Nawaaz Ahmed’s characters in "Radiant Fugitives" grapple with identity amidst slow political progress and fallout from their personal choices 

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Nawaaz Ahmed and his book Radiant Fugitives

What motivates us? What power do we have over the trajectory of our lives? How can people be so close and so far away from each other at the same time? 

These questions and many others linger as the story of a divided family and the people in their orbit unfolds in Radiant Fugitives. This first novel by Nawaaz Ahmed, a graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program, is told by Ishraaq, who is the newborn baby of Seema, a mother estranged from her family for the choices she’s made. Ishraaq serves as a keen, omniscient observer who understands each person’s perspective and how we are all driven by love or fear or both. This unique position of the narrator shows the reader how each person contributes to events and the emotions surrounding them. 

Seema takes on many roles in her life, starting as her father’s star performer in poetry recitations and changing as she falls from his graces. She goes on to come out as a lesbian, work as a political activist, and then marry a man she meets at a protest. Amidst her experiences, the broader climate of political progress with Obama’s presidential election, Kamala Harris’ rise, and expressions of islamophobia emphasize identity politics. The whole time, she struggles to find her place and find acceptance, as Ishraaq narrates: 

U-M prof Jeffrey Veidlinger on his book "In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jeffrey Veidlinger and his book In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust

Jeffrey Veidlinger, a celebrated historian and Joseph Brodsky Collegiate Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, scoured trial records, official documents, and witness statements to assemble his new book, In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918-1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust, which recounts organized violence against Jewish people in the Ukraine and Poland before World War II.

“For about 10 years, I was a co-director of The Archives of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memories, which involved conducting Yiddish language oral history interviews with elderly folks in Ukraine," he said. "During those interviews, I was struck by people's experiences and memories of the pogroms of 1918-1921 and by the similarities in the ways in which they describe the pogroms and the Holocaust. The interviews impelled me to go back to the revolutionary period and to look more closely at exactly what happened.”

Veidlinger will appear via Zoom to discuss his work at the 34th annual Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival on November 30 at 7 pm

Shizu Saldamando’s exhibit "When This Is All Over/ Cuando Esto Termine" captures the anxiety and depression of pandemic art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Shizu Saldamando, When This Is Over

Shizu Saldamando, When This Is Over, 2020, washi paper, wire, glue, ribbon, found fence, 42” x 48” x 5

Over the past year, I've come across artwork that exemplifies what I would describe as a new genre: pandemic art. A significant number of emerging creatives are making work that displays a high level of anxiety and depression brought on by their isolation and a well-founded sense that their lives, plans, and ambitions have been put on hold. Shizu Saldamando’s solo exhibition When This Is All Over / Cuando Esto Termine, on view at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities Gallery until December 10 and curated by Amanda Krugliak, is yet another example of this distressed trend. 

It's clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for early career professional artists like Los Angeles painter Shizu Saldamano. Her diverse circle of friends, many of them Latinx and/or LGBTQ, represent a cross-section of young creatives eking out their existence in L.A.’s gig economy. Right now, they are pursuing their avocations—as musicians, artists, DJs, and the like—in the midst of economic and medical uncertainty.

They are the subjects of Saldamando’s large portraits.

U-M's production of Shakespeare’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" is all about the love—and the laughs

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Helen Shen (Hermia) and Caleb Quezon (Lysander) star in U-M's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream

Helen Shen (Hermia) and Caleb Quezon (Lysander) star in U-M's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Vincent J. Cardinal.

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the Bard’s most popular comedies and one of the most accessible for modern audiences. 

And why not?

It has a little bit of everything for everybody.

There’s 16th-century style rom-com, fairies with magic spells and love potions, and a hilarious troupe of amateur thespians who are preparing a show for a royal wedding.

The University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre will present a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream Dec. 2-5 in the Arthur Miller Theater, directed by Vincent Cardinal.

“Why I think it’s popular is that at its core it’s about love and about our impulses to find love and to find people to love and how complicated that is and how it works in the larger structure of our society as well as our personal lives,” Cardinal said. “So it’s examining issues that are core to what it is to be a human being.”

