“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. 

Come to the Cabaret: Theatre Nova’s "Sing Happy" celebrates the songs of Kander and Ebb

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Theatre Nova’s Sing Happy

Elizabeth Jaffe and K Edmonds in Theatre Nova's Sing Happy! featuring music by John Kander and Fred Ebb with musical arrangements by R. MacKenzie Lewis, directed by Diane Hill. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

The pandemic has been taking its toll on arts groups everywhere, but the determination to keep staging plays, singing, and dancing has not diminished. 

Theatre Nova, a professional non-profit theater in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor, opened its season after a year and a half of darkened lights with the Michigan premiere of The Lifespan of a Fact, a provocative play about truth in journalism. Nova regularly brings new plays with provocative ideas to its small, intimate theater on Huron Street. 

But Nova is taking two weekends to challenge its supporters to help raise money for a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The grant would help Nova to continue its Pay What You Can ticket pricing.

Nova is inviting audiences to come to their cabaret with the musical revue Sing Happy celebrating the music and lyrics of John Kander and Fred Ebb.

U-M plays up the humor and sophisticated fun found in Massenet’s opera "Cinderella (Cendrillon)"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

University of Michigan's production of Cinderella aka Cendrillon

University of Michigan students rehearse a scene from Cinderella (Cendrillon). Photo courtesy U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

“Light, fairy tale, bubbly, and elegant” are words that Kirk Severtson uses to describe Jules Massenet’s opera Cinderella (Cendrillon in French).

The University of Michigan’s Department of Voice and the University Symphony Orchestra presentation of Massenet’s Cinderella (Cendrillon) will be staged Nov. 4-7 at the Power Center.

For music director Severtson and stage director Abbigail Coté, this famous story of a poor girl abused by her stepmother and stepsisters who triumphs by winning the love of a prince (with the help of a fairy godmother) seemed like just the right remedy following a year and a half of COVID restrictions and worries.

“We chose this piece for its theme and subject that was specifically post-COVID and not something set in a dystopian, nightmarish future. We chose something light, fairy tale, and bubbly,” Severtson said. 

Cinderella may just be the oldest and most beloved of the classic fairy tales. It has been the subject of numerous versions and variations dating back to a tale told in China in the fourth century B.C. It was a Disney animated musical (and "Cinderella Castle" is a Disney trademark), a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical for television and later stage, several other films, and numerous ballets and operas. Massenet’s version, with a libretto by Henri Cain, premiered in 1899. A popular version by Gioachino Rossini premiered in 1817. 

Coté has a theory about the story's longevity.

At Odds: "Oh, Honey ... A Queer Reading of UMMA's Collection" imagines a place where LGBTQ+ art can thrive

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Chitra Ganesh, Sultana's Dream: The Visitation, linocut on paper, 2018

Chitra Ganesh, Sultana's Dream: The Visitation, linocut on paper, 2018

Art is often intentionally ambiguous, asking viewers to create meaning and metaphorically fill in the blanks with their interpretations.

So, then, what is queer art anyway?

(Spoiler! This exhibit will not define it for you.)

In Oh, Honey ... A Queer Reading of UMMA's Collection, compiled by doctoral candidate and 2019-2020 Irving Stenn Jr. curatorial fellow Sean Kramer, there is no essential “queerness” harnessed and presented in a neat package. Instead, the exhibit is framed by the words of activist, author, and professor bell hooks: “Queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.”

The University of Michigan Museum of Art is now fully open to the public, but Oh, Honey—UMMA's first self-described queer exhibit—went live virtually in fall 2020. Even so, the online exhibit doesn't have the same impact due to Kramer’s curatorial approach: the physicality and placement of the works affect their readings.

In this vein, it is important to note that each artwork was created by a different artist with a unique relationship to the external world; not everybody defines queerness or “queer art” in the same way. 

Highlighting History: "Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists: 1945 through the Black Arts Movement"

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Harold Neal, title unknown, before 1958, oil on board. Neal family collection, Detroit.

Harold Neal, title unknown, before 1958, oil on board. Neal family collection, Detroit.

Though Detroit is synonymous with musical innovation, the Michigan cultural center is not frequently framed as an epicenter of fine art. In a new exhibit, curators suggest that this is not because Detroit lacks—now or in the past—a vibrant art scene but because of historical oversight on the parts of art historians.

Eastern Michigan University’s University Gallery is the first place to host what will be a traveling exhibit with an in-depth look at an era, movement, and place in Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists: 1945 through the Black Arts Movement. (You can also view the virtual exhibition here.)

The exhibit and presents a view of post-World War II African-American art history "essentially unknown to other scholars,” as the catalog states, and took 10 years to research. Julia R. Myers conducted interviews with artists, scholars, friends, and families of the featured artists, and located many works in private collections. Additionally, research was conducted by reading through numerous news sources, including the Detroit-based African-American newspaper Michigan Chronicle.

U-M production updates the Roaring Twenties-set musical "The Wild Party" for the Cell Phone Age

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

UMSTMD's production of The Wild Party

Director and University of Michigan grad Andrew Lippa sets The Wild Party in modern-day Manhattan. Photo courtesy UMSTMD.

Joseph Moncore March’s 1928 book-length poem The Wild Party was a scandal at the time. March portrayed in rhythmic language the shifting landscape of sexual relations and raw desires in the Roaring ’20s as captured in a Hollywood party run amok. The book was banned in Boston and beyond.

