russell’s memorial service

a wonderful memorial service at the university of rochester’s interfaith chapel today, for the larger-than-life professor and human extraordinaire, russell peck. a fitting tribute with reminiscences from his children and colleagues and wonderful music and readings by his grandchildren. meant so much to me to see ruth again after many years and meet some of their family. russell’s love for literature, scholarship, innovation, performance, gardening, nature, and the outdoors, emanated from the beauty and music inside of him, everyone said. he fell in love with ruth and married her in paris, where she was studying at the sorbonne, after he saw her play rachmaninoff. what could be more beautiful. one of his students said, “he saw me.” i think that’s how i feel too. as i sat quietly in their living room waiting for my kids to finish their piano lessons with ruth, year after year, he saw me. he would discuss plays with me. he insisted i join them for their theatre in london course. he also urged me to put a book together with all of my artwork. that thought is still with me. as many said, he knew what u were meant to do, before u knew it yourself. an astounding legacy. thank u russell <3

my review: joyland

finally saw joyland, the pakistani film that has taken international festivals and audiences by storm. it’s an unflinching study of the quiet horrors of heteropatriarchy – its rigid roles and antiquated hierarchies (that revolve around ridiculous notions of masculinity), its antilife rules and strictures, claustrophobia and mendacity.

yet with its vibrant ensemble cast, snappy writing, and intimate cinematography, the film is also filled with flashes of love, hope and human connection. it shows people who are desperately lost but also the grit and audacity it takes to have sovereignty over one’s life and body.

it’s a heartbreaking reminder that all of us need to be seen. even those of us who seem to be the strongest, the most reliable and least demanding, can break delicately once they become invisible.

nysca grant money

i got my grant money! thank u huntington arts council for supporting long island artists and for today’s ceremony. thank u nysca for investing in arts & culture in the state of ny. and thank u to all the amazing artists/community organizers who were there today and who are working hard to make long island more inclusive and beautiful. pictures with patty, joan, shayee and ginger. btw my project, the short film ‘return to sender,’ is fully edited and ready for post production. premiere at cinema arts center on oct 1st inshallah.

Hopeful Art & Artful Hope

So energizing to be part of the Artists Round Table today and talk about Hopeful Art & Artful Hope. The convo was moderated by the wonderful Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli and I learned so much about the work of amazing artists/activists like Michaela Oteri, TL Luke, Kristy Lisle, Kierston Ghaznavi, Yvette Pino, and Della Wells. From important struggles such as disability and reproductive rights, to representations of Black women in art and culture, to body types and using art to talk about politics, I felt like I was surrounded/sustained by artists using their art to challenge and enlighten.

The Women’s & Gender Studies Conference ‘Sustaining Hope: Feminisms, Freedom, and the Future’ is happening virtually for one last day tomorrow, April 15th.

It’s organized by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and held under the auspices of the UNESCO Chair on Gender, Wellbeing and a Culture of Peace as part of a global UN platform. It is free.

You can register here. And don’t forget to check out the artwork under ‘Artist Exhibition 2023.’

[Artwork by Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli]

nick cave at the goog

everyone has seen nick cave’s famous soundsuits, but did u know he designed his first suit out of twigs after rodney king was violently beaten by police in 1991?

he has created more than 500 suits since. they have grown alongside his practice, evolving from a form of protective layer (that covers/hides the body) to an expression of confidence and exuberance pushing the limits of visibility.

in his work, cave uses everyday, found objects and racist memorabilia. he doesn’t believe that this history should be erased. he repurposes such ‘relics’ – taking them out of circulation and giving them new meaning.

it’s difficult to look at these objects. for example, the awful spittoon at the center of ‘sea sick’ does in fact induce nausea.

his mixed media sculptures look like soft fur, but in reality the patterns are painted on short, sharp wire fragments. the designs represent a layered cartography of cataclysmic weather patterns on top of brain scans of young black people suffering from ptsd as a result of gun violence.

that’s the remarkable thing about cave’s work – his art is harsh, abrasive, and contains an incredibly violent history, but it’s also gorgeous. at first glance, his work seems simple, joyous, full of color, sparkles and flowers, but it is also unsettling, complex, disturbing.

there was a line written on one of the walls at the goog which hit me hard. it said something like:

if we can turn junk into art, what grace can we extend to people who are most devalued by society?

Russell Peck, a legend

I just found out late last night that Professor Russell Peck passed away on Feb 20th at the age of 89. What a tremendous loss. I am heartbroken. I still cannot believe it.

Russell, as I called him, was a legend. A world authority on Middle English literature, the longest teaching professor at the University of Rochester, a dynamic, charismatic figure full of ideas and fervor, a curious mind with endless intellectual energy, but also a kind and generous human.

