Press Release: New Exhibition

For Immediate Release
Contact: Toni Sapiro-Phim: 215-726-1106

The Philadelphia Folklore Project announces the opening of an exhibition of photographs by James Wasserman. All That We Do: Contemporary Women, Traditional Arts

August 1, 2007, Philadelphia, PA - The Philadelphia Folklore Project (PFP) announces All That We Do: Contemporary Women, Traditional Arts, a photographic exhibition documenting experiences and artistry of nine local women - mothers and daughters of various cultural backgrounds practicing diverse folk and traditional arts. The opening reception will take place on Friday, September 28th, from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. at the Philadelphia Folklore Project office located at 735 S. 50th Street, in West Philadelphia. All are welcome. The event is free.

This exhibition of 26 photographs offers glimpses of significant artists'; lives and work. Inspired by an interest in challenging what is sometimes a one-dimensional picture of "traditions" and those who choose to learn, practice, and teach them in the 21st century, the exhibition is a reminder of what it takes for women to work in a variety of folk art forms. Each of the featured women artists is groundbreaking in her own way, juggling a push at conventions while respecting canons, or balancing a life-long dedication to learning a cultural practice while isolated (newly or for a long time) from other such practitioners, or campaigning for constructive, positive self-imagery in the face of racism and other kinds of bias and inequity.

Women represented in the exhibition include Antonia Arias, Fatu Gayflor, Vera Nakonechny, Ayesha Rahim, Anna Rubio, Yvette Smalls, Michele Tayoun, Elaine Watts, and Susan Watts. Art forms represented include flamenco, Jewish klezmer, Liberian song, Ukrainian needlework, African American crochet/crown-making, and hair sculpture, and Lebanese dance and song.

About the artists:

Antonia Arias has been dancing and singing flamenco all her life. She studied flamenco cante (song) at Fundación Cristina Heeren de Arte Flamenco in Seville, Spain, and flamenco dance in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. She has also studied intensively with Jesus Montoya, Gypsy singer from Seville. Antonia has sung for many important artists such as Antonio Hidalgo, Nelida Tirado and Edwin Aparicio, and has shared the stage with other singers such as Rocio Soto from Jerez, Spain, Alfonso Cid from Seville and Marcos Marin, and has been the singer for the classes of La Chiqui de Jerez. She currently sings with Flamenco del Encuentro. Her mother, also in this exhibition, is flamenco dancer Anna Rubio.

Fatu Gayflor was a lead singer in the National Cultural Troupe of Liberia. She recorded her first two albums in Liberia. Her third recording was made in the Ivory Coast, where she lived for a while in exile following the eruption of civil war in Liberia. In her homeland, Fatu was known as "Princess Fatu Gayflor, the Golden Voice of Liberia." Having lived in the Ivory Coast and in Guinea, she sings traditional songs of many places. Now a resident of the U.S., she performs for Liberian ceremonies and celebrations throughout North America.

Vera Nakonechny came to the United States as a teenager, and continued studying the various techniques of Ukrainian embroidery her mother had taught her as a young girl. She soon became a part of the strong Ukrainian American community in Pennsylvania. After the Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, Vera was able to return to her homeland where she conducted archival research about folk art traditions, and studied with master craftspeople. She has researched and taught embroidery, beadwork, weaving, and other traditional forms related to textiles and adornment, and volunteers as a teacher of these arts at community sites and at the Ukrainian Heritage Studies Center at Manor College.

Ayesha Rahim is best known for her exquisite crocheted hats and crowns. When she was in high school she was already successfully designing clothes and costumes for artists, musicians and performers. She received a scholarship to Moore College of Art, but found art school an inhospitable place and turned away from her gift. Decades later, she turned back to art, figuring out how to crochet. She had models around her in others, but most of her craft was hard-won, self-taught. Her first hat was a kofi for a Muslim. She was wearing one of her hats when Charita Powell, from the stand Amazulu, in the Reading Market, saw it and asked for another. That was the beginning. She has been making hats for decades now, and they are prized within the community.

Anna Rubio has performed flamenco dance as a member of Theatre Flamenco of San Francisco, and of the Flamenco Ole company in Philadelphia. Anna continues her studies in New York with Nelida Tirado and in Spain with La Chiqui de Jerez, Javier Latorre and Juan Polvillo, among others. Anna was awarded an Artistic Fellowship for the year 2001 from the Independence Foundation, and a Leeway Foundation grant in 2004. She is artistic director of the ensemble, Flamenco del Encuentro, and teaches at the University of the Arts.

