“The Fairer Sex” Films, Too

Let us know your favorite female directors and/or movies directed by women in the comments below!

"We Can Do It!" poster for Westinghouse, closely associated with Rosie the Riveter, although not a depiction of the cultural icon itself.

The iconic “We Can Do It!” poster associated with Rosie the Riveter and female empowerment.

We heard you all loud and clear– you loved our March post on female authors from around the world! Just because Women’s History Month is over doesn’t mean we can’t highlight more talented female artists. So this week we bring you a post with films by female directors. And if you need further justification other than “we think it’s an interesting topic”, you may also be interested to know that:

  • April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and gender-based violence is a theme or undercurrent of many international documentary and feature films by women directors,
  • On Tuesday, April 5th from 7:00-9:00 pm the International and Area Studies Library is co-sponsoring a screening of one such film, “India’s Daughter” at the Spurlock Museum,
  • Renowned director Pang Eun-jin will be visiting the University of Illinois to screen two of her films, “The Way Back Home”, and “Perfect Number” on April 25, and 26 respectively.

Without further ado, here are a few fantastic films directed by a selection of talented women from around the world:

India’s Daugther: The Story of Jyoti Singh”  directed by Leslee Udwin (2015)

Tags: India, United Kingdom, Jyoti Singh, rape, documentary

“India’s Daughter” is a harrowing documentary recounting the infamous 2012 gang rape case in New Delhi which resulted in the death of a young girl, Jyoti Singh. Both the incident and the subsequent release of the film sparked protests and international conversations about women’s rights and violence against women. The film was banned from screening in India but has nonetheless had a worldwide impact, having been screened in countries all around the globe. One of the aspects of the film that makes it controversial is that the director, Leslee Udwin, is not a South Asian, and the film cannot help but comment on societal conditions and attitudes that contributed to the incident. The film is also difficult to watch because it gives voice to the rapists, their legal counsel, and the families of the rapists including the wife of one of the rapists who laments her suffering and the suffering of her children while her husband is in jail awaiting possible execution. .

Poster designed by Rachel Storm to advertise the April 5th screening of the film "India's Daughter".

Poster designed by Rachel Storm to advertise the April 5th screening of the film “India’s Daughter”.

More like this: “Saving Face” a documentary on acid attacks in Pakistan by Academy Award-winning Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy; “Salma” a documentary by Kim Longinotto telling the story of a Muslim poet and politician in Tamil Nadu, India who was locked away and confined in her home by her family for many years.

Wadjda” directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour (2014)

Tags: Saudia Arabia, Islam, girls, mothers and daughters, feature films

“Wadjda” is a bittersweet film about a little girl in Saudi Arabia who dreams of owning her own bicycle so she can race with her neighborhood friend. Her mother doesn’t want to buy her the bike because it is not considered a proper toy for girls. Wadjda decides to enter a Koran recitation contest so she can use the prize money to buy the bike herself. Just as Wadjda is running into walls about what is proper for women, we also see her mother struggle with this as her husband searches for a second wife and copes with an overly challenging commute to work as, presumably, she is not allowed to drive herself.  The film manages to find hope and humor in conditions where women’s lives are heavily policed from an early age. The film is all the more remarkable in that it is the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. In an interview with NPR, director Haifaa Al-Mansour recounts the logistical challenges of trying to shoot the film in a country where she is not supposed to be outside or mingling with men to whom she is not related.

More like this: “Blackboards” by Iranian filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf, a feature film about the lives of Kurdish refugees after the Iran-Iraq war; “The Square” by Egyptian filmmaker Jehane Noujaim on the Arab Spring.

Girlhood” by Celine Sciamma (2015)

Tags: France, black diaspora, coming-of-age films, gangs, adolescence, feature films

“Girlhood” is an intense and complicated film to watch, especially as an American [viewer] in a time when racism and civil rights is dominating the news. While this film is set in France, this film shows the ways in which race and economics are inextricably linked, irrespective, it would seem, of one’s country of origin. These considerations become even more complicated when one realizes that the director, Celine Sciamma, is white. On the one hand, “Girlhood” is supposed to be a coming-of-age story, where race is just one small part of a larger context that focuses on the development of a single character. On the other hand, that character is developing within the context of joining a neighborhood gang, fighting, drugs, prostitution, and an abusive family. These issues are thoughtfully considered in an interview between Celine Sciamma and Ghanaian-born film and culture writer Zeba Blay. Taking aside the complicated racial politics of this story, this film is also worth watching for its beautiful cinematography and the masterful acting by newcomer actress Karidja Toure who plays the lead role of Marieme. Like “Wadjda,” the film finds some hope and humor within a bleak situation, but with an ending that leaves the viewer anxious: one is befuddles as to whether the s/he is seeing a happy ending or the set-up for a tragedy waiting to happen.

More like this: Celine Sciamma has two other coming-of-age films, “Tomboy” and “Water Lilies“. To try out a different French female director, you can also check out the work of Agnes Jaoui. The library has several of her films and if you need a break from serious films on difficult social conditions, you can start with her 2000 comedy, “The Taste of Others“.

Take Care of My Cat” by Jae-eun Jeong (2004)

Tags: South Korea, friendship, young women, cats, feature films

“Take Care of My Cat” is a 2004 feature film about a group of friends who struggle to maintain their friendship and find their way after graduating high school in South Korea. One of the five girls, Hae-joo moves out of their smaller city of Inchon to try to make a new life in the more glamorous capital city, Seoul. Her success and ambition alienate her from other friends, most especially Ji-young. Ji-young is trapped by an impoverished home situation and has dreams that feel unattainable and hopeless. Trapped in between these two is Tae-hee who has both ambition and a difficult home situation. Tae-hee ends up in a place where she must choose between her two friends and in doing so choose a vision for her future. Observing the ways in which particular cultural conditions in South Korea impacted the girls’ choices and behavior was compelling while also considering the ways in which their struggles are universal. For example, Ji-young was unable to get a job she had applied for because she didn’t have an immediate relative to vouch for her, a custom that is largely irrelevant in the United States. Like women all over the world, for these girls becoming independent requires tough choices and unexpected development that can transform their personalities and values.