I met Russell through his wife, Ruth, who was my kids’ piano teacher. I drove my kids to their house every week, for almost a decade. I would sit in the family room and wait for each child to finish their lesson. Russell would stop by sometimes and talk to me about interesting plays he had seen. He knew how much I love the theater.
We would marvel at his English garden, filled with a variety of spontaneous blooms. They seemed organic, profuse, unfettered, an eruption of colors and fragrances, yet they were thoughtfully planned and cared for by Russell. Ruth would complain about the weeding which she felt obliged to support.

In the summertime, Ruth would organize recitals for her students in their house. The furniture was moved and countless chairs would appear as if by magic. Russell designed the program and prepared his famous punch. There was always a scoop of ice cream in the middle, sweet yumminess I remember to this day. It would be a potluck. We would grab our plates and punch, and head to the garden. Something unforgettable.

In 2008, when Russell found out I had made a documentary, my first foray into filmmaking after leaving corporate finance, he told Ruth they had to organize a launch party, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. They invited people from the English Department at the University of Rochester and other leaders of the community. They wanted to create support for the film before it premiered. Their sincerity and kindness moved me, impressed me. We became closer.

In 2012-13, I joined Ruth and Russell for their famous Theatre in London course. It was a dream. I was in London for almost three weeks and saw 25 plays. Even though I was older than their UR students and, as an activist filmmaker, my POV was frequently different, they encouraged me to share my thoughts. Every morning, we would meet in a small room on the ground floor of Hotel Harlingford, and we would critique the plays we had seen the day before. Russell would make an effort to engage me, urging me to dig deeper and add to the discussion.

They invited me to a family dinner with their daughter and grandchildren. Ruth kept checking in on me, with her usual warmth and charm, she made me feel like I was an essential part of the group. Afterwards, when I wrote my reviews, one for each play, Russell gave me wonderful feedback and was so happy with my work, he published it on the UR website.

In 2014, when my art exhibition, This Heirloom, opened at the Colacino gallery at Nazareth College, both Ruth and Russell attended. In my artist talk, I mentioned the book that they had brought back for me from their annual trip to London. It was called “Drawing the Line.” The politics of partition are messed up and entangled with histories of ethnonationalism since 1947, but I loved the play.

Russell suggested UR plays and lectures to me. Many times we would attend them together, Ruth and Russell, Aitezaz and I. I would invite them over to dinners where they would meet new people and become friends with ease. Ruth in particular was effervescent. A bright light in any gathering. Russell would be quieter, lovely in his own way. He always gifted me a book, whenever we met after a bit of a break, a play or a collection of poems.

There are so many more memories. Their house on Crosman Terrace with a tree leaning in near the entrance, the conversations we had as we walked everywhere in London, Sunday Mass at Westminster Abbey, the trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, New Year Eve’s fireworks in Trafalgar Square, attending Russell’s class on myths and fairy tales, having lunch with him at the Elmwood Inn, dinners and art openings, plays and books, and much more.

My husband often said that Ruth and Russell are from a greater generation, that they don’t make Americans like that anymore. I agree. It was an honor to know you and learn from you, dear Russell.

[With Ruth and Russell Peck, London, 2013]

Women’s & Gender Studies Consortium

I am super excited to be a part of the Women’s & Gender Studies Consortium ‘Sustaining Hope: Feminisms, Freedom, and the Future’ happening completely virtually, April 13-15. I will participate in the Artists’ Round Table on April 14th – starts at 3:30pm CTS (4:30pm EST).

This conference, organized by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and held under the auspices of the UNESCO Chair on Gender, Wellbeing and a Culture of Peace as part of a global UN platform, is free.

You can register here and you can look at the conference schedule here.

You can also check out at my artist page. Hope you can join us!

a rough cut for ‘return to sender’

my short film, return to sender (about colonial postcards and orientalist representations of women from the colonies), is coming along well! i have a rough cut and have received feedback from women friends/filmmakers i’ve trusted for decades. thank u cat ashworth, surbhi dewan, nancy ghertner, kate kressmann-kehoe, and linda moroney. i also got permissions from publishing houses and insightful scholars to quote their work. most of all, i’m blown away, once again, by the sharp analysis and complete honesty of the three women who are at the center of the film. thank u Fatimah Arshad, Urvashi Bhattacharya and Sumayia Islam for ur brilliance and beauty <3

[photo: urvashi bhattacharya in ‘return to sender,’ photographed by mara ahmed]

This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and administered by The Huntington Arts Council, Inc.