July 14th recognized as the official Day of Memory for Women and Girls Killed in the Name of Honor in the UK

We hope you had a moment of silence today to support the first ever Day of Memory for Women and Girls Killed in the Name of Honor which is now formally recognized in the UK. We must not forget the individuals and their families that have been personally affected by these criminal traditions! Let’s join together and get this day nationally recognized and observed here in the United States!

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/day-remembrance-women-killed-honour-based-9644825

“This is a war that is being fought on the bodies of women”

The dehumanization of woman is constantly being shared with us through the media related to the conflict in the Middle East. In recent days the behavior of using women as a commodity has been brought to attention in the press. The Guardian spoke with Zainab Bangura the US envoy on sexual violence and she declared, “this is a war that is being fought on the bodies of women”. After a recent trip to Iraq and Syria in April she confirmed that young women are abducted, sexually assaulted and abused, and then used as currency. She stated that women could be sold for as little as a pack of cigarettes or up to several thousand dollars. Isis uses these women as an incentive for recruiting young men to join their cause.

To read the complete article: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/09/isis-slave-markets-sell-girls-for-as-little-as-a-pack-of-cigarettes-un-envoy-says

When not being used as currency women are being treated like a stuffed animal in a vending machine and are given away as prizes. During the time of Ramadan, Quran memorizing contests are a common occurrence. The Islamic State recently put out an advertisement in Al-Barakah province in Syria for a Quran memorizing contest, there was a list of suras, followed by the prizes for those who did the best; instead of a monetary prize like the rest of the participants the first three prize winners will receive a slave girl. These poor young women, who have suffered, abduction, assault, and abuse will be distributed to winners like gold fish at the state fair. When we turn on the news and see the turmoil in the Middle East we get caught up in the political and militaristic aspects of this conflict. We must remember these women; these are the women who remain voiceless for whom we must fight.

To read the complete article: http://www.clarionproject.org/news/memorize-quran-get-free-slave-girl-isis-competition

Human rights activist and “Honor Diaries” participant Jasvinder Sanghera, recently toured in the U.S. She resides in Britain and has made great strides for the awareness of honor violence overseas, her plea while in the United States, was for the president and the population to become more aware that these crimes do occur here; we cannot brush off these abuses as “cultural practices” of immigrants. We must pay attention and become aware of these issues in order to save lives. She recently celebrated a victory in the UK having Prime Minister David Cameron designate July 14th as National Remembrance Day for Honor Victims. Here’s hoping that President Obama will nationally recognize that day here! In any case on July 14th The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions team and our friends will be remembering the victims of honor violence and using their stories as fuel to keep fighting for worldwide  awareness of honor violence and the recognition of human rights for all.

To read the complete article and listen to Jasvinder’s interview: http://www.wnd.com/2015/05/honor-violence-a-huge-problem-in-u-s/

Address for North Central College’s “Friends of the Arts”- March 29th, 2015

Hello everyone and thank you for having me here today, I am Sydney Pacha a writer and producer for The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions, a fine art exhibition created to raise awareness of global criminal traditions. Criminal traditions are ancient ongoing rituals that kill or maim millions each year yet are rarely considered crimes; they include such things as honor killing, child marriage, acid attacks, bride burning, human trafficking and more.

The goal of the Art of Influence is to create awareness of these issues that occur both abroad and domestically. We seek to make institutional change starting with current and future policy influencers found in educational institutions and public figures, such as, seated politicians and the community at large.

The Breaking Criminal Traditions team is composed of Cheryl Jefferson the founder and executive producer, Richard Laurent producer and featured artist, Charles Gneich an accomplished curator, and myself a writer and producer, also the creator of the Breaking Criminal Traditions online forum. Through these various disciplines we hope to combine our experiences into a cohesive message of awareness and change.

I first became involved with The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions just like you folks here today. I visited the inaugural display at the Kent College of Law at IIT in Chicago as a work related field trip with the gallery director Nickole Lanham and several other student workers. At the time I was in my final term at North Central getting ready to graduate early that fall and was looking for a step to take after graduation.

