Arts & Culture

Artist Melissa Stern ’80 on Strange Girls as a State of Being

Artist Melissa Stern ’80 and her piece, ‘Wig Shop,’ that appears in her latest exhibition, Strange Girls, now at the Garvey|Simon Gallery in New York City through Nov. 11. “All the people in my work and in my head are triumphant,” she says.

In this Q&A, we speak to artist Melissa Stern ’80, whose latest exhibition, Strange Girls, is open at the Garvey Simon Gallery in New York City Oct. 11–Nov. 11. Stern double-majored in anthropology and studio art at Wesleyan, and earned her MFA in ceramics from SUNY New Paltz. In Strange Girls, Stern uses media such as assemblage, ceramics, painting, drawings, and collage to explore girlhood as a state of being and state of mind.

Q: You have been exhibiting your art since the ’80s, and Strange Girls is your ninth solo show in New York. How is this exhibition a continuation of your past work, and how is it a departure?

A: I think that an artists’ work is like handwriting, if you look hard enough you will always recognize who they are from the work. If you look at my work from college on, maybe younger, you would always know it’s mine. Obviously, it’s changed. Hopefully it’s gotten better, more skillful, more developed, richer, but it is always a continuation of what’s going on in my head, what my cares and concerns are.

My interest in storytelling and narratives, none of that has fundamentally changed. This show is called Strange Girls, but, as I say in my artist statement, boys can be strange. It’s a show about the feeling of being on the outside. It’s about feelings that both genders have of trying to fit into the expectations of your gender, and the expectations of society. It’s about feeling like an outsider. It’s certainly more female-oriented because I’m a girl. My memories are of all of those things that you grow up with when you’re female, both positive and negative. The show encompasses a lot of ideas that I’ve always been interested in—identity, storytelling, and memory. I’m really interested in the stories that people have to tell. And the fact that my work can elicit a response, whether it be a story or a memory, a smile or a knowing laugh from someone is wonderful. This desire for connection is pretty fundamental to why I make things.

Bobkoff ’05 Explores Cultural History of ‘Household Name’ Brands in New Podcast

Dan Bobkoff '05 is the executive producer and host of the Household Name podcast from Business Insider.

Dan Bobkoff ’05 is the host and executive producer of the Household Name podcast from Business Insider.

Dan Bobkoff ’05 believes that, for better or worse, much of American life is lived through brands.

“Whether you like iPhones or Androids is almost like a religious affiliation,” he says. “Or you might have had a poignant family moment at McDonald’s.”

This is the lens through which Bobkoff explores brands in his new podcast, Household Name, from Business Insider. Bobkoff launched the podcast in July, and will produce and host 36 episodes over the course of the year. Its tagline—“Brands you know, stories you don’t”—captures the cultural history and surprising stories of unintended consequences that are featured in each episode about brands such as Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays, and Blockbuster.

“This is not a show for Wall Street traders. It’s a show for people who like stories and want to think about how we live,” he says.

Inaugural Liberal Arts + Forum in Shanghai Focused on Film Education, Collaborations

President Michael Roth moderated a discussion with alumni in the entertainment field, from left, Jon Turteltaub '85, Julia Zhu '91, and Jon Hoeber '93, on "practical idealism in action" at the inaugural Liberal Arts + forum in Shanghai on Oct. 20.

President Michael Roth moderated a discussion with alumni in the entertainment field—from left, Jon Turteltaub ’85, Julia Zhu ’91, and Jon Hoeber ’93—on “practical idealism in action” at the inaugural Liberal Arts + forum in Shanghai on Oct. 20.

On Oct. 20, Wesleyan held its inaugural Liberal Arts + forum in Shanghai, China. This year, the forum focused on film education and U.S.-China film collaborations, and featured discussions between three alumni in the entertainment industry; President Michael Roth; and Scott Higgins, director of the College of Film and the Moving Image. Each year, the forum will highlight a different area of liberal arts education for an audience of prospective families, alumni, and the general public in China.

The centerpiece of this public event, which was attended by approximately 80 people, was a panel discussion featuring Jon Hoeber ’93 and Jon Turteltaub ’85, screenwriter and director of the summer blockbuster, The Meg, as well as Julia Zhu ’91, a media and entertainment expert and entrepreneur and CEO of Phoenix TV Culture and Live Entertainment Company. Roth moderated the discussion, titled, “Practical Idealism in Action,” in which the three alumni described how their liberal arts educations prepared them for successful careers in the entertainment industry.

The three later shared insights into the future of film collaborations between the U.S. and China, in a conversation moderated by Higgins, who is also the Charles W. Fries Professor of Film Studies, chair of Film Studies, and curator of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives.

Higgins also offered a simulated film studies class for prospective students and others in the audience—bringing the Wesleyan liberal arts film education experience to Shanghai.

Higgins said of the Forum: “I learned a lot about how the Chinese and American media industries are interacting, and renewed my long-time interest in Chinese cinema. I also met with a few recent graduates who are now making commercials and short films in the country, and was introduced to a whole new generation who are just now applying to Wesleyan. It was touching to be so far away from Middletown and yet feel connected to our ever-growing community.”

