I went to Elgin Munchers Kink Expo 2.0, and I was…disappointed. Why was I disappointed? It wasn’t kinky enough.
I was expecting a full day of mingling with the kink community and conversing with kink educators. While I did get a version of that, I wish the event had been bolder, kinkier, and more unapologetically sexier. The classes offered were exclusively for beginners; few people dressed up for the occasion; and other than floggers and spanking-paddles, not a lot of sex-toys were being sold by the 40+ vendors.
The two main factors that contributed to the lack of kink at the event were location and demographics.
Elgin Munchers Kink Expo 2.0 was listed on Eventbrite as a Chicago-based event, yet it took me over an hour of driving to get to Gurnee, Illinois. For safety reasons, the location was hidden until the tickets were already purchased. Would I have still gone if I had known this? Probably … but it would have been good to know that in addition to the $30 ticket fee, I’d also be spending 40 miles worth of gas money.
Being so far away from Chicago meant that the kinkfest was only accessible to a specific demographic of people: adults with cars. Red flags, already. The decision to hold the event in Gurnee excluded Chicagoland youngsters who would’ve liked to attend but had no way to get to the convention site.
I did not see another person in their early twenties at the Kink Expo. Even people in their late 20s were rare. Most individuals there were 30 or above.
The second reason for this older demographic is the hotel was simultaneously running a Swingers convention by Lifestyle Playtime Chicago. For those that don’t know, to be a swinger is to participate in ethical non-monogamy in the form of partner-swapping. Who are the people using the term “swingers”? Typically, married or older people. The terminology is a blast from the past. Gen Z individuals tend to use words such as “polyamory” and “open relationship” when referring to sexual non-monogamy. Therefore, an event called HalloSwing Hotel Takeover was geared toward married people over a certain age. The effect: the Elgin Munchers Kink Expo 2.0 felt like a playground for these older adult swingers to learn about new kinks, rather than Chicago’s kink community coming together to play.
The classes offered were designed for beginners dipping their toes into kink. For example, there were lectures such as, “I Bought a Flogger, Now What?” or “More the Merrier: a Guide to Group Sex.” The title of these classes insinuates a certain naivete towards the topic. I attended “Pegging 101” and “Giving Great Head,” and both of these classes only offered baseline knowledge on either of the sexual acts — knowledge that the average curious, open-minded Gen Z individual would already know through the internet, talking to their friends, and personal experience. At one point, the instructor showed us anatomically correct images of genitalia and I thought to myself, do we really need a refresher on what a penis looks like?
There is nothing wrong with being a beginner at kink. I am glad there is a safe place for older people to ask questions about what type of dildos to begin with, how often to reapply lube, and how to find the clitoris. But I was expecting a more niche and extreme form of kink discussed at a kink expo. I wanted to learn about the types of kinks that aren’t discussed in general media. Like what? Surprise me!
Not everything was a misfire at the expo. I took a class on how to safely use rope on oneself and others. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about it. My favorite combination of knots was called an “arm ladder.” In it, the arm is encapsulated into a macrame-type knot that starts all the way at the shoulder and snakes down to the wrist (with the opportunity to tie the arm to furniture). The class had a hands-on approach to it (rather than being a lecture), and the instructor was willing to meet students at their expertise level.
I also had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful lady named Danielle who took me under her wing and talked to me about the joys of rope-play. She said she found the rope marks aesthetically pleasing, the physical pressure of the rope comforting, and that playing with rope gave her the opportunity to explore different power dynamics with her partners.
So to conclude…
The experience at Elgin Munchers Kink Expo 2.0 was not a failure, but it did not live up to the image I had in my head.
Regardless, if you are considering going to a kink expo, do it. Any expo — even with its mishaps — is a good opportunity to explore your interests and meet other members of the community. Even in a sea of swingers, I still learned a few things like “cotton bondage rope is the easiest to wash.”
The “Adaptations of A Christmas Carol” Wiki page lists 397 entries. This really just means whether you’ve listened to a cast recording, seen a cartoon, gone to a stage play, read a Marvel “Zombies” comic, seen Dolly Parton’s “Smoky Mountain Christmas,” or had the TV on at Grandma’s house, you’ve had some contact with Charles Dickens arguably most famous classic.
In considering its perennial power and why it lasts, “A Christmas Carol” really succeeds as a story about how even the worst of us, deep down, wants to be better. Ebenezer Scrooge is not just scared into change, he’s reminded why money came to mean so much to him in the first place, and for very real reasons. And it succeeds mostly because of three standout and iconic characters: the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
Specifically, the Ghost of Christmas Future sticks out. If you think Christmas is all Jingle Bells and “ho ho ho,” watch out, because Pete from the “Mickey Christmas Carol” is just as terrifying as anything else I’ve seen. He literally sends Ebenezer Scrooge McDuck down to hell via his own open grave. It is not subtle.
As for getting better, the audience can see a real change in Scrooge. His spooky reckoning reminds him of the really important things, including his relationship with his nephew Fred. Introduced as an adversarial relationship, Fred is a kindred spirit to Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s hapless employee about two toes from the poor house himself. These are whom Scrooge chooses to reconcile with as his first act of turning over a new wintery leaf.
And for a film with “Christmas” in the title, Christmas is really not the point —save for its English winter setting in the 1840s. Though some versions shove Jesus in the narrative, and there are allusions to English Christmas traditions, it doesn’t feel like a sermon you’d get at church with your family. It doesn’t feel like it’s trying to convert you to a particular branch or scare you into a religion. The ideals are universal: charity, kindness, and duty toward community.
Though the piece is usually set in the 1840s, when it was written, the story is still easy to follow. And when you update it, as in Bill Murray’s “Scrooged,” it’s still effective and feels authentic to place and time. —sometimes even made funnier by the updates. And again, if you want scary, Bill Murray is both almost tossed off a skyscraper and burned alive in his version.
In any case, I scoured the many many adaptations of a “Christmas Carol,” delved through my own memory banks, and watched a “The Jetsons” episode illegally because Hanna Barbera isn’t getting a cent of my money until they do a Blu-ray release of “Yogi’s First Christmas.” Ones not featured on this list might be in the online version of this article.
Adaptations that are already “A” tier, like “Muppet Christmas Carol,” are just on the jingle my bells list without another thought. There’s a reason for all those December Kermit memes you see right up until December 25. I’d wager Kermit himself could give Mariah Carey a run for her money in kicking off the holiday season.
Also, there’s a rumor that “Muppet Christmas Carol” is the version most well-loved by Dickens scholars for adhering closest to the spirit of the original — or, at least among Dickens scholars who like fun and joy.
