Lens on Latin America
January 7 – March 22, 2019
open daily 8am – 10pm
Juror: David Acosta, Casa de Duende
Opening reception: Tuesday, January 8 at 6pm
An art exhibiton of innovative, experimental, and radical photography inspired by themes emerging from Latin America during the 60s and 70s – a time of profound cultural and political change.
East Alcove Gallery, International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut Street
DaVinci Artist Alliance: http://www.davinciartalliance.org/dvaa-at-ihp/
This interview was conducted with Roger Chavez via e-mail. I met Roger in an art class he was subbing and we struck up a conversation after the class.
Deslumbrar: How did you become interested in art? Is this something you’ve always done?
Roger Chavez: My interest in being creative came at an early age through drawing, painting, or building in wood or other materials. It was an activity that always generated a joy, a challenge and a learning experience. Having this creative dialogue at an early age, it was not difficult to decide and pursue it as a career later in life and where painting became my focus.
Deslumbrar: Does your ethnic background influence your art?
Roger Chavez: I don’t necessarily think of my ethnicity as directly influencing my work or in other words I don’t consciously think about my ethnicity as a topic for my work. If there is something in my work that alludes to my ethnicity, it is concealed.
Deslumbrar: What projects are you working on now? How has your art evolved?
Roger Chavez: Recently, I have a grant from the Franz and Virginia Bader Foundation to research a group of small landscape paintings primarily executed on paper. The group of paintings are part of a bigger collection called the Thaw Collection. Owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Morgan library In New York City, I make visits to draw from the paintings and research the object files. Studying works of art from collections has always been my way to challenge my own painting and to continue to learn all the complexities of painting.
Studying these landscape paintings and making landscape paintings as well, I’m looking to develop an experience set apart from that of my current approach to painting. For many years I’ve worked with the self-portrait and the still-life, two subjects which are readily accessible and still. Confronting the changing landscape as subject breaks me away from everything I know, altering, adding to my approach in painting.
Deslumbrar: How does teaching art fit into your artistic career/practice?
Roger Chavez: Teaching has always been a positive experience. It tends to give back in how there is regeneration in energy to create as I experience the students learning and developing their ideas, concepts and abilities. This said however, teaching has always been second to my studio work in that it is the core of my learning and where I draw experience and knowledge from to teach.
Deslumbrar: Where can people see your art?
Deslumbrar: Thank you for taking the time to share about your art!
I received an invitation from Spanish pianist Rosa Torres-Pardo to attend a private screening of a new film documentary about the composer Enrique “Enric” Granados (1867-1916) at the Juilliard School in New York City. The film is entitled “El amor y la muerte: Historia de Enrique Granados “ and is directed by Arantxa Aguirre. The […]
Reading poetry seems to be a lost art these days. Many people cannot even identify a favorite poem or poet because they haven’t read any, or it has been so long since they read poetry (in school). Yet, verse and lyricism are alive and well everday in our music and in some cultures, are inherent in the language. I remember being told as a student that “In Latin America everyone is a poet.” I found this to be largely true–and I encountered a figurative, metaphorical and elegant way of expressing oneself, especially by the “old-timers,” whether in Spanish or Portuguese. I think of the expression (now mostly outdated) in Brazil, “Qual é a sua graça?” for “What is your name?” “Graça” means grace and referred to the name you were baptized. What a multi-faceted word! Grace could mean a blessing, to be blessed for example. Then there are secular compliments that extend from it, such as “graceful” or “with grace.” But it almost always signals something positive. When used in daily life, it seemed so special and poetic to be asked that (as opposed to “Qual é seu nome”) because of all the possible associations or references to “grace” that would be set off in my mind.
On Tuesday October 23, 2018, I was treated to 80 minutes of poetry and inspiration in the middle of the afternoon at Drexel University in Philadelphia. These moments and this context, felt like an oasis, a respite, in an otherwise busy work day. Salgado Maranhão, a Brazilian poet and composer, and his translator, Alexis Levitin, had been invited to Drexel to give poetry readings. Dr. Miriam Kotzin, of the English department, organized two readings, one at 2:00 pm and one at 3:30 pm. I attended the 2:00 pm reading. I arrived a few minutes early in time to briefly chat with Salgado and Alexis in Portuguese. From the moment I met them, I felt welcomed. Because of their engaging personalities, I anticipated an exciting reading. Between the two of them, they have written and published many works–poetry, music and translations. Salgado is also a phenomenon since he wasn’t formally educated until he was 15. He sure has caught up and gone above and beyond in terms of his writing abilities and production!
