Musical Explorations in Spectral Colors: the 2022-23 MacPhail Spotlight Series

To experience art—through a canvas, or a symphony, or a screen—is a transporting experience. It can open doors to beauty, to new understanding, to wonder. So, what happens when you encounter more than one artistic genre, all within a single event?

Mischa Santora wants to explore this question.

As the artistic director of MacPhail’s Spotlight Series, Santora invited three important visual artists in the Twin Cities area to collaborate with several of MacPhail’s accomplished musicians. In special performances that will take place in September, February, and April, MacPhail will welcome the multi-media artist Jendayi Berry, the visual artist and designer Eyenga Bokamba, and the narrative photographer Asha Belk to Antonello Hall. Their passion, their innovation, and their own artistic messages will interact and fuse with MacPhail’s acclaimed faculty musicians. And the result will be… 

“I don’t really know what to expect!” Santora admits. “That is part of the experiment when you put together things that usually do not belong together. But my artistic instinct says, ‘This is going to work.’”  And since these are three distinctly unique visual artists, each of the events will highlight a different form of collaboration.  

In the Moment with Jendayi ‘Jedi Maji’ Berry, September 24 at 7:30pm

“There is a lot of potential for people to be able to see sounds,” says Jendayi “Jedi Maji” Berry, whose event is titled In the Moment (September 24, 7:30 PM). Since he is already in the business of altering viewers’ perspectives, Jendayi sees music as one more tool for doing so. Even within the medium of painting, he uses an array of techniques—from symmetry and layering to color and light—to challenge the way we understand the world around us.  

photo of multi-medi artist Jedi Maji sitting with two of his paintings
Jedi Maji as featured in Mpls/St. Paul Magazine (winter 2020)

How will Jedi collaborate with musicians? The title says it all: He will paint in the moment. He will arrive with a large, custom-made easel “that’s strong enough to handle what I plan to do with it,” several three-foot boards, an array of commercial painting gear, and a whole lot of paint. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, Jedi Maji will “live paint” along to a piano duo Irina Elkina and Julia Elkina performing works by French, Spanish, and Armenian composers; a drummer Iris Shiraishi performing a Taiko drumming repertoire; and MacPhail’s directors of EMRA (Electronic Music & Recording Arts program) and GMI (Global Music Initiative) Michael Cain & Christopher Rochester (respectively) performing jazz selections. 

“I’m excited by the poetic nature of just listening to the music and using your third eye to communicate what you want,” he says. “I’ll be focusing on the sounds and really finding that raw energy between myself and the musicians.”  

His thoughts about painting while a room full of people watch? “I am always pushing to find the balance between controlling the outcome of my art and focusing on the uncontrolled, the feeling. In this situation, I will be focused on the uncontrolled—being guided by the music. Part of that is performance. My plan is to interact with the crowd at the intersections between songs.”  

‘Bozeman Black’ by Jedi Maji, acrylic on canvas

By nature of being a live event, there will be impromptu moments. Jedayi says he loves the idea of “being able to flip the canvas when the painting is almost done, and then you have a surprise element, and it reveals something else,” he says. “I want to pull the crowd in at those moments.” 

Jedi is a fan of many types of music. But he has been longing to fuse his art with the sounds of Taiko drumming ever since experiencing that big, rolling drum beat that is featured in the Tom Cruise film, The Last Samurai. “Oh, I’ve had dreams about that!” he says. “I love the drama of it, and the sense of something amazing coming in the future.” He imagines that his artistic response to the Taiko drum will be a bolder, less structured, more abstract form of painting. But who knows what will happen “in the moment”?

Translucent Beauty with Eyenga Bokamba, February 25, 2023 at 7:30pm

Eyenga Bokamba is approaching her own event, Translucent Beauty (February 25, 7:30 PM), with a similar sense of anticipation, curiosity, and even intrigue. On the one hand, this internationally acclaimed painter describes herself as “tone deaf” and a “non-musical person.” On the other? She is bursting with ideas for musical collaboration: “I’d like to have multiple projections of my paintings going—behind the musicians, on their faces and instruments, at different angles.” She is aware of the impact that a soundscape can have, and she is thrilled to harness this power in an artistic partnership. “Music and film make us feel alive in new ways. They impact my mood, my feeling of possibility, my sorrow, my triumph.”

visual artist Eyenga Bokamba at Ritratto
Eyenga Bokamba, AFP | @andreaferrophotography

Bokamba ought to know: Her paintings are bathed in ideas she is drawn from the concept of neuroplasticity. “There’s a small body of scientific research that talks about the power of the arts—especially multi-modal art like this—that can actually grow and change your mind, creating synapses that allow people to experience new thoughts and perspectives.”

“A musical piece can help to pull in people who might otherwise turn their heads away,” she says. “It’s a bridge to our emotions and our psyches, softening us, leading us to drop our guard and see something new.”

And for a so-called “non-musical” person, Bokamba has a few sharp insights about the intersection of fine arts and music. She explains that music has different rhythms and repetitions, and likewise, so do paintings. “When you’re listening to music, after a while you can anticipate what the musician is going to do next,” she says. “With visual pieces, there are also loops that can be synchronized with the music so the viewer can recognize and anticipate what’s coming next.”

