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RAP NEWSLETTER  //  No. 018  //  January 30, 2020


WHAT'S INSIDE


  • RAP Featured Event: Unbreakable Resolve: Free-Dem Foundations at USC!
  • Calendar: Roski MFA Closing program, Moly Kane, Jane Kaisen, and more.
  • RAP Chats: Interview with Neelam Sharma of Community Services Unlimited!
  • Art On View: Art+Practice and Hammer Museum collaborate on Collective Constellation...
NOTE: Welcome to the eighteenth edition of the RAP Newsletter, an occasional publication from RAP USC, an interdisciplinary collaborative funded by the Provost and the Price School of the University of Southern California, researching the intersection of race, arts, and placemaking. For more information about us visit the RAP Website and to submit newsletter items for inclusion email us. —The Editors

FEATURED EVENTS


RAP FEATURED EVENT
UNBREAKABLE RESOLVE: BUILDING FREE-DEM FOUNDATIONS 
THU, FEB 6 @ 12:30pm
Location: Wallis Annenberg Hall, Room 106

Initially introduced by our kickoff talk with George Lipsitz in September, we dive deeper to learn more about the Unbreakable Resolve of Jerome Morgan, Robert Jones and Daniel Rideau, who will make a powerful presentation about mass incarceration and their efforts to rescue young people from its grasp. Morgan, Jones, and Rideau served a collective total of nearly 50 years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola before courts ruled that they had been unjustly incarcerated and sentenced. While in prison, at a time when it appeared they had no real chance to be free, they made a pact to one day reunite in New Orleans to set up a cooperative business and mentoring program that would serve young people in danger of being swept into jails and prisons. They enrolled in a prison education program, studied law, and learned trades. With the help of allies outside prison walls, including the Innocence Project, they won their freedom. Today Morgan, Jones, and Rideau run the Free-Dem Foundations, a non-profit, community-based youth organization in New Orleans that fulfills the vision they created while incarcerated. Their presentation will cover their own personal experiences with incarceration that they have delineated in their co-authored book Unbreakable Resolve, as well as a report on the curriculum, mentoring, business star-up and apprenticeship programs they are implementing. Moderated by USC Annenberg Professor Cristina Visperas. RSVP for the free lunch event HERE.


CALENDAR


SUN FEB 2 @ 2PM // ONE NEVER REMEMBERS ALONE CLOSING PROGRAM
ROSKI GRADUATE GALLERY
Organized in conjunction with the exhibition one never remembers alone, this day of events gathers artists, scholars, curators and educators to critically engage with themes explored within the exhibition. The program includes a keynote presentation, a panel with artists and curators, and a roundtable discussion. Topics of discussion include: kinship and collective memory; personal narratives and storytelling; cultural archiving; and the phenomenology of remembrance. Don’t miss this final opportunity to view the exhibition organized by the 2020 MA Candidates in the Curatorial Practices and the Public Sphere program at the USC Roski School of Art and Design: Loujain Bager, Eve Moeykens-Arballo, Bianca M. Morán, Carlo Tuason and Joseph Daniel Valencia.
TUES FEB 4 @ 7PM // URBAN AFRICAN CINEMA: MOLY KANE
ALBERT AND DANA BROCCOLI THEATRE, SCHOOL OF CINEMATIC ARTS 112
Shot and produced in the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal, the short films of Moly Kane are part of a new generation of work coming out of the country known as the birthplace of African cinema. Trained at Ciné-Banlieue in Pikine, Dakar, and now a teacher himself, Kane is deeply committed to ethical storytelling through film. His Africa is not one of tragedy or of triumph. Instead, his films tease out the complex experiences of disability, gender, health, migration, globalization and body politics of those living in the Global South today. Presented by USC Visions and Voices and co-sponsored by the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, the Levan Institute for the Humanities, and the Black Alumni Association.
THURS FEB 6 @ 8PM // 4TH ANNUAL FEMME FRONTERA FILMMAKER SHOWCASE
ECHO PARK FILM CENTER
Powerful narratives, dreamy sequences and nightmarish landscapes abound in the groundbreaking films of the 4th Annual Femme Frontera Filmmaker Showcase, organized by El Paso­-based filmmaker Angie Reza Tures. This program includes experimental, documentary and narrative Latinx shorts made by female-identifying filmmakers from El Paso, Texas; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. The films in the Showcase provide personal and unique perspectives about the border communities they represent. 