More like this: If you’re looking for another Korean film but would like to learn about North Korea, check out Yang Yonghi’s documentary “Dear Pyongyang“. For something completely different but still from East Asia, check out Joan Chen’s film “Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl“.

Be sure to comment below letting us know what films you’d recommend that are directed by women or featuring them in lead roles. And be sure to like our Facebook page for more posts like these.

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“The Fairer Sex” Writes

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What writers would you highlight to commemorate Women’s History Month? Comment below!

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Image Source: suggestive celine (via Flickr)

March is Women’s History Month and an appropriate time to highlight some of the women’s voices that represent world literature. After all,

  • American Hillary Clinton, who is an author of five books, is running for the U.S. presidency,
  • Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who is an author of five books, has a TED Talk that opens our courses concerned with social justice,
  • and Pakistani Malala Yousafzai, author of one book, continues to fight for the equal education of girls and boys.

Check out these literary works from across the globe that engage discourses of women’s and gender rights in ways that are frequently subversive, occasionally confrontational, and always powerful.

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Mahasweta Devi. Image Source: TopNews

Draupadi” by Mahasweta Devi (1978)

Tags: India, South Asia, Bengali, short story

In a poor, post-colonial town in India, rumor has it that an infamous young woman, “Dopdi,” who has yet to reach the age of 30, has become a menace to local authorities. Fighting for labor rights and attacking officials without warning, she presents a dangerous local figure. Yet no one can identify her with any certainty. While the police have laid traps to draw her out of hiding in the forest, Dopdi continues to evade capture. In the end, what is meant to be Dopdi’s undoing invigorates her spirit and renders her an even more powerful threat. The best reading of this story is dependent on minimal research into the South Asian mythical epic of the Mahabharata. Themes of gender, sexual violence, and classism are strong threads in this short and powerful work. To continue the conversation addressing sexual violence as a world phenomenon and its prevalence in South Asia, attend the April 5th evening screening of India’s Daughter at the Spurlock Museum.

More Like This: Gayatri Spivak’s essay Can the Subaltern Speak? (India and postcolonial nations), most any title by Jhumpa Lahiri (India & the USA)

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Gayatri Spivak. Image Source: Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung on Flickr

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Jhumpa Lahiri. Image Source: Il Circollo del lettori on Flickr

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (1988)

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Tsitsi Dangarembga. Image Source: Pan American Center on Flickr

Tags: Zimbabwe, Africa, English, novel

In this novel, “Tambu” is a young girl living in a country then known as Rhodesia in the 1960s. Because she is female, her ambition for academic study is not well supported by her community—that is, until her older brother suddenly dies and someone must take on a role of leadership and status to save her family from economic ruin. As Tambu is introduced to a new world of privilege, knowledge, and experience, readers examine what she leaves behind and what these sacrifices mean in shaping a new, hybrid identity. This bildungsroman succeeds in taking on the ambitious goal of engaging discourses of gender, colonialism, and competing cultures in a work deemed one of the most important to have come out of Africa. If you are a current University of Illinois student and interested in these themes and this novel in particular, consider taking a course taught by Dr. Manisha Babb. She teaches a cross-listed course called Modern African Literature offered in the English, African Studies, Comparative World Literature, and French departments, respectively as ENG 470, AFST 410, CW 410, and FR 410.

More Like This: Mariama Bâ’s Une si longue lettre (Senegal), Maria Nsué’s Ekomo (Equatorial Guinea)

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Mariama Bâ. Image Source: Wikipedia

A photo of Maria Nsue. Image Source: escritores.org

Maria Nsué. Image Source: escritores.org

Emails from Scheherazad (2003) by Mohja Kahf

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Mohja Kahf. Image Source: Aslan Media on Flickr

Tags: Syria, the Middle Eastern Diaspora, poetry

Do you remember Scheherazad(e)? She was the sole wife and queen to King Shahryar who eluded death by telling tales within tales that never ended? The stories of Aladdin, Sinbad, and Ali Baba all stem from this famous text. Mohja Kahf, a poet of Syrian descent, revisits this legacy in her compilation of poems. Emails from Scheherazad. Her bi-cultural identity informs and enriches her work, as seen in the poem “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears.” In it she describes being the product of both a Middle Eastern and an American culture. She regularly contradicts the widely held notion that being a Muslim and a woman is synonymous with being oppressed and her poems allude to globally recognizable female characters who face adversity—Eve, Malinche, Hagar, and more—suggesting a shared history and resilience. To get more connected to the local Muslim community on University campus, check out the United Muslims and Minority Advocates (UMMA) on Facebook.

