REVIEW: That Brown Show

I was immensely pleased to find that when I walked into the theater, they were playing Tamil music. And not just any Tamil music, Tamil music from two 90s movies, probably on an album I’ve loved for years. Such a serendipitous alignment with my music taste is extremely rare.

I thought a lot about how connected the Indian community is to its home country. It was more visible to me than usual, perhaps because I haven’t been back there for four years and a visit is long overdue. As usual, there was much more enthusiastic singing for the Indian national anthem than the American one. Sahana Music, the first group to perform, then chose to give a rendition of “Vande Mataram”, which is India’s national song, stoking the sense of community in the room. Similarly, other performances also presented themes of unity and friendship.

I was on the main floor this time, which afforded me less of a view of the geometry of the choreography than I get from the balcony. Because of this, I think I missed out on part of the bhangra team’s usual visual spectacle, unfortunately. They do an amazing job usually and the performance didn’t come off as well when the choreography was obscured. Sahana Dance presented three different types of Indian classical dance. Choreographing all three to work in harmony is a feat, but they did it. I was confused and then very pleasantly intrigued by the fact that they didn’t dance to traditional Indian music. Instead, it was fusion music, and I loved it. I do wish it had been softer, though, because hearing the footwork in Indian classical dance is essential. (On that note, they could use some work on their sound mixing, as well as their video editing, which I realize is not the emphasis of the performance but would like to mention anyway). I was especially impressed by Izzat’s performance. Normally, the all-male Indian fusion dance team performs with a very angular movement style, but this performance showcased a versatility I didn’t know they had. They danced to multiple genres of music, from hip-hop to Bollywood to “Bare Necessities” (their performance was themed on The Jungle Book). Of all their dances I’ve seen, this was in my opinion the best one. And incidentally, their performance gave the story a peaceful ending too.

Every performance was vibrant, both in color and in character, as it should be because that’s what India is too. I always leave such shows longing for India’s exuberance; it is unashamedly itself, and ready to declare its presence to the world. Note for example the difference in audience. In most Western performances I attend, the audience murmurs quietly until the lights dim, and remains silent from then on. Not so here: the audience has no problem calling out people’s names and cheering them on. Two of the performances used strobe lights; you couldn’t fall asleep to the music if you tried; and all had bright costumes, no pastels in sight. And everyone was just having so much fun.

One last note: There was also a small art exhibition in the hallway, showcasing work by Indian artists. I really liked looking at the work: the thought process is so evident and meticulous, and stylistically the pieces were all beautifully executed.

REVIEW: EMBODY 2018 MFA Thesis Exhibition

This past Friday, the Stamps Gallery was abuzz with an eclectic and ageless crowd—twenty-somethings in high-waisted khakis, solemn photographers, sixty-somethings in color blocked heels, an ecstatic ten year old girl in panda covered leggings. Around 7 o’clock Osman Khan, director of Michigan’s MFA Program and Associate Professor at Stamps, picked up the mic to congratulate the exhibiting artists— Brenna K. Murphy, Robert Fitzgerald, Brynn Higgins, and Stephanie Brown— at the opening reception for their MFA thesis exhibition: EMBODY.

Khan beamed, “For me what I’m most proud of is that they have embodied what the school means.” If this collective show may double as an echo of the school itself, then Stamps is an innovative attention to modernity, careful homage to both the consistencies and inconsistencies of developed creative form, and an unabashed questioning of norm.

The first performance of the night was part of Murphy’s three part work, “Crossing.” Situated in the back of the galley, the space is dictated by an elongated bobbin lace contraption. Sitting in a spotlight Higgins weaves the bobbins methodically as onlookers contemplate and are utterly consumed by the absence of breath in the space and the trancelike quality of the weaving.

The multi-media exhibit is a questioning of “how grief can be expressed by and embodied in the physical labor of making.” The performance itself is a hypnotic act of vulnerability that Higgins explains in her own words as a metaphor of grief her teacher gave her so long ago: “separating the bobbins into three groups: ‘it’s like two friends going over a river. First one crosses, then the other follows.’”

In order to view Fitzgerald’s performance of “/offscreen/” the crowd was ushered through an open glass annex out into the lobby of the McKinley Town Centre. Through the glass, the audience watched a suit-glad Fitzgerald move creatively around an empty wood floor. His movements were jumpy, repetitive, and exaggerated. A knowing side-eye and a particularly comic wardrobe addition of goggles enlisted periodic laughter from audience members. At one point he mimicked the movement of a golfer and at another he seemed to be urging invisible comrades to army-crawl with him through trenches.Seeming both puppet and controller of a confused dream series, Robert uses his performance to draw the audience further into the world of his concrete installation of “/offscreen/.” The work is a nostalgia trip that features moving images superimposed on the architecture of a childhood bedroom. In Robert’s words “ by mining the films of [his] adolescence, [he investigates] the construction of masculinity through movement.” A particularly striking projection found underneath the bed sheets highlights the physical language of inter-male compassion and intimacy. If you stay in the exhibition long enough you may be able to overhear two middle aged men discuss John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever” and the way they used to flip their hair in high school.

Higgins’s work, “How to draw a line with a clenched fist” is an exciting juxtaposition of sculpture and video situated in the central passage. Most compelling is the map motif that splays itself over the video projection and reappears as a crumpled piece of sculpture on an opposite table. The video— a black white image of hands manipulating clay—seems oddly destructive when placed in juxtaposition to a striking collection of paper-thin, terracotta colored clay sculptures arranged on a podium by the opposite wall. The meticulous attention to arrangement and material itself externalizes our closest wishes to manipulate, protect, save, and create. In the words of Murphy this exhibit is predicated on the “tenuous nature of knowing a thing.”

Immediately upon entering the gallery, viewers are confronted with Brown’s work, “Am I Enough.” The exhibit is an interactive interplay of word and installation centered by the chilling last line of a poem printed on the wall: “When did you decide who you are?” Adjacent to these words is an installation of a closet filled with hanging human skins. This closet, toeing the line of cliché, is so strikingly unromantic that it is impossible to look away. Its cliché only serves to intensify a deeply familiar notion about the way our skin wears us and we it. In Brown’s words her installation “critiques skin color discrimination and its relationship to self-esteem…illustrating the unconscious decisions made in private spaces.” Her best work is found in her interactive use of language—a packet of poems and a Mad Lib about skin— and in her attention to detail: a stylized vanity decorated with a particular typography of subversive and brilliant quotes by influential African American men and woman (From James Baldwin to India Arie) that made me feel as if they had once sat at that very table and scribbled the thought in their own hand.More than worth a cold walk down S. Division, the EMBODY exhibition is a must-see for all who have ever been confronted by the fact of identity and its material place in the world.

The show will run until Sunday, April 1. A performance of “Crossing” by Brenna K. Murphy will take place from 11:30 – 4:30 pm on Saturday March, 31.



On a sunny Sunday, I ventured down Liberty — past Main — to the Ann Arbor Art Center. Despite being my first time venturing upstairs, it was my second-ever visit. Both times, natural light and kind staff have made the space feel open and inviting. The first floor was comprised mainly of their shop behind a small gallery space of artworks for sale, but stairs in the middle of the room invited me to see the exhibition space in their 117 Gallery. This juried exhibition was media-focused, displaying drawings from multiple different styles and perceptions.


I never really know the best direction in which to roam around a gallery, but there were only two other visitors there that afternoon, so I had some freedom. The first artwork I saw was a large, colorful piece that had received honorable mention: Scott Teplin’s mixed media piece Big School. I remembered seeing it on the AAAC website, but in person, the colors were much more vibrant and the large piece encapsulated much detail.

There were some more traditional pieces, such as John McKaig’s Blind Crown, a large-scale colored pencil piece full of exquisite drapery. Often enamored by drapery studies from both a viewer and artist perspective, it became one of my favorites.

Detail of “Blind Crown”

Beside it, a 3D-drawing pen and plant-based resin sculpture by Lavinia Hanachiuc named Silkie3 hung with its shadow close by on the wall. It didn’t take very long to notice the depths of the variety in style from piece to piece, and I quickly began to realize that I was getting an indirect lesson in the possibilities of drawing as a media. While there wasn’t an every-other order from the traditional to “experimental” styles (for lack of a more accurate descriptor), there was a nice shift from framed pieces to installation-types every so often.

The gallery space flows from windowless to brightly sunlit-spaces, though I enjoyed all of the shadows created of the three-dimensional pieces no matter the light source. I never thought about the corners of galleries until I noticed Larry Cressman’s Drawing (Into a Corner 10) installation drawing, composed of teasel, graphite, matte, medium, and pinsi — seemingly created to be shown in a corner. It sticks out, drawing attention to itself, though somehow also seemed reserved…an element that I enjoyed.

“Drawing (Into a Corner 10)”

Aside from final results of drawing, an exhibited piece was a drawer itself. The center of the room boasts a robot drawing machine by Ashley Pigford, available for demonstration with the assistance of AAAC staff. I didn’t end up using it, but I’d be interested in seeing its results.

As far as the gallery space itself, I liked that it was on the second floor because it felt like a more personal and unsupervised first experience with the art on show. There was no pressure to react in any specific ways, which I sometimes sense when viewing galleries with a staff member nearby or passersby peering in through a window. The sunlit section was more inviting than the other space flowing into it, but that’s absolutely a personal bias and not related to the exhibition itself. I attended alone on a particularly quiet afternoon, but it would be a fun outing with friends as well. It was also a nice chance to see works done by artists affiliated with the Ann Arbor arts community, outside of the university bubble.

This gallery visit was kind and eye-opening with simple displays of a wide range of works. I highly recommend a visit! It’s free and open to the public, and if you’re an interested art-buyer, many of these works are for sale. On March 16th from 5-7pm, the day before the exhibit ends, AAAC is hosting a happy hour as one of the final chances to see Art Now: Drawing. There will be refreshments and an interactive drawing activity — if it’s with the robot, I want to see results! Otherwise, gallery hours are below.



Venturing just slightly beyond the bubble of UM, one can find the Ann Arbor Art Center, a nonprofit organization home to local art and rotating exhibitions. The current exhibition is “ART NOW: Drawing” — one focused on particular media and the fourth annual of its kind, exploring conventional and less traditional types of drawing.

For more information, check out their website.

Or, wander down Liberty and check it out!

Dates: Showing through March 17th, 2018
Location: Ann Arbor Art Center’s 117 Gallery
117 W. Liberty St.
Gallery Hours:

REVIEW: Aftermath: Landscapes of Devastation

The sublime is what captivates your attention, the mix between horror and beauty. This discomfort that the sublime evokes by being fascinated with something horrifyingly beautiful is what the latest photography exhibition at the UMMA revolves around. Aftermath: Landscapes of Devastation brings to the forefront of our minds how we use photographs to mediate and memorialize disasters. While the exhibition includes 150 years of medium, it depicts the course of over 2,000 years of human history and photographs moments to last into the infinite future.

Instead of displaying the pictures in chronological order of when the event occurred, the pictures play with time, as the sequence is nonlinear, the arrangement dealing with the increasing amount of time between when the event occurred and when the photograph was taken. By capturing a landscape of devastation mere seconds after the event or two thousand years later, the effects of that devastation can be either visible or invisible, creating a landscape with a timeless story tied to the land.

A lot of the photographs were indirect, not clearly depicting any “devastation” at first glance. This exhibition really makes you stop and read the description to understand why certain photographs belong in a collection that starts with the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb. Even that is an interesting choice — a distant view of a giant cloud in the sky that is a clear sign of devastation without overtly showing the scene from the ground. It is hard to miss the mushroom cloud, but the unimaginable carnage of bodies remain unseen. The picture that follows is an aerial shot of an accident on a beach, the conglomerating crowd and oblivious beach-goers fully captured in this spectacle that is centered around one individual’s life and near-death, an unforgettable memory that will now always be remembered.

9/11 has its place in this exhibition, the two selected photographs shaping our collective memory and national identity as we continuously return to this historic event. However, events of less obvious violence that are equally devastating have their rightful place too. The repetition of the land at Shiprock taken throughout one day represents the relative timelessness of a geographical sight that is perceived despite the destruction on native land that has slowly taken its course through many years.

One of the most interesting photographs was one of joy in an environment of devastation. Bosnian-Muslim refugee children are playing in a bombed building, this innocent side of human nature persisting in a haunting scene very unnatural yet very human, and this direct juxtaposition tugs at your heart as the suffering and resilience of families during a period of war and genocide makes this image — and this ongoing reality — truly devastating indeed. There are certainly many more photographs, each as intriguing and thought-provoking as the last, that makes this exhibit that is on display until May 27 worth seeing.

There is beauty and tranquility in these photographs despite the devastation, and it is precisely because of that that there is something harrowing about them, these moments — or aftermath of moments — suspended in time and carried into infinity. Natural and manmade destruction is never forgotten. Even if it escapes the lens of a camera, it will be forever ingrained in human memory and the natural history on the land.

REVIEW: Bodies of Michigan exhibit

The Bodies of Michigan art exhibit put together by Natalie Giannos in Palmer Commons is located along the walls of the Windows Lounge.  That immediately made it difficult for me to look closely at the images because in order to do so, I needed to navigate around all the people studying and invade their space.  It also gave me the impression that while the images were in a public space, not many people were actually seeing them because they were so immersed in their own projects.  That made me a little upset because I found a lot of the pieces rather striking.  Therefore, I think a different venue would greatly benefit this exhibit if it’s going to run again next year — maybe something a little more intimate where the images can actually be observed closely.

The exhibit featured six images (there is a spot for a seventh image entitled “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” Robin Rranza, but the picture looks like it was torn off the wall).  The collection overall was very colorful, with images like “Bad Boy Rebellion” also by Robina Rranza and “Alternatively…” by Sonalee Joshi.  I found this enjoyable because, despite the difference in medium, those two images captured two completely different types of people.  “Bad Boy Rebellion” could be representing more of a party scene whereas “Alternatively…” seemed a little more hipster and low-key.

Bad Boy Rebellion

While the majority of this exhibit was colorful, there was one photograph that stuck out to me.  Entitled “Loveletter” by Mackenzie King, it was a picture of a seemingly nude woman in monochrome.  I really enjoyed looking at “Loveletter” because the centralization of light silhouetted the model’s body in such a way that emphasized her curves beautifully.  The title of the photograph and its content really worked well together, and I enjoyed its simplicity.


Another image was “Goiters Caused by Coulrophobia” by Adrian Hanna, which presented a depiction of what looked like the interior of the human body.  This was an interesting piece because it had some 3-D elements.  The final image was entitled “I Know” by yours truly, a picture of my friends posed underneath a bridge in the Arb.

Overall, I think I would have enjoyed the exhibit a lot more had it been held in, for instance, its own room.  Despite that, I loved the concept behind it and all the different interpretations of the human body.