To see the first-ever art exhibit at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, you must first descend the escalator, walk past the spotlit wreckage displayed as part of the museum’s permanent collection, past armed guards, past fire trucks warped beyond recognition, and, finally, past the buckled I-beams and other debris that haunt Ground Zero. These artifacts serve as totems of perseverance and frangibility, souvenirs of past atrocity. Yet this preceding layout is such that, once you enter the gallery, the art feels unnecessary, perhaps even insensitive. What can creativity achieve amid so much pain and loss? In light of this duality, both the helpfulness and helplessness of art are on display in Rendering the Unthinkable: 13 Artists Respond to 9/11, an exhibit that embodies the comforting generalities that annex America’s remembrance of 9/11 today. Continue reading
By Alina Cohen
A few days before the Problems and Provocations book launch, Stacy Switzer mused that the promotional materials somewhat misrepresented the nature of the event. “They’ve been saying panel discussion, but it’s not really a panel discussion,” she told me by phone. “It’s framed as more of a variety show.” Switzer is the former artistic director of Kansas City-based Grand Arts, a contemporary art project space that closed in 2015. Problems and Provocations, which she and collaborator Annie Fischer edited, celebrates the organization’s mission and projects throughout its 20 years of operation in pages both commemorative and absurd. Given the unconventional, expansive nature of Grand Arts’ work and the new book, a simple panel discussion just wouldn’t be fitting. Continue reading
By Alina Cohen
“Los Angeles, in my humble opinion, is moving more towards community,” said writer and filmmaker Cameron Crowe, who wrote the introduction to photographer Pamela Littky’s new book, The Villa Bonita, out from Kehrer Verlag this past September. Littky, who is known best for her celebrity portraits, is “capturing a new spirit of togetherness,” Crowe expounded. “People do, you know, need the smell of another person’s skin and a feeling that there is somebody on the other side of the wall.” Continue reading
Photographs of photographs constitute a peculiarly self-conscious genre. These images often emit a jejune urgency, an automatic feeling that the photographs they depict must be preserved. Given the rapid transformation of the photographic medium, it’s noteworthy that a physical photograph no longer qualifies as a preservation in and of itself — there must be a digital replication of the object. Photos are taken so that information can be shared (one thinks now of the reliable screenshot) — or so that information can be destroyed, the simulated a proxy for the actual. Sometimes, a photograph of a photograph implies historical and psychic gulfs between both beholders. As Zoe Leonard’s latest exhibit shows, these photographs can bear witnesses to — and perform in — the mysterious drama that is memory. Continue reading
This moment in human history has the word gender turning over and over in its mouth, the sandstone of the modern tongue stripping away the callouses on the word “woman.” On October 3rd at Skylight Books, author Kate Schatz and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl heralded the word “woman” in the presentation of their new book Rad Women Worldwide. The book is a celebration of amazing women throughout human history, like activist Malala Yousafzai, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and British punk rocker Poly Styrene. It is sequel to the duo’s first work, Rad Women of America, and a very considerate and artful archive of global femininity. The widened scope of subject matter was approached with great attention to diversity; of skill, of global recognition, of race, and of creed. By acknowledging each rad woman’s unique tribulations on her way to triumph, they have created not only an artifact of female excellence, but of female strength and tenacity in the face of patriarchy, racial oppression, and war. Continue reading
Photo: J. Soto-Gonzalez, first prize art contest winner ages 14–18
Let us congratulate Lizeth and Zulema for the impossible trek they have conquered.
Lizeth speaks of the extremes of heat, self-reliance at an early age, the round the clock labor universe of farm worker (“plant — pick and pack”) and the all encompassing knowing that all this is to sustain all life. It is incredible to know that a 10 to 13-year-old wrote this with such wisdom and compassion — a hard earned essay.
Zulema charts the long cycle of migrant generations, the year-long calendar — from Asparagus to Apples — crushing through school schedules and towns. She wants to break the cycle of poverty — the same one my father dreamed of dismantling in the 1950’s. Zulema has succeeded.
So we congratulate these chroniclers of migrant struggle and continuity, these wisdom-word writers for a just Now.
