Archive for the ‘Annual celebrations’ Category

Diwali goes Mainstream

Friday, November 4th, 2016

What does it mean when ancient holdidays, grounded in ethnic identity and religious belief and celebrated by cultural insiders for centuries, are brought to mainstream, high profile venues to be shared, celebrated, and interpreted? Who benefits? What is gained and what is lost when a festival moves from private space (a temple, a home) to a public space (a state house, city hall, or museum)?  How is cultural meaning negotiated?

diwali_statehouse

For the last five years, Amit Dixit, the leading light behind the South Asian Arts and Cultural Council, has organized an annual Diwali lighting ceremony at the Massachusetts State House.

diwali_amitdixit

The invitation to attend describes Diwali, popularly known as The Festival of Lights, as  “. . . the most sacred of Indian holidays celebrated by Hindu communities throughout the world, including those in the Indian diaspora together with worshipers of Hinduism in Nepal, Singapore, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka. The holiday is the embodiment of the supremacy of divine light over spiritual darkness, of knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. Diwali is associated with great optimism, generosity and, most importantly, new hopes for the future.”

Those attending the State House event on October 29, 2016  were a mixture of cultural insiders, government employees, and members of the general public.

diwali_unlit  diwali_lit

An official from The United States Postal Service was present to help unveil the Diwali forever stamp.

diwali_veiledstamp diwali_unveiledstamp

Diwali is celebrated for seven days every autumn. This year Diwali officially began on Sunday, October 30 and ran through Saturday November 5. Mid-way through, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston held its own celebration of  the Festival of Lights. On offer was a splendid variety of South Asian expressive traditions including music, dance, Madhubani and Mithila art making, and a moderated discussion about Diwali in Boston and around the world.

sunanda_holding_bw

family_coloring

Having the MFA celebrate Diwali helps legitimize the expressive traditions of lesser known cultural communities. As Saraswathi Jones (second from left), who grew up in one of the only Bengali families in Grand Rapids, Michigan put it,  “It’s meaningful. It’s validating.”

panel-discussion

In writing about Washington DC’s Latino Festival (1991), Olivia Cadaval says, “The festival transforms physical space into a means to cultural identity. As a temporary center of power, the festival brings together large numbers of Latinos, unifies space, and generates action, during which symbols and traditions are manipulated, cultural forms are given expression, relationships are negotiated, and new social identities are forged.”

Although it’s a vastly different culture and a different time, I believe Cavadal’s observations still hold true. In addition to introducing cultural outsiders to Diwali, the public acknowledgement of  an ancient holiday rooted in Sanskrit and prayer trumps linguistic, regional, and national differences, creating solidarity among South Asians who make Massachusetts home.

boston-skyline

Things work best when ethnic self-representation and institutionally curated presentations are done collaboratively. It’s a win win.The MFA’s event planners are to be commended for working with cultural insiders to interpret and present expressive traditions that might otherwise be little understood by cultural outsiders.

audience father-and-son

Snapshots from a Festival: Folk Craft & Foodways Celebrate 30 Years

Friday, August 5th, 2016

Watermelon carving of festival logo by Ruben Arroco

It’s not every year that you see a festival’s logo carved into a watermelon. Indeed, this was a very special year for the Lowell Folk Festival. We celebrated 30 years of presenting the best in traditional music, craft, and foodways. Here are some images from the Folk Craft & Foodways area which featured a sampler of traditions.

Signage for folk craft area

Fruit carver Ruben Arroco of Lowell, was a generous presence, creating stunning carvings in melons and continuously handing out refreshing watermelon slices to parched festival goers.

Carving of John Lennon's portrait by Ruben ArrocoRuben Arroco carving watermelon

The craft area featured a few other ephemeral arts, including the daily ritual of kolam that adorns the thresholds of homes, temples, and streets throughout India. The practice is carried on here in New England by members of Tamil Makkal Mandram, Inc.

