Arts & Culture

Groups take creative approach to exploring health

GlobeMed at Brown partners with Kenyan U-Tena to raise health awareness through art

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, April 3, 2015

Blending choreographed performances with improvisational acts, U-Tena’s members danced, chanted and drummed, occasionally encouraging attendees to join them on stage.

GlobeMed at Brown — the University’s chapter of the national organization that aims to alleviate global health disparities — hosted “Intersection of Art, Health and Social Justice” at the Ashamu Dance studio Tuesday. Using performance and creative arts to promote health equity and social justice, the event welcomed a series of artists to share the stage with the audience members in their creative endeavors.

U-Tena, a performance art-based group from Nairobi, Kenya, aims to promote HIV testing and safe sex practices through engaging performances. U-Tena has partnered with GlobeMed since the chapter’s founding four years ago, said Elaine Hsiang ’15, internal co-president of GlobeMed at Brown.

The event was notable for the ways in which it brought U-Tena and GlobeMed together. This was the first time that U-Tena came to Brown to showcase its work, Hsiang said. Though some of GlobeMed’s members have previously visited Kenya to assist U-Tena with its work over the summers, this event marked the first meeting between the two groups, said Lily Cohen ’18, a member of GlobeMed’s advocacy committee.

“So much of our work is focused on Kenya and also just trying to support our partner’s projects,” Hsiang said, adding that the event served as a stepping stone for GlobeMed to directly engage with Brown and the broader Providence community.

In addition to U-Tena’s performance, the event incorporated groups in a wide array of formats, from spoken word to craftwork, said KC Caine ’15, GlobeMed’s director of finances. Featured participants included WORD!, a spoken-word poetry group, and Artbeat, a new visual arts organization that promotes self-expression through workshops and public art installations.

The event started with a workshop run by Matthew Garza ’11, who invited audience members to the dance floor for an interactive activity designed to address empathy. Garza then introduced a series of exercises about “breaking the barrier between the audience and the performer” — a phenomenon particularly crucial to being sensitive to the needs of people around you, Garza explained to the audience.

Audience members walked around the room while Garza called out numbers at intervals. In response, people with the designated numbers pretended to faint. Garza told the other audience members to react to the situation as realistically as possible, urging them to think through all the methods of providing help for the person in need.

Leah Rivard ’15 said she found Garza’s workshop enlightening and appreciated how its message of empathy “tied back to global health.”

Performances by WORD! followed Garza’s workshop. Performers included Christopher Johnson, WORD!’s community resident, and Sam Lin-Sommer ’17, who shared a piece on multiracial identity.

Members of Artbeat staged the next workshop. Co-founder Mandi Cai ’17 and planning team member Elli Sawada ’17 led an exercise in which participants created human figures out of wire. Audience members molded these wire figures into positions that conveyed positivity. The participants then strung their creations together, creating a thread of figures molded in various positions. Cai and Sawada prepared the exercise to be cohesive with the day’s themes, Sawada said.

U-Tena concluded the event with a series of on-stage dances. In a combination of prepared performance and improvisation, U-Tena’s members danced, chanted and drummed, at points inviting audience members to join them on stage.

U-Tena’s “energy and enthusiasm for their cause is out of this world — it’s palpable,” Caine said, adding that those who attended the event would “take that spirit with them.”

A previous version of this article misstated that this was the first time U-Tena performed in the United States. In fact, it was the first time U-Tena performed at Brown. The Herald regrets the error.