Interview of Susan Sherman by Bonny Finberg


BF: Why do you think so many activists become less directly involved in political activism as they get older? Some, like Tom Hayden have entered mainstream politics, others have maintained a revolutionary stance in response to politics and the world at large, but many have retreated from the front lines. Where are they? What are they doing?

SS: I don’t think it’s true many have become less directly involved. Maybe a handful of the more famous activists, and that might not even be true. We just don’t hear about them. I was at a memorial recently for Grace Paley that was held by the War Resister’s League and the Women’s Pentagon Action and it was full of people who were active in the Sixties, many even before, and are still struggling for social justice in many areas from mainstream politics to the anti-war movement to local struggles for fair housing. Much of the really important struggle takes place on a local level and that is just not “sexy” enough for the media to report. Also there has obviously been a concerted effort after the Sixties not to cover progressive politics or activity.

BF: How do you see your own activism manifested in your life now?

SS: In a number of ways. Through my writing, teaching, working with our union—we are affiliated with the UAW—at Parsons School of Design and Eugene Lang College, both part of The New School, and through social justice work both community and nation based at Middle Church, a wonderfully diverse socially progressive community. And of course any demonstration that comes up, although that is harder for me now because of an injury which makes it difficult for me to walk.

BF: What issues are pivotal for you at this time? What about China and Tibet, for example? What do you see as the most important things relentless and passionate young activists should be putting their energy into? Do you see any indications that there is a youth movement? Is it a healthy one? Considering the state of things in the world at present, what do you think is necessary to create an atmosphere that will encourage more radical activism today—How much worse does it have to get? Or is it a case of depleted energies and catastrophe/issue fatigue?

SS: We hardly have to create an atmosphere that will encourage more radical activism given the situation in Iraq and the economic, environmental and social problems surrounding us today. I think that activism is all around us. Yes, it’s important to support Tibet, of course, but we have issues here at home that are vital—hurricane Katrina, survivors of which are still suffering and are scattered all over the US, the devastation in the Midwest, and the ever present issues of HIV/AIDS, sexism, racism, homophobia, economic injustice. As well as the myriad issues around immigration. Globalism is an overriding concern if these other issues are to be adequately addressed. There are all kinds of indications that a healthy youth movement is alive and well—and a healthy older movement too. The Obama campaign regardless of the nuances was built to a large extent on the need young people feel for greater social equity, for a life that has more meaning than just the number of objects you can acquire. We were lucky in a way in the Fifties and Sixties because products were not so slick and compelling and advertising was not so insidious and widespread. On the other hand while it is still in our hands we can use technology like the internet—just look at the influence of blogs, Youtube, organizations like Move On. I think people should put their energy into whatever issues move, excite, touch them most. I would recommend magazines like Colorlines, which focus on young people of color and the struggles they are engaged in at the present if you want to know what is happening now.
BF: What direction does Cuba seem to be headed in from your point of view and how do you assess the “success” of the revolution?

SS: Again another very complex issue that would take a lot more than a simple answer to even begin to do justice to. When I was in Cuba in the Sixties—my last trip was in 1992—the Cubans liked to say that the rebellion succeeded in 1959 but that the revolution was an on-going process. I think we have a tendency here to think of things still in terms of beginning, middle, end instead of accepting the fact that all struggle is a process and a hugely complex one at that and ongoing. For specific information, analysis of the situation in Cuba I highly recommend a book by Margaret Randall, who figures prominently in my memoir, which will be published by Rutgers University Fall 2008 titled To Change the World: My Years in Cuba. Margaret lived in Cuba for ten years during the revolution’s formative period and has much more information and analysis about the situation then and now.

BF: Can you talk about Marcuse and Hegel’s ideas on individual choice and self-determination based on reason and rational thought— what kind of forces they were for you and those around you, in trying to build a world based on these principles rather than accepting the forces and facts of life as “the way things are,” etc?

SS: I’m not sure how much Marcuse and Hegel were on people’s minds that were struggling to fight against the many threads of repression and violence in the Sixties, particularly in the United States—which I think is the period you were referring to in this question. The catalyst would be found more in the energy and idealism of the Civil Rights Movement. The recognition that underneath the surface there were layers and layers of injustice that had to be addressed. Young people joined others already engaged in struggle who felt that two cars in every garage was not the motivation that moved them, the future they looked forward to. Marcuse’s book, The One Dimensional Man, was important because it laid out the vacuousness and emptiness of the period. Marx, particularly early Marx and Marx’s analysis of capitalism and his incorporation of Hegel (turned on his head) into his theory of historical determinism were more widely read and discussed, particularly in respect to the resolution of contradiction—the old thesis, antithesis, synthesis, negation of negation! A more pertinent question today I think—not putting down the gentlemen you name—would be the growth of media and advertising and its subliminal appeal to emotional needs that extend from the smallest parts of our lives—the toothpaste we buy—to electing our most important officials.
BF: Can you talk about the sources of memory for this book? You mention the destroyed correspondence and pictures necessitated by the need to protect people from government surveillance?

SS: We actually never took many photos in the Sixties because we never knew how they would be used and I did destroy a great deal of my correspondence in the middle Seventies when women from the women’s movement were being targeted by the grand juries. That is a whole other story. Fortunately I kept letters from Margaret Randall who I had an extensive correspondence with during the Sixties. I actually had to go to the NYU library to get my corresponding letters to her—my letters are archived there with in El Corno Emplumado collection. I had some essays and articles, which were published at the time, from which I could get valuable specifics about my trips to England and Cuba. I did some research. But for the most part relying on my memory wasn’t really a problem since the incidents in the book for the most part were highlights of those years I wasn’t likely to forget!

BF: What do you feel was left out of this book that in, retrospect, you wish you’d included?
SS: I would have liked to have taken the book to at least 1975 to include the women’s and gay liberation movements, a trip to Chile, the end of the Vietnam War and in 1975 a very important summer session at Sagaris, a feminist institute where I served on the faculty. But I felt that, as it was, there was a lot of information packed into one book. Who knows maybe some day I’ll write America’s Child Part Two! To repeat what I wrote in the last chapter of the book I feel what we call the Sixties really extended from the late Fifties until 1975 and that in actuality that period, even if extended, has to be viewed within a continuum of struggle in the United States. It cannot be compartmentalized.
BF: Yes, I completely agree. I think books such as yours can serve as inspiration and hope for each generation of activists that come along to continue the struggle. I hope America’s Child Part Two is on your front burner.



Francis Powell comes from England (he always says jokingly “he’s neither Scottish nor Irish, but simply plain English”)- however, for the last ten years or so he’s been residing in Paris on a permanent basis. He has made a name for himself as a brilliant musician and a composer of electronic music, known as ‘DJ WISE’ and meanwhile he has been painting beautiful, sort of ‘Art Nouveau- Klimt meets Aboriginal Art’ paintings, all coupled with printed samples of his own creative writing and steady journalism. He often says that he belongs to a certain eclectic British tradition of visual artists who often turned musicians and then turned something else.
The first legitimate question that one can ask at meeting this interesting, Renaissance figure, is – how does he find time and energy to attend to his respective and multifaceted talents.The fact is that he does not attend to any of them superficially or half-heartedly which means that he has a tendency to be equally good in all of his fields of interest. However, this time we will focus on his painterly talent as he has just showed his visual art at the Collective-Coop Gallery simply called L’Usine (the Factory).

Question: What made you attend an Art school? What was it like, what kind of Art College?
Did it do you a lot of good in terms of developing your inner calling and, if yes- in what ways? Did the school do any diservice to yr original talent (stifling it, for instance, and so on?)

Powell: I went to an oppressive English boarding school, where my only retreat was in the art room. The biggest encouragement I received was from my art teacher in this hard institution, so when I was of the age when I needed to choose a career, art school seemed the only natural progression. It is hard to say what I gained from art school. When I was doing my degree in painting, the tutors tried to curtail my ardour for painting. They were restrictive, maybe with some reason, I was trying to let out all this energy I had bottled up, from going to this oppressive school from the age of 13-17 and I wanted to translate this into paintings, while they wanted me to paint basic still lives, in monochrome colours, so we were far apart in this respect. It was not until towards the third year of my degree, I was allowed to let rip. Art school gives you a state of mind, in the way you perceive the world, it teaches you to notice things, others might pass by and feel things others might not feel. It drew up lots of emotions, including frustration, rebelliousness. I learnt things not only about art, but also society, as we had some art-related studies to learn, because the course also had to be part academic to justify it’s status. It was also the period when Mrs Thatcher was vehemently against any course that she perceived as being non-profit making for the country (as opposed to science and business courses). There was a dismantling of the art school, which was an insane move on her part, as English art schools have been very productive and have a fine tradition.

Question: At that time, in England- if I’m not mistaken, and you confirmed that I was not,- interdisciplinary approach was big in art colleges (John Lenon, Eno etc). Who in particular influenced your thinking in an interdisciplinary sort of way- meaning, you’ve been doing music, painting and writing, all at the same time, right?

Powell: I don’t think the tutors at Art colleges, or at least at my one, encouraged students to do any other activities other than painting and drawing and taking photographs. The only piece of valuable advice I ever received from the tutor at my first art school, was to go and a see a film, at least once a week, because films have so much visual information you can feed off. At my degree course, quite a few students had a strong desire to form bands or be part of bands. I discovered a band via friends called “Pigbag” who played this fusion of jazz and punk. One of the members Chris Hamlyn had been a student of fashion at my art college and when I went to see one of their early concerts it just blew me away and I was introduced to a new style of music. I was given one of the first copies of their single “papa’s got a brand new pigbag” and wasn’t just a disciple of their music, I wanted to make similar music to them ,which involved buying a saxophone and learning how to play it. They went on to do world tours and their music received acclaim and their first single can still be heard today and people who love the eighties are still nostalgic about them.
I was part of a band for much of my degree course, and then much to my surprise the band was selected to be part of week of concerts featuring bands connected (supposedly) to Art colleges, which went under the witty banner “Pop goes the easel” On our night we supported The Mekons and Strawberry Switchblade, but on one of the other nights the Smiths played. As to writing, when I was at my first Art school, I was fortunate to meet through a friend a writer called Rupert Thompson, who was in the process of writing his first book “dreams of leaving” having been signed to the well known publisher Bloomsbury. His writing style just really grabbed me. I have not seen him in years, but whenever I see he has a new book published I buy it immediately. His style is so dark and often disturbing but full of imagination and invention. I liked his personality and humour.
He has lived in many countries, which means he has a strong and diverse backgrounds to his stories. I think it is more the like-minded people you meet inadvertently via Art school, than the art school itself that encourages a different range of disciplines.

Question: Tell us the truth- which one of the three is your favorite activity, and why so? How did you construct your DJ Wise personality?

Powell: It is hard to say. All I can say….painting drives me crazy, it is such an intense activity, I get paint everywhere, not only the target canvas or object, I can be in a wild frenzy…. Writing is calming and needs reflex ion. Writing and composing music is calming, but doing concerts/Djing can be tense and you are conscious of the audiences reaction to what you playing. But if the concert goes well, there is no comparable buzz or feeling. You put your head on the block, when you play music live, but if you get it right it is brilliant. Dj Wise personality just grew by chance. I had not Dj-ed for a long time, some people thought I was a Dj in Paris, and asked me to do an event, so I thought, why not and- things evolved from there.
Question: How do these different arts intercept one another and where do they merge?

Powell: I am not sure how they intercept, other than the way time is devoted to each activity.
I think my art and music merges on the account the fact that I love different ethnic cultures. There is a strong African element in my art and I have also used African rhythms/vocal chants in my music. Maybe in terms of my short stories, they are very visual and descriptive and surreal with a dark edge like some of my paintings.

Question: When it comes to visual arts, how come that you choose painting over sculpture or any other genre? What attracts you to painting, color? Drawing? what’s your “kick” or primary attraction to it?

Powell: I would not dismiss any other Art medium or say one is better than an other. At Art college we were given the chance to do sculpture and in a way there are elements of sculpture in work, I love finding discarded objects in Paris and using them in my paintings. My paintings are not flat and two dimensional and I have also used a lot of pieces of broken mirrors. I love the spontaneity of painting. I did an MA at Wimbledon School of Art in printmaking and I sometimes see a printerly quality in my work, despite the fact I have not used any printing process in years.