Display of kolam by Tamil Makkal Mandram, Inc.

Sridevi Karthikeyan and Karthigai Priya Govindarayan doing kolam

In addition to demonstrating kolam using colored stone dust, the artists provided an opportunity for visitors to try their hands at it.

Festival goers trying their hand at making kolam

Traditions of folk beauty from around the globe were on display. Festival goers could get their hair braided in cornrows or have their skin temporarily tattooed with henna. Sellou Coly, a native of Senegal, and her niece Aissatou-Ba Dieme, and Margy Green, and her niece KK braided hair. Lujuana Hood of the Pan African Historical Museum in Springfield, shared her wisdom about hair culture from Africa to America.

Sellou Coly braiding a young worman's hair

Sellou Coly and Inuit throat singer Samantha Peoyuq Kigutaq

Late morning on Sunday, two young Inuit girls from Ottawa sat down to have their hair braided. They were due to perform Inuit throat singing at St. Anne’s stage at noon. Their aunt explained traditions of Inuit hair braiding, while Lujuana regaled us with stories and folklore about African American hair culture dating back to the time of slavery in this country. As a way of thanks, the girls gave a private performance of throat singing for the hair braiders and then they all posed together for a picture.

Hair braiders and Inuit singers

Noureen Sultana and her 13-year old son Danish Khan shared their skills in applying mehndi, also known as henna. This ephemeral art form is customary for brides in India, Pakistan, and parts of the Arab world. When applied, the henna is 3-dimensional. After a few hours, it flecks off, leaving a rust colored stain which lasts for up to two weeks. Danish’s younger brother also pitched in. The line of people waiting to be adorned never let up. In fact, late on Sunday, when Noureen and her family was packing up, a father came by with his four-year son in his arms. The boy’s mother and sister had gotten henna tattoos earlier in the day. It was well after 5:00 p.m. Noureen and her sons, who must have created over 200 henna designs, had pretty much packed up their tools and supplies. The father told his son it was too late to get henna and he broke into tears. Noureen, a mother and dedicated artist, kindly made an exception, giving the boy a floral henna design on his tiny hand.

Noureen Sultana and Danish Khan applying henna

Noureen Sultana applying henna to child

In the realm of more permanent art forms, stone carver and letterpress printer Jesse Marsolais demonstrated the age-old craft of carving letterforms in stone.

LFF2016_Jesse carving Jesse Marsolais_banner

Stephen Earp, a redware potter from Shelburne Falls, demonstrated turning plates, vases, and bowls on his hand built treadle wheel. In addition to working at the wheel, he shared his vast knowledge of the history of pottery production in New England.

  Stephen_Earp_support2  LFF2016_Steve Earp

The musical instrument maker’s tent featured the work of luthiers William Cumpiano and Chris Pantazelos. They displayed cuatros, guitars, requintos, ouds, and bouzuokis in the making, as well as finished instruments.  An added treat was having musicians Kacho Montaluo, Brian Ausbigian, and Kinan Adnawi playing music in the back of the tent.  Throughout the weekend, a few musicians from the audience joined in the informal jam session.

LFF2016_Musical instruments tent

LFF2016_Kacho Moutaluo  LFF2016_Kinan and Kacho

With any luck, the next generation will be inspired to play.

LFF2016_Cumpiano instrument with little girl

With exception of redware vase, all photos by Maggie Holtzberg, 2016

Celebrating 30 Years of Presenting Folk Craft Artists at Work

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

Folk craft banner

Now that the weather is finally warming up, it’s time think about festivals. This year, the Lowell Folk Festival will celebrate 30 years of presenting craft artists at work. Their work is inspired by the human urge to make music, to celebrate, to commemorate, to worship, to adorn, or to delight the senses. Like the music heard on festival stages, these craft traditions have been handed down within families, ethnicities, occupations, or apprenticeships. Visitors may see some familiar faces as we feature some of the most skilled and engaging individuals who have demonstrated over the years and welcome new ones to the festival.

