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Rancheros, Linocuts, and the Prickly Pear: An Interview with Navaja Press

By Arts & Culture, Featured

Images courtesy of the artist.

Founder of Navaja Press and self-proclaimed “Printmedia’s Sweetheart,” Meli Nava is a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) whose mission is to tell the stories of the Southwest. She established Navaja Press in April of 2020 in order to continue the legacy of rancheros, of the Mexican printmaking traditions, and of transnational storytelling. Navaja Press is based in Meli’s hometown of Phoenix, Arizona.

Like many others in March of 2020, Meli returned to her parents’ home and finished out her BFA online from her childhood bedroom. Having already established the goal of starting her own press in her final year of college, Meli went ahead with creating Navaja Press before her graduation. Taking full advantage of extra space and consistent warm weather that Chicago lacks, Meli made her vision a reality. Half of her bedroom is now dedicated to the press. I had the opportunity to sit down and interview the founder of Navaja Press and gain further insight on her influences, operations, and plans for the future.

I’m in the privileged position of knowing Meli personally from our time together at SAIC, and I also worked alongside her through a collaboration between Navaja and Mobile Print Power. I asked Meli to “speak to me in the way you think Navaja Press’s voice should sound.” It is clear from the way that Meli talks about her work that she cares deeply about it. Her history is important to her, and that lineage becomes much of the content that Navaja Press produces. She speaks with intention, the warmth beaming from her words bringing levity to some of the seriousness of the topics discussed.

Meli Nava. Images courtesy of the artist.

In her own words, Meli Nava is “a first generation Mexican-American, native to Phoenix, Arizona, primarily a printmaker specializing in stone lithography, copper etching and wood relief, with a strong affinity for book arts and bookmaking, which is what brought me to making this press, which is all-inclusive.We’re not limited to just making zines and artist’s books — we’re really interested in putting forth print editions, screenprinting, wood relief. One day lithography will be in there.” The press already has two collaborations under its belt, one with Phoenix based artist Héctor Viramontes and another with New York-based printmaking collective Mobile Print Power. Reaching out and forming community with networks of other artists and storytellers is important to Meli’s personal practice and her work through Navaja Press.

Both of Meli’s parents were born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States before she was born. Her mother spent her early life and young adulthood in Chihuahua, Mexico and her father grew up on both sides of the border. It is from this dual national heritage that much of Navaja Press’s work springs from. Both of Meli’s collaborators in this endeavor, Taylor Ramirez and Lorena Reyes, share this first-generation Mexican-American background as well. Although the press strives to include all narratives in its publishing and editioning, centering the voices of brown women is paramount to its mission statement.

Some of the first questions that I asked Meli were how does she define her community — and when does her storytelling stop being her own and become a retelling of another’s? Her responses to the questions were insightful: “I’m so attached to the specificity that comes with my identity, mainly because the archiving and writing of Mexican American, or Chicanx history, whatever you want to call it, is very curated to very certain archetypes, very certain attributes… and that just goes with the very convoluted writing of history or how Brown and Black bodies are depicted by history. That’s why I love to be as specific as I can with my identity. Again, no shade to the Chicanx movement in L.A. … I have so much respect for the visibility and culture they gave. But at the end of the day, that’s not my history, that’s not my family’s story. I really just feel at home with saying I am a Mexican American woman from Phoenix, Arizona.”

The Navaja Press logo. Courtesy of the artist.

Specificity is important to the press, as it key to defining of oneself and holding others’ narratives with respect. Meli affirms: “Being so specific with my identity is an act of countering that so convoluted writing of history.” The communities that Navaja Press engages with are very broad, but it firmly stems from a Southwestern, Latinx, immigrant core. Translating oral histories and engaging with family members are ways that Navaja Press platforms stories that have not always gotten a chance to be told.

Meli’s own family history can be traced through a legacy of rancheros, ranchers or cowboys. She pays homage to her heritage through the Navaja Press logo, which features a lasso framed around the name of the press. Labor is not only important to her family history, but the lineage of printmaking itself. Print is one of the most democratic mediums: a screen print made by a child will look the same as one pulled by the master printer if using the same stencil. The medium has been integral in disseminating critical social messages as well as spreading joyous images.

Images courtesy of the artist.

The linocut print that Navaja Press produced in collaboration with Mobile Print Power is an example of how that joy intertwines itself with heritage. The two-layer linocut postcard features a prickly pear cactus framed by a blazing Southwestern sun. The word “propagate” is written below the image in blocky text, an instruction that connects us to the geography being implied. Cacti are a consistent theme throughout Meli and Navaja Press’ work. There are nearly 150 different variations of the plant, a fact of which Meli eagerly informs me. The features that characterize the land in which she and her family were raised are replicated onto the postcard, that will make its way across the country. A portion of the funds raised from the sale of these postcards will be donated to mutual aid networks in Phoenix and New York City.

The potential of art as a tool is very present in Navaja Press’ work. The Taller de Grafica Popular (TGP) has been a core inspiration for Navaja Press from the beginning. This Mexican print collective was founded in 1937 by Leopoldo Méndez, Luis Arenal, Raúl Anguiano, and Pablo O’Higgins, and produced imagery that aimed to reflect the lives of working class Mexicans while also creating a space for people to experience joy through art. Of course, Meli is not without her critiques of the movements that came before her. “I’m not going to lie, there were some problematics in there, mainly white Mexican men dominating it.” But, she says, “I will never tire of being inspired by the TGP.” Recognizing the history she draws from while also defining where Navaja Press is situated in it is part of the balancing act Meli takes on in her practice.