More Like This: Arabian Nights/One Thousand and One Nights, Mona Eltahawy’s Headscarves and Hymens (Egypt & the USA), Ghada Abdel Aal’s I Want to Get Married (Egypt)

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Mona Eltahawy. Image Source: Aspen Institute (via Flickr)

 

A photo of Ghada Abdel Aal. Image Source Christopher Rose on Flickr

Ghada Abdel Aal. Image Source: Christopher Rose (via Flickr)

Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1983)

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Barbara Streisand as Yentl. Image Source: Ziegfeld Girl on Flickr

Tags: Poland & the Jewish Diaspora, Yiddish, short story

This text is actually written by a man. Because it inherently engages questions of genders and their roles in society, and also features a female protagonist, it remains relevant to global literature that tackles issues concerning women’s lives. The main character in this work, Yentl, has been spoiled by her father as a child by being allowed to study sacred rabbinical texts, an activity strictly reserved for men in her community. When her father dies, not wanting to abandon her religious learning, she makes a plan to hide her sex and continue on her path of erudition. However, there are some unanticipated expectations associated with her new role as a male. The cinematic adaptation of Yentl starring Barbara Streisand is inextricably linked to this literary work. If you’re an enrolled student and interested in this area, seek out the Program in Jewish Culture & Society for more about works written in Yiddish and on the Jewish diaspora. A selection of the program’s courses can be found on the program’s website.

More Like This: Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank, Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots 

A photo of Anne Frank. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Anne Frank. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

A photo of Deborah Feldman. Image Source: Zimbio

Deborah Feldman. Image Source: Zimbio

Kinsey Report” by Rosario Castellanos

An image of Rosario Castellanos. Image Source: Milagros Mata Gil on Flickr

Rosario Castellanos. Image Source: Milagros Mata Gil (via Flickr)

Tags: Mexico, Latin America, Spanish, poetry

The title of this poem refers to American sexologist Alfred Kinsey, whose published works on human sexual behavior became well known in the mid to late 20th century. While this poem makes for a quick read, it remains in the reader’s memory indefinitely. It features six different feminine voices that expound on the condition of their gender. One woman reports on her marriage which has become a hollow and juridical union of self-sacrifice and anxiety; another fears being deemed a prude for lack of sexual activity or a whore for any carnal intimacy engaged outside of marriage; a third wistfully awaits a Prince Charming who will whisk her away from any care she might have. All of the voices problematize notions of female gender and show how societal expectations and traditional roles can, to say the very least, be limiting. For ways to find more Latin American literature, see this lib guide.

More Like This: All titles by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Mexico), all titles by Clarice Lispector (Brazil), Sabina Berman’s (Mexico) Entre Villa y una mujer desnuda

A drawing of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Image Source: Wikipedia

A drawing of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Image Source: Wikipedia

A photo of Clarice Lispector. Image source: ana.claudia on Flickr

Clarice Lispector. Image source: ana.claudia (via Flickr)

Happy reading, sharing, and happy Women’s History Month! Let us know what additional authors you would add to this conversation. Also drop by the Main Library’s Marshall Gallery (first floor, east side of the building ) to see an exhibit curated by Leanna Barcelona highlighting women’s history at the University of Illinois. If you want even more titles, visit the Undergraduate Library’s post to commemorate Women’s History Month last year.

For more posts like these, make sure to like our Facebook page, where we share a new Glocal Notes article every week of the semester.

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Buying Trips from Urbana to Bangladesh

Ever wonder how the shelves and stacks get populated with just the materials you need for your research? Here’s a look into a buying trip recently made by our very own South Asian Studies Librarian, Mara Thacker. She was one of the fist to participate in the University Library’s pilot program designed to allow librarians to travel overseas, seek relationships with vendors, and purchase materials to develop our collections here in Urbana-Champaign. This Q & A session reveals how we curate our library materials to better serve you. A special thanks goes out to the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies whose dedication to our library and regular support also made this project possible.

What is a buying trip?

Buying trips are exactly what they sound like—a trip, often overseas, for the purpose of purchasing books, films, and other materials for the library. Not all buying trips result in an immediate purchase but instead lay groundwork for a future acquisition or for a partnership to digitize materials so our community can access them.

Are all library workers able to go on buying trees?

Any library worker whose job responsibilities include collection development (in plainer language—buying books and other library resources) is eligible to go on a trip. These trips usually are targeting unique international materials which does exclude people who only buy materials from the U.S. At this point, mostly International and Area Studies Library faculty have taken advantage of the Library’s pilot program to fund buying trips, but the task force that is managing the pilot funding program is actively inviting other subject specialists with an interest in purchasing international materials to apply.

Where did this trip take you? How do you select what sites you want to visit?

In my most recent buying trip, I went to Delhi, Kolkata (Calcutta), and Bengaluru in India, and Dhaka, Bangladesh. I selected these sites based on a few factors. Delhi and Kolkata both had large book fairs that I planned to attend, but in addition to that, Delhi had two major vendors that I wanted to meet with, and Kolkata is the largest center for Bengali language publishing. Since Bengali language materials were one of collecting priorities, I also chose to go to Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was important to me to visit a South Asian country other than India because my subject specialization covers seven countries in total and I have been on five trips to India but not a single trip to one of the others. I later found out that I was the first U.S.-based librarian to visit Bangladesh for a buying trip in a long time so I’m really glad I chose to go there. Finally, I chose to visit Bengaluru because I had been in contact with a comic collector there who I wanted to meet with.

The crowd at the very popular Ekushey Boi Mela book fair in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

This photo gives you an idea of the crowd at the very popular Ekushey Boi Mela book fair in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Are all buying trips international?

For the purposes of the pilot funding program, yes.

Can’t you just buy materials online?

While it’s true that many materials are available online, not everything is easy to find online. Some international vendors are better than others in terms of having complete, easy-to-search websites. To illustrate my point, take the case of the comic collector in Bengaluru. I had been chatting with him over email off and on for more than a year but he was either unable or unwilling to give me a complete picture of all of his materials and how much he would charge for them. When I met with him, it turned out he had a lot more than I had been led to believe—much more than I could ever hope to buy in one trip! In the course of our conversation, he revealed that he had been reluctant to sell to me before because he didn’t know how credible our institution was or whether or not we would take proper care of the comics. Comics are his passion and he did not want the materials damaged, resold or thrown into some dusty corner. I explained to him my vision for the University of Illinois to have the most comprehensive comic collection in North America including rare titles that would be preserved in our Rare Books & Manuscripts Library. In the end, not only did I buy a pile of out-of-print Indrajal comics from him, he has now agreed to be a vendor and to sell to us directly. That said, I imagine I will want to visit him again in the future because he has piles and piles of comics, many of which are not cataloged. I’d like a few more days to sort through them and find some gems.

