In between our yearly, week-long Festivals, we produce a series of performances, discussions, panels, visual art exhibits, screenings and other events around New York City as part of our IHRAF Series. We use these events to explore single issues through art, including the toll of the American penal system on the children of incarcerated adults; Jewish-Palestinian issues and the possibility of engagement; Black Lives Matter concerns; partners working Africa; the possibility and power of women in our social and political worlds; traditional medicine v. the Western brand of doctoring and any other issue which might help lead toward a healthier society
PAST events in the IHRAF Series
April 8, 2018: Health and Wellness: Perspectives from Eastern and Western Cultures (Opera America, 330 7th Ave., NYC)
The afternoon began with four dance pieces presented by the Aseemkala Initiative, which uses Indian dance to explore how movement -- the way we sit, walk, listen, and carry the burden or joy of our physical and mental realities -- expresses our inner yearning for health. They also address contemporary social concerns with this ancient art form, exploring addiction, Western medicine, disability concerns and the struggle for wellness in our increasingly overwhelming digital era. The History and Physical Dance Series is a compilation of patient and physician narratives on illnesses, treatment, and the journey of making one’s way through a new reality. Aseemkala focuses on specific topics and explore the range of experiences patients and physicians undergo through short dance medicine narratives.
The dancers in this show were M.D. candidate and founder of the project Shilpa Darivemula, Jennifer Chowdhury, Supraja Chittari, and Sophia Salingaros. They presented four distinct pieces.
This was followed by a panel discussion and spirited talk-back with with M.D. candidate, traditional Indian dancer and founder of the Aseemkala Initiative Shilpa Darivemula; Cranial Sacral Therapy practitioner Erika Lee Sengstack and meditation and yoga teacher and Master in Social Work candidate Kara Ayn Napolitano. We had a full house, and after the talk-back was finished, many people stayed to continue the conversation.
March 12, 2018: Celebration of Black Men: Beauty, Poetry and Restorative Nature (off-Broadway Davenport Theater, 354 W. 45th Street, NYC)
We presented an evening program of various performances highlighting the power, passion, beauty and talent of Black men. It featured:
Salieu Suso (Griot/Kora) and Ebrima Jassey (Balafon): African music. Salieu and Ebrima presented a selection of West African music and Griot; Jeorge Watson and Darien LaBeach (theatre: monologue on how it feels to be a Black man in America): Jeorge wrote a monologue culled from his intense, personal and vivid Facebook posts, exploring the experience of being a Black man in America today and Darien presented the piece (to much acclaim, I might add!); Quilan Arnold (dance: hip-hop trio) presented a Hip-Hop trio he has just developed as a member of Mare Nostrum "Elements" Emerging Choreographer Series, with dancers Samantha Lysaght and MariAnna Koytsan; Anthony Wills (theatre: The Happiness of Schizophrenia) explored his fear of going insane, more specifically his fear of becoming clinically schizophrenic and by his utterly vulnerable presence, our human identity was revealed as precious and delicate and we finished the evening with Tyrone Bevans (dance: Getting out the Door), who presented a piece about processing the external pressures of the life (media, social construct) to find the strength to step into the world. We played to a full house in the venerable off-Broadway theater, and finished with a standing ovation!
February 21, 2018: Resistance is Love: Black Queer Night @ Dixon Place, in the Lower East Side
Festival Assistant Producer Layla Zami, in conjunction with dancer Oxana Chi, celebrated Black History Month with Black Queer Women's lives and art! The evening featured:
- BLIND SPOT (Nia & Ness): A dance-poetry story of two black, out-lesbian women in a committed relationship, who navigate the daily struggles and joys of life in NYC.
- HOMESONG (EXCERPT) by Layla Zami: A diasporic interlude exploring purple love with spoken words and a breeze of saxophone.
- THROUGH GARDENS (EXCERPT) by Oxana Chi: Oxana embodies the life of Tatjana Barbakoff, a famous dancer, muse and political resistant from 1920s/30s Europe, and blurs the boundaries with her own contemporary story. women’s resistance, and the love of art.