Grounding her work in a rich history while continuing to develop new connections with contemporary narratives is one of the driving forces of Navaja Press. For Meli, “Engaging with the community that we’re pulling from” will always be central to her work and the work of her press.

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20,000 Leagues Across the Sea (Via Zoom)  

From disproportionate time differences to sacrificing any...

By Featured, SAIC

Illustration by Yajurvi Haritwal.

In the fall semester of 2020, SAIC moved classes online to adjust to COVID-19 restrictions on campus. A lot of domestic students opted to take classes at home. Many international students made the same decision as well, with some of them taking online classes while based in the U.S. and some of them taking classes from their home countries. F interviewed a handful of international students about their school experiences during the pandemic.

There were two main reasons why international students stayed in their home countries: Firstly, U.S. consulates closed down in many countries, which stopped the visa application process altogether for many international students, even those who had received an I-20 (a document that lets students apply for a student visa) from their school. Secondly, safety concerns meant that students themselves or their family members worried about them living in a foreign country during a global pandemic.

Students who decided to stay at home generally felt safer in their home countries. They were surrounded by family members who supported them, they could meet with their old friends, and they saved on living expenses. However, there were more difficulties taking classes online for them because they were not in the United States.

Most of the classes international students took were synchronous. This was hard for them, because of the time differences between their home countries and Chicago. For students living in East Asian countries, the time difference spanned anywhere from 11 to 15 hours, which could flip night and day for them. If a class started at 9 a.m. in Chicago, it started between 10 p.m. and midnight in their home country. This heavily altered their sleeping schedules and caused various health problems. For instance, Junfeng Zhang (MFA VCD 2022) experienced insomnia and lack of energy due to this change. Another student, Jill Gao (MFA VCD 2022) expressed that it is hard for her to see the sun every day because she needs to sleep during the day in order to attend class. She said the condition of her skin deteriorated due to this drastic sleeping schedule change. 

Even with these downsides, many students expressed the continued desire to take classes synchronously, because they wanted to feel included. Classes are the only time they can communicate and feel connected with fellow students, so they are willing to overcome these obstacles. Among these students include Gao, who said “I don’t want [classes] to be asynchronous, which will make me feel more isolated.” However, asynchronous options were still desired by some students, especially for non-studio courses. Hannah Kim (BFA 2023) said that “history or science courses could be done asynchronously.” Also, Kim pointed out that some of her professors had initially allowed students to take half of the class asynchronously at the beginning of the semester, but then dropped that option over time, and required participation throughout the whole class.

One of the most difficult obstacles students faced when taking classes online was communication with their professors and instructors. The challenges of the language barrier that some students faced were increased in an online setting. They sometimes had a hard time understanding what was being said during class, by professors or students. It felt more difficult than it would have been in real life, because in a physical setting, they could have asked someone sitting next to them. Also, when a student is not completely proficient in the language being spoken, body language plays a role in helping them to express their ideas. But body language was limited on online platforms. Zhang expressed that it’s harder sometimes to express his ideas due to “lack of physical touch in Zoom.” Gao also felt that the interactions they had through the screen were a lot colder than in-person classes.

Every student interviewed felt they were missing out on resources provided by the school facilities. Access to printers, workshops, and studio spaces were what students missed the most. The library and the Art Institute were other valuable facilities they wished to use, but had limited access to. Some professors had to step in and help students access books and documents they couldn’t physically borrow from the library.

I asked some of these students about the improvements they would make to ameliorate their situations, if given the chance. Gao expressed a need for more official platforms and opportunities where they could communicate with their classmates. Zhang wished email responses from professors were a bit faster, and also expressed, if possible, that SAIC could cooperate with universities in students’ home countries like an exchange program, so international students can take classes and use facilities at their local university. Kim wished for more flexibility for students in foreign countries — SAIC could allow more asynchronous participation by creating alternative assignments or different ways to show attendance and participation. Lastly, they all expressed that that tuition for students taking online courses abroad should be lowered, because many resources were available to them, and they were fully precluded from taking courses that may not be available online.

There are also international students who are taking classes in the United States. Some students were able to make the move overseas at the last minute, when some U.S. consulates opened and resumed issuing student visas. Several international students had also transferred from other U.S. schools. These international students in the U.S. face a different set of problems. 

Some faced difficulties going back to their home countries. For Chinese students, they had a hard time finding flights. Flight schedules were odd and unreliable, and flights can be cancelled at a moment’s notice if anyone on a connecting flight is found to have COVID-19. Also, international students from China face xenophobic stigma from their peers, because of news reports of Chinese students coming to the U.S. with COVID-19.

New COVID-19 travel restrictions worldwide mean that people coming back from foreign countries are required to quarantine for two weeks at a designated place assigned by the government, or at their own place under strict surveillance. The U.S. also requires two weeks’ quarantine in most states, so if international students decide to go back to their country to spend time with their family during holidays, they would have to quarantine for a month in total. This made them choose to stay in the U.S., which can leave them feeling isolated. It was harder for incoming and transferring students to make friends through classes, which increased their sense of loneliness.

International students living in the U.S., when interviewed, suggested that the school could test everyone for COVID-19 and try to provide more in-person classes. Also, the school could have a better evaluation of what classes need to be online or physical, so students can show physical objects better in person, rather than showing work on Zoom.

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Out of Bounds, Ep. 1: Money is the Root of All Montreal Expos

By Entertainment, Featured

Cover art by Jade Sheng

In the launch episode of Out of Bounds, Ben solves the mystery of the missing San Diego Chargers, Kat discovers the secret formula of the Las Vegas Golden Knights’ success, and Aidan laments the loss of the Montreal Expos.

