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
May 12, 2019: A (Re)Quest for Freedom @ TADA Theater, 15 W. 28th Street, NY
IHRAF Dance Curators Layla Zami and Oxana Chi presented an evening of dance and live-music exploring themes of freedom and beauty. In A (Re)Quest for Freedom, dancers and musicians from Europe and the USA searched for possibilities to be free, in their movements, sounds, community, society, individually and together. The evening presented a wide scope of artistic forms including contemporary Dance, African Global Theater and compositional improvisation. A (Re)Quest for Freedom affered a poetic call for equal rights and an uplifting invitation to celebrate the living body. The evening featured Gwen Rakotovao Company, presenting Gwen’s solo excerpt Fitiavana (Esperanto); Oxana Chi & Layla Zami presenting I Step On Air , a dance-music-theater piece dedicated to the iconic activist, poet and speech therapist May Ayim; Pianist, composer, & bandleader Mara Rosenbloom and The Lovelies, a compositional improvisation dance company.
April 14, 2019: Shalom/Salaam: A Voyage to Muslim-Jewish Solidarity @ Actors Theatre Workshop, 145 W. 28th Street, NY
IHRAF and the Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee explored the cultural, historical and spiritual affinities between members of these two Abrahamic faiths. Beginning at 1 pm, we spent the afternoon in conversation, workshops, talks, and finish with an evening performance, including dance, theatre and music. The full-day schedule comprised a wide variety of explorations, including: a meditation niggun (chant) led by Jewish spiritual practitioner Eliezer Sobel; a reading and discussion of medieval Muslim-Jewish poetry, followed by a writing workshop to create a personal poem, led by Muslim Writers Collective member Monna Sabouri; a book talk and discussion, by IHRAF Founding ProducerTom Block concerning his groundbreaking study of the influence of Sufism on medieval Jewish mysticism, Shalom/Salaam: A Story of a Mystical Fraternity; a discussion with Widad Hassan, Lead Advisor for Muslim, Arab, South Asian Communities and Beth Miller, Liaison to Jewish Communities, both for the NYC Commission on Human Rights; Muslim-Jewish Songlines: A Tradition of Musical Dialogue by Samuel Torjman Thomas, PhD (of NY Andalus Ensemble); a delicious and nourishing Jewish-Muslim dinner, and then performance featuring: Shayna Maydela Project (mystical Shalom/Salaam belly dancing); Amin Sarshar (Persian setar music and mystical poetry); Bukharian Jewish storyteller Ruben Shimonov; Gilad Barakan playing with Parham Haghighi (Persian and Israeli songs with modern interpretations) and Samuel Torjman Thomas, Director and Bandleader of the NY Andalus Ensemble.
March 18, 2019: Smash the (Immigration) Wall with Beauty Love and Honesty @ Playroom Theater, Times Square, NY
The International Human Rights Art Festival, in conjunction with the New Sanctuary Coalition and Immigrant Families Together, presented an evening of music, film, theatre and discussion in service to smashing the wall within! After all, all walls built in the world represent walls that exist in our psyche -- and we will melt, break, dismantle and (yes!) smash these walls within through beauty, sincerity, vulnerability and engagement with artists and our partners!
The evening included a pre-show by Clown and Jester of the Peace Barbara Ann Michaels; "Hondruas," an excerpt of a new one-woman play by Sara Farrington, performed by Valeria Avina, about women who have crossed the border in the weeks of the zero-tolerance policy, each of who are now living in the US awaiting a court date; Alea Jimenez, Luis D'Elias and New Caracas presented music about the immigrant's experience from the point of view of a Venezuelan band and we finished with a talk-back with an immigrant, awaiting legal resolution, who is being helped by the New Sanctuary Coalition
October 22, 2018: Shalom/Salaam: A Voyage to Muslim-Jewish Solidarity @ Playroom Theater, Times Square, NY
Produced in conjunction with Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee, and Executive Director Michelle Koch. Shalom/Salaam presented an evening of performance, comedy, discussion and conviviality around the strong and little known positive relationship between Muslims and Jews throughout history. The evening comprised a voyage into the culture, history and pain of the Arab-Jew and even the Palestinian Jew by actor and writer Hannah Goldman; an improv comedy set around a shared Sufi-Jewish mystical tale (told about a Middle Eastern Sufi master in the 9th-13th century and retold almost verbatim about a European Hasidic master in the 17th-19th centuries); a niggun and reading by Eliezer Sobel from his fictional story about a medieval Jewish poet and contemporary of Rumi; two medieval Persian poems sung, accompanied by his setar, by Amin Sarshar, plus an introduction to the Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee, by founding board member Zena Schulman.
September 16, 2018: Health and Wellness II: exploring mental and societal health through performance @ Playroom Theater, Times Square, NY
Ideas concerning mental health have changed radically throughout time. For instance, some of the greatest spiritual thinkers in history — from Muhammad, Jesus and Moses to Hildegard of Bingen, Mansur al-Hallaj and the Baal Shem Tov — might have all been diagnosed with a psycho-pathological disorder and been incarcerated in an asylum “for their own good,” instead of shining the light of the spirit upon millions of humans.