Both recited the “same” poems from two books, Blood of the Sun (Sol Sangüíneo) and Tiger Fur (A Pelagem da Tigra), first in the original Portuguese (Salgado) and then in the English translation (Alexis). However, as anyone who has ever translated knows (or who knows both languages of a translated work, and a poem, especially), they are not the same, but two versions or interpretations. There are many reasons for this, including the variation of lexicon in each language to start with. Also, there are artistic choices that the poet made and subsequently, that the translator must make in order to render something similiar to the original. Except, how do you represent or refer to a rhyme in the translation if the words in the second language don’t rhyme when you translate word for word? This is just one example of the challenges that the translator faces. This is particularly accute for poetry, since poetry has so much symbolism and may also include word puns, and all kinds of rhyming and verse schemes. There is no such thing as an “exact translation,” when it comes to poetry.
In this reading, Alexis talked about some of these issues artfully slipped in between their reading of a poem. For example, he mentioned how masculine and feminine adjectives in Portuguese limited the possible meanings in a particular line of a poem, to just one. Meanwhile, this limitation did not exist in English so the potential meanings and interpretations were multiplied. Alexis commented that Salgado LIKED when this happened and did not have problems with exploiting it in the translation. Incidentally, they always discussed these issues before deciding on the translation. If one looks at the two renderings side by side, Salgado’s poem, and Alexis’ translation, there will be more poetic license than what is usually encountered in a translated work. This tight collaboration between poet and translator is not always the case–sometimes the translator has permission to translate a work, but does not have to check in with the poet and has license to just translate as they see fit. Sometimes the poet is already dead or otherwise unavailable. It was intriguing to hear how much collaboration went into the rendering of Salgado’s poetry into English, and how much they were “partners” in this project.
Salgado also spoke about how language reaches its potential and maximum representation of the human soul in poetry, the discovery of poetry as an instrument of liberation, the subtext of slavery and the trauma of opression.
Overall, the event reminded me of the Brazilian literatura de cordel, a popular folk poetry tradition in the northeast of Brazil. Not because of Salgado’s poetry itself, which is quite erudite, but because of the recitation and connection to the oral tradition. Chapbooks or pamphlets of literatura de cordel could be read silently by an individual alone, but very popular was the recitation/reading of the story to sell the pamphlets, or in a circle to an audience, whether at home or in public. In this reading at Drexel, both the poet and translator are aware of this space or displacement between their languages. This creates distinctive translations and interpretations. Nevertheless, it also functions as a creative space where they dialogue with each other and with the audience in the public act of recitation. This brings the audience into the creative process, in the sense that the recitation is performance and an intrinsic part of poetry, and the audience’s participation in the discussion of “metatranslation,” henceforth understanding what goes into the making a translation. This is simliar to the cordel performance, and exagerrated in the breaking of the fourth wall in theatre. This captivating reading emphasized the oral tradition of poetry, by breathing life into the words on a page with inflection and rhythm, and exploring languages in contact and conflict in the act of translation.
Follow Salgado Maranhão on Facebook.
Passport, by Venezuelan playwright Gustavo Ott, is shocking. It had me on the edge of my seat for 65 minutes, as I wished that Eugenia could just be understood, and that the cruel soldier and the sadistic official just had an ounce of decency and would just show some compassion.
Passport is produced by La Fábrica and plays at the The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake for the FringeArts Festival, from Sept. 12-16, 2018. The cast is comprised of Tanaquil Márquez (Eugenia), Alfonso Rey (El soldado/the soldier) and Lorenza Bernasconi (la oficial/the official). Passport, directed by Alfonso Rey, is one of the most intense and mesmorizing productions that I have recently seen in Philadelphia.
