REVIEW: What Were You Wearing?

This past December, the Umma hosted an incredibly thought provoking and sober exhibit named “What Were you Wearing.” It aimed to raise awareness about sexual assault on college campuses and the ways in which sexual assault is addressed.   While “What Were You Wearing” was only shown for a single day, I have no doubt that it impacted many students all across campus with its powerful message.  Just as the exhibit itself featured clearly displayed content warning signs, this post also comes with a content warning, as the topic of sexual assault and and images of clothing worn during instances of sexual assault will follow.


The venue for this show was nothing less than perfect.  With the well lit and simplistic layout of the exhibit being surrounded on three sides by large glass walls, it was clearly visible to passersby’s, inviting them into a light space within the darkness of campus.  Even without actively stepping inside the Umma, students were able to participate in the exhibit to a certain degree by viewing it through the glass. Additionally those who  spreading word of the exhibit through word of mouth, making others aware of the exhibition even after the single day that it was displayed. What stood out to me the most was the clothes themselves, featuring trendy brands and styles and casual wear that I see daily walking around campus.  This drove home the fact that sexual assault can happen to anyone, wearing any possible item of clothing.  Below are some images from the exhibit and the clothing on display.

During the brief amount of time I myself was present at the exhibit, there was a constant stream of people trickling into the commons, hushed voices and quiet footsteps showing a shared sense of solemnity regarding the serious nature of the exhibit.  The visitors formed a sort of slowly moving conveyor belt and were able to quickly walk through the exhibit, shuffling along and taking everything in in about 10-15 minutes at max.  Despite not being very large, the exhibit was extremely powerful, and the fact that it takes such a short amount of time to take in ensures that many people can see and experience the pieces.  

When I asked about being able to possibly document the event for this very post, I was told by one of the coordinators that while I absolutely was allowed to further share the story they were trying to tell, he wanted me to make sure to put a trigger warning before I posted any of the details or stories from the exhibit themselves.  I appreciate the level of concern and respect shown by the coordinators and think that it came across well in the exhibit itself, with warnings posted on either side as shown at the top of this post.

REVIEW: Nell David & Franny Choi

On Friday night, the Helmut Stern Auditorium of UMMA was a small and cozy literary haven away from the museum’s After Hours event beginning upstairs. Though I attended alone, several Zell MFA friend groups and writer-enthusiasts (and probably writers themselves) around me gathered and giggled while we all waited for fiction writer Nell David* and poet Franny Choi to take the stage. The atmosphere was excited and comfortable.

In the tenth installment of its kind, two current MFA students emceed this year’s Webster Reading series. David was the first to read, and one of the emcees read her introduction: at an AWP conference in Washington, DC, the two strolled from table to table finding magazines in which David’s work was published. In each, her last name was different – a detail that interested me from the get-go of the evening. “At age 25, she was writing better fiction than people five years out of their MFA programs and didn’t give a damn about the name she put on it,” the emcee joked.

David, or [redacted] as they had also earlier joked, took the stage with the first few pages of a short story called “Joyce is Better Now.” The story was about a single mother whose son had just moved out for his first year of college, and how she fell in love with a doctor she had been seeing. While I’ve been paying more attention to poetry than fiction these days, I was still struck by her characters and how she moved through the piece. Characters, notably Joyce herself, were relatable yet given realistic and unique voices. I was reminded of life itself as they focused on small desires in a big world: two themes I noticed were those desires of finding honesty in already friendly relationships and being candid yet kind. Her reading style was confident and reserved, and I appreciated that she laughed at a funny line of her own. The excerpt she read gave us just enough information that we didn’t get the entire story, but wanted to know what happened next and how Joyce’s endeavors turned out.

Next was Choi, introduced by a different student (I think – or peer). He introduced her personality as a poet and commended her talents: “Saying that you’re a famous poet is like saying you’re a famous mushroom. Franny is the morel of poets.”

I’ve seen videos of Choi doing slam poetry a few years before, but this was a new experience. Slam poetry usually consists of some storytelling with sounds written to be heard on stage alongside movement, and I could sense those sounds echoing in her work within wordplay and patterns that I wouldn’t have expected. Sound aside, the images evoked were abundant and worked into one another while working together and alongside one another – stunning. She spoke with her hands and read so confidently, too, which also made me think of spoken word and slam poetry trends. Again, I was struck by the writing, especially as a poet myself.

Her first work that she read was from a collection about conducting a Turing Test on herself to see whether she’s actually a robot, though she read different poems thereafter (including one I’ve seen recently, “On the Night of the Election”). Before reading “You’re So Paranoid,” she noted that she’d never read it aloud before, and took a short pause before starting. That small moment was so beautiful, and I wondered whether she was considering the best way to read it, or whether she was capturing the moment for herself and the poem. Another intriguing piece she read was partially in response to the conversation about allowing neo-nazis speak on campus and a video wherein Richard Spencer used an image of her face, “The Cyborg Watches a Video of a Neo-Nazi Saying Her Name.” I liked how she bookended her reading, ending with a piece called (and reading the title in a voice that reminded me of an AI voice) “So, How Do You Like Working with Humans?”

Something that I appreciated about her reading lineup was that she interspersed poems about the aforementioned collection with others unrelated to it, but still managed to flow from one to the next cohesively. It was well-rounded and full of incredible work.

There was lots of writer’s confidence in the auditorium that evening, which extended to me, and for which I was grateful. I encourage y’all to read and support these talented writers as well as those who share the community here in Ann Arbor and beyond – or at least attend an MFA reading at some point.