Upon seeing the exhibit, I became enamored with the quality of work and after speaking with the Breaking Criminal Traditions team I was blown away.  As an art history student I have seen a lot of exhibitions, but personally my encounter with the show at Kent College was the first time I had ever seen an exhibit that had such a clearly focused and important message to share with the world. This show really made me think and to this day I cannot forget the first time I saw these works and began this important discussion.

Upon graduating from North Central I was working, however, not in my field, and felt a hole in my life, a hole that needed to be filled with meaningful work. I kept coming back to the Art of Influence exhibit. Eventually with the support of Nickole I mustered up the courage to email Cheryl Jefferson and see if she and the Breaking Criminal Traditions team needed any help with the growing exhibit; luckily for me she was searching for extra help and people to keep this project moving forward and I have been working with Breaking Criminal Traditions for a year this April.

For those of you who are not familiar with how this movement began it all started when Cheryl Jefferson was reading an article in Elle magazine in the lobby of her belly dance class. She came across an essay addressing the topic of honor killing and honor culture. The barbarity she read about sparked her interest in this topic and she began her research. At this time she was at a critical point in her personal life after a deep loss, so she devoted herself to making the world a better place and declared she would do it through art. She began this movement with a Ted Talk in 2013 and the exhibit has been on display in four locations with numerous events to support the art and the message of the exhibit. It is a privilege to be a part of this wonderful group of activists and artists who are searching to make change in a chaotic world.

Celebrated playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable”, The Art of Influence utilizes the beauty of art to inform people of the crudeness that is present in our world. With the amazing efforts of Charles Gniech the art of influence utilizes pieces that have not  been necessarily created for this exhibit but have a nuanced relation with the topics we discuss, and are provided with greater meaning by being put into this context.

Like George Bernard Shaw, the Art of Influence believes that art is a great way to educate society about issues that are present in their daily lives, as well as, on a global level. We see things on a daily basis that can be categorized as criminal traditions; human trafficking is constantly on the news, acid attacks are increasing in number all over the world, honor killing cases are going to trial in north America, and we’ve seen in the last few weeks the damage that ISIS has down to the museums, monuments, and arts of the Middle East.  It is important to understand that ISIS is destroying these artifacts because they understand the power art has in conveying messages to the public. These radicals want to destroy history and inhibit awareness in order to control a society. Information and education are the most effective ways in combating tyrannical rule, and we educate through art.

Cheryl Jefferson, the founder of The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions put it best when she told me, “if the pathway to access is beautiful, that contrast, that duality, makes the ultimate truth of these topics even stronger”; the beauty of using art to educate is that people can see whatever they want to. People can choose to take things at face value and walk away after contemplating the work for a little while, or they can dig in like Nickole and I did, learn as much as they can, and in turn help to educate their community.  Whether interest is passing or everlasting the important thing is that the message is out there and waiting to be received. Whether this exhibit is considered for ten minutes or ten years the visitor is better educated when they walk out than they were before they came in.

That is why we are so fortunate to partner with educational institutions such as North Central College. As a student at North Central I studied art history and anthropology and always admired how interdisciplinary the curriculum was. Whether it was sociology, biology, or religion there was always a connection and with the college’s major focus on human rights as part of its curriculum, this exhibit was a sure fit for this campus. We have done a series of events in conjunction with the exhibit that included several panel discussions, a dance performance, as well as, two viewings of the documentary “Honor Diaries”, a tale of nine Middle Eastern women fighting for change in the world.  We were fortunate enough to have Zainab Khan, one of the nine women profiled in the film join us for an enlightening panel discussion, along with North Central’s own Dr. Carlene Sipma-Dysico, professor of sociology, who was gracious enough to participate in both panels and was the perfect example of North Central’s interdisciplinary focus. North Central is always a staunch supporter of the arts, which is why we are all here today, and we would like to thank you all for promoting a different form of education and awareness.

The Art of Influence team seeks to continually educate themselves in order to better educate our communities. I was recently at an event at Hull House at UIC for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. As part of the introduction for the day there was to be a performance by a young poet. While setting up to begin, she was having some technical difficulties with her loop peddle, her reaction was perfect, she declared, “It’s alright my voice is an instrument”. This nonchalant statement struck me because this is so true, our voices are an instrument, whether for art or for change. This exhibit seeks to provide the community with education and awareness, but we all need to utilize our instruments to continue the message that we cannot ignore the dehumanization of our world. This message is echoed in many of the works on display in the exhibit such as the sculpture of Paula Kloczkowski Luberda which addresses the anxiety and fear we have acting in society, as well as, the message that we are in essence all the same. We are all humans and we need to speak up for those who may be silenced. This movement is a plea to accept our social obligation to care for one another. Cheryl Jefferson, the founder of the Art of Influence, had a lot of success in the entertainment industry but upon losing her sister she decided to “redefine her definition of success” and that is how she started this project, she wanted to make a difference and include others in her definition of success, which is something we all need to do.

While at this conference, Noble Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, urged us to remember that there are more good people in this world than evil and that we need to understand this as we work with the horrors present in this world. She also made the point to encourage us to not just think locally, but to consider those who struggle around the globe, as well. There are women in this world who struggle everyday for safety and survival, who speak out at risk of their lives. We need to use our instruments to amplify the cries of these people who are the boots on the ground, those that fight everyday for the rights with which we are so fortunately blessed.

We can build solidarity through art; we can stick together with this communal message of understanding and change. And through these works of art we promote that peace is attainable and sustainable, nonviolence is not inaction and education is a weapon most powerful. Through these works of art we remember the tragedy that occurred almost a year ago when over 300 Nigerian girls were taken from their school and have still not been returned home or located; after a barrage of publicity these young women quickly vanished from the media and everyone went back to tweeting about Kim Kardashian. Girls like these fight every day, and risk their lives for education, because education is power and we need to empower our current students with the knowledge and will to not take the world as it is but to make it as it should be. That is why we need people to see this art, to remember what is quickly forgotten and not let passing headlines turn into statistics, but to fight for those everyday that would otherwise be forgotten. There is so much progress that needs to be made and we need to think on the scale of human rights worldwide.

At this conference surrounded by 50 of the most passionate women from all over the country we were asked to use one word to describe human rights in 2015 either positive things that have been accomplished or goals we still need to strive for; the words that kept coming up were words like: awareness, empathy, motivation, education, creativity, compassion, solidarity, community, collaboration, love, cooperation, responsibility and perseverance. The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions seeks to use all of these ideals to spread the stories of those struggling with human rights in this world and encourage change.  The young poet who was present at this conference, Jasmine Barber, said (we need to), “Take every brick they left on your chest and build a wishing well”; we need to use all the negativity that is present in the world as a tool to educate society and create hope for a world that may be currently lost.

The arts can do that, Gilbert K. Chesterton said, “Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere”. We need to draw the line of what we will accept in this world and remember that we are all in essence the same, we are all human, we all need and crave the same basic things, which is something that should unite us. We need to conduct ourselves with ethics and integrity and speak up for those whose voice is lost. That is the beauty of art, whether it’s dancing like our friend noted middle eastern dancer and choreographer Jasmin Jahal, painting like our wonderful artists on display in this room, or writing an online discussion to keep these principles in mind, we need to remember those words; awareness, compassion, solidarity and responsibility because we can demand the world to see us and we can create change.

Thank you

Sydney Pacha

-writer/producer-

“Betty White and a Fine Wine”: A conversation with noted artist Paula Kloczkowski Luberda”

Paula Kloczkowski Luberda is an artist local to Naperville who will be featured prominently in The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions, the upcoming exhibit at The Schoenherr Gallery, North Central College, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville February 9th through April 4th 2015. I was fortunate enough to visit with the artist at home and learn what inspires her to make such insightful artwork.