These Versions Jingle My Bells (and that’s a Good Thing)
1984’s George C. Scott version is the gold standard for a reason. Made for TV, this is the one where you truly get to see the creepy, malnourished orphans hanging out under Ghost of Christmas Present’s coat. And if you still have cable, it’s a great alternative to “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
That “Xena: Warrior Princess” episode from 1996 where Xena and Gabrielle impersonate the Three Fates on Solstice Eve (because Jesus hadn’t been born yet). Everybody on “Xena” always really got into the world they crafted, and it’s only with true heart that a story set in 1840s London could really work in ancient mythological times.
“Diva: A Christmas Carol” makes Vanessa Williams the best female Scrooge (sorry Susan Lucci!), and also is the only one on the list with one of the best female pop Christmas songs of all time. Sometimes the snow really does come down in June, just not for Vanessa as Scrooge.
The 1999 “Christmas Carol” with Patrick Stewart, which was created because of the success of his one-man “Christmas Carol” show is also good. (When is Brett Goldstein going to do the same? We’ve all seen that video of you doing the Muppet medley as Kermit, Brett.)
These Versions are Naughty, Not Nice
The 2019 “Peaky Blinders”-esque version of “A Christmas Carol” isn’t great. I love Tom Hardy. I love grungy fantasy, and having a scene in hell is a wild choice. Why didn’t it work? The question, much like Marley’s ghosts, haunts me to this very day.
Any of the Amazon Prime Vincent Price versions are also bad. Depending on the year, you’re liable to get a TV reading, a radio play, or some variation of the two. I love Price’s voice, and you’d think it would work for “Carol,” but it feels more like opening credits that never go anywhere. For my money, the Bill Hader parody Vincent Price Christmas specials are much better.
“It’s Christmas, Carol!” from 2012 is like a Hallmark love story where the big city girl goes to a small town and falls in love with the sensitive Christmas artist — but in this version, she never actually leaves the big city in order to do so. Not even the late great Carrie Fisher playing all three ghosts and Marley could save it. I’d literally rather have just watched Carrie try on different holiday-themed hats.
That 2009 CGI “Carol” where Jim Carrey tries to capture the flame of my beloved live-action Grinch film, and it falls so flat on its face I literally only thought about it, so it could be added to this list. Sorry, Jim.
Where Can I Find This Online? (Because I’d Give Anything to Watch Them)
These versions of A Christmas Carol I found out about while researching for this article and want to see full versions of.
“3 Ghosts” is a steampunk-inspired version for the stage. For all of us nerds out there.
1997’s “A Christmas Carol” has Tim Curry’s voice and Whoopi Goldberg’s everything.
The Alec Guiness (vintage Obi Wan!) radio production from 1951. Maybe the BBC will re-release it out of the charity of their hearts one year.
David Tennant and Michael Sheen have a recurring gag about “A Christmas Carol” in their hit web series “Staged.” Using their fictionalized self parodies, and those of the famous friends they’d roped into being in the episodes, would be a true joy to see.
Whatever is going on with the 2010 fan-made “Mega Man” video game series is something I want to see. Who doesn’t want to play against robots playing ghosts from “Christmas Carol”? It’s not particularly redemptive sounding, but a great reminder Christmas can be fun, too!
Every year during the major Nepali Hindu festival, Dashain members of the Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign hope that this will be the year that the Taleju necklace is returned to them.
“Whenever the festival arrives, we talk about how great it would be if we get the necklace back during this auspicious time,” said Roshan Mishra, a heritage conservationist and member of the campaign. As the Taleju temple opens only on the ninth day of Dashain every year, thousands of people wait in line for hours just to get a glimpse of the statue of the Taleju Goddess, an important patron deity of Kathmandu Valley.
But, for Mishra and many other Taleju devotees, another year passed by without seeing the finely crafted necklace filled with semi-precious stones the deity once wore.
On display in Gallery 141 (Arts of Asia) at the Art Institute of Chicago, the necklace is a 17th-century inscribed gilt-copper artifact first loaned to the museum in 1976 by the Alsdorf Foundation, a Chicago-based art institution. The foundation bought the necklace in the same year from Bruce Miller Antiquities of Sausalito, California. Later, in 2010, it donated the necklace to the museum, which displays the decorated artifact with the inscription, “Victory to Mother Goddess [Bhagavati devi Janani]. Hail! [This is the necklace of the king of kings, lord of kings, lord of poets, the victorious Pratapamalladeva (may he be)].”
In the summer of 2021, a Nepali assistant professor at Virginia Tech University, Sweta Baniya, posted a picture of the necklace on X (formerly Twitter), which quickly drew attention from around the world — including from Nepali people and officials — as the museum’s wall text stated that the necklace belonged to the Taleju Goddess. While the necklace had attracted some attention for its artistry, it wasn’t until 2021 that calls for its repatriation began to surface. Since then, several efforts have been made by activists and government officials toward the recovery of this necklace.
Before Nepal was formed, the country was divided into several princely states. In the Kathmandu Valley, the Malla kings were the rulers. The Malla kings had a keen interest in art, culture, and architecture. Several heritage monuments that they built are still intact and attract the attention of millions of tourists in Kathmandu.
Pratap Malla, who ruled from 1641 to 1674, was one of the most popular kings. Art historians and cultural experts who spoke to F Newsmagazine said the necklace was built during his reign. Cultural writer and journalist Aashish Mishra described Pratap Malla as “a king who was also an art connoisseur.”
“He was a lover of arts,” said Mishra. “He was the one who offered this necklace to his kul devata (guardian deity). And after that, it became a part of Taleju goddess and its rituals of worship,” Mishra said.
In 2022, Udhav Karmarcharya, the main priest of Taleju Temple, found a hand-written scroll from his family collection that mentioned the necklace as one of the gifts that was offered to the goddess. “The scroll was written in Nepalbhasa [a language spoken by the indigenous Newa people, said Karmarcharya. “It clearly states that the necklace was offered by Pratap Malla. The description of the necklace in the scroll matches with the artifact that is currently displayed at AIC.”
On its website, AIC offers the following description of the necklace: “This ornament may have been given by King Pratapamalla (r. 1641–74), ruler of the Malla dynasty of Nepal, to Taleju Bhavani, the revered patron goddess of the old palace in Kathmandu and the chief protective deity of Nepal and its royal family. King Pratapamalla may also have worn this collar when he participated in rituals.”
Worshipping Taleju and performing various rituals to strengthen the state’s relationship with the goddess has a long tradition in Nepal. Several Nepali Hindu deities considered Taleju to be one of the manifestations of Durga Bhavani, a major goddess often associated with bravery, protection, strength, and war.
According to Erin Thompson, an art historian and professor at the City University of New York, kings and rulers from Nepal often made offerings to Taleju to strengthen their relationship with Durga.
“Durga is a goddess that fights against death, disorder, and chaos. And so you offer worship to her to ask for her help and protection for you, or your family, and as the titular deity, for Nepal as a whole. That’s what the king gave a necklace for as reinforcing this relationship of protection of Nepal,” said Thompson.
