Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Report back on WGS's Inaugural Lunch Multimedia Presentations!

WGS/BU's inaugural Lunch Discussion of the 2016-17 academic year featured multi-media presentations by Vrinda Varma, Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Research Fellow, and Diana Garvin, Visiting Scholar. This event was hosted at The Center for Gender, Sexuality & Activism of BU and co-sponsored by GaIDI (Gender & International Development Initiatives) of the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis. 

Vrinda Varma's work on food narratives from Kerala informed her lunch discussion presentation on September 21st. By situating the emergence of food and cooking narratives in print media, Vrinda deciphered the politics of textually creating a “woman’s place,” in the Kerala of the early 20th century. The late 19th and early 20th centuries are largely seen as periods of ‘modernism’ and ‘renaissance’ in Kerala Society. However, as is the case with history from across the world, this project of modernism and reformation seems to, by and large, ignore women. Vrinda says that at a time when Kerala society was transforming itself and ridding itself of ancient practices of caste, untouchability and problematic land-lease arrangements along with certain practices of marriage and conjugality, women’s needs and wants took a back seat. In the void created between the demands for a better society (for men) and the largely silent/silenced voices of women, emerged a new textuality— that of domesticity. This new domesticity sought to define the ideal mother, ideal wife and textualized ideals of femininity and womanliness within the private space of the home. Vrinda elaborated on how this new domesticity, hitherto alien to a majority in Kerala, was established through food narratives, recipes and other allied discussions on food as love, care and motherhood.

Diana Garvin's presentation on East African women's domestic labor in Fascist-period Italy was complemented by dramatic photographs illustrating the themes in her talk entitled: Black Milk: Colonial Foodways and Intimate Imperialism. Diana shared the following summary of her talk's main points:

This talk uses original Italian and Ethiopian sources to examine breastfeeding in the colonial marketplace as a key plank in the social construction of race and racism.  Specifically, I will examine the Italian Fascist regime’s propagandistic newsreels and unpublished photographs of Ethiopian markets in Addis Ababa, Harrar, Quórum, and Asmara in relation with postcolonial oral histories and architectural studies of these spaces.  While breastfeeding represented a significant arena of political struggle over the care and nourishment of future generations in the colonies, contemporary historical studies rarely examine this practice as a primary component of imperial foodways.   This stance builds on Kyla Wazana Tompkins’ assertion that food confuses physical borders between the self and racial others.  My talk contributes an intersectional approach to the discipline by using breastfeeding in the marketplace to investigate the Fascist regime’s twinned seizure of food and women’s bodies, a mode of cultural erasure that bell hooks refers to as “eating the other.”   Interweaving the voices of vendors, customers, architects, and government officials in this image-based study of Ethiopian marketplaces not only helps to untangle the filmic decisions and techniques that directors used to construct race and racism through mass media, but also offers a more cohesive portrait of women’s daily lives in Italian East Africa under Fascism.  Ultimately, I contend that the marketplace provided a powerful symbolic arena for forming, shaping, and perpetuating the racial thinking that defined Ethiopian and Italian people, markets, and foodways in terms of black and white. 

Why Breastfeeding Matters to the Study of the History of Gender and Race:
Breastmilk is almost every human being’s first food, and it is certainly mankind’s oldest. No time, space, or additional actors stand between the food producer and the food consumer. The mother feeds as the infant eats – because these actions are simultaneous, breastfeeding simplifies and essentializes all other foodways.  Although we rarely think of breastmilk as a food or breastfeeding as a foodchain, they most certainly are. Investigating breastfeeding as a foodway – or, to coin a term, as milkways, distills the complexity of local, regional, and national foodways down to the most elemental form: a one-to-one exchange of nutrients, fats, and proteins. Just as breastfeeding provides a key to unlock the meaning of foodways, milkways can also be used to denaturalize breastfeeding as a cozy, domestic act insulated from political meaning. Economic, social, and political concerns do not stop at the transom of the home, but rather intensify as they are enacted through cooking, feeding, and eating. This talk provides a historical case study analyzing breastfeeding as a foodway, an approach that demonstrates how public and the private spheres of life merge at the level of the everyday.  

