To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, filmmakers, designers, and performers to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2019.
Xiaolu Wang is a self-taught filmmaker. She identifies as a Chinese transplant who grew up in the Muslim autonomous region in Northwestern China and now resides in the occupied indigenous homelands of the Dakota people, the Twin Cities. She believes in using lived experiences as materials for her films and for directing. Dumpling (饺子), her first narrative short, blends traditional narrative with magical realism to reflect on the struggle to belong.
AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL (大象席地而坐)
DIRECTED BY HU BO (胡波)
There is an elephant in Manzhouli.
It sits there all day long.
Some people stab it with forks, it still won’t move.
Or maybe it enjoys sitting there.
I don’t know.
I love this film and will always admire the craft in this story because the filmmaker gave all of his life and integrity to express something original and brave. It is a singular 234-minute journey in the history of filmmaking. It is the beam of light in between the cracks. It is poetry. It is genius. It is the rivers flowing in each of us. Rest in peace, Hu Bo. Rest in power, Hu Bo.
AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL SOUNDTRACK
花伦 – 电影《大象席地而坐》原声带
I got to witness Hua Lun playing live in Xining, China, in the summer of 2019. It was the last 48 hours of my volunteer shift at the 13th FIRST International Film Festival. Their music brought solace, grace, multitudes, playfulness, and everlasting peace. I love track #5 (“离开“) #9 (“坏孩子的天空 (加长版)), and #10 (“大象“) in particular; they flow in the film in a way that you can’t tell where the music starts and where the film ends. I listen to this album whenever I need to reach for my heart and grounding. It reminds me of going home, in the darkness, with the moon and the stars above. I needn’t a flashlight, I just need to put one foot after the other, touching the earth.
EBONY MONROE BY E.G. BAILEY
Ebony Monroe is a proof of concept of a feature film by E.G. Bailey. Think blaxploitation, think a new black renaissance, think #newblackwave, think badass black women, think magic, think stories that exist in the gap, think legacy, think mystery, think pride, think love, think black excellence.
Cast & Crew:
Jessika Akpaka as Ebony Monroe
Sha Cage as co-director, production design, wardrobe, casting
Tahiel Jimenez as 1st AC, gaffer, grip
Xiaolu Wang as 1st AD, gaffer, grip, title design
Andrea Heilman as production design
P.S. E.G. Bailey is the director and cinematographer and he never sleeps.
OCTAVIA E. BUTLER’S PARABLE OF THE SOWER
AN OPERA BY TOSHI REAGON AND BERNICE JOHNSON REAGON
“ALL THAT YOU TOUCH YOU CHANGE. ALL THAT YOU CHANGE CHANGES YOU. THE ONLY LASTING TRUTH IS CHANGE.” —OCTAVIA BUTLER
To hear these words as songs is like waking up to the end of the world, ready to create new possibilities, even if just for one last day. This opera has songs for the soul and guidance for the heart. At the end of the show, Toshi Reagon said, “Believe in what you know” to a full house at the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium. It trembled its power into my core. What I know is sacred, is power, is truth, is history, is complicated, is simple, is valuable, is intuitive. We just have to believe love and trust change.
13TH FIRST INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (FIRST青年电影展)
This film festival has the youngest blood, most pure intentions, and ride-or-die volunteers in China. I was lucky to be one of 150 volunteers in this photo.
Being a projectionist for 13 feature films:
Concert Hall team 永远的音乐厅:
SIMONE LECLAIRE’S EARTH
Simone LeClaire reimagined each of four elements, Air, Earth, Water, and Fire, as an exploration of womanhood through challenging retellings of classic fairy tales. In the context of #MeToo era, these films pushes the dialogues around accountability and honesty in our relationships further, showing us “yes means yes and no means no.” LeClaire also created discussion groups online to engage with her audiences. She continues to be one of the most sincere, skillful, and innovative filmmakers who brings her films further than film festivals and online distributions. She shows up with a deep desire to make a difference in her audiences, whether it’s about loving ourselves more gently or saying no more fearlessly. In the most rececent work in the ELEMENTAL series, Earth reimagines Sleeping Beauty.
QUEER FORMS BY OSKAR LY
Twin Cities-based Queer Hmong French American multidisciplinary artist Oskar Ly presented a collection of her original fashion designs on September 21 at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery as part of the Queer Forms exhibition. Oskar’s designs are centered on the intersections within Hmong culture. Oskar is a pioneer in the Hmong American fashion movement pushing Hmong aesthetics and cultural innovation.
Queer Forms coincides with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of FREE (Fight Repression of Erotic Expression), a Gay student organization at the University of Minnesota, and the Stonewall Rebellion in New York in 1969, and the 60th anniversary of the resistance to police harassment of LGBTQ+ people at Cooper Do-nuts in Los Angeles in 1959. To be a part of this exhibition and Oskar’s vision is to be a part of my ancestor’s dreams. It was holistic in every aspect of the production; I got to meet and work along models and artists who embody beauty and light. They inspire me to be all of me on the runway wearing designs that speak to my fullness and multitudes.
The show was also my first time modeling and walking the runway. It is forever a rewarding, healing, and powerful experience. My mom told me I always did cat walks when I was little. I am just slowly growing back into that confident, free, and wild Xiaolu.
Designs by Oskar Ly of Os.Couture & Styling
Photos by Nancy Musinguzi
Lighting by Alan Taverna
Modeled by Dahlia Dulce, Jessika Enoh Akpaka, Trey Chic, Seng Xiong, Symone Wilski, Shawn Xiong, and Xiaolu Wang
Accessories by Las Ranas Jewelry by Candida Gonzalez
Makeup by Sandy Xiong Mua
Hair by Jonathan Badboy-Gibson
MC’d by Quinn Villagomez
Produced by Oskar Ly, Sai Chang, Ashaley Yang, and Paxyshia Yang
THE SHUI PROJECT BY KENJI YEE AND FRIENDS
Kenji Yee is one of those people who makes you feel like being alive is about throwing yourself all in, like there’s no other options but to keep going. You have to love people like him because his passion reminds you of a bird taking flight and reaching for freedom. He is a new soul I met this year, but it feels like we have been on the same journey of claiming our craft and sharing with the world all along.
Experiencing Kenji’s cooking was one of those special moments where I was delighted by a secret. On an ordinary day in the fall, I was meeting up with a friend for a lunch date only to find myself in the current of an underground economy where food aroma and pleasurable experiences was flowing in and out endlessly. Follow @theshuiproject on Instagram and you’ll find out how to experience it and maybe collaborate. The Shui Project turned one-year-old on December 11, 2019. Come enjoy, co-create, support, and of course eat.
MOTHERLANDED, WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY JULIA GAY
Motherlanded is a solo performance written and performed by Julia Gay, exploring her unique experience as a Chinese adoptee. Julia is an artist, dancer, playwright, stand-up comedian, and a lover of food and people. She is infectious, fierce, deeply vulnerable, and never settles for average. This year, she remounted her solo show—unpacking her experience as a member of the first wave of Chinese adoptees. There were audiences who are younger Chinese adoptees, and some say they never have even seen another Chinese adoptee. This experience is a door opening up for more connections around transracial adoption, more conversations around the ethics of white parents adopting children of color, more questions grounded in healing, courage, and sincerity. Find out more with the review written by Arthur Dorman.
THE SPACE BETWEEN BY RYAN AND JESSICA STOPERA
I never got the chance to meet Jessica, but I meet her in her beloved’s’ grief. I meet her in the eyes of her brother and mother. I meet her in the films and photographs she created. This exhibition is a time-traveling experience. Ryan took us to his childhood and young adult years and created a future where her sister gets to exist in the space in between. Beyond grief and addiction.
It takes incredible courage to go back there, digging through the dust of old films and photos, to relive the loss and pain, to make a commitment to healing. It will forever remain a mystery how we cross paths at the times that we do on this earth. It is an honor to be chosen family with Ryan Stopera, to move towards healing, to be present when the opposite is more accessible, to be alive when numbness is much easier.
Reflections for 2019:
What did you say yes to the most, and how did you stand for your nos?
How did you spend love this year?
Describe a moment you felt wild and free to someone sitting next to you or someone you’d usually avoid talking with.