- (RE)SOURCE (EXCERPT) by MBDance: (re)Source is a danced solo exploration of how and when we call on these assets and when we reject them entirely. The dance also includes a unique visual landscape co-created by Maria Bauman with advising from Nontsikelelo Mutiti, and is performed to a Haitian electronica-percussion soundscape created live by Val-Inc.
- FEELING JAZZ (by Oxana Chi & Layla Zami): A dance-music-dialogue between a body and a saxophone.
December 10, 2017: International Human Rights Day Celebration of Women's Power in Music and Dance @ Playroom Theater in Times Square
The International Human Rights Art Festival hosted an evening of music and dance to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We featured a mostly-female evening, highlighting issues of concerns to women, to honor the legacy of Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the drafting committee and spiritual advisor for and married to four-term American president Franklin D. Roosevelt. We also explored what this female and matriarchal energy would look like when applied to the political world: nurturing, caring and how this would affect legislation and the social compact.
The evening featured New York singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist Rachael Sage; the Dancing Georgina Project, who performed “Deconstructing Venus: A Moving Female Portrait”; Marni Rice, offering "In Search of the Past: Memories of a NY Farm Girl from the 1920’s" and Xiomara Evans, with her piece inspired by Jayne Cortez's poem, "If the Drum is a Woman", and by Edvard Munch's painting, "Woman", which depicts haunting anxiety.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the most translated document in the world, available in more than 500 languages.
November 20, 2017: Exiled in Africa @ Lucky Jack's in New York's Lower East Side
We spoke by Facebook Messenger with two of our African partners, exiled Zimbabwean poet Mbizo Chirasha and Oscar Ndayisenga, one of the founders or ASODECOM (Action Solidaire pour le Développement Communautaire) in Ngozi, Burundi. We were struck by the juxtaposition of our sitting in the basement of a bar in New York's Lower East Side in the early evening, while Mbizo joined us from an undisclosed location somewhere in Africa, and Oscar from his him in Burundi, deep in the middle of the night. They were passionate, forthright and strong advocates for their cause. Jeorge Bennet Watson, the actor reading the poetry and stories of these two men, asked forthrightly: "what can we do for you?"
Their desire foremost was to be seen and heard in their work. Secondly, the more we could raise awareness of what they were doing, the better.
As Mr. Chirasha said in his note to the International Human Rights Art Festival: "I ran out of my country, my country of my birth on the 4th of February 2017 into Zambia and then South African, then Swaziland, then Lesotho and then to where IAM NOW. I became one other victim among other victims targeted by the overzealous, shameless, dictatorial Mugabe Regime."
Apart from many other activities as a committed Zimbabwean poet, such as his activity as Outreach Agent for the Zimbabwe Book Development Council, and as Delegate of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair dispatched to the Goteborg International Book Fair in Sweden (in 2003), Mbizo Chirasha was a writer in residence in Egypt (in 2006), and took part in the International Conference of African Culture Development in Ghana as a poet in residence (in 2009).
Mr. Mbizo is an editor of Tuck Magazine.
We also spoke with Oscar Ndayisenga of ASODECOM, about ASODECOM's work toward a Burundi free from violance and poverty, supporting enterpreneurship and guaranteeing the well-being for each family in the fields of argiculture, health, education, human rights, and the environnement. ASODECOM has special consultative status with UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and has developed a strong reputation for engaging in its work in an objective and apolitical manner. They have been awarded the Pan African Award for Entrepreneurship in Education for 2011, 2012 and 2013 by the international NGO "Teach a Man to Fish" and short listed for the Pan African Award for Entrepreneurship in Education for 2016 out of over 400 organisations considered.
October 15, 2017: Prologue to Progress: International Human Rights Art Festival @ Culture Project
Actor Kathleen Turner headlined an evening of art activism to inaugurate Culture Project's new space. This event was moved due to His Eminence Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan censoring International Human Rights Art Festival, due to the LGBTQ content of two of the acts. A special shout-out to the Dramatist Guild, which found a new space for us (St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn), thereby safeguarding this important program, and assuring that Archbishop Dolan would not successfully submarine the event. Some press about the banning and subsequent reformulation of the event can be found here:
Kathleen Turner: performed a monologue concerning citizenship from the one-woman play Red Hot Patriot, about journalist Molly Ivins.
