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Yaji: Language & Identity

Our Yaji in May takes on the issue of language and identity. Three extraordinary artists will reveal their stories at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. From the lyrical poetry of hip hop artist Lady Zen, to the striking photography of the Beijing-born, Rockport-based photography Ni Rong, and the storytelling prowess of Portland-based writer, Frank O Smith, all of our featured artists walk paths and practices that weave between Eastern and Western traditions. 

Tues, May 12, 5:00pm-7:00pm

About the Speakers:

Lady Zen (aka Alzenira Quezada) is an internationally known lyric poet. She is a visionary force, possessing the powerful vocal agility of a mezzo-soprano and the prowess of vibrant storytelling. Her art combines the emotive tones of jazz; the soul stirring power of gospel; the drama and pageantry of Kabuki Theater and opera; and the swagger of Brazilian samba, with the mastery of new and old forms of poetry. She was a speaker at the 2014 TEDxDirigo: Mavericks and Misfits season, and appeared alongside actress Glenn Close for the Maine Center for Creativity Industries Awards. In June of 2014, she appeared #3 on the 100 Most Stylish dapperQs of 2014. Her work has been featured at Mother Tongue Monologues, the Biannual Butch Voices Conference, The Institute for Civic Leadership 20th Anniversary Gala, Creative Portland: Portland Framed Art Event and the NAACP MLK Day Celebration. Lady Zen was awarded a J. William Fulbright Scholarship in Opera Performance through the University of Arkansas, and a Community Service/Social Justice award through the University of Southern Maine. In her spare time, she volunteers with the Trans Youth Equality Foundation and founded the TransWorld Health Organization. She is a Zen Buddhist and currently lives in Portland, Maine, with her fiancée.

Ni Rong was born in China in 1957 and grew up in a Qing Dynasty courtyard in Beijing. The Cultural Revolution interrupted her elementary school education while Eastern and post-Communist cultures influenced her understanding of the world in her early life. After high school, she went to the countryside and worked as a farmer for three years in a remote mountainous area. In 1977, with the ending of Cultural Revolution, she entered Beijing Normal University where she studied biology. Ni Rong left China at the age of 28 and traveled to the United States for graduate school education. For the past 10 years, she has had a home in Rockport, Maine, which has deeply inspired her artistic practice. Her series In America−Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter is an ongoing personal project that investigates Asian-American identity through self-portraiture. Through this project, she has learned how profound the impact of her childhood upbringing was on her as an individual. She has developed a much deeper sense of appreciation for her hometown as well as the new home where she feels roots beneath her feet.  

Frank O Smith was raised in the West, lived in the South, and has resided in Maine for nearly 30 years. He is a writer, ghost-writer, and writing coach. He also teaches writing through the Maine College of Art (MECA) and the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance (MWPA), and is a regular contributor to the Maine Sunday Telegram Book section. His novel Dream Singer was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize, created “in support of a literature of social change.” It was named a Notable Book of the Year in Literary Fiction in 2014 by “Shelf Unbound.” At Yaji, Frank O Smith will share the story of his journey as a writer, but also as a Taoist—and how the two became inseparably interwoven. He did not intentionally set out to become a Taoist, nor to have Taoism infuse his writing—both in terms of his writing process, and also the very fabric of his stories. But it happened. Which is one of the marvels—and mysteries—he says, of what can happen when you’re open and responsive to the Tao. 

Moderators: Yaji co-curators Clare Tyrrell-Morin and Mei Selvage. 

Read more about Ya Ji here!

ICA at Maine College of Art, 522 Congress St, Portland, ME 04101
Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - 17:00 to 19:00