Italian Breastfeeding Photography as a Case Study for the Creation, Dissemination, Use, and Afterlife of Racist Tropes:
Italian portrayals of both Black wetnursing and breastfeeding speak to larger issues of how race and racism are constructed and consumed.   Eroticism and anthropology constitute two planks of this racist platform.  But I believe that there is one more element in these images that helps to explain how these images shaped and propagated racism: these images are, ultimately, about intimate forms of feeding.  Their focus on the nutritive capacity of the Black female body points to both a fear, and a desire to ‘eat the other.’ In her essay of the same title, bell hooks figures this concept as the modern-day equivalent of ancient religious practices, wherein one person could embody the spirit and traits of another by consuming her heart.  Applying this concept to Italian representations of Black and White, I argue that nourishing and feeding across racial lines unravels all bodily essentialisms, and ultimately reveals the constructed nature of race.  French gastronome Brillat-Savarin said, and Italian epicure Artusi repeated, “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.”  And therein lies the root of the Fascist regime’s fear:  how different were the colonizers from the colonized, if white bodies drank black milk?

L to R: WGS's Dr. Diane Balser, Humphrey Fellow Mahmoud Mohammadi, Dr. Ellen Rovner of the Brandeis WSRC, and WGS Visiting Scholar Dr. Diana Garvin; standing, Fulbright-Nehru Research Fellow, Vrinda Varma
The speakers were introduced by Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney, UNITWIN Director at WGS/BU, and the talks were followed by lively interactions with Fellows of the Hubert H. Humphrey Program at BU hailing from six countries, Resident Scholars of the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center (WSRC), WGS Faculty, interested BU students, and greater Boston community members.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

WGS Lunch Discussion: Food, Mother, & The Woman in East Africa and Kerala, India

WGS/BU's first Lunch Discussion of 2016/2017 will feature WGS/BU Visiting Scholar, Diana Garvin, discussing her project focused on East African women’s domestic labor in Fascist-period Italy, "Black Milk: Colonial Foodways and Intimate Imperialism"; and Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Research Fellow at WGS/BU, Vrinda Varma, discussing her research on the "Construction of Women’s Identities and Food Narratives" in Kerala, India. 

The luncheon discussion, sponsored by WGS and hosted at the Center for Gender, Sexuality & Activism, will take place from noon till 1:30 on September 21st. This event is co-sponsored by GaIDI (Gender & International Development Initiatives) of the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center. Event flyer here.

About the speakers (Source: WGS/BU):

Diana Garvin has her PhD in Romance Studies from Cornell University. Her previous work examined the transnational history of Fascism across Italy and Italian East Africa (modern-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia) through Gender Studies and Critical Race Studies. In particular, she used food as a lens to examine the daily negotiation of power between East African women and the Italian state, demonstrating how bids for nutrition and taste speak to broader questions of gendered forms of labor, the social construction of race and racism, and what is at stake in the struggle for control over food production and consumption. 

Vrinda Varma is a Doctoral Fellow at Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kerala, India, and an Assistant Professor of English at Sree Kerala Varma College, Thrissur, Kerala. Vrinda is currently working on her doctoral dissertation that studies the construction of women’s identities in relation to food narratives. Her work is primarily focused in her home state of Kerala, where she examines how narratives of food (de)construct, maintain and perpetuate gendered identities for women. Her areas of interest include Food and Food Culture, Food and Gender Roles, Food History, Culinary Writing, and Magazines and Readership.

Painting by Raja Ravi Varma, "There Comes Papa" (1893)
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Now published: Carrie Preston's latest book, Learning to Kneel!

In August 2016, Columbia University Press published Learning to Kneel: Noh, Modernism, and Journeys in Teaching by Dr. Carrie Preston, Director of WGS and Co-Coordinator of our UNESCO/UNITWIN

Carrie shared with us the following glimpse of her latest work:

"Learning to Kneel traces the lessons, collaborations, and translations that introduced Japanese noh drama to the twentieth-century artistic movement called modernism. Noh captivated famous Euro-American artists, including Ezra Pound, W. B. Yeats, Bertolt Brecht, Benjamin Britten, and Samuel Beckett. They collaborated with an international cast of artists who taught them about noh, often while directing, choreographing, or performing in their productions. Preston reintroduces to modernism figures like the Tokyo-born dancer and theater artist, Ito Michio, who performed with Pound in dance-poem recitals and in Yeats’s famous noh adaptation, At the Hawk’s Well. Ito took the play on an international tour that influenced Japanese modern and traditional performance.  

