Old Bank raises local interest

Old Bank of Manhattan Queens Plaza

Old Bank of Manhattan Queens Plaza

The iconic Bank of Manhattan building on Queens Plaza was built in 1924 and was the first skyscraper in Long Island City. It stretches high above the highways and iron subways of the Ed Koch bridge intersections. The clock tower holds an intriguing light; you’re not sure if it is reflecting the sky, the trucks or the subway. It is in fact a light installation by artist Chris Jordan, “Locost Queue”, with moving shadows of people. It acts as a beacon for the community to enter (freely) the old bank entrance and walk around an exhibition created by “No Longer Empty” (www.nolongerempty.org), a community-oriented art organization that uses vacant real estate as venues for arts, experiential workshops and community activities.

"Push" - not an artwork, or is it?

“Push” – not an artwork, or is it?

Not content to just use the empty space the organizers have themed the exhibition around the building’s origins and offers opportunities for visitors to reflect on money, capitalism, Wall Street and international economics. They describe “How Much Do I Owe You?” as “a personal and conversational exploration into the new iterations of currency, value and exchange at this time of financial flux, growing debt and job insecurity.”

The main floor is the venue for activities and as also an arena for artwork around the walls , across the floor and hanging from the ceiling. They demonstrate the mix of metal, paper and organic objects that permeate the exhibition. Plants growing in tanks; dead leaves blowing like money; rice glowing in a maze on the floor, waiting to become the setting for a perfomance by the artist, Hayoon Jay Lee, at the end of the exhibition, after which the audience will be invited to btake the rice home in brown paper bags.

Shifting Landscape

Shifting Landscape

The huge bank vault is open, yet the ping pong table (Theodoros Stamatogiannis) blocked into the corridor highlights the inaccessibility and secrecy of much of the financial world.

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Downstairs within the vault we can see a movie, Vive Le Capital, 2010-2012, by Orit Ben-Shitrit, itself filmed in the former Bankers Trust building in Wall Street, framed by the circular metal door of the vault itself. The Bankers Trust was the scene of a much publicised investigation and trial into fraudulent activity in 1998, extracts from evidence are incorportated into the film along with visual and verbal references to the French Revolution and The Medici family.

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The works in this exhibition are presented from a range of artists from around the world, yet the exhibition also connects with the local community in promoting work on the theme produced by local school students. Schools from the five boroughs of New York City are represented by sculpture, drawings, paintings, film and multi-media that have been selected to be shown. They show the talent of youth, and their awareness of the issues the exhibition highlights. Students are also given opportunities to become involved in the exhibition as curators and docents.

Vladislav Smolyanskyy from Ed R Morrow High School

“Infinity” by Vladislav Smolyanskyy from Ed R Morrow High School

The space is also being used for a series of events, interactive and community focussed. Director of Programming and Associate Director, Jodie Dinapoli is keen to talk about the exhibition and encourages visitors of all ages to attend, not just to look but to also become involved.
Of the works offered, I was impressed most by a group of typewriters, wrapped in charcoal rubbings of tree bark patterns on washi, a Japanese wood pulp paper and encased in resin; these created by Japanese artist Keiko Miyamori, who typed the beginnings of phrases on the paper; also Guerra de la Paz ‘s Sealing the Deal, (2009) a full size Magritte-like coupling of two figures, clothed but disembodied, financial charmers with a reptilian exchange of bargains.

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I was very impressed by the quality of some of the students’ art, including some from local schools: Newcomers, and Long Island City High Schools. On duty when I visited were three student docents from The Academy of American Sciences, Frank Sinatra School of the Arts and Manhattan Hunter Science High School.

Student docentsIsabelle Montesinos, Alejandra Siguero and Natalie Bedon

Student docents
Isabelle Montesinos, Alejandra Siguero and Natalie Bedon

Guerra de la Paz ‘s "Sealing the Deal"

Guerra de la Paz ‘s “Sealing the Deal”

The exhibition continues through March 13. Check out www.nolongerempty.org.

