Archive for March, 2009

Lynn Nottage’s “Ruined”
March 30, 2009

I am hugely enamored of the work of playwright and 2007 MacArthur Fellow, Lynn Nottage. From laughing heartily and feeling the first flush of love with a date at her Fabulation, or the Education of Undine, to obsessing over costuming her beautiful, Pulitzer-nominated, turn-of-the-century play, Intimate Apparel, many wonderful moments of the past few years have been punctuated by the enjoyment of her work.

Last Thursday was another such moment when I took in a performance of her latest staged play. In 2005, Ms. Nottage, who feels a “social responsibility” to give voice to the voiceless, traveled with her husband, filmmaker Tony Gerber and the director with whom she is most closely aligned, Kate Whoriskey, to Uganda (more stable than the neighboring embattled Democratic Republic of Congo) to speak with Congolese refugee women and gather their stories. The resulting Mother Courage and her Children-influenced piece is the powerful Ruined, on stage at the Manhattan Theatre Club through May 2, 2009.

Set in the recent past in a small mining town in the Ituri Rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo (props to the scenic and sound designers), Ruined introduces us to Mama Nadi, proprietor of a bar/brothel that keeps the local miners and soldiers lusts for Primus beer and paid sex sated and ironically the women whose bodies are offered for consumption, safe. For food and shelter in a weapon-free zone (patrons are asked to remove their bullets before entering Mama’s doors) the women provide housekeeping duties and sexual favors– always with condoms. An odd bit of safe haven in a region where women are often brutally ravaged in unprotected, non-consensual sex in great numbers and left “ruined” thus shamed and unwelcome in their villages.

Saidah Arrika Ekulona’s turn as the Brechtian entrepreneur Mama Nadi is flawless. Though Mama’s livelihood depends on the spoils of desperation and devastation, she unapologetically views prostitution as an act of defiance rather than defilement, a choice. Josephine, as portrayed by the lithe Cherise Boothe, is the proud daughter of a village chief whose excommunication has brought her into Mama’s fold, her gift of dance used as enticement, a weary-feistyness that keeps her (like Intimate Apparel’s 1905 prostitute, Mayme) moving toward something more. Russell G. Jones, nuanced as the sensitive Christian, brings the violated girls, Salima and Sophie and ultimately, love to Mama’s insular world.

Quincy Tyler Bernstine’s poignant portrayal of the tragic Salima, “You will not fight your battles on my body anymore,” brings tears to the eyes. We actually feel for Chike Johnson when he, as Fortune realizes the err of his ways and seeks redemption and reunion with his wife. Christian’s “ruined” niece Sophie cannot be offered as a prostitute, so she earns her keep in song, performing at the bar. With her large, expressive eyes and clear, beautiful voice, Condola Rashad shows us the spirited hopefulness that remains with Sophie in spite of the constant pain that wracks her abused body.

There are moments of wrenching gravity and yet the play is rife with humor. As in life, there is the mercy of levity, momentary reprieve that along with hope allow us to move through the now with the belief in a better tomorrow.

Here, the playwright Lynn Nottage and actor, Saidah Arrika Ekulona discuss Ruined with WNYC New York Public Radio.


Condola Rashad on the promotional poster.

I have to admit that I was taken aback by the fact that the little being, the reason for belly bump camouflaging on The Cosby Show, (as Clair Huxtable, Phylicia Rashad’s real-life pregnancy was hidden behind props) was performing beautifully before me, a grown woman. Fugit hora.

Talkin’ Shop: Cozbi
March 20, 2009

Upon meeting the alliteratively named Cozbi Cabrera, one is struck by the serenity of her face and the luminous glow of a woman at peace. In a glorious example of following one’s bliss, she left a successful career as an art director at Sony Music twelve years ago to “discover, create and share pockets of grace and beauty.” With her exquisite Muñecas (“dolls” en Español, a nod to her Honduran heritage) she did just that. Crafted by hand with love and exacting attention to detail, las muñecas are born of the magical union of vintage textiles, paint, and hand dyes with the gift of the stitch in hand rolled hems, delicate embroidery and intricate beadwork. So beautifully attired are the dolls that collectors began to ask Cozbi to create clothing for humans.

Thank goodness she consented. Constructed with the same care and couturier details seen in the dolls, the Cozbi line for women features simple, elegant silhouettes evocative of a bygone era yet perfectly suited for our times. Natural fibers abound: crisp cottons, sumptuous silks and transitional weight wools with lovely touches like contrast stitching and pintucking.

In kindergarten, when her peers were likely producing stick figures, Cozbi’s teacher lauded the young artist for the fully articulated faces in her drawings. The creative impulse runs deep within her and has found its outlet variously through music packaging, drawing, painting and sewing.

In 2004, Cozbi opened the doors to a delightful space in which to create as well as sell the fruits of her myriad labors. Whimsical pillows share space with quilts and charming baby bibs; honey-sweet togs for tykes hang near the frocks and accessories for women and at the antique wrap desk, beneath the large alphabet quilt–quite apropos–are the many books illustrated by Cozbi. The shop itself is an oneiric patchwork of this artist’s many gifts, a treasure trove of handmade goodness in Carroll Gardens.

Do stop by this weekend (March 21-22, 11am – 7pm) to meet the gentle-spirited Cozbi and discover her many talents at her Spring Sale Event. Mention pendulum and/or bring a friend to receive 20% off your purchase.
The radiant Cozbi A. Cabrera.


Some of the books she’s illustrated.

Muñecas dulces…


And their meticulous embellishments.


Gossamer fabrics and delicate pleating.
Feminine, pretty and thoroughly modern: a highlight from the Spring collection.

