Contrast Setting

Community Engagement

Community Dinners

Three community dinner events were held as part of the community engagement process. In all events, community members came together to share a meal and stories around the topic of Invasive Species. The Fall 2022 Dinner fostered intimate conversations about personal migrations and plant cultivation. The Spring 2024 Dinner, entitled Displaced But Rooted, featured curated food offerings by Chef Laquanda Dobson, centered around the Invasive Species conversation. At this event, eo Studio set up a digital storybooth, enabling visitors to self-record their stories, of which selections are included in the Outdoor Installation and the Performance. The Winter 2023 Dinner marked the end of the public exhibitions and events, and was attended by many participants and collaborators of the project, including representatives at SEPTA, the Rail Park, and Community College of Philadelphia.

Block Party
2022 & 2023

Asian Arts Initiative’s annual Block Party took place on October 1, 2022 and October 8th, 2023, both celebrating the Invasive Species project and the Cut. The 2023 Block Party took place in Matthias Baldwin Park and brought together members of the neighboring communities. The Block Party was an opportunity for the public to meet the lead artists, and to enjoy music, poetry, dance offerings, with local food and drinks.

Photo courtesy of Albert Yee. People at Block Party holding flower bouquets and wearing flower crowns.Photo courtesy of Albert Yee. People at Block Party holding flower bouquets and wearing flower crowns.
Photo courtesy of Albert Yee. People making flower crowns and holding flowers.Photo courtesy of Albert Yee. People making flower crowns and holding flowers.
Photo courtesy of Albert Yee. Music performance at AAI Block Party showing person playing drums on stage.Photo courtesy of Albert Yee. Music performance at AAI Block Party showing person playing drums on stage.
Photo courtesy of Albert Yee. People make flower crowns at the AAI Block party.Photo courtesy of Albert Yee. People make flower crowns at the AAI Block party.

Curatorial Statement for the Music Performances

Notes on The Cut, Invasive Species & Art
Yolanda Wisher

When we say something is in the cut, we mean it is hidden away, in a secluded, tucked away place that only a chosen few may know about. In the cut is a deeply familiar and intimate place. It is a place off the map; it is uncharted and unnamed space. Its very namelessness is a form of cover and protection. Portability, even.

Nobody: Where you been? Haven’t seen you in a minute.
Me: Oh I been around. Just chillin in the cut.

A few years ago, our neighbors in Germantown warned us about planting bamboo in our yard. It’ll take over, they said. It’ll run amuck and then what will you do?

the only way to restrain it, they said
was to surround the roots with concrete
so they wouldn’t spread.

Now, if we talked about people the way we talk about plants and animals … well, actually we do. We verminize folks fleeing their homelands for safer spaces. We fear they will take over what land and resources we think are ours. We extract and weed out and assimilate any difference that seems to spread.

The truth is we humans all sing an invader’s song. And yes, some of us sing the songs of endangered-invasive species, our days numbered by cruelty, carelessness, and the micromanagement of space.

Art – especially our music, dance, poetry, song – is a rhizomatic expression that can’t be so easily weeded out. It’s made of the breath and atoms of people who have always and already been here. It is made of both artist and audience. Our art, born of collaboration and the mystery between strangers, makes new roots, is fertilizer for the stale soil of the past. The rhythm of these roots is unbroken and runs amuck. Art tends to both body and spirit, present and future.

These performers and their performances come from a cut - a hidden, familiar place, a wound, a separation, a leaving, a breaking away and towards. All are both here and there. Between somewhere and here. Between I and you. Some Philly artists are born and raised in the cut of red lines and white flight. Many come from somewhere else where the waters are rising and arrive to make this city home. In the face of migration, gentrification, and displacement, what songs do we sing together? What happiness and hopes do we dare seek and share? How—all up in the smug face of destruction—do we make our magic in the cut and out in the open?