Book seller at Howrah Junction train station in Kolkata

Bookseller at Howrah Junction train station in Kolkata. These small stalls at transportation hubs in India are some of the only places where you can find vernacular language pulp fiction novels.

What’s your budget for buying library materials? Do you go with a list in mind? Are there items that are “high priority” (censored items, rare items, limited publications, etc.)?

These trips are generally meant to target materials that are difficult to acquire through normal collection channels, though the difficulty could range from “Oh, I didn’t know this existed” to “Only one copy exists in the entire world”. The challenge is that if materials are really rare and do not already have a record in the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), they are going to require original cataloging and if they are fragile, they will require special processing. This can be expensive and time consuming and absolutely requires advance planning with technical services and cataloging.

Prior to leaving on the trip, I emailed the UIUC faculty working in and on South Asian Studies to solicit both specific requests as well as general topical requests. I compiled these along with my own ideas into a list of collecting priorities and I printed out copies to take during the trip. I also emailed the list in advance to a few of the larger vendors who I had prescheduled meetings with. One special area I was targeting was comics for the South Asian comic collection. The comic collection really serves to distinguish our South Asian collection from other such collections and is an important contribution to the national collection. Right now, vendor coverage of South Asian comics is somewhat spotty so it takes a bit more work to build up these resources.

World Comics India booth at the book fair in New Delhi

Mara Thacker at the World Comics India booth at the book fair in New Delhi. The orange bag behind my chair is full of purchases to send back to the library!

Typically, the budget to purchase materials on a buying trip is the same as a subject specialist’s regular collections budget. However, on this last trip, the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CSAMES) had written into a grant proposal some funding to acquire language learning materials for South Asian languages including Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit and Bengali. Altogether I budgeted around $6000 for materials purchases and shipping, half of which was from the CSAMES grant and the other half of which came from my regular collections budget.

How do you get the items safely back to the States?

I usually allocate roughly 30% of my budget for shipping the items back. International shipping can be complicated, so, on my last buying trip, I had one major vendor, D.K. Agencies, as well as the Library of Congress offices in Dhaka and Delhi office help. I carried back a few items in my luggage, but for the most part I try to avoid that so I can travel light as I’m moving between several cities in a short amount of time.

Are there any obstacles or difficulties the layperson might not know about in regard to buying trips?

Of course there are predictable challenges like paying for things in an economy where credit cards aren’t always accepted, spotty wifi connections, and the fear of a major digestive incident. Then there are less predictable things like political demonstrations, transportation strikes, and run-ins with street animals. True story: On my first ever buying trip, I got bitten by a street dog and had to get a rabies treatment in an Indian hospital!

One challenge that may be surprising to our readers is that finding a balance between work and pleasure while on these trips is a challenge. At home, we usually work 40 hours a week and have time off on the weekends, but when on a buying trip, one is constantly aware that the university is paying a good deal of expenses to support the trip and there is a self-imposed pressure to always be on duty.

Fortunately, being in India is a treat and the locale made the work activities extra fun. Attending a literature festival or book fair is probably something I would choose to do in my spare time anyway because I’m a bibliophile. But, I did do a few personal things for myself while there. For example, in Bengaluru, my friend Kunal took me on a vintage motorcycle ride to see the largest air show in Asia and I spent a few hours one evening trying to track down a restaurant called Gulati’s that I was told had some of the best butter chicken in India! Outside of those adventures, I worked over 40 hours a week because after a full day of visiting shops, publishers, and vendors, I would continue checking catalogs, respond to emails, take documentation of the day’s activities and purchases, and plan the next day’s schedule.

Vintrage Royal Enfield motorcycle.

Headed out to the air show with Kunal on a vintage Royal Enfield motorcycle!

Where do you want to go next?

I was really set on returning to Bangladesh but as the security situation there grows steadily worse, including three murders of secular bloggers in less than a year, I’m not sure if it will be possible in the immediate future. I’d like to visit Sri Lanka because I’ve never been and I’d like to get some Sri Lankan comics for the collection and make contacts there. I’d also like to go to South India which is one of my favorite places on earth and also happens to have some major popular culture production . Including these places would make for a compelling buying trip application because they would expand my network into other South Asian countries, and therefore expand my reach in the services I can provide to students looking to do research in South Asia. The comic collection is also an important collection both in terms of contributing to the national collection and also just in terms of distinguishing our local collection, so targeting places to get unique acquisitions for that collection is helpful.

How can U of I community members find out more about library workers’ buying trips?

Though buying trips are just a small fraction of the international work done by UIUC librarians, they are included in this map we have been developing that shows where all our librarians have traveled for work. My recent buying trip to South Asia is included as well as my colleagues’ buying trips to Togo, China, and Cuba. The public can also find out more about these trips by following the International and Area Studies (IAS) Library’s Facebook page and Glocal Notes blog. There will also be a library exhibit next fall about these trips to be announced on our social media accounts. If you want to read more about my last trip, see the forthcoming column in the journal International Information & Library Review. We’ll be sure to share link once it is live.

