PREVIEW: Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower hits the Power center from March 25th to 27th.

This performance is an opera consisting of 30 original anthems which originate from 200 years history of African-American music. The storyline is from the novels Parable of the Sower’ and ‘Parable of the Talents’ by the late Afro-futurist and science fiction author Octavia E. Butler. These novels are Post-Apocalyptic novels-the story will follow young Lauren Olamina’s spiritual awakening in a dystopian America destroyed by greed and systemic injustice. I’m excited to check out how Opera could be set in a Post-Apocalyptic setting and can be combined with activism, ethnic and humane messages as the background of the numbers suggests. March 25th performance will also feature a brief Q&A with artists hosted by Dr. Toni Pressley-Sanon, the Eastern Michigan University’s Associate Professor of Africology and African American Studies. Tickets could be purchased at UMS website.


REVIEW: Prisons and Politics in America Exhibit

Tucked away in a corner of Hatcher North’s first floor is the Audubon room, named for the extremely rare volume of naturalist James Audubon’s “Birds of America” paintings that it houses. From now until March 24, it also houses the Prisons and Politics in America exhibition curated by Julie Herrada.

“Prisons and Politics in America: An Exhibit of Art, Poetry, Letters and Prison Resistance from 1890 to Today,” examines the political reasons for why people are imprisoned: for speaking out, for writing, for violating repressive laws, framed because of their color or politics, for stealing from the rich, for refusing the military draft, for whistleblowing, for attempting to overthrow the government, for standing up for a belief, or for walking over a forbidden line.

The items focus on maintaining one’s humanity behind bars, promoting political causes, and offering solidarity in support of prisoners.



The exhibit was pretty small, with a total of 39 items, but I thought it was a fitting size. The items on display were well-chosen and represented a variety of time periods, activist movements, and prison injustices. I learned a great deal by walking around and slowly taking each artifact in, reading the thoughtfully-written blurb about each.

“San Quentin Days: Poems of a Prison” by Anonymous

There were all sorts of artifacts: from protest pinback buttons to FBI Wanted posters to comics to a recipe for DIY prison ice cream. The most moving parts of the exhibit for me were the sections displaying prison writing: poetry, letters, memoirs, books. Writing is one of the most powerful tools of expression that a prisoner has, and also is one of the only ways they have to connect to the outside world. Some of the items in the collection were extremely rare and among only a few surviving copies around the world. Writing is hard enough in a comfortable space – can you imagine how difficult it must be to write from prison?

I had forgotten how far back the history of protest and activism goes. Every time a new movement starts , to me it can feel like a whole new isolated effort, which is a huge sign of my privilege. There are many who are not given the chance to forget the history to which movements are attached to because those issues affect them every single day. Rarely is there an injustice so new that there were no ancestors who had to fight it in their time too.


Free John Now! Poster, 1971

The exhibit sparked some thoughts for me on how activism has changed over the past century and how it has stayed the same. The language in some of the items in the exhibit was very similar to the language I see in protest posters printed today. Strong language, fueled by a sense of justice. Images of chains and bondage and upright fists underneath calls to action like “FREE [X]” and “STOP [Y].”

Attica. Poster, [197?]
The greatest difference I see is because of something that modern-day activists have that the past did not: digital technology. I am amazed at the materials people used in the past — postcards, buttons, flyers — that had to be distributed by hand and on foot. Imagine if the leaders of the 1919 labor strikes in Detroit had access to a computer at the library where they could open up a Microsoft Publisher document, put together a graphic and slap it on Facebook or Instagram for free. It has been said often in the Information Age, but I’ll say it again: our modern-day ability to disseminate information so quickly and widely is borderline magic.

Free Gary Tyler Poster, [197?]
I will say that I would have arranged the exhibit a little differently. The arrangement of artifacts seemed to maximize how much I had to walk. I also would have also liked it if items that were part of the same “movement” or at least from the same time period in history were placed close together to make the exhibit feel more cohesive. The decision to put this exhibit in the Audubon room strikes me as a bit strange, given that James Audubon was known to oppose the abolition of slavery and argued that black and indigenous people were inferior. Many of the incarcerated people mentioned in this exhibit were of black or indigenous origin and were jailed by blatantly racist judicial systems on little to no evidence, a term labeled “legal lynching”. A small acknowledgement of the fact that their stories are right now sharing the same space with the legacy of a proslavery individual would have been thoughtful.

If you’re ever studying in Hatcher, I highly recommend slipping away for a bit to check out this exhibit in the Audubon Room on the first floor. It is well worth the visit and I guarantee you’ll learn something new!

REVIEW: Virtual Life Drawing with Anti Diet Riot Club

About a week ago I had stumbled upon information for Anti Diet Riot Club’s life drawing sessions. Anti Diet Riot Club is a London-based organization that fights against diet culture and works to empower individuals to love themselves and their bodies. Loving their message, and interested in seeing what a virtual life drawing session would be like, I took the leap and registered.

a layered sketch from the session

The event, held on the 4th Wednesday of each month, is advertised as “NOT a serious art class” and is instead meant to be an exploration of creativity as a way to challenge perfectionism and what we’ve come to see as typical beauty standards. Studies have shown a correlation between attending life drawing sessions and positive body image.

My artistic skills with a pencil and paper are typically limited to stick figures and simple doodles, but I sat down with my paper and markers ready to take on the challenge of drawing the human body. 

