All posts by vishakhadarbha

Project Onward Helps Disabled Express Their Art

By Vishakha Darbha

William Douglas has been creating art since he was a child. But unlike other children, he stayed away from the company of people. As someone who battles social anxiety, Douglas found a haven in Project Onward, a not-for-profit studio and gallery for artists with physical and developmental disabilities.

Video: William Douglas narrates his life story as he creates a bouquet of flowers, at the Project Onward Gallery. (Vishakha Darbha/MEDILL)
Photo on Top: Douglas’ final piece: A bouquet of flowers bought by Robert Darnell for his wife Susan, on Mother’s Day. (Vishakha Darbha/MEDILL)

Flash: An intercultural conversation between Butoh and Hip-Hop

By Vishakha Darbha

Interdisciplinary artist Michael Sakamoto is one half of Flash, a Butoh/Hip-Hop duet performed with street-dance choreographer Rennie Harris. The show, which played at Columbia College Dance Theatre earlier this month, examines the body as a state of crisis.

But for Sakamoto and Harris, Flash is also a public conversation between Butoh and Hip-Hop, and between their respective Japanese-American and African-American identities.

In this video, Michael Sakamoto narrates his journey from greenroom to stage, as he explains the importance of intercultural conversations.

Butoh is a form of Japanese dance theater that emerged after World War II, primarily through the efforts of Hijikata Tatsumi. It evolved as a rejection of mainstream 1950s Japanese society and was part of a growth of a more avant-garde expression. The dance focuses on the body, depicting various emotional expressions, often contradictory, that make up the human spirit, such as terror and desire.

Sakamoto has been creating his own art for about 18 years. He says it plays between external and internal elements like the body and the image, the perceived and the projected.

Apart from Butoh, he is also a performance studies, dance studies and cultural studies scholar and a full-time professor at the University of Iowa.

Michael Sakamoto and Rennie Harris perform ‘Flash’, a dance theater that is conceived as a ‘conversation’ between Sakamoto’s Japanese American and Harris’ African-American approach to exhibiting a body in crisis. (Vishakha Darbha/MEDILL)

Indian Museum rises out of neglected neighborhood of Johannesburg

By Vishakha Darbha

Salma Patel walked through the two spacious rooms in her museum in Johannesburg, pointing to the black and white pictures lining the creamy walls. Each framed photo depicted moments from a bygone period, illuminating the story of a multi-racial community and its  Indian bazaar that fought against eviction on racial grounds.

Patel is the curator of Fietas Museum, created as an ode to the historic 14th street of Johannesburg. Once bustling with traders and families chatting on verandahs while sipping their evening tea, today the area is defined by the brick skeletons of abandoned homes on land left overgrown and fallow. Patel’s museum, also her residence since 1987, rises from the decrepit landscape. It is a brightly colored building, designed in the style of Malaysian houses from the 19th Century.

Continue reading

Palestinian music director conducts Persian Concert for packed house

By Vishakha Darbha and Hannah Gebresilassie

Emotional, passionate and a musical genius are just a few words used to describe Wanees Zarour.

Born and raised in Ramallah, Palestine, director and composer Zarour leads the Middle East Music Ensemble at the University of Chicago, which was established in 1997.

His “Persian Concert” at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts drew a packed house with over a dozen people sitting on the floor and a handful standing in the doorway to observe the Feb. 27 performance. This was the second of three Persian concerts. The third will be held in the summer.

Composer and director Wanees Zarour shares his music and his journey from Ramallah, Palestine to the United States. (Vishakha Darbha & Hannah Gebresilassie/MEDILL)

Zarour’s journey as a musician began at seven, when he learned to play the violin in Ramallah. He moved to the United States when he was 16.

Today, Zarour primarily embeds Middle Eastern music traditions, including Arab, Turkish and Persian throughout his music. His musical expertise is evident in the way he transcribes complex pieces, including those that lack notation.

The 45-piece ensemble includes a wide range of Middle Eastern instruments, including the oud, tar, santour, sitar, setar and qanun. The ensemble is composed of community members and students, whom Wanees has been directing in the ensemble for six years.

Photo at Top: Palestinian composer and director Wanees Zarour at The Persian Concert held in Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. The concert was held on Feb. 27 (Vishakha Darbha & Hannah Gebresilassie/MEDILL)

Cantonese opera strikes a chord in Chinatown

By Vishakha Darbha

The Chicago Public Library hosts a Cantonese opera every Wednesday and Saturday, performed by the Zhaoqiu Chinese American ART Center. Opened last August, Chinatown has seen a growth in the number of new institutions, including a Park District Field House.

Chicago invested $19 Million in building the library. It is designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which also designed New York City’s One World Trade Center. This was part of the Chinatown Community Vision Plan, a step toward investing in the area. Chicago’s Chinatown is thriving, unlike others in the rest of the nation, with the population increasing by more than 25% from 2000 to 2010.

The Chinese-American community in Chicago has recently been energized by various political events. A large crowd of Asian-Americans came together to protest against NYPD officer Peter Liang’s conviction on Feb. 20, while 2nd District State Representative Theresa Mah has emerged as the first Asian-American legislator in the Illinois General Assembly.

Asian-Americans share their perception on the increasing visibility of the Chinese-American community, during a Cantonese Opera performance at the Chicago Public Library (Vishakha Darbha/MEDILL)
Photo at Top: Cantonese Opera Performer at the Chinatown Branch of the Chicago Public Library (Vishakha Darbha/MEDILL)

Buna: The Art of Making Ethiopian Coffee

By Hannah Gebresilassie and Vishakha Darbha

Most college students use coffee to survive long nights and tedious assignments, but in Ethiopia and Eritrea, coffee means much more than that.

Ethiopia, globally known as the birthplace of coffee, is famous for “buna,” a coffee-making ceremony that involves roasting, grinding and brewing beans while partaking in a community-oriented tradition. Proper social etiquette includes smelling the roasted beans before they are ground and having three cups of coffee with the people present.

“Abol” is the term used for the first cup, “Tona” is for the second and “Baraka” is the final cup. Sugar and salt can be added but usually not milk.

Continue reading Buna: The Art of Making Ethiopian Coffee

A tale of two schools on protest day

By Vishakha Darbha and Bian Elkhatib


eachers, parents and students gathered across the city Wednesday to protest Chicago Public Schools’ budget cuts.

The Chicago Teachers Union helped organize the demonstrations in nearly 200 schools, demanding more funding for teachers and extra-curricular activities. Other issues included smaller classrooms and a decrease in standardized tests.

Medill checked out the protests at two very different schools located within five miles of one another.

Continue reading

Moody Bible student embraces his Dalit roots to help others

By Vishakha Darbha

When he was 12, Abishek Jonathan visited his ancestral village in Tamil Nadu, India, and was disheartened to learn that his relatives were denied permission to build a church. The reason: being a “Dalit,” or an untouchable.

Jonathan heard about the case of Dalit Research Scholar Rohith Vemula committing suicide Jan 17 at the University of Hyderabad, India, about two days after it occurred. According to Jonathan, issues related to the ancient caste system have been swept under the rug instead of being dealt with in the urban parts of India.

“The sentence that stood out for me in his suicide note was ‘my birth was a fatal accident.’ That really hits the nail on the head,” said Jonathan, on Feb. 8, at the Moody Bible Institute Commons, where he’s pursuing a degree in Biblical Exposition. “He felt an aching emptiness as a child. There may be millions of Rohiths who are silent right now.”
Continue reading

An art piece is worth “34,000 Pillows”

By Vishakha Darbha

Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perera watched over the makeshift sewing studio at Soul Asylum, an art exhibition focusing on immigrant stories of struggle.

Perera is one half of an artist duo, with Cara Megan Lewis. Together, they call themselves Diaz Lewis. At Soul Asylum, their interactive artwork is titled “34,000 Pillows,” inspired by the 2007 congressional mandate that states that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) must maintain a quota of 34,000 detained immigrants per day in 250 centers around the country. “34,000 Pillows” is an on-going project, made by old clothes often donated by former detainees. The studio at Soul Asylum also allows visitors to contribute to the pillow-making process.

The exhibition opened on January 22 and will continue until March 26. It is being held at Weinberg/Newton gallery, previously known as David Weinberg Photography, in collaboration with Human Rights Watch. Other artists in the exhibit include The Albany Park Theatre Project, Jenny Polak and Tania Bruguera.

Artist Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perera, in collaboration with Cara Megan Lewis, explains the inspiration behind his interactive artwork “34,000 Pillows” (Vishakha Darbha/MEDILL)
Photo on Top: Artist Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perera stitches a pillow, part of his on-going project “34,000 Pillows.” (Vishakha Darbha/MEDILL)