Featuring a mix of visual art, written word and performances by University of Michigan students with a diverse range of gender identities, the annual SHIFT talent showcase was held Monday to explore and celebrate the theme of gender.

Co-hosted by Redefine, a student organization dedicated to creating platforms for the intersection of art and social justice, and Zeta Omega Eta, a non-traditional sorority focused on the advancement of feminist ideals, the event first allowed attendees to browse a wall of visual art at the entrance of the room that showcased drawings, photographs, poetry and prose. The artwork had a variety of messages presenting the artists’ experiences of gender, from its intersection with ethnicity to societal gender pressures.

Kendall Sidnam, co-president of Redefine and one of the organizers of the event, emphasized the mission of Redefine to provide a space for artists at the University to express themselves.

“To be able to have a safe and brave space where they can showcase their art without judgment and with full support and accessibility … Having a space that’s solely devoted to them and their work and their talent is really important for them to feel supported in whatever identity they have,” Sidnam said.

The organizers later shifted into the performance portion of event with a video asking University students about genders norms they’d like to see changed and what gender empowerment meant to them. Launching from these ideas, one of the emcees, LSA senior Mandy Coterillo, explained the idea of the “gender unicorn” to the audience.

“The gender unicorn is divided into gender identity, gender expression, sex assigned at birth, physically attracted to, and emotionally attracted to…” Coterillo said. “The unicorn works in a spectrum.”

The performances that followed included the Women’s Glee Club, which emphasized its 128 years of history and tradition as a female community at the University. Female Gayo, a female Korean pop group closed the show, celebrating Korean culture while challenging ideas of femininity and female empowerment around the world.

Other performances featured individuals, such as Maleny Crespo, whose spoken-word performance and dance was an expression of their queer identity as a person of color. Other spoken-word pieces related gender identity to religion and emphasized the importance of recognizing vulnerability in masculinity.

Engineering junior Malika Taka said she appreciated the show because she felt it was different from what she is usually exposed to. In particular, she said she liked a spoken-word performance that discussed the tension between masculinity and queerness.

“I really liked the performance where (the performer) was non-binary and talked about how even though (they appear) very masculine, but it’s not exactly what it looks like all the time,” Taka said. “I thought that one left an impression.” 

For Coterillo, she said her involvement in the show was meaningful because of the diverse audience.

“It felt very exhilarating … Getting to talk about the many facets of gender to people of different ages, of different parts of Michigan, I saw different family members … It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of this event,” Coterillo said.

The event was funded by Community Action Social Change program, Arts at Michigan, LSA Residential College, LSA Global Scholars Program and Central Student Government.

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