The University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre production of Andrew Lippa’s sung-through musical adaptation of March’s book is reset to portray a group of overprivileged Upper Eastside Manhattan teenagers. 

Lippa is a 1987 University of Michigan grad who has had a very successful career as a composer and lyricist. He wrote the music and lyrics for Big Fish, The Addams Family, and three songs for You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown among others. The Wild Party premiered off-Broadway and won the Outer Critics Circle Award for best Off-Broadway musical and Lippa won the Drama Desk Award for best music. 

The student cast brings high octane energy to the singing and dancing. The emotions run high in what is basically a complex love (or is it lust) triangle. 

This Woman's Work: UMSTMD's "Nora" explores Ibsen's "A Doll's House" through three different eras

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Alyssa Melani, Ruby Sevcik, Ruby Pérez star in UMSMTD's Nora

Alyssa Melani, Ruby Sevcik, Ruby Pérez star as three generations of Nora in U-M's interpretation of Hendrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. Photo courtesy of UMSTMD.

I felt guilty for stealing away, by myself, for a few hours on Sunday to see U-M’s Department of Theatre and Drama production of Stef Smith’s Nora: A Doll’s House, leaving my kids and spouse to fend for themselves.

Fittingly, this discomfort points to Nora’s raison d’être: no matter how much we want to believe otherwise, a woman’s role in the domestic sphere really hasn’t changed that much over the past century.

Using Henrik Ibsen’s classic 1879 play, A Doll’s House, as a blueprint, Smith retells the story of Nora—who scrambles to keep secret her method of keeping the family afloat during her husband’s past illness—as she would appear in three different time periods: 1918, 1968, and 2018.

Systemic Pigeonholing: "Never Free to Rest" by Rashaun Rucker at U-M's LSA Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Rashaun Ruckers' Left at First Light and The Ascent

Left: Left at First Light by Rashaun Rucker is part of Never Free to Rest, a new exhibition on view until Oct. 15 at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities Gallery.
Right: The Ascent by Rashaun Rucker is part of Never Free to Rest, a new exhibition on view until Oct. 15 at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities Gallery.

Rashaun Rucker begins his artist statement for Never Free to Rest at U-M's Institute for the Humanities Gallery with a simple definition:

Pi.geon.hole (verb)
1. To assign to a particular category or class, especially in a manner that is too rigid or exclusive.
Synonyms: categorize, classify, label, typecast, ghettoize

In this exhibit, the Detroit-based artist examines the impact of pigeonholing Black men’s identities through a series of drawings and installations. Rucker's artist statement says he “compares the life and origins of the rock pigeon to the stereotypes and myths of the constructed identities of Black men in the United States of America.”

Encore Musical Theatre Company opens its new home and 13th season with "Smokey Joe’s Cafe"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Bryana Hall in Encore Theatre's Smokey Joe's Cafe

Bryana Hall is one of the singing stars of Encore Theatre's Smokey Joe's Cafe.

Live theater is back and the Encore Musical Theatre Company is celebrating the opening of its 13th season in its spectacular new space in Dexter and in the always rocking Smokey Joe’s Cafe.

Dan Cooney and company couldn’t have picked a better show to reignite live theater after the long pandemic drought than Smokey Joe’s Cafe, a revue tribute to the music of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s not the traditional musical that Encore does so well but is instead 90 minutes of pure energy, one great song after another by talented performers who take us back to those early days of rock 'n' roll and rhythm 'n' blues. Leiber and Stoller were there at the creation.

The duo of New York songwriters could and did write hit songs in nearly every genre from folk and country to rhythm and blues to the edges of pop opera. They wrote for such dynamic groups as The Drifters and The Coasters as well as for the distinct voices of the roaring Big Mama Thornton and the early soul sound of Ben E. King to Elvis Presley. And the hits just kept coming as the duo embraced the new music while also giving it their own unique voice.

Smokey Joe's is a roadhouse, the subject of one of Leiber and Stoller’s songs, and an appropriate setting for their take on the ups and downs of life and love. Though there is no storyline, director Dan Cooney’s staging suggests a loose interaction between characters from song to song. A small combo is set up as the cafe’s house band providing a rock-steady beat and great sound.

The Future Is NOW: "Stephanie Dinkins: On Love & Data" at U-M Stamps Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Stephanie Dinkins, Secret Garden (Detail)

Stephanie Dinkins, Secret Garden (detail). Image courtesy Stamps Gallery.

“Binary calculations are inadequate to assess us,” states transmedia artist Stephanie Dinkins, and she approaches AI and technology with this premise in mind.

Her work is a constant unsettling and renegotiation of current technological and social power systems, achieved by asking audiences to consider and create what she calls "NOW." Through her concept of Afro-now-ism, she proposes a collaborative project in which audience members work to dismantle normative, often violent technological structures and build new, inclusive ones.

The Stamps Gallery's Stephanie Dinkins: On Love & Data is the first sur­vey of works by this artist "who cre­ates plat­forms for dia­logue about arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence as it inter­sects race, gen­der, aging, and our future histories.” She makes interactive works that tell us our futures begin now, so we must work to create the world we wish to see.

At the front of the gallery space, a 2021 work titled Afro-now-ism welcomes visitors into the space. A large neon sign reads "AFRO-NOW-ISM," with the words "NOW" and "OWN" illuminated in yellow and intersecting the bright purple and red of "AFRO-NOW-ISM," creating a cross-like design. The gallery wall text illuminates the work: