Review: Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King

You might recognize Hasan Minhaj as the Senior Indian Correspondent over at The Daily Show, where he was hired in 2014. Since then, he’s done numerous pieces on a wide variety of topics, many of them focusing on Islamophobia and how it affects Muslims in the U.S. and abroad. He also did a noteworthy interview with Justin Trudeau, where he (Hasan) wore a Canadian tuxedo and, among other things, asked the PM to apologize (or not apologize) for everything from Drake on Degrassi to Justin’s Movember goatee. In any case, on May 23rd, Hasan Minhaj also released a new comedy special for Netflix called Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King.

About a half-hour into Homecoming King, Hasan relates a story about how, following 9/11, his family got an anonymous phone call in which he and his father heard someone repeatedly calling them racial slurs and accusing them of aiding terrorists before saying their address and threatening to kill them. Hasan describes looking at his father after and says, “Do you ever see your parents, and see the mortality in them?” Minutes later, the family heard the sound of their car windows being smashed in. He compares his own reaction, running around looking for the perpetrators, to that of his father, who sweeps up the glass “like he works in a hate crimes barbershop.” While Hasan’s father asserts that “these things happen” and considers it the price of being an immigrant, Hasan has a different realization: “We really are from two different generations…I was born here. So I actually have the audacity of equality…I’m equal, I don’t deserve this.” Following this incredible speech, Hasan adds on that his father once tried to return used underwear to Costco. Hasan will tell you all about how annoying he initially found his younger sister (who he didn’t even know about until he was 8), before he reveals that she is currently an accomplished attorney, and that she interfered on his behalf when their parents were reluctant to accept Hasan’s relationship with his then-fiancée (now wife), who is Hindu, not Muslim.

Hasan Minhaj performing in Homecoming King

That is the genius of Hasan Minhaj’s comedic style. In one moment, he is completely serious, relating the intensity of the racism and Islamophobia he and his family have experienced, and in the next, he is quipping about the oddities of these experiences. He laughs at the differences between himself and Bethany, his white friend/crush in high school. In one particularly amusing moment, he describes sneaking out of his house in a JC Penny suit and six puffs of Michael Jordan cologne, and biking to Bethany’s house to be her prom date. However, he arrives to learn that Bethany’s parents have found a white boy to be her prom date instead — because they were taking pictures and didn’t think Hasan would be “a good fit.” The camera zooms in on Minhaj’s face, betraying heartbreak and shock and confusion, as though he is still a kid in high school having his prom hopes dashed. He contrasts this type of quiet racism with other types he’s received. Bethany’s mother is sure to call him “honey”, say that the family loves him, but it is still brutal. Shaking off the people who refer to him and his family with racial slurs is one thing, but shaking off the more subtle hatred from supposedly nice people is much harder.

Minhaj’s comedy and his sharp takes on racism and Islmophobia are desperately needed in this political climate. He wants to ensure that he and his family are seen as multidimensional people. He is honest about his childhood, neither pushing away some of the less seemly parts of it nor allowing the accomplishments of his family to be pushed away either. More than anything, he is here to remind us that he cannot be boxed off as being just an Indian Muslim, and that he is not willing to allow his identity to be erased or pushed aside. He peppers his jokes with Hindi and Urdu, and also mocks himself for his work in a Pizza Hut commercial. He comes off as fun and cocky, brimming with a confidence he may not have had in high school.

Hasan ends the show by discussing his audition for The Daily Show, in which he did a piece about Ben Affleck defending Islam on Real Time with Bill Maher (you know, the guy who just said the n-word on TV). We don’t see the audition, but considering the brilliance of the comedian saying it, and the fact that it evidently worked, we can imagine that it was pretty darn funny. Homecoming King was an awesome comedy special, and I honestly can’t wait for him to continue with new material both on The Daily Show and off it.

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Future Visions: An Interview with Artist Kelly Richardson

Multimedia artist Kelly Richardson is by now a household name in the visual art world. Her hyper-real landscapes created with digital technology have garnered international recognition. Her work has been called “otherworldly,” “absorbingly apocalyptic” and has been shown in over 90 group and solo exhibitions. Born in Burlington, Ontario, Richardson now resides in the U.K. and lectures in fine arts at Newcastle University. Richardson was also one of the notable artists who showcased their works at this year’s Power Ball XIX: Stereo Vision, a major fundraiser for public exhibitions and programs and an immersive contemporary art exhibition/party.

I had the chance to ask Richardson a few questions about selling caricatures, exploring technology, and the Apocalyptic Sublime.

Natasha Grodzinski: You are such a widely known artist and have shown works internationally. Does it feel the same to show in Canada or do you feel differently about showing your work in the country you were born in?

Kelly Richardson: I have lived in England for the past 14 years and during this time I have been fortunate enough to establish my practice internationally, which I’m incredibly grateful for. However, it has meant a great deal to me personally and professionally to maintain a presence in Canada, so it’s always a pleasure to return to exhibit my work. In fact, very shortly I will be returning permanently to teach at UVic (University of Victoria) which I am extremely excited about.

NG: Have you always been an artistic person? Or is there an “Aha” moment where you realized this was a way to express your passion and ideas?

KR: I have been a maker for as long as I can remember. Instead of setting up a lemonade stand as a kid, I set up a curb-side caricature stand. Portraits were 25 cents each. A bargain, even if they were awful!

NG: You’re described as an artist working in digital technologies. You work with film, but can you go deeper into what kind of digital technologies you’re engaging with?

KR: The kinds of technologies used is very much determined by what is needed to produce each work. I always start with an idea from which lengthy research and development is undertaken to produce it.

In terms of production, this usually means involving various specialist software packages typically used in the film and gaming industries. I’ve also employed sophisticated digital installation methods to challenge established moving image formats to produce seamless panoramic vistas three times the width of high definition and more recently, a 10-screen synced 4k installation.

Currently I am researching how I might employ real-time video for one particular work and for another, I’m simply trying to force available software to make a series of works possible. The technical challenges are always significant, but I need to stress that they are always used as a means to an end. The work is first and foremost about the ideas.

The Erudition by Kelly Richardson. Source.

NG: The landscapes you create are a mix of the natural and unnatural, the organic and technologic. What made you want to explore these contradictions?

KR: That’s a difficult question to answer really, as I think my initial interest in those contradictions came by way of numerous angles in my thinking. Much of this work came out of an interest in the Apocalyptic Sublime, a sub-genre of Romanticism where artists, poets and writers shared a preoccupation with notions of the apocalypse in the 18th and 19th centuries. There is a great deal of speculation as to what the influences of the genre were exactly but one significant one was the birth of the Industrial Revolution which played heavily on the minds of creative practitioners at the time. Roughly 200 years on, the natural world (ourselves included of course) is now facing severe consequences from relentless industrialization. In short, I’m interested in that relationship, which is evident in many ways in the work.

Leviathan by Kelly Richardson. Source.

NG: For example, you digitally created a hypothetical landscape in Mariner 9, but then show footage of a very real one in Leviathan. What is it that draws you to these landscapes?

KR: The landscapes chosen for each work, whether digitally created or filmed and then manipulated, are quite specific. Mariner 9 presents Mars as littered with the rusting remains from various missions to the planet. Despite its suggested abandoned state, several of the spacecraft continue to partially function, looking for signs of life and possibly transmitting the data back to no one. That search for life—to know that we’re not alone in the universe—is fascinating on many levels, but it’s also a beautiful, endearing endeavour, particularly for us as a species. We are destroying much of life as we know it, literally consuming our planet at a truly alarming rate. I’m interested in that contradiction at this critical time in history when current predictions for our future are not just unsettling, but terrifying.

I produced Leviathan during a residency at Artpace in San Antonio. Prior to arriving the BP oil spill (Deepwater Horizon) had just occurred in the Gulf. Taking that environmental disaster as a starting point of interest/concern, through research I discovered Caddo Lake on the east side of Texas on the Louisiana border, which has the dubious claim of being the first site for underwater oil extraction in human history. The location, therefore, could not have been more suitable from which to make work that is concerned with the repercussions of large-scale, unchecked industry. Caddo Lake is a significant landscape from which the modern world was forged.

A still from Mariner 9 by Kelly Richardson. Photo by Colin Davison. Source.

NG: Would Mariner 9 be considered a cautionary tale?

KR: It depends on the viewer’s interpretation. On the one hand, yes, absolutely. I am deeply concerned about where we are heading as a species. But I’m also hopeful. In Mariner 9, whatever interest we had in the planet has long ceased, but it’s not clear why. We might be witnessing machines attempting in their own futile, semi-functioning way to communicate with a planet where no one is left to receive the data. Or perhaps our focus has shifted elsewhere.

Over the last few years, I’ve been increasingly interested in the way science fiction allows us to experience what life might be like in the coming century. Scientists and futurologists can speculate on what the future might look like, but artists are capable of visualising those futures, making them tangible. If hindsight is always 20/20, experiencing these potential futures offers us a window through which we can view our present time and the direction we are headed in with some measure of clarity.

NG: Now that you’re lecturing at Newcastle University, has your experience as a teacher changed your perspective on visual art?