So how did a necklace that belonged to such an important deity end up at AIC in Chicago?
According to The Nepali Times, a Kathmandu-based publication, the necklace was moved from the temple to a nearby museum for safekeeping in the 1970s. In 1976, the necklace disappeared.
“The government wanted to move the treasures for safe-keeping, but it got stolen anyway. The high priests at the time had warned officials that this would anger the powerful Taleju god. Sure enough, within a year, King Mahendra died,” Karmacharya, the eighth generation high priest of the Taleju Temple from the family, told the Nepali Times. Nepal’s monarchy was abolished in 2008.
No one knew the whereabouts of the necklace or who was responsible for its disappearance until an in-depth article on the necklace by ProPublica and Crain’s Chicago Business — published in March — asserted that the necklace was definitely stolen from Nepal.
According to AIC’s provenance, The Alsdorf Foundation purchased it on June 22 from Bruce Miller Antiquities of Sausalito, California, within a year of its theft.
Nepali people want necklace in rightful place
It’s been 47 years since the necklace left Nepal. Before Bajracharya’s tweet, there was no reported uproar among the Nepali community nor known efforts made for its return.
But now that they know its location and its connection to the temple and the goddess, the Nepali people say they want the necklace back. They say that its rightful place is in the temple of the Taleju Goddess.
“The Museum should return the necklace. People should understand that we can’t treat it like a necklace that belongs to a human being. It’s a necklace that belongs to a goddess. It’s not just an accessory. But a part of the goddess itself,” said Aashish Mishra.
The admin of Lost Arts Nepal, a Facebook page dedicated to identifying lost artifacts of Nepal, also wrote that AIC should return the necklace as soon as possible.
“In general, Nepali society and culture revolves around faith and traditions. The deities are the Guardians and our belief in faith keeps us secure, calm, and happy. The absence of the deities of worship creates voids in our faith, many practices and traditions are also lost with it,” an admin of the page, who prefers to stay anonymous, said.
But if and when AIC will return the artifact is a big question.
According to a spokesperson from the museum, AIC is trying its best to address the concerns people have regarding the necklace and its repatriation.
“Repatriation discussions are exceptionally complex and can take significant time, but every effort is made to resolve these matters,” they wrote to F Newsmagazine.
“The Art Institute of Chicago has been in contact with the government of Nepal. We sent a letter in May 2022 and are awaiting a response. We are open to learning about any additional information the government has to share on this matter and will continue working directly with the government of Nepal.’ the statement further reads.
Sarita Subedi, an archaeology officer at Nepal’s Department of Archaeology told F Newsmagazine that in their letter AIC asked for photos of the necklace taken before its theft.
Karmarcharya feels that this demand of AIC is invalid. He said that the museum needs to understand the cultural nuances before making such demands.
“In our culture, we strictly prohibit people from taking pictures of our precious deities. So I don’t think anyone took a picture of the necklace back then. AIC needs to be more culturally sensitive during the repatriation process,” Karmarcharya said.
Subedi said that except for the pictures, the department has collected all the necessary documents, including the scroll Karmacharya found.
“We will send all the documents soon. But the inscription itself is an irrefutable claim that the necklace belongs to Nepal,” she said.
Returning artifacts can be time-consuming and Nepali heritage activists who spoke to F Newsmagazine said they are aware of that.
“However, the museum needs to be transparent and communicate the process of repatriation to everyone,” said Mishra.
As conversations about the repatriation of artworks to their countries of origin and communities have flourished recently, several other art institutes and museums in the country are becoming more transparent about their provenance.
The AIC, by comparison, does not have a section on its website dedicated to repatriated objects, nor does it mention whether an artifact on display has been claimed by other community members and countries. In fact, in 2022, according to ProPublica’s article, it didn’t repatriate any objects, even though several countries have made and continue to make claims of ownership of objects in the AIC possession.
AIC’s failure to release a statement explaining the status of the repatriation, even after ProPublica and Crain’s Chicago Business article, has raised flags among Nepali heritage activists, who are concerned about how long Nepal will have to wait to get the necklace back.
“We know that repatriation takes time. But if private collectors have returned artifacts to Nepal why can’t AIC do it,” said Mishra.
“AIC has remained silent on this matter. They need to cooperate and regularly provide updates on the repatriation of the necklace. The museum needs to realize there’s a reason why so many people are demanding this particular necklace back. It’s because the necklace belongs to Taleju, our titular goddess. It’s our living culture,” said Mishra. “I don’t know what more proof the museum is waiting for when the inscription on the necklace itself verifies that it belongs to Nepal.”
One of the reasons Thompson believes the Museum hasn’t returned the necklace is because if it does, it will have to return several other artifacts that other communities also claim.
The investigation by ProPublica and Crain’s Chicago Business found that four artifacts, including the necklace, given to the museum by the Alsdorf family, were looted from Nepal or illegally exported. In addition, the investigation found that 24 objects from the Art Institute’s Alsdorf collection have incomplete provenances by modern standards.
Thompson said that if the museum returns the necklace, AIC will have to look at all the other “donations” made by the Alsdorf family, which would present them with more challenges.
“They know that if they return this necklace, they’re going to have to also return a whole lot of other artifacts to Nepal and other Asian countries,” said Thompson. “I’m saying this because this donation of the necklace was made by James and Marilynn. If you give that back, then you have to look into all the other donations they have made, which have been I think hundreds of objects to the Art Institute. So they are worried about a large set of their objects. It’s not just the necklace, it’s my theory,” she said.
It’s not yet clear when the necklace will be returned. Kept in a protective glass case, the necklace is more than 7,000 miles from the temple.
Karmacharya believed that the Nepali government should use all diplomatic means to get the necklace back.
“We have all the evidence. We are thankful that the museum protected the necklace for so many years. But the Nepal government should quickly solve the problem and use all the diplomatic tactics to get it back,” Karmacharya said.
Mishra said he hopes the museum will also soon realize what the necklace means to the people of Nepal and return it to the country voluntarily.
“Nepal was going through political upheavals due to which we didn’t have the luxury to think about our heritage before. But now we are more stable and we want heritages back. Our objects were never made so they could be kept inside museums. They are like living objects made to exist in open spaces and live with people,” said Mishra.
“When we get the necklace back, we won’t display it in a museum. We will offer it to the goddess and will keep it there. Because it is there where it rightfully belongs,” he added.
Melisa Febos is a superstar in the literary world. Her book “Body Work” — part memoir, part craft textbook — was chosen as an NPR Best Book of the Year. It’s the textbook used by Professor Kathie Bergquist in the class “Queering the Personal Essay,” where students get to read and write about marginalization from a personal nonfiction perspective.
Febos’ second chapter is titled “Mind Fuck.” It tackles the complicated subject of writing about sex. Her argument is that sex is typically depicted in literature from the perspective of a dominant narrative.