Question: You live in a foreign country and you’ve traveled a lot- how did your living in Austria enoble yr artistic expression? And what did France did for you? Can you name some of major influences in both places?I can see some great predecessors in your paintings, Matisse in terms of color etc..but I am sure there are some others..Can you elaborate?

Powell: I found Austria, a beautiful country, and Vienna a remarkable city, but the people very restricted and with a small country living in the shadow of German mentality. I did try to get some music out and distributed but there was not the same passion and music industry as in the UK, where there are many record labels. France, on the contrary, after just a few years of living there, has creatively proved to give me almost a second life I could never have imagined. In the UK in the early nineties, I was lucky enough to work with some well known Djs, to get records released and to do some big “raves” as was the fashion in those heady days.
However, I had some terrible managers who gave me terrible advice. In France I have been lucky enough to realise different activities. To have a one man show in Paris, means a lot.
Paris has re-ignited me, it is such a visually stimulating place, there are so many minute details you can see as you walk down the street, such carvings and gargoyles. I have met a lot of interesting people and done some interesting events. The city, rather than invidual painter, is the strongest influence.

Question: What attracts you toward original, aboriginal or so called “primary, primitive forms” in your art , that is, painting? And where does that use of gold leaves come from? Byzantine influences?

Powell:Who knows ? Maybe it was one of my previous lives? There is so much mystery, but at the same time wisdom in so called primitive art. I want there to be spirituality in work and for the element of a painting being a precious object hence the gold leaves.

Question: What are your projects for future, any projects in particular? Meaning, this is the inverse way of asking : how do you see your art developing, in what direction?

Powell: Sometimes with my projects, they seem to come to fruition a long time after my original conception. The idea of making soundscape installations appeals to me a great deal. I hope to work with another artist to create a “bande designe” (cartoons) for a short I have written. Last year I started to get involved with making short videos and this is something I hope to develop, but this is something very time consuming and not as immediate as painting and music.

Question: You are also a writer and a critic, journalist, correspondent… How does it feel to live a language without reference, meaning to listen to foreign language all the time? Nourishing or a reductive experience for you?

Powell: It is strange but sometimes I walk out of my apartment (if my mind is immersed in some creative pursuit) and it takes me a bit of time to take in the fact that I am in foreign country. Sometimes I am tuned into the foreign language, sometimes I am so immersed in m my own world that I don’t even hear it!

Question: Is there any other form of visual art that interest you, that you’d like to explore in future (such as film, video, etc…) Or, have you already worked on it and I am not aware of it?

Powell: Yes, principally video, as it offers another dimension combing the visual information of something I have filmed with my music and also poetry/video combinations.

Question: What is it in the French art world that you like, and what is it that you’d like to change? How different is it from the British “art market”?

Powell: I have a friend in the UK, who is a talented artist/printmaker Andrew Tyler whose work I really have admired, and he was in year above me at Art College. I feel he should have received a lot more attention, because his work is so special. Maybe if he had lived in a different place he might have been in a different situation. It is very hard in the UK, to gain gallery recognition and to make a progress as an artist. I was left in limbo for many years after leaving art college, frustrated at the lack of opportunities. I am not a great networker.
Of course in Paris, you have to be persistent, but if you can find a galley where you find a niche, it is a good place for Artists. I have also heard that Berlin is the place to be, as it offers cheap studio space for artists and a lot going on.





Interview With Shirin Neshat in Paris by Nina Zivancevic

Shirin Neshat is one of the leading contemporary artists in the world. She was born in 1957 in Iran. In 1974 she moved to the United States where studied art at the University of Berkeley. The Islamic revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeiny had introduced many changes into the Persian society which fell under the yoke of the Fundamentalists. All the liberties were restricted, the moral rigour was imposed and the condition of women worsened. It was only in 1990 that Shirin Neshat was able to return to her native ground- what really shocked there was the dramatic evolution of the situation of women. A recipient of many international awards, she began a series of photos called Unveiling in 1993. For these self-portraits, she wore the chador and exposed only body parts (eyes, hands, feet) which women are allowed to reveal in public according to the Islamic Law. Neshat wrote on the surfaces of the photographs, covering the exposed parts of the female bodies with Farsi script. Soonafter, in 1997 she began her video creations while continuing with her photography. Primarily inspired by the great Persian tradition and culture, Neshat shows the foresmost interest for the universal approach to concepts of society, identity, asylum, refuge and utopia.
In her recent work which we were lucky to see at “Jerome Denoirmont” gallery in Paris this past spring, Neshat took a more cinematographic approach to her work – the bold metaphorical imagery of her early films and videos has given way to a more narrative approach bringing in the current dialectics of the binary oppositions such as man/woman, east/west, and oppressor/oppressed. Her recent work has drawn its inspiration from Women Without Men, a novel by the Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur which describes the lives of 5 Iranian women who lived through the history of the CIA’s regime in Iran, supported by the Pahlavi royal family. Through the exploit of the themes which she had already explored in photography and video, Neshat gave us her reinterpretation of the Parsipur’s novel in a double-sided project which encompases cinema and art. There is a feature film, shot in Morocco, due to be released in 2008 along with 5 videos depicting the lives of these five women during the summer of 1953. As her name in Persian means “sweet” and cultured, we were not surprised to find her answers open and responsive to the media while interviewing her at Gallery Denoirmont in Paris last spring.

Question: Shirin, are you a feminist, in the largest sense of that word?

Yes and No. Yes, because I’ve devoted my entire body of work to the subjects relating to women. I believe in the female power in emotional, intellectual and biological terms. No, because I’ve always fallen shy of claiming to be ‘feminist’ because at least in my culture, it has a very concrete meaning, seemingly someone who is involved in an organized movement, something that I don’t belong to and have no interest in.

QUESTION: What idea made you create 5 videos dealing with Persian women such as Mahdokht, Zarin, Munis and Faezeh?
When I began to re-adapt the novel of “Women Without Men” written by Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur, into a feature length film, which essentially evolved around 5 female characters; I knew that I would develop an art component of this project. I quickly became interested in making a series of short videos that related to each one of the five female characters. I was very interested in how in a museum or gallery setting the audience could walk from room to room, visiting each women and at the end, they could put the story together. The audience in a way becomes the editor of the film, in the way that they could put the puzzle together. This approach indeed was very different than a film made for a theatre setting where the audience is quite passive seated and the narrative is linear. So at the end I managed to make the five installations and have just finished the feature too.

Question: You left your original country a long time ago. How do you relate to the images of these women now, when the Persian reality is so far away from you. How do you connect?
This film of course takes place in 1953 before I was born, so it does not directly reflect the life that I experienced in Iran. But of course each woman in one way or another symbolically embodies obsessions, issues and problems that has continued to this date to haunt Iranian women, whether stemming from religion, political reality, sexual taboos.

Question: What made you draw, make photography, create art in your life to begin with? Do you remember your earliest stages of interest?
Art has been a wonderful escape from the banality of everyday life and more so a way to find a meaningful engagement with life and people around me. My life since active as an artist has been an exciting one, not always easy but wonderfully full and adventurous. Also, for me making art is a way to face my own emotions and anxieties. I consider my first serious attempt in art began in 1993 with the “Women of Allah” series, a group of work that brought me back to my home country, if not geographically, spiritually and emotionally.

Question: I almost called you “female Jean Luc Godard”…What draws you towards film and video as medium, and – do you prefer that medium to painting, sculpture ? And if yes, why so?
I’m very touched by what you say! Of course I don’t believe I deserve it! I developed a love affair with the moving image back in 1993, with my first video attempt for a small gallery show at Franklin Furnace. There is strong potential of poetics in this medium that I don’t believe is as tangible through mediums of painting and sculpture. At least I found myself right at home with video and film.

Question: What are its advantages and what are the limitations of these media (such as video, film) for you?
For one thing with film and video, an artist can incorporate elements of photography, painting and sculpture by the way she or he visually constructs the picture. More so, with film one can be a story teller, and can experiment with music, sound, choreography, performance, and more. As for myself, making videos and films have become an incredibly challenging and ambitious creative experiences. The limitations are that the process is often tedious and complex as it takes a lot of preparation and organization, so it’s not as spontaneous as medium like painting, where you can simply pick up your brush and paint. Furthermore, once you begin to experiment with the language of cinema, one has no choice but to gain the tools, by studying its tools, and history.

Question: How do you chose your subject and themes in your work? Do you search for them or they come to you?
It changes from time to time, but most often my ideas are inspired by literature that I read by various authors. Otherwise, there are times that I become obsessed with certain themes, often existential ones which eventually find their way into my art.

Question: Given the fact that your subject is often political (social commentary etc), Would you call yourself an “engagé”?
I am not sure exactly how you use this term, but if I understand it right, the question is how engaged I feel in relation to the socio- political subjects of my work. The answer would be that, I feel extremely connected to all the topics that I depict, as they are all topics that have and continue to effect my personal life. Sometimes I see myself as an activist, not the type who marches into the streets but one that is constantly preoccupied by political issues and is quietly confronting them by engaging in the community.

Question: A committed artist or just a human being who observes injustice? How do you see your work?
I see my art as a vehicle for dialogue and this is something I take very seriously. The subversive nature of my art is often my form of objection against any social and political injustice, in particular in relation to my own country. Of course, I can’t help but express myself not in the form of propaganda but in the form of poetry and aesthetic.

Question: What’s the situation like in the American contemporary art scene? Closed, open? How do you see your own place in it?
America is usually qualified as ‘melting pot’ so it’s the best place for a ‘nomadic’ artist like myself. I do however feel that I live in my own bubble in the way that I don’t follow any particular models, groups or trends. Also my subject matters (in a healthy matter) tend to pull me away from the what I consider the ‘glossy’ art world and closer to reality of everyday life.

Question: What’s your experience with the Iranian contemporary art scene? Are you familiar with it and are there any outstanding artists, in you view?

I’m very happy to say that I’m extremely active with the Iranian community particularly with the artists and filmmakers. I regularly try to educate myself in what’s going on culturally inside and outside of Iran and there are always fascinating talents around. Next week, a show will open at the Asia Society in New York that I’ve curated with another Iranian artist Nicky Nodjoumi. This is a very powerful show of an older Iranian artist, political satirist, Ardeshir Mohassess who was once a legend in Iran, but sadly neglected for decades due to illness. I take great pride in being involved with such magnificent event.

Question: You covered your recent photographs of men and women with letters, writing. What role does literature and writing in general have for you and your work?
Literature and words are suggestive of emotional and intellectual minds of the writers that deeply inspire me. Having been obsessed with Iranian female writers, in a way, I feel my visual work are embodiments of these ladies’ strong expressions. In earlier work for example I often used poetry by Forough Farokhzad, a heroic figure in Iran, a writer of enormous talent and imagination. Later, for the past five years for example, I’ve been devoting my time to the novel of “Women Without Men” by Shahrnush Parsipour whose imagination is equally extraordinary and beautiful. So literature for me is food for thought and inspiration

Faezeh & Amir Khan
Ink on C-print mounted on aluminium
223.5 x 178 cm / 88 x 70 in.
© Shirin Neshat. Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris
Shirin Neshat
Copyright Linda Bertucci, 2006
Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York

Interview of French artist Anne Van der Linden by Nina Zivancevic

Anne Van der Linden

Anne Van der Linden comes from a wealthy middle-class French family
who allowed her at an early age to launch into an artistic adventure
which he has never returned from afterwards. She was born in England, in 1959, but she was raised in France. She started drawing in the
stream of conscioussness manner age seventeen, only to trasfer
her interest to other genres while studying at the French Academy of
Beaux-Arts. Perhaps it was this negative experience of the art school
that prompted her to work all alone in her studio. She understood that
the joy of contemplation and a challenging emotion could also serve the language of figuration and that these could be equally expressed
through an expressionist drawing. Her drawings thus became at the
same time serious and reminiscent of those ancient echtings of Dürer
and Bosch and also critically charged and merciless somewhat like
those caricatures of Otto Dix and Max Beckmann.The artist’s drawings challenge those ‘dangerous’ or socially (un)acceptable topics– she often asks a question whether all our relationships, including the family, sexual and the ones at work – are just a simple exercise of power ? The artist always answers this question in a brave and humorous manner as she reaches for the heritage of her great predecessors, notably authors such as de Sade, Bataille and Frida Kahlo who, in their turn, refused any given socal norms that stood in their way of being creative. The drawings of Van der Linden’s are more than provocative- they are often ladden with the ‘erotic’ symbols as exemplified by the beautiful females resembling the top models placed on the torture table of the Great Inquisitor who, in splashing their sex with boiling oil represents, perhaps, common reason and consciousness. There are also in there the fallen angels who descend from Bosch’s inferno and who devour penises in the red houses of Amsterdam and Antwerp.The constant themes of the artist’s obsession are the following: the terror of racism, neocolonisation, consumerism and an overall industrialization of the society staggering both under the social regulations and family norms as well as under an influx of the pseudo-scientific and technological consciousness. And in an ancient expressionist manner her drawings also criticize the sanctum of motherhood, as they are critical of the Virgin and the Saint and of our new Holy father who hides a knife, an animal and a telephone in his pants instead of the penis. We could surely say that the girl who makes love to a phone receiver evokes more a naif symbolism of the neo-technocrat world than that she leads us to the erotic connotation of Van der Linden’s image.

The artist complains that despite the fact that “all that she has always wanted to do is to be a painter” she gets sollicited by the publishers only as an illustrator. This is mainly due to her painfully precise analyses of the contemporary society, that is her drawings which often decorate the texts that are serious textual analyses of such. She treasures that painterly approach to color and the painter’s material which often does not reveal itself to draughtsmen. Van der Linden had been visiting for some time psychiatric wards- an experience which left an impact on her; after such an experience she conceived the painting “Total peeling” on which a patient tries to peel off her own skin and flesh. In a certain way, the whole oeuvre of Van der Linden’s enters the category of “peeling off” of the conscious as the paintings evoke the reality peeled off and penetrated to the bone. Her palette is very heavy and sombre resemling a bit Diego Rivera’s, although her overall sensibility belongs to the European art history.

The artist has also got involved in theater (through 1990s), performance and film, earlier with her legendary partner Costes. Her short films such as the “Ironing” and the “Well”, 1999,treat cruel subjects: the problem of an alcoholic mother and life of a cleaning lady who gets literaly ironed by her boss. And although these films are both committed and heavy just like the artist’s very painting they are also capable of keeping our attention on them- the phenomenon which surpasses many a contemporary artist and his work these days. If we were to ask about the number of Van der Linden’s group or solo shows in the world we would learn that such number is big; and if we wanted to inquire about the importance or a scope of the places where she showed her work we would also learn that it has been very present in many prestigious places in the world. However, when we start thinking of the artist’s work, this particular thing is not something that we begin to think of. The important thing is that her art approves of thinking, so to speak, and at the moment when she flashes her art like a gun or a glove , to the face of the spectator, he takes a good look at it- and starts thinking about it.

Her work is to be seen most recently at Les Singuliers Gallery in Paris.

Amour by Anne Van der Lindencyclabominable

1. Question: What made you draw and paint in your life to begin with? Do you
remember your earliest stages of interest?

Anne Van der Linden: As a child I had access to art books and art pieces as my mother managed a small art gallery in Paris – she sold contemporary prints.
My first drawing experiments happened in the 70′s. At that time
everybody smoked pot and I did the same for a while, so in that sort of context I started drawing the improvisations, free association figures, objects and shapes, all of which were very distant from the academic type of artwork, meaning that they appeared very spontaneous. Then I went to art school and lost that manner, but in a way I kept the “free association” mood until now.

2. Question: I called you a sort of “female Durer”…What draws you towards drawing
and etching as medium, and do you prefer that medium to oil painting ?

Anne Van der Linden: In the beginning drawings and etchings were the skeleton on which I had built my painting skill (isn’t that a classic one?!), that was the place where the idea materialized, nothing
more or less than that. Then a friend suggested that I just show my drawings
as he thought them very good, and I followed his advice.
However, the truth is that I still prefer painting (mix of oil and acrylic) to any other tehnique. Painting is really the cult object for me…maybe because the painting material makes the object look like a corpse, as it smells, shines, and appearing sometimes repulsive and at some other times
attractive, it is more ambiguous, and interchanging according to lightning etc…

3. Question: What are its advantages and what are the limitations of that medium?

Anne Van der Linden: Drawing is easy to be reproduced, you hardly get bad surprises, also you can draw everywhere, you don’t need much room.
Drawing is the place of research, and by using the line you try to bring out
ideas, and you can throw away the sheet if you are not satisfied with the result, thing that you cannot do so easly with painting, because it is so sticky and wet it
becomes quickly fused and saturated with color. Plus, you don’t want to run through the canvas too quickly because of the high price of the material!
But drawing -the way I conceive it – is a very austere technique, I sit at my table
for hours and sometimes I get hand cramps. Also it can take me quite a long
time to fill the blank space and « kill » the paper sheet, unlike the medium of painting where you use a few brush strokes and that’s it, the space of the canvas is conquered in no time- it becomes my space!

4. Question: How do you chose your subject , your themes in painting? Do you search for them or do they come to you?

Anne Van der Linden: It comes from varied sources, some images come from what I saw and that particular experince then influenced and inspired me to paint it, or also, there are ideas which I am not fully aware of and which come to me from the ‘back room’ of my mind…
Most of the time things appear to my mind as set choreographies, and then the
action becomes more precise from one study to another. The idea
develops simultaneously with the shape, and after a few aborted attempts at legitimate existence it reaches the state of harmony, I mean I experience it as such when the image starts “talking” to me.
Sometimes I take over the subject from one image to another, developing the so called ‘small variations’ of the original version.

5. Question: Given the fact that your subject is often political (social commentary etc), Would you call yourself an « engage »? A committed artist of a sort? How do you see your work in a larger context?

Anne Van der Linden: My art talks about mankind and doesn’t avoid any aspect of humanity, I use obscenity, violence, sexuality and all our orifices as means of
expression, and automatically that makes a committed artist out of me, as I have to account for the choices I make.
A Feminist? It is a questionable tag for me to get- sometimes I can adopt a feminine point of view and explore some subjects that have been unexplored because they belong specifically to women’s domain of work. Sometimes these are themes which women have not dealt with much until now,
so it is interesting to use certain paths to explore them.
But in general my position as an artist is the one of “transgender”, meaning being beyond sexual determination, just like an animal is,so that I could feel more free in such an operating space.
Also I happened to be rejected by so-called feminists, who thought
that I was presenting a degrading image of women. I thought that their opinion was so unfair and boring! Such a mental sclerosis!

6. Question: What’s the situation like in French contemporary scene? Closed or
open? Likable, or rather dislikable?

Anne Van der Linden: Well, viewing things from my personal experience, the French scene is quite shy, at the same time full of the inferiority complex and conservative, always looking up to foreign countries art scene and deciding what is good in art or not, and the result of such a process is disastrous as we all know. Also the institutions have been adamant for decades that their rôle con sisted in promoting the old conceptual art, and all of us painters sculptors etc…could just go and die elsewhere.
However, on the other hand, here in France I can make and broadcast pieces of
art that could easily put me in trouble if I ‘d shown them in other parts of the
world. That lack of censorship here IS good!

7. Question: What’s your experience with film, video? Do you like working with
that media?

Anne Van der Linden: I have made 3 short films some years ago (2000-2001), and I used to develop and extend the themes of my paintings into film, in order to make them move into action, and this sort of experience was interesting. What I mean is that these films were close to performances, with a more material, everyday life aspect to them than my painterly images had before.
But the filming of these images hasn’t been an easy process- Ii had conflicts with the technicians I was working with and this problem has been blocking me and my filming process eversince.

Interview with DJ B-Roc

I first met Ben Ruttner (DJ B-Roc) through my sister at our high school in New Hampshire. He was a freshman who wore big t-shirts and sold mix tapes out of his backpack. At the time he was the only DJ in our school. He was also probably the only serious entrepreneur. (All the drug dealers I knew smoked way more than they sold, and everybody else mostly just worked at a bagel shop or hung around the parking lot at the video store.) From his personal mix tape circuit, to packed talent shows, to being a junior DMC finalist, Ben had way more hustle then your average 14 year old dude. He’s 21 now, and living in New York City. The hustle hasn’t stopped, and the music has only gotten better. B-Roc is like Rick Rubin and Russell Simons all at once, a gifted music maker with a mind for the business that I know must go way beyond his years. If in 20 years we’re all downloading Chinese Reggae to an invisible chip in our third ears, I bet B-Roc will have something to do with it.

You just opened up a studio in Chinatown, right?

Yeah. It’s exciting, man. “Heavy Roc Music.” I’m in here every day, and the place is fully operational now. My production partner, JPatt, and I (together “The Knocks”) work out of here now, but we also rent out time to other people to pay the bills. I actually just started doing DJ lessons out of here too, which is fun.

On the production side, tell me about your current project.

It’s called SAMUEL. He’s a singer and a New York kid born and raised. Then it’s JPatt and I doing all the production. Ww’re about to drop our single, “Say Goodbye,” which features Wade, the guitarist from the band The Virgins.

How did the Samuel project start up?

I met him through a friend. The two of them used to sing in a band called Ghost Town Symphony. Samuel had some really rough music, recorded on Garage Band in his laptop. JPatt and I heard it and thought there was mad potential. Now we’re about to blast off that single, “Say Goodbye.” Mark Ronson is going to play it on EVR soon.

Doing this pop singer stuff is different from a lot of your other work, which is mostly hip-hop based.

Yeah it’s really different. I still do some hip-hop stuff though. I have a Sheek Louch track coming out – featuring The Game and Bun B – on his new album, “Silverback Gorilla.” But I’m steering away from hip-hop. And now with the studio it’s been dope because I can bring in people playing violin, guitar, or whatever. I feel like I’m actually producing and not just making a beat and trying to sell it.

Should we look out for a Samuel EP dropping soon then?

Yeah, but right now we’re not sure if we’re going to do it independent still because we got some serious label interest. They see him as the American Lilly Allen.


I mean the New York, male Lilly Allen. That’s how labels talk. It’s pretty funny.

The Samuel stuff kind of sounds like a Justin Timberlake / Timbaland kind of thing.

Yeah. It’s a real fusion between our normal sound, which is strictly hip-hop and then Samuel’s emo-hipster vibe. We definitely try to make the beats still knock.

Last summer you were on the road touring with Sean Kingston all over the U.S.  How did you like that?

It was an ill experience, man. Something I’ll remember forever. We went all over the country, rode in private jets, and shared a stage with Beyoncé, and played huge arenas.
I’d typically come out on stage first to get the crowd hyped, and that feeling when people scream in response to your voice is crazy. I mean it’s one thing when it’s an auditorium in high school, but 200,000 heads is different. Now I want to go on tour with Samuel. I feel like things will be peaches and cream.

Have you been DJing in the city at all?

Yeah, a lot. Spots like Gold Bar, Marquee, Runway, PM, but I also throw parties with my dudes weekly where all our people can come and chill while we DJ.  And I’m about to go to Virginia to DJ with Benny Blanco at Virginia Tech. That’s going to be fun.

What type of stuff do you notice going over well in the clubs these days?

If you go to the nice places, it’s all dance music obviously, but a lot of oldies too.
MIA is big. All the hipster stuff really kills it. Justice is big.

What do you think of Justice?

I like them but that genre is getting really saturated now. My dudes come up to me with new music all the time. Some weird producer from Sweden or something, that makes Justice-esque shit. It all starts to blend together for me and sound the same.

Yeah, I know what you mean. With that kind of stuff so big these days do you think there’s still room for hip-hop? Where are the raps going?