KR: I wouldn’t say that it has changed my perspective on visual art, but I do find that it’s an enriching experience to teach. Arguably (and this sounds like a cliché) I get as much from it as the students do.

NG: If you had to describe your work to someone who knew absolutely nothing about art and had no interest in it, how would you do it?

KR: Most people have an interest in TV and film, so when faced with someone who isn’t interested in art I tend to talk about it in relation to that. The works act as immersive “set extensions” (to borrow a term from film) into another time and place within which the viewer becomes the main character. However, we frame it, it is that experience and what happens internally within the viewer which is important.

You can find out more about Kelly Richardson’s work here. And continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Wonder Woman Lives Up to Hype

In the last few years, DC has tried and failed to match up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with their own series of related films, most of which have been massively hyped but ended up being disappointments. Man of Steel was so-so, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was an epic failure, and Suicide Squad, which had promising trailers, turned out to be such a dumpster fire that countless blogs and videos attempting to unpack exactly what the heck happened (depending on who you ask, there was either too little or too much Joker — I think the movie would have been better if it was just Margot Robbie, but that’s just me.) In any case, Wonder Woman was similarly burdened with high expectations. However, unlike its predecessors, it lived up to the hype.

There was so much to love about Wonder WomanGal Gadot’s earnest performance as the titular role and her romantic/comedic chemistry with Chris Pine as Steve Trevor; Patty Jenkins’ marvelous direction; and the movie’s ability to stick to its comic book origins without losing focus on its themes or feeling too silly.

Chris Pine as Steve Trevor and Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman

Part of the issue with previous DC-Universe films was that Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman (and Man of Steel, in a way) were both attempting to live up not only to high expectations, but also to their predecessors. Jared Leto was trying to match up to Heath Ledger’s brilliant turn as the Joker (but failed to do so), Batman v Superman was facing the Dark Knight trilogy, and Man of Steel is one of many, many depictions of Superman on film. It gets old after a while.

Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were meant to have a gritty, more serious feel than most superhero movies, and Suicide Squad was meant to be dark comedy. None of that really worked. In order to drive gritty movies, you need some actual conflict, some moral ambiguity, and better character writing. And dark comedy needs to be, you know, funny.

In Batman v Superman, what is meant to feel like a conflict between two superheroes with opposing values, feels more like a boring rich guy fighting a boring powerful guy, both ultimately wanting to be good people. As characters, Batman and Superman come rife with interesting questions. Superman is all-powerful and all good, but what happens when his god-persona comes into conflict with his own wants? Batman is just a privileged rich guy with fancy gadgets, so why does he get to act as the moral judge of Gotham? Sadly, Batman v Superman doesn’t really know how to deal with any of these questions, and in the end the movie doesn’t have anything to say.

If Batman v Superman had troubles with its expectations, Suicide Squad was destroyed by them. After the release of what was admittedly a great trailer, Warner Brothers actually hired the same people responsible for making the trailer to reshoot and re-edit the movie, to the point where there ended up being two Suicide Squad movies with two different tones, one funny and one more serious. In the end the versions were merged into the bizarre and sub-par version that wound up in theaters. Also, somewhere along the way most of the Joker’s scenes were cut. This was a strange choice, considering how much the trailers focused on him, and how hyped Jared Leto acted about his acting decisions and his disturbing on-set behavior. Of course, if I oversaw the editing, I would have cut him out altogether, but that’s not the point.

So how does Wonder Woman match up to the other DC-Universe movies? It’s a vast, vast improvement, containing the kinds of interesting moral questions that Batman v. Superman tried and failed to ask (in this case, asking if humans are intrinsically bad or good), and the humor and fun that Suicide Squad tried desperately to provide.

Also, unlike almost all superhero movies, Wonder Woman is definitively a feminist one. It’s the first major superhero movie featuring a female lead directed by a woman. Where other movies have women in near-constant states of needing rescuing and reassurance, Wonder Woman gives us Diana Prince kicking ass, saving Steve’s life, and trying to help those around her. Sure, the movie may remind us a little too much of how beautiful Diana is and how her wearing a skimpy costume is a bit distracting for the men around her. But the camera never ogles her, nor does it stop her from being strong and athletic. And yes, her armor may be revealing, but at least it’s armor and not just a metal bra or a glorified corset. And when Diana is confronted with the sexism of the 1910s, her confusion and annoyance is meant to remind the audience that our assumptions of gender roles are invented, not inherent. And seeing an island full of badass warrior women ready to battle is also very cool.