As soon as I logged into the Zoom call, I was met with a gallery full of smiling participants of all ages, in their respective Zoom squares. There were about 140 participants in the Zoom call, and we did a check-in through the chat. Most people were calling from England, but as I typed that I was calling from the States, I was excited to see that people from all over the world were joining in on this drawing class–Scotland, Poland, Germany, France, and a few people from the US, joining from Colorado and New York. 

three sketches from the drawing ‘games’ we did

The session was guided with silly drawing ‘games’ to help “kick the perfectionist out–” beginning with a simple, 1-minute timed sketch of our amazing model, Lucie. Any worries or hesitations I had about my drawing abilities disappeared once we started flowing through the exercises. Drawing without looking down, drawing with the non-dominant hand, drawing using only triangles or circles, using bold colors, and having a set amount of time for each sketch took the focus off of creating “perfect” art and left space for simply admiring the human form and putting it on paper, to the best of my untrained ability.

The session reminded me, in quite an emotional tidal wave, of how objectively beautiful the body is. Seeing the body, and especially types of bodies that aren’t often recognized in mainstream media, as a piece of art helped to mute the ingrained judgements that often blare, unwelcomed, at the thought of my own body’s ‘flaws.’ Artistically appreciating the details of a real and ‘imperfect’ body made a clear and powerful difference in the way I felt about myself after the session versus before.

If you are interested in joining next month’s session, tickets are available at Eventbrite (also linked below) and cost £5 – £8 (roughly $7 – $12 US). I will definitely be joining again, and for now I move into the rest of my day wrapped in confidence, compassion, and self-love.

my final drawing for the session, using color


PREVIEW: Stew & The Negro Problem

In case you missed Tony Award-winning playwright and singer Stew last night, you have another chance tonight! Don’t miss out on a homage to the art and activism of James Baldwin in a music and theater experience through a contemporary commentary on Baldwin’s 1955 collection of essays on being Black in America. Notes of a Native Song is an irreverent and spirited rock ‘n’ roll song cycle that uses Baldwin’s work to explore race, love, class division, and politics through an exciting mix of rock, jazz, and soul. Catch Stew & The Negro Problem at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre tonight at 8!

Review: Pussy Riot comes to Ann Arbor

On Thursday 19 September 2014, The Michigan Theater Ann Arbor played host to two members of Russian activist group Pussy Riot. They spoke about their experience in Russian prison, their activism and some of their experiences in the US.

Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina have been traveling in the US this year performing and, more recently, speaking at Harvard and The University of Michigan about their new projects Zona Prava and MediaZona.

Zona Prava is an NGO aimed at providing support and human rights protection to individuals who “may be deprived of their liberty” in prisons and camps. Tolokonnikova and Alekhina spoke about the importance of education in the prison system as well as their own experience in the Russian prison system last year, which inspired them to establish this organization.

MideaZona is an independent news website aimed at countering the manipulative, censored and propagandistic flow of information released by Russian media. The website was launched on the 4th of September.

Tolokonnikova and Alekhina are well spoken and passionate about the ideals that drive their outrage and passions. They expressed their appreciation for the openness and accessibility of the American prison system, contrasted with the rigidity and complete inaccessibility in Russia.

The moderator asked about their thoughts about the overlap between activism, music and art to which they aptly responded that there is often no difference between the two. They spoke of the London graffiti scene and of course the international punk movement.

Tolokonnikova spoke about the importance of the voice of the people in a government system and how the corruption of Russian President Vladimir Putin has limited any possibility of this kind of social exchange. She did not respond to the inquiry about what kind of change she envisioned or if she was in fact an anarchist.

Tolokonnikova and Alekhina have been asked whether they would consider going into Russian politics. They replied that they are more interested in establishing grass roots, community based movements to create change instead of working through a centralized, and in the case of Russia, highly corrupt political system.


Having these two accidental celebrities come to Ann Arbor and speak about the work they have done, their experience living under a totalitarian regime, the country they live in and their continued efforts to bring about change in Russia, was very important.

Due to the history between Russia and the United States so much information has been skewed by political opinion and nationalistic pride. Although Pussy Riot is a specific, radical activist group, which is by no means representative of the greater Russian population, hearing the voices of two strong women speaking about their pride in being a Russian citizen despite all the injustices occurring in their country was very inspiring.



On the more critical side – The moderator of the discussion was disappointing. Her questions seemed uninspired and occasionally irrelevant to the experience and expertise of Tolokonnikova and Alekhina. It is also a question whether or not the message from Pussy Riot effectively translates to the United States.


Thanks to Michigan Radio, The Michigan Theater, U of M School of Art and Design, WCBN and of course Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina.


For more information about the Penny W. Stamp Speakers Series line up for this year click on this Link.

Preview: Feminist Activist Group ‘Pussy Riot’ Comes to Michigan Theater Thursday


What: Pussy Riot/ Zona Prava – Part of Penny W. Stamp Speaker Series
Where: Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor
When: Thursday 18 September, 5:10pm
How Much: FREE!

Founded in 2011, Pussy Riot is a punk, feminist activist group from Russia who stage spontaneous performance based protests in public locations around Russia’s capitol cities. Their protests are filmed, edited into music videos and posted on the internet.

Their activism focuses on feminism, LGBT rights, opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the connection between Putin and The Russian Orthodox Church.

Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina, two of the founding members of the Pussy Riot collective made up of approximately eleven women, were arrested in autumn 2012 following a protest against President Putin staged in the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were charged with hooliganism and sentenced to two years in prison. The arrests and trials of Pussy Riot’s members drew international attention to the corruption and anti-gay legislation active in Russia at the time.

After their release from prison in December 2013 Tolokonnikova and Alekhina founded Zona Prava (Zone of Rights) and organization aimed at providing legal representation, information, safety monotoring, advocacy and oversight to those in Russian prisons who have been deprived of their liberty.

The event is supported by the UM Penny W. Stamps Speaker Series, Michigan Radio, WUOM 91.7 and Arts @ Michigan.