FRI FEB 7 @ 7PM // COMMUNITY OF PARTING SCREENING AND Q&A 
HUMAN RESOURCES
MOCA and GYOPO co-present this special screening of Community of Parting (2019) by Jane Jin Kaisen. The film traces a different approach to borders, memory and aesthetic mediation. Deriving from Kaisen’s extensive research into Korean shamanism since 2011 and her long-term engagement with communities affected by legacies of war and division, the film is composed of imagery filmed in Jeju Island, the DMZ, South Korea, North Korea, Kazakhstan, Japan, China, the United States and Germany. The screening will be followed by a conversation between the artist and Crystal Mun-hye Baik, author of Reencounters: On the Korean War & Diasporic Memory Critique (2019). Community of Parting was recently exhibited at the 58th Venice Biennale Korean Pavilion.

SAT FEB 8 @ 6:30PM // RECLAMATION: AN EVENING OF RADICAL EMBODIMENT
PIETER PERFORMANCE SPACE
Dancing Diaspora, a group of local artivistas, is dedicated to honoring, sharing and reimagining dance practices of the Latin and African diasporas in dialogue with local and global histories of cultural resistance. Take joyful loving ownership of your body! Join us for an evening of movement, body mapping, drinks, snacks and radical dialogue as we deep-dive into the core values of the Dancing Diaspora Collective. Partake in embodied conversations around identity, body and the impact of our collective reclamation.

SAT FEB 15 @ 2PM // MAYAN DANZA DEL VENADO
HAMMER MUSEUM
Danza Maya Aipop Tecum offers a sacred Mayan Deer Dance, part of ceremonies throughout the Guatemalan Highlands, in which the deer step forward to offer their flesh so that humans can live. Dancers wear deer skull headdresses, antlers or masks. Danza Maya Ajpop Tecum is a Maya-Quiche dance group living in Los Angeles with family lineage in Olintepeque, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

 

SUN FEB 16 @ 4PM // SUKI SEOKYEONG KANG ARTIST TALK 
COMMONWEALTH AND COUNCIL
Suki Seokyeong Kang will conduct a walkthrough of her solo exhibition, face, presented at Commonwealth and Council. Through her sculptural practice, Kang meditates on embodied time and what remains of a life – the inherited yet unencountered past, salvaged or created, transposed across time and space. Kang’s assemblage sculptures, which include stacks of wooden frames, steel lattices enclosing a woven reed mat (Hwamunseok), or a tight grid of lines and squares set into a porthole, entangled with spidery threads, suggest the warp and weft of perception. Circled Stair-1-1 #03 distills Kang’s memories of her beloved grandmother in geometric abstraction with arcs recalling the curvature of a back bowed by a war-riven life. Meanwhile, a photo-portrait of Kang’s grandfather, its front side averted as though he himself were turning his back on us, imparts a synecdoche of a family member who passed before Kang was born, leaving only this anonymous impression and her father’s nostalgic accounts from which to piece together his past. Kang’s idiosyncratic logic parses instincts and impressions, yet the oddly banal homespun vestiges of human existence, both personal and generic at once, persist and accrue like so many whispers out of time. The show is on view through March 7, 2020. 

THURS FEB 20, @ 4PM // USC AFRICAN AMERICAN LEGACY MURAL PROJECT OPENING CEREMONY
FISHER MUSEUM OF ART
RAP seed grant community partner, LA Commons, has partnered with USC’s Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs (CBCSA) to paint a mural in that celebrates the history of African Americans at USC. Our youth are working closely with USC alumni, staff, and students to understand and infuse the Black Trojan experience into the mural’s design. Stay tuned for more information about the legacy murals opening ceremony.

THURS FEB 20, @ 5PM // CONTEMPORARY CHINESE DIASPORIC FICTION: EXPLORING AND EXPLODING IDENTITY
USC JOYCE J. CAMMILLERI HALL
Join us for a reading and conversation with four outstanding Chinese writers whose works upend the notion of a monolithic Chinese identity and uncover a much more complicated story about the diversity of Chinese diasporic experiences in America: 2017 National Book Award finalist Lisa Ko (The Leavers); crime-writer-turned-YA-author Ed Lin (David Tung Can’t Have a Girlfriend Until He Gets into an Ivy League College); Smithsonian Ingenuity Award–recipient Mimi Lok (Last of Her Name); and Max Yeh (Stolen Oranges), whom E.L. Doctorow described as “a writer on a rampage.” Characters in the panelists’ recent books include an undocumented single mother who gets deported – leaving her 11-year-old son behind; a 16-year-old boy whose social life revolves around weekend Chinese school in New York City’s Chinatown; a kung fu-fighting teenage girl in England; a homeless granny roaming the streets of Japan; and seventeenth-century Chinese emperor Wanli, who corresponds across the world with Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. Presented by USC Visions and Voices.