Watch a video (created by Chengjun Huang) of the forum highlights below:


Additional photos (taken by Weiji Sun) of the forum are below:

Front row, from left, Julia Zhu, Scott Higgins, and Michael Roth.

Front row, from left, Julia Zhu ’91, Scott Higgins, and President Michael Roth.

Sousa ’03 Produces, Directs Native America Documentary for PBS

Clockwise from top left: Alan Hunt prepares to become a Kwakwaka'wakw Hereditary Chief; Potlatch cedar carving; Onondaga tribal member Angela Ferguson; Comanche tribal members Philip Bread and Jhane Myers. Credit: Providence Pictures

Joseph Sousa ’03 is the producer and director of a documentary titled “Native America.” Pictured are stills from the show. Clockwise from top left: Alan Hunt prepares to become a Kwakwaka’wakw Hereditary Chief; a Potlatch cedar carving; Onondaga tribal member Angela Ferguson; Comanche tribal members Philip Bread and Jhane Myers. (Photo courtesy of Providence Pictures)

A four-part documentary directed by Joseph Sousa ’03 will be released on Oct. 23 on PBS.

Native America, produced by Providence Pictures, weaves history and science with living indigenous traditions. The series travels through 15,000 years to showcase massive cities, unique systems of science, art, and writing, and 100 million people connected by social networks and spiritual beliefs spanning two continents.

Joseph Sousa '03

Joseph Sousa ’03 is a producer, director, and nonfiction writer of television, commercial content, and independent documentaries.

Sousa and his fellow producers and film crew were provided access to Native American communities, going behind the scenes at special events, including a pilgrimage to ancestral ruins at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, a trek across lost territories in the American West, and an investiture ceremony for a chief in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by cedar totem poles and centuries of tradition. Tribal members and descendant communities, whose ancestors built this world, share their stories, revealing long-held oral traditions as the thread that runs through the past to these living cultures today.

Wesleyan Receives Major Grant to Teach Hindi and Urdu, Expand South Asian Programming

The annual Navaratri Festival is an example of Wesleyan’s long-time commitment to South Asian cultural programming.

Wesleyan has received a two-year $165,699 grant under the U.S. Department of Education’s Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language (UISFL) program to support the teaching of Hindi and Urdu, the research of STEM faculty and students in India, and the increase of cultural programming related to South Asia.

“This grant will allow Wesleyan to become one of a very small number of liberal arts institutions in the country with classroom instruction in Hindi and Urdu,” said Stephen Angle, director of the Fries Center for Global Studies. “We are excited about the ability this grant will give us to support STEM faculty and students doing summer research in India as a way of growing opportunities for international experiences in the sciences. Together with our existing faculty strength in South Asian studies (currently nine faculty across the arts, humanities, and social sciences) and the president’s initiative to expand Wesleyan’s visibility in India, the new grant will help to further solidify Wesleyan as a leader in South Asian studies.”

Slotkin Authors New Book of Semifictional Stories

Richard Slotkin, Olin Professor of English, Emeritus, is the author of a new book, Greenhorns: stories, published Oct. 10 by Leapfrog Press.

Slotkin writes more personally in Greenhorns than in his past nonfiction books, in a series of linked semifictional stories based on his ancestors’ immigration from Eastern Europe early in the 20th century.

A kosher butcher with gambling problems; a woman whose elegant persona conceals unspeakable horror; a Jewish Pygmalion who turns a wretched orphan into a “real American girl”; a boy who clings to his father’s old-world code of honor on the mean streets of Brooklyn; the “little man who wasn’t there,” whose absence reflects his family’s inability to deal with their memories—these tales of early 20th-century Jewish immigration blur memoir and fiction, recovering the violent circumstances, the emotional costs of uprooting that left people uncertain of their place in America and shaped the lives of their American descendants.

Alumni-Led Kitchen Ceilí and Friends Performs Traditional Music Spanning Cultures

Kitchen Ceilí and Friends performed at Russell House on Sunday afternoon of Family Weekend.

Formed in 1993, Kitchen Ceilí features private lessons teacher Stan Scott PhD ’97 on vocals, guitar, mandolin, and banjo; Dora Hast PhD ’94 on vocals, tin whistle, and recorders; and George Wilson on vocals, fiddle, banjo, and guitar. A ceilí (English pronunciation: kā’lē) is a traditional Gaelic social dance or gathering with music.

On Sunday, the trio was joined by “Friends”—the Hindustani vocalists of the Rangila Chorus and vocalist/guitarist Sam Scheer—and the group widened their geographic focus, performing not only original and traditional music from Ireland, America, England, and Scotland, but also from South Asia.

The event was held in conjunction with the Center for the Arts’ Music at the Russell House Series.

