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Don’t Let Her Be Misunderstood

Nuance. “That’s been my word of the year,” says Sharon Udoh from a table at Kafe Kerouac, her favorite hovel to dwell—and think. “Social media is not working and it’s causing a huge disconnect. I’m not saying it’s not cathartic or that it shouldn’t be happening, but Facebook and Twitter have removed nuance, and story, [...]
Kevin J. Elliott




“That’s been my word of the year,” says Sharon Udoh from a table at Kafe Kerouac, her favorite hovel to dwell—and think.

“Social media is not working and it’s causing a huge disconnect. I’m not saying it’s not cathartic or that it shouldn’t be happening, but Facebook and Twitter have removed nuance, and story, and background.”

It’s that perspective, and no doubt a concentrated understanding of nuance, which have placed Udoh and her music as Counterfeit Madison as the gold standard in the Columbus scene and beyond. During her tenure in the city she has given herself plenty of identities; the “angry fucking black person,” the mercurial friend who is “empathetic to everyone, everything, and every side,” a “diversity educator” to students at the Arts and College Preparatory Academy. Not to mention an unashamed prodigy with perfect pitch and synesthesia.

But of all her self-proclamations, be it with love or deprecation, the one that stuck out on this day was the phrase “way base.” Indeed Udoh could charge her songs with the preoccupation du jour or rant religiously, but instead she focuses on the simple things that bond us as humans—the emotional ingredients in all of our DNA.

Opposable Thumbs, the title of Counterfeit Madison’s third release (at the Wexner Center, NBD), is as basic a sentiment as Udoh can conjure and the most ambitious and pure recording of her career. Full of big beautiful ballads that could appear on an Adele blockbuster or during the credits of a Disney animated fairy tale, Udoh possesses a voice that is unparalleled and can hardly be contained by tape. The other half provides levity with the floor-shaking electricity indicative of Udoh’s live performance, a polyglot of styles that highlight her range, from blues and funk to adorable indie and folksy piano playing.

It’s a duality that wildly veers between a side that wants to do nothing but express and get her music to the world, but also a side that is introverted and has a “desire to retreat” because of an incongruence between “appearance and personality.” It’s universal because it’s genuine.

“It’s talking about the human experience, it’s our thumbs that make us all humans,” says Udoh in complete earnest. “It’s how we hold and how we function—it’s a very human thing. I’m very simplistic. I wouldn’t call myself intelligent, but I think I’m emotionally intelligent. I know about sadness, longing, snarkiness, sassiness, jealousy … it’s all over the place.”

In a conscious move to evolve her sound, Udoh formed a full band and took to camping in Musicol Studios with engineer Keith Hanlon for the last two years. As a “composing maniac,” she challenged everything she’s made in the past and wrote parts for horns, other guitarists, other piano players, filling the record with complex melodic layers. With a core of Adam Hardy on bass and Seth Daily on drums, there are guest spots from a cavalcade of Columbus musicians including Way Yes’s Glenn Davis, Van Dale’s Joe Camerlengo, Dane Terry, and Val Glenn, making for a momentous, almost epochal, album.

After a few listens, it’s hard to imagine that Opposable Thumbs almost never happened, but after receiving over 80 rejections from labels, local Anyway Records swooped in and plans to release the record this month.

2017, though, wasn’t just about the journey to produce a definitive statement like Opposable Thumbs for Udoh, it was also the year that she performed as Nina Simone to a sold-out crowd. Comparisons to Simone have always followed Udoh, but she never thought of it as something that needed to be done until recently.

“The reason I first did it was because of the biopic, and how they cast fucking Zoe Saldana who looks nothing like her,” says Udoh, half-joking and half-serious. “You could go to any corner in Brooklyn and find a girl who can actually sing. I’m just sitting here like, ‘I can do this.’ Her music has pulled me through a lot of hard times. It felt like a coming of age for my black self.”

The show was a resounding enough success that she was asked to play another sold-out performance, this time at the Hattiloo Theater in Memphis, a city where the issues Simone rallied against are still very palpable and many in the audience were witness to both the MLK assassination and Simone singing those songs for the first time. It made Udoh think even deeper about the parallels the oppressed and the oppressors are going through in the now.

“I hate to sing about empathy because I don’t want to sound like I’m so much more advanced than everyone else, but I’m nothing but empathetic,” says Udoh. “I sing about the lowest-common denominator, so I think what is going on in Washington is very similar to things that are going on in our real life. I just think those boys in Charlottesville are just scared, they don’t have a lot going for them, they have really low self-esteem. But I write songs about low self-esteem. I’d rather talk about the roots of problems. I don’t want to talk about specific political things because in my mind political problems are just as much emotional problems.”

Whichever side you’re on, and whether or not you think Udoh should be a mouthpiece for social justice or simply a musician and poet singing about the balance of our basic human needs, overcoming the thick fog of fear that has divided America is the one metric for success that Udoh strives for with Counterfeit Madison.

“I just see fear. I myself have a lot of fear right now,” concludes Udoh. “So I would like to give people a chance to experience some fearlessness through my music—fearless enough to tell someone you love them, or that you hate them, or be fearless enough to know when to be loud and know when to be quiet.”

And in that fearlessness, in order to lead a full life according to Sharon, you no doubt need the nuance, whether it’s cooking a curry, dancing interpretatively, or just in having a conversation with the other side.

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Arts & Culture

How Bazaar: Popup arts fest shines a light on local creatives

Mike Thomas



While cultivating a newfound sense of personal fulfillment might be as simple as picking up a paint brush or instrument, earning a living through your art is a more complicated prospect. As longtime friends, collaborators, and Columbus art-scene hustlers Dustin Bennett and Zak Biggard will tell you, making it as an artist sometimes comes down to who you know.

Having met years ago as coworkers at a local printmaking shop, Bennett and Biggard have gone on to individual success with their own creative design firms. For Bennett, part of this work entails curating the art displayed at Clintonville’s Global Gallery, a cafe and art space that is committed to promoting fair trade handcrafted products from around the world.

When an exhibition Bennett was planning for the space fell through, he reached out to Biggard to fill the vacancy with his work. The resulting show was a hit, with Biggard selling several pieces in one of Global Gallery’s most successful exhibitions to date.

Biggard and Bennett outside of Global Gallery (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

His reputation with the venue established, Biggard approached Amy Palmer, Global Gallery’s manager, with an idea for a large-scale show. She gave him the thumbs up, and Biggard again partnered with Bennett to help bring his vision to light. The result is a show spanning three weekends in the month of August that the duo have dubbed Bazaar Ritual.

“The idea was a bazaar, this sort of Middle-Eastern marketplace where you walk in and it’s just a feast for the senses,” says Biggard. “All of these different sights, sounds, smells—everything packed together.”

As mutually beneficial as their collaborations had been, the Bennett and Biggard hope to open the doors of opportunity wide to other artists. Through this new exhibition/festival, the two aim to shed a light on creators who may not know how to navigate the sometimes complicated process of getting work into a conventional art show.

“Most of these people have never been involved in the gallery scene or never been able to show their work off,” Biggard explains. “They are just so excited to be a part of something, and the stuff I’ve been seeing from people, I just can't wait to have everything together in one place.”

When the exhibitors do come together for the popup-style event on August 3rd, 17th, and 31st, they will bring with them works across a diverse range of media.

“We’ve got people who make jewelry, clothing, glass blowers, painters and performance artists,” says Biggard. “It’s really the diversity of the work that’s the theme.”

As diverse as the work on display in the show will be, the exhibitors themselves hail from various disparate walks of life—everyone from nurses to dog walkers, printmakers to salespeople, as Bennett explains. In addition to the work shown during the recurring weekend events, each artist in Bazaar Ritual will have the opportunity to display one piece in Global Gallery throughout the month of August. Artists will keep 100% of the proceeds sold throughout the month and during the weekend events.

