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Left to Right: LaToya Fernandez, Urmila Vudali, Lisa Rosenberg, and Ray Furuta.

Celebrating Good Trouble in Bay Area Arts

Making The Mosaic – A column that dips into the disparate, diverse palette of our communities to paint inclusively on the vast canvas of the Bay Area by utilizing Heritage Arts. 

Coined by the late Congressman John Lewis, the concept of “Good Trouble” is rooted in the belief that certain types of expression and feather-ruffling are necessary to fight back against injustice. At Mosaic, we believe that art is a perfect vehicle for causing Good Trouble and bringing awareness to the important issues we must tackle as an ever-evolving nation.

To celebrate this idea, we recently hosted four of our dear artists and friends who are committed to creating their own kinds of Good Trouble through their art, music, dance, and poetry, in “Celebrating Good Trouble”

  • LaToya Fernandez, an educator, poet, and youth advocate from San Jose
  • Lisa Rosenberg, an author and former Poet Laureate of San Mateo County
  • Urmila Vudali, a high school student, dancer, and leader of the Mosaic Saratoga High School Club, and
  • Ray Furuta, a flutist, composer, and music professor

While each artist’s work carries a thread of Good Trouble and cross-cultural collaboration, they also each lent a unique perspective.

LaToya’s reading of her poem “Angry Black Woman, A Letter to Women,” which delves into the stereotypes that are put on Black women for being vocal, sparked a reverence for how that can penetrate one’s psyche. Her art, she says, is grounded in the pursuit of doing what’s right — even if it’s not easy, because it’s what’s necessary. “I’m always in trouble,” she laughed, reflecting Lewis’s sentiment that the quest for freedom is not a state of being, but the “continuous action we all must take.”

And as a reminder of how art is a necessary critique of the systems that reinforce societal ills on marginalized communities, Lisa shared some of her works, including poems titled “Space To” and “Perseverance.”

“All art is considered criticism or an act of political power, just because you are claiming your voice,” Lisa said. “Even creating a disturbance with a new voice, a new observation, a new point of view, we are disrupting the status quo and creating an opening to start perceiving things differently. And that includes our opportunity to take back some power.”

This is perhaps one of the most critical aspects of creating Good Trouble in the arts — using your voice and creativity to create something utterly different and challenge the status quo. And when it comes to breaking the mold, Ray Furuta’s journey from the conservatory to becoming an innovator of music here in Silicon Valley provides a perfect representation.

Ray, who also founded the Silicon Valley Music Festival 10 years ago, shared two of his works — Precious Scars, presented by Mosaic, which created a powerful, cross-medium remembrance of the Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants who were incarcerated during WWII; and Primal Reboot, which brought together artists of different backgrounds and genres to reimagine Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

These two works stood as a testament to how Ray said he viewed the concept of Good Trouble in the arts: “It alludes to this idea of coexistence — that in the arts, we can all exist, and we can all amplify each other in a really positive way.”

The concept of working together to amplify the voices of all is critically important to our mission of creating a sense of belonging within our communities and in our country. And naturally, that played out in introducing dancer Urmila Vudali, who also participated in Primal Reboot. Now, as a high school senior, Urmila aims to bring together students who are culturally isolated and develop greater cultural awareness across their real and imagined silos. Two of Urmila’s collaborations, Confluencia and The Flower Seller, both focused on the commonalities between various forms of dance and music.

“Finding those commonalities allowed me to learn a little bit about a culture that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn about otherwise,” said Urmila. “And pushing the boundaries of my traditional dance and causing that Good Trouble really allowed me to widen my horizons.”

Each of these works and perspectives allows us a greater look into how artists view their own role as Good Trouble-makers, and how we can learn and grow together by simply being curious.

How are you making your own version of Good Trouble? 

 

Good Trouble was the theme of our partner the New Museum of Los Gatos’ (NUMU) annual juried high school art exhibition ArtNow, which invited hundreds of high school students from across Santa Clara County to submit their interpretations of the global issues facing our world. In partnership with NUMU, we collaborated to bring another iteration of this Good Trouble programming to the public.


Priya Das is a writer, dancer, and co-founder of Mosaic Silicon Valley. She is fascinated by the intersections between history, culture, convention, traditions, and time.


 

Mosaic Silicon Valley’s ‘Femina’: Find the Divine in India, Cambodia, & China

Making The Mosaic – A column that dips into the disparate, diverse palette of our communities to paint inclusively on the vast canvas of the Bay Area by utilizing Heritage Arts. 

Nine different (sub) cultural histories and traditions from around the world were co-presented by Mosaic Silicon Valley and Guru Shradha, in a program called Femina. It was a call for the world to step out of their cultural silos and experience the vibrancy of the Bay Area, the dynamism of the feminine, and the unifying power of the Arts to build a gender-balanced world.

As the program director, it was fascinating for me to delve into the compositions and choreographies and see the astounding common threads emerge, golden and self-evident. We’ll explore these findings through the first act of the program called Divine | Awaken featuring Indian, Cambodian, and Chinese art forms. Femina’s Divine | Awaken was an ode to the celestial and mythological – It was a call for all of us to find our divine and enlightened selves.

Guru Shradha’s Niharika Mohanty urged us to make room for, submit, and surrender to the divine feminine energies of Durga. Along with her Odissi students, Mohanty beautifully re-incarnated the superb sculptures from Indian temples, the forms manifesting god-like in the blue-light of the stage. One journeyed back in time – and saw the sculptors drawing upon their spiritual energies to carve the goddesses in stone. Art is a journey, one realizes, to an inner destination – familiar or invented, real, unreal, or fantastical. One cannot connect to the outside world without having connected within and art accelerates these connections.

