Shift Talent Showcase celebrates cultural individuality through performance

Thursday, November 16, 2017 - 9:53pm

Featuring visual art, poetry and performances from University of Michigan students and organizations about the experiences of immigrant and first-generation students at the University, the Shift Talent Showcase drew a crowd of 100 students, faculty and Ann Arbor community members to the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union Thursday night. 

Hosted by University organizations Redefine, Call for Humanity, the Iraqi Student Association, Refugees To College, Students Organize for Syria and Zeta Omega Eta, the showcases highlighted performers and artists on campus who seek to express their individual cultures and create dialogue for social issues.

Prior to the performances, attendees circulated in the back of Pendleton, browsing photo exhibits and illustrations by University students and the Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County, a refugee resettlement organization. The exhibits and performances displayed themes of cultural individuality, acceptance in the United States and combatting cultural stereotypes.

According to LSA junior Mariam Reda, a cofounder of Redefine and organizer of the event, the idea for Shift was developed in August and is Redefine’s first event. She said the founders wanted to focus on cross-cultural communication and art.

“We thought that, in the campus climate right now, it’s really necessary for students of all different backgrounds and ethnic groups to come together in one room with all their creative talents and be able to discuss one topic and I feel like, right now, it’s a really good time to have something like this happen,” Reda said. “Through this, we really just try to promote the connection and congregation between art and social justice.”

Cultural exhibitions from regions including the Middle East, Brazil, India, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and others were included in Shift.

The performance element of Shift kicked off with a demonstration from the University’s Capoeira Club, an organization on campus that practices the Afro-Brazilian form of martial arts. Inviting audience members to perform and play instruments along with the organization fostered community among cultures from the beginning of the event.

Performances from individual students and groups followed, including spoken word poetry, film showings, an Indian dance performance and piano and vocal compositions.

Engineering freshman Maryam Younus combined multiple spoken word poems on preserving cultural identity and the impact colonialism and Western countries have on foreign identities for her performance. She said her piece aimed to encourage pride in individual cultures.

“No one should feel ashamed of who they are and what their names mean or any of the labels that are associated with that,” Younus said. “They shouldn’t feel afraid of other people not wanting to or not making the effort of saying their name properly … (and) empowering people to do this, empowering people to embrace who they are and own that.” 

Reda said the event aimed to promote intercultural dialogue through mediums like art and performance instead of vocal speech.

“We’re trying to promote a … space on campus where any and every talent can really come together in one room and showcase whatever they want about a certain topic and through this," Reda said. "We’re trying to set the precedent that dialogue does not only have to be through speech.”

LSA junior Tariq Mekkaoui said Shift not only promoted dialogue on immigration and artistic expression but also encouraged positivity among the performers and the audience.

“This was the first event that I’ve been to at the University of Michigan that really emphasized a sense of happiness and sometimes that’s forgotten, especially in marginalized communities and marginalized identities,” Mekkaoui said. “It’s nice just to see a sense of culture and identity around this central theme of happiness and acceptance and it was just nice to see all these different orgs coming together for that central theme and understand that diversity can produce happiness in ways that I didn’t understand before.”

Younus said while events like Shift showcase the amount of cultural diversity at the University, she often encounters situations where she is the only student in a class wearing a headscarf. She said seeing this lack of representation in the classroom can be daunting but events like Shift bring cultures together in a positive and collaborative manner.

“It gets a little discouraging sometimes so when you get a large group of people like this together where you’re all embracing each other’s culture and learning more about each other, it’s refreshing and nice,” Younus said.