Despite being a newly formed company (about 1 year old), the production values were high. The program, in the form of a passport, accompanied me on my journey into a world that was both familiar and unknown. The audience is treated as part of the drama, since we had our “passports” stamped as we went into the theater. We all had the proper documentation and were allowed to pass the border, but “Eugenia” was not.
Tanaquil Márquez was stellar and thoroughly convincing as Eugenia. Her acting is gripping and her delivery in Spanish, idiomatic and well projected. This is a challenging role. There is upper body nudity and the character displays many emotions. Based on this performance, Márquez deserves to be seen on the important stages of Philadelphia at least. Lorenza Bernasconi and Alfonso Rey were both compelling in their roles, making it a tight ensemble.
The set, lighting and sound were designed by Márquez and Rey and were perfect for the unfolding of this encounter, allowing the acting to be the focus. The set is almost bare but for a few realistic props and furniture, and the lighting is stark and dramatic. Especially effective was the sound design which utilized recorded music and other noises. For example, the drops of water which fell into metal buckets onstage punctuated the soundscape and the action.
To my ears, the lyricism of the script was exquisite and well delivered by the ensemble. The attempts to understand each other were like mind puzzles. I saw the opening performance at 4:00 pm which was in Spanish. (The shows alternate between Spanish and English, and there are some which are “coin toss.” You find out what language it will be in after you arrive). What makes this work so impressive is the clash between the poetry, the beauty of the language, and the violence of the situation, and how these two elements are depicted. For me personally, this has always been the hallmark of a great work of art–that Gustavo Ott was able to take something bad, an ugly dehumanizing experience and make it into this play is sublime.
Passport was written in the 1990s, but problems of migration and crossing borders are still happening. Tyrannical regimes still exist and military and other officials who cross the line between the humane and inhumane, unfortunately permeate the news every day. The mistreatment of people at the border is a current issue in our country.
Passport is a must see for those who embrace more intellectual theater, latino plays, and/or who care about the migration issues. I look forward to seeing it in English too. Passport could be anywhere or everywhere. La Fábrica draws attention to the problems and abuses with this moving production.
Running time: 65 minutes, no intermission.
Passport plays from September 12-16, 2018, by La Fábrica at The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake.302 S Hicks St. Philadelphia, PA 19102 For more information and to purchase tickets in advance: go online
“Americans are a whole hemisphere.” That was Nestor Armando Gil’s response to a question about PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts), the oldest “American” art museum and school in the United States, exhibiting SWARM., which consists of art in collaboration by a Cuban-American and Haitian immigrant and their workshop. He meant that “America” included all of us from South America, Central America, the Caribbean and North America, and he clearly stated that PAFA is exactly where the art should be. Since both Armando Gil and Didier William, who teamed up to create the works in SWARM are immigrants in the United States, whether one considers “America” to be all the Americas or just the “United States,” their work is part of the “American” tradition. On August 4, 2018, at PAFA, the two artists and the guest curators of the exhibition, Laurel McLaughlin and Mechella Yezernitskaya, both from Bryn Mawr College, discussed the process and works in SWARM.
There are already articles and reviews about SWARM., which is at PAFA from June 30-September 9, as the exhibition opened over a month ago. There is a a detailed online document about it available at: pafa SWARM. For this blog post, I will write about a few salient ideas from the presentations and panel discussion.
Both artists were surprised at how much of their work was complementary and how they were influenced or inspired. Both related to the spirituality and myth of their ancestry–santería in Cuba and vodu in Haiti. Even though Armando Gil had never used printing in his art (he is more of a performance artist), this became a common artistic language between the two. William’s work is detailed with an eclectic use of print and painting, and somewhat representational (with a lot of abstraction) but as he says “illegible.” I liked the skill and technique in both painting and printing that embodied William’s works, and that one could identify certain figures, yet the meaning was open to interpretation.
I wasn’t able to see the performance of Armando Gil’s “Boca,” but for sure it must have been shocking. In this installation he lies on the floor and substances that symbolize Cuba are poured into his mouth: sand, coffee beans, sugar and tobacco.