SAT FEB 29 @ 7PM // BOOK LAUNCH AND READING BY CECILIA VICUNA AND CAMILA MARAMBIO
HUMAN RESOURCES
Authors Cecilia Vicuna and Camila Marambio read from their book "Slow Down Fast, A Toda Raja." This book centers two indigenous mestizas from Chile – Camila Marambio, a curator, and Cecilia Vicuña, an artist-poet – who engage in a translational, intergenerational dialogue on de-colonial, non-sexist perceptions and experiences in sessions conducted in Santiago, New York and Melbourne, Australia, where they live. Tune into the Raja, the slit, the opening, the tear between your legs – to take its pulse. Slip out of time and slide into the cosmic current. Wiggle loose from the grip of the worldview based on monetary currency and swim the laps of what we really are. This event is organized by Clara López Menéndez with the support of CalArts and the Herb Alpert Award.


RAP CHATS


NEELAM AND FRANÇOIS
in conversation with Dulce Ibarra

During our most recent RAP community meeting in December 2019, USC faculty members talked with their community partners about the pleasures and challenges of collaborating. We present these conversations as part of a new series of RAP CHATS in our newsletters to share what we have been collectively learning. (You can view our previous RAP CHAT with Chelo Montoya of LACMA here.)

Neelam Sharma is Co-Director of Community Services Unlimited who has had on-going collaborations with Professor François Bar of the USC Annenberg School.
Dulce Ibarra is RAP's RA and a USC Roski MFA Student.

Community Services Unlimited Inc. (CSU), was established in 1977 and headquartered in South Central Los Angeles by the founders, affiliated with the Black Panther party, as a way to provide material community self-empowerment. CSU has many community programs and organizing campaigns like Safe Seniors, Free Medical Screening Program, and From the Ground Up. CSU has also provided fiscal sponsorship and support for many grassroots organizing efforts ranging in diversity from Police Watch, Community in Support of the Gang Truce, and Food Forestry International. Until recently, they had a community garden program on the USC campus. The collaborations discussed in this interview include the Healthy Food South LA Map project and the programming celebrating the opening of the Paul Robeson Community Wellness Center on Vermont Ave.

NS: My history is not one of being from nonprofit organizing or being an academic. Prior to CSU, I had a working life in different places. I had been doing that nine-to-five grind like most people in jobs and also been a committed activist all my life. I come from very grassroots, community-based organizing, whether it be around certain issues of racial violence, police violence, state violence or simply things that are community issues. I did a lot of work at one point around domestic violence with a community that I grew up in. So that’s who I am and that’s where I come from.

I kind of fell into the role of being CSU ED; it was not something I ever wanted to do. I have been a volunteer, program officer, an executive director and now have just moved into the space of co-director at Community Services Unlimited (CSU), a local nonprofit for the last almost 25 years.

FB:  Many of my current projects, at least the ones in LA, involve collaborating with somebody in the community. Sometimes it’s organizations like CSU and sometimes it’s with individuals. The collaborations usually come from happy accidents. In the case of working with Neelam, I was introduced to CSU by one of our PhD students. Gary Broad was spending a lot of time with CSU and wrote his dissertation on the organization and somebody said, “Hey, you should check these people out.” So, I went to meet with Neelam, and she gave me an hour-and-a-half interview. It felt like she wanted to get a sense of where I stood and what I would be like as a partner. I think I passed and then we started to work together.

NS:  So, this interview that Francois mentioned, it’s that I’ve had a lot of experience throughout my life of communities being let down and used time and time again by academic institutions, by the nonprofit world, and by foundations. You have to have a very innate suspicion. It wasn’t anything personal about François, but it was more about the idea that if we’re going to be in relationships with these entities, then we want to do our bit to ensure that at least the relationships we are involved include shared resources. We want a back-and-forth and not just that extractive process that so often occurs. And the relationship has been great, obviously, because we’ve worked with each other time and time again.

FB: Most of the work we’ve done together has involved projects that engage the city in some fashion, that engage issues of justice, especially food justice, and that try to find a common ground where people can engage. We’ve done things like work together to create a map of healthy food in South LA that involved Neelam’s organization, some of our students and some people from the community. We organize family events, in this case bike rides with music. It has to be something that people enjoy doing and that draws in the community so that there is a result that is a tangible product. In this case, it was a map, something that tries to survive and make a difference in the neighborhood.

