  img_5617Tonight, October 10th, 5:10 PM, acclaimed artist Athi-Patra Ruga will be taking to the stage as part of the Stamps Speaker series.  Hailing from South Africa, Athi-Patra Ruga combines performance art, textiles, printmaking, photography, and mixed media to explore ideas of cultural identity, utopia, and dystopia.

The following short video clip provides footage of his  piece of performance art for the Roskilde Festival.  The lively colors and surreal nature of this piece are both very characteristic of Ruga’s individual style.

This work is a part of his continuing series,The Future White Women of Azania which features the unique motif of exaggerated female characters, often played by Ruga himself. A contrast is drawn between their exposed legs and their upper bodies, which are completely swallowed by brightly colored balloons.


Tonight’s lecture will also mark the debut of Ruga’s latest project, Queens in Exile. Bellow are several assorted photos relating to this project, taken from his studio’s Facebook page, giving us a brief taste of what’s to come.

Tonight’s presentation, like all of the speaker series, will be free to the general public.  I advise you to get there early to secure the best seats!

Featured Image from Lumieres D’Afriques