To read about who will be demonstrating in the Folk Craft area at the Lowell Folk Festival this July, click here!

 

 

Kolam Art: An Afternoon with Tamil Makkal Mandram

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

Nora interviewing Priya about kolam

As promised, here is a guest blog from MCC intern Nora Martinez-Proctor.

In early April, I set out to learn about the art of kolam and to find an artist or group who could show me what goes into creating these fabulous pieces. Kolam are designs made by dropping lines of colored rice flour on the ground at the thresholds of homes and temples throughout India.  In the north, they are called rangoli and they have other names in other regions. They can be geometric and pattern-based or freehand, incorporating various types of iconography. The daily practice of creating kolam is a tradition that has reached across India for hundreds of years with mentions dating back to the Ramayana.

After several unsuccessful leads, I found my way to Tamil Makkal Mandram, Inc. TMM is a social and cultural group dedicated to preserving the arts and traditions of Tamil culture.  The president of TMM, Karthekian Ramu, quickly set me up with several members of the group who were able to answer my questions and we had a wonderful afternoon with them in late April, observing their work and talking with them about their designs.

Priya, Nora, and Sridevia

We met at the home of Maggie Holtzberg in Newton on a windy day (although, thank goodness, it didn’t rain!) Maggie and I weren’t sure what to expect, but as soon as Priya, Geetha, Sathya and Sridevi arrived dressed in beautiful, sparkling sari with everything they needed to create their kolam, we knew we were in for a fantastic afternoon! The artists immediately set to work figuring out the best spaces for their designs. Wanting to show us a range of kolam styles, they each planned to each complete one so that we could see examples from the most traditional to the most secular and celebratory. We talked with them as they worked and it was a pleasure to see the way these ephemeral pieces were created at close range.

Close-up of Sridevi making kolam

As a violinist (my other day job), I particularly noticed the loose and yet efficient sweep of the women’s arms as they created the long, curved lines of the kolam. The amount of flexibility, relaxation and control needed is similar to what string players look for in their own arms, something that became especially interesting when I found out about the connection between kolam and cymatics. Cymatics is a visual-vibrational phenomenon where geometric patterns are derived from rhythmic motion (think about putting sand on a plate and then tapping the bottom of it and seeing waves appear). Geometric kolam designs are closely linked to cymatics in the idea that their patterns are similar to naturally occurring cymatic patterns, and that these “visual vibrations” are calming to the mind and encourage meditation.

One of the kolam with deep meaning was Geetha’s “Sikku” kolam. Sikku, meaning “knotted” is a traditional “everyday” kolam done without any color and made of a pattern of white lines curling around each other.

Geetha finishing up Sikku kolam

One of the most interesting things to learn here was that although the organized designs look impossibly complicated to create freehand, they are actually laid on a grid of rice flour dots which are then disguised or incorporated into the design as the artist follows the dots like a map. In India, Geetha explained to me, mothers teach the technique to their daughters starting with these counted dot patterns, which easily can reach over fifty dots per line and can then involve adding and subtracting from other lines to create the shape of the grid. I realized that all over South Asia, mothers are teaching their daughters math at a very young age through this technique. Pretty fantastic!

Geetha doing Sikku kolam Watching Priya make kolam

The interaction between mothers and daughters, and between all the women of the family, was something that all four women stressed as an extremely important part of creating kolam. I learned about this while watching Sridevi create a wildly colorful freehand design of peacocks and flowers that would not adorn a temple, but would be done in the streets.

Sridevii working on peacock kolam

During December and January, the gala season of Marghazi Maadham celebrates the art of kolam. For an entire month, the women of each household arise in darkness together and bring lanterns out into the chilly street, where they lay out their kolam and work to complete them by dawn. This is seen as a treasured time for the women to bond as they work. Mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts all create the kolam and at dawn, Sridevi told me, they finish and go bathe before attending temple. Before temple, however, the street becomes an informal competition to see whose kolam is the biggest, the most colorful, and who was finished first.  Sridevi added that the dawn bathing ritual is considered very healthy, and repeating it for a month is thought of as a cleansing and purifying ritual that is beneficial for women’s health in many ways. The designs during Marghazi are unique and creative and might appear in front of houses or even, as Sathya told me, in the road as a way to say “Happy Holidays,” to everyone!

