Still from the film "Detachment," part of Catherine Kennedy's installation "The Baggage We Carry" at Pillsbury House in Minneapolis.
Imagine having to flee your country because of war, move to a completely foreign land where you don't speak the language, and try to survive. How would you keep your sanity?
For artist Catherine Kennedy's grandmother, who fled Liberia's civil war and ended up in Minnesota, the answer came in the form of a regular gathering with other similar women. Each month they came together for what was almost a spiritual ritual, cooking food, singing and sharing stories all night, all dressed in white and thanking God for their salvation.
They appear very poignant about their source of strength, God first and each other. They are each asked to shower prior to joining their peers in the designated space of a gathering. Their use of white clothing per their words goes hand in hand with their belief that God is holy and in order to stand before Him to thank him, one must be cleansed. Further, the color of the fabric signifies purity for them, new beginnings.
Kennedy was fascinated by her grandmother's gatherings with her friends, and the stories of the suffering they endured in Liberia. Many were raped, witnessed the killing of their husbands; their children were kidnapped and forced to become soldiers in the war. What she learned about their lives formed the basis for her body of work "The Baggage We Carry" which is now on display at Obsidian Arts, located in the lobby of Pillsbury House in Minneapolis.
"The Baggage We Carry" at Obsidian Arts
Kennedy says creating this installation was a way for her to grieve the death of her grandmother, while also trying to better understand her.
She was not one to give up easy on anything. Although she was not a literate woman, my memories of her was a courageous and virtuous woman who would do whatever it took to see her children succeed in life. She went from selling crops prior to the war to running transportation and becoming an indigenous governor to her region in her lifetime. The war wiped her to zero forcing her to move not once but several times in other countries seeking refuge before even settling in the USA. In Minneapolis, her confinement to the weather and language barrier and personal struggles with brain injury, depression amongst other health issues did not stop her from co-creating the group.
Some of the images Kennedy creates are distorted stills from videos of these monthly gatherings. Much in the same way a foreigner can't truly understand the rituals of another culture, the viewer can't see clearly what is going on, and only gets hints or glimpses of the event.
In one video installation, called "Detachment," Kennedy removes a number of bandages from her face. She winces in pain as she takes them off her eyes and from her cheeks. It's a striking visual metaphor for how the healing process can in itself be painful, leaving us fragile and tender.
Obisidian Arts director Roderica Southall says Kennedy is one of the most talented emerging artists he knows, carefully presenting her ideas from a number of different angles.
She tenderly tells a really horrific story. It's a delicate way of treating a really serious subject. And one of the results is that it really put into focus the comfort in which the rest of us reside.
Throughout the lobby of Pillsbury House, Kennedy has placed bowls she made for people to pick up and examine. The color of gristle and bone, the bowls are a gruesome reminder of the hunger and suffering of refugees, as well as the spiritual emptiness that is left in the wake of tragedy. Kennedy says if these Liberian women taught her anything, it's that there are no limitations to a person's ability to cope.
Their faces are filled with sweat, their eyes closed, and smiles across their faces create such a strong energy as you stand in their presence. A vibe of sincerity, conviction and sense of purpose simmers in the air as they stand for what they believe. These women evoked for me a sence of sustaining personal worth belonging to a group of tribal women with a common thread... they share language barriers, illiteracy, culture shock, post traumatic stress... and they are able to be joyful about it.
Kennedy says the experience of studying these women has allowed her to look at her own deeper sense of worth and tap into questions surrounding life, death, religion and culture. She says if she wants viewers of her work to take away anything, it's the knowledge that even lives that have been marked with immense pain and trauma can find new hope, beauty and love in the right community.
Catherine Kennedy will give an artist talk tonight at Pillsbury House, and will be joined by art historian Suzanne Roberts and professor Patricia Briggs. "The Baggage We Carry" runs through April 23.
Posted at 1:29 PM on April 14, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: News and reviews
Bereaved dad returns to where it all began
Three years after his wife died and he was left to care for a day-old preemie baby alone, Matt Logelin is running a nonprofit to help other bereaved parents, raising his feisty toddler and promoting his new book.
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The world of retail, from the trenches
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BOOK REVIEW: Freelance journalist Caitlin Kelly makes a persuasive case for better treatment of retail's massive undervalued workforce.
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Free associations: Goshka Macuga at the Walker; David Carr at MSPIFF
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Rock 'n' roll spectacle: Shows at Stevens Square Center for the Arts and Urbans Arts
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The director of 'Color Me Obsessed,' a new movie about the Replacements, talks about making the movie without the band -- or its music.
- Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press
A Machine to See With, or be the star of your own movie
A kind of choose-your-own-adventure, the experience leads you though a game of intrigue and suspense as you follow instructions dictated via cell phone.
- Sheila Regan, City Pages
Robert Plant and the Band of Joy at the State Theatre, 4/12/11
When Robert Plant opened with a funky, schmaltzy version of the Zeppelin classic "Black Dog," I was worried that the show would be a series of classic rock songs made palatable for the adult-contemporary crowd. Luckily, it only took about one more song for Plant to ease into his bluegrass-inspired, countrified folk sound, and as soon as he clicked with his band and warmed up his voice the show turned into something quite extraordinary.
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The Current launches 24-hour local music stream
The stream offers a nice mix of the more radio-friendly artists that get a lot of airplay on the radio station and more obscure local acts; an hour of listening can guide you through everything from Dessa to Food Pyramid to Spider John Koerner to the Monks.
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Diddy Dirty Money with Lloyd and Tyga at Epic, 4/13/11
The concert is an over-the-top performance worth seeing for the spectacle alone.
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We Became Actors unleash 'Something Major'
"Reaching" is a good word to describe the new record.
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Red Eye Theater looks at 'The Small' things
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Blast Theory's "A Machine to See With": Monkey see, monkey do
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It's not often that I use the blog to promote a radio show before it airs, but this one merits exceptional treatment.
My colleague Annie Baxter is not just an accomplished business reporter, she's also a great writer. When MPR conducted an internal "contest" for show ideas, Baxter pitched a show that would highlight the amazing literary talent in our state. To her delight it was accepted. Fast forward many late-nights and long weekends, and "Writing Minnesota" was born.
The show, which airs tomorrow (Friday) at noon and Sunday at 6pm is an hour-long program which, Baxter says, "will sound like nothing else on our airwaves."
We've got some amazing poems by poets from around the state, which are very place-based. We had Chris Roberts record the poets reading at the locations mentioned in the poems, so you really feel transported to the Mississippi and the grain fields of Red Wing. And we've adapted a fabulous short story by Charles Baxter (no relation) for the radio. It's called "The Winner," and it's set in the hills bordering Lake Superior in a millionaire's bizarre compound. We hired a team of talented actors to bring the piece to life. We've also got some great interviews with various writers about the extent to which they identify as a Minnesota writer-- i.e. whether they see their work as consistent with any kind of regional voice.
Some of the other featured writers include Steve Healey, Robert Hedin, Philip Bryant, Kao Kalia Yang, and Nicole Helget.
So, will Writing Minnesota become a regular feature on MPR airwaves? At this point, Baxter doesn't think so. But in the off-chance it does become a series, Baxter already has plenty of ideas:
If I had the chance to produce more episodes, I wouldn't organize every one around work that references Minnesota as a place. Instead, I'd probably pick themes like "Minnesota writers on love" or "Minnesota writers on death," etc. Maybe I'd have a few place-specific shows still, looking at, say, the writing scene in Duluth or writings specifically about Minneapolis or St. Paul.
I should also note that Baxter had lots of production help from Morning Edition's Curtis Gilbert... who also happens to be her husband.(2 Comments)
(Left: Design by Emma Berg, photo credit - Emily Utne; Right: Design by Kevin Kramp, photo credit - Shuttertrip + Kevin Kramp)
The ever-curious hounds are interested in an artist who questions whether perception really is reality, two local designers whose fashion makes a statement, and a new CD from the Duluth indie rock stalwarts who harmonize as husband and wife.
(Want to be an art hound? Sign up!)
Artist Sasa Kolasnjaj's exhibition at the the Duluth Art Institute, "Reality: a Dialogue," seeks to launch a conversation about our perception of reality, and artist and writer Rob Kaiser-Schatzlein of Duluth is only too happy to dive in. Rob says Kolasnjaj's show of altered photographs tackles tough philosophical questions about the representation of reality in art.
It's Minnesota Fashion Week and Minneapolis make-up artist Julie Swenson has her eye on two local designers. Julie, the proprietor of Smart and Chic Beauty Lounge in Nordeast, says haute couture designer Emma Berg specializes in detail obsessed creations that are still practical, while Kevin Kramp's designs have a conceptual feel, almost like wearable sculpture. Berg and Kramp will display their wares on Thursday, April 14th at the MNfashion Atrium.
And you can get an early sneak peek at the Art Hounds' picks every week by texting the word ART to 677-677.
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