This article is an extended version of one previously published in www.licspot.com , an excellent local news blog

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Exciting New Ventures in LIC

As new towers grow from this previously industrial area, new artistic endeavors and new businesses are developing. In this edition of my blog I’m reposting some short pieces covering, Art, Yoga, Style and Food recently published in www.licspot.com, an excellent news blog that serves the local community well. I’m also reviewing a new literary venture at the LIC Bar.

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LIC Bar, (www.licbar.com)at 46th and Vernon, is recovering well from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. It is famous for its regular music evenings, but less well known are those shows that involve the spoken word. Last Sunday, January 27th, LIC-born local writer Audrey Dimola presented “Nature of the Muse”, an evening of fireside reading and ”live writing” featuring herself and four featured writers (plus a special musical guest) built around readings and improvised writing. Queens- based writers Michael Alpiner, Sweta Srivastava Vikram, Michael Stahl and Carrie Noel  joined Audrey, and talented musician Ace Elijah in performances of their own work and an interesting spin on this in the form of improvised writing.

Audrey is excited by this first event that she has developed by herself, with the encouragement of music curator Gus Rodriguez. She met most of the writers at “Boundless Tales” a regular reading event at the Waltz-Astoria (www.boundlesstales.blogspot.com).

Before the event Audrey described the improvised part of the show:

“Members of the audience will be asked to write a little writing prompt on a piece of paper, anything, and they will be put in a pool and the writers, including myself, will each pull one out; two if they’re feeling dangerous, and they will write live with just ten minutes to prepare, presenting it to the audience afterwards.”

The setting for this intimate show was the Carriage House, at the other end of the courtyard from the bar. Regular attendees will recognise this as the setting for Ali Silva’s “Fireside Ghost Stories” and live performances of radio “Suspense” plays. In this tradition what was a cold winter’s night was warmed by a fire in the grate, drinks from the bar and the creative spirits of those involved. The place was full to overflowing, with some late-comers turned away for lack of space.

I’m not necessarily the best person to review an event like this, I take a while to digest poetry. The poet takes me into a world that they have created and I spend a while listening and then processing the thoughts and feelings that are generated. So one writer after another doesn’t always suit me, I’m still in the last piece when the next one starts.

Music is different, at least most music. The singer songwriter Ace Elijah (www.acemusiconline.com) gave us three songs that were carefully crafted and sung in a rather understated style that matched an evening by the fire. Singing with just a simple nylon stringed guitar his songs recalled songwriters from earlier times, especially the mid 20th century; the heyday of crooners like Frank Sinatra and smooth soul singers like Ray Charles. Presented at three points in the evening these were a good balance to the spoken words that filled rest of the time. Hear Ace singing Dead Guy Blues.

Ace Elijah

Ace Elijah

The four main presenters exemplified a range of poetic voices and themes. Birthday Boy Michael Stahl hid his talents behind a screen of mundanity as he read a prose piece themed around his adolescent obsession with mixtapes, using this to provoke laughter from audience members (who presumably shared some of this experience) and to reflect on changes in the way that commercial music is promulgated these days, Spotify and itunes playlists are not the same as the gift of a mixtape. Check out Michael Stahl ‘s improvised poem and his website (www.thedefacedwrittenword.com)

Indian poet Sweta Srivastava Vikram (www.swetavikram.com) treated us to poems from already and soon-to-be published books of her works. She is an award-winning writer who has been twice nominated for a Pushcart prize. She grew up in India, North Africa and the United States and her international experiences as both a child and an adult have influenced her writings. The poems this evening had serious themes, especially around feminity and family disruption, and were very well crafted, delivering important messages as well as entertaining. Hear her reading: Poem

Local writer Michael Alpiner has been poet in residence at the Louis Armstrong Museum in Corona. The work read this evening showed us why he has a position of status within the local literary community. Graduating with a MFA from Queens College in 2010 his work appears in print and onlne journals. He was featured at last year’s NYC Poetry festival. This evening he delivered poems that frequented illness and death and demonstrated his skill in synthesizing the essential nature of human emotions, thought and actions in ways that delivered humour, shock and pathos. Check out  Michael Alpiner reading.