U-M mines Ayad Akhtar's "Junk: The Golden Age of Debt" and the impact of the 1980s bonds scandal 

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

University of Michigan's production of Junk: The Golden Age of Debt

Pete Dickey, Henry Conner, Charles Lee-Rossing (in red hat), Sam Smiley, Victoria Vourkoutiotis, Lenin Izquierdo star in University of Michigan Department of Theatre and Drama's production of Junk: The Golden Age of Debt. Photo by Nick Carroll.

In Oliver Stone’s movie Wall Street, investor Gordon Gekko sums up what capitalism is all about from his point of view: “Greed is good.”

Playwright Ayad Akhtar takes a more nuanced look at American finance in his play Junk: The Golden Age of Debt, a play about the increased investment in high-yield bonds—or junk bonds. Akhtar’s play is loosely based on the rise and fall of financier Michael Milken. In the 1980s, Milken changed Wall Street with his embrace of junk bonds, the idea that “debt is an asset,” and his acquisition of debt-troubled corporations.

In 1990 Milken pleaded guilty to six counts of securities and tax violations. He paid heavy fines and served a greatly reduced 22-month prison sentence. He went on to become a philanthropist, especially noted for his contributions to medical research. In February, outgoing President Donald Trump pardoned Milken.

The University of Michigan Department of Theatre and Drama will present Ayad Akhtar’s Junk Dec. 2-5 at the Power Center, directed by Geoff Packard.

When searching around for a play to direct that would engage University of Michigan theater students and audiences, Packard chose Akhtar’s play for its provocative ideas but also for practical reasons.

The pandemic has had a big impact on the theater program with canceled performances and contact restrictions that have resulted in fewer performance opportunities for students,

“I was told to book a big play that would fill the Power Center,” Packard said. “So the first place I went was to a directory of all the plays that were done at [New York City’s] Vivian Beaumont since this is a similar footprint to the Power Center.”

Friday Five: Raw Honey, Nadim Azzam, Atlas the Kid, Canada, Alison Albrecht

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 11-19-2021

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features indie rock from Raw Honey, hip-hop soul by Nadim Azzam, rap by Atlas the Kid, folk-rock by Canada, and a performance by singer-songwriter Alison Albrecht.

 

He Just Wants to "Fly": Ki5 ponders escape and possibilities in his new song and video

MUSIC INTERVIEW

A still from Ki5's video for his song Fly

Escape was on the mind of Kyler Wilkins when he wrote the lyrics for his new a capella single and music video, “Fly.” Using only his voice for the melody, harmonies, and beats, the Ypsilanti-based artist known as Ki5 croons the song's chorus, “Can we fly?” with the sort of passion that can make listeners' souls take flight.

Wilkins said the track makes him dream about traveling and the lyrics capture that sense of anticipation, possibility, and geographic movement. The song's lyrics were inspired by the feelings of isolation at the height of the pandemic, and Wilkins' descending vocals during the chorus are meant to mimic the sensation of freefalling in a dream.

The track was co-written and co-produced by Tom Valdez and Janet Cole Valdez, who Wilkins met last year at an online songwriting class. He says “Fly'' was one of the first songs written by the trio, which has written seven total tunes together.

“The funny part is that after the first scratch recording I made the day we wrote some lyrics, I forgot about the song for a few weeks,” Wilkins said. “It was only after coming back later that I was struck by how inviting and enchanting the original idea was. I really began to believe in its magic then.”

The music video for “Fly” features Wilkins' niece, Maxine Wilkins, who choreographed the video and recruited two dancers, Celia Embry and Vee Brzoznowski, to move alongside her. The dancers correlate with the gradual unfolding of the track: in the beginning, there's just one dancer, but as the song blossoms, all three are doing moves together.