Society has constructed a story of what sex is supposed to look and feel like, but that narrative is based on the dominant construct of male desire. What does society think men want in sex? This is different from what people genuinely want from their sexual experiences and partners, but the blueprint is already an insidious parasite in our collective psyche.
The way to break the cycle of reading and writing the same generic sex scenes is personal awakening. To be aware of the dominant narrative is to be able to oppose it or to write into it intentionally.
Example: Are we writing exclusively about heterosexual sex? If we’re writing about queer sex, under what framework are we doing so? What stereotypes are we evoking? Questions like these can transform us into heightened versions of our writerly selves. Through interrogation of the paradigm, we awaken into writers who are in conscious control of how we challenge the dominant sexual narratives or adhere to them.
Febos suggests that we know we are in control of our writing when we can justify every sentence, word, and punctuation choice of our sex scenes. Although, it’s enough to be in control if we, as writers, can pinpoint the motivations, desires, and obstacles characters face in their sex scenes … as if we were discussing any other well-written platonic scene.
The thing that resonated the most with me about “Mind Fuck” is Febos’ idea that sex, and writing about sex, is performative. The sex we have is directly influenced by collective beliefs of what our bodies should be like, and how we should sexually perform.
Despite our attempts to be as authentic as possible with sex, the bedroom can become a performance space. So can our writing. We might want to say and do things because that’s what we think others want from us, consciously or unconsciously.
My vow to you, dear “Slut Saga” reader, is to be in control of my narrative about sex — to be aware of the performance, to write with authenticity.
Febos proposes a writing exercise: Write your sexual history in five sentences. Once that’s done, do it again but without repeating any of the previous sentences. These new five sentences can be as specific or as broad as you want. You can write about a defining moment, what you like in bed, or an overview of your partners. When you’ve finished (pun not intended), do it again. Write five more sentences. Do it again. Then, do it again until you can’t come up with anything new.
This exercise is meant to rethink the stories we tell about sex. It’s the awakening we spoke of: What do we, as writers, focus on when describing sex? Where do we, as people, go to in our minds when the topic is brought up?
My performance as a sex columnist is that I have no shame. But the truth is I found myself shy when, in class, we were asked to do Febos’ exercise and then read our responses out loud.
I choked. I let out a little whimper.
I inhaled a shallow breath. I felt vulnerable.
My resistance to sharing surprised me.
This was the first time I wrote about my sex life in a way that was personal, and honest, and heartbreaking, and authentic. It felt raw to break the performance I had built for myself.
I’ll share it with you. Mind you, it’s not pretty. And that’s okay. That’s what real sex is like. So, here is Sisel’s Sexual History rewritten four times:
I had sex for the first time at the age of 22. E and I had sex at least twice a day, every day, during the two years we were together. I loved having sex with him, although sometimes I don’t like having sex. My antidepressants make it really hard to cum. We broke up, but I want to go back to having sex with E.
When I had sex for the first time, I dissociated five times. I dated a boy named M for two years, and not once did we have sex. A month after being with E, I knew I was ready to have sex with him. I told my mom I lost my virginity the same day it happened.
My sexual record with E was 16 times in a span of three days. When E’s stepdad asked why we were still asleep at noon, E’s mom responded with, “they’re young and in love, not a lot of sleeping is happening.” Number 16 happened while we were waiting for my Uber to arrive … the condom broke.
My specialty in sex is giving head. Both E and M said I’m the best they’ve ever had. Other than that, I am a pillow princess. I like being dominated, made submissive. I love the topic of sex so much, I was afraid I was becoming a sex addict at the age of 12. Funny enough, I came out as asexual at the age of 16.
I may look like I stepped out of a J.Crew catalog, but despite my girly and preppy exterior, I actually have a fairly crunchy and outdoorsy resumé.
During the summer of 2007, I applied for my first job ever as a camp counselor. When I think about the most formative experiences in my life, my mind revisits the grassy trails of Bethel Horizons Summer Camp in Dodgeville, Wisconsin where I spent six summers as a counselor from the ages of 14–20.
At the time, Bethel Horizons was a nonprofit which offered “camperships” to kids who couldn’t otherwise afford a sleepaway camp experience. Nestled on 548 acres of land bordering Governor Dodge State Park (on the ancestral lands of the Ho-Chunk Nation), Bethel Horizons is like a giant inside joke: You kind of had to be there to fully understand its magic, but I’ll do my best to describe it to you.
At “BH,” there were two small centers where campers sometimes slept and ate, but most of the campers and counselors spent the entire week sleeping outside. Each night, we set up a tarp and our sleeping bags around the campgrounds, occasionally in tents, but with no ceiling except for the starry night sky.
We slept on picnic tables, on basketball courts, in the sand pit, on the big grassy hill. When it rained, we slept on the carpeted floor of the Nature Center — full of creepy taxidermic animals — or on the creaky wooden slabs in “The Barn” — filled with bats fluttering over our heads as we drifted off to sleep. (I do realize that was probably violating at least five health codes but whatever, it was the early aughts).
The budget was so low that a lot of the food we had came from a local food bank, and we consumed the same foods so frequently that I still remember the meal plan by heart: on Mondays we had pancakes, sandwiches, and hot dogs at the beach. Several other meals we cooked over an open fire. Even after six years and dozens of egg cartons full of fire starters, I was never able to start a fire on my own.
We showered once a week in these old outhousey showers, but it was a waste of time — we couldn’t get the smell of bonfire out of our clothes and our hair no matter what we did. Evening campfires were filled with stories, songs, and sketches that devolved into legends and inside jokes, a special language that only us camp folk understood.
Every afternoon, we hiked two and a half miles to a lake where we rinsed our sweaty and sticky bodies in water that smelled like dirty lettuce. The counselors were all teenagers between the ages of 14–20, tasked with taking care of a gaggle of elementary school kids for an entire week. We could’ve spent our summers watching TV and hanging out with friends, but instead, we elected to eat PB&J’s and sleep in tents with a bunch of other peoples’ children.
So what did we do to entertain the campers? We gave ‘em tons of junk food and ran around with them for six days, telling them spooky camp stories to scare them away from trying to sneak out at night. The counselors, in contrast, stayed out way too late each night after the kids fell asleep, venting, telling stories, and looking up at the stars, then woke up four hours later to make the kids oatmeal.
When I was at camp, I was dirty. I was overtired. I was probably malnourished, but I was by far the happiest I’ve ever been. The bonds that we formed at camp were deeper and stronger than any other friendships we had because we shared this unique living experience.
On my last night of camp, I walked down the big grassy hill toward the flickering bonfire. I thought about how Bethel Horizons is where I’ve felt the most at home, the most human, and the most like myself. I was 20 at the time, and I promised myself that if I couldn’t be a career camp counselor forever, I would find a job that felt as close to that feeling as possible.