Last to read was Carrie Noel, a young writer with great promise. She delivered sometimes hard-hitting verse, reflecting on family loss, childhood and youthful relationships showing  skill with words and an ability to connect with an audience, even if her delivery was a little fast at times. As she said, she doesn’t often write “happy crap” for people and her words were quite direct, especially towards men when recalling relationships that didn’t work out. Check her out on Facebook under her name. Hear Carrie Noel’s  improvised poem.

Carrie Noel

Carrie Noel

Great skill was also demonstrated by all five writers present as they read their “improvised” works, created in response to prompts from the audience. Each had ten minutes (or less) to create their piece, sometimes two. All were excellent and great examples of how an artist in words may draw on “the Muse” in settings as unlikely as a Victorian Bar in Long Island City.

Although Audrey Dimola had created the show, and offered an introduction, this was the only opportunity she had to show her work, so she read some of her own poems and then two improvised pieces on the themes “Funny Money” and “Sex”, all four showed the depth of her skills as a writer.

Check out Audrey reading her improvised poem ” Funny Money 

This was an evening for the writers and their audience. From the camaraderie in the room I suspect that many knew each other, and this gave an intimate, almost party-like atmosphere to an evening that progressed well beyond its published ending to the obvious enjoyment of those present.

Long Island City – and Queens as a whole – can always use more opportunities for writers and poets to air their work. Audrey hopes that that this will be the first of many similar evenings at LIC Bar and new locations around the neighborhood. For other literary ventures in the neighborhood  check out the aforementioned Boundless Tales reading series (www.boundlesstales.blogspot.com): Queens own literary journal “Newtown Literary” ( http://www.newtownliterary.org ), the open mic events at Waltz Astoria (www.waltz-astoria.com), Jackson Heights Poetry festival’s first Tuesday’s reading series and open mic (www.jacksonheightspoetry.wordpress.com) and the “Oh Bernice” reading series in Sunnyside (www.ohbernice.com).

Audrey Dimola

Audrey Dimola

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Eduardo Anievas in his studio

Eduardo Anievas in his studio

You might recognise Eduardo Anievas’ paintings from their occasional placements in galleries and shop windows around LIC. He has had studios in Hunters Point for three years and recently moved from a large loft area on 5th Street to a smaller, ground level, space at 48th Avenue, between Vernon Boulevard and 11th Street. This position makes his work more visible and accessible to passers-by.

To show his work Eduardo has shifted from extravagant, sangria-laced “Open Studio Series” events in the loft space to making his new studio open for walk-ins on Saturdays from 1 – 6pm. Whilst this might seem daunting to those who might not know what to say to an artist in his workplace I can reassure you that Eduardo will welcome you warmly into this space and may even let you in at other times, if you just knock at his window.

Eduardo comes originally from Santander in Northern Spain, just an hour’s drive from the famous Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. He has been in the US for some 14 years, and is now married (to an American, Elizabeth, a performance artist), with a daughter due in June. His work has been shown in galleries in Europe and the US but he now prefers to sell his paintings directly via personal contact, local exhibition and the internet.

As an artist you can immediately tell that Eduardo has excellent skill and credentials from his portrait of the Spanish actor, Fernando Fernán Gómez that hangs in the studio. This is not for sale and has been carried around from country to country as a kind of artistic passport that shows how well he can paint in a realistic style. However, his work shows strong stylistic variation with, as a common theme of equal emphasis on figure and background.

Eduardo's portrait of his wife Elizabeth

Eduardo’s portrait of his wife Elizabeth

A look at the paintings on his wall, as well as his website, shows that Eduardo has created a “signature” style of figures in silhouette against a range of backgrounds. Although he has painted these for 16 years they have developed and create different emotional impacts that derive from varied conjunctions of people, colors and backgrounds; sometimes geometric and sometimes more organic. These, however, are only a proportion of his work and a tour of his studio will show his range of subject matter and style.

I especially enjoyed Eduardo’s portraits and his representations of the female form whether nudes, in portrait or in formal poses; many of which have great energy. Some have flamenco as their theme. Others, more subtly, convey powerful abstract energies that surround the female figures in ways that suggest dance. Some paintings convey a quieter mood, especially that of a reclining nude, which has a calmness that allows the beauty of the form to stand apart from its background.

