Capital Region Artists Receive Community Grants

Capital Region Artists Receive Community Grants

Congratulations to New York Folklore-supported artists who received a Statewide Community Regrant (SCR). These grants from the New York State Council on the Arts, are distributed by community arts partners. In the Capital Region, we are happy to work with the Arts Center of Capital Region.

At a ceremony at the Arts Center, seven folk and traditional artists accepted a combined total of $16,000. The grants will fund workshops, demonstrations, and performances for each artist in their communities and the general public.

Artists worked with New York Folklore’s Edgar Betelu to complete grant applications at the end of 2021. New York Folklore had identified these talented traditional artists as part of the 2021 Upstate Regional Project.

Congratulations to:

Pinya Aung, Karen Harpist

Ehsue Klay Aung, Karen Dancer

Latifa Ali Mohammad, Afghan Embroidery

Jordan Taylor Hill, African Drumming and Dance

Seth Tagoe Traore, Ghanian Drumming and Dance

Shaman Raphel, Pakistani  Harmonium and Singing

Aurelius John, Pakistani Percussion and Flute

 

 

Common Ground: Folk Arts, Cultural Heritage, and Equity

Common Ground: Folk Arts, Cultural Heritage, and Equity

Photo:  Aziz Peerzada and his 11-year old son Saboor perform

a beautiful set of Punjabi folk songs at the 2016 Brooklyn Arts Council Festival.

 

On November 23, 2020,  I attended a virtual Zoom hearing on the decision by the Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC) to cancel its folk arts program, and to lay off our colleague, folklorist Chris Mule.  The artists, folklorists, scholars and community leaders attending spoke with great support and appreciation for Chris’ role at BAC and his work with many artists and communities of Brooklyn. Charlotte A. Cohen, the executive director of BAC demonstrated extensive knowledge and appreciation of the field, and of the relationships that Chris had built over six years in the position.  Nevertheless, she said that the decision to cancel the program was was made for purely budgetary reasons.

The County and Regional Folk Arts programs, among which BAC’s was a prominent leader until this year, were inspired by Robert Baron in his long tenure at the New York State Council on the Arts, as a vehicle to encourage research and programming in folk and traditional arts across New York State.  These programs, in which many of New York Folklore’s board (myself included), staff and members have worked, is of considerable interest to us, both practically and theoretically, as they have offered a window into local culture across many counties and regions, and have been a means to bring to wider attention folk artists and traditions across the state, many of which would not be as widely known otherwise.  During my tenure on the board of NY Folklore, support for these programs has been a central focus.  So it is with great sadness that we see the loss of Brooklyn’s program, which served one the most culturally diverse and vibrant regions of New York State.  In Chris’ time at BAC, he has also led the statewide NY Living Traditions digital initiative, which has elevated the entire field to wider attention.  Our main argument in support the program and ones like it is in order bring equity to arts and culture programming and funding within organizations dedicated to all that is implied in the term “Arts”, they need to be directed by knowledgeable and competent people, who are trained in working across diverse cultures in an ethical and accountable manner.  This is an important part of what a public sector folklorist is, and it is what we encourage in each other.

At the BAC hearing, the representatives talked about replacing the folk arts program with one that one focused on “cultural heritage.”  In so doing, they are perhaps aligning themselves with a term used internationally, most prominently by UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage program.  This term concerns the same thing that we mean by “folk culture” but in the US, the latter term has a far longer and deeper history of research and engagement, as well as a solid footing in the academic and theoretical filed of Folklore.

Late in the two-hour BAC hearing, its program director Desirée Gordon, who is to serve as an interim director of this new cultural heritage effort until funding allows for a new hire, revealed an interesting point about the terms we use.  She cited both community scholars and academics who are adverse to the term “folk,” going so far as to imply a racist bias in the term itself, perhaps one rooted in the Anglo European origins of the field of folklore.   While it is true that the early field did focus on local cultures in Europe, and that some early American folklorists explored the cultural roots of Euro-Americans, tracing English origins to Appalachian culture, for example, nonetheless, over the past sixty years the field has gone to great lengths to widen its purview to the full range of cultures in the US, and the elevation of diverse voices of both master artists and their community supporters.  While it is true that academically trained folklorists are not as diverse a group as the cultures they study and work with, we have sought to diversity our ranks and the perspectives that are at the center of our work.

In this time of reckoning with the racial dynamics of American society and history, perhaps it is inevitable that our field would be seen as yet another manifestation of institutional racism, relegating black and brown cultures to an apparently pejorative lower status that some might interpret the term “folk” to describe.   I know, and my colleagues know, that what we call folk is something we hold in the highest esteem.  Unfortunately, we may be confronting a wider social perception.  Despite our efforts to serve as translators, publicists and advocates for under represented arts and cultures, we may have attracted the wrong kinds of attention to what we do.