In contrast, Priya created a holy design that is traditionally used at the threshold of temples or in front of deities.  The design was done only in white and red, because these are the colors most closely associated with the colors of the temple. The central part, she explained, is the most important and the borders can be embellished or left simple, depending on the wishes of the artist and how much time they have to create.

Priya working on kolam

Kolam vary widely and are often modified depending on the day, because they are a part of daily life and therefore designed to fit in with the other demands of the day.  A busy day still requires a kolam, but it might be a small and simple design that takes a few minutes, whereas a holiday or other celebration would include more time set aside for a bigger and more complicated work.

The last design was splendid! Blending the aesthetic styles of several of the kolam, it was large in size, geometric and full of color.  Sathya laid out a huge grid of dots to begin the design and then connected them into a pattern of flowers and butterflies.

Sathya layinhg grid

As she worked, Sathya talked with me about what creating kolam means to her. Whenever she travels home to India, she told me, she tries to go during Marghazi so that she can have the pleasure of participating in creating kolam every morning with her family.  She remarked that in New England, it is particularly difficult to practice this art because kolam are normally created outside – a tricky thing to do during a Massachusetts winter! In addition, the pace of American life is different from life in India, and does not lend itself as easily to a daily meditative art.

All four artists from the TMM expressed how pleased they were to set aside time on the day they met with us, not just in order to show us the kolam, but in order to enjoy creating the kolam themselves, something they rarely get to do in their American lives.  Although a few solid days of rain soon washed away their fabulous work, Priya, Geetha, Sathya, and Sridevi were able to teach us that the joy of kolam is not only in its visual beauty but in the connections it keeps for them – connections of country and of family, of spirituality and all the meanings of home. As Sathya perfectly articulated gazing at her finished kolam, “I’m very happy today. My heart felt very happy today.”

Photos: Maggie Holtzberg

Kolam Art: A Preview of What to Expect at the 2016 Lowell Folk Festival

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016
Kolam by Priya

Members of Tamil Makkal Mandram, Inc. seated below a kolam drawn by KarthigaiPriya Govindarajan, (far left).

The women and young girl pictured above gathered in Newton Corner last Friday to share their expertise and pure delight in making kolam. This  ritual form of drawing with rice flour or stone dust is customary throughout India. For these women, learning to draw kolam was part of growing up in Tamil Nadu. Having relocated to New England, they are members of Tamil Makkal Mandram, Inc., a community organization that fosters the ongoing practice of Tamil expressive traditions. We are thrilled that they will be joining us in the Folk Craft area of the Lowell Folk Festival this July to demonstrate kolam art. A proper blog post will be coming from MCC intern, Nora Martinez-Proctor, who spearheaded the effort to find these talented artisans. But for now, we thought we’d share a few images and video from last Friday’s demonstration.

Having first laid a grid of dots using white stone dust, Sathya Ramesh begins outlining a pattern of butterflies.

kolam_Satya laying grid

Geetha Raju helps by filling in with yellow.

Sathya and Geetha

 

Geetha Raju puts the finishing touches on her kolam. She then shares with us her composition book in which she draws  geometric patterns. Symmetry plays a strong role in kolam designs.

Geetha Anand with her kolam

kolam_Geetha holding pattern

Some kolam designs break free from symmetry, as in this drawing depicting a male and female peacock by Sridevi Karthikeyan.

kolam_Sri detail

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Srivdevi Karthikeyan posing with her finished kolam featuring two peacocks.

Sridevi Karthikeyan posing with her finished kolam featuring two peacocks.

