“What form of awareness do we need to turn around the destruction of the world?” asks poet, artist and filmmaker Cecilia Vicuña, Cornell’s 2015 Messenger Lecturer. “How can art and poetry become a force in the quest to create a new ecological sensibility based on our connectivity to the living world?” Cornell’s Department of Anthropology will host three performance lectures, including two by Vicuña, as part of “Poetic Performances from the Fringe”: Vicuña will perform “The Poem is the Animal” at 4:45 pm, April 28th and “Awareness is the Art:  Artists for Democracy and Other Stories” at 7 pm May 2nd.  Writer, scholar, and performer Qwo-Li Driskill will perform “Shaking Our Shells:  Cherokee Two-Spirit Lives” at 7:00 pm, May 1.  All three events will be held in the Film Forum at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts.  A reception will be held in Room 320 at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, following Vicuna’s May 2 performance.  These events are free and open to the public.


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Born in Chile, Vicuña is a pioneering artist and poet of indigenous and Basque lineage. The author of twenty poetry books, she is also a political activist and founding member of Artists for Democracy.  In her multilingual oral performances she weaves people and languages into an incantatory comunal song, destabilizing traditional boundaries and definitions. In “The Poem is the Animal”  Vicuña will retrace the origin of her poetic chants to the animal sounds and the ancient indigenous languages and philosophies of the Andes. In “Awareness is the Art: Artists for Democracy and other stories”, she will recount her co-founding of this collective movement in London in l974 in response to the military coup in Chile, and her ongoing work for the glaciers and water scarcity.

Driskill is a (non-citizen) Cherokee Two-Spirit scholar, educator, activist, and performer also of African, Irish, Lenape, Lumbee, and Osage ascent.  The author of Walking with Ghosts: Poems and co-editor of Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature, Driskill is an assistant professor of Queer Studies in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Oregon State University.

In addition to the public performances, Vicuña and Driskill will host workshops for a limited number of students. Vicuña’s workshop, “Poetry & Performance”, will be held April 29th, sharing some of the generative methods on which improvisational, collective and individual poetic performances are based.

Driskill’s workshop, “Unsettling Performance: Decolonization, Gender, and Sexuality”, will be held May 2nd.  Using interactive theatre and group discussion, this workshop will create a space to examine the entwined relationships between settler colonialism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia and imagine tactics of resistance for decolonial futures.

Space is limited and registration is required for both workshops.  Email ek61@cornell.edu to learn more.

These events are co-sponsored by the Messenger Lecture Program, Department of Anthropology; Department of Performing and Media Arts; The American Indian Program; and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.