Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Carrie Preston’s Powerful Play Zahdi Dates and Poppies Graces the Stage for the First Time

On March 30 and 31, 2016 in the Tsai Performance Center at Boston University, Theatre Nohgaku performed the world premiere of Carrie Preston’s Zahdi Dates and Poppies. In an aesthetic conglomeration of noh-inspired content, costume, choreography, and choral accent, Zahdi Dates and Poppies filled the theatre with echoes of violence, pain, beauty, and acceptance. Directed by Jubilith Moore, Preston’s poetic play tells the contemporary story of an Iraqi insurgent who confronts the American Marine who took his life. Although Preston does not consider Zahdi to be a noh play, she draws from the ancient structure of the noh warrior play in which the ghost of a defeated warrior returns to tell a story. Under the musical composition and direction of David Crandall, Zahdi captivated the audience through a stylistic combination of "guttural tsuyogin (dynamic) chant" (source: Playbill) and floating harmonies that seemed to transport spectators to a liminal space between two worlds.

Preston spent several weeks with the cast of Zahdi over the past summer in Amherst workshopping and revising the play, particularly refining the relationship between the husband and wife who reunite after months of separation while he was deployed as a pilot in Zaidon, Iraq. The international, noh-trained group, Theatre Nohgaku, staged Zahdi and made Preston’s play text into something all their own. Preston was very pleased with how Theatre Nohgaku transformed her poetry into the evocative and artistically complex production that graced the Tsai stage. As a poet, Preston drew on her prior training in noh methodology and performance techniques to write Zahdi.

Along with the noh-inspired storyline, Japanese paper flower art fashionably inspired Zahdi’s costuming. The papery white, scarf-like bow of the wife and the angular armor of the husband served as moving canvases for the multitude of shifting lights and colors dancing across the stage. While delicate in design, the costumes mirrored the papier-mâché hanging ornaments that at times seemed like clouds, smoke, countries or continents on a map, or even ever-changing thought-bubbles in the dreams of the wife and ghostly insurgent. Unconventional for the noh stage, the hanging cloud-smoke-bubbles artfully accented the black and red flag pillars, which evoked the traditional four pillars of the noh stage. The overall set design and lighting created a dreamlike atmosphere that took the audience into the minds of troubled wives and soldiers.

Even more eerily dreamlike yet still incredibly captivating was the use of drum calls or kakegoe. These calls functioned as part of the musical and rhythmic atmosphere that seemed to keep everyone on stage together. Many times the drums matched the movement accompanying the song and dance on stage almost in a metronomic fashion. The “yo-ing” and “yeow-ing” of the drum players produced the phantasmagoric sensations of the sufferings of the insurgent, the warrior, and their wives that struck at some of the most painful effects of the violence of war.

Carrie Preston's play, a poetic product of intense discipline and attention to detail, truly reached the core of what violence and death mean for families on either side of war. The peaceful resolution of the play left the audience in great awe of the power of forgiveness and the quiet beauty of hope. Even after the final curtains were drawn, the soldier and wife’s slow march toward an unseen exit both haunted and mesmerized the crowd indefinitely.

By Nicole Rizzo based on an interview with Dr. Carrie Preston
Photographs by and copyright Casey Preston

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Honorary BAHS Board Member Liane Brandon Exhibits "Lift: Women Powerlifters" at Faneuil Library Gallery

UPDATE: Photos from the reception at this amazing Exhibition can be found on our UNESCO/UNITWIN Flickr page here 

"'Lift: Women Powerlifters,' Photographs by BAHS
Honorary Board Member Liane Brandon at Faneuil Library Gallery

Liane Brandon's exhibition, 'Lift: Women Powerlifters,' is currently on view at the gallery of the Faneuil Branch, Boston Public Library. A reception for the artist will be held on Tuesday evening, April 12th, from 6 pm till 7:30 pm.

LIFT is a series of photographs celebrating four women powerlifters - women who defy physical and cultural stereotypes. They range in age from 27 to 60 and they are smart, interesting and strong. They have all won regional, national or world competitions. Lodrina is a forensic computer expert who weighs 123 pounds and can lift (an astonishing) 385 pounds. She just placed first in national competition. Jessica has a bachelor’s degree in kinesthesiology. Candace is a mom, the lead singer in a band, and a national titleholder. Jane, the oldest, is a grandmother who went to Wellesley College. She holds four world records.

