Asian American voices on film
Returning with in-person showings for the first time since 2020, the 2023 Seattle Asian American Film Festival kicks off this week with movies reflecting the diverse diaspora of pan-Asian filmmakers. The lineup this year reveals a broad range of characters both real and fictional, from a retired hitman-turned-Hong Kong fisherman (The Last Ferry From Grass Island) to a Japanese drum master and Korean adoptee from North Dakota (Finding Her Beat) to a 20-year-old Pakistani American who dreams of starring on Broadway (Istikhara, New York).
Work by local filmmakers includes former Northwest Film Forum director Vee Hua’s short “metaphysical POC buddy comedy” (Reckless Spirits); Beacon Hill resident Han Edward So Eckleberg’s documentary about Seattle’s Mak Fai Kung Fu Dragon & Lion Dance Association; and Emily Hanako Momohara’s NAMBA, about a Seattle-born and-raised survivor of Japanese American incarceration during WWII. - NA
If you go: Seattle Asian American Film Festival, in person Feb. 23 - 26 at Northwest Film Forum; screening virtually Feb. 27 - Mar. 5. (Prices vary)
MoPOP’s Battle of the bands
A good place to spot Seattle’s music stars of tomorrow is in the Sky Church at the Museum of Pop Culture. For almost two decades, this state-of-the-art performance venue has functioned as the annual gathering place for MoPOP’s Sound Off!, a showcase of local musicians age 21 and under. The program has already spawned successful alumni like Travis Thompson, The Lonely Forest, Parisalexa and Sol. And while MoPOP ditched the battle-of-the-bands style competition element a couple years ago, the three nights of mixed bills are still a great way to experience emerging local music.
This weekend, seventeen-year-old KING ZAAE from Seattle will start off the showcase, blending R&B and alternative music to convey sentiments of love and heartbreak. Shoreline-based trio Pilot Seat will change the pace, playing psychedelic rock and indie sounds. You can channel your inner teenage angst with defsharp, hailing from Tukwila — the musician’s vulnerable lyrics grounded in a rock beat are bound to transport anyone back to young adulthood. The night ends on an unapologetically pop note from Meghan Hayes, better known by her stage moniker lavenderhayez. - MVS and NA
If you go: Sound Off Showcase 1, MoPOP, Feb. 25; next showcases March 4 and 11. ($10-$50 suggested donation)
Hear music samples from participating bands below.
Booksmarts at the Bellevue Art Museum
Longtime Seattle artist Preston Wadley wants people to take the time to read his sculptures. That’s in part why his multimedia assemblages take the shape of splayed-open tomes, which are actually bronze casts and sculptures of books. These hefty objects are enhanced with layers of meaning — not by way of text but with small sculptures, found objects, photos and paint embedded in the bronze.
Wadley, a Professor Emeritus at Cornish College of the Arts, showcases the breadth of his work at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Abstract Truth, his most comprehensive solo exhibition to date, featuring 60 pieces spanning sculpture and photography, created from 2007 to 2022. While most of Wadley’s work deals with themes of race, identity, local history and the history of photography, each book offers viewers a “choose-your-own-art adventure.” - MVS
If you go: Preston Wadley: Abstract Truth, Bellevue Arts Museum, Feb. 25 - Oct. 8. (Free-$15)
Tragedy and trauma
Based on Khaled Hosseini’s 2007 novel and directed by Afghan filmmaker Roya Sadat, the new opera A Thousand Splendid Suns tells of two Afghan women and their link through tragedy and trauma across two generations. The production, which opens this weekend, is not only a world premiere, it’s composed by a woman, Sheila Silver, who is also a Seattle native and UW alumna — and it's one of the few operas by a woman (last season's Blue, by Jeanine Tesori, was another) staged by Seattle Opera, which is on the verge of its 60th anniversary season.
To add authenticity to her music, Silver journeyed to India, recording in her blog, “My study of North Indian music will ‘color’ my Western compositional voice — North Indian music being at the heart of Afghan music. … I am also learning much about the deep traditions of Indian music and how it is taught and conveyed. Yes, I am being transformed … it will all go into the opera. We definitely have a big, powerful opera here.” - GB
If you go: A Thousand Splendid Suns, Seattle Opera at McCaw Hall, Feb. 25 - March 11. ($59 and up)
“Ah, the woods. The all-purpose symbol of the unconscious, the womb, the past, the dark place where we face our trials and emerge wiser or destroyed,” said Stephen Sondheim about his 1987 musical Into the Woods (music and lyrics his; book by James Lapine). The popular “quest musical” (Sondheim’s term) is now on view, with a largely local cast, at The Fifth Avenue Theatre downtown.