Rain has since washed away all traces of kolam. Stay tuned for more about the daily and ephemeral ritual of kolam artistry and whence it came.

Photos & video by Maggie Holtzberg.

Khmer Ceramicist Yary Livan Honored in Nation’s Capitol

Thursday, October 8th, 2015
Yary Livan receiving National Heritage Award, posing with NEA Chairwoman Jane Chu

Yary Livan receiving National Heritage Award, posing with NEA Chairwoman Jane Chu.

What a delight it was to be present for the 2015 NEA National Heritage Fellowship awards in Washington, DC last week. The stellar “class” of master traditional artists were recognized and feted in the nation’s capitol. The events culminated in a dazzling and moving concert most ably emceed by PRI The World’s Marco Werman.

Photo by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy NEA

Photo by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy of the NEA

We congratulate all of this year’s heritage fellows, but are especially proud of Lowell, Massachusett’s Yary Livan; his stunning artwork and life story should make us all proud of the opportunities this country continues to provide immigrants. Here’s to Yary, a gentle and humble soul. We look forward to the work he has yet to create and the efforts of the many students who will benefit from his dedication to passing on this incredible, endangered Khmer art form.

NEA_HYary Livan and Nary Tith. Photo by Tom Pich

Yary Livan with his wife and “life assistant” Nary Tith. Photo by Tom Pich.

In Honor of Labor Day

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Scenes from a Festival: Textile Traditions

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Signage in Folk Craft & Foodways area

Entrance to folk craft area in Lucy Larcom Park

Kudos to all the textile artists who made the Folk Craft area of this year’s Lowell Folk Festival so vibrant! Here are some images from the two-day event.

Kathy Blake-Parker (far right) of the Cranberry Rug Hookers Guild

Kathy Blake-Parker (far right) of the Cranberry Rug Hookers Guild

Fatima Vejzovic of Hartford demonstrating Bosnian rug weaving

Fatima Vejzovic of Hartford demonstrating Bosnian rug weaving

Jonas Stundzia holding a frame with Lithuanian pick-up weaving

Jonas Stundzia holding a frame with Lithuanian pick-up weaving

Jonas Stundzia (right) with friend Irene Malasaukas, who demonstrated Lithuanian pickle making in the Foodways tent

Jonas Stundzia (right) with friend Irene Malasaukas, who demonstrated Lithuanian pickle making in the Foodways tent

Entrance to Foodways demonstration tent

Entrance to Foodways demonstration tent

David Blackburn serving pickes at the foodways demonstration tent

David Blackburn serving pickles at the foodways demonstration tent

Samples of torchon bobbin lace by Linda Lane

Samples of torchon bobbin lace by Linda Lane

Sisters 'n Stitches quilting guild members

Sisters ‘n Stitches quilting guild members enjoying the crowd

Melissa Dawson of Chelmsford Quilters' Guild

Melissa Dawson of Chelmsford Quilters’ Guild

Elizabeth James Perry discussing Wampanoag weaving traditions

Elizabeth James Perry discussing Wampanoag weaving traditions

LFF2015_Patrisiya Kayobera with festival goer

Patrisiya Kayobera holding one of her Rwandan coiled baskets

Rwandan coiled basket by Patrisiya Kayobera

Rwandan coiled basket by Patrisiya Kayobera

Qamaria Amatal-Wadud with examples of her Islamic hijab and abaya

Qamaria Amatal-Wadud with examples of her Islamic hijab and abaya

Rosaline Accam Awadjie (on right) with two festival goers that she has dressed in African headwraps and dress

Rosaline Accam Awadjie (on left, standing) with two festival goers that she has dressed in African headwraps and dress

