Thursday, April 18, 2019

Decolonizing Allure: Women Artists of Color in Conversation

Seattle Opera's upcoming panel subverts Carmen’s white, patriarchal narrative at 7 p.m., Friday April 26. Panelists include: Michelle Habell-Pallán (top left), Naomi André (bottom left), Aramis O. Hamer (center), Perri Rhoden (top, right) and Sara Porkalob (bottom, right). 
At one point in time, a Seattle Opera ticket offered a relatively predictable experience: an enchanted night out, a grand presentation, and often a familiar telling of a popular work. But in the past few years, Seattle Opera has been inviting audiences to explore this art form from a different perspective. This is why, prior to the company’s May performance of Carmen, it plans to hold a free panel discussion that will flip the opera’s depiction of the exotic “Other” on its head. On April 26, the company presents “Decolonizing Allure: Women Artists of Color in Conversation.”

Who is Carmen, the leading lady of Bizet’s opera? Is she a dangerous seductress, a feminist martyr, or a complex Roma woman making her way in the world as an outsider? Or perhaps Carmen is merely a hurtful “gypsy” stereotype, a reflection of the fragilities and insecurities of the 19th-century French society that created her.

“The western arts industry has often been a space in which men—usually white men—have shaped the characters and narratives of Women of Color, depicting them as hypersexualized, exoticized, and ill-fated,” said Alejandra Valarino Boyer, Director of Programs and Partnerships. “Carmen inspires us to examine how women artists of color respond to these tropes and their legacy, be it rejecting them, subverting them, or reclaiming them. These artists take back power by creating art in their own image.”

Panelists include award-winning performer/activist Sara Porkalob; two visual artists Aramis O. Hamer (creator of the iconic purple goddess at KEXP’s building on the Seattle Center campus), and Perri Rhoden, who celebrates her Black identity on canvas. Additionally, two university professors will speak: Naomi André author of Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement from the University of Michigan; and Michelle Habell-Pallán, author of Loca Motion: The Travels of Chicana and Latina Popular Culture (2005) from the University of Washington.

“Through this panel discussion, and all our community conversations in recent years, we’re creating space for voices who have not had an opportunity to be shared in opera,” said General Director Aidan Lang. “It’s time for a new power structure where diverse people, stories, and perspectives are inherently woven into the fabric of our art.”


One of Dr. André's books: Black Opera. 
Naomi André is Associate Professor in Women’s Studies and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on opera and issues surrounding gender, voice, and race, and she recently published Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement (2018), a work on staging race and history in opera today. Her books, Voicing Gender: Castrati, Travesti, and the Second Woman in Early Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera (2006) and Blackness in Opera (2012) explore constructions of gender, race and identity in opera

One of Dr. Habell-Pallán's book projects, Latino/a Popular Culture.
Michelle Habell-Pallán is Professor of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies and an adjunct in Communication and the School of Music at the University of Washington. Her innovative research on gender, popular music, and culture has garnered awards from the Rockefeller and Woodrow Wilson Foundations. She co-founded UW Libraries’ Women Who Rock: Making Scenes, Building Communities Oral History Archive, a collaborative exploration of the role of women and popular music in the creation of cultural scenes and social justice movements. Her work Loca Motion: The Travels of Chicana and Latina Popular Culture (2005) received an MLA book prize honorable mention, and she is a co-author of American Sabor: U.S. Latinos in Popular Music (2017).

Aramis O. Hamer is the creator of KEXP's iconic purple goddess.

Aramis O. Hamer
is a visual artist and muralist living in Seattle. Her subject matter is inspired by the cosmos, music, nature, divine femininity, and the complexities throughout the Black culture. With the supportive art community in the Pacific Northwest, Aramis has exhibited her colorful creations throughout the greater Seattle area, including the EMP Museum, Paramount Theater, Martyr Sauce Gallery, Columbia City Gallery, and more. Aramis created the iconic purple goddess in 2016 for KEXP at Seattle Center, which became a catalyst to her art career. You can find her designs all over the city, including Jimi Hendrix Park.

Sara Porkalob performs in her own work, Dragon Lady.
Sara Porkalob is an award-winning storyteller and activist. She’s featured in Seattle Magazine’s “Most Influential People of 2018” and City Arts Magazine's 2017 "Futures List." Her musical Dragon Lady is a three-time 2018 Gregory Awards recipient for Outstanding Sound/Music Design, Outstanding Actress in a Musical, and Outstanding Musical Production. This year, she’s collaborating with the City of Seattle and their new Creative Strategies Initiative (CSI), a new City effort that uses arts- and culture-based approaches to build racial equity in non-arts policy areas like the environment, housing, workforce and community development.

Art work created by Perri Rhoden. 
Perri Rhoden is a visual artist who was born in Tacoma and raised in Seattle. While attending Howard University, she fell in love with figurative painting and celebrating her identity as Black Woman on canvas. Perri’s artistic process involves merging music, emotion, and visual references into various abstractions on canvas or paper. She is inspired by live music and concerts in the genres of hip-hop, soul, and trap EDM. She is actively involved in the city’s arts sector, participating in community-led art markets and events, teaching art classes, and assisting with the Seattle Arts Leadership Team in the Office of Arts and Culture. 

Decolonizing Allure: Women Artists of Color in Conversation takes place at 7 p.m., on Friday, April 26 at The Opera Center (363 Mercer St.). Free event. RSVP & more: