Fresh, Authentic and Liberating: Every Body at the Thomas Gallery

By Filiz Cicek

John F. Kennedy in a 1963 speech declared, “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” He was eulogizing American poet Robert Frost, who two years earlier, at Kennedy’s inauguration, wrote:  “And by the example of our Declaration / Make everybody want to be a nation / This is no aristocratic joke / At the expense of negligible folk.” His subject was America.

Kennedy’s invitation to Frost demonstrated his desire to include arts in government and to celebrate the role of the artist in society.  Kennedy stated that “the artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state….If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice.” And that

“we must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.”  And the truth can often be inconvenient to those in power.
Kennedy, like Thomas Jefferson, was a lover of arts. The latter was a true renaissance man who produced the declaration of independence. Indeed the age of enlightenment gave rise to revolutions, separation of church of state, rejection of monarchy and the embrace of democracy. One thing the West did not embrace however, was the practice of homosexuality.

We celebrate Alexander the Great yet we overlook his bi-sexuality; his marriage to Roxana, a noble Sogdian for purposes of breeding and his passionate love affairs with Hephaestion, a general in his army and with a former Persian slave Bagaos. Ancient Greeks–Spartans in particular–believed that homosexual sex strengthened bonds between soldiers. And we overlook the fact that so rampant was the physical intimacy between Roman soldiers that Augustus found himself forcing thousands of them to marry at the Colosseum, not for moral reasons but rather for the strategic purposes: their progeny would ensure future generations of Roman soldiers and therefore the Roman Empire.  The West adapted Roman rule of law while completely ignoring widely accepted homosexual practices in Roman society.

In our selective adaptations of cultural values, we in the west also embraced Greek misogyny. Today we don’t widely celebrate Sappho’s poetry, nor do we generally support women in the political arena.  We are still happy to confine women to domestic roles. In the West this can be traced to the Ancient Greeks who blamed the long and devastating Trojan War on women, in particular Helen and Clytemnestra.  Aeschylus in his trilogy Oresteia defined murder of Agamemnon at the hand of his wife Clytemnestra, as an example of misuse of power and argued that women should never be allowed to govern again. Never mind that Clytemnestra, as a mother, was exacting revenge for the death of her daughter, Iphigenia. The first victim of the Trojan War, Clytemnestra was sacrificed by her father Agamemnon to Artemis for favorable winds for the fleet.

Such misogyny was exported to the Americas.  Native Americans not only acknowledged, but celebrated, two spirit people, who possessed both male and female attributes. Such fluid gender roles also exist elsewhere in the world, such as among the Bugis people in Indonesia who recognize five genders: makkunrai, oroané, bissu, calabai, and calalai. Makkunrai and oroané are comparable to cisgender women and men. Bissu are androgynous shamans and calalai and calabai are approximately equivalent to trans men and trans women. The bissu, the calabai, and the calalai may enter the dwelling places of both men and women. Bugis believe that all five genders must co-exist harmoniously. But the adoption of Islam in the 8th century, (which was more mystical at the time, and more compatible with native practices) and western colonialism led to the oppression of gender fluid individuals.
And today in America we are waging Cake Wars in which the choices of same sex couples have clashed with the religious identities of the cake makers. This, after the passing of the Defense of the Marriage Act in 2013, a long and hard won battle for the GLBTQ community. The concept of freedom of choice, of being yourself is a very radical act indeed, one that has been regulated throughout the centuries by tyrants, dictators, patriarchs and matriarchs alike.
Art too can be a radical act. It was so for the impressionists, the original eco-artists who rejected modernity and pollution by re-embracing nature. Since the 1970s feminist artists have infiltrated masculine dominated art galleries and museums. Indeed art is one of the most powerful tools we have to express ourselves and explore our surroundings. Art experienced at the time of its creation is often radical by its nature, since it challenges norms and operates outside of the collective, highlighting the individual’s vision.  Art is subversive at times, yet equally celebratory, affirming love and life.

Then again art can be a rebellious act any given moment in some corner of the world.  Putting on a hijab in the French Riviera and shedding it in downtown Tehran. Ordering a cake in Kentucky and serving at the military while queer. Life and art are irrevocably intertwined, often compelling artists to speak from the margins to the center, enabling visibility and audibility to the oppressed, shifting societal norms for the better.

Regardless of whether it’s a revolution or a rave (or both, simultaneously), my process of making art is my small attempt to get free. –Alex Hollet

“Every Body” features work by local, national and international GLBTQ artists that illustrate the presentation of self. It will be on display in August at the Thomas Gallery in conjunction with the Pride Film Festival. The participating artists look at the human body from many different viewpoints; they explore identity, sexuality, movement, form and the transcendence of form.
Jessica Hurt is a multimedia artist who creates 3D works utilizing mannequins and also performs at the Back Door. Performing drag, she says, has opened up a safer space for her as a queer person. Patrons speak to her openly about her gender and pronoun preference.

She went through gay conversion, she says, “after I came out as a lesbian [while enrolled] at Central Christian College of the Bible.” It consisted of Jessica living in isolation in a cell-like room and watching videos explaining and instructing how to please a man. It didn’t work. “I puked” she says, with a lingering nausea, “and chose to leave and give up my course credits.” She was accepted in a program to become a minister in the Church of Christ denomination but was told during her first semester that women could not be ministers. Today she still believes in Christ and practices whenever she can. “My family, who are devoted Episcopalians, are doing it right. They accept me as I am, with unconditional love.”

Alex Hollet is a doctoral candidate at the IU Gender Studies Department who creates and performs regularly. She sees and utilizes art as a form of resistance. “Art-as-activism sometimes means exposing pain and power for what they are,” she says, “and sometimes it means reveling in the beauty that exists outside of, underneath, and around the status quo.” Hollet acts very much as an individual within a collective: “Regardless of whether it’s a revolution or a rave (or both, simultaneously), my process of making art is my small attempt to get free, and my approach to art-as-activism seeks to emancipate not just my individual body but also that of the collective.

“Art is a way for marginalized people – and anyone who cares about justice, really – to not only challenge the harmful mythologies that are often (but not exclusively) rooted in nationalism and racism and sexism and heterosexism and classism, but also to create something fresh and authentic and liberating in their place. Consequently, the art I’m interested in making and interacting with is, in general terms, deeply political and justice-oriented. It is art that forces us to confront our complicity in harm and violence. It is art that celebrates divergence. It is art that offers personal and systemic interventions. It is art that organizes communities. It is art that rebukes theories of pleasure that are almost always predicated on the exploitation of another human being or the earth.”

 

Participating artists include, Robb Stone, Randy Rud-Cloud, Alexandria Hollett, Brick Daniel Kyle, Smoove G, Dimosthenis Prodromou  (Greece), Jessica Hurt, Filiz Cicek, Lucy Donnellan  (Australia), Javier Cardona Otero, Jenni Cure, Jasper Wirtshafter, Margaret Belton, Mia Be, Kelvin Burzon, Shadia Siliman.

To see and celebrate GLBTQ art and artists featured in Every Body head over to Thomas Gallery on the square on August 3rd. The opening is from 5.30pm-8pm. You can experience art and eat cake at the same time! The exhibition is open until August 31st with an additional poetry reading by Jasper Wirtshafter on August 10th.

 

 

 

Cannes: High Hopes & High Heels

● by Filiz Çiçek

The train comes to a halt, the guards anxiously running back and forth. It is 7:30 in the morning. A man has thrown himself in front of the train outside of Marseille. “It is probably Mafia related,” says the man sitting next to me. At noon I ask if I can get off for a few minutes to get a cup of tea. “No Madame,” the guard says sternly. “If you step off of this train, we must stop everything and come searching for you.” I feel as if I am in a James Bond film. Until the Ministre de la Justice arrives to determine the cause of death, the train will not move and no one is allowed to get off. “Maybe it was about unrequited love,” the young woman from Strasbourg says. “After all, this is France.” We arrive in Cannes six hours late. I run straight to the Palais des Festivals to catch the opening press conference of the 65th Cannes Film Festival.

In many ways this year’s films show ordinary people crossing boundaries of good and evil, blurring the lines between black and white, dwelling instead in postmodern tints and shades of grey. Something you don’t see in today’s Hollywood or in American discourse, where everything is distilled in to two binaries — Republican versus Democrat, good versus evil, black versus white, pro-choice versus pro-life and so on.  The American impulse seems to want to simplify life. But life tends to be so much more complicated and that is reflected on the screen at Cannes.

The festival begins amidst criticism. “Don’t allow young women to think that they might one day have the gall to direct films and to go up the steps of the Palais except on the arms of a prince charming,” Fanny Cottençon/Virginie Despentes/Coline Serreau wrote in Le Monde. Several days into the festival, a group of French feminists in beards take to the steps in protest. And it is brought up at the opening press conference: jurist Andrea Arnold of Britain and jury president Nanni Moretti of Italy agree that since they make up half the world’s population, women should have a greater voice. But the general consensus of the jury is that Cannes is committed to quality artwork regardless of sex, gender, race, etc.

But that is the age-old conundrum: who decides what is good and what is quality? Historically, mostly male juries and critics who do not identify with “feminine” topics have been dismissive of women’s work. How genuine is it to say that race is not a factor when it is obvious that the festival tries to give voice to the underrepresented by favoring films from those communities and countries with directors who have been oppressed? If they are socially sensitive to race and ethnicities, then why not gender?

Being tall and beautiful can be painful, as I found out, if one is trying, or encouraged, or downright required to achieve through high heels. The festival is as much about a grand spectacle on high heels, as it about art and money. They seem to be essential components of the Cannes’ glamour. The red carpet is the pulse of the Festival, where glamour, magic and money all march together. Andrea puts it bluntly, “Red carpet is big business.” He is one of my flatmates who teaches at l’Université Paris-Sorbonne. He seems to know everyone at the Palais Des Festivals, and every restaurant in Cannes. He is here to do networking like many others at the Festival who are there to buy and sell films. A producer from New York gives the following three pieces of advice: “Don’t go to the parties you are not invited to. No means no. And wear good shoes, high heels if you are a female. The guards look at your shoes here — no heels, no red carpet.”

I decided to put her advice to the test. I attempt a red carpet premiere with my eco-warrior shoes made of recycled tires and other recycled materials. A female guard in a male tuxedo looks me up and down, stares at my shoes and says, “Very sorry, Madame. No more room.” So when I get an invitation to sit by South Korean director Im Sang-soo during the premiere of his film The Taste of Money, I compromise. I want to wear a Trashion dress to promote sustainable living. So I purchase half size bigger stilettoes that everyone seems to be wearing on the red carpet. Their heels are five inches tall, mine are four inches. Terrified of falling, as one French actress would later, it takes me a few minutes to find my balance. My small toes are already blistered, I take them off as soon as I make it to my seat in the theater. I conclude that it is the sedentary people who come up with such ideas.

The nomads, I think, got this one right. They hardly have any distinction between male and female attire. They have pastures to cross, goats to milk, weather to mind, they don’t have time for hyper-sexualized fashion. What use do they have for stilettoes? After everyone leaves the theater, I find one of the hosts and plead: “Please, Monsieur, don’t make me walk four blocks down through the barricades in these high heels, only to walk back to this same theater, for the next screening. My feet are hurting.”

“I am sorry madame but you must follow the rules.”

When I begin walking barefoot on the red carpet, he quickly finds me a short cut. As I approach the confused guard at the end of the gate, who is staring at my bare feet, I smile: “I want your shoes; let’s exchange.” He lets me pass.

Everything is carefully choreographed, to be consumed properly with precise etiquette, style and certain standard of quality. Fans stand on ladders in a designated area for a better view. Some have come all the way from Italy, Germany and Scandinavia just to glimpse the glamour. The journalists, photographers, the guards, the limousines, and the stars all have their designated sections and assigned roles. If you are a female, you need to be mindful of your smile, your lips and hips and legs and bosom — your body is simultaneously celebrated and commodified. Your role is to project magic and glamour. And to be projected upon, to be an outlet for desire, inspiration and hope.

Marilyn Monroe seems to be everywhere at Cannes. She can be seen from a distance on the side of a six-story building. She is part of the collective French imagination. She is “movie star” personified. I ask Andrea about his take on it. Why Marilyn? Why don’t the French identify with a French actress instead?

“They live on and get old,” he answers. “They don’t die young like she did.”  Nothing like a pretty, dead, young blond woman. In fact there are two female images in public spaces that one frequently encounters: Marilyn Monroe and Mother Mary. I ask a Frenchman at a restaurant about it. “She is so beautiful, a Goddess and died so young, you know.” Such sadness in his voice, it sounds like Marilyn died for Cinema. As if she were a martyr. Ste. Marilyn. She is Cinema herself, at least in Cannes.

Miriam, a French staff person from California at the American Pavilion further explains, “This year in particular the theme is Old Hollywood, because the hostess is Bérénice Bejo, the actress from The Artist.” Indeed Old Hollywood dominates the hallways; there is not a single photo of a European actor or actress to be seen.

Americans also dominate the competition portion of the festival. Wes Anderson and his cast open the festival with Moonrise Kingdom. Followed by John Hillcoat’s Lawless, Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Jeff Nichols’ Mud, and Lee Daniels’ The Paper Boy. Daniels and his cast yield one of the more interesting and intense press conferences. Asked about possible parallels between Matthew McConaughey’s gay character in the film and his own sexuality, Daniels grows sincere and passionate: “I know every character in this film,” Daniels says. “John Cusack’s character was based on my brother who went to jail. Nicole Kidman is my sister. We all have roles to play; we present to you one persona here at Cannes, and at home we have different ones.”

This sentiment is echoed by Fatih Akin who speaks briefly before his environmental documentary Polluting Paradise: “There are many worlds coming together here today. Each one of us is a different world you know, from different countries. Cannes, too, is a world in itself. We are here to see and hear one another.”

“This is my most personal film yet,” Akin adds. “I know directors say that after each film but this truly is.” He brought his father and the most of the Çamburnu village activists from the Black Sea coast of Turkey with him. In the end, his sentiments come across through the film and audience gives them a standing ovation. Some of the villagers are tearing up.

Akin then hosts the biggest party in Cannes. There are Turks, Kurds and Germans, British, Austrians, Greeks, Indians. Ewan McGregor and Joshua Jackson are joining in. Akin, who selects his soundtracks before writing his scripts, is deejaying. At 3:00 a.m. the French guards are still trying to get party-goers down from the tabletops where they are singing and dancing. Every aspect of the festival is so carefully planned and choreographed by the French that people seem to jump at a chance to chill out, relax and be themselves rather than perform Cannes 24/7.

The Americans play bingo and karaoke, interrupted with occasional film screenings and small parties. Only the Indian pavilion seems to be as joyful and lively. They offer free food, snacks and drinks, PR materials, interview set-ups. At the international village, only the Americans charge to get into their pavilion as well as for food and drinks.  This results is Americans going to the other pavilions, in particular the Turkish pavillion for their baklava and raki.

Turkish Kurds from Germany, some armed with films and some with anti-Turkish government sentiments also occupy the Turkish pavilion. I have long conversations with them about history, life and art. A couple of them suggest that I read certain political books written by political terrorists or freedom fighters, depending on which side you are on. I say that long ago I decided to make art rather than politics.

I have a surprising ally in Rezan Altinbas, a Kurdish director from Turkey. I have always been weary of making art a slave to a social agenda; there is a fine line between art and propaganda. Dickens, Bernard Shaw, Douglas Sirk, R.W. Fassbinder and Yilmaz Güney get away with it because they weave their socialism into a film format, not the other way around. Rezan agrees. His film Sessiz-Be Deng/Silent, is based on his childhood recollections of visiting his father in jail. His female character visits her husband in prison in Diyarbakir in 1984, a few years after the military coup d’état. On the back wall it is written: “Speak Turkish. Speak it a lot.” The couple struggles to communicate. They remain in anguish and in silence. As their hands clasp, our hearts clasp with them. Her tear drops down from her face, to his hands, and into our hearts. It is the human heart that is in the forefront, not guns and violence. Or slogans. Whether you are an Aboriginal in Australia, a Native American, an Uyghur in China or a Kurd in Turkey, what better way to say that speaking one’s mother tongue is a birthright?

Rezan goes on the win the Palm d’Or in the short film category. In his acceptance speech Rezan dedicates his award “to all the lonely and beautiful women of my country,” echoing Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s acceptance speech in 2008 when he received the Best Director award for Three Monkeys. Ceylan dedicated his award to his “lonely and beautiful country” which he “loves most passionately.” Most of Turkey interpreted those words as a comment on Orhan Pamuk’s political statement about the 1915 events involving the Ottoman Armenians. Most Turks believe that in 2006 Pamuk betrayed Turkey, his native country, in order to win the Nobel Prize for literature..

Art, party and politics all seem to run very high at the Turkish Pavilion. It is one of the busiest hubs at Cannes next to the Indians, who are trying to make a big impact this year at Cannes with Gangs of Wasseypur. It is a five-hour epic about a family feud in a place “that is not visible on Google maps,” according to its director Anurag Kashyap. “I am confident that my film has broken all cinematic conventions in India,” he tells me on the eve of the screening. “In Cannes I am a little nervous, but we will know soon enough how the world reacts!”