Paula has been interested in art from a very young age. She recalls sitting on the curb of her neighborhood as a child making sculptures from the mud. Paula believes people are born with an artistic inclination but also believes her skill may come from her artist father who passed away early in her life. Paula did not begin her formal education in the arts until later in life when she attended the College of Dupage where she earned her associates in Advertising, Design, & Illustration along with classes in painting and sculpture. In that artistic environment, Paula discovered, “all the things I thought and felt had words for them”. She continued adding to her artistic vocabulary, gaining her Fine Art degree in 2001 from the University of St. Francis, all the while being a working mother.

After seeing the collection of work in Paula’s home, one gets the impression that she does not like to pigeonhole her-self into one particular medium. She has worked in oil paint, multimedia, drawing, clay, and stoneware. She has mastered the patina technique and is currently working in sculpture. Paula describes sculpture as something that is “intuitive”, whereas painting is something “cerebral”. Paula’s intuition is evident in her sculptural work, specifically the works in The Breaking Criminal Traditions exhibit that depict different concepts of power and control in varying relationships. The pieces in this series convey an emotional reaction and immediate connection to power struggles and some of life’s most overwhelming situations. These pieces also have a beautiful fluidity in the figures and a relatable androgyny that makes them in essence, everyone. One can see the influence of celebrated sculptor, Constantin Brancusi. When discussing Brancusi’s, “Bird in Flight” Paula excitedly notes, “To abstract something to its simplest form, its essence, that’s difficult”. The essence of Paula’s work is intense and thoughtful in her ambiguous forms that relate to both personal experiences and the status of the world as a whole, while still remaining elegant and mysterious.

Paula draws her inspiration from personal life experiences, current events, and the nature of people in general. She soaks in all forms of education whether it be film, popular media, or personal encounters. She is inspired by the great artists that challenged convention such as Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Giacometti, and Magritte.  Paula also draws inspiration from materials, when discussing her range of mediums, Paula recounts driving home from a trip to Wisconsin with her family, seeing these beautiful pieces of driftwood, and forcing her family to fit them in the car and bring them home. According to Paula, you never know, “something clicks and you wind up making something out of it”. After saving that driftwood for three years, one of those pieces became “Freedom” a powerful sculpture displayed in the inaugural Breaking Criminal Traditions show. It is a statement to the world saying, “screw you I’m going to be me.” Paula explains.

While much of her work holds a personal message for Paula and the public, these pieces can be used to exemplify the current struggle for worldwide human rights, especially for women. One of the original meetings of the Breaking Criminal Traditions team and its artists occurred in Paula’s home, but when asked if she sees herself as an activist Paula said both “yes and no”.  Paula states that she admires people like Malala Yousafzai for her bravery, and admits she does not understand what motivates her to keep going and risking her life. Paula hopes that her work can make a quiet statement and show the public a view of the world that differs from their own. Paula’s work, however, is not quiet when it comes down to her message that, “in essence we are all the same, human”, we need to remember that, and see it in one another instead of focusing on our differences or attempting to gain power over others.

To that point Paula believes that many of the world’s issues stems from struggles for power. Paula does not blame these conflicts on religion, or cultural values, but specifically as a power struggle between men and women who use barbaric practices and try to disguise it as culture. Paula sees her work as a, “statement about the world” and she likes to show people, “something you don’t see”. In our conversation she used the example of a doorknob and the different ways it could be viewed, which for me, was an allusion to “Alice in Wonderland”. To that Paula responded, “I relate to her”; Paula like Alice has a unique point of view of a topsy-turvy world and uses her art to make sense of it to herself and the public and expose people to things that they may not know exist.

Paula like the rest of the Breaking Criminal Traditions team thinks awareness is the most important value for society today. We all need to be aware of what is happening in the world. According to Paula we also need to be aware of how lucky we are to have the rights we do, and to help those who are limited by societal or cultural rules. Paula also humbly believes that her art is not the type that is appreciated by high end art collectors, “I don’t make art to shock. . . I just want to say things I think are important” Paula declares. She passionately believes there are general values we need to instill in our society in order to help others, and that sometimes those values are pushed aside due to our own fear and need for security. There is so much information at our finger tips, Paula adds, that we need to remember not to preach prejudice or discrimination, a lesson Paula learned from her mother. “It is the mothers of the world who suffer”, Paula states, whether it is because their children are getting bullied on the playground; whether a mother is attending the funeral of her son, a victim of gun violence; or the fact that mothers are the people responsible for holding their daughters down during circumcision in order to marry them off to a better life. When considering these values and behaviors, it is important, Paula says, that “we are exposed to things beyond our world” which puts life into a larger perspective.