530 Court Street
(between Huntington and W. 9th Streets)
Brooklyn, NY 11231

A Woman’s Work at Southpaw
March 16, 2009

Come out on Wednesday night, March 18th and get your dance on while supporting the life-changing work of the Women’s Prison Association (WPA), a non-profit service and advocacy organization committed to helping women with criminal justice histories realize new possibilities for themselves and their families. Their philosophy is at the crux of every service they provide:

WPA believes that every woman has the potential and right to live a satisfying, productive life. Women who have been incarcerated or otherwise involved in the criminal justice system are often defined solely by their criminal histories. At WPA, we believe that women who have made poor choices should not be forever limited by their mistakes.

In a supportive and trusting environment, women can take responsibility for their decisions and move forward to create lives characterized by more positive contributions to their families and communities. At WPA, we encourage women to explore their life histories to identify their strengths and understand the choices they’ve made. Rooted in a deeper understanding of self, a woman can find her voice and grow to view herself as a unique and worthy human being with a future that is hers to chart.

With national recidivism rates running fairly high, WPA’s Alternative to Incarceration program has an impressively high percentage–88%–of graduates remaining arrest-free 6-18 months post completion; the first six-months are widely recognized as the highest risk period for re-arrest among women. Luz A., a bi-lingual case manager for Women in Need is one such success story, who after more than 20 years of drug abuse has found the tools of self-determination through WPA’s Women’s Advocacy Project and is now pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration.

Hazelle Goodman, Leon and Free of Power 105.1 hosts, help get the party started at 8pm at Brooklyn’s performance venue, Southpaw. Tickets (available at TicketWeb) are just $25 for night of dancing to sets from DJ D-Nice and DJ Cassidy; performances from fierce sistahs Hanifah Walidah and Liza Jessie Peterson and hip hop icons Naughty by Nature will be on hand to rock the house.


Luz has turned her life around with the help of the WPA. Honor its 160-year legacy by attending the Southpaw fundraiser.


125 Fifth Avenue

(near Sterling Place)

Brooklyn, NY

Off the Hook
March 15, 2009

At the dawn of the new millennium, Atlantan Ladene Lenora Clark began crocheting as a constructive pastime and found her passion. After immersing herself in classes she moved from making hats and scarves for friends to creating wow-worthy garments for herself that would garner interest everywhere she went. Soon the commissions followed. Not yet a decade since she first put hook to yarn, she has relocated to Brooklyn, New York and is beginning to make some noise here for her traffic-stopping creations.

Though the stunning Belinda Baidoo and her endless legs rocked Ladene’s short jumpsuit to willowy perfection in a shoot I styled for Ebony, I must admit that Ladene herself, wears her own work like no other, as the staggering tableau of shots on her website will attest. Her striking face, strong, lean body and that unbelievable network of locks: thick, sculptural ropes (think the awesome creations of artist Chakaia Booker done with hair) make for unforgettable images.


From Ladene’s latest collection: Belinda Baidoo for Ebony. Photo by Otten.


The striking designer herself.

The Incomparable Helga Davis
March 10, 2009

It was many years ago and the venue is now a blur, but the memory of first hearing Helga Davis perform her Feet of Clay is seared into my very soul. I’d known Helga from her day gig at a showroom I frequented in the 1990’s. In her intense gaze was a depth that revealed so much more than the confines of a desk job might suggest and I suppose the beautifully measured cadence and sonorous speaking voice should have tipped me off, but I was unprepared for what I was to experience when she opened her mouth to sing. I was dumbstruck by the power and clarity of her voice.

Amid my own emotional upheaval her lyrics penetrated, “Why has the sun gone away? Who’ll keep the promises made today? You have to make your own way…” Her simple words, epiphanic, expelling the shrapnel from my then war-torn heart.

From her early days with Greg Tate’s band Women in Love, to her role as the disciple Hilarion to Carl Hancock Rux’s Anthony in the Robert Wilson/Bernice Johnson Reagon collaborative staging of Flaubert’s The Temptation of St. Anthony, Helga has made artistic choices that push the boundaries of her own comfort level as well as ours, luring us into ecstatic exploration with her.

Two years ago today she was featured on WNYC ‘s Evening Music Spotlight in a revelatory, hour-and-a-half long interview interspersed with highlights from her body of work. Do carve out the time to allow yourself to luxuriate in this treat of Helga courtesy of New York Public Radio.


Helga Davis from Sharon Bridgforth’s delta dandi Touring Company.

Talkin’ Shop:
March 5, 2009

In all the years I’ve known her, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen Denise Kerr when she was not fully ensconced in some artistic endeavor.  A compulsive creator, her nimble fingers are constantly engaged in the making of something be it a lovingly pieced quilt, hand-knit kimono, fabulous leather handbag or beautiful hand crafted jewelry.  A consummate observer and connoisseur of great form, her eye fixes on an object of interest and the decoding begins–the how of its creation.  A perpetual student, she learns technique.

Her paisley-esque ink “doodles,” reminiscent of henna tattoo patterns (which she has also mastered) have given rise to her collection of “coin” pendants, Strength, Courage and Wisdom which are now available online at her new Etsy boutique. Though pendulum typically highlights a bricks-and-mortar shop in the Talkin’ Shop feature, I wanted to spread the word to those like me who miss her presence on the scene since she closed her Park Slope emporium, Beryl, nearly two years ago.

True to the handcrafted ethic of Etsy, features artisanal jewelry  inspired by simple organic forms and crafted, carved or etched in Denise’s favorite rose gold (though also available in yellow, white or green gold.)  Her pieces are at their essence, spiritual in nature.  The powerful yet unobtrusive adornments, especially her pendants, are imbued with a talismanic quality that make them become never-take-them-off signature pieces.

Ink “doodle” courtesy of Denise Kerr.


Strength, Courage and Wisdom pendants,