I think hip-hop is actually finally taking a turn for the better. I mean there’s always going to be the bullshit – the Soulja Boys and the snapping – but then people like Mark Ronson are doing really well. He just got a Grammy. He just beat Timbaland! Hip Hop is just so oversaturated, but that’s why people like Will I Am and Kanye and Mark are standing out. Because they’re switching it up and bringing in different aspects and new sounds. Like I was in the studio with D.O.E. the other day and I was playing him beats, and once I played Sam’s shit, he flipped out. He was like, “I need some shit like this. I need him on my tracks! This is what the bitches listen to!” Rappers are realizing that and putting people like Mathew Santos or the homeboy from Coldplay on a track. People who they think are going to stick around, not who spits the hottest 16, because Tupac and Biggie already spit the hottest 16. I mean I want to make the kind of music that’s going to be in jukeboxes in twenty years, stuff that makes you remember an era, stuff that you can party and drink 40s to – or drink a glass of wine with your grandmother.

So you want to make music that can crossover as much as possible?

Yeah, man. If you want to sell records and have a real impact, it’s got to cross over.

Is it harder to produce for singers than it is rappers?

Only if you can’t play. But that’s why we have a serious advantage. JPatt can play anything. When we make beats it’s dope because I might have an idea in my head and all I got to do is hum it to him and then he’ll tweak it or something.

You’ve worked out of Vermont and Boston among other places, but how has New York been influencing your work? What’s this city like for you?

Being downtown in the music scene is really dope because you’re surrounded by creative people, whether it’s clothing lines, artists, musicians, whatever. And everyone around me is still very young. Most of the kids I hang out with grew up either in New York or L.A. It’s kind of funny for me having been in Vermont. Everyone’s like, “Yo, where are you from?” But it’s cool because it kind of gives me an extra edge coming from the middle of nowhere. We had a show the other week at 205 and we packed it without even rally promoting it. That felt really good.

That’s a good sign.

Yeah, kind of makes you feel like you can take on the world.

Interview with Jessica Hagedorn

Interview with Jessica Hagedorn

(via email)

Nizhen Hsieh




      Jessica Hagedorn



Jessica Hagedorn is a widely acclaimed novelist, poet, playwright and screenwriter, as well as a National Book Award nominee. Born in 1949 and raised in the Philippines, she moved from Manila with her family to San Francisco as a teenager. It was in the late 70s when the San Francisco artistic scene began to plateau that she moved to New York to seek an artistic jolt in perspective. She is the author of three novels, Dream Jungle, The Gangster of Love, Dogeaters and of \Danger and Beauty, a collection of selected poetry and short fiction. She also wrote the theatrical adaptation of Dogeaters}. She is the editor of the first and second \work{Charlie Chan is Dead}, both anthologies of contemporary Asian-American literature. Ishmael Reed has described her as a “vanguard artist,” a writer at the forefront crossing not just the boundaries of culture and race but of artistic mediums as well.


In Dream Jungle, you manipulate the linearity of colonial conquest by rendering history and space, tools we use to locate ourselves with, monumentally ambiguous. Moreover, in the updated anthology of Charlie Chan is Dead II,} it is also emphasised that being “at home in the world” is no longer a comfortable reclamation of cultural heritage as it is expected traditionally. The possibility of choice has now entered a new phase, the competitive necessity of choice. In other words, being “at home” in these times brings with it discomfort and confusion on an individual level. How do you think our definition of identity has changed since the turn of the 20th Century up till now?}


You answered your own question in the introductory commentary above … when you state that “being at home in the world is no longer a comfortable reclamation of cultural heritage as it is expected traditionally … ” As you can see from many of the stories in the new Charlie Chan 2 anthology, being in the world can be both beautiful and unsettling. I don’t think it’s an either/or situation, ever. I think it’s always a balancing act.

How do you think it shifted particularly after 9/11?}


Well, it’s become even more complicated and messy. For example    what does it mean to be an American and a New Yorker at this point in time? Does it mean I am pro-Bush, or anti-Bush? Does it mean I am part of the liberal elite, that I applaud Michael Moore’s documentaries? And so on, and so on. But life, as we know, is full of murk and moral ambiguities. 9/11 forced us all to think about gray areas.


In talking about Asian-American representation, there is always the underlying danger of obsessing over a politically correct cultural conception. How do you think we can change that rigid viewpoint?}


“Correctness” and rigidity in anything are attitudes which have never interested me. Life is not simple, and people can’t be boxed into being either heroes or villains. I don’t know how you can change a reader’s rigid mode of thinking, but you can certainly challenge it by continuing to present art and literature that is provocative, nuanced, surprising, more complex and profound than perhaps they are used to encountering. Hopefully, their eyes open up to a whole new world of possibilities. Humor is essential. And a sense of irony.


 From a cross-cultural perspective, how do you think these issues concerning identity have helped contemporary fiction evolve to what it is now, as you say “beautiful and unsettling?”}


I don’t know what issues concerning identity have helped contemporary fiction evolve to what it is now. All I know is that the range of voices that are being heard and published is a lot more diverse than when I was coming up. Finally, we are reading all sorts of stories being written by different kinds of writers! American publishers, who can be very myopic about this, are realizing that there is, indeed, a broad audience for our work.



{What are some of the non-fictional and fictional contemporary books you are currently reading? }


I have just finished Margaret Atwood’s “The Blind Assassin,” a brilliant, moving, and hugely entertaining novel. Am skimming through Dale Peck’s “Hatchet Jobs,” a collection of his literary criticisms. Some of his essays are right on target and very funny.  I have also read Han Ong’s latest novel, “The Disinherited,” which is wonderful.


{In your experience with Asian-American Writers’ Workshop and Basement Workshop, who were some of the writers you encountered that were exceptionally inspiring? And why?}


Both Basement Workshop in NYC and Kearney Street Workshop in San Francisco were important to my growing up as a poet and fiction writer. I met a wonderful community of writers such as Shawn Wong, Oscar Penaranda, Serafin and Lou Syquia, Al Robles, Geraldine Kudaka, Russell Leong, Kitti Tsui and many others in the Bay Area; at Basement, I met Fay Chiang, Richard Oyama, and a slew of actors, dancers, musicians and choreographers like Teddy Yoshikami, Jason Hwang. Tzi Ma, and visual artists like John Woo. At Asian-American Writers’ Workshop, I have encountered some of the best and the brightest young Asian-American writers, poets and playwrights who are working today. Folks like Quang Bao, Derek Nguyen, Christian Langworthy, Meera Nair, Monique Truong, Timothy Liu, Philip Huang, Joel Tan, Gina Apostol, Bino Realuyo … And we can’t forget writers from Hawaii like RZ Linmark, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Darrell Lum, Marie Hara, Cathy Song, Wing Tek Lum, and Eric Chock, just to name a few. My goodness, I could go on and on. It’s inspiring because the community has grown and matured, and I think we are in an exciting place in time.

{Are there any specific foreign writers that especially appeal to you, particularly those who write about the neo-colonial experience?}


I am looking forward to reading the Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, … I love Garcia Marquez, Manuel Puig, Arundhati Roy, J.M. Coetzee, Cabrera Infante, early Rushdie … my list of favorites is quite long.


{What is your perspective on your own post-colonial experience?}


I don’t think that’s for me to ponder. But I wonder if it’s possible for me to write a novel that is entirely set in the U.S. and deals with the aftermath of 9/11. How post-colonial is that?


{What other mediums of art such as dance and musical performances, plays, photography/video installations and art exhibits have influenced your approach to writing?}


Music is very influential to my writing, as are theater and film. I love writing dialogue, and I think a lot of my writing is visual and very cinematic.


{Why has music been so influential? What particular genre of music and which musicians? }


From the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Sly Stone, Prince, Bjork, Macy Gray, The Roots, and what is going on today. The music of the world.


{What plays have you seen recently? }


A contemporary adaptation of “Antigone” with an Asian-American cast, and excerpts from a new play by Tony Kushner with Laura Bush as its main character, called “Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy.”


{Who are a few of your favourite film directors?}


Pedro Almodovar is god. I love the Godard of “Weekend” and “Breathless,” Wong Kar-Wai, Jim Jarmusch, Michael Mann. American film noir from the 40s and 50s. Also Alfonso Cuaron and the guy who directed “Amores Perros”    I believe his last name is Inarritu.


{You describe your writing as being both aesthetically “visual” and “cinematic.” What is your purpose? Is it to provoke a more immediate and visceral response in the reader?  }


Probably. But I don’t give it much thought. It just happens.


{Where did the idea for \work{Dream Jungle} come from?}


From an actual historical event which occurred in 1971. A so-called “Stone Age” tribe was discovered in the Philippine rain forest by a man named Manda Elizalde. Then, of course, there was the filming of “Apocalypse Now.”


{Being of mixed parentage where you describe your roots as being “dubious,” hybridity has always been one of the essential aspects of your art, how has that also influenced your writing? }


Hybridity keeps me from being rigid about most things. It has taught me to appreciate the contradictions in the world and in my life. I scavenge from the best.


{Why do you think it is important to utilize other mediums of art to express oneself?}


It opens you up to different ways of expression and the endless possibilities of creation.


{Do you ever consider returning to the Philippines, to impart the tools and skills you have learned here in America in crafting your art, back to the community  (specifically the youth), so that they may learn how to empower themselves through artistic expression?}


Your question makes me cringe. If people want to invite me back to share my experiences or writing skills, then fine … I’m happy to share what I know. But the thought of going back on my own, to “impart the tools and skills” that I “have learned here in America” (as you put it) seems somewhat condescending. I try to resist that kind of missionary zeal.


{Let me rephrase the question. Having moved to the U.S. from the Philippines as a teenager and having acquired a cross-cultural artistic experience as a result of that transition, do you ever return to the Philippines to conduct writing workshops for young aspiring writers over there as you have done here? }


I’ve done readings and informal talks, but I haven’t yet been invited to conduct a writing workshop.


{Name one comfort and one discomfort. (Explain.)}


Comfort: food. Food as cultural memory, food as sensory pleasure.


Discomfort: money. Never having enough. Anxiety.


{Do you think all this has bridged or deepened your own identity conflict? }


I have no idea.


{Has becoming a mother changed the way you express your cultural attitude? }


Becoming a mother has helped make me a tougher, stronger writer. Everything matters. Time is precious.


{Is there anything else you would like to add? }




Mahmoud Darwish: Palestine’s Poet of Exile

Mahmoud Darwish: Palestine’s Poet of Exile

an interview article by Nathalie Handal

“Absent, I come to the home of the absent,” the leading Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, writes. No other poet captures the Palestinian consciousness and collective memory the way he does. At sixty-one, whether he is giving a reading in Paris or Palestine, he draws crowds of thousands, from government officials to schoolteachers, taxi drivers to students. In his latest collection, Judarieh (Mural), the poet finds himself in between love and death, wondering which of the two will conquer. “After the stranger’s night, who am I?” Darwish writes. So, when I speak to him by phone on March 22, I ask him who he is. He rapidly responds, “I still do not know.” On many occasions he has expressed the notion that only poetry can bring harmony to a world devastated by war: “Against barbarity, poetry can resist only by confirming its attachment to human fragility like a blade of grass growing on a wall while armies march by,” he has written. I ask him if he still believes that. “I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanize, and I think that the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe,” he responds, “but now I think that poetry changes only the poet.” Darwish has published twenty books of poetry, five books of prose, and his books have been translated into more than twenty-two languages. He has won numerous awards, including the Lotus Prize (1969); the Lenin Peace Prize (1983); France’s highest medal, the Knight of Arts and Letters (1993); and this April he will be honored with the Lannan Foundation Prize for Cultural Freedom. “I am still not a poet, and sometimes I regret I chose this way,” he tells me. Still, he is finishing his forthcoming book of poetry, State of Siege. His work speaks of his internal exile and uprootedness, his meditations on his historical, collective, and personal past. Many of his poems mirror the loss of homeland, the frustrations of being under siege, of being occupied. Here is a couplet from “The Earth Is Closing on Us”:

