Author: Alexandra Madsen

Documentary recounts musicians’ recovery from Fukushima disaster

On the evening of Friday, April 15, the Tomson auditorium was filled with individuals taking time away from the 70-degree weather to watch a screening of the award winning documentary, Threshold: Whispers of Fukushima. A Q&A session with the film’s director, Toko Shiiki, and composer, Erik Santos followed the screening.

Shiiki and Santos began working on the documentary after the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power disaster. It was as an effort for Shiiki, who had moved away from Japan to study in America, to connect with her homeland and help the individuals of the area in anyway possible. After her departure from Japan to study in America, Shiiki felt distanced from her country and gradually began to think of Japan as a place she did not even know anymore.

“I decided to do this project. I thought this would allow me to reach out to actual people on a different level, and I could share the stories with others,” Shiiki wrote in an essay about her film. “Then actually, I could hear not just the stories of disasters, but also their life, their wisdom, and their music, which was a surprising gift for me.”

Shiiki began to visit Fukushima before filming to grasp what was going on within the communities and listened to the individuals’ voices in the area. She discovered that the people there were hesitant to talk to film makers – as many had come and told sensationalized stories of Fukushima.

However, by listening and taking time to experience other people’s situations, Shiiki was able to learn that the people of Fukushima were just trying to rebuild their lives together and were, in fact, thinking of the future.

The documentary is Shiiki’s first feature length film and it has been screened throughout the globe. Her husband, Erik Santos – a Chair of Composition faculty at the University of Michigan – was an active member of the film’s production. He also composed all of the music in the film with the help of local artists. The film highlighted several musicians in the Fukushima area and used them to tell the story of how individuals of Fukushima are using outlets such as music to move past the nuclear disaster of 2011.

“Perhaps this is not even really a movie about ‘Fukushima.’ Even if she shot it in Fukushima, the theme of the film is not ‘the accident’ nor ‘lost homes,’ rather, it is a fundamental human theme: ‘what is living one’s own life?’” author and cast member Yoshimitsu Takuki wrote about the film.

“Each individual has their own purpose in life … everyone is different from each other. Therefore, no one can truly say, ‘my way of living is right or yours is wrong,’”

he said.

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Student artist expands feminist dialogue

Look Again: Expanding Feminist Possibilities, an exhibition curated by senior art history major Taylor Davis ’16, will be on view in Groot Gallery in Dittmann until March 6. The exhibition celebrates the multiplicity of form and meaning found in feminist art, and includes work by Minnesota-based Hend Al-Mansour, Mary Bergs, Elizabeth Garvey, Jess Larson and Patricia Olson, as well as Sadie Benning, The Guerrilla Girls and Kiki Smith. The work engages with an array of theoretical concerns, and ranges in media from print, painting and video to installation, fiber and sculpture.

“These works defy narrow definitions, and range from highly political calls for gender equality to quitter reflections on women’s domestic production,” Davis wrote in an essay accompanying the exhibition. “They banish any misconception that feminist art is simplistic or otherwise restricted. Most significantly, this feminist exhibition strives to indict the art establishment’s sexist exclusion of art made by women.”

Davis curated the exhibition as a distinction project in lieu of the traditional extended paper. The exhibition is part of The Guerrilla Girls’ Twin Cities Takeover, which consists of exhibitions and events at over 20 arts and cultural organizations in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding cities. The Guerilla Girls is a group of anonymous art activists who have condemned the art establishment’s sexism and racism since the 1980s. The group’s Twin Cities Takeover is a collective effort to highlight inequalities, debunk stereotypes, expose hypocrisies and advocate for greater equality in the art world and beyond. One of the Guerrilla Girls’ posters, which asks, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” is featured in Look Again.

In the fall of last year, Davis began her curatorial project by reaching out to a number of Minnesota-based artists who feminist-inspired art. While doing research for the exhibition, she learned of Women’s Art Resource of Minnesota (WARM), which was founded in 1973 by a group of female artists. One of the individuals featured in this exhibition, Twin Cities-based artist Patricia Olson, was one of the founding members of WARM. Five of the artists in the exhibition are Minnesota-based, and Taylor was responsible for finding the artists, conducting studio visits and selecting the works for the exhibition.

“I visited the artists, talked with them about their work and their career, and then selected the works that best fit in the exhibition, ones that go well with each other, and then we figured out loan agreements,” Davis said.

One of the well-known artists included in the gallery is Kiki Smith, a printmaker and sculpture whose art explores new ways of depicting the human form, often reimagining traditional depictions of women. (Kiki Smith did not lend her print. The print is from Carleton’s Perlman Teaching Museum). Smith’s print, “Untitled (Hair),” was created from photocopied images of the artist’s hair. The print’s depiction of swirling, Medusa-like strands of hair rejects traditional standards of feminine beauty. The viewer is presented with a “self possessed, even menacing depiction of a woman that counteracts any attempt to objectify the female form it represents,” Davis writes.