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Moving About: A Taste of International Dance

To dance is to move with awareness, with harmony in relationship to music, with other people’s movements or with emotions. It is moving by embodying and enacting traditions, rituals, and ways of thought, while allowing these traditions to evolve each time the dance is practiced and performed. But dancing is also making statements, sharing memories, challenging one’s own and others’ assumptions. Dancing enhances awareness, perception, and allows entering into contact with forms of movement, rhythms, and ways of thinking with which you are unfamiliar. I love dance and dancing and I practice some contemporary dance myself, so I’d like to share some information about how people dance around the world throughout time.

Not being an expert in international forms of  traditional and modern dance in spite of my interest in it,  let me take a moment to recognize those who helped orient me in my research. Among them were friends, colleagues, and librarians. Our South Asian Studies Librarian, Mara Thacker, who is both a lover and practitioner of dance, was especially helpful. In this post, I will address some dances from some parts of the world that may yet be unknown many people. While not comprehensive, this is an informational glimpse of how dancing happens in different cultures and in different contexts, both historical and situational.

Spotlight: Mexico

Have you heard of the Mexican Son Jarocho? This beautiful dance style originates from the Mexican states of Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Tabasco.  As with most traditional Latin American dances, it blends traditions from multiple cultural backgrounds. The particular case of Son Jarocho contains influences from indigenous traditions, Afro-Caribbean influences, and Spanish traditions, mainly from Andalucía. It is danced in couples and one of the main characteristics is the stamping that both male and female dancers perform with special shoes. In fact, this stamping is not only a dance step, but it also becomes a main source of percussion that leads the rest of the instruments. You can find a similar style of stamping in Spanish Fanangos. See the video below for a folkloric, ballet-style performance of Son Jarocho.

Mexican Dance Forms: A Bibliography with Annotations” is a book compiling some major traditional Mexican dances. These are other interesting resources you can find at our library if you want to know a little more about one of the many dance styles in Mexico.

But Mexican dancing has much more than folk dances like Son Jarocho and Jarabe Tapatío. Mexico also has one of the strongest traditions of contemporary dance in all of Latin America. Delfos Danza Contemporánea  is a renowned dance company that offers education, residencies, and has a large performance background where their local experience dialogues with international tendencies in dance and world-class training.

Image credit: Frontera arts

A promotional image from the Delfos dance company in Mexico. Image credit: Frontera Arts

Spotlight: South America

To stay, for a moment, in Latin America, what do you think of when thinking of Latin American dances? Salsa, bachata, merengue. Correct. But what about the southern parts of Latin America? Tango! Correct! Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay also have rich varieties of traditional dances but sadly we will not be able visiting them here. However, in other countries from the South, there is a strongly rooted tradition of gauchos, male “cowboys,” found in contiguous regions of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The dances they perform have slight variations in these three countries, but in general, the gauchos’ practice with moving cattle around by foot or riding horses evolved into a very vibrant dance involving vigorous foot stamping. In Argentina, one of the traditional gaucho dances from the south of the country is called malambo.  Some versions feature the skillful handling of boleadoras or bolas, stones tied with robes initially used by indigenous peoples for hunting, and then adapted for cattle as well.  More modern and acrobatic versions demonstrate an evolved use of the boleadoras for special spectacles.

Photo Credit: IMG Artists, Che Malambo

Male dancers swing their boleadoras, stones attached to ropes, in a display of South American dance. Photo Credit: IMG Artists, Che Malambo

Argentina is one of the leading countries for contemporary dance in Latin America. According to La danza moderna argentina cuenta su historia : historias de vida (roughly, Modern Argentine Dance Tell Its Story: Stories of Life), its practice in that country started in the early 1940s. Currently Argentina is one of the few countries in Latin America that has a state-funded, national contemporary dance company “Compañía Nacional de Danza Contemporánea” (National Company of Contemporary Dance.) Check out a great piece by the company below.

Photo credit: Compañía Nacional de Danza Contemporánea, Argentina, “Río conmigo”

Dancers perform “Río conmigo.” Photo credit: Compañía Nacional de Danza Contemporánea, Argentina

To wrap up with Latin America, here is a list of interesting resources including books, films and audio recordings that are relevant for those interested in how people move across this region.

Spotlight: Korea

Now let’s travel to East Asia, a region that is entirely new to me in terms of dance. I’ve learned more about its dance traditions though my very dear Korean friends at UIUC and some independent readings. For starters, Korean folk Dance reveals the many, varied influences that come together in Korean traditional dance, including elements from other countries and varied religions. Different moments in Korean history also display an impact on expression, not to mention varied contexts like communal agrarian contexts, religious celebrations and entertainment.

This book addresses Korean dances from as early as 200 BC until present day, when folk dance intentionally and actively preserves cultural heritage. In fact, certain dances from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) are currently protected by a cultural law issued in 1962. After Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) and the strong influence of Western civilization after 1945, traditional Korean dance was in danger of disappearing. In this context, these dances officially became known as Important Intangible Cultural Heritage, a category that brought about legislation to preserve and train people in each dance form. This is the case for Seungmu, the monks’ dance, a type of folk dance performed by professional entertainers.

Photo credit: Lee Byoung-ok ; [translator Cho Yoon-jung]. "Korean folk dance", Seoul, Korea : Korea Foundation, c2008

Seungmu, the Monks’ Dance. Photo credit: Lee Byoung-ok ; [translator Cho Yoon-jung]. “Korean folk dance”, Seoul, Korea : Korea Foundation, c2008

Other Korean traditional dances are Bucheachum -or fan dance-, a stunning group dance performed by female dancers wearing bright hanbok dresses and using fans for displaying several figures as butterflies and flowers. This dance’s origins are associated with shaman and it is currently performed in varied celebrations. Also, the Ganggangsullae or harvest dance, practiced as a fertility ritual in the southwestern part of the Republic of Korea, is also performed during the Chuseok holidays across the country. This dance is  included in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Check out some others here.

