How Art Can Save the World

Story By: Taylor Lamb

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Anti-Trump protest which took place in Las Vegas. Photo from Las Vegas Review Journal.

If you have read any of my articles before this point, you can probably guess my political views and, subsequently, how I reacted to the results of the recent election. I was hurt, confused, angry, scared… I felt betrayed. I felt as though my country had let me down. I skipped one of my classes because I couldn’t bring myself to face a lecture full of people who aren’t affected by the results in the way that I am, as a black woman. I couldn’t bring myself to face a lecture full of people who were possibly happy with the results. I wasn’t in a good place. Many people felt the same way. I had conversations with people wondering: What do we do? Do we cry? Do we fight? Protest? I had people tell me that they wanted to do something to impact the world, but they weren’t sure what. There are a variety of things one can do to improve the world, and I definitely can’t impose my views on anyone else. But if you’re looking for something that will change the world as well as something to find solace in, here’s my suggestion: create art. 

That probably wasn’t what you were expecting. Art is definitely devalued by society, and I might say this is even more true at UVA. Art majors are looked down upon. If you have a high GPA, but you’re not a STEM major or in the Comm School, people say it doesn’t mean anything. And here I am saying that art will change the world. Those might not add up in your mind, but this is not a new opinion I am introducing. I myself did not know this until college. Perhaps it is the world’s best kept secret, but art is the soul of the revolution. Look to your major movements, look to the leaders of the movements, and they will say the same. Throughout history, marginalized people have used art to express themselves, to inspire people, and to improve the world. I’m talking all types of art–literature, music, paintings, sketches, theatre, etc.


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Hair on the Brain

Story By: Lily Patterson

For this installment I took to the streets (metaphorically speaking) to interview a few friends about their hair and the intrinsic and imposed identities those little bundles of keratin confer. Settle in and hear their stories.

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Amanda Diamond, Fourth-Year

How does your hair play into your personal identity, both tangible and intangible?

I think my hair says a lot about me. I think it has defined me within my race, the larger community I am surrounded by, and is a tool I use to express myself.

Are you afraid to make drastic changes to your hair, or do you enjoy that sort of risk taking, or fall somewhere in between?

I’m open to hair changes; however, I still think I’m nervous about them. I have thought about getting dreadlocks in the past because it’s a hairstyle that is so bold, and also has a connection to my culture and identity. As an actor, however, I think I should be careful what I do with myself because I can be put into a proverbial ‘box’ quickly, speaking to the types of roles I’d be able to play. That’s just reflective of society and the way the general public uses hairstyles to draw conclusions and assume things about someone and their identity.


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Blackwoman

Story By: Taylor Lamb

Sometimes I feel as though I need to start referring to myself as a “blackwoman,” one word, so people will stop trying to separate those two parts of my identity. This is a sentiment that has been heavy on my mind these past few months since news of Nate Parker’s old rape case came into the forefront. It was upsetting to see another black male creative, who is making supposedly important media for black people, have a history of mistreating women. The news left me disappointed. However, the online reaction I saw after was what truly devastated me. My timeline was flooded with black men and women (but mostly men) saying the news was false, just another attempt to take the black man down; saying, “bitches lie about rape all the time.” Even worse were the ones who said things such as, “Maybe it’s true, but it doesn’t matter. It was 19 years ago. White men in the entertainment industry do this all the time and no one cares. This movie is more important than that. You need to support your fellow black man!”

Yes. I am black. But ain’t I a woman too?

According to a study conducted by the Black Women’s Blueprint, sixty percent of black girls are sexually assaulted at the hands of black men by the age of 18. That is 3 out of 5 black girls. That is clearly an issue occurring within the black community, deeply affecting black girls. Occurring at the hands of black men, and yet so many people ignore these facts. They say sexual assault is a “women’s issue,” and things such as police brutality are “black issues,” and no one seems to care about the black women standing at the intersection of both. This separation idea makes it easy for black men to brush off Nate Parker’s rape allegations, Bill Cosby’s rape allegations, R. Kelly’s rape allegations. They don’t see rape or sexual assault as something they need to fight against. And their sisters, cousins, mothers, friends– black girls they don’t know but express solidarity with on the Internet when it benefits them– are left to defend themselves, alone in the battle.


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The Perils of Dancing (a short story)

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Story By: Pinky Hossain

I am afraid of the dark. When I was young, I didn’t like to sleep because I feared those tiny little colorful beads we see when we turn off the lights. I couldn’t tell them where to go, what to make. They moved on their own accord, dancing to their own mechanisms. They could be beautiful. They made circles or spirals or zigzags, like a display of synchronized swimmers. I remember napping with my mother and telling her that they looked like colorful grains of sugar swirling through the air. Though, more often than not they didn’t dance so gracefully. Sometimes they molded themselves into something cruel, grotesque, overpowering. I saw them writhe and slither into a face I didn’t recognize – an old man with withering, melting cheeks.

I was afraid of being alone in small spaces too. I didn’t like to shower because I was completely isolated. I couldn’t help but imagine that I was the only person in the universe, that reality ceased to exist outside the doors of my bathroom. As soon as I entered, my brother, my mom, my dad, the walls of my house, my neighborhood, my school, my hometown, my country, the world, the universe, the cosmos melted away and it was just me and the violent spray of water beating down on my face. I hated closing my eyes. I saw those intimidating dots, their menacing spirals bouncing, bubbling, thriving around on the inside of my eyelids. I waited for them to zig zag outwards and swallow me into their eternal darkness. They told me that I was unsafe, that I should be ready at any moment to lose any sense of a stable reality.