Juan Felipe Herrera
Poet Laureate Continue reading
By Scott Doyle
“Save The World Stage” Campaign Launched
Community Rally Set for October 26
Jazz musicians like Branford Marsalis, Max Roach, Roy Hargrove, Elvin Jones, Billy Childs, Ron Carter, Kenny Burrell, Pharaoh Sanders, Horace Tapscott. And of course, co-founder Billy Higgins, the most recorded jazz drummer in history. Writers like Yusef Komunyakaa, Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Kevin Powell, Ruth Forman, Ishmael Reed, Toi Derricote, Al Young, The Watts Prophets. And co-founder Kamau Daàood, one of many notable alums of the legendary Watts Writers Workshop.
These are just some of the artists that have graced The World Stage over the last 30 years, and their names were a strong presence at an October 16th press conference held as the non-profit performance and educational space seeks to chart its future in a changing Leimert Park. The neighborhood, called by some the “black mecca” of Los Angeles, is almost certainly on the verge of a significant transformation following the MTA’s approval of a Leimert Park Village subway station on the new Crenshaw/LAX light rail line. Neighborhood activists had long lobbied for the stop, which until late spring appeared to be far from a done deal. But within weeks of a May press conference finally announcing funding for the station, investors had bought up two buildings on the east side of lower Degnan Boulevard, home to a cluster of black-owned businesses, most of whom have been there for over 20 years.
Operating as two LLCs and communicating with tenants through a property manager, the new owners have chosen not to renew leases, posted numerous pay or quit notices, and failed to respond to requests for a meeting. A handful of businesses are already gone. After an unsuccessful attempt to get Councilman Herb Wesson to intervene on its behalf, The World Stage has gone public with its fight. The non-profit is seeking, among other things: short-term emergency funding to forestall the possibility of imminent eviction; a meeting with the new owner to discuss his plans for the building; “cultural landmark” designation that would solidify its status as a stakeholder in the neighborhood’s redevelopment; and political and economic assistance from city and county officials to ensure the organization’s long-term viability.
The emotional press conference (which later spilled out onto the street in a spirited conversation about the neighborhood’s future) featured a number of speakers paying homage to the rich legacy of The World Stage. It is a space that is, in the words of stage manager Matt Gibson, “humble but hallowed.” Its motto affirms the Stage to be “not a space but a spirit.” Writer and performer Jerry Quickly calls it an “art church.” Artistic director Conney Williams (a guest the previous day on a segment of Warren Olney’s Which Way, LA? on KCRW) spoke of how, in the difficult months after the 1992 Rodney King verdict and the unrest that followed, The World Stage provided a critical haven for “fellowship and healing.” Executive director Dwight Trible highlighted the thousands of young people who have passed through the drum, vocal and writing workshops offered at little or no cost; as well as the thrice-weekly jam sessions giving aspiring local musicians of all ages and abilities a chance to cut their teeth.
But the afternoon was not simply an exercise in nostalgia. Damien Goodmon of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition insisted that the huge investment in the Crenshaw line, which he characterized as the largest public works project South LA has ever seen, must translate into economic development that truly empowers the local community, and not the kind targeted mainly at tourists. The gathering attracted nearly 40 attendees, a number of whom stepped forward with ideas for putting the organization on more solid footing, and with offers of help. KPFK music director Maggie LePique presented a $1000 check from Doors drummer John Densmore, a long-time admirer of Billy Higgins. World Stage board president Adé Brown is hoping to raise $25,000 to stabilize operations in the coming months. Supporters are encouraged to donate via a PayPal button on the group’s website.
A somewhat paradoxical challenge facing The World Stage is that, while it is well known within the black community and has a national and even international reputation amongst jazz aficionados, in many ways it flies below the radar in Los Angeles. Leimert Park itself, set just far enough off the main thoroughfares of Martin Luther King Jr. and Crenshaw Boulevards that you can easily miss it if you’re not looking for it, has its own visibility problem. Happily, this weekend offers a couple of excellent opportunities to discover (or rediscover) this vibrant and diverse neighborhood.
On Saturday, October 26th at 1pm, The World Stage invites the public to its performance space on 4344 Degnan Boulevard. Against the backdrop of its Saturday Jazz Workshop there will be a community rally with speakers and poets and the latest information about The World Stage’s campaign to remain in Leimert Park. Then hang around to check out the rest of lower Degnan, including Eso Won Books across the street.
And on Sunday, October 27th from 3pm – 8pm is the Leimert Part Art Walk, which will feature art exhibits, live music, and food vendors. As a special attraction, the historic Vision Theatre (currently being renovated under the purview of the Department of Cultural Affairs) will be opened up for an exhibit curated by Ben Caldwell of the multi-media art and training center Kaos Network.