Thank You for Coming Out: Based on the details of a vulnerable and heartfelt coming-out story, improvisers made up a hilariously insightful and creative show on the spot.
Maybe Burke: performed a selection from from their Accidental Trans Anthems: A cabaret of songs you didn't know were meant for trans people!
Tom Tsai: In his solo "Filling Nothing", Tom reflected on an experience with prison inmates and dancing, in relation to his understanding of Breakin' culture and Hip Hop history.
Angela Polite: performed excerpts from MARY SPEAKS (a passion play). The life of biblical figure Mary, the mother of Jesus, is used to explore parallels in the history of black mothers and the loss of their sons from slavery to present day.
Alika Hope Until ALL Are Free, None Will Be: A message on freedom and hope sung through African-American spirituals and 20th century social justice songs.
Jacqueline Dugal shared a solo, Redux. The movement echoed compositional elements of deconstruction, segmentation, and elements of chance with structured improvisation. Radio and podcast excerpts echo themes of gender, systems, politics, culture, and belonging.
Climate Change Theatre Action: Appreciation, a monologue by Katie Pearl from this year’s collection of international short plays on climate, as part of Climate Change Theatre Action, performed by Peyton Lustig.
September 26, 2017- Dissolving Walls: Artistic conversation about current events in the Holy Land
Featuring Palestinian Filmmaker Wafa Jamil and Jewish-American Playwright Jessica Litwak
An evening of art, conversation, and culture which brought together Palestinian and Jewish-American perspectives on current events in the Holy Land. The evening showcased excerpts from Wafa Jamil's film Coffee for All Nations, with comments from Wafa via her home in Sweden, and Jessica Litwak's new short play The Wall, a personal and political response to the Israeli - Palestinian situation.
About the works:
Coffee for all Nations
In the year of 1948, Abed and his family were forced by the Israeli army to abandon their home in (Al-Walaja) village near Bethlehem and move to Dheisheh Refugee Camp. Resilient, Abed decides to go back to his land and live in a Kanani cave that he discovered until the end of his life. He plans to turn his new home into a coffee shop and transform his own tragedy into a project that will provide him an income and allow him to share his one true possession and a stunning view.
Abed’s brother, who spent 30 years at an Israeli prison was released. Despite of the good news, Abed was devastated by the Israeli demolishment of his 5000 years old cave.
Having crossed through the checkpoints many times, Litwak has a unique perspective on the Occupation and this human rights crisis. As an educator and theatre artist who has worked in Jenin, Hebron, Ramallah, Beit Jala and Nablus in the West Bank and who has deep relationships in and with Palestine she cannot support or condone Israeli actions. As a Jewish woman in the Arab world she grapples with the deeply felt paradoxes of heart and heritage, east and west, justice and peace. This short play uses poetry, humor, puppetry and diverse characters to give voice to an impossible problem that can only be survived through increased humanity, paradoxical curiosity, and artful expression.
Jessica Litwack discusses her play "The Wall" Palestinian filmmaker Wafa Jamil on Skple Jessica Litwack performs her play The Wall
August 22 & 23, 2017- UPROOT a new play with food
July 13, 2017- Echoes of Incarceration: Documentaries & Discussion
Echoes of Incarceration is an award-winning documentary initiative produced by youth with incarcerated parents. The project explores the issue of mass incarceration and its effects on families, and creates documentary films told from the life experiences of the filmmakers themselves. The project seeks to train and empower young people to tell their stories and advocate for change. To date, their films have screened thousands of times in universities, prisons, and national conferences, we’ve partnered with Sesame Street, Upworthy, and screened our work at the White House.
The project is a collaboration between filmmaker Jeremy Robins and a group of non-profit organizations and advocates around the country. The process starts with intensive filmmaking and advocacy training for youth age 16-22. The crew then launches into production of documentary films under the guidance of a team of professional filmmakers and experts in the field of criminal justice. The ultimate goal is to give voice to one of the largest and most invisible social issues of our times, and to harness the intelligence, energy, and creativity of young people to rethink our understandings of crime and punishment.
The evening included a half-dozen of the short documentaries, plus a talk-back with filmmaker (and son of an incarcerated father) with Kharon Benson.