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Art, Artifice, and Anime Girls: K/DA and Gorillaz Redefine the Role of the Artist

By Entertainment, Featured

Illustration by Chanina Katz

An effervescent, luminous cityscape. A sleek black motorcycle, its contours defined by ambient red light coming from futuristic patterns projected on the wall monitors surrounding it. Four women in leather Korean-inspired streetwear, lounging in a throne room made of gold, marble, and … are those diamonds?! 

These are the first few scenes you’ll see in the music video for “MORE,” one of the most anticipated tracks in pop music, which premiered on Oct. 28, 2020. Set to a riotous combination of crisp hip-hop beats, barnstorming K-rap, and dulcet melodic hooks, you might be forgiven for thinking that this was just another lush, no-holds-barred, single-slash-video release featuring some ubiquitous top-of-the-pop-charts collaboration. You would even be partly correct — except none of the women you’re seeing onscreen are, well … real.

Meet K/DA — a virtual, bilingual pop band comprised of four characters from the smash-hit video game “League of Legends.” Sonically, they’re what you’d get if you mashed Blackpink and Ariana Grande together in a pop music supercollider. Aesthetically, they’ve come straight out of a futuristic cyberpunk anime world so polished it makes “Into the Spider-Verse” look like a PlayStation 2 game. K/DA’s four members, each with their own distinct mononym — Ahri, Akali, Evelynn, and Kai’sa — are completely fictional video game personas, brought to life by a rotating cast of established pop musicians, including the likes of Kim Petras, Madison Beer, and members from K-pop outfits (G)-IDLE and TWICE.

Yes, you read that right. Music is entering a new, virtually-powered realm, in which the already sleek and shiny, social-media-perfect images of established pop personalities take a backseat in favor of 3D models of anime girls. Now that’s something I’d like to see covered on the History Channel in 20 years. 

Given the almost incomprehensible levels of star power involved in a single musical project, it should come as no surprise that K/DA has taken the world by storm since their debut track “POP/STARS” premiered in 2018. “POP/STARS” topped the Billboard charts upon release, and its music video has been viewed on YouTube 418 million times — the most successful music video for a virtual act, second only to Gorillaz’s “Feel Good Inc.,” which was re-published on YouTube four years ago and currently stands at 470 million views. This meteoric rise hasn’t quite petered out yet, either — their 2020 EP “ALL OUT” was released on Nov. 6, and garnered tens of millions of Spotify streams in the first three days after its release.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging across the world, and the resulting multi-layered importance that the word “virtual” has taken on, it would be easy to mistake K/DA for a project launched to give its members more creative freedom; to produce pop music under a fictional united front without having to worry about the constraints of language, genre, or touring. However, you won’t find those previously-mentioned real-life pop idols at the forefront of the band’s image. K/DA’s concerts are almost entirely conducted via augmented reality, teetering on the edge of the uncanny valley (and occasionally falling in altogether). Several artists who have voiced these characters even act as though they’re keeping their starring roles in K/DA an ill-kept open secret — for instance, you’d be hard-pressed to find any mention of the virtual girl group on Madison Beer’s social media platforms, despite having voiced Evelynn on three of the band’s six tracks. 

All this just begs the question … What is the point of K/DA? 

We need look no further than the single thread running through the heart of the band — Riot Games. The gigantic, game-studio-turned-record-label have their stamp on every inch of what makes K/DA a standout project, and what keeps the fans coming back for more. The vocalists responsible for breathing life into the band are hand-picked by Riot. The characters they play are, in turn, wholly designed and owned by Riot. The ever-rotating nature of Riot’s chosen musical cast, coupled with the foregrounding of digital personas over their real-world counterparts, implies that each of the cogs in the neon-drenched K/DA machine are easily replaceable, commodities for Riot to use and discard without having to worry about the accountability that non-virtual bands usually face when replacing their line-up. Even the name of the band itself comes from the League abbreviation for “kills, deaths, assists” (aka: the ratio by which a player’s performance is measured); a concept that does not exist outside of defined Riot gaming parameters. K/DA is a project so intricately bound to Riot Games and “League of Legends” that any attempt to remove the band from the clutches of its corporate gamemaster overlords would result in the total collapse of a simulation so hyperreal it would give Jean Baudrillard an aneurysm. 

Would it be too harsh to say, then, that K/DA are nothing more than perfect artifice; with a money-hungry game studio with a worryingly lengthy track record of sexism at its core? NBC News certainly thought not; calling K/DA “not so much a band as a digital marketing campaign” in a 2018 article. That damning accusation aimed straight at the hollow core of K/DA certainly holds some weight, too, when we consider that this virtual band has no real “voice,” no distinct personality that can be expressed in interviews and press tours. When compared to other pop songstresses such as Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey, and Billie Eilish, whose own carefully-crafted cults of personality have drawn in hordes of adoring fans who see themselves mirrored in these personas, that is where NBC News’s scathing remark really rings true. Take away the cute anime girls, and we are left with nothing to hang on to beyond the music.

Is the rise of the virtual band the real Death of the Author, then? Not the separation of art from the artist, as Roland Barthes imagined, but the creation of art in a vacuum?

Are we facing the erosion of pop stardom, the cult of personality, as we know it?

To answer this question, perhaps we should turn, as a point of comparison, to the band that started it all.