Davis noted that the best part of her student curatorial work was working directly with the artists. She plans to pursue a curatorial career after graduation, and looks forward to working with contemporary art and artists. Curating this exhibition provided her an invaluable opportunity.

“I respect artists a lot because I believe they have a special ability to teach us about our world,” Davis said. “Art can give us a new perspective on the world, and allow us to see things in a new light. I learned an incredible amount working with the artists whose work is in this exhibition, and I’m grateful for the relationships that grew out of this project.”

One of the most important aspects of Davis’ exhibition is the diversity incorporated in the group of pieces. She hopes to emphasize that feminist art is diverse rather than limiting. It includes the intersection of many issues such as race, class and gender.

“I think one of the most significant things about feminist art is that it deals with something that is really important to our lives, which is gender,” Davis said. “Gender affects us all in very different ways, but throughout Western history, the art that has been considered ‘great’ has been created almost exclusively by white men. The work created by these men often presumed a heterosexual male viewer, and portrayed women as sexual objects rather than as strong, autonomous individuals. Feminist art challenges the objectification of women, and probes the meaning of gender.”

Look Again: Expanding Feminist Possibilities is open through March 6 and all are encouraged to visit the exhibition in Groot Gallery in Dittmann. An opening reception will be held on February 19 from 7-9 p.m., and Davis hopes to see many people there to experience the work that she is so excited to share with the St. Olaf community.

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Modern society spurs competition amongst women

A recent New York Times article discusses the difficult question of why women consistently feel the need to compete with each other, often through indirect aggression. The author, Emily V. Gordon, gives three possible explanations for this type of interaction. She first cites the theory in evolutionary psychology that women have the need to protect themselves and their bodies, creating aggression towards other women and an inherent desire to put them down.

Gordon then turns to feminist psychology, noting that this aggression may be a result of internalizing the patriarchy. When women see their worth and power as something that men hand out, they are likely to compete with other women to receive these gifts.

Her third theory is centered on female self-perception. She suggests that women are not really competing with other women, but are in fact competing with themselves. They tend to see themselves in the other women around them and are constantly reminded of figures that they feel are superior to them. This reflects a need for self-improvement and constant state of internal competition.

I agree with Gordon that these are all possible explanations for the competition between women. Yet, the more I thought about it and conversed with the women in my life, I began to see other possible reasons for this issue.

In everyday life women face various forms of oppression: individual, symbolic and instutional, to name a few. These manifest themselves in threats to safety, well-being and various racial/ethnic disparities, just to name a few.

To overcome these oppressions, women feel the need to compete with all those around them, but especailly their female peers. Because women deal with oppression on a nearly day-to-day basis, they feel the need to prove themselves and, as a result, can push others down in the process.

Gordon suggests that in order to avoid this competitive aggression, we must become “the dominant role in our own universe.” I agree with this; however, sometimes I think it is hard for women to see how much worth we have.

In order to combat this aggression towards each other, I think it is so important to be hyper-aware of the people around you and the ways you affect them.

It’s easy to not think about others, but one kind comment to a friend or stranger, rather than a comment tearing them down, can change the way that women interact. It may be a deep–seated problem that cannot be solved with one answer, but, on a daily basis, one person can change the way they interact with those around them.

Women can refuse to take each other down and instead band together to build each other up. By changing the way that we take care of the people around us, to constantly remind them of who they are and how much they are worth, we can begin to see ourselves as the dominant role in our own universe.

Alex Madsen ’18 ( is from Chicago, Ill. Her major is undecided.

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Survivor shares story

On Thursday, Oct. 22, St. Olaf Leaders Abolishing Slavery (SOLAS) brought Jennifer Gaines to St. Olaf to talk about her experiences in prostitution and sex trafficking and how she escaped. She stood tall on stage and shared her story with confidence. Gaines was so open and candid about her story that many were surprised when she revealed that it was her first time sharing her story with an audience.

SOLAS was founded a few years ago in an effort to combat human trafficking. The group works closely with anti-trafficking organizations in the Twin Cities such as Breaking Free and Historians Against Slavery. Through Breaking Free, a support network and safe place created for survivors by survivors, SOLAS was able to bring Gaines to St. Olaf to share her story. SOLAS President Kathryn Ravey ’16 was instrumental in bringing Gaines to campus. Ravey interned with Breaking Free this past summer and worked under Gaines during her internship.

“She has a really remarkable story,” Ravey said. “I think one of the best ways to get people interested in this issue is through stories. When I worked with victims, it was their stories and their personal accounts that made it all real for me. If I can bring that to campus and have people listen they would understand trafficking in a completely different way.”

Gaines was in the life of prostitution for 28 years. She was recruited by a trafficker less than 48 hours after she ran away from home during her parents’ divorce. Gaines was “boyfriended in,” meaning that her trafficker took advantage of her vulnerablity and made her feel loved and wanted. Through coercion, intimidation, manipulation and physical force, her trafficker brought her into the life of prostitution and controlled every aspect of it. Gaines was scared to leave her trafficker, and people in the outside world rejected her once they found out she was involved in prostitution. For a very long time it seemed as though there was no way out.

“Prostitution eats you from the inside out,” Gaines said. “I don’t think that being exploited is ever a choice.”

The room’s atmosphere shifted when Gaines began to talk about her children. Teary-eyed, she spoke affectionately about each of her four children and how her life in prostitution affected each child differently. They were active participants in getting her out of her impossibly difficult situation.

Gaines realized that something needed to change. She credits God with helping her get out of prostitution and find Breaking Free. The pieces began to fit together, and Gaines was finally the pilot of her own life. Ever since then, she has dedicated her life to helping other survivors know that there are people looking out for them.

“I always hear people say, ‘if Jenny can do it then so can I,’” Gaines said.

The talk ended with questions from the audience. Gaines shared her thoughts on the legalization of prostitution, the Nordic model and how her children are doing today. The decriminalization of prostitution is important to Gaines, since in almost all sex trafficking cases, prostitution is not a choice.

“No little girl says ‘when I grow up I really want to be a prostitute,’” Gaines said. “There is usually someone controlling that person’s life and they are all you have.”

The event was well attended, with many staying behind afterwards to thank Gaines for sharing her story. This was SOLAS’s first event of the year, and many more are on the way. Meetings are held every Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in one of the smaller Buntrock Commons rooms. Newcomers are welcome and encouraged to come to all meetings and events.

“I would like St. Olaf to come out of this discussion knowing the realities of prostitution,” Ravey said. “I also want to instill passion in people and have them care about this issue, and hopefully reach out to people who don’t know a lot about this issue.”

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Companydance springs into concert

From April 30 to May 2, St. Olaf Companydance put on its annual Spring Concert to showcase the hard work and talents of their dance department throughout the year. The styles and tones of the dances were all different, ranging from a more upbeat and fun swing, to very reflective and contemplative modern dances.

St. Olaf’s Companydance program is primarily modern dance based and is open to majors and non-majors alike. Casting was held in the fall. After casts were chosen, the dancers rehearsed all throughout the school year to perfect their pieces.

The show incorporated dances from Artist in Residence Anthony Roberts, Professor of Dance Janice Roberts, Assistant Professor of Dance Sherry Saterstrom, guest artist Karla Grotting and student works from Jacob John Borg ’17 and Nicole Volpe ’18. Cast members and choreographers worked all year to create and tweak their performances, and in some cases, these dances changed and evolved throughout the year.

Each dance had its own theme and message, with students working with their choreographers to create a dance that flowed as a group. The show started with an upbeat swing dance then moved to modern, a lyrical duet, a jazz influence piece and many other styles. With each dance, the audience was enthralled by the unique take on each style. Some dances elicited a more emotional response from members in the ensemble as well as the audience.

The show started with an upbeat swing dance that added a light and fun touch to the scene. Some dancers sat in audience seats and joined the performance as soon as the music started. The audience was suprised by the development at the begining of the show.

The second piece, “Threads,” was a culmination of student input and Anthony Robert’s choreography. The initial idea stemmed from a TED Talk called “Danger of a Single Story,” which grew and progressed into a larger story, incorporating the students’ experiences and lives. The piece had been crafted in two parts since the beginning of the school year to become a dance of many threads that all weaved in together.

A student-choreographed duet followed. The choreographer auditioned her piece a few weeks prior to the show, and was chosen to showcase her dance. The more lyrical dance told a story of two people torn away from each other, and the acceptance of their place in each other’s lives.

A dance choreographed by guest artist Grotting followed. The dynamic piece explored different styles from delicate to powerful, while highlighting relationship and friendships through each ones own experience.

The subsequent piece titled “Those Who Came” told a story from the first song to the last. The dance, featuring all women, was choreographed by Janice Roberts with creative inputs from the dancers. The atmosphere in the room became calm and content during the last song in which candles were brought out and the lights dimmed as the dance ended. It was an appropriate ending to a touching show.

The final student piece was choreographed and preformed by Borg. The piece titled “I” was choreographed as a reflection on the creator and his experience with dancing. Dance had always been a crucial part of his life, however it showed him finding a balance between himself as a dancer, and himself as a character within his dances.

The show ended with a lighter dance that incorporated New Orleans rhythms and eastern European instrumentation. In the piece, dancers found their own rhythm and ended the concert on a note of happiness and connection with others.

The dancers were happy with how the concert ended and all the hard work and effort put in throughout the school year. They enjoyed working with each faculty members and seeing their own unique styles shine through each piece.

“My favorite part was working though the dance together,” said Natalie Lovdal ’17, dancer in the piece “Threads.” “[Anthony Roberts’] work is so complex and intricate and interesting and I think I learned so much through the entire process. It made us think and gave us so much personal reflection as well as making us continue to ask questions. It was pretty great to be a part of.”


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