Just three months before COVID struck in New York, we at New York Folklore celebrated the 75th anniversary, since our founding as a membership organization to promote an intersection of academic and public sector focus on the diverse traditional cultures of New York State.   We will do everything possible to ensure another 75 years of this work, but our first task is going to involve reckoning with both the challenges of surviving this pandemic and coming to terms with the ugly history that lies behind America’s diversity.  Without equity, perhaps diversity itself is of little meaning.  I am sorry that the leadership of the Brooklyn Arts Council came to their decision before hearing the many voices of the artists and communities who have participated in its programs as well as those of folklorists across the state who have worked long and hard to do justice to the challenges of trying to bring a small measure of cultural equity to a society that otherwise disregards the particular qualities that give our lives some meaning beyond the commercialized and mass mediated versions of ourselves.  We will continue this work, despite the obstacles we face.  We must seek common ground in the spirit of affirmation for all cultures and welcome allies wherever they may be found.

 

Egyptian Saidi Dance

Egyptian Saidi Dance

In this guest blogpost, Dancer and linguist, Torkom Moysesiyan provides a glimpse into the ancient Egyptian dance of Saidi.  Saidi originates in Upper Egypt and is danced by both women and men.

“Saidi dates back to ancient Egypt. It is an Egyptian folkloric dance that derives from the Arabic term, aSSa’yeed, meaning “The Upland,” a geographical area located on both sides of the Nile River in Upper Egypt. The Egyptian Saidi is a martial arts dance that has two variations: altahteeb, performed by men and raqs alaSSaya, performed by women. The tahteeb exemplifies masculinity and a battle scene, whereas in the latter women imitate the combative skills celebrated in the tahteeb.

In tahteeb, performers use a heavyweight stick whereas in raqs aSSaya, women use a light or heavyweight cane, often decorated with beads and sequins. The Saidi movements revolve around striking, spinning, rowing, flipping and twirling. Men performing saidi usually wear a long galabiyya with a turban, and women wear a galabiyaa or long dress with a headscarf. Some of the instruments present in saidi are mizmar (an oboe-like reed instrument), rebaba (a stringed instrument), nay (flute) and tabla (a frame drum with a deep sound). The rhythm of saidi is 4/4, and it can be performed either as a solo or group piece.

The saidi dance from Upper Egypt, known as tahteeb, is important because it helps us learn about the lives of the ancient Egyptians, particularly, how they used it to prepare for a battlefield.  What’s more, the saidi dance was inscribed on the walls of Pharaonic temples and performed with a stick by the ancient Egyptians as a tribute to the Pharaoh.

The late Egyptian dance choreographer Mahmoud Reda, created a theatricalized version of the folkloric saidi dance, known in Arabic as Raqs Alassaya, cane dance, specifically for female dancers, imitating the martial arts movement of the tahtib. Saidi is performed during special occasions such as a wedding, birthday, festival or other related celebrations. Raqs Without Borders, a Middle Eastern and North African dance festival often invites native Egyptian artists in NYC to teach and perform Saidi.”

Follow the link before for an example of the work of Torkom Moysesiyan in a theatricalized version of saidi, adapted for stage, and performed in Rochester in 2017 at  “Tales of Arabia,” hosted by Katrina Scott.  The music is Wala Ya Saidi.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMn2XJnb_B4

 

Torkom Movsesiyan wearing a traditional galabeya with a cane, worn by males performing Egyptian saidi dance from a 2018 dance project in NYC, Raqs Revolution. (photo credit: Tevon Miller).

Torkom Moysesiyan is the director of Torkomada, Inc., a multidisciplinary not-for-profit organization, envisions the indigenous and folk dances of the Middle East and North Africa as an important, but neglected diplomatic tool in cultural diplomacy, especially in U.S.-Middle East relations. Headed by Torkom Movsesiyan, a Bulgarian-Armenian trained by dance legends Morocco and Tarik Sultan, Torkomado focuses on Raqs Sharqi, a traditional Egyptian folk dance, popularly known by its misnomer—belly dance. TORKOMADA is a member of UNESCO’s International Dance Council. TORKOMADA currently conducts academic research on dance, builds dance curricula for after-school programs in NYC, and works closely with a foreign language project, where students studying Arabic language can learn it through Middle Eastern music and dance.

No permission is granted to anyone to print, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, store, display in public, alter, or modify any materials, including but not limited to articles, documents, videos, icons, or images, published by Torkom Movsesiyan or TORKOMADA, Inc.

New Yorkers Honor the Dead through Día de los Muertos

New Yorkers Honor the Dead through Día de los Muertos

The Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a celebration that spans centuries.  In its trajectory through the ages, the celebration has received influences from indigenous peoples, Catholicism, regional differences, and the creativity of those who construct the ofrenda, or altar.

Several elements are typically included on an ofrenda.  Photographs of the departed are the centerpiece, as the ofrenda is built to honor and to invite those who have passed to the other world.  These photos of the deceased are displayed alongside candles, saints’ pictures,  skulls, offerings of food and drink, marigolds, incense, paper cut-outs or papel picado, salt, personal items, crosses, nuts and seeds, and water.

A special bread, pan de muertos, is provided to the deceased and to the living who visit an ofrenda.  Pan de muertos is an essential element that has been recorded as originating in the 16th century contact between Spanish and Aztec civilizations.   José Luis Curiel Monteagudo, in his book Azucarados Afanes, Dulces y Panes, says, “To eat pan de muertos is for the Mexican a true pleasure, considering the cannibalism of bread and sugar. The phenomena is treated with respect and irony. Defying death, they make fun of her by eating it.”    As with the pan de Muertos, each of the items on the ofrenda have their own symbolism that relate to the deceased and their journey back to the living realm.

The three-day celebration of Día de los Muertos takes place on October 31, November 1, and November 2. In New York State, several celebrations are planned in many different locations.  A few locations are the following:

  • New York Folklore, 129 Jay Street, Schenectady presents an ofrenda, designed by community advocate Ana Lorena Diana, with support from the Schenectady Initiative Program and the Upstate Theater Coalition for a Fair Game. New York Folklore’s ofrenda will be available for viewing from October 31 through November 7, 2020.
  • Glow Traditions, in Western New York, invites the public to their ofrenda which will be on view from October 27th through November 1 at the Mariachi de Oro Mexican Grill in Medina, NY, in collaboration with Leonel Rosario. In addition, visitors are invited to the virtual celebration and resource page at https://www.goart.org/glow-traditions/
  • Arts Mid-Hudson, Poughkeepsie, is partnering with the Poughkeepsie Public Library and the City of Poughkeepsie for Día de los Muertos programming. Information and a calendar of events can be found at the Poughkeepsie Public Library  https://poklib.org/day-of-the-dead-celebration-celebracion-del-dia-de-los-muertos/
  • ArtsWestchester, in collaboration with with Edgar and Juana E. Pinyol and the White Plains Public Library, presented Dia De Los Muertos, a program featuring artists from the Mexican, Paraguayan, Bolivian, Ecuadorian, Guatemalan, and Peruvian communities of Peekskill and White Plains.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUvO9A8uH-c&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2vjlvfGiqWUmINMLzIHYDvnNWrxYrkMfyHTTeD0jeCoc6pkdZZxgxe20A
  • Bronx Documentary Center and Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders, 614 Cortland Avenue Bronx, NY have created a special “COVID-19” ofrenda, dedicated to those who have lost their lives to COVID-19.

Finally, visit the web-pages of NYSCA Living Traditions to view videos and other programmatic materials related to Día de los Muertos in New York, including building an ofrenda and making a traditional Oaxacan sand painting.

https://nytraditions.org/digital-heritage/dia-de-los-muertos-ofrendaday-dead-ofrenda

https://nytraditions.org/digital-heritage/oaxacan-sand-painting-dia-de-los-muertosday-dead

For more information or to view images and/or videos relating to Día de los Muertos, visit this beautiful visual documentary site of Dane Strom:

https://danestrom.com/day-of-the-dead-altar-meaning-jalisco-mexico/

Image courtesy of Aurelia Fernandez

New York Folklore Distributes Relief Funds for Artists Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic

New York Folklore Distributes Relief Funds for Artists Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic

New York Folklore is pleased to announce the disbursement of funds totaling $11,000.00 to benefit folk and traditional artists in New York State. These funds are made possible through  the generosity of donors from throughout the United States, including support from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation as well as many private donors.  Private donations were received  through a Go Fund Me Campaign for COVID-19 Relief for Folk and Traditional Artists in New York State.

Thanks to a successful campaign, grant funds of $500.00 or $250.00 will be distributed to twenty-five folk and traditional artists across the state, with each  of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Economic Development Regions of the State being represented by a grant to at least one artist.  The artists chosen represent diverse cultural groups.  They are practicing traditional art that reflects one’s location or one’s membership in a specific population group of New Yorkers.  Haudenosaunee artists were awarded funds, with support going to those who are known for their beadwork, bone and antler carving, traditional music and dance, and splint ash basketmaking from Seneca, Tuscarora, Oneida, Onondaga, and Mohawk nations.   Artists continuing cultural traditions from Puerto Rico, Peru, Mexico, Ireland, Guinea, Ghana, Turkey, Argentina, China, The Republic of Georgia, Algeria, and Tibet received support, as did artists who make art stemming from the African American experience (hair design, gourd instruments, quilting), Adirondack rustic furniture making, and the LGBTQ tradition of ballroom/runway.

Located in Schenectady, New York Folklore works to nurture traditional arts and culture in New York State through education, support, and outreach. New York Folklore envisions a world where the diverse traditions of New York State are fully recognized, appreciated, and supported.  This COVID-19 initiative by New York Folklore recognizes that folk artists who rely on work in the gig economy are suffering greatly during the pandemic. The loss of income is especially prevalent during the summer months, as during this time New York’s communities stage outdoor events focused upon their own community cultural expressions, providing one-time fees for artists’ participation.  The widespread cancellation of performances, festivals, exhibitions, and teaching opportunities has directly impacted New York’s folk and traditional artists.