Gorillaz are a virtual band — no, the virtual band, that needs no real introduction. They were even mentioned earlier in this article because no one can talk about virtual bands without talking about Gorillaz. In both sound and appearance, they serve as a more synthetically and aesthetically reserved counterpoint to the pomp and circumstance of K/DA’s no-holds-barred, K-pop bombast, and yet they, too, command veritable legions of fans that hang on their every move, hungry for as many new releases as they can get.

Rather than being re-skinned co-options from a video game franchise that was already internationally famous, the motley crew of characters that make up Gorillaz were born out of more organic means — dreamt up by Albarn and Hewlett when they shared a flat in West London. Conceived and drawn to life in 1998, Stuart “2-D” Potts, Noodle, Murdoc Niccals, and Russel Hobbs — the fictional foursome that make up Gorillaz — were unlike anything that pop culture had ever seen before.

In the time of N-SYNC, Westlife, and the Backstreet Boys, the idea that music could be produced and helmed by characters who weren’t real people was something that had never been tabled before. When Gorillaz finally released their self-titled debut album in 2001, accompanied by four animated music videos and plenty more animatics on the life and times of the band, it was met with thunderous fan reactions and critical acclaim, going triple platinum in the U.K. and double platinum across Europe.

While the breath of fresh air that Gorillaz brought to pop and hip hop certainly helped the band’s success, it would be misleading to claim that that quirky, never-before-seen originality is what initially drew most Gorillaz fans to them. Let’s not forget that Damon Albarn was also the frontman of Blur, one of the biggest bands in 90s Britain, and Jamie Hewlett was one of the co-creators of “Tank Girl,” a comic that would go on to define the aesthetic of British punk counterculture for decades to come. To claim that Gorillaz had nothing going for them except the novelty of being a virtual band in a time when dial-up Internet access was mind-blowing new technology, would be like saying that Albarn and Hewlett had created a thriving business with nothing but a dream and ten million dollars in their pockets.

Gorillaz certainly owes some of its popularity to Albarn and Hewlett’s already-established reputations, but the hefty legacies that their creators carry are just the tip of the iceberg. While most Gorillaz “interviews” constitute talks with Albarn and Hewlett on their creative processes, the fictional Gorillaz members themselves are also depicted as free-standing personalities distinct from their creators. 2-D, Noodle, Murdoc, and Russel have done numerous interviews (as two-dimensional characters in an otherwise three-dimensional world), appeared on a particularly surreal episode of MTV Cribs, and have even “clashed” with Albarn in the real world. Fans of the band who choose to invest in more than just the band’s music often find themselves captivated by the four fictional characters at the helm of the band and their animated madcap exploits, which add an extra layer of zaniness to their genre-hopping sound.

Unlike K/DA, whose members remain free-standing figures with no recorded past nor projected future, their very essence based around their affiliation with “League of Legends,” the four members of Gorillaz have been continuously injected with rich, evolving backstories ever since bursting onto the music scene in the early 2000s. More serious fans of the band could easily find themselves drowning in the sheer amount of apocryphal material surrounding the band members’ lives, which include a 2006 “autobiography,” the elaborate narrative arcs in the band’s music videos and concept albums, and early animatics and bite-sized cartoon episodes that served to establish each member’s storied past and numerous defining quirks.

To name just a few of those quirks — drummer Russel is a mountainous, 340 lb. man who enjoys taxidermy, bassist Murdoc is a green-skinned quasi-zombie jailbird Satanist, guitarist Noodle is a genetically-engineered Japanese super-soldier who was smuggled into the United Kingdom in a FedEx crate, and frontman 2-D gets his nickname from the two dents in his head, a result of Murdoc running him over with a car. The rich history behind Gorillaz is a rabbit warren of a story in itself, a la “Homestuck” or similar, long-running alternative narrative forms, which perhaps harks back to Hewlett’s origins as a comic book creator. 

And yet, even though Gorillaz fills the void of personality that K/DA chooses to leave untouched, the Gorillaz experience is arguably still devoid of a central cult of personality. The connection that one makes with the characters on display is more cerebral than emotional — like being engrossed in an excellent craft of fiction rather than being seduced by a persona’s appeal or relatability.

And what of the band’s connection with the artists who give it life, I hear you ask? Well, take any recent Gorillaz album and you’ll find that it’s populated by a veritable circus of sometimes more than 20 artists and musicians. However, unlike K/DA’s treatment of its defining artists as “cast and crew,” the only Gorillaz-affiliated musician who receives this excising treatment is Albarn himself. All other artists who appear on Gorillaz tracks are listed as featured artists; individuals who exist outside Gorillaz’s animated remit who actually work alongside the band to enrich the band’s already sizable mythology, rather than operating as invisible puppeteers behind the scenes. The elements of disposability and cloak-and-dagger replaceability which surround the musicians behind K/DA are not present with Gorillaz — with the latter, there is a fixed artistic center around which the rest of the band’s output evolves, and is continually added to.

But before one jumps to conclusions and asserts that Gorillaz is art where K/DA is not, it would be pertinent to note that Gorillaz had initially been conceived as a vehicle for the very same artifice that K/DA embodies. Albarn and Hewlett had wanted to “make a manufactured band, but make it kind of interesting,” as a comment on both the boy band explosion of the late 90s and the fact that, as Hewlett said, “if you watch MTV for a bit too long, it’s a bit like hell — there’s nothing of substance there.” Both Gorillaz and K/DA are, at the end of the day, two sides of the same coin, rather than two opposite poles on the spectrum of artistic authenticity. One serves as a comment on the other, but at the heart of both projects lies that same desire to see what remains when you remove the cult of personality from pop culture.

