REVIEW: GenAPA Cultural Show 2019: “TECHNICOLOR: Vivid past, vibrant future”

This was my first time attending GenAPA’s annual cultural show. There were so many performances that I surprisingly enjoyed and would otherwise not have seen if I had not gone to see TECHNICOLOR. Each performance showcased a unique aspect of Asian and Pacific American culture. A video, played before each group’s performance, described what ‘technicolor’ as well as the Asian and Pacific American community meant to each student group. There were thirteen featured groups and performers in total. Below, I will mention a few of the performances that I particularly enjoyed.

Sinaboro, Korean traditional drumming group, was the opening act. Throughout their whole performance, the musicians remained seated on the floor of the stage. Their joy and passion for samulnori was delightful to observe (samulnori is a genre of percussion music that originated in Korea. The word samul means “four objects”, while nori means “play”. Samulnori is performed with four instruments: a small gong, a larger gong, an hourglass-shaped drum, and barrel drum). The way the musicians played their instruments was almost like a dance, and it was fascinating to watch.

Michigan Hula’s performance was also intriguing. Prior to the show, the only exposure I had to hula dancing was through the movie, Lilo and Stitch (really sad, I know). You know the scene where Lilo went to hula class? Yup, that’s it. I really appreciated hearing, what I believe is, the Ipu (percussion instrument made from gourds that is often used to provide a beat for hula dancing) and the language the dancers chanted and sang during the performance.

Taekwondo put on a skillful, entertaining, and also humorous performance. The taekwondoins began by monotonously demonstrating different kicks and moves. And then the music came on, and the audience went wild. They demonstrated jumping and spinning kicks and fast kicking techniques. They broke wood boards and performed with nunchucks. It was a blast.

DB3 was one of my favorite performances during the show. They are a male k-pop dance crew. During their performance, they danced hip hop as well as k-pop. Seeing their performance made me feel like a judge on the show, World of Dance. The dancers were so in sync and the choreography was refreshing and stunning. I’ll be looking out for their shows in the future.

Overall, TECHNICOLOR was a blast. There was a wide-range of performances which showed different aspects of Asian and Pacific American culture. The show was both educational and entertaining. In terms of the crowd, there was a great turn-out. A lot of people came out to support their friends and also clubs they enjoyed. I am so glad I went this year.

REVIEW: 24th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners

I had many thoughts and expectations going into the 24th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners while riding Commuter North up to the Duderstadt, and none of them were correct. I was going in with little idea as to what kind of art I would see in this exhibition. Drawing on my experience with art galleries, I was expecting a sparsely-filled space with the kind of art that people feel the need to step back and frown at to feel sophisticated. That was not what I saw in the Dude’s gallery space showing the many ways this project defies preconceived ideas. The walls were full of paintings and drawings while sculptures and other three-dimensional pieces sat on stands and other pieces sat in boxes waiting to be shuffled through. The room was organized according to theme with one section holding more whimsical pieces while another featured darker art. I immediately realized that my idea of art worthy of a gallery was being challenged; I had never thought about crochet finger puppets sitting in an art museum. I realized something I hadn’t considered before attending this exhibit, I have no idea how prisoners gain access to art supplies. Paints and pencils are reasonably easy to come across, but what about all the crochet work featured in the gallery? I could easily see crochet hooks being considered weapons and banned from prisons. This led me to appreciate the ingenuity of the work I was looking at. There were several boxes and even a clock which had been crafted entirely from popsicle sticks cut and glued together to look like wood. I realized that making art in prison requires much more than the traditional kind of creativity which society associates with artistry; it also requires creativity in finding and using resources to express their artistry. Another preconception I had going into this exhibit was that the art would be mainly influenced by the experiences of prison. While there were quite a few pieces that dealt with the failings of the carceral system and the societal failings that have contributed to the incarceration of such a large portion of our population, there were also many pieces that dealt with the more positive aspects of life. Some pieces were fantastical while others were landscapes. Overall, the exhibit did a fantastic job of displaying the universal nature of art and creativity.