Armando Gil also spoke about his performance piece “El Panadero.” In this one, he made 1500 copies of a bag that said “CUBANO BREAD” and baked bread to put in them. He explained that the bilingual play on words could be rearranged to mean “Cuba no bread,” relating to the poverty on the island or “Cuban Bred,” born and raised Cuban. He went to Barcelona (where his grandmother had lived after leaving Cuba) and stood in a plaza with a baker’s hat on, and no shoes. He sang the baker’s song “Panadero, pan gratis” (Baker, free bread) and gave away the bread. His performance pieces tend to be “ritualizations of passages.”
Armando Gil paid more attention to the visual aspect in his pieces while working with William. His tobacco prints evidence that:
There are various sculptures in the exhibition, which show Armando Gil’s influence in the collaboration:
When asked about “theoretical influences”, William cited Frantz Fanon, among others and Armando Gil referenced Reinaldo Arenas (fiction), Bell Hooks, and specifically the book Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism, by Bell Hooks and Amalia Mesa-Bains.
SWARM. Forging individual and collective identities across diasporas, dislocations, and reformations is on exhibit in the Historic Landmark Building at PAFA in galleries on the first and second floor.
Those who read my blog and those who know me personally, know that I have a passion for theater in Spanish, from the great works of the Spanish Baroque and Golden Age and zarzuela, to contemporary Latin American and Latino plays. I have had the pleasure of attending Bodas de sangre and also Azul, bilingual productions that were performed in Philadelphia. Tanaquil Márquez was instrumental in both of them (as well as others). I caught up with Tana and these are her exact words to questions I had about her involvement in bilingual theater in Philadelphia.
Deslumbrar: Tell me about the history of La Fábrica and your role in it. Why was this company created? What productions have you done so far?
– La Fábrica is a very new company, not even a year old yet! After Yajaira and I finished The Duende Cycle, a project I worked on with Eliana Fabiyi for the 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, we formed a great friendship, which shared the love of bilingual theater. From there we worked on a show called Ni tan Divas ni tan Muertas by Indira Páez, which was produced three times around the city. Shortly after we created La Fábrica. Yajaira and I who both work as Artistic Directors and Producing Managers for the company. We felt like there a void that needed to be filled for the growing local Latinx community. There was such a beautiful response from the audience who saw Duende and Divas in their native language (Spanish) that we felt compelled to really establish something here in the city. By producing strong and bold bilingual theatre, we hope to be a vehicle for social communion and positive change in Philadelphia. Our past shows include Azul, which was written and directed by me, exploring Picasso’s blue period through live Flamenco music and dance; and A 2,50 la Cuba Libre, written and directed by Ibrahim Guerra about 5 ficheras working in a bar. Both shows were revived in the winter, with the help of Jose Aviles directing A 2,50 la Cuba Libre in February.
Deslumbrar: La Fábrica has a production in the upcoming Fringe Festival (September 2018) in Philadelphia, called PASSPORT, by Gustavo Ott from Venezuela. Why this play?
-PASSPORT is current, important and poetic, diving into the question of immigration and exposing the mechanics of language and power. It is a very NOW show that we hope will captivate the audience, while raising awareness of our current immigration crisis.
Deslumbrar: What future projects do you have in mind for La Fábrica?
-Definitely more Lorca! We want to explore Tanyo Saracho and Stephen Adly Guirgis as well as the theme of immigration. Yajaira and I are also developing a one act on the more comical side called Tu Gringa, Yo Chama. This is definitely a must see. It mixes the American and Venezuelan culture and humor very well, also anytime Yajaira opens her mouth she is hilarious.
Deslumbrar: Are you looking for sponsors, donors, actors, or production staff? How can those interested contact you?
We are always looking to grow our team! Specifically, for PASSPORT we have teamed up with Free Migration Project, an organization whose mission is to support immigrant communities and to advocate for the right of all decent people to freely migrate. You can donate to support both companies here https://freemigrationproject.org/la-fabrica/. We are also hosting a fundraiser on Thursday, August 16 from 8-11pm at La Fusion Lounge, 1136 S 11th st. It is a Latin Dance-A-Thon, will be a very fun time with amazing prizes!
For anyone who is interested in what we do and how they can be a part of it please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
La Fábrica is looking for your continuous support, in whichever form you can give, so that bilingual theatre can be a fixture in Philadelphia, allowing Spanish and English voices to speak and Spanish and English ears to hear in a constant communal dialogue.
Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company, performing at Temple University, presented an innovative festival of electroacoustic premieres to a packed audience on July 29, 2018. The Festival, which opened on July 26, btought to Pressler Hall at Temple University, a program including, Radiance (Jon Paul Maysee), The Sun Gate (Carlos Johns-Dávila) and Pacamambo (Zack Settel). Each of these three works utilized technology in a distinct way. Besides showcasing computer orchestration, amplification and visual projections, these pieces also complemented each other in their inspiration and narratives. (Check Deslumbrar for interviews with the composers last week)
Radiance, which featured bassoonist Dominic Panunto, is based on Christian scripture passages: (Genesis 1:2), (1 Kings 17), (Luke 9:28-36), (Revelation 21:19) and (Exodus 34:35). Lighting effects were generated by the bassoon which were filtered through a computer program. Most of this composition consisted of long sustained notes played by the bassoonist, with corresponding flashes of colored lights in discs and a large space on the ceiling above the musician. For both Radiance and The Sun Gate, performed in the orchestra practice room, the audience was invited to sit on three sides, either on chairs or on the floor. In Radiance, the sole instrumentalist and the visual projection were the center of attention.
In contrast, the audience seemed to become part of the performance of The Sun Gate. There was a lot going on and so much to watch in this piece. The mirrors, projections, and 360 degree camera, bounced images on the walls AND on the people sitting on the floor or in chairs, who surrounded the “stage” where the dancers and musicians performed. Two flexible and engaging dancers, Morgaine A. De Leonardis and Elisa Hernandez, starred as the Incan gods Viracocha and Inti. In addition to the movements they did on the floor, I also found myself watching their shadows on the wall, which intersected with the geometric patterns that were projected. This created another depiction or layer of the story, which had been carefully researched and based on Incan mythology. I interviewed Carlos beforehand, so I was excited to hear and see him play the Quenacho flute that he had purchased in Perú. The flute provided a sense of authenticity to the piece, and I would have liked to have heard more of it. The melody played on the piano near the end recalled Andean tonality and reminded me somewhat of indigenous music I’d heard played on panflutes in the past. This mix of the European and indigenous is key to Carlos’ approach and inspiration. The world created in sound and image (human and geometric) was definitely creative and otherworldly and something I would like to experience again now that I know what to expect. I felt teased by the actual live music included in The Sun Gate and wanted to hear more. The colorful moving geometric patterns, the live dancing and the careful positioning of real roses on the floor were entrancing. Vishaal Ravikumar (Lighting/Projections Designer) and Sarah Celona (Set Designer) are to be commended for their work on this multifaceted production. Here is a clip from its New York premiere:
Pacamambo rounded out the trio with another spiritual narrative, this one about death and the afterlife. This comtemporary opera focuses on a young girl Julie (Carly Baron) and how she handles the death of her beloved Grandma “Marie-Marie” (Gillian Booth). Other parts were sung by Max Avery Vitagliano (The Psychiatrist), Andrew Shaw (Le Chien) and Julia Bokunewicz, (La Lune). Isaac Dae Young was the Music Director/Conductor, Carolyn McDemus (Assistant Music Director), and Jon Paul Mayse handled the electronics. Pacamambo utilized computer technology in a more subtle way than the other pieces. It consisted of additional instrumental parts and harmonies. These were programmed by the composer and passed on to the Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company to use in their performance. Since I also sing opera, I try to avoid reviewing operas and singers (conflict of interest) but I must say that the conductor and cast were astounding in their commitment to render this score and their performances were exquisite. Pacamambo was sung in French and they never missed a beat. It was obvious to any musician in the audience, that this was a challenging score but the cast and conductor handled it with aplomb. The subject as well was quite a departure from traditional Western European grand opera and I was impressed that these young singers held their own in a genre that they probably have not had much experience in (since it is not mainstream) or regularly performed in opera companies or conservatories. The chamber environment suits it well and the audience recognized the dedication and skill of the cast and production crew with a standing ovation.