Ceylan may not be popular with Silent’s Kurdish actress from Turkey,but he seems to be the golden child here at Cannes. He won numerous awards over the years at Cannes. Back at the Turkish pavilion there is a party in his honor. As Turks and Kurds sing collectively in celebration, he stands back and looks in, quietly. He seems to be there and not there, like the character in his film Distant.

Ceylan is the subject of the Coen Brothers short film titled World Cinema. When an American cowboy, played by Josh Brolin, goes to a movie theater and sees Ceylan’s Climates on the marquee he asks, “What is that one about?”

“It is about lovers and estrangements and former lovers. Flawed people. Difficulty of love and so forth,” replies the box office attendant.

“People talk back in forth in Turkish?”

“Turkic.”

“Turkic? But you got them-those words up there to help follow the story along?”

“It is subtitled, yes.”

“Hmm…. Is there any nudity?”

“Partial”.

“Is there livestock in any of them?”

“Maybe a rabbit in La Regle Du Jeu…”

The Cowboy ends up liking Climates quite a bit. “There is whole a lot of truth in it in my opinion,” he comments to the attendant; the point being that Americans need more art-house Cinemas and that Ceylan now symbolizes the master director. And he is awarded the Directors’ Choice Award “for excellence, courage and taking artistic risks.”

Emir Kustarica and Elia Suleiman play themselves in 7 Days in Havana. Prior to the film’s screening, Kustarica joins the “people on the left side of the world,” as he puts it, including Benicio Del Toro, Pablo Trapero, Julio Medem, Gasper Noe, Juan Carlos Tabio, Elia Suleiman and Laurent Cantent. Their works speak for them, and they actually speak about their work. Kustarica’s is self-revealing and self-deprecating as he is drunk in Havana where he is to receive an award, constantly arguing on the phone with his wife halfway around the world in Serbia.

Elia Suleiman does not speak; rather, Fidel Castro does most of the talking. At the Yemeni Embassy, Suleiman is told that El Presidente will receive him after his speech. After a few hours of waiting, he decides to go to the zoo. When he returns toward the evening, Castro is still speaking on TV. As the day comes to an end, Castro looks up to the sky and says half jokingly: “There is still some daylight left; let us continue comrades.” Elia Suleiman’s face remains motionless, yet potent. He is Peter Sellers, Charlie Chaplin and Jimmy Stewart combined. He emanates kindness and human warmth. It is official. I am in love with Elia Suleiman!

At a master class the next day we learn how Philip Kaufman, director of The Right Stuff, transitioned from from a math teacher to a filmmaker in France with a hand held camera. His cinematic roots are all too European. A clip from his Unbearable Lightness of Being is presented as one of the most erotic scenes in cinema; Juliet Binoche’s character is forced to take erotic photos of a woman, whom she realizes right then is her husband’s lover. Kaufman responds with an anecdote; “Stanley Kubrick called me about that scene. I was quite excited: maybe he was going to share a great insight with me. Instead he asked where did I get that Pixar camera (Binoche is using in the scene)!”

On my last night at Cannes after the awards ceremony, Arthur, an aspiring film director from Paris, offers me an invitation to a private party where the jury and the winners will be in attendance. By then I am intellectually and artistically over-stimulated and physically exhausted. My head wants to find a pillow. But then again, I might actually see organic exchanges in a more intimate setting for a change, so I say yes to being his date.

Joshua Jackson and jurist Dina Kruger are first to arrive followed by Ewan McGregor. I notice a middle-aged woman staring at me. She looks familiar. As I approach her to say hi, I realize it is my camera that has been the focus of her attention. “No photos please.”

“Ok. No worries.”

She is Leila Hatami, one of the stars of The Separation from Iran who was there to present the Grand Prize. I did not recognize her without her head attire and I gather that she didn’t want me to photograph her without it. The official fashion law of Iran also applies when she is in Cannes.

As the night comes to an end, my heart is dancing with Fatih Akin punked Against the Wall, and my head is falling into a Pillow Book with Ewan McGregor. Time to write my own. I put my camera to rest. Arthur’s voice is following me to the sandy beach; “You are my perfect woman. I want to make life with you!” He’s known me only for one short week. I dip my feet into the Mediterranean, breathe in its midnight air. The End.

The Ryder ● 2012

RetroRyder: Bloomington Katmandu

Home Is Where the Art Is ◆ by Filiz Cicek

[A blast from the past from the pages of The Ryder.]

Some of us never leave the place we are born. Some of us are forced to leave; some of us leave by choice for a place far away; and some of us are permanent, post-modern cultural nomads.

Local, international, exiled and nomadic artists were asked to choose or create art representing what they call “home“ for BloomingtonKatmandu, which will take place on May 28th at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. The show is meant to reflect the impermanency and the mobility of the 21st century’s ever-changing geographical, emotional, and physical borders that we humans cross daily.

The Dalai Lama smiles at oppression with compassion; being exiled from Tibet by China in 1959 freed him to claim the world as his home.. The self-proclaimed “simple Buddhist monk” goes home daily when he says his mantras. He acts as a politician, cultural warrior, and ambassador of peace. He even champions women’s rights in a Tibetan Buddhist way. And he is terribly worried that Tibetan culture might disappear. For when in exile, Tibetan culture is his home. At a meeting in May 2010, he said he wants to turn the TMBCC (founded by his late brother, Thubten Norbu) into a university where Tibetan history and language can be kept alive, along with other cultures and languages.

Art is my home, and like many transnational artists, I consider myself a post-modern nomad. I don’t have an art factory like Andy Warhol; wherever I go, there I am, artist within.

Like countless others before me, I’ve chosen to journey away from my native land of the Caucuses Mountains to make a new home in what I lovingly refer to as “the cornfields.” As a feminist artist who is no fan of organized religion—and has in fact been critical of its treatment of women in my artistic and scholarly work—I set out to take secular art to the temple with intentions of paying homage and subverting and transforming.  I have been living at the TMBCC the past eight months, researching and preparing. Combining the nomadic Buddhist monk’s mobile thangka tradition together with Bulgarian artist Christo’s temporary large-scale environmental works, an exhibition of prints, paintings and photographs will be displayed on long cloths hanging from the library ceiling as temporary walls and borders. Different aesthetic traditions from distant lands will be hence fused.