PREVIEW: Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land Film Screening

The CHOP Film series presented by the U-M China Ongoing Perspectives programs is presenting a viewing of Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land  (暗戀桃花源) with special guest, direct and writer Stan Lai. The warmly received movie was an adaption from Lai’s self-penned play of the same name, and was the Taiwanese Oscar submission in 1992. The comedy features a unique mix of tones and themes as it features on a single theater that is housing two different plays, both a modern romantic tragedy (Secret Love) and a historical comedy (The Peach Blossom Land.)  

Following the film will be a Q&A session with Stan Lai, who is one of the most prominent and acclaimed playwrights in Asia.  He was the first to receive the highest degree of Art Award in Taiwan, the National Arts Award, two times in 1988 and 2001 respectively.

The event will be hosted at the State Theater, Tuesday, March 16th at 7:00 PM.  It’s completely free and open to the public, so if you’re interested you have nothing to lose!

As a note- the event is titled “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land,”  However the movie is also sometimes translated as “Secret Love for the Peach Blossom Spring.”

REVIEW: Ubuntu

This year was the African Student Association’s 21st Annual Culture Show. Typically held at the Crisler Center, this year’s show was performed in the Michigan Theater. This year’s theme was Ubuntu, which loosely translates to “I am because we are” in the Zulu language of Southern Africa. The program was neatly organized by four different categories beginning with: Society, Community, Family, and Individual.


The first act performed during the Society category was a fashion show. I was a bit shocked that after only twenty minutes of this fashion show, a fifteen-minute intermission followed immediately after. Resuming from intermission was the Community category. This included a short performance by the Michigan Gospel Chorale, a second fashion show, then a performance by Bichini Bia Congo. Bichini Bia Congo is a performance group based in Ann Arbor whose mission is to make audiences aware of the African culture (more specifically, Congolese). Although this was my first time attending ASA’s culture show, it appears that the Bichini Bia Congo group normally performs with them each year. Their performance was by far my favorite act of the show and I wished that it were longer. According to Bichini Bia Congo, “African traditions are communicated through dance, music, song, and drum.” Prior to attending ASA’s show, this is much of what I was expecting — lively dancing, boisterous drumming, native music and songs, immaculate cultural attire. And to be honest, much of the show did not live up to this expectation, with the exception of the small insert done by the Bichini Bia Congo group which was composed of one male drummer and two female dancers.


The third part of the show, Family, was again, another fashion show and Amala. Amala embodied a more lively performance, which I, and the rest of the audience, seemed to be quite excited about. This entailed continuous dance routines while the dancers all wore coordinated outfits. The final part of the show focused on the Individual. There was yet again, another fashion show…followed by a spoken word performance and closed out by two songs performed live by “Mind of Asante.”


Relative to other student cultural shows, I’d say that this show was on a much smaller scale. The audience turnout was slightly underwhelming, the duration of the show was surprisingly short, and the depth of the performances was much less than what I expected. Despite this judgment, student-run culture shows deserve a high level of respect. There is a considerable amount of time spent by full-time students planning, practicing, and preparing to put on a full show for friends and family to see and that is commendable nonetheless.


REVIEW: The Power Family Program for Inuit Art: Tillirnanngittuq

A wise man once said, “Water Tribe” as he proudly flicked his wrists in a dramatic exit following his younger sister. This wise man was a young man named Sokka, from the Avatar: the Last Airbender. Now I know what you’re thinking — I promise, I’ll get to the actual exhibition in a second — what do fictional animated characters like Sokka and Katara and the “Water Tribe” have to do with Inuit art?

