Highlights of 2021

Updated: Jan 5

Our members candidly share what they found interesting or heart-warming the year that just passed by...

María José Maddox

Article: "Melt the Crown" by Amanda Hanna-McLeer, published by Current Affairs (May/June 2021.) I've called myself a fan of Jim Jarmusch, Tarkovski, and Wong Kar-wai in the past. However, after reading this article, I felt called out. Film enthusiasts everywhere are probably guilty of perpetuating the 'auteur' myth.

I encourage you to read Hanna-McLeer's piece to determine why the 'genius director' myth needs to go. Like yesterday. In doing so, you'll also learn of women whom you've probably had never heard of before but whose talent and vision propelled the film industry forward.

Video: “Your Debt is Someone Else’s Asset.” This is a collaboration between The Intercept; artist Molly Crabapple and her creative partners at Sharp As Knives productions; and writer Astra Taylor, It’s only 6:40min. But it packs a punch.

Movie: La casa lobo. Chile, 2018.

Novel: I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart. Two Dollar Radio, 2021. Published some seven years after the protests at Maidan Nezalezhnosti began, Kalina Pickhart's historical novel is striking. The book follows the lives of four characters who coalesced in Kyiv while the city was burning: A Soviet pianist who's known as 'The Captain,' a fearless woman named Slava, a heavy-hearted engineer called Misha, and Katya, a doctor and a Ukrainian adoptee who returns to her homeland to care for the wounded at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery.

Pickhart says that she's hesitant to call any of the people in her book' characters.' "It just became so real for me that it hasn't felt right," she told Katya Apekina in an interview for Exile in Bookville. Pickhart is neither Ukrainian nor Russian, but you would never guess it by reading her novel. For so much care, research, and commitment went into this story fuses oral histories, folk songs, and journalism.

The author is the recipient of research fellowships from the Virginia G. Piper Center and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Intelligence for Eastern European and Eurasian Studies that allowed her to study the Ukrainian language and to visit the places that inspired her writing.

If you’d like to learn more about the conflict behind the story, I recommend watching the Netflix documentary Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.

Short Stories: Inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Claire Jimenez's Staten Island Stories (2019) depicts the imaginary lives of working-class folks as they navigate the maze of “gray and blue cubicles,” racial dynamics in the aftermath of Eric Garner’s murder, and ominous debt collectors, among other things. But her stories also elevate family ties, love where you can get it, and neighborly acquaintances. With an unflinching eye for everyday details, Jimenez sprinkles her story with A LOT of humor. “The Tale of the Angry Adjunct” and “You Are A Strange Imitation of a Woman” come to mind as highlights. In the former, Lauren O’ Hare confesses she hated being punitive when she was in her twenties. “But now I am thirty-two years old," she says, "and I am teaching a 4/4 at three different colleges, with 120 students, zero health insurance, and a PhD in medieval fucking literature.

Now I understand the desire for punishment.

Just kidding.



Maybe not.”

Andrea Lopez

Book: Atlas of the Heart. Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience (2021) by Brené Brown. Brene Brown is a researcher, storyteller, and professor at the University of Houston, where she holds the Huffington Foundation Endowed Chair at the Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, and empathy. In a world that is in constant need of these beautiful words, Brown’s book is a valuable guide to acquire and exercise the necessary skills for building meaningful connections.

Art: Mr. Prejudice (1943), by Horace Pippin (1888 - 1946). Philadelphia Museum of Art. Horace Pippin was a self-taught American artist who painted a range of themes, including scenes inspired by World War I, where he served in a segregated company, landscapes, portraits, and biblical subjects. Some of his best-known works address the U.S.'s history of slavery and racial segregation.

Human rights and social issues often figure in Pippin’s work, but this painting is particularly overt in its treatment of racism. Clouds hover over a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan and a burly white man holding a noose. The two menacing figures stand opposite the Statue of Liberty, here painted brown instead of green. At the center, Mr. Prejudice drives a wedge into a symbolic V for victory, segregating white and black machinists and servicemen. Pippin includes himself as one of the soldiers, wearing a World War I uniform, with his wounded right arm hanging at his side.

Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art

Music: Isqun (2021) by Renata Flores. Renata Flores was born in the city of Ayacucho, an Andean region where the Quechua language is predominant. She is now called the queen of Quechua rap. In her first Album Isqun [nine] completely in the Quechua language, she composed five songs that represent the lives of remarkable indigenous women through Peruvian history, starting with the Incan warrior and priestess Chanan Qori Coca. The other four songs of the Album represent the Andean cosmovision and the struggles of indigenous women to access to education and social justice.

Source: Renata Flores' Spotify

Documentary: My Octopus Teacher (2020). A beautiful recording of how much humankind can learn from all living creatures.

Article: “Learning Through Language: Academic Success in an Indigenous Language Immersion Kindergarten”. Morcom, Lindsay. Journal of American Indian education, 2017, Vol. 56 (2), p. 57-80. The article reports the promising results of the Ojibwe language immersion education and the efforts to revitalize the native languages in Canada. The outcome indicates that indigenous language immersion does not negatively impact educational achievement or mainstream language acquisition; on the contrary, it likely provides benefits to students in these and other areas.

Fernando Varela

Art: Future Fossil (2019), by Clarissa Tossin

Book: Latin America: The Allure and Power of an Idea (2017), Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo. A relatively short but intriguing book that examines Latin America not just as a geographic region, but an idea based on race that has persisted since the nineteenth century. The author argues that “Latin America” should have vanished years ago alongside pseudo-scientific racial theories, but that we may be stuck with the term in the long run. Ultimately what we can do, he states, is analyze what the term has meant over the centuries and how we can resist its alluring power.

Film: Cuba and the Cameraman (2017), dir. Jon Alpert. An interesting and personal documentary about the Cuban Revolution through the eyes of both the filmmaker and the people that he films. He does so by juxtaposing scenes that he filmed on the island throughout the decades, focusing on certain individuals as they grow older.

Javier Muñoz-Díaz

Art: “Taqui Onkoy, Chuquichinchay y la mala muerte,” de Javi Vargas Sotomayor. Recipient of the 2021 ICPNA Contemporary Art Award, this drawing-collage piece sums up Javi Vargas Sotomayor’s trajectory or queering Peruvian history by establishing connections between Andean/Amazonian mythology, Indigenous rebellions, and transgender struggles in contemporary society. Crafted during the heights of the COVID-19 Pandemic, this piece responds to the health crisis in Peru by invoking the heroic figure of Tupac Amaru II, leader of the 1880 Indigenous rebellion and staple in radical discourses of social changes throughout Latin America. Vargas Sotomayor explained the creative process behind this piece in their social media (see here, here, here)

Source: Javi Vargas Sotomayor's Facebook

Book: “Los recuerdos del porvenir,” by Elena Garro. Initially published in 1962, Garro’s first novel takes place in the fictional town of Ixtepec, which is facing the aftermath of the Mexican revolution and the unresolved tensions between local caudillos, mestizo landlords, and Indigenous communities seeking land reform. The novel constructs a fleeting and gloomy world summarized by its paradoxical title (it has been translated as "Recollection of Things to Come By”“) and enacted by its captivating narrative voice (the whole town of Ixtepec speaking by itself, speaking through its people, its streets, and its atmosphere).

Film: “Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,” de Chantal Akerman. A 201 minutes feature composed entirely of fixed shots of the everyday life of a housewife, Akerman’s film is one of the most immersive cinematic experiences that reveals to the viewer disturbing details hidden in the monotonous routine inside an uninspiring apartment.

Lip-sync (1): “Memory,” by Elaine Page, performed by Tayce and Cherry Valentine. RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Season 2, Episode 2. Nowadays, lip-syncs are everywhere, and most of them are full of acrobatic stunts. Still, Drag Queen Tayce’s performance of the central piece of Cats the Musical (in the voice of Elaine Paige) focuses on the facial expressions, with minimum movement throughout the stage, to deliver all the despair and resentment contained in such a beautiful song. And Tayce’s face is beat!