It was an artist from the rice fields who help inspire the exhibit’s theme. Prianka Rayamajhi’’s journey to home photos of Katmandu-Nepal express how it feels to be neither here nor there, a familiar theme for immigrants and their children. Another migrant artist, Svetlana Rakic from Serbian Bosnia, has tackled this very topic in her recent exhibit in Berlin, Here and There. Here is both Bosnia and Bloomington, where she now lives. There is former Yugoslavia. Like her passport, the country where she grew up has expired, so to speak, with the political winds of change, deconstructed and destroyed by war. It only exists in Rakic’s memory, but it flows through her art.

She now lives in bosoms of nature and paints houses and trees, branches and roots. Long, thick, strong red roots, which are determined to reach across the ocean for the nourishment from her native land. And big yellow branches, joyful with sunshine. Rakic says, “Trees can grow anywhere….Home is not a geographical location, but rather a place that could be anywhere, a place in which we feel at home.” Her work reflects “the flow of life from here to there” and the symbolic merging of unity of the two.

As the proverb goes, when two hearts fuse as one, a barn will be their love palace. Prince Siddharta left his palace and made himself at home under the Boddhi tree. For Virgina Woolf as well, nature was a temple. Dale Enochs will erect a lovers’ statue mimicking one of the stupas. Prayer wheels will host number 5 and 7. Vinicius Bertons Brazilian street signs will be spread throughout the grounds. Una Winterman’s photograph of her old Kentucky home is both haunting and grounding. For her traveling family, it is a place of reference, she explains, even if it no longer exists. Weather permitting, Sarah Flint will sing by the creek, with Russell Rabwork’s eco-art as her background. Salaam will take stage under the big oak tree. In the library, Japan-born James Nakagawa will superimpose archetypal architecture from different continents. Jeffrey Wolin then will showcase a collaborative piece with his son, re-visiting all the places he has lived, with the use of Google map and narrative. We humans cross continents daily, through the Internet, Facebook and Twitter. We topple real-life dictatorships and create cyber-communities.

Then there are those artists who never left home: David Ebbinghouse will create a temporary yurt from fallen branches, paying homage to nomads from Nanook of the North to the Mongolians. Those who came from other states to call Bloomington home—Amy Brier, Diane Knoll, Hannah Shuler and Shu Mei Chen—will dwell outside by the pond and the temple with their sand in time and porcelains by the pond.

Paintings, sculptures, installation and music will come to a close with poetry and dance.

Whether in one‘s native land, chosen home, or one of exile, home is increasingly more of a state of mind in the 21st century. We create and escape into multiple identities on any given day. A human identity, spiritual identity, professional identity, gender identity, paternal and maternal identity and so on.  It is through these identities that we exercise compassion and fascism. Home is then where we feel safe. We store those moments in our memory; they change color and texture in time.

Home is then where we feel safe. It is the dandelion wine made with friends, the smell of lover’s shirt, a mother’s lap to a child. Home is in the soap bottle from a night in hotel room. Home is a wedding ring on a soldier in Afghanistan. It is a favorite song to a Moroccan living in French Banlio. A kimono to a Japanese American.   It is a headstone among Cypress trees for Nazim Hikmet, a poet in exile in a small Anatolian village. A grave for Sarah Baartman at the foot of a South African hill, where the air is cool and the sun doesn’t burn. It is a valley full of flowers to a bee. The snow capped mountains for the pumas and the lions.  Home is where our heart beats, free. We all are born with that feeling. Home is within.

[Filiz Cicek is a Turkish-Georgian-born American artist and organizer of Women Exposed. Her work has been exhibited in major galleries and museums in Istanbul, New York, California, Chicago, and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. She also teaches a Gender, Sexuality, and Popular Culture class at IU. After meeting the Dalai Lama in May 2010, Cicek created BloomingtonKatmandu.]

The Ryder ◆ April 2013

A Tale Of Two Brothers

When the Buddha Came to Bloomington ◆ by Filiz Cicek

Jigme Norbu walked alone along the edge of the Florida highway. It was a dark night and the white line along the road was his only means of navigation. Jigme had already logged 7,800 miles to free Tibet from Chinese occupation. His father, Thubten Jigme Norbu, the elder brother of the 14th Dalai Lama, had initiated these Independence Walks across America for peace and freedom.

Thubten Norbu (Left) With His Brother, The Dalai Lama

It had been a long day in the hot Florida sun. But in a few minutes Jigme would arrive at his rendezvous point, where he would meet his traveling companions.

There were no streetlights and the little natural light that filtered down from the moon and stars was obscured by trees that lined the side of the road. Consequently the driver of the dark grey Kia could not see Jigme; he was pronounced dead at the scene at 7:30 p.m. on February 14th, 2011. He was 45 years old.

In 1949, Jigme’s father, Rinpoche Thubten Jigme Norbu, had been courted by the Chinese government to convince his brother, the14th Dalai Lama, to welcome the Chinese army into Tibet. If his younger brother could not be persuaded, he was told, more drastic methods would have to be considered. Pretending to comply, Norbu visited his brother as the Chinese asked, but only to warn him about their plans to assassinate him.

Norbu decided to flee and left Tibet in 1950. He traveled to the US with the help of the Church World Service and the CIA. His brother would later follow suit and leave Tibet in 1959 to Dharamsala, India, where he teaches and governs to this day.

From the moment  Norbu left Tibet, he became a “freedom fighter,” as his son Kunga puts it. First, however, Norbu had to learn English.  At a formal event a waiter in a tuxedo imitated a chicken for him in an effort to describe what would be served for dinner. Norbu then wrote the words “roasted chicken” on a scrap of paper and would present it in restaurants when ordering.  “He ate roasted chicken for a very long time,” notes Kunga, until he bettered his English skills. Eventually he would be fluent in six languages, teaching as a professor at Indiana University.