Now, going beyond folk dance, Korea currently has a rich development of modern and contemporary styles. Through Contemporary Dance Scenes of Korea, I discovered another angle of movement in that country. Modern and contemporary dance in Korea have experienced rich growth in recent years, which has included the reflection about a search for Korean identity, dialogues between traditional movements and contemporary experimentation, inner exploration, dialogues between eastern and western aesthetics, and an intense search for Korean symbols of femininity. Modern dance has been particularly important for current artists who faced violence and repression after the Korean War. As recently as 1978, only 22 performances took place in Korea, and from those, only three were contemporary dance and the other three were ballet. Currently, there is a National Contemporary Dance Company, which has an interesting global reach. Dance, therefore, has served for sharing memory, making statements and coming up with creative proposals about contemporary Korean culture, in dialogue with its recent and ancient past. Of course we cannot ignore perhaps the most popular dance form among contemporary Korean youth: K-Pop!! Check out some moves from this dance style.

Photo credit: Cho, Tong-hwa, and Kim, Kyŏng-ae, "Contemporary dance scenes of Korea", Seoul, Korea : Korean Information Service, 2001.

Photo credit: Cho, Tong-hwa, and Kim, Kyŏng-ae, “Contemporary dance scenes of Korea”, Seoul, Korea : Korean Information Service, 2001.

Spotlight: West Africa

Let’s jump to another continent now. Let’s talk about West African dance. Similar to what occurs with other cultural traditions, dance in West Africa developed and evolved as a very important component of communal life. As a main feature, West African dance is highly energetic, involving vigorous and simultaneous movements of the head, arms, legs and feet. Even with this feature, there is still a great variety in terms of genre including village and ballet.

In the case of dance from Guinea, village dancing is practiced in a circle where the community gathers around  live drumming as a core component of the dance and community members enter and exit the circle at their will to improvise a dance. Other community members participating in the dance accompany the performance by clapping and cheering. The percussive instruments used for this dance style are the djembe and then a family of drums called the dununs.

Photo Credit: http://phillylovesdrums.blogspot.com/2013/09/september-10-2013-1215-pm-dundunba.html

West African dancers energetically perform on stage. Photo Credit: The University City District on the Philly Loves Drums website

Instead of the dancer responding to the drums, in this dance style, the main drummer or djembe soloist tries to follow the dancers’ feet to accent their movements and simultaneously maintain the tempo.

Photo credit: Renee Rushing Photography

A West African dancer is featured, jumping in mid-air. Photo credit: Renee Rushing Photography

Mara Thacker provided a good deal of information about these styles: “Ballet style is choreographed…(it) has a different set up to the drums and the drummers will give a musical cue called “breaks” to signal to the dancers during a choreography….The dununs have three drums, the largest bass drum is the dundunba, the middle is the sangban, and the smallest is the kenkeni. In ballet style, the three are usually played as a set, which, in village style, each is played alone along with a cowbell that is attached to the top of the drum. There are other types of drums and instruments that are played, including the balafon which is much like a xylophone and the cora which is a stringed instrument.” Mara also highlighted that one of the most commonly taught African styles in the U.S. is “lamban“. Here is another lamban performance you can see.

To see more village style dancing, check out this documentary about Chuck Davis’ travels. Davis is a renowned African American dancer and choreographer who visited West Africa, observing, learning and participating in local dances and other cultural traditions. It is available through the Alexander Street database. For those interested in further reading about West African dance and percussion, West African Drumming and Dance in North American Universities: An Ethnomusicological Perspective is recommended.

And here is a piece of great news: You can practice West-African dance here at C-U! Mara and other local West African Dance enthusiasts have put together a practice space called the C-U West African Drum and Dance Collective, where Djibril Camara is the local teacher. The group organizes a yearly festival called “The Midwest Mandeng.” Thanks to them, every September master drum and dance instructors from Guinea, Mali, and Senegal come to Urbana-Champaign to teach workshops and give demonstrations. Mark your calendar for next year!

As I have mentioned with the other dances above, there is a very interesting evolution of contemporary dance in West Africa that dialogues between traditional dance and international modern styles. Unlike most contemporary and modern dancers from the U.S. and other western countries, it is common that modern dancers from different African countries are trained first in traditional dance and then they train in other dance forms and techniques. Afrique Danse Contemporaine (Contemporary African Dance) beautifully presents the trajectory of Salia Sanou, renowned dancer and choreographer form Burkina Faso, where he makes a clear statement on the relevance of African voices in the global contemporary dance scene. Here is Poussières de sang, a stunning performance by him in collaboration with Seydou Boro, another choreographer from the same country.

DOUBALEY (LE MIROIR). Photo credit: http://www.saliasanou.net Mouvements Perpétuets, Direction artistique Salia Sanou

A dancer performs Salia Sanou’s Doubaley (Le miroir). Photo credit: From Mouvements Perpétuels

All of this is just a little taste of a larger African dance scene. Find more in an engaging documentary called African Dance: Sand, Drum and ShostakovichWe have a vast variety of library resources related to all types of African dance in general and West African dance in particular.

Thank you for joining me in the exploration of this art form. If you are as excited about dance as I am and want to keep reading, watching and listening, check out the large amount resources available at different library locations about folk, modern, and classical dance, among others. Especially check out the Music and Performing Arts Library Dance Research Resources.

You can also contact our Dance at Illinois department on campus where Faculty have extensive experience about varied international styles, including several professors interested in African influences on contemporary dance. Also, the dance department annually invites guest artists from diverse origins. This year, guest artists bring works influenced by traditions from China, Taiwan, and Israel.  You can also follow the schedule of events at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts which is always showcasing events of interest. You can also ask Mara, our South Asian Studies Librarian about Indian dance! She has a lot to share. For more information and posts like these, follow the International and Area Studies Facebook page.