Paula creates art because she has something to say. She uses it to express her discontent with societal practices and to satisfy her urge to create, “I can’t imagine not creating, it feeds my soul, and I can’t not make it”. Paula believes everyone should create something. She knows that the creative process can be a benefit to every aspect of the classroom and of life, that the skills are transferable and the sense of accomplishment is immeasurable. Paula maintains that she is not in this to make a fortune or become famous. She understands that not everyone will appreciate her work. In the past, she has overheard gallery patrons say “oh, I could’ve done that” and her thoughts were “so why didn’t you?” This reaction encompasses the spirit of Paula, a tenacious woman with a determined attitude, who creates beautiful pieces both for herself and the world. We should all embrace this spirit especially when it comes to human rights issues. The passive thought is not enough to change the world. We should not be saying, “I could’ve done this and that to help that situation. Instead, we really need to conquer the fear that keeps us from taking action.

Early in our conversation Paula and I discussed the loneliness of society in regards to one of her works. The conversation quickly turned to the elderly, how they are treated disrespectfully in society and not revered as the keepers of the world’s wisdom. Paula mentioned Betty White who is treasured today for her humor, vivacity, and her adorable way of saying whatever is on her mind. The star is not only a cultural phenomenon but an institution. “I want to be Betty White!” Paula declares, and she is well on her way. Paula creates a powerful conversation with her unique view of the world beautifully expressed through her work and her many mediums. Paula is outspoken in her words and her art, she is determined to discuss what bothers her, and to engage others in this conversation. In her infinite wisdom Paula claims, “Art is like wine.” People begin by drinking the sweet wines that are easy to savor but not complex. With more exposure, taste builds and people are ready to imbibe in something with more substance and grit which they eventually learn to appreciate. Paula’s works, like fine wine, stands the tests of time. Her pieces were relevant when she created them, relevant now, and will remain relevant in the future. They will continue to impress us just like Betty White or the rarest of vintages.

Sydney Pacha – Writer/Producer

To learn more about Paula and her work visit The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions exhibit on display at North Central College’s Schoenherr gallery until April 4th 2015. Join us on February 27th for Paula’s artist talk, and stay up to date with Breaking Criminal Traditions by visiting the upcoming events page.

“Day by Day”: A conversation with Cheryl Jefferson, Founder of “The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions”

When considering the “Breaking Criminal Traditions” initiative it is important to look at how it came to be. Cheryl Jefferson a noted writer, producer, and speaker is the mastermind of this exhibit and movement. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Cheryl to discuss the creation of “The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions” and her ultimate goal for this project.

First Cheryl disclosed that the initial inspiration came to her in an unlikely location. While waiting in the studio lobby before belly dance class she began reading an Elle Magazine article about the women potentially being attacked and killed for participating in this art form. “It was the first time I had ever encountered the term honor killing”, she said “but I was stunned because I have found the dance to be quite joyous and beautiful . . .things went to a completely different level when I found out that belly dance was a punishable offense. It was even more of a mystery to me why there would be such retribution for these things. Once you start researching and once you uncover honor killing that leads you to an entire strata of society that’s based on honor cultures, then that takes you to child marriage and then child marriage takes you to female genital mutilation and so there is layer after layer  . . . it is mind blowing when you think about the millions of women affected worldwide”.

While this magazine article was the spark that ignited Cheryl’s passion for what she now does, she works to instill this project with the values with which she was raised. In our conversation, Cheryl noted, “I was raised by parents who had a very keen sense of justice and fair play. That was always a topic of conversation at our dinner table growing up, what was right, what was fair, sometimes these things are not the same so that’s always sort of a conundrum as you are learning to make your way in the world”.  Cheryl understands the dichotomy of right and fair in her own life due to the loss of her only sister to pancreatic cancer. “My sister made a tremendous impact on my life”, said Cheryl. “Her presence made the planet a better place . . . so after she passed I spent a lot of time thinking about how I really want to spend the rest of my blessedly healthy time on the planet”.