While in New York he held odd jobs to make ends meet. One of these was at Macy’s at Herald Square. He greeted customers as they came in, directing them to appropriate departments such as ladies undergarments or menswear. Later as a curator of Tibetan artifacts at the Museum of Natural History, he was able to travel around the world and raise awareness about the situation in Tibet.

When she left Tibet, Jigme’s mother, Kunyang, was eight years old. She was 16 when she arrived in the States. Her youngest son Jigme was one month old when she traveled to Bloomington, together with two older sons and her husband to make her future home in the cornfields. Had the baby been born earlier, the family would have settled in Geneva, Switzerland. “He wouldn’t pop out,” she says laughing.

Mrs. Norbu (Center) Arrives In The US

Mrs. Norbu would take up her husband’s cause, doing her part to fight for the Independent Tibet behind the scenes.  “You would never see me quoted in the newspapers. I never gave interviews then.”

Once in Bloomington Professor Norbu established the Tibetan Studies program, what was then known as Uralic Altaic Studies at Indiana University. After the Canada family, heirs to Eli Lilly, donated land, Norbu and his family went to work and together they started the Tibetan Cultural Center (TCC) in 1979, currently the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (TMBCC).

“He had spent all his energy and all our little livelihood there, to preserve the Tibetan culture,”  Mrs. Norbu recounted. They planted trees, and slowly began to shape what today is the TMBCC. Kunga took up the responsibility of mowing the grass, which would take a few days given the size of the land.

The first Stupa was built as a memorial to the Tibetans who died during the uprising against the Chinese Occupation. It was the first of its kind in North America and later duplicated throughout the world. It is a very involved process, says Mrs. Norbu. It entails many rituals, precisely placed sacred relics, and hundreds of mantras. “We xeroxed thousands and thousands of pages of Tibetan books and transcripts,” Mrs. Norbu explains, which were then placed inside the dome. Also included in the dome were “the hair pieces, of all the Dalai Lamas, starting with the first Dalai Lama all the way to the 14th Dalai Lama…, “My father put them in there,” explains Kunga,  “as well as the ashes of my grandmother.”

Now sitting at Turkuaz Café on Third Street, one of Kunga’s and his brother Jigme’s favorite places to eat, Mrs. Norbu and her son remember those days fondly—how they planted each tree and transported water in milk cartons to water them. Later someone donated a little money, and a water line was installed. “We were so excited!” notes Mrs. Norbu. Then the buildings and temples were built with the help of volunteers and more donations. The Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple as well as the Center was intended mainly for His Holiness to have his private headquarters. “My husband had seen His Holiness travel all the time and stay in hotels and surrounded by many people, so he said ‘why don’t we build this little building, so he can come sometimes when he is traveling, quietly he can come and spend two or three days of relaxation, that was his aim.”

The Dalai Lama has visited Bloomington six times, most recently in 2010 to pay respects to his late brother, who passed away in 2008. During an earlier visit the Dalai Lama saw his brother alive for the last time, and “it was a special moment” says Mrs. Norbu. “I brought him in a wheel chair and the two of them put their foreheads together, staying in that position and in silence for a long time, finally tears streaming from the  His Holiness’ face, my husband was also crying. It was amazing how they communicated, not verbally.” Afterwards the Dalai Lama would send Para Rinpoche to stay with his brother until he died eight months later. After her husband’s death Mrs. Norbu left the TMBCC and moved to Seattle, where members of her family still lived. Meanwhile the Dalai Lama had appointed a new administrator, Arjia Rinpoche.

“We all feel good that we have all done our part; our only hope is that Arjia Rinpoche is doing things to preserve the Tibetan culture,” says Mrs. Norbu. “We also have to remember who started the Center,” adds Kunga, “and that everything that my father had started and done out there has to be preserved.”

Though she has been invited, Mrs. Norbu has not been back to the Center since she left Bloomington. “Too many memories…, when I am stronger, I will go back and check how things are going.  My hope is that Arjia Rinpoche will continue what my husband has built. An extra fancy looking little thing is not important to me, the important thing is to give the message out about what is happening in Tibet. It is all related to Mongolia now, I don’t know why. Did you see that there are no Tibetans out there?” The Center was renamed in 2007 after Arjia Rinpoche’s arrival (he is a Tibetan of Mongolian decent), to reflect the commitment to Mongolian representation. In an article in Bloom magazine in November 2012, Rinpoche said one of the missions of the TMBCC is to establish an interfaith program open to all, including local Mongolians because they “have nowhere to go.” The increase in Mongolian presence might have caused local Tibetans to attend religious services and cultural events at the Indiana Buddhist Center in Indianapolis instead.

In 1995, Norbu co-founded the International Tibet Independence Movement in a further effort to free Tibet from the Chinese occupation. The Dalai Lama, however, chose a different path: the “middle way” approach, which aims to achieve peace through non-violence, mutual benefit, unity of nationalities, and social stability. The 14th Dalai Lama opposes policies and sanctions that might harm the average Chinese citizen. He is also concerned for the safety of Tibetans in Tibet, Mrs. Norbu says; he doesn’t want to say or do anything that might make life harder for them than it already is. “I respect him,” she adds, “but at the same time it is up to people like us to speak up for the Tibetans back home. People in Tibet have to burn themselves in order to be visible, to be heard.”

“And as they die,” adds Kunga, “their slogan is ‘Long Live the Dalai Lama,  Free Tibet’, not ‘Long Live the Dalai Lama, and the middle way’.”  He believes that while people might not verbalize their desire for an independent Tibet while the Dalai Lama is alive, nonetheless that is what the majority wants.

