Aljira Reception Pix
I managed to get my...self in gear to get to the opening art reception last nite at Aljira (pronounced aal.jíe.ra, not aal.jéer.a as one might expect) about 20 minutes before the reception was scheduled to end. But this is Newark, and the clock is not a tyrant here (I arrived around 8:43 NPT — Newark People Time). Perhaps that's the case in all arts communities, but I wasn't much involved with the only other arts community I might compare ours to, NY's, aside from going to museums on occasion when I lived in Manhattan for 35 years, so don't know.
NY is a funny place, in that there is so much that people know they could go to, that many NYers don't actually go to much of anything. There are millions of NYers who have never been to the Statue of Liberty or the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building. Or if they have, it's only because they had to show out-of-towners around. In that I was born and raised in NJ, I was never that kind of blasé (or is it lae.záe?) NYer. I got to all the touristy places, eventually, from the NY and Brooklyn Botanical Gardens — how come we don't have a B.G. in Newark? surely we could carve out a niche, such as North American native plants, and challenges from non-native species — to the NY Aquarium (why-don't ditto) at Coney Island, to the Planetarium (we do have one, within the Newark Museum, but it is presently under renovation), to the Bronx and Central Park Zoos (we have the Turtle Back Zoo, but in West Orange, not within Newark city limits; I haven't managed to get there yet — but why would I? It's always there — as is the Statue of Liberty to New Yorkers), to you-name-it.
It wasn't until I moved to Newark and tapered off my visits to NY (now almost none, ever) that I started to appreciate a manageable arts scene. In NYC, everything is supersized, and everybody is mini-mized. You might say that NY has everything mass-backwards. The individual, which is all there really is, is minimalized, and artists are forced to struggle to stand out from the crowd. People get trapped in the fame-game. Status and recognition, rather than the work, the creation, become too much a part of the mindset and goal in itself, rather than a means by which to reach people with what your art says, or might say to people who haven't yet seen it.
In any case, I arrived more than fashionably late, as stars do. I started on the left side of the room (I'm a proud member of the Liberal-Left in most matters, so that was only natural) and walked around the entire three-exhibit show, stopping to say hello to people I knew, like Lowell Craig and Kevin Darmanie. As I reached one partition, I saw a foto of a familiar piece, a chair designed and built by Ade Tugbiyele Sedita, co-owner with her husband, Chris Sedita, of Newark Art Supply. As I started to move on, who should appear but Ade (od-áe) herself. As she saw me, I pointed to the foto quizzically, as to ask, nonverbally, "Is that that yours?", and she nodded. I asked if that was, as I believed, her piece from "the 972 [Broad Street] show", but she said no, which puzzled me. She said it had been in another show, that I had not been to, and Chris, who was following close behind, repeated the same information about a different art show (which info I have forgotten, since I did not fotograf his spoken statement (I use my camera as a visual notepad; I can also capture utterances with it, since my little camera takes videos with sound, not just still pix). Then a litebulb went off in Chris's head, and he remembered that the chair in the foto was indeed in the Catfish Friday 972 show from two years ago (24th foto of my post of November 3, 2008. Paris Strother is blocking it in both the 11th and the 16th foto in that same post; and Sadee Brathwaite's two paintings in the NSA exhibition that I showed on March 22nd, are shown in that 2008 post as fotos 21 and 22).
I said to Ade, that's right; but you weren't there, for being in London or someplace in Europe at the time, whereupon she recalled yes, that chair was at 972 (now home to the Solo(s) Project House). In that I could not fotograf her by it at the time, I asked if she would pose by her picture of it now. (The original has sold. Good.)
Ade was wearing a badge with a different name, a pseudonym (I didn't ask why), and I asked her to hold still while I took a close picture of that artist badge (with "Wahala Temi" on it), and Chris playfully upbraided me for taking a picture of a badge at Ade's, um, chest. I told him I use the camera as a notepad. He knows, of course, that I am gay, and breasts hold no appeal to me, in that I am neither an infant nor a heterosexual man. I don't even like chicken breasts. I'm a thigh man, in chicken terms. (I pass over an all-too-memorable scene of a demonstration of peaceable intentions in New Guinea from the famous/notorious 1962 documentary Mondo Cane. If you don't understand the reference, good. If you'd like to, I imagine you can find that documentary on disk or online somewhere.)
I saw a bunch of Newark-arts people at the reception, at least one of whom arrived even later than I did. For shame! Get your butt in gear earlier, you lazy sumbits. (I imagine most native speakers of English will be able to decipher "sumbits", but it is, in any case, a reference to something my oldest brother, when a toddler, said after hearing my parents say something quite similar.)
I spoke with Joya ("Angola") Thompson of the Catfish Friday women's art collective, and she said she wanted to get her poem signed, so walked in search of the poet. I didn't know what she was talking about, so caut up with her to ask. It seems that Ethan Shoshan, who had to himself one of the three exhibitions on view that evening, had written a poem, copies of which were at the refreshments table, and she wanted him to sign her copy. He was busy at the time, surrounded by people he was talking to. In NYC, artists may not be so accessible. In any case, I mentioned to Angola that there is an open-mike kind of poetry reading coming up on April 7th at the Newark Public Library, and she already knew of it. She also knew that the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation (famous for its sponsorship of PBS programming) is holding its annual very-big-deal poetryfest in Newark this year, in October. I asked if she knew whether this is held in different places each year, but it was her understanding that it is usually held in Waterloo Village (Sussex County, in the rural, northwesternmost part of NJ). I mentioned that the Foundation is based in Morristown, then expressed my hope that the Foundation would make Newark the permanent site of its annual affair. Given that October is Newark's biggest arts month, that would fit right in.
