Mayapple & Sarah Lawrence Summer Workshop—The Art of Protest: Art and Scholarship as Political Resistance




Mayapple & Sarah Lawrence Summer Intensive

Artists and scholars have long been at the forefront of protest movements in the United States and around the world. Whether by direct action or through their work, they have been instrumental in calling out injustice, fighting for the rights of marginalized groups, and drawing attention to problems both local and global in scale. In these fraught political times, the necessity of art that responds to injustice is never more urgent. Sarah Lawrence College and the Mayapple Center for the Arts and Humanities will jointly provide a forum for artists and scholars to reflect on their own practice of activist art, and more broadly, on the potential(s) for art as political resistance in America in 2018.

This one-day workshop will begin with a panel discussion with artists Dar Williams, Mahogany L. Browne, Felix Endara, and David Birkin and scholars Nicolaus Mills and Michelle Slater on their personal practice of art activism and the possibilities and problems of art activism as political resistance. Participants will continue the conversation generated in the panel in an informal lunch with other artist participants. After lunch, participants will convene in a generative session of their choosing with program faculty—Dar Williams (music), Mahogany L. Browne (poetry), Nicolaus Mills (journalism), David Birkin (visual arts), and Felix Endara (film and television)—further delving into art activism in their area of interest. Themes will include crafting a successful political op-ed piece, creating communities as social capital through music, resisting through poetry, telling transgender narratives through theatre and film, and considering ways that visual arts can carve out a space for free thinking and resistance. The day will conclude with a group discussion on collaboration among artists/artistic disciplines in the service of activism and steps for moving forward.

This one-day workshop previews a ten-day residential workshop on art as political resistance planned for June 2019 at Sarah Lawrence College. Program admission ($25) includes all programming and a catered lunch. Vegetarian and vegan lunch options are available. Sarah Lawrence alumni, faculty, staff, and students may attend at no cost.

Generative Sessions

Visual Arts Workshop with David Birkin

“The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is—it’s to imagine what is possible.”—bell hooks

There has never been a time when art and politics have not been intricately interwoven. How we see, why we act—our gaze and our drive—are never neutral. The personal is the political. Yet attempts are often made to separate the two. In this visual arts workshop, we will consider the following questions: What does this say about the motivations of those who promote a depoliticised art for art’s sake? Where have we inherited this notion from and why does it persist? What is its legacy? And how do we move forward in these fraught political times? When every aspect of our cultural and civic life has been commoditised and privatised, what chance does art have to carve out a space for free thinking and resistance? Focusing on key moments in the history of creative protest, this will be an opportunity to reflect on the role of public art and performance in our current political climate as we imagine what may yet be possible…

David BirkinDavid Birkin is an artist based in New York. Born in London, he studied anthropology at Oxford University, fine art at the Slade, and was a fellow of the Art & Law Program, and the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Working with human rights lawyers, journalists, and civil liberties organisations, much of Birkin's work reflects on the way war is depicted—its mythology, iconography, and the language and legal frameworks that underpin it— as well as the intersection between military and civilian culture. At its core is a concern for censorship and the edges of visibility, often focusing on omissions, redactions, glitches, or slips in the smooth surface of a political system to disclose a deeper ideological drive. Past projects include a collaboration with the courtroom sketch artist at Guantánamo; a photographic transcription of identification numbers from the Iraqi civilian casualties database; an archive image from Kabul traced to Afghan lapis lazuli mines; an extract of CIA legalese in skywriting above Manhattan; and a plane circling the Statue of Liberty’s torch towing a banner that read THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT.

Birkin has written on the ethics and aesthetics of conflict for Frieze, Cabinet, Creative Time, Ibraaz, The Harvard Advocate, and the American Civil Liberties Union. He has given talks at Oxford University's Institute for Ethics, Law & Armed Conflict, LCC University of the Arts London, the Imperial War Museum, Culture + Conflict, and Queens College CUNY, New York, and was an artist-in-residence at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's studios on Governors Island. Birkin has exhibited internationally at the Mosaic Rooms, Courtauld Institute, Photographers’ Gallery, Trolly Books, and Photo50, London; Baibakov Art Projects and the Solyanka State Gallery, Moscow; Photomonth, Krakow; the Kunstihoone, Tallinn; the Benaki Museum, Athens; Centre d'Art et Photographie, Lectoure; MUDAM Museum of Modern Art and the Casino, Luxembourg; FotoFest, Houston; Mana Contemporary, MoMA PS1 Rockaway Dome, and the Whitney Museum ISP, New York.

“Limbs & Language” with Mahogany L. Browne

This workshop is designed to investigate how our memories inform our poetry. We will focus on imagery and new ways in which we look at the body as a landscape, our dreams as a blueprint, and our yesterdays as an almanac. This generative writing workshop will consist of five components: analyzation, discussion, writing, editing, and performance. This journey will bloom new writing in an effort to create an urgent dialogue with our limbs as language.

Mahogany L. BrowneThe Cave Canem, Poets House, and Serenbe Focus alum Mahogany L. Browne, is the author of several books including Redbone (nominated for NAACP Outstanding Literary Works) and Dear Twitter: Love Letters Hashed Out On-line, recommended by Small Press Distribution & Best Poetry Books of 2010. Browne bridges the gap between lyrical poets and literary emcee. Browne has toured Germany, Amsterdam, England, Canada, and recently Australia as 1/3 of the cultural arts exchange project Global Poetics. Her journalism work has been published in magazines Uptown, KING, XXL, The Source, Canada's The Word, and UK's MOBO. Her poetry has been published in literary journals Pluck, Manhattanville Review, Muzzle, Union Station Mag, Literary Bohemian, Bestiary, Joint, and The Feminist Wire. She is the co-editor of forthcoming anthology The Break Beat Poets: Black Girl Magic and and chapbook collection Kissing Caskets (Yes Yes Books). She is an Urban Word NYC Artistic Director (as seen on HBO’s Brave New Voices), founder of Women Writers of Color Reading Room, Program Director of BLM@Pratt, and facilitates performance poetry and writing workshops throughout the country. Browne is also the publisher of Penmanship Books, the Nuyorican Poets Café Friday Night Slam curator and recent graduate from Pratt Institute MFA Writing & Activism program.

“What’s Your Story? Storytelling Case Study: Trans Narratives” with Felix Endara

In this workshop, we will explore the role of art and storytelling in effecting social change. In 2016, a CBS poll found that only 26 percent of Americans believe trans people should be permitted access to public restrooms of their choice, and 60 percent stated that they should be banned from the restroom appropriate for their gender. In 2017, bills to restrict public restroom access to transgender people surfaced in 16 states. UCLA's Williams Institute notes that 41 percent of trans people nationally will try suicide at some point of their lives. That percentage, coupled with figures that count at least 25 transgender people killed in the United States in 2017, call attention to the urgency for trans people to advocate for their lives. Meanwhile, 84 percent of Americans will only learn about trans people through the media. So although trans visibility in the media reaches critical mass, our stories are our power, and so it is adamant that we are active agents in how our stories are told. Social justice hinges on resisting and repudiating the ideologies that underline our misrepresentations, and counters their real-life damaging consequences.

We will use transgender visibility in the media as a case study to ask questions about authorship, narratives and counter-narratives, and audience. We will review existing mainstream narratives of transgender lives using race, class, and ability lenses. What are the tropes and stereotypes that repeat? What are the misrepresentations that are perpetuated? What are models and strategies for shifting these narratives? While we will center film and television as the chief disciplines of study, the true emphasis will be on storytelling. This is an interactive workshop, with presentation, participatory discussion, and applying key takeaways to own projects.

Credit: Shanna HurdowitzBorn in Ecuador, Felix Endara is a transgender New York-based independent filmmaker, programmer, and arts administrator whose films have screened at festivals including Berlin, Frameline, Outfest, NewFest, DOC NYC, and Mill Valley. From 2008 to 2012, he programmed Arts Engine’s documentary screening series DocuClub, which he toured to Mexico City and Silver Spring, Maryland. In 2010, he was a fellow at the IFP Documentary Finishing Lab (2010) as producer for Wildness (2012, Dir: Wu Tsang), which follows the trajectory of a gay male bar in Los Angeles as its transforms into a refuge for immigrant Latina transgender women. It premiered at MoMa’s Documentary Fortnight series in February 2012, was an official selection at SXSW, and screened at the Whitney Biennial later that year. He also produced Article of Faith (2011, Dir: Christina Antonakos-Wallace), which received the “Changemaker Award” at the Media That Matters film festival in 2011. The short portrays anti-bullying Sikh activist Sonny Singh and his fight to ban discrimination in New York City schools. In addition, he participated in Working Films/Fledgling Fund’s first Reel Engagement workshop (July 2010), focusing on outreach and audience engagement; and in documentary trainings at Dok-Leipzig’s Co-Production Meetings (October 2011), in Germany; and Amsterdam’s IDFA Academy (November 2011). He has been a reviewer for P.O.V., Tribeca All Access, NewFest, Human Rights Watch Film Festival, and the New York Asian American International Film Festival; and an advisor for Cinereach Reach Fellows. In 2013, he served as a jury member of the New Orleans Film Festival.