Still from Wonder Woman showing Themyscira, the mystical all-female warrior island

Right now, Warner Brothers has a long list of future movies for the DC Extended Universe, featuring characters like Aquaman, Shazam, The Flash, Cyborg, Nightwing, and Batgirl, along with more sequels and team pieces, like the upcoming Justice League. If Wonder Woman is any indication that DC has finally figured out how to make a quality superhero movie, then I’m quite excited to see what’s next. If not, there’s always Marvel.

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A conversation with Robyn Clarke: Head of the National Ballet School’s Wardrobe and Costume Department.

Ballet has held the title of being the most poised and elegant, yet physically demanding style of dance for centuries now. Its grace and beauty are equally matched with a sense of determination and raw athleticism. This year, Toronto’s prestigious National Ballet School hosted the Assemble International, a prestigious and exciting event that brings 21 ballet schools from around the world to Toronto for a chance at experiencing one another’s curriculum. The most interesting and rewarding aspect of the event is an intermingling of international students under one roof, allowing for strong relationships and wonderfully beautiful collaborations to take place.

Recently, Novella had the chance of speaking with Robyn Clarke, head of the Canada’s National Ballet School wardrobe and costume department on just exactly what it means to be a ballet costume designer in a world hell bent on moving away from tradition.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

Christopher Zaghi: The first question I’d like to ask you is about the Assemble Internationale itself. The Assemble Internationale takes place every four years, can you tell Novella’s readers a bit more about the event itself?

Robyn Clarke: Our part in the Assemble is to prepare for all of the performances with international schools and NBS, so, they all arrive over the weekend and classes start on Sunday. Each brings two to eight students and they partake in classes and workshops. They also bring their own repertoire, and that’s what we’ve been working on for the last few days. AT the end of the week we’re having a choreographic workshop with returning NBS alumni, there are some pretty cool people on that list, and that’s going to be with a blended cast. SO international and NBS students.

CZ: I saw that there are 11 countries being represented at this year’s event. Do you find that different countries and schools place the importance of their wardrobes differently?

RC: No, I think that’s the nice thing about ballet is that it’s really similar. I mean we might have schools that do more things themselves, but wardrobe plays a very important role and they take care of it.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: Ballet Fashion has always popped up throughout the years. You have designers like Lacroix who are inspired by ballet. Recently bodysuits and leotards have become a very big thing in fashion. Why do you think that is?

RC: Personal opinion. I think it’s because leotards are pretty breathable girls like it that their shirts don’t ride up so it’s nice when they stay tucked in. And the nice thing about leotard is that you’re able to move in any way that you need to. I think that’s what brought it back. Also, it was kind of big in the 90’s.

CZ: Does designing costumes for ballet differ from high fashion design or haute couture design?

RC: I think so because at the end of the day functionality is the most important thing. If they can’t dance in it, they aren’t going to use it. So you’ve essentially just wasted your time. But beyond that, aesthetics are still very important, but functionality overall.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: What do you find most rewarding about costume design itself?

RC: It’s just really nice to see your work on stage and to see it working with dancers. One time, one of the dances here said to me “I really appreciate the work we’ve done together.” They talked about it being a collaboration being performer and costume, so for me, that was a really special moment. Knowing that work that I do helps them and that we work together to make what you see on stage possible.

CZ: Could you through a typical day of what you would do here at NBS?

RC: Sure, everyday kind of differs. Ever since I’ve started working here, it’s always been challenging in new and interesting ways. But usually, I’m just working on certain projects at certain times of the year. Sometimes I’m making tutus, sometimes I’m shopping, sometimes I’m designing, sometimes I’m making lists, sometimes I’m doing fittings, it just depends on the time of year. But for an average day in the fall, I’ll spend doing tutus. I’ll measure the students, and then I figure what we need to build, then I’ll order all the supplies.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: How much time generally goes into the construction of a costume?

RC: A really great way to answer that is with a practice tutu. It’s a half tutu, so it’s just the net and the knickers and the Basque which is the belt that attaches it to the waist. So that itself takes about 20 hours to build so you can just imagine a fully decorated costume, which can take 150 hours or more depending on the design.

CZ: Are most of the National Ballet school’s costumes made entirely by hand?

RC: It’s a blend of purchasing and designing. Often you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for in the size, colour, and quantity that you need. So often I do make a lot of our leotards and costumes.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: Do you think the ballet world has moved towards contemporary costume as opposed to historical costume?

RC: No, I think there’s a nice blend. This year we’ve seen a lot of nudes and mesh, a lot of mesh. Mesh T-shirts, mesh tank tops, mesh leotards, you name it, it’s in mesh.

CZ: Personally, what do you prefer, historic or contemporary?