Liane Brandon is an award winning independent filmmaker, photographer, and University of Massachusetts/Amherst Professor Emerita. Her photography credits include production stills for Unsolved Mysteries and the PBS series American Experience, Nova, and American Masters. Her photos have been published in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, and many other publications.

Excerpt from: The Brighton-Allston Historical Society's 2016 Spring Newsletter by Ronni Komarow. BAHS is an Affiliate of the UNESCO/UNITWIN Network. 

Below, a glimpse of Liane Brandon's exhibition, sponsored by The Friends of Faneuil Library, now on display through early June at the BPL's Faneuil Branch Gallery in Oak Square, at 419 Faneuil St., Brighton, MA 02135: 

Brenda Gael McSweeney's snaps of Liane Brandon's photographs on view at the Faneuil Gallery

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Celebrating the recognition of Intangible Cultural Heritage with Yaaminey Mubayi

We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Yaaminey Mubayi, a Founding Member of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network, during her visit from New Delhi to Boston University’s WGS on March 16th. She spoke of her excitement that her nomination dossier concerning a community of metal workers was approved by UNESCO-Paris. The following observations are drawn from a personal interaction between Yaaminey, Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney and Nicole Rizzo, as interpreted by the latter.

L to R: Nicole Rizzo, Kaatyaayani & Yaaminey Mubayi, Jaho King, Vrinda Varma
Yaaminey shared the following ideas:

The hand-based work of copper and bronze utensil making of the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, a small urban settlement on the outskirts of Amritsar, India near the India-Pakistan border has gained national and international recognition through its inscription on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2014. For the first time, a traditional craft community’s metal work has received recognition from UNESCO as distinct from the performing arts in India. Yaaminey believes this is a first step, but a strong first step toward taking on the process of reviving a dying process of craft and intangible cultural heritage and achieving sustainability, through this recognition as the common heritage of humanity.

Contrary to the assumption that the significance of the Jandiala Thatheras lies in their overall uniqueness, perhaps their real value lies in the traditional knowledge systems, skills, craftsmanship, and overall manufacturing processes that have been passed down hereditarily for generations, she emphasized. Yaaminey went on to exclaim that the UNESCO listing beautifully encapsulates the craft and work ethic of Punjab as part of the intangible heritage complex of social, symbolic, and ritual practices (apart from the skills of making utensils). Yaaminey hopes this exciting victory will impact other crafts in India since there is a continual loss of skill and workmanship, where both Indian and global society are losing the whole complex of values, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding the manufacturing of craft and the sector of hand piece work.

Flourishing during the reign of the former monarch of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Thatheras’s vessels and utensils used to be widely utilized by the general public. Now they are increasingly marginalized due to the major manufacturing industries such as stainless steel and aluminum. Traditional craft was and is dying due to competition with a variety of industries and cultural resistance to hand piece craft. 

Yet, there is hope that the UNESCO recognition will increase the heritage value of craft. There has been a boost in tourism interest and of the local press within Punjab and India. The Punjab government has taken major steps so that hopefully more mechanisms will be put in place for organizations for crafts people that will help empower them. For Yaaminey, “the glass ceiling needs to be broken” so that the heritage value of craft can be recognized. 

Compiled by Nicole Rizzo from the 16 March interview with Yaaminey Mubayi and Yaaminey’s publications; photos courtesy Yaaminey

See also:

While in the Greater Boston area, Yaaminey also gave a seminar March 29th at Harvard University's South Asia Institute-Cambridge, MA on Water and Sacred Spaces: A Case Study of the Ellora-Khuldabad-Daulatabad Region.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

New Publication by Vrinda Varma, WGS Fulbright-Nehru Scholar

We are pleased to share that our WGS-based Fulbright-Nehru Scholar, Vrinda Varma, has an article entitled "The Food-Woman Connection: Is Food Really a Woman’s Thing?" in the recently published Making Sense of Food: Exploring Cultural and Culinary Identities. The editors of this volume published by the Inter-Disciplinary Press are Sally M. Baho and Gregory A. Katsas. They write that "While each piece is characterized by an internal balance of theoretical, empirical, and methodological approaches, each explores food as it relates to some unique aspect of society, culture, and/or the human condition. All put together, the nine chapters “cook up” an understanding of food in its true multi-layered character" (source:

As Vrinda shared about her chapter,

"Food and taste have traditionally played a major role in literature as ways of preserving tradition and creating communal spaces. However the recent expansion of the popularity of food writing, food based T.V. shows, and the obsession with what to eat and what not to eat warrant an exploration into the politics of food and gender. Cooking, feeding, and serving have traditionally been ascribed to women and any mention of food seems to inexplicably invoke the feminine. This chapter argues that this very process of subconsciously invoking the female in relation to food is a product of active and purposeful discourses in popular media that attempt to provide no space for a woman (or a man) to break out of the stereotypes. This chapter looks at how food-women connections are created in deliberate, persistent manners in popular media, especially in advertisements and magazines."