Yvette Smalls is a sculptor of hair. She explains: "African societies developed a unique sculptural tradition of weaving hair into complex and intricate designs of braids, twists and coils which expressed the social and cultural identity of the wearer. American slaves brought this from West Africa and over the centuries elaborated it into the unique art form known collectively as African-American hair sculpture." Yvette's artistry with hair is in demand locally and beyond. She produced a documentary about hair braiding that aired on public television.

Michele Tayoun was exposed to numerous forms of Middle Eastern dance and music growing up as part of an extended Lebanese American family that ran the famous "Middle East" nightclub and restaurant in Philadelphia. Michele had formal training in ballet, modern dance and jazz, and learned Middle Eastern dances from performers at the family's restaurant. Her dance vocabulary combines both Lebanese and Egyptian styles. She has been singing Arabic music at community festivals as well as professionally for the past several years. She performs as a dancer and singer with the Spice Route Ensemble and with the Herencia Arabe Project.

Born in 1932, Elaine Watts is a third-generation klezmer musician. Her grandfather, Joseph Hoffman, a cornet player, came to Philadelphia about 1904. Hoffman taught other family members the klezmer music he learned as a child in Eastern Europe. Played by the Hoffman family and other musicians at certain times in Jewish weddings, and in the parties that followed, this music became part of a distinctly Philadelphia klezmer repertoire. The first woman percussionist to be accepted at Curtis Institute, from which she graduated in 1954, Watts has performed and taught for more than forty years. Ms. Watts' CD, "I Remember Klezmer", draws on and documents her amazing family musical tradition. In 2000, she was awarded a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, and in 2007, a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Award.

Susan Watts, daughter of Elaine (see above), represents a younger generation of this important Hoffman-Watts klezmer dynasty. Susan currently plays this music with her mother in their all-women ensemble, the Fabulous Shpielkehs. In addition to playing with a variety of noted klezmer musicians from around the world, Susan has recorded and performed with Hankus Netsky, Mikveh, London's Klezmer All-Star Brass Band, and others. She has taught at klezmer festivals and privately, and performs in a diverse range of trumpet styles. She was a featured artist in the Philadelphia Folklore Project's Women's Music Project for 2001- 2003 and was awarded a grant from the American Composers Forum.

James Wasserman, Photographer, began his photographic career shooting for a Philadelphia weekly that covered the broad swath of culture, character and life of the city. Aside from honing his craft it gave him a privileged opportunity to cover the stories and issues of his city. Over the 20 years since then he has broadened his scope regionally, nationally and internationally, and has had his photographs published in magazines such as Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, Inc, Forbes, Business Week, ESPN, Far East Economic Review, Le Figaro, Le Nouvel Observateur and GEO. He has had a one-man exhibition of Philadelphia-based and wider known jazz musicians at the Painted Bride in Philadelphia, a show documenting the remains and remnants of a desert community in Wonder Valley, California, and a show at the Nexus Gallery, "Crossing the River, Cambodia," looking at contemporary cultural issues there. Presently, he is working in China. He photographed this selection of artists involved in PFP programs last year.

All That We Do: Contemporary Women, Traditional Arts is an exhibition curated and presented by the Philadelphia Folklore Project, a 20-year-old public interest folklife agency committed to sustaining local community-based arts. The Philadelphia Folklore Project affirms the human right to cultural expression, and works to protect the rights of people to know and practice traditional and community-based arts. The PFP offers public education in the folk arts, develops community projects and documentary resources, and organizes around issues of concern in the field of folk and traditional arts.

This project is funded by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and PFP members.

Philadelphia Folklore Project's All That We Do: Contemporary Women, Traditional Arts - an exhibition of photographs by James Wasserman. Opening reception on Friday, September 28th, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m., at the Philadelphia Folklore Project office, 735 S. 50th Street, Philadelphia. The exhibition is open by chance or appointment through the spring. For more information, call the Philadelphia Folklore Project at 215-726-1106.

Photographs and additional information available for press: please contact Toni Shapiro-Phim at the number above.