So perhaps we can conclude that Barthes was wrong after all. Virtual bands are indeed proving that the death of the author lies far, far beyond the separation of the art from the artist, by cutting out the middleman and directly eliminating the latter. No matter how established the artists behind them are, the animated facade of the virtual band will, more often than not, provide no tangible, singular person (or people) for fans to attribute the creation of art to. The new Gorillaz album, incidentally, is titled “Song Machine,” and that is exactly what the virtual band is — a semi-hollow (at best) machine-like vessel that is easily filled, and easily exploited by corpocratic marketing schemes.

And now we arrive at our final question: How much does the death of the artist matter in pop?

To the average listener, probably not very much at all. Both K/DA and Gorillaz still enjoy wild commercial success, with millions of streams across all digital platforms (and excellent sales figures of physical albums and merch for the latter). When that ever-so-recognizable bassline from “Feel Good Inc.” kicks in on karaoke night, would anyone’s first action be anything else but reflexively singing along? Probably not. Fans of both K/DA and Gorillaz don’t have much to work with in terms of an appealing cult of personality, but the fact remains that they are numerous, and ever-hungry for more music.

While K/DA is, at heart, a bare-faced marketing campaign for “League of Legends,” Gorillaz has shown us that it is possible to fill in the gaps left by the lack of a charismatic human personality with well-crafted fiction; an equally valuable medium in the halls of pop culture. And to most fans, it appears that the existence of either form of artifice barely matters when it comes to the music. After all, we exist in the age of VTubers and VRChat, and spend all day on Zoom. Artifice is becoming the new norm … and perhaps these virtual bands are only getting started.

The artist is dead. Long live the artist.

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Bad Parable: Valentine’s Day

By Comics, Featured Comics

Another Bad Parable by Teddie Bernard.

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By Comics, Featured, Featured Comics

The reiteration that Black Femmes are, in fact, Magic. A Black comic by &z.

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Top 5 Reverse Retro Jerseys (That Might Actually Be Worth Your Money)

By Entertainment, Featured

Illustration by Chanina Katz

I do not foresee a stable economic structure for the current NHL season, which began on Jan. 13. Like every other sports league suffering heavy financial losses during the pandemic, the NHL needs to boost sales and bring in money — and what better way to do that than a partnership with Adidas to create the brand-new “Reverse Retro” jersey collection? Officially named the Reverse Retro ADIZERO Authentic jersey, these 31 completely new jerseys will be added to every team’s current uniform rotation, and will be worn several times during the 2021 season.

Not only do fans have the promise of “old and new” rivalries (which gets very exciting with a full-contact sport like hockey) thanks to the realignment of the league’s divisions, but these new rivalries might boost sales a little bit too by adding value to teams whose jerseys don’t generally sell as well as other teams. The other selling point is nostalgia. For the past few years, revamping vintage jerseys has become a successful way for sports leagues to increase their consumer interaction. Take it from the NHL’s Chief Brand Officer and Senior Executive Vice President, Brian Jennings, who said in a recent interview, “The Reverse Retro program is a celebration of the hockey jersey’s confluence of nostalgia, style, and broad appeal.” 

This really is a far-reaching collection. The “throwback” touchpoints appeal to older fans who remember Stanley Cups of the past, while also capitalizing upon a younger audience with Adidas’ unique designs that fit seamlessly into the current popularity of streetwear and athleisure. 

Since the jerseys dropped, the sports world has been obsessed with them, and fans definitely have shared their thoughts via social media. I have some thoughts of my own. Like, for instance, why the Detroit Red Wings basically just created a really expensive practice jersey. Or if Adidas really put the fan-dubbed “meth bear” logo on the shoulder of the Boston Bruins jersey. (They did). Each jersey represents one worn in a previous season in which something of cultural significance took place. Take the Las Vegas Golden Knights: The design pays homage to the legendary Manon Rhéaume, the first woman to play in any major North American pro league, who was in net for the Las Vegas Thunder of the International Hockey League in the ’90s by the striping. (Rhéaume wore similar striping on her jersey). 

There are 31 jerseys for sale. As much as I would love to critique all of them, that’s too many jerseys, even if we can ignore the Edmonton Oilers’ because it’s basically their regular season jersey (sorry). So instead, I’ll leave you with my top five picks, plus one iconic honorable mention, that are maybe worth your cold, hard cash. Maybe. 

Katherine Pitré’s Top Five Reverse Retro Jerseys (That Are Maybe Worth Your Money)

1: The Washington Capitals

Image courtesy of Adidas Pro Shop.

Based on their 1997 jersey, the screaming eagle is back! I love the side striping and the wordmark (which is a little controversial — a lot of fans hate the wordmark jerseys). For a team based in Washington D.C., their new jersey isn’t as vibrantly patriotic as it could be. The red is a bright, berry tone and the blue is a rich navy, both of which are muted enough to not be blinding. The design feature of the asymmetrical stripes that connect through the sleeves and bodice are a unique element that none of the other reverse retro jerseys lean into. The dome capital logo (introduced in 1997) that sits on the shoulder is the one aspect that I’m not sold on. 

Overall the logo and lettering have some really fun contrasting embroidered details (such as the gold on the eagle and the shadow marks on the wordmark) that the shoulder patch really doesn’t capitalize upon. Since the jersey is red, and the patch is highlighted with red … well it just sort of blends in. This jersey is still one of my favorites because it encapsulates the over-the-top, eye-catching aspect of retro jerseys with more tonal, wearable colors updated to fit 2020. Sure, it wouldn’t look out of place at a Fourth of July event, but the bright red hue and stripes make it fun. Or you could tape a cut-out Santa hat onto the eagle and have a holiday sweater for a holiday party. It’s a versatile jersey. 