Performance Schedule

  • 2:30-3:30pm

    Called “bold, unapologetic and boundary-breaking” by Billy Penn, ALMANAC DANCE CIRCUS THEATRE is an award-winning, internationally recognized, Philadelphia-based performing arts ensemble dedicated to creating original works of genre-defying art. Almanac is also known for grassroots, community-centered event production, as exemplified by Rocky Award-winning Fit Fest and acclaimed Cannonball Festival.

  • 3:30-4:30pm
    Malaya Ulan (Free Rain) & Kingsley Ibeneche

    Malaya Ulan (Free Rain) is a fifteen-year-old Filipino-American activist, community organizer, dancer, filmmaker, and poet. Ulan self-published her poetry collection, Ulan-When My Tears Turn into Roses, and has performed at the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Judson Dance Theatre, Barnes Foundation, Painted Bride, Philadelphia Fringe Festival, Swarthmore University, and Festive Walk in the Philippines. She also performs with her mother, Anito Gavino, through their mother-daughter collective, AniMalayaWorks.

    Kingsley Ibeneche is a Nigerian American performing artist based in South Jersey with a focus in music & dance. Ibeneche has worked with notable acts and been featured on various publications and platforms such as Travis Scott, James Blake, Halsey, SNL, GAP, NIKE, The FADER, Paste Mag, okayafrica, NPR, afropunk, and SOFAR. Ibeneche focuses his performances on connecting the African people and the African diaspora through movement and sound.

  • 4:30-5:30pm
    Bethlehem & Sad Patrick

    BETHLEHEM AND SAD PATRICK perform songs of love and other struggles. Her soaring vocals and his sparse guitar ride atop her driving tarima and body percussion to deliver powerful songs about being in and out of love, living in the city and on the margins, and struggling to make it.

  • 5:30-6:30pm
    Karen Smith Experience

    Karen "Magic Fingaz" Smith, Brooklyn native, Philly resident, is a professional percussionist, playwright, poet, director, teaching artist, curator, and pie-maker. Smith is a recipient of several grants including a 2023 Pew Fellowship and the Leeway Foundation's Art and Change and Illuminate the Arts Grants. Smith is the founder, artistic director and lead percussionist of Weez the Peeples and Sistahs Laying Down Hands Collectives.

    Caitlin Green (she/they) is a dance artist (originally from Huntingdon, PA) with a background in dance/movement therapy and counseling. Green has choreographed and co-created works in the Philly Fringe Festival and the Painted Bride Art Center’s Building Bridges artist cohort, and was choreographer for Regothereshego’s “Killing My Friends” music video. Green is a trauma-informed teaching artist with Dancing Classrooms Philly, The Village of Arts and Humanities, and BuildaBridge International, as well as a writer for dance journal thINKingDANCE.

    Ikechi Onyenaka is a jazz-neo soul saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, and recording artist from Upper Darby. Although his primary instrument is the alto saxophone, he also plays the tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, piano, keyboard, bass, and drums. Onyenaka has played at numerous events and venues, including South Jazz Club, City Winery Philadelphia, Haverford Music Festival, and Facebook Watch’s ‘Peace Out 2020’ event.

The Plant Book

Food Offerings by Cookie Club Philadelphia Charter

Assembled during the pandemic by Serena Hocharoen, Cookie Club is a group of 5 friends who love to talk about home cooking, family recipes, and diasporic foodways. Learning as we go, sharing intermittently and across distance, we also find occasions to throw down together. Cookie Club Philadelphia Chapter comprises Heidi Ratanavanich, Tess Wei, and Connie Yu.

Iglesias Garden Visit by AAI’s Youth Arts Workshop

On October 28, 2023, Asian Arts Initiative’s youth programs, the Youth Arts Workshop and the Youth Leadership Initiative visited Iglesias Garden as part of the Invasive Species project. The program was led by Iglesias Garden’s community members, Anthony and Michael. Youths learned about the history of the garden, the continuous work to maintain the garden, its impact to the local community, and the importance of cultural history and traditions in urban spaces. Youths participated in an in-depth tour of the multi-sectional garden, a composting activity where they learned about the garden’s process and helped members turn the compost pile, and lastly they enjoyed a corn masa meal prepared by volunteers.

Community Engagement