For her doctoral research, Vrinda is exploring how narratives about food, including recipe books, women's magazines and food advertisements (de)construct, maintain and perpetuate gendered identities for women, notably in her home state of Kerala, India.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Irish Immigration to the US, notably Brighton/MA

The Irish Pastoral Center with the Brighton-Allston Historical Society organized an event on Irish Immigration for the "Cara Club" on February 22, 2016. Members came out in force to hear the presentations and share their personal experiences! 

The opening speaker was Jan Cannavan, specialist on the topic of Irish republican women activists and a Brighton-Allston Heritage Museum guide. Jan's talk on Irish Emigration to the US spanned from before the American Revolution (and well before the Great Famine) until the present. She revealed that the largest Irish migration of 3 million people was from 1856 to 1921, and the largest group was single women owing to minimal marriage or employment prospects at home. She indicated that universal Irish education had increased women's aspirations, yet most women migrants became servants in the US with many single women taking on childcare, housework, and some industrial work. 

L-R: BAHS Board Member Deborah Chivers with Event Presenters
Mary McCarthy and Nancy O'Hara
Lifetime BAHS member Mary McCarthy and Nancy O'Hara, BAHS Board Director, shared vivid passages on the Irish coming to Brighton from the book of Town Historian Dr. William Marchione titled Allston-Brighton in Transition: From Cattle Town to Streetcar Suburb.

Many participants then voiced poignant stories and experiences as emigrants to Brighton. These interactions were followed by a tour of the Brighton-Allston Heritage Museum also located in the Veronica Smith Senior Center. 

Watch this space for additional photos of the event. This will be a great and timely backdrop to the upcoming BAHS research initiative on Irish Women Immigrants to Brighton: Experiences and Stories!

L-R: Jan Cannavan, Nancy O'Hara and Mary McCarthy,
all of the Brighton-Allston Historical Society,
a UNESCO/UNITWIN Network Affiliate 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Fulbright Nehru Doctoral Research Fellow now at WGS!

Vrinda Varma has been selected to the Fulbright-Nehru Program to spend an academic year as a Doctoral Research Fellow at Boston University's Graduate College of Arts and Sciences! Vrinda hails from Kerala, India. She is an Assistant Professor in English at Sree Kerala Varma College, Thrissur in her home state. Her doctoral research is on the Construction of Women's Identities and Food Narratives, and she is doing her PhD in Gender Studies at Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit in Kerala.

During her time at BU, she will be continuing with her research on how narratives about food, including recipe books, women's magazines and food advertisements (de)construct, maintain and perpetuate gendered identities for women. Though she will be dealing specifically with food narratives from Kerala, she is also interested in studying the food-woman metaphors in other cultures as well. 

Vrinda is a published author of an English course book series for school children and has translated The Panchatantra (five books of animal fables) from Malayalam to English for young readers. Her areas of interest include Food and Food Culture, Food and Gender Roles, Food History, Culinary Writing, Magazines and Readership, and Young Fiction.

She has recently published a chapter "The Food Woman Connection: Is Food Really a Woman's Thing?" in the volume Making Sense of Food: Constructing Culinary and Cultural Identities (Eds: Sally Baho and Gregory Katsas, ISBN 978-1-84888-011-5).

Welcome and congratulations Vrinda!

Save the Date, 17 March-3pm: Muqadissa Mehreen on Gender Issues in Education in Pakistan!

Beyond the Book Exhibition features record number of events and participants!

The recent Beyond the Book Exhibition IX hosted a record number of events, which attracted participants and visitors from the community and academia alike. Boston University's Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program was pleased to be a sponsor of Beyond the Book IX.

