Smile Politely

Here’s a sneak peek at PYGMALION’s arts offerings

PYGMALION 2022 is almost here, and, if I have one piece of advice it’s this: Clear your schedule. Here in the Arts section, I’ll be focusing on what’s happening in the “lit” and “made” tracks. But there are also some important intersections of art and intellectual exploration happening over in the aptly named “think” track. PYGMALION 2022 will smash your assumptions about navel gazing artists and out of touch academics. Come witness renown national and local writers, filmmakers, and visual artists as they investigate intersectional identities through personal narratives, cultural history, and an eye to the future.

Mia P. Manansala

Close up black and white photo of Mia P. Manansala looking slightly off to left with a bit of a smile.

Photo from the PYGMALION website.

Of her first novel, Arsenic and Adobo, the New York Times said “Manansala peppers the narrative with enough red herrings to keep readers from guessing the killer, but the strength of the novel is how family, food and love intertwine in meaningful and complex ways.” It takes a dexterous hand to successfully craft a well-timed mystery. But it takes a truly bold and thoughtful writer to, as her press bio notes, “[use] humor (and murder) to explore aspects of the Filipino diaspora, queerness, and her millennial love for pop culture.” 

Having earned some serious props for her work — just this year she won the 2022 Anthony Award for Best First Novel, the 2022 Macavity Award for Best First Mystery,  and placed on the 2022 RUSA Reading List for Mystery — Manansala has redefined her genre by centering  the unique and complex layers of her of culture and identity. Fun fact: Manansala is also a trained book coach, which means you might get a mini masterclass in craft during her Q&A

Hear Manansala read and take questions from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 22nd at the Urbana Free Library.

Nabil Ayers

Black and white photo of Nabil Ayers smiling and looking off to the side.

Photo from the PYGMALION website.

The son of a white Jewish ballet dancer and a Black jazz musician, Nabil Ayers was literally born to work and write within the intersection of art and racial identity. Though he only met his father several times, he inherited his passion for music. He has written about music for the New York Times, NPR, Rolling Stone, and GQ. And, through his company, Beggars Group USA, where he has worked with musicians such as The National, St. Vincent, and Big Thief. His recent memoir, My Life in the Sunshine: Searching for My Father and Discovering my Family takes its title from his father’s song “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.”

Read some of Ayers music journalism on his website.

Hear Ayers read and take questions from 1:30-2:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 24th, at Krannert Art Museum.

Ayana Contreras

Black and white photo of Ayana Contreras smiling with her mouth closed with artwork in the background.

Photo from the PYGMALION website.

Like so many within this year’s “lit” line-up, Ayana Contreras works in that sweet spot between music, culture, and memory. A contributing writer to DownBeat magazine who’s also been published in the Chicago Review. Contreras is the author of Energy Never Dies: Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Chicago, which was published December 2021 through University of Illinois Press.

Check out this episode entitled “Shackles and Shanties: a temporary art project”  from Contrera’s radio show, Reclaimed Soul, here

Contrera will be speaking from 5:30-6:15 p.m. on Saturday, September 24th at 25 O’Clock Brewing Co.

Black On Black On Black On Black

Grayscale image of Black woman and Black man in 70s style clothes and Afros doing the Bump.

Patrick Earl Hammie, D8.40.53 BUMP 1, 2021. Artist’s giclee print. © Patrick Earl Hammie. Photo from the Krannert Art Museum website, courtesy of the artist and 33 Contemporary.

As I shared in my recent 2022 list of five things in arts for the month, Black on Black on Black on Black is a movement. A shift into the experience and point of view of Black artists, and ultimately, a movement into the future of what Black could be. According to the commentary on its Krannert Art Museum website page, this significant initiative marks a “re-visioning of the Faculty Exhibition recognizes the legacy of Black knowledge and production in ways that supports the ongoing efforts by the School of Art & Design, Krannert Art Museum, College of Fine and Applied Arts, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign towards addressing and celebrating our unique diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Co-curated by Patrick Earl Hammie, Stacey Robinson, Blair Ebony Smith, and Nekita Thomas, this exhibition opening is just the beginning. Stay tuned to learn more about upcoming opportunities for public engagement and collaboration inspired by this important work. 

The opening of Black on Black on Black on Black will take place from 3-6 p.m. on Saturday, September 24th at Krannert Art Museum. 

James Spooner

Grayscale photo of James Spooner wearing a black cap seated outdoors on concrete steps.

Photo from the PYGMALION website.

James Spooner is a musician, documentary filmmaker, graphic novelist, and tattoo artist. Growing up with the seemingly contradictory identity of Black fan and performer of Punk Rock music, Spooner was inspired to find others like him. AFROPUNK: The Movie follows four musicians of color who find themselves in this typically white community.

Watch a preview of Spooner groundbreaking documentary, AFROPUNK: The Movie here.

You can also check out the preview of Spooner’s latest graphic novel High Desert: black. punk. nowhere below. 

Following a showing of his film AFROPUNK: The Movie from 6:30-7:30 on Saturday, September 24th at 25 O’Clock Brewing Co., director James Spooner will talk about his work from 7:30-8:30 p.m. 

Where We’re At: Writer’s On Place

So much of our lives and identities stem from the notion of place. Where we began. Where we are now. And where and what we long for. As recent events have underscored “place,” both the physical location and the symbol, can determine access to justice, healthcare, and community. I love a good theme when it comes to group exhibitions and readings. I can’t wait to see where this one will go. 

On tap are University of Illinois Creative Writing Program faculty members Amy Hassinger, Christopher Kempf, Corey Van Landingham, and program students Claire Christoff, Chelsea Hill, Weston Morrow, Erin Hoffman, and Madeline Furlong. Come early and hear Michael Ladue from 5-5:30 p.m. and Vern Fein from 6-6:30 p.m. 

Where We’re At: Writer’s On Place will take place from 7-9 p.m. on Saturday, September 24th, at Analog Wine Library.

The Made Fest

Framed photo of Queen Anne's Lace with white border and black frame.

Photo from the MADE Fest Instagram feed.

The Made Fest is one of my favorite fall festivals. As of this writing, the full vendor list is still forthcoming on the website. But you can get some great sneak peeks on the MADE Fest Instagram.  Founded in 2013 and led by a proud intersectional feminist since 2013, this year’s Made Fest stands strong behind it’s mission of “when injustice is law, disobedience becomes duty.” Personally, I’ve been saving up for some badass feminist and queer art and I can’t wait to shop. 

Enjoy The Made Fest from 5-10 p.m. on  Friday, September 23rd, and from noon to 10 p.m. on Saturday, September 24th outside of the Rose Bowl Tavern.

So pull up your calendar and make a plan to explore some of these incredible opportunities. Come with an open mind and an actively listening ear. Witness these deeply personal and powerful narratives and, perhaps, reexamine your own. 

Top image: Patrick Earl Hammie, D8.40.53 BUMP 1, 2021. Artist’s giclee print. © Patrick Earl Hammie. Photo from the Krannert Art Museum website, courtesy of the artist and 33 Contemporary.

Arts Editor

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