DI: I really like that approach. Even though suspicion is suspicion, we have to remain skeptical. But it’s great that you found a relationship with RAP and an alliance with USC. What is needed to make collaboration work between all these community organizations and universities like USC? Where are some challenges or opportunities to face together?


NS: The first thing that comes to my mind is bureaucracy. You know, the bureaucracy of the academic institution, especially a monolith like USC, is huge.


FB: Practical examples like what Neelam’s organization does is food: they grow food, cook food and feed people. And for a long time, we were trying to figure out how can we hire them to cater some of our events instead of hiring from the bureaucratic vendor list. And that took forever. We had to work hard to get CSU to become an approved vendor. And even now, it's still difficult. I keep reminding people that CSU is an option; try them and you get food that’s grown within half a mile of campus!

Another important example is this last semester when our class project, a collaboration with CSU, was to reimagine a bus shelter that’s right across from CSU. The only way to do that was for students to actually take the bus and go spend time in the neighborhood. Very few of them had ever taken the bus. I gave them all TAP cards to look at with wonderment and then they decided they didn’t want to do that. I think that goes to a broader issue, which is to me an important component with all these relationships, which is to break down the barrier between the university and the community. And that’s really, really hard because of institutions and bureaucracy, and because of the fact that when these students come here, they tend to be drilled in to fearing the neighborhood. You have to overcome that. And it’s not just them, it’s their parents.

NS: We have large groups of USC students come out and essentially tell us that one of the first things they are told on campus is, “Don’t go beyond these streets.” However, I would say 95 percent of the time, the reaction is actually very positive. We’ve had people say, “Oh, these are just ordinary people!” In addition to the kind of media-created stories about South Central, there’s also been very active fear creation through this recent wall construction. My son grew up in this neighborhood and he and his friends would regularly come to USC for social activities, to ride their bikes, to do whatever. And that became more difficult with the wall going up.

And I think it’s how you ultimately think about safety. Parents who don’t know better are going to be concerned about their kids’ safety. But it’s this bigger conversation we need to have as a society. We see it on a bigger level with the whole gun debate: how do you actually ensure safety in a community? Is it by putting up walls and creating armaments and security guards and so forth? Or is it actually by spreading resources and creating this idea and reality that the existence of this institute in our neighborhood is actually helping everybody, that, in fact, it’s adding to the community. If people’s children and families are benefiting in some way from the fact that this institution exists in their neighborhoods, that’s how you actually build safety. You don’t build it by just putting up walls. In fact, what I think I’ve seen is a growing hostility to USC, almost diametrically in line with the ramping up of the walls.

DI: So, I want to move on to the next question: How do you see a connection between race, arts and placemaking?

NS: Any place is defined by the people who live in it and by the history that that place embodies. And where you have people, you have art. Whether it’s recognized or it’s got a museum in its name is neither here nor there; art finds a way wherever there’s humanity. I think on a very basic level, that’s the connection between those things. But then obviously there are ways in which that is acted upon by outside forces to the detriment, once again, of traditional communities of color.
 
FB: Two spring to mind, one of them being how art can be used as a way to address issues of place and racism. I think in much of the work we’ve done together, it’s somewhat different in the sense that the art is used as an excuse to get together to create connections and relationships. And it’s not so much this mosaic that the students did for the bus shelter. It’s not like the art will inspire people to change their minds or anything. It’s just that this was a collaboratively made piece created during a community event. My students worked with kids from the neighborhood to actually make that mosaic. There is something fundamental about one USC student working right next to a kid from the neighborhood, putting everything together in a physical act of making together. They are having conversations and then their parents are having a conversation.
 
It’s also not about having experts come to teach something; they have never done the mosaic before. They’re just figuring it out together. And that creates a conversation. I think to me, one of the fundamental issues about racism in this country is that people have no opportunities to meet different people. If you ask an average white person how many black people they know and how many black people have they invited to their home for dinner, usually the answers are very, very low. There are ways you can create a conversation, and art is a good way because you don’t actually have to be an expert. Art is the process of creating conversations.
 
NS: Something about the process of being in tactile creation together is extremely transformative. The kids that planted the trees on Normandie 15 years ago are now grown up with kids of their own. I sometimes get texts from them saying, “Hey, I drove by the school. The trees are still there!” And there’s something about that that sort of creative process, whether it’s planting, creating art, creating a mandala, etc. It can be transformative. It can also work to disenfranchise communities. But what we’re about is trying to use it to do the opposite of that.
 