The story concerns “A Baker and His Wife” who hunt for four magical objects and run into denizens from other fairy tales, including two handsome princes. Sondheim predicted it would be one of his most widely performed shows, relished by amateur and professional actors alike (large cast + no swears = high school productions everywhere) — and as one of his characters might say, “Lo, it came to pass.” - GB
If you go: Into the Woods, The 5th Avenue Theatre, through March 5. ($89 and up)
Wrapped up in the weather
We’re accustomed to deluges around here, but would anyone willingly wrap themselves in an atmospheric river? You can give it a try yourself this month at Ballard gallery The Vestibule, where Seattle artist Vaughn Bell is showing blankets patterned and colored to look like meteorological forecasts. The aerial undulations of vapors and moisture create an ever-shifting rainbow of bright greens, yellows, oranges and purples — which is much more inviting in textile form than coming from the skies.
Bell’s work will be on hand to comfort locals dealing with winter blues (or just plain solastalgia) as part of a collaborative, environmentally focused show called Breathing Room. Artists Sue Danielson and Barbara Robertson round out this creative joint effort with installations using found materials, recycled past works and projections onto patterned textiles. "The title relates in part to the shared air we breathe, and how during the pandemic this was a life or death breath," wrote Danielson in an email. "Now we cautiously share our breath again." - MVS
If you go: Breathing Room, The Vestibule, through March 11. (Free)
Swim with salmon
Attending a Kraken game or the Bruce Springsteen concert in the coming days? While at Climate Pledge Arena, check out The Salmon People, a new interactive installation created by Matika Wilbur — the venue’s first artist-in-residence. You may be familiar with Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip) by way of her Project 562, for which she has spent the past decade photographing members of each federally recognized Native American tribe (of which there are currently 574).
But for this residency, she focused on salmon, an essential creature in Coast Salish culture. The installation has an urgent ecological message too: In 2021, 14 different species of salmon and steelhead were listed as endangered in Washington.
Wilbur collaborated with multimedia artist Shaun Peterson (Puyallup) to create an immersive, motion-activated projection of salmon drawn in the Coast Salish style. The fish follow viewers as they walk by the underwater imagery (a big hit with kids), and soon the image transitions into a film of three Coast Salish women in traditional dress, dancing in front of animated mountains. - NA
If you go: The Salmon People (must have ticket to Climate Pledge event to enter venue), installation free to view through March 13.
Paintings of light in Pioneer Square
When Seattle artist Norman Lundin paints a grocery bag on a table or a Windex bottle on a windowsill, he is actually painting the light: how light can look peaceful in the morning and then create sharp foreboding shadows in the afternoon; how it marks the passage of time as it moves through a room. Now Lundin premieres a new series of introspective still lifes and studio scenes in The Space Between Things, a new show at Pioneer Square’s Greg Kucera Gallery.
Also on view at Kucera this month is another longtime and beloved Seattle artist: Ed Wicklander, who offers a humorous, active counterweight to Lundin’s somber and still paintings with Low Profile, featuring his realistic wooden sculptures of fraying ropes, floating hands and lots and lots of frolicking cats. - MVS
If you go: The Space Between Things and Low Profile, Greg Kucera Gallery, through April 1. (Free)
Music in community
Used to be that whenever a professional orchestra played a concert for anyone beyond their usual subscription audience (say, a school concert), they’d focus on the most standard of standards, the assumption being that the best introduction to classical music is its greatest hits. Which is fine; no one loves the William Tell overture more than I do. But the industry’s recently increased focus on music by composers from underrepresented groups — women and people of color, especially — makes more room for new(er) works, with a new assumption that the best introduction to classical music is something fresh and different.
When the Seattle Symphony plays two free community concerts this weekend and next, they’ll bring music by Brazilian folklorist Camargo Guarnieri, Black pioneer William Grant Still, Princeton student Nina Shekhar, and more — with a bit of Beethoven as hors d’oeuvre. - GB
If you go: Seattle Symphony community concert at Aki Kurose Middle School Auditorium (in Rainier Valley), Feb. 24, 7 p.m.; Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, March 3, 7 p.m. (Free)
From here to maternity
If you walk by the corner of Harrison Street and Fifth Avenue North, a striking artwork in a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center window may cause you to stop and stare — and the bright pink sculpture of a female reproductive system may appear to stare back boldly. “Whether and When,” by Holly Ballard Martz, interrupts the Seattle gray with a Pepto Bismol hue.
The cheeky glass uterus is one of the local pieces in the Discovery Center’s new show Designing Motherhood: Things That Make and Break Our Births. The traveling exhibition explores the concept of motherhood from various perspectives, scientific to emotional to artistic, and shows motherhood is personal and complicated — think: forceps, Dalkon shield IUDs, or a series of 1970s books about mothers who regret having children — and approaches to it are as varied as they are personal. - NA
If you go: Designing Motherhood: Things That Make and Break Our Births, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center, through Dec. 30. (Free)
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