The things I love most about camp are the community, the collective care, and the connection to something bigger than ourselves. At that last bonfire, I wrapped my arms around my fellow counselors and sang the words to our Bethel Horizons’ version of “Country Roads” with tears rolling down my cheeks. At the time, I couldn’t quite articulate why it was such a magical place, but I knew I wanted to hold onto that feeling forever.
I ended up stumbling into a career in education (and so did many of my fellow counselors), which I don’t think is a coincidence. Post-graduation, I taught preschool for five years.
Now that I’m close to graduating as an art therapist, I’ve completed my practicums in therapeutic schools. Being in a school setting often gives me camp-adjacent feelings. It’s a close community where we spend lots of time together and get to know each other well. The classroom almost becomes like a little “home away from home.”
As an educator, you get to go outside almost every day and don’t spend too much of the workday on screens. You spend most of the day busy and on your feet. The career is dedicated to caring for children and building relationships with them. Camp spoiled me for life because I’ll never be able to hold down a job that I don’t look forward to or sit at a desk staring at spreadsheets.
Even though I walked away from Bethel Horizons over a decade ago, the past two summers I found myself back at camp, once as a “camper,” and once as a clinical intern.
Ox-Bow is a magical, campy haven (pun intended) tucked away in Saugatuck, Michigan where art school students and other artistically-inclined adults live together communally, taking two weeks of intensive classes in painting, ceramics, woodshop, glass, papermaking, and printmaking. At Ox-Bow, there are deer that are so comfortable around humans they walk right up to them and eat out of the palms of their hands. There are chickens who roam the property freely, which I’m pretty sure supply the kitchen with the eggs they use for breakfast and homemade baked goods.
The whole place screams “artists inhabit this space!” from the mismatched painted chairs in the dining room and the homemade coffee mugs to the flyers and prints scattered about with slogans like “Death is the aftercare for the BDSM of life” or similar cheeky advertisements for “corn parties.”
After a stressful school year, I can’t explain all the ways that two weeks in nature, making art, connecting with other humans, and ignoring my phone and inbox healed my soul.
This past summer, I was fortunate enough to add the second post-Bethel Horizons camp experience to my resumé, at Experience Camps. Experience Camps is a conglomerate of nonprofit camps which offer free week-long overnight camps around the country for children and teenagers who are grieving the loss of a primary caregiver or sibling. I worked at the Camp Lake of the Woods chapter. I signed on to be a clinical intern on their grief specialists team, a group of therapists and social workers who are hired to offer emotional and behavioral support throughout the week.
When I told people I was going to a grief camp, a lot of them responded with discomfort. (Here’s a little known fact about grief: It’s ok to have fun while you’re grieving). I spent the week sleeping on a twin bed without Wi-Fi or air conditioning in 90 degree heat, but it was my favorite week of the summer. Clinicians spent an hour every day giving kids the opportunity to talk about their person who passed away, but outside of that time, they got to feel like kids again. I got outrun by an 8th grader during capture the flag, swam in lakes, and attended the best carnival I’ve ever seen (which included four bouncy houses and a cotton candy machine).
Camp Lake of the Woods has archery, water skiing, basketball, a full kitchen and cafeteria, and cabins for everyone to sleep inside, so compared to Bethel Horizons it was like the Ritz Carlton. The feelings, (or “vibes,” if you speak Gen Z) however, were pretty much the same.
Everyone spoke all week about the magic of being there, how it was “the Best Week Ever.” Some of the kids cried when they had to go home. A lot of them spend all year looking forward to camp. Experience Camp is especially important for these kids because it offers them a space where their grief is welcomed rather than condemned. At camp, these children have the opportunity to connect with others with shared experiences.
Part of the reason I think camp is so enchanting is because it’s like a frozen moment in time — a moment where we’re able to return to the way that humans are intended to live.
At camp, we swap time in nature for time usually spent on screens and social media. In addition to the plentiful fresh air, there are lots of physical activities. We spend entire days walking, running, swimming, and playing. At camp, we cohabitate in a small community, building relationships quickly and skipping straight through the shallow stages of them. We sleep in cabins, share meals together, and have campfires every other night instead of sitting in traffic and living in single-family homes or studio apartments. At camp, we spend all day communicating with each other, talking to each other, and laughing with each other. At camp, everything is shared.
We are living during a period of hyper-individualism (especially in the United States), where we live separately and work all day on computers. Up until just a mere century ago, it was far more common for families to cohabitate with each other and raise their families communally.
When we’re at camp, I believe our bodies and our hearts remember how humans lived for centuries. When we’re there, our cells can taste how close we are to the living structures of our ancestors, and maybe we feel an aching in our hearts for a return to those times as well. If you’ve ever been to camp, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m not sure if it’s possible for us to make all-day everyday feel like camp, but I do believe we could all get a little bit closer if we prioritize community, shared spaces, our connection to nature, and our connection to something bigger than ourselves.
It was dark, and most of the passengers were asleep. It wasn’t a comfortable place to rest, but they had to, because tomorrow, Nov. 4, would be a big day for everyone.
“Tomorrow we will be auditioning for sympathy,” said Noura Hossini, a Palestinian-American riding the bus to Washington, D.C.. Hossini, like the rest of the passengers, was gearing up to take part in one of the biggest pro-Palestine protests this county has ever seen.
The moment we entered the bus the driver turned off the lights leaving most of the bus in darkness, so when Hossini spoke, only part of her face was illuminated by the fluorescent book light above her.
Hossini moved to the U.S. for college in 2011. Displacement, for her, had been a constant. Born in the U.S. to Palestinian parents, Hossini’s family lived in Jerusalem when she was a child, and shifted to Ramallah in the West Bank when she was in high school. The two places, only 30 minutes away from each other, were separated by the Qalandia checkpoint, manned by the Israeli military.
“It makes it very, very challenging to move between cities. So even though I grew up in Jerusalem, I probably went there maybe less than a handful of times since I moved, because you need a permit to go from the West Bank to the Israeli occupied territories,” she said.
Hossini spoke of her past as an orator. She was incredibly rehearsed, striking emphasis on the right points and pauses for maximum effect.
Hossini’s parents currently live in Ramallah (in the West Bank), her maternal family lives in Nablus (also in the West Bank), and her paternal family lives in Jerusalem. Their displacement from Jerusalem to Ramallah was something forced upon them through laws mandated by the occupation of Jerusalem.
“My dad moved to the U.S. for school, and wasn’t able to renew his blue ID, which is the Israeli ID. And when he tried to do so, it took him 15 years, and he still wasn’t able to get it in the courts. And that’s why we had to move from Jerusalem to the West Bank,” Hossini said.
Back in Jerusalem, Hossini’s family celebrated Friday dinner together. Her family hosted 30 people every week on Fridays, and she described it as her community and culture. It’s one of the things she misses most about home.
She lamented about the yearn for community, and how it contradicted her introvertedness.