Traditional Noh Performer Furukawa Mitsuru, with whom Carrie studied in Tokyo
(Photos from the personal collection of Dr. Preston)

Previous accounts of modernism and noh emphasize the errors in, for example, Pound’s noh translations or Yeats and Brecht’s exoticism and misunderstandings of the noh plays they adapted. Preston’s different approach stems from her experience taking lessons in noh performance technique with a professional actor in Tokyo. This “study abroad” encouraged her to reconsider widespread assumptions about error, misunderstanding, and success.

Noh pedagogy is devoted to preserving a repertory of plays transmitted for centuries from teacher to student in a hierarchical relationship – symbolized for Preston by the decorous and painful practice of kneeling before the teacher to bow, receive instruction, and practice chanting. After initially assuming noh lessons would feel humiliating, Preston found herself experiencing the value of and pleasure in submission to an authority and training regimen. Her tendency to emphasize innovation and subversion (which were of little use in noh lessons) had encouraged her to overlook the complex ranges of agency and empowerment regularly experienced by teachers and students.

Learning to Kneel is a book about journeys: noh’s journey across modernist stages and back to Japan; the international circulation of noh texts and tours of plays; the bodily techniques performers carry across national borders; the travel, even tourism, by which modernist artists encountered noh and – albeit in some limited way – its challenges to western ideas of agency; and Preston’s journey to Japan for noh lessons, where learning to kneel taught her new approaches to teaching and learning."

Below is an illustration of Preston performing a dance from the noh play Hagoromo.


UNESCO/UNITWIN joins in congratulating Carrie on this exciting and innovative work, notably on her book Learning to Kneel  published in 2016! See the volume website here: http://sites.bu.edu/learningtokneel/

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Publication of the Humphrey Fellowship Program at BU's 1st Research Report!

The Humphrey Fellowship Program at BU recently announced the publication of its first-ever research report titled Wealth, Poverty & Opportunity in the 21st century. The report is jointly sponsored by the BU Center for Finance, Law and Policy and the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program at BU – also a UNESCO/UNITWIN Network Affiliate. This report on financial inclusion across the globe spotlights case studies by Humphrey Fellows, an Associate Professor of the Bunker Hill Community College, and our Fulbright Nehru Doctoral Fellow at BU’s Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program – Vrinda Varma. Vrinda’s article on the women-based participatory Kudumbasree (‘family prosperity’) initiative and BU Humphrey Fellow Nermin Helmy Ali Ahmed’s on village savings and loan associations and their impact on women’s empowerment discuss similar stories of female entrepreneurship and financial literacy in their home countries of India and Egypt respectively.

Kudos to CFLP and HHHP plus their partners on this publication! Full report available here:

Vrinda’s article talks about Kudumbasree, the poverty education program launched by the Government of Kerala, India which is doing wonders for the women of the state. The Kudumbasree is an umbrella term for many initiatives undertaken, developed and run by women’s self-help groups in Kerala. A community-based organization, Kudumbasree is engaged in the setting up and running of small-scale enterprises as well as service centers, including but not limited to community banks, canteens, cafes and food processing units. A success story for women around the world, more on Kudumbasree’s activities can be found here: http://www.kudumbashree.org/?q=home

Above is a photo of Kudumbasree workers in front of their canteen at Kannur University, Kerala. Many university canteens, as well as canteens at government centers, are operated by Kudumbasree in the state of Kerala. 

Photo and inputs for this account: courtesy Vrinda Varma

Saturday, July 2, 2016

You are invited to a WGS Co-sponsored Event!

Free and open to the public: please feel free to share!

Photo courtesy Patrizia Guarnieri


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 https://flic.kr/s/aHskxTQHdW 

"'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: http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/RL/traditional-brass-and-copper-craft-of-utensil-making-among-the-thatheras-of-jandiala-guru-punjab-india-00845

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: http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/publishing/product/making-sense-of-food-exploring-cultural-and-culinary-identities/).

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