Posts Tagged ‘shayek misha chowdury’

Culture Vulture: Under the Radar Festival and Duane Michals at the Morgan Library

January 20, 2020

Under the Radar, the annual festival of cutting-edge international work centered at the Public Theater, always opens the year with a bang. I feasted on three events in one day.

Aleshea Harris, one of the cadre of fierce amazingly original playwrights of color who’ve emerged in the last few years, created WHAT TO SEND UP WHEN IT GOES DOWN , which presents itself very specifically as a ritual first and foremost for black people to heal/address the situation of violence against black people in this country. “Please note that it is not often that Black people have a safe, public space for expressing their unfiltered feelings about anti-Blackness. We are taking that space today.” The playwright and the company she works with (Movement Theater Company) incorporate many elements of pagan ritual, African village ceremony, trauma therapy, and spiritual workshops to make every moment of the experience participatory, not sit-back-and-watch theater. Whitney White directed the uniformly strong performers: Alana Raquel Bowers, Rachel Christopher, Nemuna Ceesay, Ugo Chukwu, Kambi Gathesha, Denise Manning, Javon Q. Minter, and Beau Thom (above, photo by Ahron R. Foster).

I read the text when it was published in American Theatre last year, which blew me away, and the experience itself is super-powerful, from gathering in the lobby surrounded by photographs of black people killed by police to the very end of the show, which looks different for black and non-black audience members. I took very much to heart the statement Harris has an actor read at the end of the show to the non-black audience: “A good friend once told me that we each have a different job where challenging racism is concerned. She spoke to the ways she could use her privilege as a white woman to dismantle the white supremacist ideology that contributes to the deaths of so many people. As a Black woman and writer, I am uniquely positioned to create a piece of theatre focused on making space for Black people. This is one way I can contribute. This is my offering. I’d like to end this ritual by challenging you to consider what you are uniquely positioned to offer. As a non-Black person, what is a tangible way you can disrupt the idea responsible for all these lives needlessly taken? My hope is that you will consider this deeply. My further hope is that your consideration will turn to action.” I have some ideas. I want to percolate more. WHAT WE SEND UP had a short run Off-Broadway last year and will have another short run at Playwrights Horizons this summer.

I went from that intense reality directly to the moon – via TO THE MOON, a 15-minute virtual reality piece co-created by Hsin-Chien Huang and Laurie Anderson. Five people at a time sit on stools wearing a headset and holding joysticks for a trip through space. There were some beautiful images and speeches familiar from Anderson’s recent work, but the piece as a whole was so SCARY! I’m not a gamer and I’m amazingly prone to vertigo, so I stayed pretty low to the ground. When the video provided the opportunity to fly through space or climb a high steep mountain, I had to shut my eyes. It was so crazy: I knew I was sitting on a stool with a headset on and my feet on the floor but my palms were sweating and I was making involuntary fear sounds.

Then I got to see MUKHAGNI, created and performed by a young-ish gay male couple, one of them Bengali-American (Shayok Misha Chowdury), the other biracial/African-American (Kameron Neal). They do the entire 90-minute performance totally naked: cook food, stand with video projected onto their naked bodies, lie on the (stage-soil-covered) floor speaking into microphones dangling inches above their faces, talk about death and death rituals in various cultures and cremation and their respective families. (The title means “mouth fire,” which is how cremations along the Ganges begin.) They take a pile of birch trunks and build a kind of square seating area, then they rearrange the tree trunks into a kind of bonfire structure. Then the lights come up and they sit in folding chairs and talk to the audience about their relationship in a funny structure (“on our 15th date we did this…on our 312th date we did that…on our 186th date we decided to make this piece,” etc.) — a regular activity on “dates” was to visit cemeteries — then there’s a mourning ritual where Chowdury creates a garland of fresh flower blossoms while Neal shaves his head with a clipper. So amazing and sweet and strong and not exactly like anything I’ve seen before. But it’s the sort of thing I’ve watched my friend Keith Hennessy create over the years, elements of spiritual ceremony combined with pop-culture savvy non-linear performance art. I wish this show would have a longer run somewhere. You can see more pictures on their website: http://www.shayokmishachowdhury.com/mukhagni

A few days later I met my friend Liam Cunningham at the Morgan Library to walk through the beautiful exhibition “Illusions of the Photographer: Duane Michals at the Morgan.” I’ve long admired Michals’s work, distinctive for the interplay of image and language, poems and sentences and stories handwritten in the margins around his usually black-and-white, often enigmatic photographs.

The show is partly a retrospective but also an “artist’s choice” event, meaning that Michals got to root around in the Morgan’s archives to pull out art works that struck his fancy or that resonate with his own work.

Liam (who is a legendary photographer in his own right) took this beautiful picture of me in front of Sol LeWitt’s giant Wall Drawing 552D.

 

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