FB: I think the great thing about RAP is not so much that we have lots of resources, because we’ve got almost no money in the grand scheme of things. But it’s a way to maintain conversations and relationships. It creates a network among the people that do similar work. And it’s just those conversations that is the true motto.
 
NS: But it’s also using those minimal resources in a really effective way. One of things we really wanted to do with the Paul Robeson Center was to get a lot more people to know who Paul Robeson was. RAP was able to help fund a series of events and help folks have some sense of Paul Robeson. It’s a myth that you need a lot of money to make a lot of change. You need some resources and you need committed people with clear ideas.


ART ON VIEW



JAN 25 - MAY 5 // THE BODY, THE OBJECT, THE OTHER

CRAFT CONTEMPORARY
Craft Contemporary’s second clay biennial examines contemporary ceramic practices that use the human figure as the starting point for material and conceptual experimentation. The exhibition presents works from both emerging and established artists that actively challenge traditional notions of representation. Works in the exhibition include sculptural objects, site-specific installations, and performative works. With this elastic understanding of the self in mind, the artists included in The Body, The Object, The Other approach the theme through unconventional and oftentimes abstract means, drawing from postcolonial, feminist, queer and craft theories. Ideas about the body are overlapped with performative expectations and issues surrounding identity.


FEB 8 - APR 4 // LOADED: ICONOGRAPHIES OF ASIAN AMERICA
ART SALON CHINATOWN
LOADED: Iconographies of Asian America features artworks that bring history, legacy and tradition in dialogue with life in the US in the present day. LOADED is inspired by the wealth of accumulated connections and contexts that problematize any simple definition of “Asian America” as a lexicon of representation, described in part and inadequately by nationality, ethnicity, geography, language, belief systems, economics and many other factors. LOADED highlights the multivalent positionality of Asian American artists by providing a platform for their wide-ranging iconographies to be seen and considered together. Artists Cirilo Domine, Việt Lê, Sandra Low, Thinh Nguyen and Michelle Sui are featured in the exhibition with film, painting, drawing, textile and installation work.


FEB 8 - AUG 1 // COLLECTIVE CONSTELLATION: SELECTIONS FROM THE EILEEN HARRIS NORTON COLLECTION
ART + PRACTICE
Art + Practice and the Hammer Museum present Collective Constellation: Selections from the Eileen Harris Norton Collection. This exhibition draws from philanthropist, art collector and Art + Practice co-founder Eileen Harris Norton’s collection, showcasing a selection of artworks by women of color. The exhibition seeks to highlight an intergenerational, multi-ethnic group of trailblazing artists who have profoundly impacted the landscape of contemporary art. Works range from painting and sculpture to video and installation, and include artists such as Shirin Neshat, Betye Saar, Doris Salcedo, Amy Sherald, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.


FEB 9 - MAY 17 // WHERE THE TRUTH LIES: THE ART OF QIU YING

LACMA
Few artists in Chinese history have proven as enigmatic as the great Ming dynasty painter Qiu Ying (1494–1552), whose life and art reveal a series of paradoxes. Though one of the most famous artists of the Ming period, almost nothing is known about his life. He is said to have been illiterate, yet surviving evidence demonstrates elegant writing. He is said to have had few followers, yet he was the most copied painter in Chinese history. Where the Truth Lies grapples with such issues as artists who cross social boundaries, literacy and the importance of connoisseurship in determining quality and authenticity. This will be the first exhibition on Qiu Ying ever organized outside of Asia. In addition to masterworks by Qiu Ying, the exhibition will include works by his predecessors and teachers, his daughter Qiu Zhu, and followers from the early 16th through the mid-20th century.


FEB 28 - AUG 23 // SULA BERMÚDEZ-SILVERMAN: NEITHER FISH, FLESH NOR FOWL
CAAM
In her first solo museum exhibition in Los Angeles, LA-based artist Sula Bermúdez-Silverman unites several bodies of work created since 2014, including a new series of sculptures made exclusively for CAAM. Bermúdez-Silverman mines her personal and familial histories as a woman of Afro-Puerto Rican and Jewish descent, transforming genetic data into colorful pie charts that call to mind hard-edged abstractions. Elsewhere, she embroiders vintage doilies with her own hair to depict the human body, as well as language that references the legacy of colorism and passing in the African diaspora. In another series, she creates quilts of clear plastic grids filled with found trash fragments from neighborhoods where she has lived, which function as markers of specific times and geographical locations. In the works debuting at CAAM, Bermúdez-Silverman addresses early global trade, the beginnings of commodification, and economic hierarchies by taking molds of her childhood dollhouse and creating casts of it in sugar, a material whose history has dictated that of her ancestors.

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