montauk

back in montauk after some 20 years. it’s the eastern most tip of long island (a very long island indeed). a beautiful, beachy town with an iconic lighthouse, clam shacks, and ice cream parlors. we chose to eat at la fin, a wonderful french restaurant on the harbor. downtown east hampton has a manolo blahnik store btw, for those who are into that kinda thing, and lots of tanned people in spiffy clothes. with its grist mills, gorgeous beaches, and wind mills, this area is a lot like cape cod, but a notch fancier. remember the great gatsby? it was more than 80 F in the afternoon so decided to skip the hike in shadmoor state park. maybe next time. although the bottlenecks and slow traffic around east hampton did not appeal to the husband.

the great cat ashworth retires

my friend Cat Ashworth retired yesterday, after teaching film at RIT for 32 years. that RIT didn’t have the grace to thank her for her stellar work over three long decades is appallingly egregious. it speaks to the larger issue of how work performed by women is systematically diminished and erased. how women themselves are routinely invisibilized, ignored, or minimized.

i took a class with cat many years ago. it was a hands-on documentary workshop during the course of which i edited my first doc, ‘the muslims i know’ – the film that made me a filmmaker. how lucky to have landed in cat’s class at such a crucial juncture in my life.

filmmaking was a second career for me so i was much older than the other students. i came to the class with a decisive goal in mind – to edit a feature length film in just a few weeks. there was an urgency to my task which cat understood instinctively. she supported me every way she could, even asking her assistant to teach me how to use keyframes and create motion paths in final cut pro.

not having formally studied filmmaking, i came at it from a different angle. sometimes i wouldn’t know the technical jargon or my ideas would be too unconventional or politically heavy and uncool. cat always sided with me. she never made me feel like i didn’t belong. she wasn’t annoyed by my drive. that set the tone for the way the other students responded to me. although they could be ruthless in their critique, cat made them believe i was doing something worthwhile and meaningful.

initially, i was thinking of hiring someone to do the film’s voiceover, but cat urged me to do it myself – not to hide but rather to embrace the personal nature of the project. the muslims i had interviewed were my people. islamophobia touched them just as it impacted me and my family. it was ok to own that and speak from that vulnerable position. and she was right. one of the most common reactions to the doc is the feedback i get about the voiceover – its warmth and ability to pull audiences in. only because of cat.

at the end of the class, when i screened the rough cut for RIT’s film faculty, the responses i got from some of the most prominent male professors in positions of power were disappointing. one particularly important one told me i shouldn’t use western classical music in the film because it didn’t fit all this talk about islam and muslims. i guess he was expecting some sitar and tabla. talk about orientalism. once again, cat pushed back publicly and also in private, encouraging me to stay with my ideas and in fact commit to them even more. it’s like she could predict the effect the film would have.

i’ve made two other films after it, but 15 years later, ‘the muslims i know’ continues to generate abundant viewership. it’s been integrated into college curriculums and i hear from professors who tell me how they use it in their class.

how many stories like this there must be from cat’s students and colleagues who have benefited from her generosity, attention and brilliance for 32 years. i am not even listing the outstanding work she has produced as an astute filmmaker and artist or her behind-the-scenes efforts to diversify RIT faculty.

thank u cat. we love u. enjoy ur retirement and know that u helped shape many lives and careers.

healing hike

for the first time since we moved here, a little over a year ago, we met with a group of people. went on a ‘healing hike’ with the long island progressive coalition to uplands preserve, cold spring harbor, new york. so incredibly beautiful! spent 3 hours discovering how milkweed attracts monarch butterflies, what poison ivy looks like, how the white flowered mountain laurel is difficult to move or transplant on account of its sensitivity to soil chemistry, the subtle perfume of the multiflora rose (a climbing, rambling shrub), how woodpeckers communicate with one another, how the tulip poplar (also called tulip tree) is neither tulip nor poplar but closely related to magnolia trees, and how the american chestnut is super susceptible to chestnut blight, a fungus introduced to north america in the early 1900s which reduced the great american chestnut forests to a simple sucker sprout population that rarely produces any chestnuts. v cool to meet other activists as well – especially nia adams who traveled to rochester during the daniel prude uprising and knew all the brilliant women involved with free the people rochester. it was 81 F but we spent most of our time in fragrant shaded woods so didn’t really feel the heat.

vaccination done

got my second dose of the pfizer vaccine at jones beach today. not a bad place to get shots:) huge parking lots, large makeshift tents, the national guard guiding traffic and making everything go smoothly, nurses giving people shots inside their cars (u never step out of ur vehicle), people looking out for u while u wait 15 min to make sure u don’t have a reaction, and then u drive away. they have the capacity to vaccinate 5000 people per day. and then there’s the atlantic ocean. grateful.

Artist Coalition Announces 10-week “Strike” Against MoMA

“We refuse to acknowledge the separation of the museum from the rest of society,” the group says. “We see MoMA as existing on the same plane as the violence of the ruling class that has controlled it…As MoMA winds down and we extract our imagination from its orbit, our energies, resources and labor power will be freed up for creating alternatives in its place,” the group adds. “Alternatives controlled by workers and communities, not billionaires and their enablers. This could be a first step for a city-wide process.” — yes, please! More here.

lorraine o’grady’s ‘miscegenated family album’

o’grady’s iconic ‘miscegenated family album’ (1980/1994) consisting of 16 diptychs of photographs that compare her sister devonia’s family to that of nefertiti, is displayed right in the middle of the museums’s egyptian art gallery. the title of this work reclaims the pejorative term “miscegenation.” here’s some background on the series:

‘When the Boston-born, New York–based artist Lorraine O’Grady (born 1934) visited Egypt in her 20s, two years after the unexpected death of her sister, she found herself surrounded for the first time by people who looked like her. While walking the streets of Cairo, the loss of her only sibling, Devonia, became confounded with the image of “a larger family gained.” Upon returning to the US, O’Grady began painstaking research on ancient Egypt, particularly the Amarna period of Nefertiti and Akhenaton, finding narrative and visual resemblances between their family and her own.’

day at the brooklyn museum

spent wednesday at the @brooklynmuseum to see lorraine o’grady’s ‘both/and’ and loved it. both/and represents o’grady’s refusal to kowtow to binaries and western ‘either/or’ thinking. she challenges white-centered art history and how ‘museums enforce both literal and conceptual segregation in the art world.’ in line with this thinking, the brooklyn museum has displayed o’grady’s art throughout their galleries, ‘revealing her critical interventions in these dominant histories.’ so for example, her ‘announcement of a new persona,’ with its lush, large size, staged photographic prints, is mixed together with rodin’s expressive, muscular sculptures. makes complete sense. one work elevates the other, divulging emotions and details one might have missed otherwise.