2: The Dallas Stars

Image courtesy of Adidas Pro Shop

A controversial pick, I know. Fans either love or hate this jersey, and even I was on the fence about it for a while. It’s so basic. It’s so simple. It’s so bland. And maybe those are the best things about it. Jerseys can be so visually overwhelming (see previous) and it’s refreshing to have a jersey that’s a little more understated, and dare I say … wearable? The “star-poncho” jersey is easily one of Dallas’ best to choose from and fans were clamoring for its return. There’s a wealth of green jerseys in the NHL and not enough white ones, so a departure from their typical kelly-green hue makes for a one-of-a-kind look. There are a few key features on this jersey that really stand out. For one, the use of silver metallic thread. It’s shiny, it’s exciting, and it pops off the white background better than expected. The other fun detail is the star pattern that encompasses the whole jersey, back to front. Design details that create lines around the body are so much more appealing to the eye than a design that just sits in the middle of the jersey. The design is drawn from their 1999 Stanley Cup-winning team, and honestly, this jersey is a winner for the everyday, casual Stars fan. 

3: The Arizona Coyotes

We’ve got a color swap! The Coyotes’ “Peyote Coyote” 1999 inspired jersey switches the green for purple in their desert scene jersey. Just look at that Kachina! And the lizard shoulder patch! This jersey is emblematic of everything I love about the reverse retro collection — the nostalgia factor. I’ve spent a lot of time in Arizona, and this jersey reminds me of some of my best memories there. The lizard’s boxy design and jagged center stripe exemplify local designs, and the orange foothill mountains, saguaros, and the Kachina and Sonoran desert imagery all make for a jersey that is decidedly Arizona. Plus, the dusky purple and sandy orange base colors mixed with the black, dark green, and burgundy accent colors are bright and fun. Vaguely 90s, this jersey is perfectly paired with jauntily cuffed jeans, fun socks, and a pretentious hand-knitted beanie. i.e. It wouldn’t look out of place in the halls of SAIC.

4: The New York Rangers

Image courtesy of Adidas Pro Shop

She’s back! Lady Liberty fans, the 1996 iconic logo is back again, 24 years after her first appearance. Is this the most creative design? No. Do I wear exciting designs? Also no. I’m boring. I like boring jerseys. This retro reverse jersey really leans into the retro — the Adidas team kept the Lady Liberty jersey relatively close to the original, and I’m glad they did. I love the deep blue and the slightly tilted armband stripes, but it’s the logo that steals the show. Instead of sticking with just red, white, and blue, the logo is shadowed in a grey that shows up in the shadow-dropped numbers, too. It not only creates great depth for the image that translates from afar (remember — the logo needs to be legible from the ice) but it also makes for a cohesive look. I just love the repetition of triangles throughout the stitching too. If I were to make one tiny change, it would be for white to be included more throughout the design, maybe as the drop-shadow for the names on the back. Regardless, the tiny details and overall structured simplicity of the design makes this an incredible jersey. I almost wish I was a Rangers fan. (Just kidding.)

5: The Carolina Hurricanes 

Image courtesy of Adidas Pro Shop

Sorry, have we suddenly time-traveled back to the era of the Hartford Whalers, the precursor team to the Carolina Hurricanes? This is a true throwback to the 1979 inaugural jersey, complete with a “Pucky the Whale” patch on the shoulder. This is the first time that the base color for the Carolina Hurricanes neé Hartford Whalers has been grey, and I … I love it. The grey background not only meshes well with the vibrant blue and green accents, but it makes the white outlining around the logo and numbers pop. This jersey really encapsulates the 70s, the wildest time in professional hockey, in the design through the clean, diagonal lines on the sleeves and the simple two-toned numbers. The Hurricanes have one of the most iconic retro logo designs with this jersey and the minimalist approach really lets the history of the logo and color scheme stay at the forefront. Does it remind me a little bit of the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale jerseys? Totally. But there’s always room for a true “reverse retro” like this one. 

Honorable Mention: The Anaheim Ducks 

Image courtesy of Adidas Pro Shop

1995 is calling, and they want Wild Wing back. The only mascot to ever grace a jersey (and in goalie gear no less) Wild Wing is making a comeback on the Ducks’ sweaters. I’m partial to a teal jersey (hello, San Jose Sharks) and Anaheim doesn’t disappoint. The teal, black, and white color palette looks like it stepped right out of a 90s sitcom, along with the sweeping font. However, despite the nostalgic AF color scheme, the logo is the star of the show, here. Wild Wing is dressed in his goalie gear breaking right out of the ice. The Ducks’ logo is different from the other reverse retro jerseys because it’s a full setting, rather than just a symbol. (The ice is also the bottom stripe, which links with the diagonal stripe on the cuff of the sleeves.) Plus, the shoulder-pad-esque teal and black collar details just scream the 90s. Do I love this out of a misplaced sense of nostalgia? Do I hate this because it’s objectively a whack jersey and it lowkey looks like a coloring book page? These are the questions keeping me up at night. 

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Fulfillment, Failure, and Desire: The Subversive “Memories of Murder”

By Entertainment, Featured

Illustration by Jade Sheng.


A WOMAN walks alone on a rainy night. A masked MAN crouches in the field beside her. He holds a gun.

