Our NYU: March 8, 2021
A Note from President Hamilton
By now we all have a good idea of what we will enjoy most when life edges forward to a new normal: gathering with family and friends, traveling, taking in the cultural fabric of our cities. Jennie and I were treated to a glimpse of the latter on a recent walk. It was the first mild night after a long winter, and we came upon several singers giving an impromptu recital of show tunes from a brownstone stoop. A small audience had gathered (physically distanced, of course!), ignoring the occasional rumble of a passing delivery truck, and it was a delightful New York moment with an energy that only live performance can bring.
The makeshift concert brought to mind the limbo that our city’s cultural institutions face: Performance venues and museums have had to completely rethink their operations—one reservation at a time. NYU’s own theatres and production teams have adapted to new health protocols and also held innovative virtual performances and exhibitions. In addition, NYU Tisch's Graduate Acting, Design for Stage and Film, and Dance programs are staging shows for limited live audiences through numerous adjustments to the creative process that help keep performers, crew, and audience members safe.
At the end of this month, we’ll also see the virtual premiere of a work by composer Sxip Shirey and artist Coco Karol based on interviews with the NYU Abu Dhabi community. The Gauntlet is sung by the NYU Abu Dhabi Choral Ensemble and was recorded on all three of our campuses. It captures the moment we are enduring and the creative response to COVID-19.
Although the methods in which we create and absorb culture have changed, it is ever more vital in times like these to look to the arts and the humanities for their role in our perpetual search to make sense of the world, providing new lenses through which to view the human condition, think critically, and to understand our past and contemplate our future.
Here at NYU, we engage in robust intellectual exploration throughout our schools and institutes. I am immensely proud of the recognition our faculty and alumni have received, including dozens of Mellon Foundation grants, nearly 100 Guggenheim fellowships, and numerous Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony nods—just to name a few.
A quick dive into some of the fascinating projects and initiatives underway across the University yields insight into the workings of our country and world. An NYU Shanghai project, for example, used digital technology to study the day-to-day lives of 1.3 million immigrants to New York City in 1900 as part of the Humanities Research Lab. The Latinx Project at NYU just received support to further its important work exploring Latinx art, culture, and scholarship and its impact in America. Maureen Mahon, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Music, recently published work on the influences of Black women on rock and roll.
So as we observe the solemn one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 fatality in New York City, and the staggering death toll due to the pandemic, I hope we can find some reason and understanding through artistic pursuit and explorations in the humanities. The task has never been more crucial as we search for glimmers of hope, and insight into our place in this world.
Stay safe and in good health.
I’m so proud of our community’s accomplishments—this is but a selection of recognition in recent years of accolades received by our faculty and alumni in the arts and humanities.
While I mean no disrespect to New York—nothing beats the Empire State Building in violet lights for Commencement—the Shanghai skyline, with its soaring edifices adorned with electronic lights reflecting onto the Bund’s Huangpu River, is a sight to behold. The 65-story Sinar Mas Plaza is one such building, and I was so proud to hear that the ads that typically play across its facade have been replaced by striking works of digital art created by our students at NYU Shanghai. Associate Arts Professor Stavros Didakis’s Media Architecture course instructs students on a range of techniques, including simulations and 3D compositing, and the class used the project to expand to a multistory scale. The display will run until mid-May.
Accessing wonderfully curated art online is one positive byproduct of the pandemic, and one show not to be missed is the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World’s fascinating virtual exhibit The Empire’s Physician: Prosperity, Plague, and Healing in Ancient Rome on the Roman doctor Galen (ca. 129–216/7 CE). It expertly weaves his personal story within the ancient medical and historical landscape—there is not one area of medical practice today that is not touched by his expansive legacy. Above, a Roman anatomy lesson.
It was great fun experiencing what is going through the minds of our students in Brooklyn while watching Tandon’s Integrated Digital Media video festival. The digital festival is a compilation of faculty commentary and the works by students—with a special showcase of senior and thesis projects—and proves that there truly are no bounds when artistry is combined with technology.
If one of your pandemic projects is to master Arabic, read on! Though one of the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers, Arabic is also one of the most commonly spoken in the world. NYU Abu Dhabi Senior Lecturer of Arabic Language Laila Familiar (above) is working on a dictionary that includes the top 2,000 words used in contemporary Arabic fiction, featuring a vocabulary extracted after analyzing novels nominated for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and aims to make Arabic literature more accessible.
Like many of you, Jennie and I look forward to the day when we can once again experience live theatre. Happily, several NYU experts at the School of Global Public Health and Tandon School of Engineering have lent their expertise to the Broadway League on how to safely reopen. Through studying air quality and considering other factors like testing and vaccination, our faculty have joined health experts and theatre professionals to devise strategies for protecting performers, behind-the-scenes staff, and the audience.
It’s always refreshing when our Broadway Windows come to life, and recently master's students in Steinhardt’s Costume Studies came through with the exhibit Fashion In/Action: Dressing for Global Unrest, which considered how fashion was transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic and activated in the service of social justice. The exhibition brought together objects loaned from individuals, artisans, small businesses, and major designers, which spoke to the ways fashion responded to the exceptional social conditions of 2020.
Art often entails turning things on their head, which is sort of what neuroscientist Denis Pelli has done with his site-specific art installation Lateral Sky View. It captures New York City’s sky through an imperfect parabolic mirror installed in the basement of a clothing retailer and allows one to see the sky’s brightness and enormity not by looking up but, rather, straight ahead while in a subterranean space.
I’m happy to see that some of our productions are being performed in person for limited audiences (in accordance with public health protocols, of course!). Tisch’s Graduate Acting and Department of Design for Stage and Film programs recently produced Romeo and Juliet, complete with COVID-compliant masks that were custom-made to suit the aesthetics of the show and to accommodate character changes.
Awards season always fills me with Violet pride, and I couldn’t have been happier to see a number of our alumni nominated for Golden Globes, including Tisch Grad Film alum Chloé Zhao (above), who made history after winning Best Director and Best Drama Motion Picture for Nomadland. She is the first Asian woman to win the Best Director award, and only the second woman to win. The film Judas and the Black Messiah, by Zhao’s classmate Shaka King, also took home honors, with Daniel Kaluuya winning Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture.