PREVIEW: Victors for Art—Michigan’s Alumni Collectors

Among the plethora of special events and festivals that the University of Michigan is hosting for the 2017 Bicentennial, the UMMA is showcasing works of art collected by their very own alumni. These works, which range from oil paintings to sculptures to multimedia, come from a variety of artists such as Christo, Jean Dubeffet, and Gergia O’Keeffe. The gallery Victors for Art gives visitors the opportunity to view art that would otherwise not be seen by the public eye.

Take the chance to celebrate the university’s bicentennial and view these works while they are at display at the UMMA!

When: Now until June 11th
Time: Monday through Saturday 11:00AM to 5:00PM, Sunday 12:00PM to 5:00PM
Location: UMMA

REVIEW: A Night of Rakugo

Sitting on a 2’x2’ cushion on stage, in front of a large audience, telling a funny story — that is the 400-year-old art of Japanese storytelling, or rakugo.

Having some prior knowledge of rakugo, the moment I heard about a live performance in Ann Arborfree of charge — I knew. I was there. Doors opened at 6:30PM in U-M’s Modern Language Building Auditorium 4. The performance was planned for 7PM sharp. Although my friend and I arrived on time, we were greeted by a full house. In fact, it was so crowded, people were standing against the walls. We were handed a very nice program that was half in Japanese and half in English, detailing the night’s schedule.

Organized by the U-M Japanese Language Program and Center for Japanese Studies, I saw the faculty dressed in kimonos. In case you don’t know what kimonos are, they’re long, loose robes with wide sleeves and tied with a sash, originally worn as a formal garment in Japan.

Seeing beautiful and intricate patterns, colorful fabric, wooden sandals, I could feel my heart punch a hole through my chest. This was the real deal.

Well, thanks to my punctuality, my friend and I found front row seats…on the floor. The faculty handed us Japanese newspapers to sit on and apologized that there were no seats left. It was really no trouble, though. Sitting on the floor was a pain in the butt, but the show was free, and we had a great view of the stage. It was red, with a lush purple 2’x2’ cushion sitting on top of it. A paper lantern stood on each side.

The show began by first teaching the audience a little bit about rakugo and giving a short demonstration as to how a typical performance is done.

is a traditional comedic performance that definitely throws anyone for a loop the first time around, but it’s actually pretty easy to understand. Long story short, the performer sits on the cushion on stage and tells a story. They do this by enacting every character in the story, and using their only two props: a paper fan and a tenugui (Japanese towel). They may stand up on their knees but never on their feet, so the performance never leaves the cushion.

Because the performer has so much to act out, their creativity and skill shine through the performance. They can use the fan as a pair of chopsticks or as a pen, they can use the towel as a letter or a book! The performance really delivers the story.

After the crash course on rakugo, the performances came next. Because the show was organized by the university’s Japanese Language Program, students studying Japanese were able to participate in this unique art of storytelling. One by one, short stories a couple minutes long were told by each student.

One of the students told a story about a little girl greeting her father who had come home from a seaward trip. The girl urged to see his photos of the ocean, gushing over the fish swimming underwater. In one photo, the girl found a sea creature that was uglier than the rest and, disgusted, she asked her father what it was. Then the father scolded her, because it was not a fish — it was her mother!

In rakugo, the story typically leads up to a hilarious punch line at the very end. And honestly, they were really funny! I was cracking up on the floor, trying to hold in my hideous snorts.

After the students were the two Japanese rakugo performers, who had flown to the United States all the way from Japan as cultural envoys. Rakugo professionals.

Yanagiya Sankyo (柳家さん喬) and Yanagiya Kyonosuke (柳家喬之助) are two widely famous rakugo performers in Japan, and tickets to see their shows are priced usually over $30 per person! It was the biggest honor to be able to see their performances for free. I was just happy to be there. Even if I was sitting at eye level with people’s feet.

Unfortunately, photography was prohibited for the two famous rakugo performers. But I promise you, they were amazing. Sitting up there with their commanding presence, their expressions and voices varying with every character — it was truly an art. Just by a small turn of their torso, they suddenly became a different person! Their performances were definitely the highlight of the night.