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In the end Eduardo’s work must be seen to be appreciated. You can see more examples of Eduardo’s work on his website www.eduardoanievas.com, or visit him at 1015 48th Avenue, Hunter’s Point.

His studio is open, try knocking.

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Pranavah Yoga is a new studio created by Carolyn McPherson at 47-46 Vernon Boulevard (entrance around the corner on 48th Ave., 3rd floor). Combining her own and others’ talents in teaching a range of Yoga practices the space offers a range of classes and individual sessions for the local community.

Carolyn is committed to both the practice and philosophy of Yoga, seeing it as something that benefits adults and children, as well as families, workplaces and communities. Amongst other groups the center offers pre and post-natal classes and workshops for parents and children. She sees this as practical skill building and an investment in the wellbeing of future generations and recalls positive feedback from mothers that the yoga helped them to deal with pre-birth physical aches and pains, the birth process and recovery.

Originally from San Francisco, Carolyn has lived in the neighborhood for some years and is well known for the classes she has taught in local fitness centers, such as that at the recently flooded Powerhouse rental building. This new venture offers a central location for her own and others’ classes. It will become a focus for both walk-in and planned attendance. For some this can be a life-changing encounter with techniques that have their origins in ancient Eastern meditative arts, benefiting mind, body and spirit. Although often associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, Yoga, or more specifically Hatha Yoga in this case, requires no specific religious commitment.

Carolyn’s background is originally dance, she recalls always having had an interest in her body and wellness, an interest which eventually led her to seek formal training as a yoga teacher. She recognises that yogic breathing, posture and exercises can be taught across a wide age range and can therefore be of value to everybody. She explains that “Pranavah is the sound vibration when chanting the sacred sound of Om”. Breathing is central to living, and good purposeful breathing is a key to wellness. It isn’t surprising, therefore, that the group of teachers that Carolyn has brought together includes singers and musicians.

Carolyn McPherson

Carolyn McPherson

The studio space has a sense of peace and tranquillity. The simplicity of the plain wood floor is balanced by plain walls with nicely chosen artwork and quotations. This is a place to leave the world behind, and an experience to take with you when you leave; to carry in your mind and body through busy days at work or with family.

For more information check out the website:

www.pranavahyoga.com

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LIC: Living is a style store, what is sometimes called a boutique; a space where design and ethical integrity reign supreme over a wide range of household articles, adults’ and children’s clothes, toys, cards and art. Opened by LIC neighbours Rebekah Witzke and Jillian Tangen in November last year, this small shop at 535, 51st Street, just up from Vernon Boulevard, offers pleasing colour and design variation that draws stock mainly from small producers in the US and Scandinavia, countries that reflect the national origins of these two innovative women. This is a different kind of store for LIC; reflecting, perhaps, the demographic shifts over the past few years. It is also in a part of Hunters Point that is traditionally difficult for traders; just off Vernon Boulevard and away from the walk-to-subway routes from the condos and rentals that have recently populated the Center Boulevard area. Yet it is worth the diversion, with a mix of goods for sale that offers options for gifts as well as stylish necessities.

Maritime-themed  tableware

Maritime-themed tableware

There is design continuity to this store, even though its stock shows wide variation. Steel cocktail shakers mix with maritime-themed plates; colourful melamine tableware with children’s clothes; books and games with attractively patterned women’s clothes. The stock is displayed with an eye for co-ordination; items must be beautiful as well as useful.

I was interested to see that the owners have teamed up with an artist friend, Mic Boekelmann, to show some of her artwork based on LIC water views, including the iconic Pepsi sign, a view that will soon be unavailable as the last of Cornerstone’s rental buildings rises behind it. Mic is a Philippine born and German raised artist from New Jersey who curates a collaborative artistic community. I was especially impressed by her portraits, not on view here, but visible on her website www.micbstudio.com.

Rebekah Witzke, co-proprieter with a painting by Mic Boekelmann in the background

Rebekah Witzke, co-proprieter with a painting by Mic Boekelmann in the background

LIC: Living also has a website: www.licliving.com, through which their stock may be viewed and ordered online.