*I wanted to include links to Nell David’s work in this review, but had some trouble finding her online and would appreciate any located links in the comments!

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.

PREVIEW: What Were You Wearing?


Displayed previously at the University of Kansas, this thought-provoking exhibit is stopping here at the University for just one day, so be sure to check it out.  Featuring 18 stories of sexual assault , the exhibit hopes to challenge victim blaming and the idea that sexual assault survivors are ever to be held responsible for the crimes of others.   This event was organized by HeforShe and should be an important step in promoting both reflection and conversation here on campus.


This exhibit will be housed in the commons of the UMMA this coming Monday, Dec 4th, from 5:30-8:30. The exhibit is FREE to all and there will be desserts and refreshments provided by zingermans so be sure to stop by and check it out!  


REVIEW: Matisse Drawings

Walking into the UMMA exhibit, you are greeted by a sky blue wall detailing a small biography of Matisse.  On the other side is Kelly’s biography, with Kelly’s collection of sketches in that section.

I looked at Kelly’s side first, since it seemed to be the smaller collection.  I noticed a lot of experimentation with differentiation of line thickness.  While all the sketches were simple in nature, they had a subtle artistic quality to them.  For example, in “Catalpa Leaf,” there were two lines.  They started off thick at the top, and only crossed each other at the bottom of the leaf.  The lines faded out there as well, adding a sense of fragility to the leaf that likely was meant to represent the leaf’s qualities in reality.  This theme was present in most of Matisse’s sketches, so I see where the dialogue comes in between the two artists.

Regrettably, photography was not allowed in the exhibit. Here is an image of “Catalpa Leaf” I found from the internet!

After viewing Kelly’s sketches, I went over to the Matisse side of the room.  I noticed a lot of exploration of the fluidity of form, as a lot of the objects in Matisse’s sketches seemed to blend into one another while still retaining their own shape.

One of my favorite Matisse sketches was called “Dance movement, Christiane.”  It detailed the legs and lower torso of a ballerina.  The lines, like in most of Matisse’s sketches, were shaky.  I thought maybe the unsteadiness of the lines was a representation of the dancer’s movement.  The woman I was with argued that maybe Matisse was inebriated while drawing it.  Both opinions are reasonable, I think.

A lot of Matisse’s other drawings demonstrated the progression of his creative mind.  For instance, “Acrobat, study” depicted a woman in the bridge position, with her torso facing the sky.  Matisse’s use of lines reminded me a little of the Kelly drawings – the only steady stroke represented the woman’s stomach.  If you’ve ever done the bridge stretch, you’ll notice the stretch in your core.  Matisse seemed to represent this in his ink strokes.  The rest of her form was loose and not accurate in any means.  Even from an expressionist viewpoint, it was not beautiful.

The sketch next to it, however, was interesting.  Entitled “Four studies of acrobats,” the figures were more well-defined and biologically accurate.  To me, this made them more aestethically appealing.  It definitely showed a progression in Matisse’s line of thought regarding how he wanted to portray the acrobats.

Other aspects of the Matisse collection that I found interesting were the drawings that reminded me of Picasso’s technique.  “Veiled woman” had many cubist qualities, such as the characteristics in her face and the way her arm melted into the veil around her head.  Beside “Veiled woman” was “Themes and variations VI.”The subject’s veil is unfinished, but should cover her face.  Her face, however, is obviously still visible and exposed to the viewer.  The same goes for her breast.  This suggests that Matisse saw her face and torso as the most captivating parts of her, and used expressionist technique to portray that.

Lastly, Matisse used lines to represent light.  In “Study, boat” the lines around the plant in the window are squiggly.  I saw this as the movement of light as it’s dappled by the world outside.  Of course, in a sketch, it’s impossible to make your subjects move.  Matisse accomplished a sense of movement by using different stroke techniques.

In conclusion, I was impressed by the collection at the UMMA.  It was fun to see “The Dance” in sketch form – it was actually really underwhelming compared to its meaning in expressionist history.  The progression of Matisse in his drawings and the (albeit somewhat minimal) dialogue between him and Kelly added a lot to my interpretations of the exhibit.

PREVIEW: Matisse Drawings

As someone interested in visual arts, Matisse has always presented somewhat of a predicament.  His works when viewed on their own have been criticized as lacking in artistic technique – harsh words to describe a world famous painter.  After taking a history of art class in which we briefly analyzed Matisse, I had to agree.  His work looked almost childish, shaky and unsure.  It wasn’t until we looked at “The Dance” that I changed my opinion.

It was the meaning behind the painting which made it beautiful… for me, anyway.  I’m sure a lot of people admire Matisse for his technique.  I, however, disagree.  I like to look at things in an almost backwards sort of way – how did the intended meaning influence the actual piece?  What did Matisse mean for “The Dance” and how does that meaning show up on the canvas?

That’s why I’m so interested in the UMMA exhibit, which opens tomorrow.  It’s from 11-5 until February 18th in the A. Alfred Taubman Gallery I.  It’s a collection of “forty-five rarely exhibited works by Matisse made in the first half of the 20th century, which reveal his process and range of creativity as a draftsman…” (according to the UMMA’s website).  Presented alongside Matisse’s work are drawings by Ellsworth Kelly (1923–2015).  Also taken from the website, “Kelly selected nine of his own lithographic drawings that derive from his time in France during the 1960s, when the American artist studied Matisse’s sketches and studies of nature and human figures.”

This exhibit will present a dialogue between two artists and will hopefully provide new insights regarding the meaning of each collection.