Eventually, I realized that these fears were small manifestations of a fear of death. I mean it’s a wonder that we’re alive today. Each one of us could die a thousand and more times in a day. Every decision, every minute action, every choice that we make and every choice that our predecessors made were choices that steered them towards our production. I could have been nonexistent at any point in my bloodline. Somehow, Grandma Begum lived long enough to reach the nice marriageable age of twenty-two where she happened to give birth in a deathly political climate just before her husband died. Somehow, her son found the one woman, in a country of eighty million women, who had an egg that would latch on to the two-hundred million sperm cells that were unleashed on one fateful February day. All the universe’s internal and external mechanisms had to have been and have to be working in exactly the same rhythm to produce such a beautiful and original tune for us to dance to at this particular moment. So I must be in a universe where a version of me actually survives the infinite ways I could die. It should be comforting knowing that I die in another space and live in this one, but I dream about my alternate self, dead, in another universe. She doesn’t dance. Instead, she drives a perilous vehicle. She drives and drives, dreaming about dancing.


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Story by: Lily Patterson

Bleached and dyed and tugged and straightened and curled and dried and oiled and trimmed and chopped. It’s a cumulative result, a regenerative but at the very least temporally affected font of keratin that can be a vehicle for self-expression, a curtain of self-defense, or somewhere in between. It’s a woman’s hair.

Starting off a series about hair, it’s probably best to reflect on my relationship with my own. It’s said you can’t love others before you love yourself, so I’m going to go out on a limb and venture that you can’t understand others’ relationship with their hair before you know your own. As a white female with thick, brown hair, I’ve been endowed with what could possibly be the most low-maintenance situation possible. As a girl, my hair was long and streaked with blonde from excessive amounts of time in the sun. Frankly, my saving grace was my hair. I might be prone to lobster-red burns and incessant freckles, but my hair was it – healthy, lustrous, and streaked with natural highlights.

My sophomore year, I chopped it all off. It became a bob, just grazing my shoulders. I already went to an all-girls high school, so really, the man repeller aesthetic was coming into its own. Many of my friends were shocked that I just decided to chop off my hair. “But your hair was so pretty – why would you do that?,” was the refrain. I even had people tell me straight-up that they didn’t like it. Having been the utmost type-A kid, me making the decision to cut my hair was very much woven into the fabric of my need for control. My chop (which got progressively shorter and shorter throughout high school) was a kind of ownership that I exerted over myself and my choices. I had the power to transform the way I looked, but I also had the power to directly oppose the very common standard of beauty promulgated by a bunch of high school girls. I wasn’t long-legged, or tan, or blonde, or hyper effeminate. That wasn’t really my North Star, although sometimes I wished it were. I was studious and serious and used a biting wit as blunt as my hair as a coping mechanism. (Still do, actually.)


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Truth-seeking in Junot Diaz and Salman Rushdie

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Story by: Pinky Hossain

On September 16, 2016, English majors, English professors, and literature lovers gathered together and fangirled because we had the opportunity to see both Junot Diaz and Salman Rushdie speak on the same day (the same freaking day!). Both came for Human Ties, a three-day celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Junot Diaz spoke for a panel discussion entitled “United States of Contradictions: Writing About America,” and Salman Rushdie participated in a panel discussion entitled “Being Human in a Global Age.”

I am obsessed with immigrant stories. I love stories having anything to do with culture and alienation; what life is like for uprooted and resettled people or for a colonized people. Both Rushdie and Diaz have written about migrant people and their experience of isolation in similar styles. For example, the authors have this talent for code-switching. Code switching is when you speak to your mom and dad in Spanglish. Code-switching can also be talking “smart” in class versus shit-talking with your friends, so it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be bilingual. Rushdie has often switched in and out of English and Hindi (among other languages), and Diaz has often switched in and out of English and Spanish. Their distinct styles of code-switching add another layer of authenticity to their fictional characters, which is just mind-boggling because creating an authentic fictional character is a type of sorcery. How can a fake character be real? Regardless of this crazy paradox, their characters are more genuine to me than some people I know. For instance, Diaz makes me relate to Oscar Wao, an overweight Dominican kid in his novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao who loves science fiction and comic books and wants a girl to love. You can imagine the various types of loneliness that might come out of Oscar: loneliness from being caught between two cultures, loneliness from being part of a very traditional Dominican community that might reject his his love for science fiction and comic books, and the basic loneliness that he can only relieve with a woman in his life. Oscar’s isolation is one we can understand even if we don’t share his experience.

The narrator, a boy named Yunior, is largely absent from the beginning of the novel, but Diaz, sorcerer that he is, creates such a unique voice for Yunior that I can see him – I can feel what kind of character Yunior is. Here, read the narrator’s voice. You’ll see what I’m talking about:

And the lovely Maritza Chacón? Well, as luck would have it, Maritza blew up into the flyest girl in Paterson, New Jersey, one of the queens of New Peru, and, since she and Oscar were neighbors, he saw her plenty, hair as black and lush as a thunderhead, probably the only Peruvian girl on the planet with curly hair (he hadn’t heard of Afro Peruvians yet or of a town called Chincha), body fine enough to make old men forget their infirmities, and from age thirteen steady getting in or out of some roughneck’s ride.


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