Where should we go after the last frontiers, where should the birds fly after the last sky? Other poems allude to myths, draw parallels between the Native American and the Palestinian experiences, speak of his mother, or address a Jewish lover. In “Rita and the Rifle,” he writes: Between Rita and my eyes There is a rifle…. Ah, Rita! What before this rifle could have turned my eyes from yours. In “A Soldier Dreaming of White Lilies,” he writes to his Jewish friends: I want a good heart Not the weight of a gun’s magazine. I refuse to die Turning my gun my love On women and children. He describes Palestine as a metaphor–for exile, for the human condition, for the grief of dislocation and dispossession. In “Eleven Planets in the Last Andalusian Sky,” he writes: I’m the Adam of two Edens lost to me twice: Expel me slowly. Kill me slowly With Garcia Lorca Under my olive tree. Darwish was born in 1941 in the village of Birweh in the upper Galilee of Palestine. The creation of Israel in 1948 meant the wiping of Palestine off the map and the destruction of 417 Palestinian villages. Darwish’s village was one of them. The same year, he fled with some members of his family to Lebanon. Months later, he returned “illegally,” but too late to be included in Israel’s census of the Palestinian Arabs who remained. There was no record of his existence. Thus started his absent-present status. When Darwish eventually left in 1970, his absence made him even more present in the consciousness of Palestinians, and his poems became extremely popular, especially “Identity Card,” written in 1964, and excerpted here: Record! I am an Arab And my identity card is number fifty thousand I have eight children And the ninth is coming after a summer Will you be angry? Record! I am an Arab I have a name without a title Patient in a country Where people are enraged… Early on, he discovered he could write, and that his words were weapons. Darwish tells me that his childhood dream was to be a poet, adding that he published his first poem when he was about twelve years old. “It was not a love poem,” he says. “I described our journey from Palestine to Lebanon.” Darwish published his first collection when he was about eighteen or nineteen years old. Some were love poems, he says, and some were political poems. “I was very strongly influenced by Al-Mutanabbi and the Mahjar poets (emigrant poets such a Kahlil Gibran) and modern Arab poets such as Qabbani, Al-Sayyab,” he says. When I ask if any Western poets influenced him, he says, “Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Yeats, and today, Derek Walcott is probably my favorite poet. I also like the Polish poets, especially Symborska.” In 1960, Darwish graduated from high school and moved to Haifa, where he became editor and translator for al-Ittihad daily and al-Jadid weekly, published by the Rakah (Communist) Party. In 1970, the poet left for Moscow to study political economy, and from then on his life was one migration after another. In 1971, he arrived in Cairo to work for Al-Ahram daily. It was the first time he went to an Arab country, the first time he saw everything written in Arabic. In 1973, he went to Beirut, where he edited Palestinian Affairs, published by the Center for Palestinian Studies. He joined the P.L.O. soon after and played a significant role in it. And he became the unofficial poet of Palestine, a description he rejects. “I do not like the label; it is a burden,” he says to me. In 1981, he founded and became editor of the pioneering literary journal Al Karmel. But the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon led the poet on yet another migration, this time to Tunis and Cairo, and he eventually settled in Paris. In 1993, he resigned from the P.L.O. Executive Committee and protested the Oslo accord, saying that he wanted peace but a fair one. Darwish says that real peace means being equal with the Israeli society, and that the Palestinian people should have the right to return, that the question of the refugees, of Jerusalem, of the settlements should be resolved, and of course, Palestinians must have the right to self-determination. After thirteen years in Paris, Darwish immigrated to Jordan in 1995, and in 1996 started living between Amman and Ramallah, where he continues to edit Al Karmel. During a brief visit in 1995 to Galilee and Jerusalem (Israel granted him permission to return for the funeral of his friend the writer Emile Habibi, and an unlimited stay in Palestinian self-rule areas of the West Bank), he said that he “felt like a child.” Thousands waited for him, welcomed him, told him he was loved, and asked him to stay. He was deeply moved, cried, and said he would never leave. But he was not given permission to stay in his hometown for more than a few days. He still longs to go home, “although I might realize that the harshest exile is in my homeland,” he says. Thus, Darwish remains a stranger passing through. When he lived in Israel, the government harassed him and several times put him in prison or placed him under house arrest for reading his poetry. In 1988, one of his poems, “Passing Between the Passing Words,” was even discussed in the Knesset. He wrote: So leave our land Our shore, our sea Our wheat, our salt, our wound. Israelis claimed he was demanding that the Jews leave Israel. Darwish disputed that, saying he meant they should leave the West Bank and Gaza. Yossi Sarid, who was Israel’s education minister, suggested in March 2000 that some of Darwish’s poems should be included in the Israeli high school curriculum. But Prime Minister Ehud Barak declared, “Israel is not ready.” Darwish insists that terror is not a means to justice. “Nothing, nothing justifies terrorism,” he wrote, condemning the September 11 attack on the United States in the Palestinian daily Al Ayyam. Concerning the current situation, he tells me: “We should not justify suicide bombers. We are against the suicide bombers, but we must understand what drives these young people to such actions. They want to liberate themselves from such a dark life. It is not ideological, it is despair.” I ask him how he sees the future. The Israelis cannot “give us back our house but live in our garden, in our living room,” he says, his voice rising. I ask whether a Palestinian state will exist. In a firm voice he tells me, “A Palestinian state already exists.” He adds, “The Palestinian people feel that they are living the hours before dawn. Their national will is stronger in reaction to the challenge. They do not have another option but to continue to carry the hope that they are going to have a normal life.” He says there is a simple solution that only seems complicated and that the two sides can resolve the questions of the borders and all the other issues under negotiation. He repeats a number of times, “There is hope.” After a lifetime of longing, perhaps Darwish is too optimistic, too wishful. A few days after our conversation, Israel sends tanks into Ramallah. I call Darwish back, finding him this time in Amman, Jordan. His voice, far and fading, tells me that it is all “so barbaric, so cynical.” But I get the impression that he still feels there is a place to go “after the last frontiers… after the last sky.”

Nathalie Handal is a poet and writer living in New York and London. She is the author of a poetry book, “The Neverfield” (Post Apollo Press, 1999), and is the editor of an anthology called “The Poetry of Arab Women” (Interlink 2001).


Frank Gonzales of “Manito”

Frank Gonzales of “Manito”


A Star is Born in A Brilliant and Gritty Film


…Infinite Loop


Review and Interview by Melanie Maria Goodreaux


Frank Gonzales, otherwise known as”Frankie G.,” heats up a seat at the House of Tribes Theatre, a small black box on the Lower East Side of New York City. With a quiet confidence and intense gaze that could melt Alaska, he sits inside the red theatre seat in a black jumpsuit and sneakers, donning a chiseled jaw, gracious humility, and the smoldering eyes of a rising star. He looks like”Junior,” his touching role as the foxy and dutiful big brother in Eric Eason’s Manito, but assures me that he’s not.”I never experienced Junior’s story, but I had a friend that did, and I drew from that,” says Gonzales, his voice thickened with a Brooklyn accent.”Acting is going into someone else’s mind- jumping into their spirit, their body,” says Frankie G., who recalls drawing upon his grandmother’s death to fuel his performance as Junior in Manito.”I couldn’t stop crying,” says a remembering Gonzales,”I felt Junior.”


Junior, the character posed as Eason’s”big brother” in Manito,(which means”little brother” in Latin slang), is a hard working, married man, who did a prison sentence because of his involvement with his father’s drug ring. He served as the spy for the cops on the corner in front of the bodega where his father sold sandwiches, candy, beer and drugs to pull off living in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. Junior took the rap, did the time, and never sold out his father. Once out of prison, Junior works hard as a contractor, who hustles gigs without a license to make ends meet and to throw a big high school graduation party for his”manito,” the scrawny and yet brainy brother of promise who has plans to go to college. A frighteningly believable twist of fate happens on the subway as Junior’s little brother Manny is traveling home from the party with his girlfriend and a wad of cash that the community has given him to send him successfully into the future to fulfill his dreams and theirs. Then the plot twists and the subway turns—two men harass the couple, they flee, his girlfriend gives him a gun, and then our”manito of promise” ends up killing the gangsters and having to do time. His future is now dimmed by this twist, all the hard work and hopes of the family are slammed into yet another jail cell-and Junior can’t do anything to raise the money to get his little brother out of prison besides asking his father.


Eason creates a thick distance and tension between Junior and his estranged father. In the early moments of the film we see papi preparing a huge hoagie big enough to feed the entire guest list at his youngest son’s graduation party. He prepares the sandwich graciously enough to feed a king- but once Junior sees the huge hoagie at the dance hall before the party starts, he grabs it, throws it in a van and speeds through Washington Heights only to throw the sandwich out the window. It lands as a demolished heap of bread, meat, lettuce and tomatoes in front of his father’s bodega. Later, while giving a tearful toast to his younger brother at the party, he eyes his father at the door and rushes through the crowd to beat him down and send him on his way. Obviously dad’s affection and attention comes uninvited and a little too late for a Junior that is bitter and angry about doing time for a man that has no genuine love for his family, a man that never visited Junior in prison. When Junior is forced to go to his father to ask for the cash to bail out his little brother, cash that Junior’s pride kept him from asking for in the first place, cash that Junior is well aware that his father has–his father still refuses. The impassioned Junior, hurt by hopelessness and his father’s cold display of heartlessness ends up strangling him to death after he is beaten with a bat. We catch each blow of the bat, we hear every desperate suck for life as he is strangled beneath a hand held camera that makes the viewer feel like it has just caught a domestic violence episode ending in death on a home video. The film ends with a repetitive shot of Junior running frantically from the scene of the crime. All hope is snatched away and there is no one to blame but the rugged, ragged, random monster of chance. This is what closes in on these characters, this is what makes Junior run. Manito’s characters are twisted into a fate of recycled hopelessness and trouble.”A lot was going on in Junior’s head,” says Frankie G. of his character,” he was running away from everything, running away from his problems-he didn’t want to go back to prison.”


Even though Frankie G. was just doing his job as an actor by”jumping into the spirit” of Junior in Manito, doesn’t mean that he and Junior haven’t faced some similar salt. He says that playing Junior made him think of his own family’s struggle as working class folks from Brooklyn.”I thought of my family and their suffering, what they went through. My father worked hard so that we could move out of the troubles of the time.


When I told Frankie G. that some of the Latinos at the Julio Burgos Center in East Harlem argued that the film played up negative stereotypes of his people, he strongly shrugged it off saying,”This film was not just for Hispanics and Blacks. They’re upset cause they feel the realness of it. It was a reality check. It’s just a story, but it felt real– like a documentary. These people were trying to make a life for themselves, that’s life, period. How can someone think the film was just about drug deals?” Who am I to play the devil’s advocate with Frankie G.? He’s an actor who is sitting in obvious support of fellow Puerto Rican director Lou Torres, who also served as actor and producer of Manito. The two are part of the theater happenings at the House of Tribes this weekend. Torres is directing one of Juan Shamsul Alam’s plays and Frankie G. is coming to hear the work and watch the spirits do their jumping.


Gonzales’ magical delving into his character, the brilliance of Eason’s strong and gritty script, and its true to the times camera work, make Manito a classical addition to film history. Eason brought Washington Heights to film, and Washington Heights Manito style is as gritty as the city itself. Manito’s hand held camera shots make it come across as a documentary while actually delivering a great story built thick with suspense, a story that Frankie G. calls”soo good.” Rugged, raw, and real, Manito makes you feel a moment away from ordering yucca at the Cuchifrito, and a spot away from the little things in life blowing up into big drama. It documents what is both charming and mundane about neighborhood living in New York City. This juxtaposition is exactly where the style of filming matches the story. Manito masks its edgy story within a”reality television” style. Eason brings brilliance to a style that received lots of attention years ago with the disappointing Blair Witch Project. The audience witnesses intimate and unseen moments of”real life” in Washington Heights. The impromptu conversations of neighborhood Latino teenagers rapping about the comings and goings of their high school scene, being taken inside of a Washington Heights apartment with sexy prostitutes adorned with hot tops and big tits, skirts with slits, pale blue eye shadow and lip gloss, and the toasts of all the folks at the graduation party who feel like family, dancing and swaying, wishing Manny well through champagne, tears, and sweet Spanish Music in the background are just a few examples of scenes that are cut to look uncut. The viewer is in awe of the familiar, without being suspect of Eason’s brilliant storytelling. As a society, we have become numb to taking a movie camera into the privacy of our lives. We look in on first dates, on high priced dare devil reality game shows, and are dazed by watching hours of shows like”The Real World.” What may make audiences feel uncomfortable about Manito’s drama is that it could easily be anyone’s drama.