This opening could describe almost any procedural drama, a genre inhabited by old masters such as Fritz Lang and modern day titans like Denis Villeneuve. While it contains some of the greatest films ever made, in recent years it has been mostly associated with the type of show you’d catch on TV at 4:30 on a Wednesday, like “Bonesor “NCIS.” In a genre that is so saturated, it can become difficult to find content that breaks the mold and propels the format forward. 

Bong Joon-Ho’s “Memories of Murder” (2003) not only brought the procedural to a new place but set the bar as the finest one of them all. 

The classic procedural usually revolves around the solving of a crime by the police. This presents a few issues. Namely, it has often led to the glorification of the police to an almost absurd degree. For example, in “Twin Peaks,” the police are presented as an entirely good presence, with no “bad cops.” Even when the police are presented in a more complex manner, such as in “Law and Order,” the corrupt actions of the police are always outweighed by the solving of the crime. 

This leads to another issue: The predictability of most procedurals. You are almost always left with some sort of conclusion, that the criminal was caught. Even in a film like “Zodiac,” they give you the criminal, even though, in reality, the Zodiac Killer was never caught. When the audience sees everything as predictable, what is the point of making a mystery?  It takes real effort on the part of the filmmaker to push things in a new direction. Bong Joon-Ho brought the procedural to a place it had never been before.

“Memories of Murder” is based on the real-life serial killings that took place in Hwaesong, South Korea between 1986 and 1991, the first of its kind in South Korea. When asked why he was doing the film, Bong saidThere’s an old tradition of crime movies in Korean cinema which are rather different from plot-oriented Hollywood thrillers, and I wanted to make something of that sort. The old-style Korean movies are essentially humane and emotional — that’s what I like about them.”

“Memories of Murder” does not start out gritty and dark — the first shot of the film is of a field on a sunny day, bathed in orange light. Bong uses long takes to emphasize the setting, allowing the viewer to sink into the film. When we see the first victim lying in a gutter, Bong makes sure we can see ants crawling off her corpse.  The viewer understands that there is a depth to this case that is not seen in other films. Showing this image informs the audience that investigating murder is not as glamorous as we’ve been led to believe. 

Usually in this genre, our “leading man” is a strong, brave, dominant figure, who is devoted to their work. In one scene, we see how Park Doo-Man is the exact opposite. He interviews potential suspects, and we see them almost disregard him entirely, not taking his questions seriously. We also see Park struggle through the interrogation, barely progressing at all in his line of questioning. This subverts one of the key themes in the procedural genre — that the police are both competent, and respected, if not feared. 

In this film, rather than “good cops,” the police are shown to be constantly arguing, forging evidence, beating and humiliating their suspects, and constantly failing at protecting the public. During a key scene in which police are needed to comb the area for the killer, they are shorthanded due to many officers suppressing a democratic uprising in a nearby city. This film portrays the police as an arm of the state, outwardly oppressing the people, a clear contrast to the portrayal seen in regular, often American procedurals.

Though Bong subverts the expected tropes, “Memories of Murder” is still a procedural, and there is still a crime to solve. But while the audience would expect a straightforward approach — find the bodies, find suspects, find the killer — Bong chooses a different route.

Our first suspect, Baek, is an intellectually disabled young man, who Park tries to frame for the murders after learning Baek had a crush on one of the victims. This culminates in a harrowing scene where Park and Cho force Baek to dig his own grave, while Seo, another detective, watches from behind. Seo finds Park’s methods to be wrong and barbaric, but doesn’t care enough to put a stop to all of this, only stepping in at the last second.

Our second suspect is caught masturbating at the scene of one of the murders, but was found to be engaging in a sexual fantasy, not murder. While the methods used by the detectives here are essentially the same, a fight breaks out between Park and Seo after missing on another suspect, and they fail to stop another murder because of it. 

We finally see the detectives working as a unit, and they find their final suspect, a factory worker named Park Hyeon-Gyu. They manage to get a DNA sample and send it to America to be tested, alongside DNA at the scene. This leads to the climax of the film. After a brutal murder of a young girl whom Seo had befriended, he goes to the suspect’s house and starts beating him, throwing him onto the train tracks outside. As he is about to shoot him, Park runs in with the documents from America. As Seo opens the letter, he thinks he finally has his man, and just as his mantra, “Documents never lie,” is about to come true… the test result is inconclusive. 

A crestfallen Seo betrays the ideology that has guided him and attempts to kill Hyeon-Gyu, but Park stops him. We see a reversal of ideologies, with the intellectual Seo being overtaken by his emotions, and Park not wanting to kill a potentially innocent man. After looking deep in Hyeon-Gyu’s eyes, the only words Park can muster is, “Fuck I don’t know. Do you wake up each morning too?” The police have failed.

“Memories of Murder” is the rare procedural that does not glorify its detectives. Everything that goes wrong in this film is their fault. They could have caught the killer if they weren’t too busy arguing about who was a better detective. They could have secured the area if they weren’t suppressing protests. 

This leads us to the question: What is the point of all of this? 

When asked about his process in gathering information for the film, Bong said, “The person who had the strongest influence on me was an ex-cop who’d worked on the case. He broke down in tears several times as we talked. This put me in a quandary — I’ve never liked cops, maybe because of my student experiences fighting them, but talking to this man made me rethink. What struck me most was the purity of his desire to catch the criminal.” 

A procedural appeals to something universal, the idea of justice, that the people who have done wrong will be caught. It functions as an escape from the harsh reality of the truth, that justice is a murky concept, and that most criminals get away with their crimes. When the genre becomes as saturated as it is, you begin to lose that escape, and the difference between the film and real life blurs. The cultural power of the genre extends far beyond the reality of its subjects. “Memories of Murder” shatters these ideas. It depicts the crushing fact that the people holding the power often wield it in a way that hurts everyone involved, that arrogant individualism guides us rather than a collective spirit.