RC: I feel like I like both. They both have their place. The shows are a perfect example of the blend. We had a lot of the schools doing classical works and the other schools doing new repertoire. So there’s a lot being stored in our wardrobe.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: Do you have any particularly favourite costumes in the wardrobe department?

RC: That’s a hard one. A few years ago we did a piece called chalkboard memories, which we’re doing again this year, the girls wear these kilts with nude leotards while the boys wear these kinds of grey uniform pants. There’s a couple that is the chalk couple, so they’re completely made of chalk. Their school uniforms are done in black with the chalk outline, which is really cool. I think that’s one of my favourites.

CZ: Do you think someone in the fashion industry could transition into the ballet world as a costume designer?

RC: Yes! A lot of them actually do.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: With major fashion houses like Carolina Herrera and Rodarte making costumes for the New York City ballet, do you think schools and dance companies will over towards designer costumes?

RC: Often the difference between schools and dance companies is that they have different funding structures, so never say never, but those costumes that the New York City Ballet have are pretty expensive in relation to things that are made in house.

CZ: Do you think it’s important to keep the detail-oriented and intensive design process of ballet costume design alive rather than looking for more cost effective methods?

RC: Absolutely. I think at the end of the day, performance costumes like tutus and tunics all look the same for a reason. I mean it’s years of development to make them look like that and once we kind of lose that detail and handcraft, they’ll be no getting it back.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: Do you have any advice for future costume designers that may read this article?

RC: I guess I’d say take every opportunity you can. Even if it’s not necessarily a well-paying gig, often just learning more about the body is totally worth it in the end. Making connections with choreographers and with dancers will really take you places.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

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Novella’s June Art Guide

Ahmad Moualla’s People and Power. Image source.

As we move into another summer, this time a big one for Canada, we remember to think outside of the box — to delve deeper and consider perspectives outside of our own. Our picks for art exhibitions in the month of June bring you everything from Queer intersectionality to examining Canada’s honest history and considerations on what art can do for nations at war. We ask this month that you take some time from work, from planning vacations, and reading magazines to consider, to think, to engage.

SYRIAN SYMPHONY: NEW COMPOSITIONS IN SIGHT AND SOUND (May 20th — August 13th)

The newest exhibition at the Aga Khan Gallery combines music, paintings, and multimedia installations by prominent Syrian artists. Much like a symphony, the exhibition is divided into movements, each unique but linked by overarching themes on the presence and purpose of art in conflict. Together, these artists explore the difficulties in preserving their heritage and culture, and fortitude in the face of war. Artists showing include Ahmad Moualla, Malek Jandali, and Kevork Mourad.

Find more information here.

THE BILL BURNS SHOW: PART 3 (May 27th — June 24th)

Prominent Canadian artist Bill Burns shows the third and final part in his series on truth and the art trade at MKG127 this month. In the show, Burns accompanies his watercolour paintings with goat’s milk and Gregorian Chant. Sounds intriguing, if a little confusing? Burns will also be reading from his new book on June 17th to help give insight into his career and perspective.

Find more information here.

CONTESTED LANDS: CANADA AT 150 (May 28th — June 30th)

As we grow closer to the Canada 150 celebrations, celebratory Canadian propaganda is cropping up everywhere, boasting being a nice, multicultural, and inclusive nation. While Canada certainly has its good points, this exhibition at the MLC Gallery at Ryerson is looking at those silenced and ignored in the Canadian Confederation. The exhibition uses art and artifacts from the Ryerson Special Collection and MLC Research Archives to highlight the achievements of and horrors faced by Indigenous peoples and Canadian women.

Find more information here.

QUEER LANDSCAPES, QUEER INTERSECTIONS (May 30th — June 23rd)

Just in time for Pride, the John B. Aird Gallery brings us an LGBTQ+ focused exhibition. Unlike many of the Pride parties, however, the real focus of this show is on intersectionality. Artists from across Ontario will show their works that engage with LGBTQ social issues and intersect with issues of race, class, religion, ability, and sexual and mental health. The purpose of the exhibition is to spark conversation and action that will build toward equality and diversity.

Find more information here.

DIGITAL SPHERES: CLARA BACOU (June 8th — July 15th)

English artist Clara Bacou comes to the Robert Kananaj Gallery with an exploration of the boundaries between the real and virtual, the physical and digital. Bacou uses light projection to display her digital art in a 3D way, the exhibition itself representing her own questions on the way we present ourselves online versus the people we are in the real world. If you’ve ever embellished any truths about yourself to seem more desirable on a dating app, this is probably an exhibition you should see.

Find more information here.

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