Before I answer this seemingly pointless question, let’s talk about the Tillirnanngittuq exhibition! First, a quote from the UMMA website:

Tillirnanngittuq, pronounced “tid-ee-nang-ee-took,” means ‘unexpected’ in the Inuktitut language. Mame Jackson, curator for this exhibition explains: “Tillirnanngittuq refers to the astonishing outpouring of Inuit art since the 1950s—a truly amazing story! Neither the Inuit artists nor those who worked with them in the early years could have foreseen the worldwide acclaim Inuit art would achieve.”


The Power Family Program for Inuit Art: Tillirnanngittuq exhibition showcases 58 works of art from the collection of Philip and Kathy Power. Most of these works are from the 1950s and 60s—the earliest years in the development of carvings and prints by the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic. The entire Power Collection of Inuit Art, gifted to UMMA in 2018, includes more than 200 sculptures and prints.

Visitors will discover innovative stonecut and stencil prints, and exquisite stone, bone, and ivory sculptures of arctic animals based on the artists’ life experience as traditional hunters, attentive in their observation and understanding of the animals in their environment. Slightly abstracted, this art possesses great character and vitality, elegance of line and form. The artists illustrate not only reality from nature such as how polar animals move, but also inventive design choices as they multiply, overlap, and interweave natural forms.

I felt very honored and privileged to witness the beauty of Inuit art, learning about their cultural history through their carved ivory and stone, their etched drawings, and their deceptively “simple” prints. The guided tour and mini history lessons provided commentary and contextualized each piece, talking about the Inuit peoples’ works of art catering to a more globalized economy.

Among the intriguing Inuit things I’ve learned at the gallery, I learned their value of family, some of their past day-to-day practices and customs, such as the importance of sharing stories with one another and their deep connection with nature, coexisting and living together in harmony, and I learned that in times of industrialization, the Inuit have had to switch business practices, as their usual nomadic lifestyle and hunting methods were no longer sustainable in the fast-paced, industrialized world. According to the art historian and curator, one of the things the Inuit turned to as a solution, was their art.

Now, back to my original question: what do fictional animated characters like Sokka and Katara and the “Water Tribe” have to do with Inuit art?

For me, they have everything to do with it.

As a child, I was completely unaware of indigenous peoples and their cultures, with the exception of some minor obligatory history lessons in high school. I’ll admit, I was probably a bit luckier than others in my younger days, because my Michigan elementary school field trips often considered Native American history and culture, where my classmates and I were each given tiny stone arrowheads and cute little pamphlets to take home and share with our families. It was never anything I took seriously, I took everything for granted in my childhood. But then, I started watching Avatar: the Last Airbender.

Now, forgive me for fangirl-ing, but this kids’ animated TV show continues to exist as an absolutely incredible, sophisticated, enlightening, and alarmingly impactful story to me! I’ll spare you the excruciating details, but it handles the multifaceted ideas of ethnicity and indigenous peoples, in tandem with the benefits and drawbacks of colonization and industrialization, discussing crucial topics related to the environment, spirituality, morality, and pacifism in times of war and hardship. It’s definitely a timeless classic for my generation, and for little kid me, it was a pretty big game-changer, without me even realizing it.

Now, as a (somewhat) full-fledged adult, I’m aggressively cognizant of anything to do with marginalized ethnic groups, the “colonizers” and the “colonized,” and basically anything to do with that often rocky relationship. It’s important to understand that these people exist, and representation in this day and age is unbelievably crucial to raise awareness and bring our attention to their history and culture.

Avatar: the Last Airbender might have used the world of fiction to send positive and powerful messages, but the creators themselves admitted to drawing inspiration from the Inuit for the Water Tribe people. As a child, being exposed to people who looked Inuit, even if they were calling themselves “Water Tribe” in the show, ultimately had a lasting effect on me. To be completely honest, I was excited to see the Tillirnanngittuq exhibition partly because of my fondness for the “Water Tribe.” That somehow, what I saw in the exhibition was related to my childhood fascination with the Avatar world and the four nations, particularly the “Water Tribe” and their arctic homes. And I think this just goes to show, the younger and more impressionable audiences, need to be exposed to different cultures and people. It’s extremely important, not only for the sake of diversity but for everyone to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around a singular group of people.

My history classes, K-12 and now at U-M, has taught me that the way history is shaped, the “world” really feels American and Euro-centric. I massively appreciate the Tillirnanngittuq exhibition at the UMMA because it is an opportunity not just to appreciate Inuit art, but ultimately to learn about Inuit history and culture in a society that has long disregarded and erased the cultural histories of these indigenous peoples.

Did I use this post as an excuse to fangirl about Avatar: the Last Airbender? Maybe. Did I use this post to rant about post-colonialism and the importance of racial/ethnic diversity representation in media? I sure hope so. Did I learn anything about the actual Inuit people in writing about the Tillirnanngittuq exhibition itself? Definitely. And am I about to tell you to go see the Tillirnanngittuq exhibition while it’s still at the UMMA? Absolutely.

The Tillirnanngittuq exhibition will be there until October 6, 2019. I hope that everyone will make the effort to go see the beautiful and inspiring Inuit art and learn about their history and culture. I hope that instead of focusing on traditional European paintings and Asian Buddhist statues, everyone will take a look at Inuit ivory and stone carvings, etchings, and prints and walk away knowing that there are so many marginalized groups out there that deserve recognition, representation, and most importantly, respect.

REVIEW: Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct Awareness and Prevention in the Performing Arts

Immediately following a panel discussion on sexual and gender-based misconduct awareness and prevention in the performing arts, Strength & Sensitivity and Carla Dirlikov Canales of The Canales Project presented a truly fascinating performance.


Strength and Sensitivity is “a multimedia concert experience that blends contemporary music, poetry readings, and audience interaction to catalyze dialogue on themes of gender Dynamics, intersectional feminism, and empathy,” and their performance expounded on the themes discussed during the panel. One of the most thought-provoking works was Improvisation by Colleen Bernstein on piano. As she relayed to the audience, in the aftermath of one of the Michigan Daily articles concerning sexual misconduct and people associated with the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Colleen Bernstein sat down at the piano, opened a voice memo on her phone, and improvised at the piano to try to make sense of what she was feeling. This recording was played through the sound system in Hankinson Rehearsal Hall on Tuesday night. For the duration of Improvisation, interactive questions appeared on a screen behind the stage, and audience members could text responses to a given number. Question included “What does this community need to do to make progress towards gender equality?” and “Describe how you feel right now in one word.” As I sat and watched the responses fill the screen, changing in size according to how many people had submitted that same word, I could hear hope, grief, and a sense of tranquility permeating the music. I especially appreciated that even the performance was continuing the dialogue that had been started.


The second part of the performance was presented by Carla Dirlikov Canales of The Canales Project. An SMTD graduate and acclaimed opera singer, Ms. Canales started Hear Her Song as an initiative that honors “distinguished women leaders through new songs inspired by their words, written by leading female songwriters and composers.” The project has commissioned over 40 songs to date. Ms. Canales’s performance was, without question, my favorite of the evening. My only disappointment was that due to time constraints, she was able to perform only three of the five programmed songs (how I would have loved to hear “This is What” in honor of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, or “What Greatness is Possible” for Jennie Boelkens!). She sang “Foster Love,” a song honoring Lynn Price, who has dedicated her life to reuniting siblings separated by foster care, and “Mercy,” honoring Sister Marilyn Lacey, founder of Mercy Beyond Borders. She then closed with the organization’s theme song, “Hear Our Song” by Katie Pfaffl. Although the audience at that point had dwindled to only about 30 people, the energy was palpable as Ms. Canales’s voice soared to the hummable, empowering anthem. In fact, she will perform that song later this month at the United Nations in celebration of International Women’s Day, which is March 8. It was an uplifting conclusion to an evening of hard conversation.


Tuesday’s performance on the theme “Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct Awareness and Prevention in the Performing Arts” has given me hope that together, we can address the issues that need to be addressed.