Gonzales’ humble brilliance as an actor matches the edgy, raw, rugged, and realistic vision of Eason’s masterpiece, a masterpiece that has already won awards at Sundance, Urbanworld, Gotham, and the Miami Film Festival, just to name a few. Yes, Frankie is all that and a bag of chips, as they say. He’s got the edge, he’s got the bomb of a first big gig, he’s coming with talent and good looks, AND he’s just finished working with Dustin Hoffman in Confidence? The intimate space of the House of Tribes Theater sets the stage for a moment that starts to get even smaller- I realize that Frankie G., the handsome and humble talent sitting across from me- is about to”blow up” or already has. And although our new star might not have ever faced the same hopeless brick wall as Junior, he certainly has had people around him trying to bring him down and keep him down.”When I first started acting, I didn’t tell anyone. At one time I was going to give up because of all the negative feedback. I had a lot of my own people telling me that I couldn’t do it, telling me that they knew that I wasn’t going to make it. They had such negative vibes. I had to prove myself. I had to believe in myself. Now I can tell them,’I told YOU so.’”


Frankie finishes up our talk by assuring me his visits to Hollywood are just that– he plans on staying in New York He offers a bit of hope to any young talent that may come behind him,”Believe in yourself. Don’t listen to people with negative vibes. The ones with positive vibes will lead you to your path.” It’s time for the play at the House of Tribes Theater to begin. The lights go down on Frankie G. and our conversation. The actors jump into the spirits of Juan Shamsul Alam’s characters on stage. This time, Frank Gonzales, a new star with new hope, will just sit back and watch.


Interveiw with David Hickey

Dave Hickey is a noted art critic, author of “Air Guitar,” and is Professor of Art History at the University of Nevada Las Vegas


(Phone Rings)









Hello, Mr. Hickey. I just got my act together here, the phone is on record now





Ok. Just a second…got to check the phones here






Hopefully this will work





Well, we’ll hope it does.






Ok, I just tested it out on the blind guy.











Ok, so I’ll just start, this interview is with Dave Hickey for issue #9 of “A Gathering of the Tribes. So I am going to ask the questions and you can answer what you want to.











Ok, In your writing on Las Vegas you appreciate it’s authenticity or lack therof in a camp syntax not unlike Susan Sontag…Is this how you see it?





Not Really. Vegas is a complex American city where people are a little bit more gregarious and are a little bit smarter than in other places. The city itself is more multicultural and a lot less class ridden than other places. It has the virtues of a gambling culture.






Ok. Umm… The multicultural aspect…which culture do you see as predominant besides the Mormons and the Jews…Mexicans ? Probably ?





Only in the last five years, the Hispanic community in Vegas is principally centered around Cubans who came here after Castro closed the casinos







Oh wow!





There is no indigenous Latino community here. The building trades began bringing them here in the last ten years. So we finally have decent Mexican restaraunts. The Asian community as best I can figure out is centered around a number of old families whose roots go back to Macao. Which again is a gambling culture.










Some, but the community is Chinese.







Right … Right











My father lives in Puerto Rico and sometimes it seems that every Chinese person there was in a casino





Exactly, but again, but again this has changed over the years but the center of Vegas is the Jews and the Italians from upstate New York , Cubans from Havana, Chinese from Macao, Mormons from…






(Laughs) From Elmira, New York





No from ninety miles away…that’s why Vegas is here ||Not Salt Lake City




No the Utah border is ninety miles…an hour and ten minute drive. That’s why Vegas is here. It was originally a safety valve for Brigham Young’s kingdom






So what state was it (Vegas) in when Bugsy Siegel opened his casino











What state… Was there a population there (Las Vegas) when Bugsy opened the Flamingo ?





Yes, there was already mining, the Hoover dam complex, but mostly the gaming and the whoring were again a safety valve for the Mormons and then again also for the miners






But there are Mormons who own casinos…Right.





No there are Mormons who own banks which finance casinos






Isn’t Steve Wynn a Mormon





No Steve’s a Jew. Steve Weinberg






It seems as though in my questioning of you (Mr. Hickey) that you are obviously more educated on these matters than I so please excuse me if I am naive in my questioning





It’s okay…That’s cool.






It seems to me Vegas is a vortex where things go out, go in, then come back out, an argument between the authentic and the inauthentic, nature and the ersatz, is that true ?





Well I don’t know, I;m not sure what authenticity means.






Ok I’ll skip that question.











How has Vegas changed since you first arrived and as with the gambling venues and then the mixed usage with family oriented entertainment ?





Well, the family oriented entertainment business here was mostly an idea of a bunch of east coast M.B.A’s who came in when the corporations began to take over the casinos during the Reagan years. it was one of those peculiarly Reaganesque projects that didn’t prove to be nearly as profitable or desirable as they thought it would be. Most of the major moves in the casino industry in the past ten years have been back towards the adult clientele.






How about dropping the theme of family entertainment and gambling. How has it (Las Vegas) changed just in general since you came ?





Vegas in general. Well it’s a lot bigger. When I came here it felt like the edge of something and now it’s the center of something. For the worse. It’s gotten overcrowded. We’re building twenty one grammar schools a year. I would say the political center because of all the white flight of people from California has shifted Las Vegas let’s say marginally to the right. Vegas traditionally is a labor liberal city. It’s like Brooklyn, it’s not like a liberal, liberal city, like Cambridge (Mass), but a labor liberal city. It’s probably the biggest labor town left in the country. The culinary workers and the Teamsters are an important presence in the culture.






So am I allowed to ask you questions about the Bellagio ?





Sure, If I feel like I can answer them.






Okay with the Bellagio not only does Las Vegas change but art changes in general with the museum or art gallery as sales mechanism. From a populist perspective: How do you see this development with your own views on democracy ?





Well in a sense first of all, the interesting thing about having the paintings here in Vegas is that they make Vegas more like itself. In other words they make it more of a Mediterrenean culture and Vegas already is a Mediterrenean inasmuch as it is a culture of incarnation and spectacle. It makes the art more like it was when human beings owned it. Before paintings of fruit became beacons of civic virtues in Pittsburgh or Boston.











For me it’s really exciting. It really restores the sense of the object in the social world. For Vegas, it really just reinforces the general Mediterrenean temper of the place.






The Mediterrean is not a similar climate though ?





No, I mean… Spanish culture, Italian culture, Greek culture, Jewish culture, I mean the cultures that surround the Mediterrenean sea are the dominant forces in town here. Uh. With the possible exception of the Mormons who make the trains run on time of course (laughs)










This means it’s not a text culture. It’s an oral culture…meaning my freind who runs the collections at the university…his big problem is that he has lots of objects and lots of tapes. He has almost no text because things aren’t written down, here. Things take place in conversation.






Wow, ok, the Bellagio is making personal interviews with some people right? You know hybrid exit polls that are somewhat determining what they are buying and selling. How do you see that?





What do you mean buy and sell?






You know like Steve Wynn sold his Jaspar Johns and his Rauschenbergs





Oh no, Oh no (laughs)






And the Brancusi




Steve Wynn is an art collector. Let’s be very clear about this.











He’s an art collector. I know what an art collector is. Steve Wynn is an art collector. He made a strategic decision. He sold one Jaspar Johns. He still has “Highway” which is a beautiful painting. He made a decision that the sort of schism, the sort of phase shift that America undergoes after the Abstract Expressionists does not make for a very good gallery hanging. In other words it’s hard to hang Lichtenstein’s “Torpedos Los!” in a room with a De Kooning. And so he decided to deaccession a lot of pop things and began acquiring painterly pictures from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries that would make the collection more coherent. Because it is easier to get from Reubens to De Kooning than it is from De Kooning to Warhol.






What about the Brancusis and the Giacometti, and the Franz Kline ?





Well to be honest. Steve doesn’t much like sculpture. You know what I mean






Sure, I don’t know him





It’s just not his thing. He’s basically a painting collector. And the Giacometti was stunning. The Brancusi, was sort of, I don’t know, B plus. It was ok. The Giacometti was a great fucking sculpture and I miss it a great deal. But I’ve spent my life around the art world and there is one thing you have to tell yourself every day, “It’s his collection”. You know regardless of who you are working for: it’s their collection.






The artist I thought in my own mind to be appropriate for Vegas was Giambattista Piranesi; For if I was watching Venice or Paris going up I would almost think





Well, Vegas hads done for architecture what easel painting did for art, it has rendered it mobile. (laughs)






What about the upcoming artists in the Vegas area. I was over there at U.N.L.V and I wrote my name and address in the guestbook and that guy who did the fiberglass gila monsters sent me some pictures in the mail. How are the upcoming artists…..I mean the artists who live in the Las Vegas area rather than the visitors responding to the new influx of art.





Well let me put it like this. Now that there is better art to look at here, There is better art made here. The real thing is the real thing. It’s an enormous boon.






What about the Rio hotel/casino showing the collection from the Peterhoff in a shopping mall in the middle of a casino?





I think it’s ok. It’s not something I’m particularly intrested in. There was an intresting Van Loos over theren and one average Faberge egg. I am not particularly intrested in 18th century European decorative art, although I know it very well. As far as exhibiting it, I thought it was fine. I believe works of art can survive their context. You either believe in context, you believe in superstructure you believe that everything within something is totally driven by context or you believe things and people can overcome their context. I tend to think things can over come their context.






I just wrote an essay on an artist where I dealt with those very issues. So I greatly appreciate that.





Huh? Right, I don’t think that if I put a great painting in my living room, it worse because I live in Vegas or my living room is not up to snuff.











Dh: It’s(the art) an enormous boon to this culture, I mean in a sense if you look at history of European and American art, art follows the money. We didn’t have German art in the eighties for nothing, but because the Deustche Mark was dominant.






But, sometimes though like when I was sittting under the Dale Chiluhly glass ceiling in the lobby of the Bellagio Las Vegas feels more like outer space than America.





Well since I live here I’m a sunshine boy, most of American doesn’t feel American to me. Vegas feels like America to me. LA and Houston aand New orleans and Mobile and Miami feel like America to me. Pittsburgh feels like Bosnia.






Right, right





Vegas has it’s own tones. it’s not outer space at all. Everybody gets up here and goes to work.






Well at the The Bellagio I felt like I was in outer space. I felt like I was on the holodeck of the starship enterprise.





Well if you felt that way maybe you shouldn’t go back. I spend alot of time in Italy. I fly from here to Rome I haven’t gone very far. I fly from here to Minnieapolis I have crossed vast genetic rifts and cultural barricades.



This interview was conducted in the spring of 1999. Since that date the Bellagio hotel has been sold by Mirage resorts under it’s chairman Steve Wynn to the MGM corporation. MGM has chosen to divest itself of the part of the Bellagio collection owned by Mirage while Mr. Wynn has kept his works. Further Mr. Wynn has chosen to purchase some of the hotel’s works as provided for in contractual agreements between the concerned parties.


Thanks to Hillary Maslon and Susan Yung for their help in facilitating this interview.


Looking Behind the Vision Festival

Looking Behind the Vision Festival:
A Conversation with Patricia Nicholson

By Kurt Gottschalk


On June 13, when the doors of the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts open for Vision Festival XI, Arts for Art — the organization that organizes and presents the annual jazz fest — will also be opening the door to the adoration and criticism they’ve faced every year for a decade. The praise and complaints are largely for the same thing, namely for hosting hours and hours of high energy jazz. Horns blaring, basses booming and drums being beaten, it’s a tradition carried on for some forty years, in the wake of the great John Coltrane.


Say it’s about time there’s an American festival dedicated to presenting free jazz, or say that Patricia Nicholson and her collective of artists suffer from a bad case of tunnel vision, but either way Arts for Art has created a brand for itself. It’s what Steven Joerg — whose label AUM Fidelity has released albums by Vision regulars William Parker, Cooper-Moore, Daniel Carter, Mat Maneri, Joe Morris, Roy Campbell, and David S. Ware, as well as a two-disc set of recordings from the festival — calls “ecstatic jazz,” a sort of secular Baptist tent meeting.


“The festival is about a lot of things,” according to Nicholson. “The practical thing isn’t just a paid gig, it’s a world-class festival. It’s a place for musicians to play music that they were discouraged from playing for years — a certain kind of intensity. I call it ‘soul music.’