Cheryl maintains that the loss of her sister led her to revaluate what is truly important. “I decided to redefine my definition of success” she explains “and when I ran into the Elle article I realized that through “Breaking Criminal Traditions”, I could bring everything I knew about my own art and the arts in which my colleagues work, to try to impact (these issues). (I realized) that this would be an incredibly worthwhile use of my time and my talent and that goes back to my sister who also had a tremendous sense of justice and fair play; so it all really came together at that moment and there is no doubt in my mind that this is the right path for me”. By switching gears about the meaning of success and not allowing it to revolve around personal accomplishments or gain. Cheryl is able to speak out for the well being of others who are struggling for basic rights in our world.

Cheryl’s background in the arts and her relationships with individuals in that world have allowed her to utilize fine arts to bring awareness to the public. Awareness, being the most important aspect of the exhibit. When asked why she chose to communicate these sensitive issues through art Cheryl recollected what one expert told her, “My colleague said the reason art was so powerful was because it doesn’t ask anything of you. You can sit in front of a ballet or a Van Gogh, or listen to Mozart and you can make the decision not to be impacted, or you can see flowers and bunny rabbits, or, you know whatever you choose to see, but if you put things in a context for people as we do with “Breaking Criminal Traditions”  suddenly you begin to see very different layers, the art gives you the opportunity to get as close as you would like or to step back from it all if you wish”.

Cheryl attributes the success of this communication of these issues to the exhibition’s curator Charles Gniech, and his elegant piece selection. Charles’ high aesthetic caliber steers him away from overtly gory pieces and exemplifies the nuanced issues in preexistent work of varying artists. According to Cheryl, this approach makes it easier to communicate these difficult messages because, “if the pathway to access is beautiful, that contrast, that duality, makes the ultimate truth of these topics even stronger”.

Cheryl’s goal for this exhibit, which she constantly states, is not to create a realm in which to bash gender, culture, or religion, but to bring awareness to the general public about issues that may go unnoticed and to change the “chain of thinking” that perpetuates the denial of basic human rights to millions. “It is not about us marching into other places to say, ‘oh you’ve been wrong for two thousand years let us fix you’, that’s not it”, says Cheryl.  “It is more that we’ve seen evidence of these problems in the US, this is how we handled it, and to learn the scope of the problem in your country, and then to listen to their conversation and find out how we can support them”. In her blue sky Cheryl says, “I would love to see awareness build all over the United States”. Her goal and the goal of the exhibit is to create positive change and basic human rights for all, “The whole idea is it is possible to create something that can lead to a tipping point and really can make a change in the world; now I don’t know how long that will take but we’ll just tackle it day by day and see what happens”.

Cheryl supports her message of change by continually putting together new creative initiatives, constantly educating herself, and conversing with experts in the field. She also participates in the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Cheryl and the BCT team believe that everyone can take steps to inspire awareness and change by visiting the “Breaking Criminal Traditions” exhibit at North Central College, or the Bridgeport Art Center in the upcoming months. We also urge everyone to take advantage of our location and attend lectures and classes in the Chicagoland area. Finally, remember that ongoing education is key to understanding these issues. We urge you to take a look at the UN Women website and to reach out to local experts, high schools, faith based organizations, and other educational programs. There are many places to start and the sooner we all start, the sooner we can create a cultural tipping point that can lead to positive change.

While Cheryl Jefferson is an awe-inspiring woman due to her breadth of knowledge and passion for life, we can all take a page from her book and redefine our definition of success to encompass the well being of others.

Sydney Pacha – writer/producer-

“For the Sake of Dance”

“The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions” exhibit finds a new home at The Art Center- Highland Park beginning Friday November 7th 2014. The exhibit continues with its mission to bring awareness of both international and domestic human rights issues through a beautifully curated show composed of work from nationally renowned visual artists.