“I’m in America, and I don’t have to be worried about what I say on the phone unlike my mom, but I miss my home and my family, and I’m going to D.C. because for all the freedom of movement in America, I miss my home and family,” Hossini said.
For Hossini, the protest in D.C. would be the biggest stage for something she’d been doing her whole life. And this time, she was doing it with two of her brothers who were making the trip with her.
“While Palestinians are being murdered and slaughtered, I have to keep telling people like, ‘No, we’re not monsters. We’re not anti-Semitic.’ There’s a genocide happening, and I have to keep telling people this, despite having already said it many, many times,” Hossini said.
The Palestinian struggle is layers upon layers of torment, according to Hossini. Those who have been able to stay in their land live under systemic oppression and have grown used to people dying in tens everyday. The ones who live abroad are constantly attempting to humanize themselves.
“Why do I have to do this dance for you to care about the Palestinian cause? Every single Palestinian has to always tiptoe and audition for people’s sympathy, and I’m so tired of that,” Hossini said.
For Hossini, the protest in D.C. was reminiscent of the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. made his “I Have A Dream” speech.
“I feel like that’s what drove me to want to be there to be with everyone under one sky, to make waves and make people listen coming from all parts of the US. Standing there, screaming the same thing, I want to feel united for one cause,” said Hossini
Palestinians Don’t Fear Death
“Why am I going to D.C.? I’m going to DC to fight for my home I’ve never seen. And I’m 44 years old,” said Faten Alyen.
Faten Alyan and Fatima Alyan, two sisters sitting together on the thirteenth row in the bus, had woken up at 5 a.m. when the bus made a pit stop outside Maryland, and it was hard for them to drift off to sleep again as the journey continued, knowing that they’d be in D.C. in fewer than three hours.
Faten Alyan and Fatima Alyan insisted on the camera keeping both of them in the same frame instead of breaking the interviews up. Palestinian stories, they said, were similar enough across families that they started to lose impact. It was better if their story was told together.
The story of their family followed the same narrative as that of many other Palestinian refugees. Their grandparents were among the first to face dispossession in the Nakba of 1948, and now they were the third generation refugees-turned-immigrants.
As a Pakistani, imperialism breaking up homelands was not a foreign concept to me either. Though it was hard for me to say this to them knowing that my struggle was that of my grandparents and theirs was ongoing.
“Ironically enough, I took the same journey over two decades ago. And I had two young kids at the time, and I remember getting on the bus with my husband, a small group of people, and taking this same overnight journey to DC in March. Here I am, like, two decades later,” said Faten Alyan.
For 25 years, Faten Alyan has been marching in the streets calling for the liberation of Palestine.
According to Faten Alyan, it’s different this time around. She’s compared the numbers, the people in the audience advocating for Palestine, and the knowledge people have in 2023 with each other. She said she thought D.C. was a possible turning point for the Palestinian struggle.
Even so, Faten Alyan was unsure about going to D.C. for the Nov. 4 March. She said it was because of security reasons — not the police or danger of arrests — because just the weekend before, her daughter and her had almost been assaulted at a march in Chicago.
“It took me a long time to decide to go to D.C. It was more because of safety concerns — the shooter at the Chicago rally really scared me. But, I made the decision to go on Wednesday. There are some things you just can’t stay silent about. It makes you complicit,” said Faten Alyan. (On Oct.28, a man fired a short in Skokie during a pro-Palestinian protest; another man attacked the demonstrator with pepper-spray).
I nodded along. She had encapsulated the fears and justifications every international student I had spoken to had shared with me.
Fatima, Faten’s sister who had been silent for most of this conversation, spoke up now to disagree with her sister.
“Death wasn’t a fear for me. I don’t fear death. I’m a Palestinian. We’re the voice for the voiceless and if I die marching, then I die marching,” said Fatima Alyan.
For Faten Alyan, going to protests has never been a thing to debate. For her, going to D.C. was another step to end American hypocrisy. She was tired of being portrayed as a benefactor of America’s goodwill.
“They talk about taking us in, but they neglect the simple fact that our ancestors didn’t migrate here willingly. They were happily living in their country, in their homeland, in their villages. And then foreign nations came in and destroyed their country. And then the same nations and countries that destroyed their country tried to put on like the Superman cape. We don’t need your goodwill, you’re the reason our people are dying,” said Faten Alyan.
Faten Alyan said the expected turnout in D.C. was hope for her that the time to go home was near.
“We will all willingly go back to our country, but you need to give Israel half your country, just like you [white people] decided to give Israel our country and take your blood money with you. We won’t even pack our bags. We will pick ourselves up and leave,” said Faten Alyan.
From Little Palestine to Palestine
M, a Palestinian, is from what used to be called Little Palestine in Chicago. (F Newsmagazine is using only her first initial to protect her privacy.)
“Before Little Palestine, I lived in Nablus in the West Bank. Before that, my family lived in the Jenin refugee camp. I don’t know what to say when people ask me where I’m from. No, I’m not from Chicago, I’m from Palestine,” said M.
M laughed when she talked about how the neighborhood in Chicago, near 87th Street and Harlem Avenue was renamed and the name Little Palestine was removed. She compared it to the erasure Palestinians have seen their entire lives.
“Half my memory of Palestine is sitting in a car going from Nablus to Jerusalem, spending hours in the car because the colonizing military won’t even let us visit our own homes,” she said. “I’m a foreigner on a student visa in America and I don’t need to show any ID when I’m going from one state to the other but they want me to shut up when I can’t even go home? Fuck, No.”
M said she was going to D.C. because she doesn’t have a lot of time. She’s an international student and she only has a few years before she has to leave the U.S. and she intends to do as much as she can.
“Deportation? Why would I be scared of that? No, I want to go home. I don’t want to stay here. Go ahead, send me home, but until I’m here, my body is going to be in every place Palestine needs it to be. Palestinians get used to fear.”
For M, going to D.C. was as necessary as telling her story.
“I march to keep Gaza’s name alive. Israel is a failed colonial project and the U.S. will do anything to prevent it from collapsing. I have a connection to this land, if Palestine dies, I die and I cannot see it go,” M said.
“I’m seeing people get desensitized to Palestinian deaths. They can’t do that. Only Palestinians can because they have to. Palestinians die a lot, like, oh, two people died in Nablus yesterday. Sure. And you move on. You get used to arrests a lot. Oh, he was in prison for 15 years, and he just. But if you don’t live there, and you know you’re not next to die, then you don’t get to be desensitized,” M said.
//sense x nonation art lab Installation x performance took place at a performance space near Goose Island on Nov. 12. Almost 30 artists took part in the installations and performances, many of which were interactive and participatory. The event, organized by Gordon Fung, brought together artists from all majors and avenues, giving them the much-needed collaborative space. One could feel the energy radiated through the symphony of teamwork.