In my opinion, the score should be revised a bit, cut and pared down, swapping some of the “rap” for a more lyrical accompanied recitative. The “rap” idea was fun at first, since it was different, but the composer definitely could write some harmonies and melodies, and did that well in Act 9. The constant raps tended to slow down the action. The story itself is compelling and although it is a short opera, of only 1 hour, the lack of dramatic tension and release in the music, as well as dynamic and tempi changes, made it drag in some places. That was not the fault of the singers or the conductor. A revision of course, is a task for the composer, not the singers or conductor, to consider.
All in all, Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company is to be congratulated for taking a risk and staging three relatively new electroacoustic works to an enthusiastic Philadelphia audience. I welcome your comments and discussions about these performances! Please write something if you were there at one of the performances and want to contribute your thoughts.
In elementary school most of us learned about the Incas, the indigenous people who Spanish “conquistadores” encountered in what today is called “Perú” in South America. Every year visitors from around the world travel to Machu-Picchu in the Peruvian mountains (the Andes) to hike and experience these famous ruins. Some people go for the adventurous trekking, some for cultural reasons, and others consider it a spiritual pilgrimage.
Peru still fascinates. The legends of the Incas remain prominent in the contemporary globalized and fast world, passed down through their descendants. Some even speak their language, quechua. Imagine being able to experience an Inca festival, recreated for the 21st century, right here in Philadelphia?
From July 26-29, 2018, Live/Wire Opera Company presents three works: Radiance, Pacamambo and The Sun Gate. (See my previous interview with Jon Mayse for a general overview of the evening). Earlier this week I spoke with Peruvian-American composer, Carlos Johns-Dávila, about his piece, The Sun Gate. Following is a summary of our interview:
Deslumbrar: Carlos, thank you for agreeing to speak with me about your piece, The Sun Gate. First, I’d like to know a little about your background and inspirations. How did you get started in music?
Carlos: So far I have had essentially two revelations about music. The first was when my mom took me for my first piano lesson at age 6. The second was when I applied to Interlochen for boarding school. I ended up attending for my last two years of high school, which really exposed me to completely new contexts for music and culture. There was some, but not much in my hometown. Anyway, I applied to Interlochen initially as a piano performance major. However, the level of competition is very high and I realized I might be over my head. Nevertheless I went to the audition, and eventually was offered admission as a composer! I had been dabbling in composition as a child and in my lessons I kept intentionally tweaking the piano scores (when I played them), to the dismay of my piano teacher. It wasn’t conscious then, but those were early indications of my composition talents. Right before I applied to Interlochen, I had won a competition for piano composition held by York Symphony Orchestra in Pennsylvania.
Later I attended Temple University in music composition and there I was exposed to electronic music. There I met Jon Mayse who is artistic director of Live/Wire and also a composer. What I like about it is that I can be original with electronic composition and blend it with acoustic instruments. Because my Peruvian ancestry is important to me and inspires me creatively, mixing the archaic and the contemporary is appealing. It reflects me: “What does it mean to be a Peruvian yet living in the United States?”
Deslumbrar: What is The Sun Gate about?
Carlos: This will be the second production of The Sun Gate. I set out to do one large scale production each year. I wanted to focus on myth, religion and ritual. The premiere was at Areté Gallery in Brooklyn, NY on June 9, 2018, curated by Melinda Faylor.
The Inti (Sun) Raymi (Festival) is the solstice for the Incas. It usually occurs in June, which is summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the southern. This festival is enacted in Perú but it is not the same as what the Incas did—that was lost in colonial times. What I’m doing, and what is done now in Peru is based on the writings of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, who lived from 1539-1616.
(Video trailer of Inti Raymi Festival in Cuzco)
The performance includes two dancers, a 360 camera, the Quenacho flute and computer. Visual arts and dance have inspired me over the years. My Peruvian roots and composers like Eric Satie and John Cage have too. I appreciate these composers’ work because of its unique combination of strategy and artistry. Their pieces are captivating with depth.
Deslumbrar: Thank you for the interview. I look forward to attending the performance.
Check out more about Carlos on his website, https://www.newperuvian.net/ where you can see photos, videos and music samples.
For more information and tickets to the performance by Live/Wire Opera Company, July 26-29, 2018 at Temple University,