The Magic Flute at the Met Opera

Life has been a lot of work since September this year (it’s been overwhelming frankly) and I have no time to do the creative work that sustains me, but I escape to NYC once in a while and get my fill of art. Saw ‘The Magic Flute’ at the Metropolitan Opera last night. Directed by Julie Taymor, it’s a feast for the eyes and ears. The Masonic symbolism and black/white dynamics are uncomfortable and the three boy-spirits downright creepy, but the music is brilliant and the Queen of the Night stole the show.

From the NYT’s review:
“when the soprano Kathryn Lewek, as the Queen of the Night, sang her character’s dazzling and demonic aria, many people started clapping halfway through, right after she dispatched the famous music’s bursts of coloratura passagework with eerie ease and enormous sound. Yes, she was quite a sight in her fantastical costume, a mothlike figure with multiple flapping wings.”

#themagicflute #mozart #metropolitanopera #opera #nyc #metopera #queenifthenight

vasily kandinsky: around the circle

went to see ‘vasily kandinsky: around the circle’ at the guggenheim museum in ny. the curators of the exhibit had suggested people start at the bottom of the circle (with his newest, most abstract work) and then find their way to the top of the goog (where his earliest paintings were shown). it’s a lovely idea because one starts with the most complex, symbolic, abstracted work, almost mathematical in its precision – he developed his own pictorial language, using shapes and colors with immense refinement. but then, as one steps back in time and climbs up the goog spiral, one comes across such unexpected gems. beautiful, expressive, simple paintings that charm and delight. reminded me of the voluptuousness and heart i find in marc chagall’s work. a breathtaking, deeply satisfying experience.

#vasilykandinsky #kandinsky #guggenheimmuseum #guggenheim #circle #painting #art #abstraction #color #line #shape #pictoriallanguage #symbolism #russia

a juror for the south asian film festival of montreal

this fall, i was honored to be one of the jurors for the south asian film festival of montreal, and i got to see some powerful documentaries. one of them is called ‘the ice cream sellers’ by bangladeshi filmmaker sohel rahman. it follows two children in a rohingya refugee camp in bangladesh, and tells the stories of many of its uprooted residents. the opening shots create this sharp contrast between the stunning beauty of the fields and hills in bangladesh and the destitution of people who have witnessed hideous violence. the film’s cinematography is beautiful. its quiet, long shots allow us to take in the immensity of the situation. it’s not manipulative, with no music or fancy editing. rather it’s a sobering ethnographic portrait of royingya refugees. the film is raw, truthful, moving.

the little boy, ayas, at the center of the film (the ice cream seller), seems much older than his years. there is a sadness and anger in him. he and asia, his sister, are deeply traumatized by what they have experienced and by the absence of their father. genocide does not just affect those who are exterminated, it produces ongoing generational trauma.

the festival ends on november 28th so there are still a few days left to watch a large number of new films, many of them for free. google south asian film festival of montreal.

the long goodbye

‘the long goodbye’ with riz ahmed is a short film but so incredibly hard to watch. as he says: “it feels clear to me that this does very much feel grounded in reality, the reality of people’s fears, the reality of where we’re at…” the sequence of events shown in the film is already a reality in palestine, kashmir, india, china, burma and many other parts of the world. this is where we’re at.

google the long goodbye short film riz ahmed. it’s free to watch online including on youtube and vimeo.

rifqa by muhammed el kurd

cannot wait to read ‘rifqa,’ muhammed el kurd’s book of poetry, named after his grandmother rifqa. this is how susan abulhawa reviewed it:

“The words that Mohammed assembles in his poems aren’t pulled from books or dictionaries. They are snatched from clouds, excised from his bones, excavated from Jerusalem’s fabled tales and the inscriptions on her storied stones, plucked from the creases in tank treads and history’s smoke. There is rage in this book—piercing, defiant, inspiring rage that ebbs and returns, and settles in blank spaces that push words far apart on the page.

Unlike the lightness of the word rifqa, this book is heavy, weighed with 103 years of Rifqa’s life as a refugee warrior, a woman of infinite final words—which Mohammed calls punchlines—of a matriarch’s expansive love, a colonized indigenous people’s anguished longing to breathe, and a globalizing irreverence rising from what is muted, buried, razed, and painted over.”

my review: the french dispatch

saw ‘the french dispatch’ last night and was mostly indifferent to wes anderson’s cinematic habits: the ‘mixture of vintage tchotchkes, droll repartee, and houndstooth,’ the predictable camera work, the silences and knowing looks, the offering of large swathes of data and eccentricities floating freely throughout the film. couldn’t help thinking how white men have the power, privilege, and dollars to make their private obsessions profitably public.

i couldn’t sink my teeth into the film, an apparent homage to the new yorker, until the last story. until jeffrey wright.

in spite of the outlandish story he’s telling, he exudes such charisma, warmth and intelligence that for the first time, i felt invested and engaged. my husband leaned over and whispered how wright was channeling james baldwin (the closing credits confirmed that inspiration). it made sense. something elegant and recognizable. the heart of the film. hope he gets the accolades he deserves and many more movie roles.