Yanagiya Kyonosuke (柳家喬之助) performed first with the story Hatsu Tenjin (初天神, “First Tenjin Festival”), which was summarized in the program: “A precocious boy named Kinbou convinces his father to take him to the festival at the Tenjin shrine, on the condition that he won’t bother his father to buy him anything. At the festival, of course, Kinbou can’t help asking for everything he sees, causing problems for his father.”

It was a hilarious performance, and the room roared with laughter as Yanagiya Kyonosuke pouted and wailed as the child. Kinbou was one spunky child, and I loved every second of his character on stage. It was an incredible performance by an incredible performer!

The last performance carries the most prestige in a rakugo show. After a brief intermission, Yanagiya Sankyo (柳家さん喬) delivered the last performance, telling the story of Shinigami (死神, “The God of Death”). In the program, it was summarized: “The God of Death tells a man who has decided that he wants to die that it’s not his time yet and teaches him a way to make a living as a doctor. He grants the man the ability to see the God of Death and teaches him a spell. If the God of Death is sitting by the patient’s feet, then the patient will recover. He simply has to recite the spell and the sick person will get well. If the God of Death is at the patient’s head, there’s nothing that can be done for him. The man becomes very wealthy but spends lavishly on trips and ends up broke. When patients stop coming, he becomes desperate to regain his fortune. But is it possible to trick the God of Death?”

Shinigami (死神, “The God of Death”) is one of the most popular and famous rakugo stories out there, and although it’s a little on the scarier side, it has its funny moments. Shinigami was beautifully told by Yanagiya Sankyo. Everyone was plunged straight into the story as he acted out the God of Death and the cheating doctor. As the God of Death, Yanagiya Sankyo held the fan like a cane under his hands, chuckling at the man’s misfortune. I was enraptured by his performance, visualizing the elements that weren’t there. It was a wonderful story told by a wonderful performer to end a wonderful night.

If you ever catch the word rakugo keep your ears peeled. A story will be told!

REVIEW: Consent by De-Zine Release Party

Cover of the SAPAC’s zine “Consent by De-Zine”

I wander into a room that sings a song from hidden speakers while people are arranged in clumps by the pizza table. A banner of hearts that reads “CONSENT BY DE-ZINE” is sprawled over that table. Unfamiliar with those around me, I slowly walk around until I stop at a table that has little blue books sprinkled on it. That’s when I see a girl with short, jet-black hair who greets me with a smile.

She introduces herself as D, the graphic designer of SAPAC: the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. I’m at the release party for their zine, but I don’t really know anyone at the event or know what’s going on (I showed up late because of a meeting). D fills me in: this zine, called “Consent by De-Zine” is a compilation of visual art and poetry that students from campus submitted. The content ranges from healthy relationships to the topic of consent, both being very delicate yet important points of conversation on a university campus setting. This zine happens to be the first that SAPAC has put together, and so this achievement is being celebrated through music, food, and good company. I share D’s delight in this accomplishment, and then she takes me over to other members of SAPAC so that I can have a chance to meet more of board.

Page 12 of the zine. Created by Liana Smale
Page 17 of the zine. Created by Lena Briggs

Through energetic conversations and warm smiles, I meet Christina Kline, the investigator with the UM Office of Institutional Equity. I also meet members of SAPAC such as Rodrigo, who shared the experiences he’s had so far with SAPAC. At some point, some SAPAC members and I discuss the content of the zine. Grabbing one from the table in the front of the room, I flip through the colorful pages of the zine, impressed by my peers for taking the step of courage and publishing work that pertains to such delicate topics. D eagerly shows me her favorite page of the zine, which features cats and a lovely background of yellow. I continue to chat with her and others, about the zine, SAPAC, and eventually random things like speaking in different languages when drunk.

D’s favorite page from the zine!

By the end of the night, I’ve made some new acquaintances, learned more about SAPAC, and got my own copy of the zine. I thanked D and Christine and others for being so open, and made my way out. I’m definitely planning on attending future SAPAC events, such as the their 12th annual art show: rEVOLUTION: Making Art for Change. There’s just something about taking heavy topics such as sexual assault & relationships, and translating that into works of art and words, that allow viewers to digest content that would normally make them turn their heads the other way.

PREVIEW: Consent by De-Zine Release Party

Consent. Relationships. Although these two topics occupy a certain space on university campuses, Valentine’s Day makes these subjects more relevant than ever. SAPAC — the sexual assault prevention and awareness center of the University of Michigan — will be addressing these topics through a zine that has compiled student art and written work showcasing these topics. The release party will be celebrating the publication of this zine.

SAPAC has been working all year to compile this zine of artwork and poetry, and is proud to celebrate its release. Come support SAPAC and attend the event! Details are on the image above, but also in text below!

When: Monday, February 13th
Time: 7:00 to 9:00PM
Location: North Quad Room 2435

REVIEW: Hijabi Monologues

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A woman sings “Hallelujah” while her friend plays guitar.
A freshman tells the stories of her grandfather’s past love, her mother’s past love, as well as her own experiences with love.
A woman from Malaysia recounts her experiences working in a male-dominated corporation.
A U-M alum shares her story of depression.

These women, and many more, shared various aspects of their life this past Friday night in the Rackham Ampitheatre. Although their backgrounds were diverse, these women shared the identity of being Muslim women who practiced the hijab: a modest lifestyle that includes wearing the veil.

Halfway Hijabi: Hijabi Monologues was a safe space created by sophomores Fatima Haidar and Alyiah Al-Bonijim. These students felt the tension towards Muslims after last year’s election and felt that Muslims, particularly hijabis, needed a space to showcase who they are. This would allow Muslim women to be seen in another light, rather than have the media paint a picture of Muslims for Americans. What Fatima and Alyiah thought to be a small get-together, however, was anything but.

I arrived twenty minutes before seven and found a seat in the third row of the theatre. People trickled in as I made small talk with those around me, but by 7:15PM the room was packed: doors were blocked by a wall of students while others sat on the floor of the stage. Attendees included Muslims and non-Muslims and people of various ethnic backgrounds. After several complaints from security, everyone finally settled in and the monologues began.

Each hijabi—a Muslim woman who practices the hijab—who presented in the safe space had something unique about them that they shared with the audience. Students were moved to tears when U-M alum Dana sang “Hallelujah.” The room was filled with laughter as Malaysian student Anati shared comical moments of her life, of why she decided to practice the hijab. For each story, the audience gave a roaring applause for the courage that the hijabis presented when they were on the stage.

Shortly after the monologues was dessert, where presenters and audience members got to sit together and converse while eating sweets. New friends were made that night, and I was no exception to that.
I was glad to have been able to go to this event last Friday, to listen to the stories of such wonderful people, and would definitely stay on the lookout for more safe space events to come!



REVIEW: Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater

Photo courtesy of the UMMA

Although the UMMA houses many intriguing exhibits, the Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater has become a favorite for visitors of the museum. The art of kabuki theater, which is a classical form of Japanese drama that dates as far back as the 17th century, has been captured by colorful woodblock prints for the public to view. The exhibit currently showcases a collection of these prints, including those made by admired print-artists such as Utagawa Toyokuni and Toyohara Kunichika.

When I first stepped into the exhibit, I was greeted by oriental music and a large wall colored in blue, with text that described the art of kabuki theater. After reading the text, I make my way around the room—it was spacious, with clean white walls that had splashes of color from prints. These depictions of theater showcased famous actors and actresses in scenes from actual plays, as well as fictional ones. Some of the scenes included actors in disguise from enemies, lovers who were reunited, and battle scenes.

Photo courtesy of the UMMA
Photo courtesy of the UMMA

Among the collection of prints was a showcase for a bright red kimono with gold embroidery in the shape of various animals. This kimono was iconic for a specific kabuki actress, who was rarely seen wearing kimonos of other colors.
Next to the kimono was a TV that played a video recording of a kabuki theater performance from the late 1900s, a visual that seemed to bring the prints to life.

Overall, visiting the exhibit was a wonderful experience. I was enlightened of an aspect of Japanese culture that I did not know existed. Don’t miss the chance to view the exhibit for yourself—it will be at the UMMA until the 29th of this month, from 11AM – 5PM on Tuesdays through Saturdays, 12PM – 5PM on Sundays!