“It doesn’t mean you can’t play Euro or whatever,” she continued. “It’s all valid — there aren’t any constraints. But one festival can’t do it all — you don’t have a vision then. We don’t make everyone happy, and that’s fine.”


Within its mission, arguably the most important thing Art for Arts has done is to champion the elders of the music. Septugenarian saxophonists Fred Anderson (from Chicago) and Kidd Jordan (New Orleans) have regularly appeared on the program, where in past years they were all but unknown in New York. Tributes have been paid to legends lost (this year to Raphe Malik while past years honored Jimmy Lyons, Denis Charles, Julius Hemphill, Don Cherry, Jeanne Lee, Peter Kowald and Wilber Morris) and living. In 2005, Art for Arts introduced a Lifetime Achievement award and honored Anderson. This year, the distinction will go to Sam Rivers, who’s living in Florida now but when he was in New York ran Studio Rivbea, a legendary part of the 1970s Loft Scene.



Patricia Nicholson

Photo by Peter Gannushkin


“Sam is a wonderful person,” Nicholson said. “I even had my little gig at Studio RivBea, and that’s where I met William [Parker, her husband]. And he’s kept his music alive. Besides a great musician, he’s important in the sense of community.


But despite the brand identity, there is some diversity to be found within the festival’s programming, including performers from Europe and Japan and an afternoon of sets by younger musicians. Along with the usual suspects, this year will feature performances by trombonist Paul Rutherford and pianist Veryan Weston, both from England, Dutch saxophonist Klaas Hekman and the Swiss trio Day & Taxi. Drummer Dylan van der Schyffe and cellist Peggy Lee will also appear, making the trip down from Vancouver. Still, most of the names in the schedule are familiar from the past decade of festivals. Nicholson pointed out, however, that Parker and Matthew Shipp aren’t leading groups this year, and Chicago percussionist Hamid Drake is for the first time.


The list of invited performers each year is made by a seven-person “music committee,” which makes suggestions and narrows it down based on such factors as age, gender, stage of career and whether or not they’ve played the festival before. There aren’t, however, strict rules, Nicholson said. Last year had a number of women on the bill, for example, whereas this year Matana Roberts is the only female bandleader, and her set is during the “New Generation” matinee.


“We had lots [of women last year],” Nicholson said. “This year it just didn’t happen. And the festival will always be dominated by blacks because no other festival I know of is, and that’s just plain wrong.”


The afternoon focus on younger players was new last year, and featured Tyshawn Sorey, Guillermo Brown, Todd Nicholson and the trio of Tatsuya Nakatani, Vic Rawlings and Ricardo Arias. But like everything Vision takes on, Nicholson said, the matinee has brought some criticism.


“Sometimes the younger players don’t like it, but I think it works better for them,” she said. “It’s going to be different when they’re 40 or 50, when their music matures. I think it focuses on them — they don’t get as big an audience, but there’s more focus.”


She remembered a recent evening out seeing two concerts, one by a younger group and the other by older players.


“The difference wasn’t the individual talent,” she said. “It was that the older musicians knew how to breathe together, and that’s when the magic happens. They become like one person.


“The way our general marketplace society works is there’s all this focus on young people,” she explained. “But generally people don’t come into their prime until they’re in their 40s. It’s not that they aren’t talented, but it’s different.”


The organization also made the decision to set the younger players apart to draw the attention of potential funders — a perpetual concern. With a staff of “three administrative, underpaid positions,” she said, they not only organize the summer festival, but also regular weekend afternoon shows and the annual “Vision Collaborations” music and dance weekend. And they are looking to have their own performance space by September, 2007.


“We’re getting more money but we’re trying to spread it out over the year.,” she said. “We’re trying to get our own space. Having your own space is everything. Without it, longevity is not going to happen, and we don’t have a home. You’re just at the mercy of whoever owns the venue.”


With a space to hold regular, smaller shows — they don’t expect to get something big enough to house the festival — Art for Arts would be one step closer to keeping alive a tradition that’s fallen to the periphery of jazz. But even now, eleven years into promoting ecstatic jazz, the profile has been raised and a community built. The work now, she said, is developing something that can be carried on by the new generation and generations after.


“It’s not about legitimizing because we don’t have to do that anymore,” Nicholson said. “It’s about passing it on.”


Interview with Ayana V. Jackson and Marco Villalobos

Interview with Ayana V. Jackson and Marco Villalobos

by John Farris


      Ayana V. Jackson has exhibited her work in galleries and nontraditional spaces worldwide, including shows curated by the National Council de La Raza in Washington, D.C., Peter Hermann Gallery in Berlin, Germany, and Tribes Gallery in New York City. Selections from the “African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth” series have been included in Columbia University’s Soul Magazine, while the World Bank has acquire a selection from her Hip Hop series, “Full Circle,” for its permanent collection.

      Marco Villalobos’s writing has appeared in publications such as Step into a World: a Global Anthology of the New Black Literature (John Wiley and Sons, 2000), Geography of Rage: The Los Angeles Riots of 1992 (Really Great Books, 2002). Villalobos has presented his work on stage and radio for more than a decade. He is author of the limited edition chapbook, Barrio Gold (Unilan Publishing, 2002). He is also a 2003-2004 Unesco-Aschberg Laureate and a 1998 Hispanic Scholarship Recipient.

      This interview was conducted at the Caribbean Cultural Center in the context of an exhibition of films and photographs by Jackson and Villalobos, running from January 9 to May 12, 2006.


So Marco and Ayana, we’re here at the Caribbean Culture Center, where you are exhibiting your photographs and your film — Mexican by Birth, African by Legacy. Ayana or Marco, whichever of you that wants to answer this, how did you come to this — to make this show?}


Jackson:    Actually, it started out with a different title,{El Negro mas Chulo} — African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth. And we started it in 2003. But actually the discussion comes back to the day that Marco and I met, when, in a conversation, we started talking about Afro-Mexico. I  had studied race relation in Latin America and the Caribbean, and that’s where I learned about the African presence in Mexico, and the fact that there were still communities.


{Where’d you study?}


Jackson:    That was at Spelling College. I studied sociology, with a concentration in Latin American, Caribbean culture and society.


{What interested you in that?}


Jackson:    My father was a musician, and most of the music that he his group played had to do with the Diaspora. Brazilian music, and British-Caribbean music, all different kinds of musical manifestations of Africans in other parts of the hemisphere. Knowing that I had many cousins out there, that spoke languages that I didn’t speak, from cultures that I wasn’t familiar with, so it just became a natural curiosity as I went into my academic years. When I did my study abroad in the Dominican Republic and Argentina, I really focused on how different the culture is between more African-based cultures like Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, and — as opposed to a place like Argentina, that has very little African presence.


{But some?}


Jackson:    But some. There’s less than one percent in the city, the capital, Buenos Aires.


{When did they arrive there?}


Jackson:    Buenos Aires was also one of the larger ports for the transport of Africans into Latin America. Many would stay within the port area, doing work and working on the docks and things like that. But also, many of the ships were later disseminated to other parts of the region, like Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay. And in the late 1800s to the end of the 19th century, about 30 percent of Buenos Aires was still African descended. But they went to a process of blancoefficion, which was a whitening of the race. The president of that time wrote into the constitution that for the progress of the nation it was necessary to purify the blood lines, and that by mixing the indigenous and African communities with Europeans that they were bringing from Italy, or, from Spain, particularly Italy — until the time of the World War when they started bringing in Germans.


{So they encouraged race mixing?}


Jackson:    Encouraged race mixing.


Villalobos: Encouraging whitening.


Jackson:    Yes, encouraging whitening.


Villalobos: Not darkening.


Jackson:    Yes, definitely not darkening.


{That could backfire on them.}


Jackson:    It didn’t actually, because, to back up, they, as many countries did, offered freedom to the Africans were enslaved that went and worked in the frontlines of the army. Most of the male population, the African male population was completely obliterated, massacred in the war with Paraguay. That left the women who were very publicly celebrated if they mixed with these Europeans. Well, one of the stories that I always found fascinating, I read an article about this woman who gave birth to twins. One was very light, one was very dark, and they congratulated her in the newspaper for having bettered the race, for having done a good job for the patria by having this one white child.




Jackson:    So it was serious, it was in their constitution. So that was so different from the experience that I had in the Dominican Republic, which also has a problem in understanding its African population, but it’s undeniable that it’s there. Why I didn’t have much information on was the Africans in more indigenous communities, like Mexico.


{Marco, what was your investment in this? How did you get involved? }


Villalobos:       The typical story is because of family history, right? But I’m sort of rethinking that, I’m wondering if that really true. I think basically as a Chicano, as a Mexican-American in California, there is a really internal racism that gets played out intra-ethnically among Mexicans in California, and that internal racism is directed not only at outsiders, such as whites or Asians or blacks, it also involves the different types of Mexicans in California, There you have different degrees or different sections of those types. One section would be recent arrivals to California, wetbacks, to use that term. Fresh from Mexico. Another one is people that have been there longer. They have these different hierarchies according to the amount of time you’ve been there, to hierarchies that revolve around how you got there. Someone, an academic from Mexico City that came legally, obviously has some sort of upper hand against someone who came from the countryside illegally, right? So you have this intra-ethnic racism, and then you have the friction between Mexicans — and this is also intra-ethnic — of different complexions, from darker to lighter, from real European to Indian, and then African, which is never spoken. And I think that what drew me to the project is that fact that the African contingent of the Mexican, or Californian, or anywhere in the states is never spoken out loud. And this is when I say that the real tradition response is that my family brought me into it. There are different shades of people in my family. It made me curious about how we never spoke about a specific aunt or her dark complexion unless it was about how she married someone lighter. We never questioned where that dark complexion came from. She has a broad nose, she has a full mouth, she has woolly hair. She has all of these features, these characteristic that would suggest African ancestry.


{Did she come from the Pacific coast of Mexico, around Acapulco?}


Villalobos:       I don’t know. That’s thing I don’t know. I don’t know where my father’s from. I don’t where anyone’s from in my family. I don’t know where my grandmother’s from. All they ever say is they’re Mexican. Much like the African Americans in the United States, a lot of times there’s not generational knowledge of where people are from. Maybe Ayana would know that her Grandfather’s from Georgia, or that their folks are from Florida. Beyond that there was a plantation maybe somewhere. Right now people are really only getting into discovering or questioning where they are from before the plantation.


{So how did you prepare for this show?}


Jackson:    We went on what we knew and what was inspiring to us. Prior to leaving, we did a few Internet searches, and we found out about Yanga, which was the African leader who lead a group of fifty self-liberated Africans into the mountains to start their own town. And they started negotiations with Spain where they paid taxes to the Crown in 1609.  Marco can tell more about that. It’s in Vera Cruz. A friends father mentioned that there was a museum in Juahaca, and that if we really wanted to see and rub shoulders with Africans, with people who looked like me, then that would be a good place to start.


{When you got to Yanga, how did you make contact with people?}


Villalobos: Well, we didn’t know which way to go, because we found that there were different traditions. In the traditions of self-liberated people on the Pacific side and those on the Gulf side, the cultural retention is different. Because those on the Atlantic side were more surrounded by European townships. They were isolated on the Pacific side, and now see the results of that isolation after three or four hundred years.  The Pacific is underrepresented in terms of education and political representation. While on the Atlantic side, there was more miscegenation and cultural absorption.


{Yeah, I was in Acapulco once. The people there didn’t believe I was from anywhere else. They thought I was from Acapulco, and I was speaking English to try to impress the gringos. I couldn’t make these people believe me. }


Jackson:    Yeah, these communities are 70 miles below Acapulco. They’re fishing communities.


{Yeah, I was involved in one, Puerto Marquesa. That’s only about two miles outside of Acapulco. I had a fight with my buddy. I thought I had killed him. I was hallucinating from all of that you know what, and I ended up sleeping in a canoe there. The next morning, I was woken by the fishing crew. I went out and fished with them for a couple of hours, during which time they would not believe I was from New York. I had thought I was in paradise and wanted to stay there forever, until they took me to this big white house, at the end of the beach, where this German lived. And they asked him if I was telling the truth. He told them yes after talking to me. And I didn’t want to stay there anymore, if they couldn’t believe me on my own. Later on I was sitting in the local, very expensive tourist joint, having hamburgers and malteds with my buddy, whom it turns out I hadn’t killed after all, and when I saw some of them walking by, I waved to them. They believed me after that, for real. }


Jackson:    Yeah, most people we met were very happily identifying with me based on the fact that I was black. They’d say you look like my niece, you look like my grandmother. Which I found very interesting, because if I asked most people what are you, they would say Mexican. You have to really pry to get to the fact that they’re black Mexican.