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Adventures in Arabic, Part II

Welcome back, Arabophiles! And thank you for joining us at Glocal Notes for the second edition of “Adventures in Arabic.” As promised, this week we will share “Ways To Cope with Difficulty” and “Miscellany.”

As always with this blog, one of our most pertinent goals is to make you more aware of the resources that we have in our library and on campus to help you with your needs. These resources come in many forms. Among them are the print, the digital, the human, the interdepartmental, and the ones that go beyond the borders of our university. Shall we take a tour?

WAYS TO COPE WITH DIFFICULTY

A screenshot of the homepage of the International and Area Studies Library's portal to materials and research strategies pertaining to the Middle East & North Africa. Found at http://www.library.illinois.edu/ias/middleeasterncollection/index.html.

A screenshot of the homepage of the International and Area Studies Library’s portal to materials and research strategies pertaining to the Middle East & North Africa. Found at http://www.library.illinois.edu/ias/middleeasterncollection/index.html.

Print & Digital Resources

As mentioned in Part I, in Arabic class here at UIUC we use a text book called Alif Baa by Kristen Brustad and her colleagues. Aside from occasional dalliances with Google Translate’s pronunciation function, I’ve found the text to be quite sufficient as a learning tool. What’s more, it is accompanied by a compact disc which holds the class’ listening exercises and videos that demonstrate how the script is written.

However, if a beginner were interested in complementary texts, one might consult the call number ranges or addresses that indicate where print reference materials are held in our library. Don’t know where those are? No problem. That’s why we have lib guides. Our University Library is a big proponent of lib guides, which are concentrated, digital resources designed around a theme and meant to help you find what you need when you need it. Here are four that pertain to learning about the Arab world and the Arabic language:

Human Resources

But there’s more!

Professor Laila Hussein is the Middle East and North African Studies Librarian at the University Library. Specifically, Professor Hussein works at this blog’s home unit, the International and Area Studies Library. She can help you find sources for your term papers, tell you about the Bibliography of Africa course and, as a native speaker of Arabic, discuss how Modern Standard Arabic differs from regional dialects. She recently published a piece about her broader work in the American Library Association’s International Leads.

Professor Kenneth Cuno is the campus’ local expert on most things Egyptian. He has spent decades studying Egyptian society and culture to come to a better understanding of how the country and its people link their ancient and pharaonic past to the present and its political uprisings. His courses this semester focus on modern Egyptian history and mutable concepts of family over time. His recent publications include Modernizing Marriage: Family, Ideology, and Law in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Egypt and Race and Slavery in the Middle East: Histories of Trans-Saharan Africans in Nineteenth-Century Egypt, Sudan, and the Ottoman Empire.

Dr. Eman Saadah is the director of the Arabic Language Program. In addition to coordinating the multiple sections of beginning Arabic courses, she is the official faculty chaperone for students traveling in the winter study abroad program to Jordan. She coordinates an annual 3-week trip for students interested in visiting the Middle East. Moreover, if you’re studying Arabic, you can write to her and ask about the weekly conversation tables held on Thursdays in La Casa on Nevada Street at 4:00 p.m. that discuss modern issues in Muslim-majority countries.

Angela Williams is the Associate Director of the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CSAMES). She is a doctoral candidate in the Education, Policy, Organization and Leadership program. Aside from being a competent Arabic speaker, she is also studying Persian.

Interdepartmental Resources

A screenshot of the University of Illinois' Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies website's home page.

A screenshot of the University of Illinois’ Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CSAMES) website’s home page.

The Center for African Studies (CAS), the Center for Global Studies (CGS), and the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CSAMES), and the European Union Center (EUC) have affiliated  professors who offer a variety of courses pertaining to the Arabic-speaking world. Moreover, these three centers host a series of events and talks that shed light on multiple topics, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and development efforts in Sub-Saharan African countries. There are also regular Iranian tea times at these campus cultural houses. To sign up for the Center for African Studies’ weekly newsletter, delivered by e-mail, write to Terri Gitler (tgitler@illinois.edu); to be included on the Center for Global Studies listserv, complete this form; and for CSAMES’ email list, click this link and fill out the form.

The Summer Institute of Languages of the Muslim World (SILMW) is native to our campus and is currently run by Dr. Eman Saadah. She is from Jordan and teaches Arabic during the eight weeks of the summer term. In addition to intensive courses, the program offers cultural workshops and field trips to help introduce students to Islamic cultures. Also, if you recall the federally funded fellowship mentioned in Part I of this post, also known as the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship, SILMW is FLAS-eligible and offers up to seven different languages for study, including Arabic.

Outside Academic Resources

Middlebury College offers intensive study every summer for eleven modern languages. Arabic is offered at its California campus site and is eligible for the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) federal award.

Middlebury College offers intensive study every summer for eleven modern languages. Arabic is offered at its California campus site and is eligible for the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) federal award.

Arabic at Stanford: If you’re feeling a bit shaky writing and pronouncing your letters, this nifty website can help you to perfect scribing and vocalizing the Arabic script.

Georgetown University: This page tells you what makes learning the Arabic language challenging for native speakers of English.

Middlebury College: If you’re looking for an immersive experience, but can’t quite make it abroad, you might consider Middlebury College’s Language Schools. At Middlebury, you can join a summer-long program in which you sign a Language Pledge and communicate almost exclusively in your target language for the duration of the summer term. In addition to courses, there are extracurricular activities that are all conducted in the target language, including theater, cooking, sports, poetry, and more. A total of eleven modern languages are taught through the Middlebury College Language Schools: nine are offered on the Vermont campus and two, including Arabic, are offered every summer in California. As with SILMW, these programs are also FLAS-eligible.