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An Indian Jewel in the Heart of LIC

Long Island City has a wide choice of Italian, French, Latin and Asian (S.E. and Chinese) restaurants to balance the range of burger joints, diners, and delis that populate its various neighborhoods. Other cuisines are less well represented, so it was with some delight that a friend told me about a recently opened Indian restaurant close to Court Square.

Aanchal sits on 23rd Street, just behind the Court Square Diner. Its decor has that authentic mix of Indian simplicity (plain wood tables) and faux luxury (moquette and wooden panels); together with unobtrusive TV screens showing Bollywood music videos, with the sound turned down to a level that allowed conversation. We arrived around 8:30pm and there was a lively Indian family celebration at one end of the restaurant. Although the waiter was apologetic we took this as a good sign. We were greeted well and served immediately with complimentary papadoms and sauces. There is no drinks menu, though, as the restaurant is not licensed.

Aanchal has a very varied menu which offers much more than the traditional western favourites of Tikka masalas, Kormas, Tandooris and the ubiquitous butter chicken. We chose a Tandoori Murgh Ke Tikke ($11.95) fenugreek flavored marinated chicken, and Lamb Roganjosh ($14.95). The waiter kindly let us know that the chicken is a “dry” dish, but we were prepared for that and would share our dishes, also ordering a bowl of raita ($2 –a cooling mix of yogurt, cucumber and herbs) and a garlic naan bread ($3.95). We were told to expect a 10-15 minute wait; always a good sign that the meal will be freshly prepared (not that this is a major issue with curries, but it’s good to have fresh herbs and spices, when appropriate), and were offered another round of papads by the observant waiter, noticing our swift demolition of the first round.

Murgh Ke Tikke

Murgh Ke Tikke

The dishes arrived together (as they should) and we enjoyed the range of tastes offered, complemented by the naan, rice and raita. The naan was especially good, clearly freshly cooked, moist and with a flavorsome mix of garlic, herbs and spices. Whilst we had asked for the lamb to be “spicy”, I suspect that they toned down Indian spicy to what they considered Western tastes, so if you want it “hot” make it clear. The chicken was moist and subtly flavoured, the red of the Tandoori spice contrasted with the green garnish (fenugreek leaves, no, more likely to be parsley?) and offered a dish that pleased the eyes as well as the palate. We finished off the lamb but there was enough chicken and rice left to be packed up for a trip home, to be enjoyed the next day (which it was!).

We will definitely return to Aanchal. If you like Indian food this place is as authentic as you’ll get this side of Curry Hill, and easier to get to for Queens residents; those on Manhattan who live close to the E, M and 7 lines and our neighbours in Brooklyn who are near to the G.

Aamchal also deliver and offer what looks like a tempting “All You Can Eat” lunch buffet for $9.99.

”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

Japanese Arts in LIC

RESOBOX (www.resobox.com) is an exciting arts venture on 27th Street just north of Queens Plaza. Owned by Takashi Ikezawa and Fumio Tashiro, this small space offers a range of classes, exhibitions and performance events that have their roots in Japanese culture and a spirit of creative collaboration which draws from the owners’ philosophical, musical and business backgrounds. The name “Reso Box” reflects the owner’s wish for the space to be a box within which artistic ventures may resonate with each other and form unique creations, some of which may be “of the moment” in the form of improvisations involving musicians, dancers,  fine artists and others offering finished artwork which may be exhibited and purchased.

Takashi Ikezawa and Fumio Tashiro, co-owners of ResoBox

Takashi Ikezawa and Fumio Tashiro, co-owners of ResoBox

Fumio Tashiro ( http://www.myspace.com/bombsun) was born in Kumamoto, Japan and moved to the US in 1991 to challenge himself as a musician. He plays upright bass and creates original musical compositions, he is also well known on the New York Jazz scene under his stage name “Bomb Sun”,  with solid skills in experimental improvisation. He is especially interseted in creating synergies between artists across genres, including the visual arts, with strong links to celebrations of Japanese cultural expressions. He originated the RESOBOX project in 2009 and is currently CEO.