Angola said she wanted to make sure she could buy tickets, so needed to check the Foundation's website. I was puzzled by that, and thought that a foundation should be offering free poetry readings, and besides, there are to be multiple venues within Newark, so perhaps ordinary admission fees would apply for each venue (like the Newark Museum). We have almost seven months to establish what is happening with the poetry festival.
It is Gaetano who first drew my attention to the Dodge poetry event, and caused me thereby to think about including bits of poetry by Newark poets in this blog from time to time. But I'd have to vet reputable Newark poetry sites, if there are any. I don't want to be inundated up to my waist in poetry from unpublished poets. I confess here that there's a lot of visual art that I don't "get" at these various shows. But at least I don't have to puzzle over it. If it's not disgusting, I may take a picture of it. And if I don't like it, I might still show it, because someone ELSE might like it. As the Romans said, "De gustibus, non disputandum est" (There's no disputing tastes). I think a LITTLE poetry is a good thing, but some of it is very hard, if not impossible to understand — well, to understand what the poet had in mind. We attach our own meanings to poems, and sometimes when we state what we thought to the poet him/herself, the poet says "I can see that", not "No, that's not what I meant at all (dummkopf!)." I've even written some poetry myself. In fact, I was singled out for negative comment for a poem I had published in some anthology! What a distinction.
It occurs to me now that I wrote a little poem that relates to the topic of people (like NYers — and all too many Newarkers) not visiting things in their own community:
Poets persistIn any case, the poet/artist (not to be confused with "poetaster": "an inferior poet; a writer of indifferent verse") Ethan Shoshan graciously consented both to sign Angola's copy of his poem and to have me take a picture of the signing. JoyAngola (she uses both "Joya" and "Angola", depending on her mood, so I'm combining them for the moment) told Ethan that I write up the various art shows in Newark, to put me in a stronger position to ask his indulgence for a foto. I proffered my card, but he was holding flowers and a number of other things, so had a little difficulty accepting it, tho he managed. It turns out that it was his 30th birthday! He looks about 24, but (claims that) he's 30. Angola froze in a playful pose of exaggerated delite and star-struckedness at having the famous Ethan Shoshan sign her copy of his poem, waiting for me to take a picture, and I played along. I had no idea until I called the picture up in my graffics program how funny it is. Nor did I realize that Ethan is left-handed.
because they can see
that which others do not see.
They stay newcomers to the world
and visit it as rapt sightseers.
Once I had taken the picture, I ribbed Angola: "Sometimes you're such a GIRL!" (As against woman, of course.) She replied that she does have her girly moments. When I reviewed my pix from the reception, I saw that Angola is in three of them. So this is Joya (Angola) Thompson Day at "Newark USA".
Toward the end of the reception, I walked up to a group that included Kevin Darmanie, and said to Noelle Williams, "It's after 9. Get out." Noelle said that "Victor" hadn't switched the lites on and off yet, and I asked who "Victor" is. She explained that he is the founder and executive director of Aljira, then told me, when I asked how I might find him in the crowd, that he is a black man who is wearing a blue-and-white shirt, So I went to look for him, in that I have never taken a picture of him. As I got to the front of the gallery, Edwin Ramoran, [Aljira's Program Director], was coming in the front door. I had looked for him earlier, to ask him to introduce me to the artists so I might take pix of them by their favorite work, but had not seen him. He shook my hand, and I asked if Victor was around. He checked with the ladies at the front desk and they said he had left. I remarked that I had now been to Aljira three times but never met the executive director, so had no picture to show. He joked that he could send me a stock foto by email, but conceded the point when I said that that wouldn't do. I guess I'll get a picture, and maybe an interview, with "Victor" some other time.
I asked Edwin about the teeshirts that dominate the front of the Center, and mentioned that I saw that one of the designs had an explicit Newark theme. He was enthusiastic that one teeshirt did have a Newark design but added that there might be more in time, and clarified that "Shop Aljira" is an ongoing feature. (Last I knew, by the way, Edwin lived in Upper Manhattan, even tho I encouraged him to move to Newark (as I encourage other NYC (and especially Brooklyn) artists to move to Newark, if I have an opportunity to bring up that subject), as would save considerable commute time.) I mentioned that I have thought to offer Newark teeshirts, and have experimented with rendering fotos into line drawings. I really do need to act on this. There are a lot of Newarkers, now, who are proud of Newark, and they should have a way to show that, publicly but in a non-in-your-face way, which a teeshirt or sweatshirt would allow.
After I left Aljira, before many others (I would hate to be the last person to leave; usually), I walked around that area of Downtown Newark, taking pictures as far apart as Washington Park and NJPAC. As I returned to my car, I passed Aljira again, and saw that what seemed from the inside to be an art display, appeared from the outside to be a sales offering of teeshirts by "Emerge alumni Michael Paul Britto, Brendan Fernandes, Jerry Gant, and Jenny Salomon." Good. It is long past time for stores (or galleries) to be offering Newark teeshirts.
In addition to the individual fotos I offer above, I present below a slideshow of the remaining fotos from tonite's reception. (My camera was apparently tired tonite, so didn't exert itself enuf to focus well in some pix. Ignore that.) You should be able to pause the slideshow by moving your cursor onto any foto, and resume by moving the cursor off again.
The current shows run until April 17th, Wednesday-Friday, 12noon-6pm, and Saturday, 11am-4pm (closed Sunday): $3 admission; $2 for students and seniors. Aljira is part of the Bank of America's "Museums on Us" program, so if you present a BofA credit or debit card the first weekend (Saturday and Sunday) of the month (in this case, April 3rd and 4th), you get in free. In that Aljira is not open Sunday, the BofA weekend is one day, next Saturday, April 4th.