Photos of their concert are below: (Photos by Caroline Kravitz ’19)



 

Shinohara’s Woodcuts, Monotypes on Exhibit

Artwork by Artist-in-Residence Keiji Shinohara is on display at the Deerfield Academy’s von Auersperg Gallery in Deerfield, Mass., through Oct. 29. The exhibit, titled Whispers of the Infinite, features multiple woodcuts and monotypes that Shinohara created while participating in residencies in Denmark over the past two summers.

Shinohara was born and raised in Osaka, Japan. After 10 years as an apprentice to the renowned Keiichiro Uesugi in Kyoto, he became a Master Printmaker and moved to the U.S. Shinohara’s natural abstractions are printed on rice paper with water-based inks from woodblocks in the Ukiyo-e style–the traditional Japanese printmaking method dating to 600 CE. Shinohara has been a visiting artist at more than 100 venues. He has received grants from the Japan Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts and his work is in many public collections, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, and the Library of Congress.

This semester, Shinohara is teaching Introduction to Sumi-e Painting and Alternative Printmaking: Beginning Japanese Woodblock Technique.

Film by Modi ’22 Screened at LA Film Festival’s Future Filmmakers Showcase

Ishan Modi ’22 directed a short film titled Just Stories that was shown at the LA Film Festival’s 2018 Future Filmmakers Showcase, a special screening of films made by talented high school students from across the globe.

Since his filmmaking debut at the age of 11, Ishan Modi ’22 has directed more than 20 short films. And the prospective film and history major has yet to call his creative talent “a wrap.”

Ishan Modi '22

Ishan Modi ’22

On Sept. 22, Modi’s short film Just Stories (2017) was shown at the LA Film Festival’s 2018 Future Filmmakers Showcase, a special screening of films made by talented high school students from across the globe. The film features a senior couple who—after a lively visit with their grandchildren—experience the isolation and uncertainty of old age.

In addition to screening at the LA Film Festival, Just Stories also was named an official selection at the Nashville Film Festival (2018); Rhode Island International Film Festival (2018); Carmarthen Bay Film Festival (2018); San Luis Obispo International Film Festival (2018); and the world’s largest high school film festival, the All American High School Film Festival (2018).

Modi’s other recent film, SuperNova (2017), screened at the Across Asia Youth Film Festival, the 17th Annual Laurie Nelson Film Festival, and the Newark International Film Festival Youth in 2017. For this film, Modi was named a finalist of the “Young Filmmaker Award” presented at the My Rode Reel Film Competition and a finalist of the 60th Golden Eagle Award for “Student & Youth Media.”

His other recent projects include Nextstep (2018) and the Singapore American School’s Class of 2018 senior video.

Modi, who is currently taking a class on Dante’s Comedy during his first semester in college, is looking forward to learning more about the filmmaker’s craft during the next four years.

“Wesleyan’s Film Studies Department offers a unique equilibrium of theory and craft,” he said. “While I’ve created many films in the past, I haven’t had many opportunities to learn about the history and study behind movies, which is also very important! Wesleyan represents the best of both worlds. I will learn skills to improve my practical filmmaking abilities, and at the same time heavily study film theory, bringing into focus what constitutes a powerful narrative.”

When applying for colleges, Wesleyan’s liberal arts environment was also appealing to Modi, who wants to explore different branches of knowledge.

“At Wesleyan, I have the freedom to take classes from multiple disciplines,” he said. “Filmmaking revolves around powerful storytelling. By immersing myself in history, philosophy, literature etc. I hope to satisfy my curiosity and find inspiration for stories that I can share with the world.”

For more information and to view other films, visit ModiFilms.com. Read comments from Modi in “Get to Know the 2018 Future Filmmakers on the Road to the LA Film Festival,” an article published on filmindependent.org.

Graduate Students, Faculty to Present Studies at Society for Ethnomusicology’s Annual Meeting

Three Wesleyan music graduate students and two faculty were accepted to present at the Society for Ethnomusicology‘s 2018 Annual Meeting Nov. 15–18 in Albuquerque, N.M.

Bianca Iannitti will present a case study on the queer Indian-American DJ, Bianca Maieli, in order to explore the queer female identity within Desi music and virtual spaces.

Gene Lai, MA ’16, will present a study titled “Disdained at Home Embraced by Motherland: The Revitalized Tamil Folk Drumming Ensemble in Singapore.”

And Douglas Kiman will present a study titled “Mapping Klezmer Music in Contemporary Europe: A Case Study of the Jazz’n Klezmer Festival.” He will also be presenting at the Society for American Music in March on the musical identity of a band, the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars.

In addition, B. “Balu” Balasubrahmaniyan, adjunct associate professor of music, will speak on “Hybridized Instrumentation in Ilayaraja’s Tamil Film Scores: A Quest for Village Identity.” And Kate Galloway, visiting assistant professor of music, will speak on “Stop to Smell the Pixels: A Digital Field Guide to Nonhuman Musicality in Proteus.”

Founded in 1955, the Society for Ethnomusicology is a global, interdisciplinary network of individuals and institutions engaged in the study of music across all cultural contexts and historical periods. The annual meeting will include several presentations, roundtable discussions, a symposium, concerts, an open jam session, and a world music pedagogy workshop and professional development workshop.