Takashi Ikezawa, the Manager of RESOBOX has a background in Wall Street finance and, artistically as a violinist (although he does not see himself as a professional musician he acknowledges his links, as a player,with jazz and experimental music). He and Fumio opened the gallery in June 2011 and together they have enabled classes to be offered to people who have ranged in age from 4 to 75 years old, they have also had synergistic, improvised events, most recently involving Shakuhachi (flute), painters, Butoh dancers and Fumio’s bass. They usually have exhibitions every 3 weeks and prefer group shows to be more collaborations rather than exhibitions of individual artists: “Let them work together to make one, or several pieces and present those as a different kind of group exhibition”. RESOBOX hopes to open a second gallery in Manhattan in the next year.

Currently the space is occupied by an exhibition of art from Japanese born and Queens resident Ayakoh Furukawa (http://www.ayakohfurukawa.net) . “Who Was Not Created By A Woman?” is a collection of pieces that demonstrate the artist’s craft in drawing, painting and knitting, all presented with an emphasis on themes around femininity, in its social, spiritual, psychological and political dimensions. Most striking in the exhibition is a set of knitted (or are they crocheted) vaginas, each of which present aspects of femininity, sometimes entertaining and humorous and sometimes striking in their beauty. “Knitting is soft and warm, like your mother”, she says as she presents these 12 larger than life, pieces.

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Also offered are drawings of women and children, created by the artist from texts which are repeated to form the lines and shades of these often life-size images. Furukawa takes her short texts from a range of sources: herself, Coco Chanel, Mother Teresa and Oprah Winfrey and weaves them into images that are, themselves, quite beautiful, and then, when you get close to read them, more meaningful through the conjunction of text and image. “You can compare the image and the words and make your own conclusions”.

Most interesting were her full length text drawings of women and children from Thai mountain peoples, who, like some African women, wear rings as collars from childhood, extending their necks in ways that betray a kind of bondage, but also, via tourism, give these women the power to earn in ways that their men folk cannot: “…it looks like they are trapped in a coil, but in reality they make a lot of money for their family”.

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“The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty” – Mother Teresa

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In a large text drawing of the Japanese god Amaterasu, ruler of the sun and heavens and opponent of her brother Tsukuyomi, the god of the moon and ruler of the night, Furukawa uses her own text to create a figure which, to me, showed stylistic influences that were Oriental, Indian and European-Classical. For her text she writes: “Mother I have been inside of you for ten months and listened to your heartbeat in every moment of your life, you created this perfect shrine for my soul, my body is an entity of the ancient secrets of life that your womb remembers“, and in doing so makes homage to motherhood, femininity and, what Jung called the “Collective Unconscious”.

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Ayakoh Furukawa

Furukawa also shows her skill in as a painter with two paintings with a “Little Red Riding Hood” theme, where the young girl is seen, in one, with her foot on the wolf’s tail, and in another, having tamed the wolf. These paintings combine images of 18th century romantic encounters, where the male is seen as the powerful seducer, with elements that draw upon  rural designs that have their origins in wallpaper, and, in her own admission, a shower curtain. In describing these works Furukawa voices her awareness of children’s sexual vulnerability and the destructiveness of male violence.   Yet the themes of the paintings, to me, are of the woman rising above histories of abuse and powerlessness and facing her assailants with compassion, rather than animosity.

Little Red Riding Hood Tames the Wolf

Little Red Riding Hood Tames the Wolf

The above painting reminds me of the scene in “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, where the fox acknowledges his  taming, and agrees to be tamed. In that way his power and strength do not become subserviant. So, in this painting, a culture of oppression and abuse does not persist, and is replaced by one of freedom, compassion and collaboration.

 “Who Was Not Created By A Woman” can be viewed at RESOBOX, 41-26, 27th Street, LIC, NY 11101 until February 1st.
Reso Box also offers classes for adults and children in: Japanese Classical Dance, Okinawan Dance, Samurai Sword, Ink Painting, illustration, Karate and Stick Fighting. Check out www.resobox.com.