Around the Web

Thankfully, learning Arabic isn’t all about dictionaries, papers and tests. It is also about humor, travel, struggles, pronunciation, sharing, solidarity, culture, and community. When you’re not sounding out your alif tanwins, deciphering your waslas and choosing your proper kursis, you can check out these pages that will speak intimately to your challenges and successes:

 

MISCELLANY

 A female student wearing a hijab. Photo Credit: Tahir Ansari

A female student wearing a hijab. Photo Credit: Tahir Ansari

What’s required vs. what’s necessary

I’ve come to think of my relationship with Arabic much like any long-term one that I might have with another person; I’ve found that when I put in the time, energy, and attention for working on Arabic, peace, harmony and good tidings are my rewards. When I don’t, there’s discord, anxiety and friction between us. Knowing this, doing “just enough to get by” isn’t the best approach in creating a strong foundation for a lasting love. This frequently means requiring more of myself than what is recommended. Doubly more. As a friend of mine likes to say, “The struggle is real.”

This is my first time having an instructor who is a hijabi*.

As far as I can tell, what my instructor wears has had no bearing on the efficacy of her teaching. As a Westerner and a feminist, I’ve been exposed to schools of thought that suggest the garment is outrightly oppressive. However, writing off the cultural practice entirely without hearing from the people who respect it would be unjust. As the many think-pieces published on various Internet platforms state, a hijab does not equate to oppression just as a bikini does not equate to freedom. When we assign definitive meanings to garments, we limit the dialogues we can engage about them. Interestingly, recent news articles seem to suggest that the hijab is taking a strong foothold in the mainstream. See a Muslim policewoman’s uniform in Minnesota and a retail model’s attire for H&M. It would seem that fewer and fewer preconceptions about the covering are true.

There are heritage speakers in class.

In language pedagogy courses, new instructors are taught that there are “true beginners” and “false beginners.” True beginners have had zero to little meaningful contact with the target language being taught. False beginners are learners who may have taken the language years ago and have significant gaps in their history of learning. Or, a false beginner could be a heritage speaker who has spoken the target language for years at home but has insufficient experience in terms of reading and writing it. The heritage speakers, it seems, ask fewer questions and make fewer comments. This may be because the basic principles of the language come more easily and/or naturally to them based on their more personal experiences.

I still can’t write my name.

At the time I started writing this post, the statement written just above was true. It took me about four weeks to learn to write my name. This isn’t because my name is inherently difficult or that I’m painfully slow at picking up grammar cues. It is because the letters “k” and “n” come rather late in the abjad (alphabet) – “N” is the fourth to last. It may, then, take 20 class meetings before you can use the Arabic script to write your name, and even more than that if you’re a Henry, Harold, Heather, or Helen, as “H” is the last consonant of the alphabet. Here are some of the names I learned to write rather early: Rashid, Sara, and Tabatha.

This is not something you do for “fun.”

Over the course of my foreign language learning career, I have noticed that there are some languages that students from the United States approach casually. We say, “I’m going to brush up on my [fill in the language of your choice here].” Or, “I used to study [fill in the language of your choice here] in high school.” These languages tend to represent cultures that are nearer to the U.S. geographically and ideologically than the Middle East. Arabic is not one of these languages.

If you are American, chances are that there were no cable channels in your home that featured the Arabic language. Chances are that your local grocery chain didn’t have a specific marketing campaign to celebrate an Islamic holiday. Chances are, if you’re from the U.S., your favorite pop station isn’t regularly mixing Arabic-infused songs into its daily rotation. My point is this: Different languages and cultures are portrayed in different contexts in the United States. While Arabic class is fun, it’s also demanding, informative, challenging and rewarding. One thing it is definitely not, however, is an “easy A” for a Western, non-native/non-heritage speaker.

With this course, time must be carved out minimally five days a week for attentive practice. More than anything, this teaches me to moderate my expectations. If by the end of the semester I can…

  • politely and warmly greet people from the Maghreb, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula
  • introduce myself properly and respectfully
  • pronounce vowelled texts
  • count to one hundred
  • state the colors
  • know the days of the week and months of the year
  • name common food items
  • talk about the weather
  • and mention how I’m feeling…

I will be content.

If you didn’t catch Part I of this series last week, click here to go back in time, and be sure to follow our page on Facebook for more posts like this one.

Multiple types of marinated olives, a common food eaten in the Mediterranean. Photo Credit: Speleolog from Flickr

Multiple types of marinated olives, a common food item eaten in the Mediterranean world. Photo Credit: Speleolog

 

 *Mini-glossary of terms

abjad: The Arabic alphabet, which relies exclusively on consonants; most vowels are largely excluded from the script in writing.

hijabi: Any Muslim woman who wears a hijab, a covering for the hair, head, and upper body.

kursi: Literally “chair,” “throne,” “seat” or “stool.” In grammatical terms, the kursi is a written symbol upon which the Hamza (ء) sits but has no pronounced vowel.

Marhaba!: “Hello!”

Mumtaaz!: “Excellent!”

taliib (masc.)/taliibah (fem.): seeker of knowledge (“student”)

tanwiin: A grammatical term that refers to three different diacritical marks that indicate that a word ends in the sounds “-an,” “-in” or “-un”

Tasharrafna!: “Nice to meet you!”

ustaad (masc.)/ustada (fem.): teacher

waajib: homework

wasla: A diacritical mark (ٱ) that indicates the sound Hamza should be elided or suppressed in pronunciation

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