On Mar. 21, President Elissa Tenny sent an email to the school community announcing her retirement.
“Today, after a career in higher education of more than 45 years, I write to share that I will retire at the end of the 2023–24 academic year. I do so with enthusiasm for all you have done to shape the remarkable legacy that you, and I, and so many before us, share,” wrote Tenny.
In 2016, Tenny became the president of SAIC, and is the first woman in the school’s history to hold this leadership position. Before that, she served as Provost of SAIC from 2010 to 2016, and was the Provost and Dean of Bennington College from 2002 to 2010.
Tenny became president in a time when significant events of the decade were taking place. The COVID-19 pandemic, which killed more than six million people, broke out during her tenure. In 2020, the country saw one of its biggest uprisings for racial equality in response to the murder of George Floyd by the police officer Derek Chauvin. The following year, SAIC’s non-tenure-faculty took to the streets to protest for better wages, later forming a union in 2022. During all of these tumultuous events, she led SAIC.
While she faced significant challenges since becoming president in 2016, her leadership has also been met with criticism. Several members of the SAIC community have described her as a person who is out of touch or ineffective, according to a report in The Chicago Reader. Her commitment on racial equality has been questionable; she didn’t publicly reprimand Provost Martin Beger even when many students at SAIC demanded his resignation after the harm his actions caused — reportedly he quoted a racial slur used by Elizabeth Eckford, a Black Civil Rights activist, in 2018 during his introductory lecture.
Recently she was also criticized by some SAIC community members for her emails that addressed the current genocide of Palestinian people. Students said that her messagings depoliticized the events and failed to present a full picture of what is happening in Gaza.
Situations like these highlighted the need for President Tenny to increase transparency, accountability, and communication regarding policy and decisions which she failed in some circumstances.
Nonetheless, Tenny still had some success. She piloted and launched the First-Generation Fellows program, and the school affirms that Tenny’s work has contributed to the expansion of health and disability services on campus, while also diversifying the student population by 18%. In the 2017/18 academic year, 52 percent of students were white, compared with 34.1 percent in 2022/2023.
These changes don’t happen in a vacuum. The ecosystem of SAIC needs the student body and faculty to advocate for these improvements. And still, there’s a lot that needs to be done. Even with the school stating that Tenny helped to expand health and disability service on campus, SAIC is still an inaccessible school for students with disabilities. And even with Tenny having worked to diversify the student and faculty population, 71 percent of SAIC faculty identify as white.
In her seven-year tenure as President, Tenny could have made more improvements in accessibility, diversity, and equality. Nevertheless, it bears noting that not all the major decisions can be solely made by the president.
Here is a quick run down of the distribution of power in SAIC’s academic ecosystem: The power starts with the decision-making board. The president has power to preside over the university’s academic and administrative departments. Presidential duties include fostering a positive public image of the institution, maintaining a close relationship with the board to further the president’s agenda, and working with the entire university community to find common ground.
When the school community demands change, the president needs to listen to those demands and fundraise to pay for that change. When determining the message the school would send in times of tumultuous changes, the president of SAIC sets the tone and fundraises based on that message. In a private university such as SAIC, fundraising is a major focus for a president, as state funding does not cover any funding for a private institution.
As the first woman to be president in the midst of a pandemic, and civil unrest, it must have been challenging to lead a school. But she was also paid a hefty check for her job. Annually she received more than $700,000, plus $48,000 for housing, which is more than the salary of other presidents who lead countries’ leading art colleges including Rhode Island School of Design and California Institute of Arts.
For now we still don’t know who will be Tenny’s successor. The SAIC Presidential Search Committee — which includes representatives from the Board of Governors, Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, and student body — will soon make a recommendation to the Board about a candidate who is suitable for the role.
The new President will have a lot of work to do because the School has entered a new era. There’s a new energy among students and faculty, and they are more political than before. They have formed unions to demand better wages and improve their working conditions; they have frequently demanded equity conditions and diversification of the school in every way that can be and to make the institute a space where collaboration thrives.
The new president needs to realize that arts and politics are not separate. The students and faculty, who are the heart of the institution, are affected by the policy, messaging, and fundraising which are political decisions. The president needs to act as a bridge between the decision making board and the students and faculty because the community is most impacted by decisions like the schedule change, changes in masking policies, which took place during Tenny’s tenure without any consultations from the community.
The new President needs to perform their duties more efficiently and be accountable to all the students and faculty, whose lives are directly impacted by the choices the school makes.
Every decision the upcoming President makes should be informed and considered that benefits the SAIC community as a whole.
Because without us, the role of the President can’t exist. The SAIC community is responsible for the president’s existence, not vice versa.
The South Asia Institute (SAI) revamped its second floor with “Materials, Metaphors, and Miniatures” in September 2023 as its permanent exhibit. Andrea Moratinos (MAAP AH 2024) curated the exhibition with art from the Hundal collection owned by Shireen and Afzal Ahmed, the co-founders of the SAI. Most of the artwork was exhibited in 2020 during the “Old Traditions, New Narratives: South Asian Miniatures” exhibition celebrating South Asian miniature art. The 2023 rendition surveys how South Asian miniature art has evolved under different hands. Moratinos reimagines how previously exhibited traditional and contemporary miniature art fits into the current rendition.
Mughal miniature painting was developed during the Mughal rule between the 16th to the mid-19th centuries and is a remarkable artistic style that melded Persian and Indian influences. With subjects ranging from portraits and court scenes to nature and religious themes, Mughal miniature painting served both cultural and artistic purposes. The paintings involved detailed brushwork, vibrant colors, and small-scale illustrations on paper or cloth, resulting in exquisite depictions of various subjects.
Neo-miniature — initiated by a group of students at the National College of Arts of Lahore in Pakistan — aimed to revive the art form as it had previously extinguished. Traditional miniature art requires incredibly delicate strokes and expertise with wet blending and dry-brushing amongst other skills artists build over time. Neo-miniature art might not resemble traditional miniature painting in terms of material and techniques, but it inherits inspirations, references, and motifs from the tradition.
Moratinos divides the artwork layouts according to different themes by identifying various narratives like depictions of feminism to commentaries on orientalism. The first pieces titled “Flirting with Faith” (2016) and “The Crucible” (2021) on the long wall are by Saira Wasim. These works talk about the corruption that occurs when politics and religion intersect. The work depicts a mullah “religious leader” and a politician on flying sheep who are taking them to heaven. The politician — also a military representative — carries a human skull. This is a direct commentary on how politicians use religion to oppress those who disagree with them.
The narrative carries into the next two triptychs of paintings titled “God’s Best” (2010) and “Closer to God on Gold” (2017) by Faiza Butt. These paintings explore the female gaze and queer feminism. The juxtaposition of the two identifies the complexity of layering the themes of female gaze, politics, and gender with Western culture. Interestingly, such contemporary themes in Faiza’s work are composed with pardakht, a pointillist technique from the Mughal miniature paintings. “God’s Best” depicts hyper-masculine men on podiums, and on cakes, with the middle painting depicting a religious man, draped under a shroud. The two paintings on either side, with men depicted as trophies on a cake stand, contrast with the “man of faith” in the middle. But together they tell the truth about a patriarchal situation in Pakistan.