Cambodian Classical Dancer, Charya Burt, emulates Cambodian Gods.

The Goddess was visited again by master choreographer and dancer, Charya Burt in the Cambodian Robam Chun Por or The Wishing Dance. It is typically in an opening ceremony, Devada Srey, that is used to convey blessings to the audience through flower petals. I was fascinated by the obvious Indian influences – Deva in Sanskrit is God, for starters. The Cambodian temple, Angkor Wat, is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu; indeed, there exists a version of Ramayana in Cambodia. Contrastingly though, while Indian classical dance uses movement, percussion, and melody to impress the divine upon us on Earth, Cambodian dance is designed to transport us to the heavens; the movements are soft and un-creature-like – Burt seemed to glide, buffeted by centuries of mysticism.

A dancer of the Hai Yan Jackson Compnay recreates art from the Dunhuang Caves.

The Chinese arts reclaimed history, thus solidifying the connection between the Divine and the Human. The Hai Yan Jackson Company presented “Flying Apsaras from Dunhuang.” This dance and its costumes were inspired by the discoveries at Dunhuang Caves which were believed to have been walled up in the 11th century and contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art. Dunhuang was established as a frontier garrison outpost by the Han Dynasty and became an important gateway to the West, a center of commerce along the Silk Road, as well as a meeting place of various people and religions such as Buddhism. My “Indian” radar picked up on the Silk Route and Buddhism. I could feel the palimpsest of time and geography reveal itself in layers. The age-old apsaras appeared before us and the choreography was faithful to the celestial aura.

In Femina, the Mosaic team was able to create a feminine continuum between realms, time, spaces, cultures, and generations, through beautiful art. Happy Women’s History Month to all of you, dear readers! 

The wonderful thing about programming for Mosaic is that it blurs the lines. The narrative may begin as Art imitating Life but then one quickly discovers that it is Life imitating Art. Stories of life – its past, current, and future – are presented on the canvas of culture of, by, for the people in a specific place. Join us and learn more about the Mosaic movement as we catalyze Inclusion and cultivate Belonging in America! 


Priya Das is a writer, dancer, and co-founder of Mosaic Silicon Valley. She is fascinated by the intersections between history, culture, convention, traditions, and time.

Cambodian, Odissi, Jazz Artists

Ancient Contemporary: Odissi, Jazz, & Cambodian Classical

Making The Mosaic – A column that dips into the disparate, diverse palette of our communities to paint inclusively on the vast canvas of the Bay Area by utilizing Heritage Arts. 

“Children are taught racism. Children are taught diversity. They don’t see it; they only see human. Two words: education and exposure. What are children educated about and what are they exposed to?” Coleen Lorenz, artistic director of New Ground Theater asked, and went on to affirm that she loves the Arts because they are the symbol of universal being-ness, of who we are at birth

This was part of the conversation when Coleen; Niharika Mohanty, artistic director of Guru Shradha Dance; Charya Burt, classical Cambodian dancer and teacher; and I met for the sixth episode, Ancient Contemporary, of Mosaic Connect, an online series designed to explore our common humanity through the performing arts. 

The episode aired when the country was in the grip of civil unrest. Shelter-in-Place had, on the one hand, unified us, on the other hand, protests against police brutality seemed to have uncovered a series of deep fractures among us…and within us. All of us, it seemed, were questioning our identity and purpose. More importantly, we all seemed to be looking at ourselves and each other with new eyes, asking ourselves the question – Where do I belong?

Some were looking to rediscover or reclaim their identity and some were challenging their neighbor’s very right to be included as Americans.

Programming at Mosaic Silicon Valley addresses this issue: how to move multicultural American communities from diversity and inclusion to belonging. We highlight the common roots or representations of any two artforms, such as in Ancient Contemporary, which mediated a course between Odissi and Modern Contemporary one the one side; Odissi and Classical Cambodian on the other. This was done deliberately, to create awareness about our common humanity and celebrate our beautifully rich traditions. Thus, the online episode showcased each style and artist, as well as their collaborations and was followed by discussion.

Mosaic Fellow, Charya emphasizes in Ancient Contemporary, “Arts can provide a model that is inclusive. For culture based artists like us, Arts can provide us with dignity, cultural identity, and pride to those in the community.” 

That pride is the basis of our collaborations. In contrast to the “Melting Pot” model, we welcome artists as they are, to build bridges organically, through discovery and connections.

Niharika was wondrous of the fluidity of vocabulary in the Jazz Contemporary style.

Coleen was impressed by the level of complexity incorporated in Odissi dance.

Charya was amazed at the similarities that her artform and Odissi had, to temple sculpture and mythology.

Clips from both explorations are included in Ancient ContemporaryLet us explore our identity and shared futures through the arts practiced in America today. Let diversity not be relegated to the label “ethnic” which by its very definition, excludes. Instead, let’s come together and include one another in this wonderful American mosaic. Let us be unafraid to express ourselves truly, in order that we may fully Belong. To sum up in Niharika’s words, “There is an ultimate truth. We are One. We stem from the same roots. Arts are more than ever, an expression of who we are.” 

Watch it all come together in the video below!

Follow the Mosaic movement here!


Priya Das is a writer, dancer, and co-founder of Mosaic Silicon Valley. She is fascinated by the intersections between history, culture, convention, traditions, and time.