While there is no doubt that some mental disorders are overwhelming and even neurobiology based — and susceptible to medical intervention — others seem to be created more by our culture of “logic,” narrow-mindedness and lack of creativity, faith and acceptance. As the 20th-century prophet Thomas Merton noted:
It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missiles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared. What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into a position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will be suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot. They will be obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. When the missiles take off, then, it will be no mistake.
In this evenings program, we looked deeper into mental health through performance. We explored different ideas of what is and what isn't psychic health -- a changing metric throughout human history. The evening featured a theatre excerpt from our very own Social Media Coordinator Alexa Jordan; Laurel Snyder's haunting dance "Bones, Bodies and Demons;" performance artist Rosary Solimanto's "Mental" exploring mental and physical “disability” and then we finished on a gentle note with performer, clown and "Jester of the Peace" Barbara Ann Michaels, who brought us together into a poignant, but light and shared space.
July 22, 2018: Found in the Street: an evening at the intersection of creativity, spirit and the NYC Subway System @ Playroom Theater, Times Square, NY
Found in the Street presented an evening highlighting the creative energy of NYC's street and subway life. We watched Ramon Nyitrai's short documentary "Busk," about NYC street performers, and then enjoyed the performances of three NYC street performers: Natalia Paruz (the "Saw Lady"), Jacob Cohen (cello) and Marc Mueller ("StreetMule"), a multi-instrumentalist performer). Afterward, we participated in a discussion with these artists about their unbreakable creative passion, what drives them, the challenges of presenting work in the street and other concerns about art, life and the spiritual underpinnings of creativity.
It is my belief that creators in this world echo the original act of creation. As this original effort was not a one-time experience (any mystic would assure), but is an ongoing endeavor by the primal maker, the efforts of human creators offer a constant reminder of this ongoing, though imperceivable, undertaking, supporting everything we see, feel and are.
Artists, performers, writers and other creators offer the highest form of prayer, as they generate something from nothing, beauty formed out of the aether. And the performers we meet tonight are at the utmost height of invocation, taking their work into the streets of New York, making the world their audience, and asking for nothing in return except for a few moments of attention and perhaps a dollar in their tip jar. Their passion and commitment to their craft offers a constant reminder of the original act
June 18, 2018: Elements (Earth / Water / Air / Fire / Spirit) @ Playroom Theater, Times Square, NY
A multicultural and international evening of solo and group dance pieces centering each one of the Five Elements: Earth / Water / Air / Fire / Spirit. Come witness a unique exploration of the elements underlying human and universal experience through movement.
Davalois Fearon (Water), a Bessie award-winning, critically-acclaimed dancer, teacher, and choreographer born on the island of Jamaica and raised in The Bronx, New York, former member of the Stephen Petronio Dance Company;
Nai-Ni Chen (Fire), who fuses the dynamic freedom of American modern dance with the grace and splendor of Asian art.;
Sheldon Raymore (Earth), a Native American Storyteller, Visual Artist, Actor, Choreographer, Cultural Consultant, and an award winning Grass Dancer;
Oxana Chi (Spirit), a multi-talented Afro-German performing artist honored as an Ambassador of Peace (Jakarta 2016);
Open Dance Ensemble (Air/Wind), who will present a live, self-conducted improvised dance performance to an original soundscore by The Ghost Ensemble.
Featuring original music soundscores by Sylvestre Soleil (for Oxana Chi) and The Ghost Ensemble / Ben Richter (for Open Dance Ensemble). Event curated by Layla Zami, Assistant Producer at IHRAF
This evening invited our audience to explore the Five Elements from the perspective of dance performance.
April 30, 2018: Thank You for Coming Out @ The PIT, 123 E. 24th St., NY
The improv group interpreted two stories of trans-gendered friends of IHRAF, Rae Tutera from Lena Dunham's HBO doc 'Suited' and Jeena Bloom. The stories were told with both musical and non-musical improv. Thank You for Coming Out celebrates LGBTQ improvisers and storytellers of all experience levels from all over NYC. In a safe space, based on the details of a vulnerable and heartfelt coming out story, our improvisers make up a hilariously insightful and creative show on the spot. Keep your eye out for them at the Festival this November where they will be challenged to create a long-form, hour-long improv based on an LGBTQ love story!
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, Theatre District, NY
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, Lower East Side, NY
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 @ Playroom Theater in Times Square, NY
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, Lower East Side, NY
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, St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Brooklyn, NY
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, Dramatist Guild Fund, NY
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.
August 22 & 23, 2017- UPROOT: a new play with food, HERE Arts Center, Soho, NY
July 13, 2017- Echoes of Incarceration: Documentaries & Discussion, Dramatist Guild Fund, NY
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.