#thefrenchdispatch #wesanderson #jeffreywright #shortmoviereview #jamesbaldwin

Meesha Shafi – Hot Mango Chutney Sauce (Feat. Swineryy)

this song by one of pakistan’s best-loved artists is such addictive fun. first of all, any friend of mangoes is a friend of mine. it’s the king of fruits and the utmost south asian sensorial experience (hot mango chutney makes me think of brooklyn’s B K jani and their ‘mango jani’ – a spicy, sparkling mango drink concoction). secondly, i love that the song is mostly in punjabi, a beautiful language with a rich literary and musical tradition that’s invisibilized by urdu (the state’s national language, the language of culture and erudition, and all that). let’s not even talk about the long shadow cast over punjabi (and other regional languages) by english and its elitist colonial legacy. so, yes to punjabi and its colorful, spirited, humorous culture. finally, the singer/songwriter/director/producer meesha shafi is part of the #metoo movement in pakistan. she accused ali zafar, a popular actor/musician, of sexual harassment and ended up being sued by him for criminal defamation. so there’s a lot she’s saying here without really saying it and more power to her for hitting back. enjoy:)

#meeshashafi #metoo #iamwithher #mangoes #southasia #pakistan #punjab #punjabi #punjabisongs #punjabihumour #punjabiculture

anne carson’s autobiography of red

reading anne carson’s ‘autobiography of red.’ no one uses language the way she does. suffused with imagery, unfettered, astonishing. here are a few examples from the beginning of the book:

burrowed himself down in the red dawn jelly of geryon’s dream
the sound of the horses like roses being burnt alive
not a bee moved up geryon’s spine
steps off a scraped sky and into the blind atlantic morning
the red world and corresponding red breezes went on, geryon did not

“Autobiography of Red is a verse novel by Anne Carson, based loosely on the myth of Geryon and the Tenth Labor of Herakles, especially on surviving fragments of the lyric poet Stesichorus’ poem Geryoneis.”

#annecarson #autobiographyofred #language #unfettered #imagery #book

we are lady parts

watched the first 4 episodes of ‘we are lady parts.’ wow. it’s one of the best shows i’ve seen. ever. nida manzoor (the writer, creator, director) is an absolute genius. how long have we (muslim/brown) women waited for something like this. can a show this creative and trope-free even be produced in america? i hope so. we need more.

immersive van gogh in nyc

immersive van gogh at pier 36 felt like a touristy thing to do, but i got to see my lovely kids and have brunch with them, so what could be better? my deep connection to van gogh: i read “lust for life,” irving stone’s biography (a comprehensive tome on van gogh’s life and work but also on impressionism broadly) when i was in high school. his tragic story and gorgeous art (it pulsates with color and intensity) have been with me all my life and perhaps became a lens through which i learned to appreciate all art.

at the end of the show, we finally come face to face with van gogh’s self portraits, to the sound of handel’s saraband, and it strikes one what a hard, sometimes brutal, life he lived and how commercially profitable his art has become now. i hope that his brother’s family is getting a piece of it still, his brother theo who supported him through all the illnesses and crises.

pier 36’s “75,000 square foot waterfront space located in manhattan’s lower east side” didn’t really work for me. i prefer the intimacy of arttechouse for a truly immersive experience, but this is a great instagram opportunity.

imaginary man

shahzia sikander. miniature in mughal style: imaginary man, 1991 (vegetable color, watercolor, tea, and gold leaf on wasli paper, 11 x 8 inches). this piece made me tear up. its exquisite detail, the subdued color palette, the delicate hands and fingers, the otherworldly beauty of this serene male figure — a bearded, muslim figure and all that it has come to mean in the western imaginary, yet here it is, portrayed as something distinguished and light, frail rather than threatening, gossamer rather than immovable. i stood there for a long time, coming close to the piece and connecting with the arduous, detail-oriented work that went into creating this dazzling art. it took sikander years to complete it.

shahzia sikander: extraordinary realities

this past weekend, my sister, daughter and i went to see ‘shahzia sikander: extraordinary realities’ at the morgan library and museum in nyc. a tremendous exhibition even though it spans the first 15 years of her work only. she moved to the US the same year i did, in 1993, and i’ve been following her work since the 90s. rooted in rigorous research, filled with symbolism and iconography, unafraid to engage with the politics of empire, race and patriarchy, bent on creating a unique and personal vocabulary, sikander’s work is bold, original, and always ahead of its time. it is also beautiful – many pieces painted painstakingly over years. the details are astonishing, the overall impact of her images almost mystical (in how they simultaneously activate the mind and enchant the eyes), and the narrative intricacies of her work (with its rich subtext and references) demand attention. that she is an artist from lahore, educated at the national college of arts (NCA), who studied miniature painting under the tutelage of professor bashir ahmad, makes her all the more special to pakistanis. my daughter read every art label and took pictures of every artwork. she told me it was the best exhibition she’d ever been to. it’s moving to encounter extraordinary art. it’s sublime to recognize bits and pieces of oneself in it. i will be sharing images in several posts. as molly crabapple has said: if u are in ny, u owe it to yourself to see this exhibition.