Since the middle way approach is also an important philosophical teaching in Buddhism, I ask if, as the religious figure of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is trying to practice what he preaches? Moreover, as a self-proclaimed simple monk, perhaps it would be difficult for him to take a more aggressive stand against China.

“Yes, it is hard to be a religious person and the political leader at the same time, it doesn’t work and that is why he had resigned as the head of the Tibetan government,” responds Mrs. Norbu. “My husband and I were very free to speak but when you are working for the exile government you have to be careful. I think what His Holiness doesn’t realize is that the ones in Tibet are dependent on people like us. They [the two brothers] had a different approach to handling the Chinese occupation but they loved and respected each other.”

The first Independence Walk took place in 1995; Norbu walked from Bloomington to Indianapolis together with two other supporters. That was followed by a 300 mile walk from the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC, to the United Nations headquarters in New York. “He felt obligated to people back home to do something, and he never changed his goal,” explains Mrs. Norbu. Previously he had worked with the CIA to further the Tibetan cause, to recruit and train Khampa fighters, from the toughest Tibetan tribe to be infiltrated into the borderlands of China. According to the 2008 obituary in The Guardian “Norbu’s name appears in reports of secret training camps in the Colorado Rockies and on the Pacific island of Saipan.” In the end the US covert operations were unsuccessful and came to a halt in 1970s with Richard Nixon’s new China policy which sought to better relations between US and China. Determined nevertheless to fight for Free Tibet, Norbu did one last walk from Toronto to New York; he was then in his 70s. When he fell ill, his youngest son took up the cause and began to carry the torch until he was struck by a car in Florida.  On March 23rd his widow, Yaling, is holding a fundraiser for the Ambassador of Peace organization, which had helped sponsor Jigme’s Independence Walks, at Café Django on March 23rd in her husband’s honor to raise money to fund the future freedom walks for Tibet.

Jigme Norbu And His Father, Thubten

Mrs. Norbu is somewhat hopeful that as the old generation of leaders die off and the new generation of Chinese travel abroad and access free information about Tibet, the situation might change. Kunga remains cautious however, “nothing much has changed in 50 years; we watched a government drive a tank against its own citizens at Tiananmen Square.”

“We are against the policies of the Chinese government, not the Chinese people” concludes Mrs. Norbu. Similar sentiments are echoed by the Dalai Lama in his various public statements, aiming to win the hearts and minds of the Chinese people regarding Tibet.

Others now follow in Norbu and Jigme’s footsteps, taking part in Independence Walks across the country. While Kunga walks for freedom, Mrs. Norbu will travel back to Seattle to raise funds for Tibetan refugees.

“We are the voice of Tibet outside of Tibet.” says Mrs. Norbu, “Perhaps someday my grandchildren will take up the cause like their father and grandfather. Who knows?”

The Ryder, March 2013

FILM: Monika Treut’s Gender Warriors

Filmmaker and visiting lecturer Monika Treut explores sexual and gender identities of the under-represented. A retrospective of her work will be presented at the IU Cinema October 22-24 ◆ by Filiz Cicek

Before there were male gods, there were fertility goddesses, bare-chested priestesses. In time the Amazons were defeated. Pagan priestesses were burned at the stake in Spanish Inquisitions. The male Greek god of fertility, Pan, would become the most ubiquitous devil. Once a symbol of renewal, the serpent would evolve into Eve’s slithering aide as she bit into a forbidden apple. The biblical female, the first mother, is forever guilty of knowledge. Adam had no will power against his temptress sinner, born of his own rib. Adam did not have an Adam, Eve did not have an Eve.

Whether mothers or prostitutes, women on the silver screen function as body projections of patriarchy’s fears and desires–bodies to be to objectified and demystified from the male gaze. “Torture the blondes,” Alfred Hitchcock said. And in Vertigo, he killed not one, but two blondes: the wife and the hired mistress, for they tortured the male anti-hero Scottie with their sexual allure and deceptions. In Hollywood cinema, the female character aids the male hero in his quest to greatness. In melodramas she is given temporary agency, a parenthesis in time so to speak, to be the main protagonist who furthers the narrative in the absence of the strong the male character, whose masculinity is in crises. She is forced to explore her whorish persona, usually by being a nightclub singer or a prostitute in order to provide for her nuclear family.

Soap operas, too, follow this binary formula: housewife and villainess.  Her ability to assert her independence comes with a social stigma. From Mexico to Berlin, from Istanbul to Delhi, the melodramas have been telling us that a woman who sins, who is sexually promiscuous and disobeys the norms must die or become a mother to redeem herself.

Binary explorations of female sexuality are rooted in Judeo-Christian traditions among others.  The absence of Mary Magdalene and Madonna in non-catholic churches in America is a testimony to our Puritanical history. Yet in the midst of all this, a man named Alfred Kinsey, a scientist studying insects, set out to study human sexuality. With the support of Herman B. Wells, and fellow scholars, he established The Kinsey Institute.

Professor Brigitta Wagner, who teaches German Cinema at Indiana University, saw a natural German connection with The Kinsey Institute. She considers Kinsey’s work the continuum of German scientist Magnus Hirschfeld. An atheist and a homosexual, Hirschfeld founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in Berlin in 1897 in order to defend the rights of homosexuals and to repeal Paragraph 175, the section of the German penal code that since 1871 had criminalized homosexuality. Hirschfeld believed that a better scientific understanding of homosexuality would eliminate hostility toward homosexuals. He then established the Institute for Sex Research in Berlin in 1919. Hitler declared him the most dangerous Jew in the world. The Institute was destroyed and its archives burned in 1933. Nevertheless Hirschfeld’s work inspired scientists, artists and filmmakers, including Alfred Kinsey.