There’s one trait that Mexicans and, at least, Nigerians seem to share, that I notice, and that’s one of concealment, that is, they don’t want to give too much information away about where they’re from. They’re not too willing to tell you stuff.


Jackson:    Yeah, it took a while to get to the topic of blackness. It seems to me that we never really got to it.


Were they very available when sitting for portraits? They’re quite wonderful portraits.


Jackson:    The blessing for me was that we traveled together. Marco would do the interviews. We’d go to a house. We’d tell them who we are and what we were doing. Some would laugh and say, “We’re not black. You’ve got to go closer to the water to get to the black people.” And we found that was true, the closer we got to the water, the blacker the people got. Like you go to Llano Grande, which is really close to the water, and the people were very black there. And while Marco was doing the interviews, I was able to take these photographs.  


{Good luck with your show.}



Interview with Samia Halaby

Interview with Samia Halaby


Samia Halaby was born in Jerusalem in the West Bank of Palestine in 1936, twelve years before the creation of the state of Israel. Ms. Halaby is the curator of Made in Palestine, a group show of Palestinian artists, from both inside Palestine and in the Diaspora. The exhibition  is being shown at the Bridge, 521 West 26th St., 3rd Floor, through April 22, 2006.


      Samia, when I was on my way here, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought of the obvious question, in coming here, makes those questions I had obsolete. I was going to ask you, stuff I can still ask you, like, what are the ages of these people?




The ages of some are as young as, say, their late 20s –


      Like who?



Like this artist Rana Bishara –


      Who did art out of chocolate.



Yes. She made photographic plates of images with chocolate as the medium because of how much chocolate resembles dried blood. And also very young is Nida Sinnokrot, the creator of the rubber coated stones, and also Emily Jacir, all in their 20s, early 30s. There are middle of life people like John Halaka, who looks like he’s about early 40s, and myself, I’m nearly 70. And this man who did the huge running piece, Mustafa al-Hallaj, he died the day we were taking the airplane back from Palestine. He would have been my age as well. I think we’re the oldest in the show, so it ranges two generations.


      Are you the only one in the Diaspora?



No, I would say a little less than half are in the Diaspora. Rana lives in northern Palestine, in Galilee. Abdel Rahmen al-Muzaylen lives in Gaza. Mary Tuma lives in the south. The woman of the photographs, Rula Halawani lives in Jerusalem. I live in New York. John Halaka lives in California.


      And he is how old?



He’s in his early 40s, or mid 40s, I would say. Mustafa lives in Syria, Mansour in Jerusalem. Ashraf Fawakhry, who did the donkey piece, “I Am a Donkey,” lives in Haifa under the Israeli government. Rula Halawani lives in Ramalla. There’s one who lives in Germany, and one in Damascus. A little more than half live right there in ancient Palestine or under the modern Israeli government, under occupation.


      Now, the reason I asked you ages, is I wanted to know how history is reprised here. I know for example you have Mahmoud Darwish in the show, and I know that Darwish, when he asked questions when he went to school in a town that was occupied, he was punished again and again for asking questions which pertained to indigenous Palestinian culture, as it interfaced with the occupation.



The people who are in the show have suffered in different ways. For example, the prisoner artists, there are two — their pieces are the brightly colored ones in the back — those two artists spent years — one 15, one 14 — in an Israeli prison. Both suffered extreme torture at the beginning and both had life sentences and both were exchanged  in a prisoner exchange  program in 1984 and both of them live in Damascus right now. There are artists here, for example, Rula Halawani, the only reason she’s able to get around and do her work as a photographer at close range is she has international press credentials, so the Israeli government can’t stop her. If they wanted to, they really would. And Rana Bishara, and all those who live under the Israeli government, have had a very hard time relating to the rest of the Arab world. In other words, if they were invited to be in a show in Syria or Iraq they would be put in jail because they’re not supposed to have interaction. They live in isolation as Arabs under the Israeli government until 1967, under horrendous conditions. They could not move, their lives are very similar to what African Americans suffer here in the USA.


      My thoughts exactly. That’s what you get for being Hagar’s child.



Then in 1967 it opened up a little bit more and I know I took a small group of young Palestinian kids from a village under the Israeli government to the West Bank and they couldn’t believe it, they were asking questions like, ‘Palestinians run this organization?’ They had never seen Palestinians in charge of anything.


      Young people?



Children. Eight or nine or ten years old that I have taken to visit Ramalla from a Palestinian village.  They had no idea that Arabs were anything but slaves of the Jews.


      So you were about twelve or thirteen years old in 1948?



Yes. These children I took recently.  In 1948, I was almost twelve, eleven really, and we were forced out.


      So you remember a lot of what life was like prior to the creation of Israel?



Absolutely, yes. It was Palestine, it was an all Arab society, I did not notice that the British had pretty much completed their disgusting plan to turn over the country to the Jews. They were Jews, they weren’t Israeli yet, they were Zionist Jews. And the British had organized their government, organized their military, had trained them and given them all of the contracts for building infrastructure, helped them with all kinds of laws against the economic development of the Palestinians. They really throttled the Palestinian development and encouraged Jewish development so by 1936 the Palestinians were really fed up with it and had a huge uprising. But the Palestinians were only 1.5 million people in 1930 and the British Empire was huge and they had 25 percent of their military in Palestine at that time to quash the uprising and in 1948, exhausted from the uprising and the British turned over the land to the Zionist Jews and it became Israel, but the Palestinians still put up a big fight in 1948.


      Did the creation of the United Nations have anything to do with that?



The United Nations was under American rule basically, so yes, it helped, because nobody wanted to mention –


      The United States was the first to recognize Israel.



The British and the U.S. Where this show in history is very important is, we’re showing our history from our point of view, our experiences, here in this show. And every piece here has to do with Palestine and the history of Palestine. Like Rana Bishara’s piece here is called “Blindfolded History.” There are 52 glass pieces, and there are photographs silk-screened onto glass, painted with chocolate, because chocolate resembles dried blood. And they are each for one year of the tragedy, since the tragedy, which was in 1948 but continues year in and year out. There is killing of Palestinians by Israelis all the time.


      Samia, which is your piece?



Mine is this colored piece. When I was making it for this show, I realized I had never titled one of my major pieces after Palestine.


      Has your art changed since living in Palestine?



I was a child when I lived in Palestine and I wasn’t making art. So when I made this piece I titled it “Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River,” and because the center section was very much above the mountains of Palestine and the extreme right was above the coast, I decided to make it a map of Palestine in textures. So the extreme right is the sea coast of Palestine, and the plain by the seacoast there is a lot of flora, wildflowers, gardens and stuff like that. And my memory of them, especially from the town of Yaffa, which was a famous port city. It’s abstract of course, and as an abstraction it describes different things at the same time. So there are stones, the feeling of the distribution of stones, the roughness of the fig tree, the shape of olive trees, and on the extreme left there are hints of the towns and cities,  towards the desert, and then the desert. So it’s a map of Palestine, so I called it a very political title, indicating that I don’t think Israel should exist as a fascist, undemocratic, patriarchal state because it does not believe in equality, and it does not have a separation of church and state. So I believe in a Palestine that is democratic with equality for everybody, which is why I called it “Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River,” which includes all occupied territories, old and new occupations.


      What does being Muslim have to do with this show?



Israel is all based on a very backwards concept of the state being one religion. We are in the 21st century and that idea is so ridiculous, but that is how the ruling class in America is able to entice Jews to become involved and commit themselves to this Zionist idea. And they keep talking of Muslims as being terrorists, and they keep talking about us as being backward and involved with religion, and when you look at the show, the show gives the lie to the Western media, completely, without wanting to or even trying. Many of the artists are Muslim, but they are not so hypnotized by their religion that all they can think about is their religion.


      I was struck by the fact that some Jewish people didn’t want to move out of the West Bank because they had been there for 30 years and felt that it was theirs. And I want to know how they squared that with the fact that the Palestinians had lived there since it was Canaan.



They can only square it with the fact that they have all the guns. That is not the truth talking, that is not their brain talking, that is their firepower talking. They have the guns to our head and they can say “We’ve been here 30 years, get out, even though you’ve been here 2,000 years.”


      I was struck by the piece “A Time to Cast Stones,” by Rajie Cook (a military ammunition box filled with stones). The idea of calling people that throw stones at occupiers with tanks and whatnot, or even the idea of suicide bombers, terrorists, seems a bit absurd on the face of it.



The fact that you, as a person here in America who has experienced what Palestinians experienced, can see through the rhetoric tells me a whole volume, whereas those people who are comfortable cannot see beyond what the media tells them. It tells me that somewhere, instinctively, they understand that it is to their benefit to keep supporting Israel.


      The very first question I wanted to ask you — and then when I got here, the art threw me off — was, is “Made in Palestine” a metaphor for the conditions under which the Palestinians live or is it the art?



Both. One of the things about the “Made in Palestine” title that is deceptive is that people think it is a products show. They don’t think it’s art. The subject of Palestine permeates every Palestinians’ thoughts, the artists, the poets, it’s such a huge tragedy and nobody wants to talk about it.


      If I said “Made in America,” I was “made in America,”  what would that mean to you?



That you’ve been oppressed by America and that oppression has shaped you.


      That’s what I wanted to know.



It’s the same for Palestinians. They’re made by the Palestinians. The art and the subject matter, even the guy behind you, he’s referred back to the goddess of the Canaanites because he wants to remind the world that the Palestinians have their ancestry in the Canaanites. And many of our towns and people’s names are ancient Canaanite names that they have carried forward. And he’s dressed her in a modern Palestinian village dress because he’s noticed that this village dress also has its ancestry in the ancient Canaanite art. And because he believes that we should show children everything about our history, but we shouldn’t scare them, and we shouldn’t be scared to tell them about massacre, but we shouldn’t do it in a way to frighten them. And he’s shown the massacre in Janin as an image in her dress.


      Can you see the disadvantage you’re at?  You’re talking about people who have a massive propaganda campaign that has gone 6,000 years. It’s in the Old Testament, talking about what to do with Canaanites. Israel is predicated on that. What dangers do you face in mounting a show like this, I mean, considering the Patriot Act and all that?



There is nothing here that contradicts the Patriot Act, so we’re not in danger from that. But certainly they don’t like us, and if they find an excuse to close us down, they might. Another danger is from crazies who want to throw paint or break the glass or destroy the artwork. We face that danger, and we also could get inundated from the conservative Jewish press, and they start making phone calls against the exhibition, and lose us our lease, or make the police demand that people be searched before they come in the show. These are dangers we face that we do not want to happen. Other than that we have huge support from people. People love this show.



      How often do you go to Palestine?



This year I’ve gone once, and I’ll be going soon again, but usually in the past ten years it’s been two or three times a year.


      Is it difficult to do that?



It’s difficult to travel, yes. Always looking at Israelis with guns, and settlers with guns, and you never know when they’re going to aim one at you. And there are a million checkpoints, and with an American passport I can get through okay, but the Palestinians have a nightmare condition to deal with.



      One thinks of art as a tool for communication. For example, I just saw a group of people walk in and look around. Do you think a dialogue was opened by this presentation?



Many people will come in here with different reactions. Some are coming here to look at the space they rented, and they don’t care what the art is. You never know how people are going to react. Some come and spend many hours and then forget, art is a silent thing, you don’t know how it’s working.


      What gave you the idea for the show?



This show started with a museum in Texas called the Station Museum, and they’re the ones who spent a bundle to organize it. And it opened in their museum for six months, and it went to San Francisco and Vermont, and we are the third group to travel the show. And I had a hand in it from the very beginning, they wanted to do a show about Palestine, and I said “How about a show of Palestinian artists instead?” And we talked about it, and I agreed.


      Thank you, Samia.