Beyond the Book Exhibition organizer Ronni Komarow (center) interacting at the opening
We reported earlier on the well-attended exhibition launch at the Faneuil Branch of the Boston Public Library. View the flickr photo album here:

This was followed by two Artists' Talks organized by Ronni Komarow, one at the Faneuil Branch and the other at the Brighton Center Library Branch. These generated fascinating interactions between the artists themselves and participants from universities and the community, resulting in fresh ideas to disseminate the goals of a wide variety of entries. One example was a discussion of a work of Helga Felleisen entitled Counting Flatbread; the artists offered suggestions on how to attract yet further support for the featured disadvantaged populations in Syria.

Artist Helga Felleisen with her work Counting Flatbread
An additional event was a practical "hands on" workshop, where participants learned how to create their own "books as art".

Given the success of this series of events, we already look forward to next year's Beyond the Book X!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Honoring Raffi Freedman-Gurspan

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan of our WGS community at Boston University will be receiving a prestigious award at the Massachusetts State House later this month. The Jewish Community Relations Council and the Massachusetts Association of Jewish Federations will confer their Excellency in Advocacy Award on Raffi at a ceremony on February 25, 2016.

Announcement above courtesy: 2016 JCRC of Greater Boston
Raffi worked earlier in her career until mid-2011 as Course and Research Assistant with Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney at BU/WGS (Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program) in the arena of Gender and International Development. Raffi was also Brenda's teaching assistant at The Heller School for Social Policy and Management and her research associate at the Women's Studies Research Center, both at Brandeis University.

Other awardees at the Legislative Reception 2016 on Women in Leadership will be Treasurer Deb Goldberg, Senator Karen Spilka, and Representative Patricia Haddad.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Photo-essay Camp in Uganda on Climate Change and Gender Equity

We were delighted to receive from Cyrus Konstantinakos of the BU Humphrey Fellowship Program, our newest UNESCO/UNITWIN Network Affiliate, the following account of a pathbreaking photo-essay camp in Uganda: 

"December 22nd marked the end of an exciting, twelve-day photo-essay​ camp in Uganda, which was initiated by the Humphrey Fellowship Program at Boston University and hosted by Peace Corps Uganda, with financial support from the U.S. Embassy and participation by the Ugandan Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Alumni Association. Participants included five ​production ​teams of four members—one Ugandan woman, one Ugandan youth who had​ previously participated in Peace Corps programs, one Peace Corps Volunteer,​ and one YALI Fellow. The camp was coordinated by BU Humphrey Program Assistant Director Cyrus Konstantinakos, Humphrey Program Alumni Agnes Igoye and Jovita Tamosaityte, and Peace Corps Uganda staff Phylicia Martel.

A four-day orientation included a photography workshop and sessions on climate change and gender equity as the teams prepared for five days of photography in the field.

Following their fieldwork, the teams returned to Peace Corps headquarters and began producing photo essays introducing topics in Ugandan culture through a female lens that also highlight local resilience in the face of climate change. The essays will be presented in a ​book and photo exhibition entitled Reclaiming the Pearl​.

In May 2015, Cyrus Konstantinakos and Agnes Igoye, one of Peace Corps Uganda’s Let Girls Learn Ambassadors, approached Peace Corps Uganda to collaborate on the twelve​-day Our Global Communities photo-essay c​amp in December. The Peace Corps became a large stakeholder in the camp under its #LetGirlsLearn Initiative, volunteering to host it at its Kampala headquarters, supporting program development​,​ and enlist​ing several Volunteers and their youth beneficiaries to participate. This included seeking out additional staff support and technical expertise from Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Douglas Cruickshank, author of the award-winning photo-essay book, ​Somehow: Living on Uganda Time, and former Peace Corps intern and Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Fellow Martin Muganzi, who currently serves as Secretary General of the YALI Uganda Alumni organization. Martin further ​enlisted five other YALI Fellows. One of them, Cyrus Kawalya, led the camp's ​photography sessions."

Agnes Igoye is Deputy National Coordinator of Uganda’s Anti-Human Trafficking Taskforce, Training Manager in the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control, and a member of the Clinton Global Initiative and Women in Public Service Project (WPSP), a State Department initiative launched under Secretary Hillary Clinton in 2011. 

Cyrus Konstantinakos is Assistant Director of the Humphrey Fellowship Program at Boston University and ​Director of the Our Global Communities project.  In December, he ran the first Our Global Communities photo essay camp in Nicaragua with support from the U.S. Embassy, the University of Nicaragua, and Peace Corps Nicaragua.