Wagner invited the openly lesbian German independent filmmaker Monika Treut as a Max Kade Fellow to teach a course in collaboration with The Kinsey Institute on human sexuality in film. Treut’s students are learning about both Magnus Hirschfeld and Alfred Kinsey’s work and looking at the construction of sexuality and gender in a number of European films, as well as in The Kinsey Institute’s film collection. “Students will explore this historical visual material that documents human sexual desires and expressions,” explains  Liana Zhou, the head curator for the film archive. In doing so she is hoping that “the students will be able to provide social, cultural, historical, and artistic context to these unique examples of early erotic film to their audience after almost hundred years since these films were produced.”

Originally a scientist who set out to study insects, Kinsey began to study human sexuality only after getting married.  Before him, Germans had fought for the rights of the “third sex” with films like Different From Others (1919). These films came to a halt in the 1930s with the rise of the Nazi regime.

In American in 1934 the Hayes Code purified the silver screen. Gays, lesbians and strong female characters were among the casualties. Gone was May West shooting a gun at train robbers and coyly inviting Cary Grant, the chauffeur, to “come up and see me some time.” When Kinsey began his research, Donna Reed, Lucille Ball and Doris Day were all sleeping in separate beds from their husbands in their on-screen bedrooms.

Depictions of lesbians on screen were so subtle as to render them invisible.  Much later, lesbians, like their gay male counterparts, would be portrayed as self-hating villains. As  in heterosexual melodramas, death by redemption remained the norm.

In 1959, Billy Wilder, an Austrian born German-Jewish Hollywood director, experimented with gender identity in Some Like it Hot, with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon dressed as female musicians. William Wyler followed in 1961with The Children’s Hour, a drama exploring the budding sexual preferences of two housemates played by Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn. MacLain has reflected back with  amazement that she and Hepburn have never discussed the topic openly, even while shooting the film.

We have come a long a way since then. The lesbian characters in cinema, independent cinema in particular, are not as incidental. LGBTQ film festivals are held across the globe. Yet it will be a while before Titanic becomes a love story between two women.

Treut Films: Seduction of Cruel Women

Since her directorial debut, Treut has been exploring sexual and gender identities of the under-represented, including lesbian, transgender, and transsexuals. Treut’s female protagonists are most often the strong ones, in charge of their own lives. Unlike Hitchcock’s blondes, Treut’s “cruel women” torture men—and men are willing slaves to their female tyrants.

In Seduction of Cruel Women, women take turns as the tortured and the torturer. Having written her PhD thesis on masochism, Treut explores sadism as well. “Visual art nourishes masochistic desires and emotions,” she explains.  In Cruel Women Treut converts an abandoned building in the Hamburg docks into the “Gallery,” a studio for sexual exploration. The set-design recalls oil paintings in the 16th Century style of nature-morte. Instead of fruits and bowls and dead rabbits and pheasants, you have fetish objects, furs and shoes. Lights and colors—a palette from white to red to black—reflect the desires and fears of characters who are seeking to dominate or be dominated. Treut explains, “it is often the powerful man who wants to be dominated.”

Gendernauts

Judith Butler defined gender as performance. Sandy Stone, “Goddess of Cyberspace” in Treut’s 1999 documentary film Gendernauts agrees: “Gender as performance is a series of signals we send to each other. How do we change ourselves and those around us, by moving from a narrow space to a larger one, to a space of greater psychological distance eventually ending up in a situation that invades the space that of the other?” But not all gendernauts concern themselves with identity, “and gender confusion is a small price to pay for social progress.”

But Treut is not a fan of this approach to identity. “In this country,” Treut explains, “people define themselves through their sexual orientation. They make a real strong point when they say ‘I am a lesbian.’ They think they have a concept for life, for a relationship. I don’t agree with that…we are more than our sexual orientation.”

Female-to-male transgender artists and performers, Texas Tom Boy and Max Valerio, explain why they chosen hormone therapy. Based in San Francisco, they perform their new identity both as artists and people. Receiving regular testosterone shots, Valerio had explored lesbian relationships before deciding that it is the traditional, heterosexual dynamic what he wants in a romantic and sexual relationship. And he wants to be the man. Charged with newly found energy, Valerio embraces his heightened sexual drive from testosterone. Valerio no longer cries and wants to be physically stronger than his female partners.

Female Misbehavior

Treut takes on the “decade of feminism” (mid-1980 to mid-1990s), including its anti porn stand. Female Misbehavior features Camille Paglia and Annie Sprinkle. Dr. Paglia’s inclusion in the film was controversial due to her blunt criticism of feminist scholarship. Paglia, with the flair of a stand-up comedian more than an academic, describes her critics as religiously oriented with a social agenda that lacks art, beauty and aesthetics. “I am bringing beauty back in to feminism,” she declares—“like Madonna.” More in love with regal and majestic Egyptian art than humble, turn-your-other-cheek Catholicism, she declares, “I am an Aries. War and conflict is my natural state, and this is how we come to find and define our identities.”

Warrior of Light

Not all of Treut’s characters are gender warriors. Often preferring real life stories to fiction, Treut travels to Brazil with Warrior of Light. In the midst of a ghetto in Rio, a woman runs Children of Light, a project committed to the protection and the education of poor and abandoned street children who are mostly of African descent and HIV positive. Artist turned activist, Yvonne Bezerra de Mello has a middle class background and was prompted to take action after a shocking police massacre of street children 1993. In a country where poverty is rampant, the wealthy see these children as nothing but thieving savages. De Mello, who was educated in the Sorbonne, has no illusions about ending poverty any time soon. Many of the children are descendants of African slaves with no records, papers, no sense of self and no love. She has three rules for her children: No drugs; no guns; no Bible.

A retrospective of Monika Treut’s work will be screened at IU Cinema from October 22nd through the 24th. She will host her students’ selection from The Kinsey Institute film archive on the 25th. So in the spirit of Hirschfield and Kinsey, and gender warriors and strong women everywhere, you are all invited to be a gendernaut temporary, permanent or otherwise, by Cyber Goddess Sandy Stone: “Join us, join the identity party, join the excitement, the challenge and the stark terrifying fear of playing in the boundaries between identities!”

The Ryder ◆ October 2011