For this opening, however, guests will be treated to a very special, never before seen dance performance from critically acclaimed Middle Eastern dancer, Jasmin Jahal. Jasmin first connected with our founder, Cheryl Jefferson, while teaching a belly dance class. In fact, Cheryl’s inspiration for the Breaking Criminal Traditions© exhibit was actually sparked by an article read in the lobby of Jasmin’s dance studio. After years of developing their relationship Jasmin is at a point where she is ready to take a stand for human rights with her dance. She graciously sat down with me and discussed her upcoming performance and her life as a dancer.

As a four year old girl, Jasmin began dancing ballet and quickly learned that the strict image and physicality of the ballerina was not something to which she could aspire. She was exposed to Middle Eastern Dance in her early teens through a class she attended with her cousin. The instructor impressed her she says, noting “I was really blown away at how beautiful and feminine the dance was . . .  much nicer than wearing leotards”. Jasmin kept attending that class and her passion kept growing. In her twenties she began traveling the world and learning from the best in the field of Middle Eastern dance, eventually studying in Egypt which is a major source of her skill and inspiration.

Today Jasmin is a world renowned dancer, choreographer, teacher, and business owner. Through the experiences gained in her international dance career, Jasmin has been exposed to the struggle and what she calls the “love hate relationship” many dancers and artists have with Middle Eastern society. She notes that in her experience, even those who enjoy the arts cannot condone the artistic path as an appropriate way of life. Jasmin has connections with many multi-cultural people who have personally faced the issues that are the focus of the Breaking Criminal Traditions exhibit. It is these personal relationships that have fired her awareness of human rights violations- violations that are all too common and extreme. She is now working to change that reality.

After years of exposure to the turbulent traditions of the Middle East and other parts of the world, Jasmin is ready to advocate for change, declaring “I’m at the point in my career that I’m looking to do something with a purpose. I don’t want to dance just for the sake of dance. I think that art of all kinds has an impact on humanity (whether) good or bad, it’s important”. While an expert in her own field and in the history of the art she loves, Jasmin is ready to apply her knowledge to new waters. Diving into the subject of human rights and world affairs in partnership with Cheryl Jefferson is, Jasmin says, “it was just something that connected with me, that sort of said all of my experiences up to now have been for a reason, and it feels like this is it”.

Jasmin will debut a dance at the Highland Park opening that will be part of her one woman concert scheduled for 2015 on a date to be announced.  When asked what she hopes the public will take away from her performance Jasmin stated she “would love to have the people view my dance form in context, where they learn something, become aware of some beautiful things and at the same time, some harsh reality.” Jasmin draws a connection with the goals of The Breaking Criminal Traditions exhibit and stated, “of course we’re doing it beautifully and symbolically just like the work in the exhibit . . .  it’s (her performance) going to be strong and hopefully, a very feminine statement for the women and girls in the world”.

Jasmin advocates using the arts to discuss difficult topics like human rights, with the general public and she made an excellent point regarding the public’s view of this topic, “it’s not part of their life, it’s not everyday life,” she says, “they (the public) have to go to work, pay their bills, pick their kids up from school, go to bed and do it all over again.” She believes the arts can gently open the public’s eyes and she believes that a different kind of art will speak to different people.

Jasmin is enthusiastic about moving forward with the work on her upcoming dance concert. In addition, she plans to use her influence in the arts community to communicate an important message, stating that she has always asked herself the right questions to keep her career moving forward. Now she is ready to use her platform and have people listen. Jasmin’s performance portrays the dignity, beauty, and strength of women worldwide. It is the story of survival and hope for awareness and change.

Using her dance medium, Jasmin shows us the duality of life, the beauty of the world in contrast to the harmful practices that become ingrained in society. She takes the first step on this new path with her performance at Highland Park, a step that will propel her forward on her quest to educate the public on the human rights issues she has personally encountered. She is giving a voice to those who are silenced not with her words but with her movement and we look forward to see what will come next!

-Sydney Pacha- writer/producer-