Works by Eyenga Bokamba

Bokamba will be fusing her artistic concepts with solo and chamber music works by cellist Rebecca Merblum, pianist Miryana Moteva, horn player Mike Alexander, and pianist Michael Cain. She hopes “to riff with the musicians, to dream with them, sit in on them practicing, do some matching.” Her paintings of late are in cool tones like blues and purples, but she will also be interspersing those with some bright, bold pieces.

In one recent work, called “Optimism Returning,” she conveys moments of possibility using white space and many layers of translucence, so that the viewer is perceiving multiple layers at the same time. She is extremely interested in showing how mediums interact to create spatial relationships in her paintings. These are concepts that musicians wrestle with, too. It is no wonder Bokamba is feeling intrigued about the possibilities.

The Space Where Words Fail with Asha Belk, April 22, 2023 at 7:30pm

Asha Belk, the final collaborator, will merge her visceral, photographic images of Twin Cities life and culture with a premier of a musical score composed and performed by MacPhail’s Electronic Music Recording Arts (EMRA) department: Michael Cain, Isaac Rohr, Krysta Rayford, Barbara Cohen, and Kenichi Thomas. The program, The Space Where Words Fail (April 22, 7:30 PM), will capture what Belk describes as “the joyous moments and the painful moments and the things that you question.”

photographer Asha Belk standing in a gallery with her work
Asha Belk, photographer with her work

Belk was an obvious choice for this series, because of her kinetic sensibilities. “I love to capture movement, a process,” she says. “I love taking photos that tell a story. I enjoy hearing other interpretations of moments I have captured.” This idea—that others project their own thoughts and experiences onto a work—is familiar to musical artists as well.

The title of this event came from a conversation Belk had with another photographer. “I was having a difficult time explaining what my photography is to me and what I like to capture,” she says. “I’m drawn to vulnerability, moments between individuals, and how nature makes you feel.” These words-can’t-describe images have gotten Belk noticed, especially when she set about photographing the tumult in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

In one photo, Belk captured the back of a noticeably young boy who was kneeling on the pavement at the sight of the impromptu memorial. “It’s a good example of how a photo makes you stop to examine all the details,” she says, The leaf in his hand, the colorful flowers on such a dark day, the strings of his mask around his ears, timestamping the pandemic.” 

photograph of small boy kneeling at George Floyd memorial
untitled, Asha Belk

“I can feel my emotions in this photo, because I was there,” she says. “But what I was not understanding in the moment was what a photograph could mean to other people.” Many of the reactions were deep-seated: People said, ‘This could be my son, my nephew.’ As for Belk, she says, “I still haven’t processed all the meaning behind it.” (She may also have a special connection to the young people in her city, as her other job is that of a social worker at Bethune Arts Elementary School.)

And what type of music does Belk expect to accompany her powerful images? “It could really be anything,” she says. “This collection of photos is similar and different at the same time. How do you choose music to pull them all together? ” That is the challenge before her and MacPhail’s musicians. She says she will be creating some new photographs, too.

“I didn’t want to focus on George Floyd,” she says. “We have dealt with a lot, and we are continuing to heal but I plan to incorporate photographs from those moments that are engraved in my memory. I want this collection of photos to include everything else, too. All the moments.”

MACPHAIL SPOTLIGHT SERIES PERFORMANCE INFORMATION

The MacPhail Spotlight Series performances are September 24, February 25, and April 22 in MacPhail’s Antonello Hall, 501 2nd Street S. Minneapolis. Tickets are available for individual performances or for the entire series. Tickets may be purchased at MacPhail.org

MacPhail students are entitled to two $5 Spotlight tickets per academic year. Faculty receive two free tickets per year. See the website for details.

September 24: IN THE MOMENT with Jendayi Berry

Jendayi Berry is a Minneapolis-based, multi-media artist whose dynamic works have been exhibited at several galleries, including at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. To see his artwork, visit Jendayi Berry Art and Jendayi’s page at Saatchi Art.

PROGRAM:

La Valse by Maurice Ravel
Seven Spanish Folk Songs by Manuel de Falla
Armenian Rhapsody by Arutunian and Babajanian
Irina Elkina, piano
Julia Elkina piano

Taiko Drumming Repertoire
Iris Shiraishi, Taiko Drum

Beatrice by Sam Rivers
You go to my head by J. Fred Coots
Night and Day by Cole Porter
Michael Cain, piano
Chris Rochester, saxophone

February 25: TRANSLUCENT BEAUTY with Eyenga Bokamba

Eyenga Bokamba is an internationally acclaimed visual artist and designer based in the Twin Cities and Italy. Her paintings can be viewed at Eyenga Bokamba Paintings.

Bach: Suite for solo cello #5, c-minor
Rebecca Merblum, cello 

Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel
Miryana Moteva, piano
TBD, violin

Margaret Brower: Sonata for Horn and Piano
Mike Alexander, horn
Miryana Moteva, piano

Electronic soundscapes/keyboard improv
Michael Cain, piano/keyboard

April 22: THE SPACE WHERE WORDS FAIL with Asha Belk

Asha Belk is a prominent food and culture photographer in the Twin Cities and a social worker at Bethune Elementary School. Her photographs can be viewed at Asha Belk.

This performance will feature the premier of a new soundtrack by MacPhail’s EMRA (Electronic Music & Recording Arts) department: Michael Cain, Isaac Rohr, Krysta Rayford (K. Raydio), Barbara Cohen, Kenichi Thomas (DJ Just Nine)

Published on Date: Sep 15, 2022
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