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i don’t know…i just don’t think i can call this my style.

By Comics, Featured Comics

A comic by Alex Sensiba.

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In Translation: On Kaal

By Literature

Illustration by Justine Guzman.

As I end one of my last semesters of graduate school, contend with the impact of COVID-19, and age deeper into my twenties, I’ve been asking myself consistently: Who am I? Who will I be? Who was I? While these questions may seem generic, they are fundamental. Every time I ask them, the answers are different. Indian or American? Heterosexual or bisexual? Poet or essayist? I hold a lot of liminal identities, ones that are in flux and will always be in flux. In “Nacerima culture,” Horace Miner writes, we ritually strive to create stagnant identities. Identities fixed in time, labeled, clear with the hope that they will be everlasting. But, must I choose only one? Coming from a household that speaks multiple languages, I have come to realize that English demands labelization in a way that other languages don’t.

For example, in Hindi, my mother tongue, the word for yesterday and tomorrow is the same: kaal. One can only understand which one the speaker is referring to within the context of the conversation. It is merely, “one day away from today” without stating exactly in which direction. In Hindi, time is cyclical. The use of the same word for tomorrow and yesterday makes it unclear which comes first, showing that there is no first or last. While your past is affecting your present and future, your future is also affecting your perception of the present and past.

The origin of kaal stems from the last story at the end of the Ramayana, a Hindu epic. The Ramayana follows the journey of Lord Ram, an incarnation of God, and his wife Sita.

At the very end of Ramayana, after Sita descended and returned to her mother Earth, Lord Ram was disheartened.

The people of Ayodhya watched their Lord Ram caress the grass for a long time, stoic, serene as ever, not a tear in his eyes. His people wanted to fall at his feet, hug and comfort him. Those who have chosen to be born must also die, and Lord Ram was fully aware of that.

One day, while walking through the forest back to the Kingdom of Ayodhya, Hanuman (the monkey god) spots Yama (god of death) lurking near the gates of the kingdom. Hanuman, a true friend and a self claimed servant to Lord Ram, wanted to protect Lord Ram from any harm so he gave Yama a warning to never come close to the king and his kingdom.

The next day, Lord Ram lost his ring. It slipped from his finger and fell into a crack in the palace floor.

“Will you fetch it for me, Hanuman?” requested Lord Ram.

Ever willing to please his Lord, Hanuman reduced himself to the size of a bee and slipped into the crack in the floor. 

To his surprise it was a tunnel that led him to Naga Lok, the kingdom of snakes. There, he met the king of Naga Lok, Vasuki.

“I am seeking Lord Ram’s ring, have you seen it?” questioned Hanuman.

“Oh that! You will find it there!” said Vasuki, pointing to a vast mountain in the centre of Naga Lok.

Hanuman rushed to the mountain and found to his surprise that it was no mountain, but a gigantic pile of rings. Each ring an exact copy of his Lord Ram’s ring.

“What is this?” he asked Vasuki, baffled by what he was looking at.

“Did you think there was only one ring?” questioned Vasuki. “I thought as the monkey god you knew. Every time a ring falls into Naga Lok, a monkey follows it and Lord Ram up above dies. This is not the first time it has happened. This is not the last time it will happen. So it has happened before. So it will happen again.”

“Why does the story repeat itself again and again?” Hanuman pondered.

“So that every generation realizes the point of human existence.” Vasuki replied.

“Which is?” Hanuman asked, curious as ever.

“Fear is a constant and faith is a choice. Fear comes from karma and from faith arises dharma. Fear creates Ravanas (demons) who will always be in society and faith creates Lord Ram and his wife Sita. They come into being only if we have faith in the world even when it seems as if the world abandons us.”

After listening, Hanuman bows to the king, leaves Lord Ram’s ring behind and without a word exits the tunnel to find the land of Ayodhya desolate without its lord, again (which is how the Ramayana starts).

And so we return to the end… of this Ramayana.

There are many Lord Rams and many Ramayanas indicating that life is not linear. Life is cyclical: For what is the past is also the future.

In the same nas, or vein, who I am tomorrow or who I was yesterday, may be the same, but we will never know today. But the me I am today, is one that is always questioning, always growing towards, working towards. Today I have this time in my hands, and I can use it to build a world for both the future and past, because one day, the future will also be the past. 

Let’s envision a kaal by examining kaal. Thus a world that centers justice and joy is a world that centers the importance of language. The language that surrounds our everyday lives. The language that celebrates our liminal identities and refuses to abide by the western construction of linear time. Language is power, but the power is in the non-labeling of ourselves and the world we see around us. The non-labeling of time.

I’m questioning. Always questioning. Just like kaal is. Just like Hanuman is. Just like the Ramayana is. Yesterday is always questioning. Tomorrow is always questioning. 

So now what? I’m questioning my sexuality, the next time I get to see my friends in person and hug them, how I’m going to take care of my parents, my past actions, what my future will hold… We can only build a world by questioning ourselves and the systems that we have made to make sense of it all. Our words have a body and the body is us, moving through the time and space we carve out for ourselves.

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In Translation: Multilocation

By Featured, Literature

A triptych inspired by A. Van Jordan’s M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, by Zeinab Ajasa.

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Bad Parable: “Dystopian Fiction”

By Comics, Featured Comics

Another installment of Teddie Bernard’s “Bad Parable”.

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