“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-

Welcome to the “Breaking Criminal Traditions” Forum

“The Art of Influence”

Art for those who live in Chicago is often something that is taken for granted; it is seen on a daily basis whether in one of our many world-class museums, in Daley Plaza when passing the larger than life Picasso, on the way to the train station in the windows of the city’s numerous galleries or adorning the public transit train cars as youthful graffiti. When not in the museum or gallery environment, art is unconsidered on a daily basis and often just thought about causally as a matter of interior design or personal taste. However, those who believe in the power of art, and who chose to work in this field are looking to change the blasé attitude that much of society has towards creative works. There is so much emotion and sentiment that can be communicated through the visual; there is so much more thought to be given to these artistic messages and we are taking the first steps in the traveling exhibition, “The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions”.

This traveling exhibition was conceptualized and realized by noted painter/curator Chuck Gniech, author/TED speaker Cheryl Jefferson, and award winning painter Richard Laurent in collaboration with nationally acclaimed artists. The movement uses art as a medium for communication of issues of both global and local importance. This exhibition focuses on the human right violations most directly affecting woman and their families around the world such as honor killing, acid violence, bride burning, breast ironing, circling, blind stitching, female genital mutilation, forced child marriage, child soldiers, female infanticide, guns, stoning, and human trafficking. Most of these traditions have been historically instilled in cultures throughout the world and are still a modern day cause for concern. Through the work of the artists involved in the exhibition, the traditions are portrayed in a manner which forces contemplation and discussion, while still being visually intriguing. The works not only represent the tragedy of these traditions but the beauty that is woman/humanity in contrast. This exhibition encourages the public to appreciate the beautiful aspects of life, while also motivating society to change the ugly realities that affect this world.

Like the art exhibit that has or will adorn the walls of law schools, community centers, and college campuses this forum is taking a step towards change. There is no person  better suited to take that step than people like you and I who want to help create a better life and better world for those who are not as fortunate as us with our lifestyles and freedoms. We would like the public to view this discussion page as an extension of the exhibit, utilize this as your comment card, tell us what you thought about the show, tell us what spoke to you , ask us questions and we will do our best to satisfy your thirst for more information.  In the future this forum aims to interact with several artists and experts involved in the exhibition and looks forward to constant feedback. We will utilize this discussion as a step in keeping the community up to date on what is next for the exhibition. Primarily this will be a conversation sparked and enriched by current events, new artistic productions, expert opinion , scholarly articles, general curiosities, experiences of readers, and involvement of the producers of “Breaking Criminal Traditions”.

We are aware that many of these topics are difficult to discuss and are often from cultures of which most of us are not a part, cultures that are often misunderstood and misrepresented in the media. We accept that there may be some who do not view these practices the same as we do, but in regards to human rights it is necessary that we speak up for those who are silenced.

We encourage you all to participate with an open mind and heart, and to be respectful since we come from many different stations in life. It is most important, however, to remember that in essence we are all the same; human, and every human deserves the chance to make their own choices and have their voice heard.

So please join us on this journey of enrichment, education, and perhaps enlightenment. Let us learn from art, academics, and each other. Let us take that first step toward change together.

The breaking criminal traditions team looks forward to talking with you all.

Sydney Pacha- Writer/producer