Unity Through Division

Art asks questions, but rarely does it expect an answer.  This wasn’t the case for the Divided States of America, a performance and discussion at Emory & Henry on Feb. 20.

As part of a series of “DIY performance events” mobilized by Bad and Nasty, Kelly Bok presented part of her senior thesis and asked the audience to get involved. Based on the idea of forum theatre created by Augusto Boal, the event sought to facilitate dialogue about the recent political climate.

Forum theatre makes the audience as much a part of the performance as the actors, and that’s just what Divided State of America did.

Through various means, the performers asked the audience to engage physically, emotionally, and intellectually with each other and the issues facing the country today. Bok’s idea was that through listening and discussion, people might gain a better understanding of the people around us and how to deal with what’s going on.

Many people felt apprehensive and even fearful of the new administration’s agenda, while others had a more “wait and see” approach. Some were directly affected by many of the issues discussed — the travel ban, the Affordable Care Act, fake news, the women’s marches and “the wall.” Some felt fear not for themselves, but for their loved ones.

The night ended on a bright note as Bok asked each audience member to stand and share something that brought them hope.

String Theory

The cold did nothing to keep the crowd away from an artist’s talk with Sheila Pepe on Thursday night. They came with hats and coats (and one person with a bag of fries), but a diverse group of students and non-students gathered in Ball Hall at ETSU for the event hosted by Mary B. Martin School of the Arts.


Pepe is an artist and educator active since the mid-1990s, and in her craft she seeks to bridge the divide between abstraction and figure. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Massachusetts College of Art and a Master of Fine Arts from the School of Museum Fine Arts, Boston.  Currently, she works at the Pratt Institute as the assistant chair of fine arts.

Pepe has a softspoken eccentricity, highlighted by her appearance: blue polka dot button-down under red suspenders, large black cat-eye glasses, flyaway salt-and-pepper hair cut short, and a “Stay Woke” button. Her quietly cheerful demeanor warmed into hilarity as the evening progressed, the crowd laughing loudly at her jokes.

“I grew up in a family deli, where work was play and play was work,” she noted. This and her upbringing in the Roman Catholic Church led to her fascination with “transformation and temporality,” which shines through in her work. She also commented that she is as much influenced by the pop art from the New York World’s Fair as she is by her family’s trip to Vatican City when she was young.

With a slideshow, Pepe took the audience through her personal art history, as well as what influenced her along the way. While she works mainly in three-dimensional mediums such as crochet, photographs of her work can be found on her website here.

An hour and a half after it began, the crowd greeted the end of her talk with heavy applause.

“My work is smarter than I am,” Pepe said, “and I have to catch up to it.”

For a full list of Mary B. Martin School of the Arts spring schedule, visit the website here.

Sweet Dreams Are Made of Mangoes

Every semester, Mary B. Martin School of the Arts partners with the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers to bring three films to ETSU’s campus—and not only the films, but the filmmakers as well. The first showing of the spring on Monday, Feb. 6, was a narrative film called Mango Dreams.

The film follows the story of an Indian doctor who lost his family during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. He embarks on a journey with an unlikely companion: a rickshaw driver. The two wayward men strike a balance and travel across India together to reach the childhood home of the doctor. It is a story of reconciliation, of bridging the gap between past and present, between Hindu and Muslim, young and old, Indian and Pakistani.

This is the first picture by filmmaker John Upchurch, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina. He gave a question-and-answer session after the screening and talked at length about what inspired him to make the film and how it was made. He had had the basic idea for the story in his head for a long time, and when he began learning about Indian history after marrying an Indian woman, the details came together. Upchurch shot the film in India, and most of the cast and crew are from India.

The crowd packed into the Culp Auditorium for the 7 p.m. screening—and it was a crowd, nearly full. (Interesting note: your blogger may have been the youngest person in the room.) The audience received the film well, laughing generously and applauding when the credits rolled. Present were two people of note: a man who had survived the partition himself; and a woman whose husband endured a similar separation as the main character of the film, except his story took place in Israel and Palestine.

One man in the audience thanked Upchurch for the film, noting how timely the story of bridging differences felt to him given the world’s current political climate.

Mango Dreams will be released on Netflix or Amazon Prime sometime in the late spring. Upchurch said to watch the film’s Facebook page for updates.

The next films as part of the Southern Circuit Tour are two documentaries: I Come From, which follows incarcerated poets and playwrights, screens March 13; and Speed Sisters, the story of an all-woman race car driving team in the West Bank screening on April 10. Both films will be shown in the Martha Street Culp Auditorium at 7 p.m on their respective dates.

Welcome to my tiny blog

I am trying very hard not to start typing the lyrics from “Wilkommen” right now, which might be all you need to know about the person behind this webpage. For those of you who would like to know more, please keep reading.

My name is Hannah Purdy, and I am a journalism student at East Tennessee State University. For a reporting class this semester, I had to choose a beat to write and blog about. Sports? No, thanks. Politics? I am too tired and small, and I need to rest. But the arts—yeah, I can write about that.

So here we are, on the internet together, in the place where I will write about the arts in the Tri-Cities. It will be in a more professional, less weird tone than whatever you call how I’m writing right now. Stick around and you might just learn about something cool going on near you!