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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A World of Emotions

A World of Emotions. Photo courtesy Onassis Cultural Center New York
By William Lynch

The humanities are the exploration of aspects of human culture—that which makes us human—often expressed in the arts, literature, and philosophy. BAM’s formal programmatic focus on the humanities goes back decades. Given its 156-year history and place in Brooklyn and American culture, BAM has roots in the pursuit of those genres going back to its founding. From its earliest days, the Academy offered lectures for local seamen’s and tradesmen’s associations, while well into the 20th century many great thinkers, explorers, and leaders held sway before a populace eager for civic engagement. Indeed, the Academy’s founders directly alluded to the concept and place of the academy in ancient Greece when selecting a name that would imply the notion of “ideas.”

In 2012, BAM forged a partnership with the Onassis Cultural Center New York (OCCNY), the respected midtown institution offering a continuing series of public exhibitions and programs committed to the discovery of Greek culture. Together, they continue to co-present conversations, master classes, and other special events exploring the underlying truths behind the artists and ideas presented on BAM’s stages as manifested in history, as well as current events affecting American culture today.

An early collaboration—a series of discussions offered under the title On Truth (and Lies)—featured philosopher and New York Times columnist Simon Critchley holding provocative dialogues on issues as diverse as war, suicide, myth, democracy, and feminism. In February 2012, Critchley spoke with social activist and scholar Cornel West. Their wide-ranging discourse, Faith of the Faithless, named after a newly published book by Critchley, looked at the role faith plays in our increasingly secular society. A video of the evening remains one of BAM’s most-watched talks.

Arundhati Roy. Photo courtesy of the artist
This spring, BAM and OCCNY are offering a number of programs in conjunction with OCCNY’s exhibition A World of Emotions: Ancient Greece, 700 BC—200 AD. Bringing to vivid life the emotions of the people of ancient Greece, and prompting questions about how we express, control, and manipulate feelings in our own society, the exhibition runs through June 24 at OCCNY.

In line with the world of emotions theme, The People Speak, an evening of readings and songs building on the work of historian Howard Zinn (1922—2010), took place in March. The People Speak highlighted little-known voices from America’s past, bringing to life the extraordinary expressions of ordinary people who built the movements which made our country what it is today. Some of today’s leading performers, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Talib Kweli, Frances McDormand, Stew, Martha Redbone, and David Strathairn gave voice in reading and song to rebels, dissenters, and visionaries who changed history, among them John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Helen Keller, Muhammad Ali, and Vito Russo. The rousing program attracted a rapt audience, inspiring a new generation of people working for social justice.

The continuing Unbound literary series this spring includes co-presentations of BAM, OCCNY, and Greenlight Bookstore, offers three contemporary female voices, prompting reflection on a range of emotions from differing feminist perspectives. In March, author and historian Rebecca Solnit launched her book, The Mother of All Questions, a follow-up to her bestselling Men Explain Things to Me. In conversation with art historian and photographer Teju Cole, Solnit explored misogynistic violence and the fragile masculinity of the literary canon.

The first of the season’s remaining programs on June 13 features Roxane Gay, The New York Times bestselling author of Bad Feminist. The event marks the release of her latest book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, which explores with candor and vulnerability her past—including the devastating formative act of violence experienced in her youth—and the realities, pains, and joys of her present daily life.

On Monday, June 19, acclaimed Indian writer Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, will read from The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, her first novel in 20 years (she will be introduced by Eve Ensler). In the intervening time, Roy continued to write but focused on a wide range of nonfiction. She’s re-engaged her considerable storytelling talents to tell a tale that transports the reader across the Indian subcontinent as her characters search for safety, meaning, home, and love. It’s another example of the humanities programs that allow us to explore the rich emotional textures of being human.

William Lynch is director of leadership gifts at BAM.

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