‘Blindness’ at the Daryl Roth Theatre

In early May, we went to see ‘Blindness’ at the Daryl Roth Theatre in NYC. It’s ‘José Saramago’s timely, sinister story of a world in chaos… narrated with savage rage by Juliet Stevenson.’

Blindness is no ordinary play. Its setup is designed specifically for Covid-appropriate social distancing. This is how it works: People are ‘grouped in pairs who have come together… distanced from other pairs, and, at first, each pair sits under its own spotlight. There is no stage; the show occurs only in light and sound. Above audience members’ heads are a series of glowing neon tubes in primary and secondary colors, perfectly vertical and horizontal and meeting at right angles, reminiscent of the work of the artist Dan Flavin. The story, ably delivered, in a recorded monologue, by Stevenson, comes through headphones sporting “binaural” 3-D technology.’

The neon tubes move up and down, and for vast portions of the play, we are immersed in complete darkness.

As Kate Wyver wrote in the Guardian, ‘the piece is claustrophobic by nature, but when wearing the required mask… breathing suddenly feels much harder. At these points, the lack of sight is disorienting and the binaural sound design properly takes effect as the violence of the piece crawls beneath your skin. It feels as if Stevenson is whispering right into your ear, stroking your arm, holding that dripping knife.’

Light and sound have never been used more effectively to create patterns, moods, textures, and a sense of space and time. I was not surprised to learn that this is a Donmar Warehouse (London) production. I saw ‘Julius Caesar’ set in a women’s prison, brought to pulsating life by an all-female cast in 2012. Never forgot it.

The play’s narrator, or Storyteller, is voiced by the incredible Juliet Stevenson who’s absolutely dazzling here.

One of the strongest moments for me was towards the end, when the exit door opens. At that moment, Stevenson is describing her scarred city, come to a violent halt, littered with corpses, garbage, and dogs tearing apart flesh from the freshly fallen. That hell comes to an end, like a bad dream, when the door opens. We see a swath of beautiful green, welcome respite for deprived eyes. Yellow cabs pass by in the distance, pedestrians much closer to us. We hear the faint hum of a functioning city. Such relief and emotion.

Makes one wonder how a breakdown in food systems and other services would impact New York, how the idea of modern cities in general is ridiculous – rendering people helpless, isolated, vulnerable to shocks, fragile.

I was left with some thoughts about Saramago’s book. How he uses blindness as a metaphor — the stripping away “of the mirrors to the soul,” which ‘loosens the fragility of human and psychic bonds, and divests us of the will and rationale to maintain them.’

‘Near the end of the novel, when the blind people are getting their vision back, he has one of his characters remark:” I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.”’

Although Saramago’s blindness is a ‘white disease,’ a ‘milky sea’ that spreads by visual contact, like the evil eye, an analysis of the text thru the lens of Disability Studies is important. A little surprised that in a city, where a raging, highly infectious white blindness is breaking down existing systems, people who are already blind (and adjusted) don’t play a more powerful, positive, central role. Less comfortable with the fact that Saramago’s Storyteller/protagonist (she is the all seer, leader, organizer, moral compass of the story) is the only person who has sight.

A remarkable experience all in all, and very much in line with my interest in audio storytelling (the Warp & Weft).

there is a ceasefire but what’s next?

there is a ceasefire in place at the moment with a break in the bombing of gaza, thank god, but that does not change the reality of settler colonialism, ongoing ethnic cleansing, apartheid, an illegal blockade, military occupation, the imprisonment of children, checkpoints that negate freedom of movement, and non-stop human rights violations. this has been going on, in various forms, since 1948.

it’s been painful to read posts on social media, by well-meaning people who couch their support in abstract language, never mention israel as the aggressor/colonizer, or engage in bothsidesism (pray for both sides, mourn lives lost on both sides, there are extremists on both sides, etc). essentially, they are affirming the equivalent of ‘all lives matter.’

the majority of people have been silent which is even more unsettling.

consider this:

israel has one of the best equipped militaries in the world (thx to our tax dollars), palestinians do not have an army, air force or navy. they don’t control their borders, with no sovereign title over the west bank or gaza strip. this is why we see the obscene disparity in numbers of people killed and wounded.

another set of numbers might be helpful:

per capita GDP for gaza: $876
per capital GDP for israel: $34,185

gaza is sealed from all sides by israel. every few years they ‘cut the grass’ by bombing one of the most densely populated areas in the world. then they don’t allow concrete in, so palestinians can’t rebuild their homes. materials needed to construct vital water infrastructure are not permitted either so there’s a chronic water crisis in gaza. israel limits the amount of electricity gaza can access per day. they even restrict the amount of calories allowed for its population by blocking food.

another interesting fact:

children constitute about half of gaza’s population. the median age is 17.

there is no reason for not knowing – this information is freely available, a lot of it provided by the UN.

i look at this media/social media landscape and understand why grotesque crimes against humanity have been possible in history. it’s easy to look back and decry slavery and genocide. it’s much harder to recognize it, speak about it, and resist it while it’s happening.

those who have spoken up, written posts, made calls, protested, declared their position and invited wrath from their communities, thank you. we see you and we find hope in ur integrity. “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” inshallah.