Felix has a long and consistent track record of producing innovative, thought-provoking media of consequence that has screened at prestigious film festivals around the world. Topics he has covered have ranged from the preservation and celebration of LGBT historical spaces to character portraits of activists who rise up to the challenges of fighting prejudice and violence. In addition, his work as an independent programmer and arts administrator draws on his values to champion art that functions as a catalyst for social change.

Op-Ed Workshop with Nicolaus Mills

The inaugural New York Times op-ed page appeared in 1970, and since then the op-ed page has become standard in newspapers and online publications. The op-ed has paved the way for more divergent voices than ever to be heard. By virtue of its size (750 to 1000 words) the op-ed is an ideal form for reaching an audience in the currently volatile political climate. This workshop will focus on how to interest an editor in your op-ed even if you are not a recognized authority on the subject you are writing on.

Nicolaus MillsBA, Harvard University. PhD, Brown University. Special interest in American studies. Author of Winning the Peace: The Marshall Plan and America’s Coming of Age as a Superpower, The Triumph of Meanness: America’s War Against Its Better Self, Their Last Battle: The Fight for the National World War II Memorial, Like a Holy Crusade: Mississippi 1964, The Crowd in American Literature, and American and English Fiction in the Nineteenth Century. Editor of Getting Out: Historical Perspectives on Leaving Iraq, Debating Affirmative Action, Arguing Immigration, Culture in an Age of Money, Busing USA, The New Journalism, and The New Killing Fields. Contributor to The Boston Globe, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Newsday, The Nation, Yale Review, National Law Journal, and The Guardian; editorial board member, Dissent magazine. Recipient of fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Sarah Lawrence, 1972–

Workshop with Dar Williams

In this workshop, we will explore the things that are helping to build our communities. Using my unusual songwriter brain as I traveled for over twenty years, I looked at ways that towns came into finding their own identities, confidence, and resiliency. I call the guiding force of successful communities “positive proximity.” Sociologists would call it “bridging social capital.” Let’s talk about how our towns can thrive in the 21st century, creating both a sense of hometown pride and worldly welcome. I think towns and cities are on the brink of a golden era. Let’s discuss.

Dar WilliamsSinger-songwriter Dar Williams has been performing since 1990, releasing numerous critically-acclaimed albums including Mortal City, My Better Self, and Many Great Companions. Over the years, she has performed alongside notable folk musicians including the Indigo Girls and Joan Baez, who also recorded a duet with Williams. She enjoys sharing her passion for music with young people by instructing children at summer camps and teaching a course entitled “Music Movements in a Capitalist Democracy” at her alma mater, Wesleyan University. Her songwriting often incorporates themes surrounding gender, religion, and a disdain for commercialism. On top of her musical accomplishments, Williams has penned four books, including The Tofu Tollbooth, a guide for healthy eating while traveling in the contiguous US, and What I Found in a Thousand Towns, which explores what makes communities successful and provides practical advice to reinvigorate struggling towns.

Moderator: Michelle Slater

Michelle Slater

Michelle Slater is President of the Mayapple Center for the Arts and Humanities, Inc. She has been assistant professor of French and Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin, and she has directed study abroad programs in France for Johns Hopkins University and the University of Wisconsin. She has published articles in Modern Language Notes and Contemporary French and Francophone Studies. She holds a Ph.D. in German and Romance Languages from Johns Hopkins University and she has an extensive background in music performance.

Additional Information

Tentative Schedule

10:00 a.m. Introductions
10:30 a.m. Panel discussion
Noon Lunch
1:00 p.m. Break-out sessions
2:30 p.m. Concluding discussion

Who Should Attend

Adults over the age of 18 with varying skill levels are encouraged to register to join us. We invite anyone who seeks to express their intellectual and artistic creativity in a setting that promotes cultural vitality.

Register online

Program Cost

Workshop fee $25