Jaya Aiyer and Lakshmi Narayan displaying South Asian saris

Jaya Aiyer and Lakshmi Narayan displaying South Asian saris

LFF2015_attendance at unstitched garment tent copy

Visitors checking out the “unstitched garments” in the folk craft area

We are just weeks away from the 2015 Lowell Folk Festival

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

banner of folk craft artists' work

The Lowell Folk Festival is coming right up on July 24-26th. In addition to checking out music and dance performances and sampling some of the best ethnic food served at a festival, consider spending some time in the Folk Craft area located in Lucy Larcom Park. This year we are featuring 13 different textile traditions. From noon until 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, artisans will demonstrate traditional techniques used in the making of textiles: twining, coiling, weaving, quilting, hooking, and lace making. Others will explore how textiles are used in what is called the “unstitched garment,” i.e., wrapping Indian saris, African headwraps, and Islamic headscarves.

You will discover how the pattern of a textile’s weave, its thread count, and the way it is worn can convey religious belief, marital status, wealth, or social standing. Come compare quilting traditions from African American and Anglo American quilting guilds. Watch how embellishments such as bobbin lace are created. See how you look in an African head wrap. Try your hand at hooking a rug . . .

Rug hooking detail. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg

If you get hungry and tired and want to sit down, the Foodways demonstration area is close by. My colleague and friend Millie Rahn has put together a tasty program on pickling traditions.

Pickles. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg

“Pickling is a method of preserving food that is found in many cultures and usually involves brine, vinegar, spices, and fermentation. Vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, and nuts are often pickled alone or mixed together in various ways to keep food for out-of-season eating. Traditionally, pickling was a way of ensuring food sources for those working far from the comforts of home on land and sea, no matter the climate. Today, many home cooks in the region use the bounty of their gardens and local markets to pass on favorite recipes and preserve their foodways throughout the year.”

The schedule is below.  As in past years, you will have a chance to ask questions and to taste samples once each demonstration is over.

12pm: Refrigerator Pickles Mill City Grows/UTEC; Lydia Sisson
1pm: Jamaican Pickled Pepper Sauce, Nicola Williams
2pm: Northern Indian Cholay, Yogesh Kumar
3pm: Lithuanian Pickles, Irena Malasaukas
4pm: New England Bread Butter Pickles, Jackie Oak with Tricia & Gerard Marchese

 

 

Yary Livan named National Heritage Fellow

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Yary Livan holding elephant pot. Photo by Maggie Holtzberg

We are thrilled to announce that Yary Livan, a Cambodian ceramicist living in Lowell, Massachusetts, has just been named a National Heritage Fellow. Given by the National Endowment for the Arts, these fellowships are the nation’s highest award in the folk and traditional arts.

Yary Livan is one of the only known Cambodian master ceramists to survive the Khmer Genocide and still actively creating Cambodian ceramics and temple ornamentation. Yary’s training in the classical art of Cambodian ceramics at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh was disrupted when the Vietnam War spread to Cambodia in the early 1970s. After three years of unspeakable hardship, Yary was granted the status of political refugee; he left Cambodia on July 13, 2001, for Lowell.

Yary carving in clay

Yary is currently teaching school residencies in Lowell, infusing traditional arts into curricula for elementary, high school, and community college students. He continues to make artistic contributions to community celebrations like Cambodian New Year and the Southeast Asian Water Festival.

Material culture has been a life line, connecting Yary to vital resources and linking him to students to whom he is passing on the ancient and endangered tradition of Khmer decorative art. He recently fulfilled a decade-long dream of building and firing in a wood burning kiln.

Yary Livan loading wood into firebox

The hope (and beauty of it) is that the kiln, and the ware fired inside of it, will help insure the tradition of Khmer ceramics continues and thrives, along with one of its finest practitioners.

Yary holding brown bowl

2015 has been a banner year for Yary Livan. He gave his first public talk at a NCECA [National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts] conference. He returned to his homeland for the first time since emigrating in 2001. On October 1 and 2, 2015, the 2015 fellows will be feted in an awards ceremony and concert in Washington, DC, on October 1 and 2, 2015. I smile just thinking about Yary being recognized and honored as one of our nation’s national heritage fellows.


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