The narrative in “Closer to God on Gold” is a mix of queerness and hyper-masculinity. The paintings on either side are of pairs of men who are local pehlwans (wrestlers) caught in an intimate moment. The middle painting is solely a pair of feminine eyes that appear to be enjoying the scene.
Nusra Latif Qureshi’s work “Regal Blessings” (2009) presents traditional motifs-the Mughal dress, the cushions, and traditional jewelry-alongside symbols of power throne and the headgear-as a commentary on the relationship between the Mughals and the British colonists.
Asif Ahmed’s series titled “Similarities and Differences” (2014) reiterates the same caricature in 15 different ways. The series reimagines a misinterpretation of history. All of them are portraits of the same man, but by using different mediums and techniques to paint him Ahmed portrays the man’s differences in appearance.
The exhibited works collectively create a compelling narrative that explores different ways neo-miniature has branched out from its use of historical references.
Instead of presenting traditional miniatures and modernized versions side by side, Moratino presented the viewer with a gradual transition from neo-miniatures that are more modern to the ones that more resemble traditional miniatures. To appreciate contemporary artists’ attempts at confronting cultural inheritance, one needs background knowledge of classical miniature art because observing works outside of the original context hinders one’s appreciation of curatorial innovation. I am still not completely familiar with these backgrounds and thus I am acutely aware that my lack of background knowledge poses obstacles to my viewing experience. That’s not to say that I’m unable to enjoy it, I am encouraged to keep learning.
Collectors, Shireen and Afzal prefer to have one-on-one conversations with the artist when acquiring works. Hence, they have the opportunity to understand what the artwork represents. Most of the artist statements and work descriptions are direct quotations and sources from interviews and discussions with artists. These backdrops, though useful, might not provide sufficient background about miniature art’s history, politics, and tradition to viewers. Given the availability of these rich conversations, perhaps the curation could emphasize providing more information about the historical context of the art in the curatorial statement, and in the way the artworks are presented.
Moratinos’ curation is in opposition to viewers’ expectations, “If we’re talking about contemporary, let’s start with contemporary,” she said. She encourages visitors to learn about South Asian miniatures. In a nutshell: Despite the small exhibition space, Moratinos opens the door to allowing viewers to experience the historic continuum of miniature art.
The 2023 Fall Undergraduate Exhibition showcased the culminating, ambitious, and innovative interdisciplinary work of over 110 graduating seniors. The event was organized by Josh Fairbanks, Assistant Director of Exhibitions, and the Department of Exhibitions and Exhibition Studies. The exhibition was open at the SAIC Galleries from Nov. 3 to 17.
Here are some of the pictures of the artworks displayed at the exhibition.
“Wish” (2023) is a film that makes a lot of promises. It promises Disney’s foray into experimental animation techniques. It promises a struggle between what dreams will be achieved and which ones won’t. And it promises a revolutionary fantasy adventure. I am very sorry to say it could not grant those wishes.
The story is simple — in the kingdom of Rosas when citizens turn eighteen, they turn over their wishes to the king, Magnifico (Chris Pine), to be granted later. However, they then forget what they wished for, and to the horror of the protagonist, Asha (Ariana DeBose), almost no one’s wishes are ever actualized. And so, she sets out to steal back the wishes and free the people from Magnifico’s reign.
The film started out promising enough, as Asha’s point that people deserve the chance to achieve their goals was just as valid as Magnifico’s rebuttal that not every wish is altruistic, raising a real discussion about the use of free will. Unfortunately, this theme was dropped less than ten minutes after being introduced, setting the stage for a basic black-and-white crusade for freedom against a one-dimensional tyrant. With that disappointment, I still held out hope, but was let down.
The greatest problem the characters face is the destruction of wishes, but the threat is never made credible. The people of Rosas experience their desires being literally crushed, while unaware and unable to stop it, and yet so little screen time is devoted to this development that it’s hard to empathize. The catharsis that should have then arisen afterward feels unearned. The conflict is ultimately so underwhelming I just couldn’t bring myself to care.
Looking at the characters, none of them felt fleshed out, and Asha bore the worst of it. Her beliefs are never really challenged and her internal struggle is minimal. She is in the right almost from the get-go, whatever mistakes she makes are superficial, and any hardships are more awkward than engaging.
Asha’s friends received roughly one unique character trait each (with the unluckier ones not even getting that), and they seemed to exist solely to be Asha’s friends. Making matters worse, one friend betrays Asha to Magnifico for his wish, but having received almost no prior characterization, what should have been a heartbreaking reveal became incredibly unsympathetic and boring.
On the villainous side of things, Magnifico was forgettable — the worst thing a Disney villain can be. His motives were as deep as a bowl of soup, and, despite the number of references and callbacks to other Disney antagonists, he never became interesting. At best, he’s just a run-of-the-mill narcissist who couldn’t even produce a spectacle. His wife, Amaya (Angelique Cabral), had some potential due to her unique position of sympathizing with both Asha and Magnifico. Yet nothing really came of it, and she joined Asha’s side without much conflict.
Moving on to the main event: the animation. “Wish” is the first attempt by Disney to utilize the newly popularized 2D-3D blended style used by media such as “Spider-Verse,” “Arcane,” and “Mutant Mayhem.” Had “Wish” been released a few years ago, I may have viewed it more favorably, but compared to the work I have seen as of late, it was incredibly lackluster. The failure comes from Disney trying to have their cake and eat it too, attempting to combine their usual styles for 2D and 3D animation without compromise, despite the inherent incompatibility.
The end result was remarkably disappointing for a studio historically known for its animation quality. Scenes lacked depth and dimension. Characters looked blurry in wide shots. The entire film felt like a regular CGI film put through a filter. There were particular issues when it came to any full-body shots, as the dark outlines around characters looked out of place on otherwise clearly CGI models.
The music, like the rest of the film, was unmemorable. The songs were so modern that they clashed with the traditional aesthetics of the setting, and they didn’t even manage to achieve an earworm to play in the nightmares of parents. The talents of their capable cast generally felt wasted on such dull material, being too heavily restrained to shine.
Altogether, “Wish” was a disappointment through and through. It’s almost painful because everything was there to make provoking arguments and interesting characters, but every punch was pulled and the animation was as flat as the story.
“Wish” seemed to be trying to connect the past and the present on Disney’s 100th anniversary but instead made a disingenuous and formulaic story lacking everything that made the older films memorable. “Wish” fulfilled none of the promises it made, and seems more like a very expensive marketing scheme than a genuine creative work.