You can find the song on Bandcamp and Spotify; catch the music video below:

“No, not even for a picture”: Re-examining the Native Midwest and Tribes’ Relations to the History of Photography at U-M's Clements Library

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Medicine Bottle and Cut Nose by Joel E. Whitney, 1864

Wa-Kan-O-Zhan-Zhan (Medicine Bottle)
Joel E. Whitney
Carte de visite, 1864
Wa-Kan-O-Zhan-Zhan, or Medicine Bottle, was a Sioux wicasa wakan, or holy man, who stepped away from that role to defend the Dakota way of life in the rebellions. After the uprising, Congress called for the removal of all Sioux from Minnesota, leading Medicine Bottle to flee to Canada. Two years later, he was found, drugged, and brought as a prisoner to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, where he was tried for his participation in the 1862 uprisings. He was executed three years after the initial trial. This photo was taken shortly before his death.
Marpiya Okinajin (Cut Nose)
Joel E. Whitney
Carte de visite, 1862
Marpoya Okinajin (pronounced: Mar-piy-a O-kin-a-jin) was also known as Cut Nose or He Who Stands in the Clouds. His vibrant life was filled with stories of hunting, fighting, and womanizing. Cut Nose’s distinctive name is credited to John Other Day, who allegedly bit off a chunk of his nose during a fight. During the Dakota War, Cut Nose fought to restore Santee Dakota sovereignty in Minnesota and is remembered for his leadership and brutality in the uprisings at Fort Ridgely, Minnesota. He was ultimately executed for his violence against settlers on December 26, 1862. After his death, William Mayo, a founder of the Mayo Clinic, exhumed Cut Nose’s remains to use for science experiments, keeping his bones for over a century and a half. The eagle feathers appearing in this photo were likely retouched into the photo after it was taken.

This review was originally published December 3, 2020; after the jump, we've included a video interview with the curators published on AADL.tv on November 15, 2021 as part of 30 Days of National Native American Heritage Month.

As I look out over a pond that's rippling gently from snowfall, the pine trees and fields covered in white, I'm writing this post in my Christmas-light-bright house, which rests on Bodéwadmiké (Potawatomi) land ceded in a coercive treaty.

A version of the above sentence is also what begins “No, not even for a picture”: Re-examining the Native Midwest and Tribes’ Relations to the History of Photography, an online exhibition produced by two University of Michigan students with Native American ancestry for the William L. Clements Library. Lindsey Willow Smith (undergraduate, History and Museum Studies; member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians) and Veronica Cook Williamson (Ph.D. candidate, Germanic Languages and Literatures and Museum Studies; Choctaw ancestry, citizen of the Chickasaw Nation) used materials in the Richard Pohrt Jr. Collection of Native American Photography to explore ideas of consent, agency, and representation. 

Where We Land: Catching up with post-Michigan Electronic Music Collective (MEMCO) projects in Ann Arbor and Abroad

MUSIC

MEMCO alumni update

The Michigan Electronic Music Collective (MEMCO) started as a small community of techno-loving college students and has shifted and expanded throughout the years into a cultural force and community within the Ann Arbor and Detroit music scenes.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m the organization's current president.

Started in 2013 as Michigan Electronic Dance Association, or MEDMA, the now MEMCO allows University of Michigan students and the local community to learn about the Detroit origins of techno and creates safe spaces to listen to and dance to this music and teaches members how to DJ.

Even when MEMCO members leave Ann Arbor, there is a bond that connects them to the town forever, and these alumni take their experience and knowledge from the collective into their own new ventures. Over the past year, past MEMCO members have started labels, continued music projects, and involved themselves in their new communities while always remembering where they came from.

On November 20 at Club Above in Ann Arbor, the current MEMCO crew is throwing its annual Triple Threat party with Maize Collective and WCBN-FM featuring Shigeto, Paul Simpson, Miguel Cisne, and Kilala in the DJ booth. 

But first, here's another kind of triple-threat: an update on a trio of post-MEMCO projects:

Friday Five: University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, We're Twins label, Charley Cardboard, Kat Steih, Aunti

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 11-12-2021

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features the classical from the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, an exploration of the We're Twins label, twangy lo-fi from Charley Cardboard, power-pop from Kat Steih, and industrial techno mixes by Aunti.