Along with providing a platform, the Bennett and Biggard hope that Bazaar Ritual will serve as a networking hub where creatives can meet and form collaborations of their own. Response from artists interested in taking part has already been building organically, with those involved telling their friends, those friends bringing more friends, and so on.

In addition to the prospect of hanging out with artists and perusing the exhibitions, the organizers of Bazaar Ritual have a number of surprises in store for attendees. Food trucks will be on hand, as well as live local music on Global Gallery’s spacious patio.

Though Bennett and Bigard are working diligently to bring this fledgling event to fruition, the two seem calm in the lead up to the show. Their artist-first approach lends a communal feel to the event, with creatives joining forces to put on an organized yet laid-back experience that shirks the corporate mold of some traditional gallery settings.

“We’re trying to do what art is meant to do and bring people together,” says Bennett. “We’re trying to bring together as many friends and strangers as we can—motleys and misfits alike.”

Global Gallery is located at 3535 N High St, in Clintonville. You can visit Bazaar Ritual there from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM on the 3rd, the 17th, and the 31st of August. For more information, check out @bazaarritual on Instagram.

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Arts & Culture

Arts Fest Preview: Kate Morgan, 2D mixed media artist





Kate Morgan began developing her ghostly, layered two-dimensional portraits after going back to school at the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2005. She already had some background in visual arts through her work in fashion and commercial photography, so the transition to drawing and painting was organic.

Morgan’s textured collages are inspired by folklore, mythology and a variety of artistic periods — especially Byzantine art. The 2011 Columbus Arts Festival Emerging Artist alum and 2019 exhibiting artist welcomes a wide array of complex themes into her pieces — including symbolic, cultural, historical and spiritual themes — while utilizing layers of vintage paper and original drawings to create visual depth and a sense of mystery.

Her pieces are purposely vague, leaning toward more minimalistic ideas to allow for wider interpretation by audiences. Largely her art depicts the female form, with as many layers and stories to tell as that of every human being. This is done with an eclectic assortment of materials — including sheet music, German Biblical pages, newspaper and maps — to add detail in both a topical and textural sense.

And yet, Morgan still continues to look for a challenge. From venturing away from her familiar blue hues to exploring different mediums like ceramics, her work knows no creative limits.

Morgan has exhibited at the Columbus Arts Festival nearly every year since 2011. She has gone on to win two jurors’ choice awards in the 2D category at the Columbus Arts Festival, as well as sell and have work juried at other major festivals across the country. In Columbus, her work can be seen as part of the Columbus Makes Art and Donatos Pizza collaborative mural “Every Piece Is Important” at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport.

Morgan has a BFA from CCAD and currently works out of her Franklinton studio in Columbus. Experience this stunning work first hand when you visit her at booth M572 on the Main Street Bridge during the Columbus Arts Festival from June 7-9 at the downtown riverfront.

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Arts & Culture

Be Square: Changes coming to arts community at 400 W Rich

Mike Thomas



If you haven't visited the thriving arts community at 400 West Rich street in awhile, you might be surprised to see how much things have changed. Now, the minds behind the city's hub for the arts are changing things up to better reflect the area's evolution.

400 Square is the new collective moniker for the array of concepts that currently occupy the buildings on the 400 block of Rich street in Franklinton. The rebrand seeks to unify the community of artistic innovators who call the area developed by Urban Smart Growth their creative home.

Promo art for 400 Square by Anthony Damico

Spaces encompassed in the rebrand include Strongwater, The Vanderelli Room, and Chromedge Studios, and of course, the studios at 400 W. Rich. While the name may be changing, the group remains committed to providing and sustaining a thriving hub for creatives through education, resources, and entertainment opportunities in the area.

With the launch of 400 Square, Urban Smart Growth Director of Operations Seth Stout has led his team to develop new offerings for each of the growing spaces. Food and Beverage Director Lauren Conrath and Events Director Molly Blundred have taken the lead with changes to the Strongwater brand, while Community Director Stephanie McGlone and Art Director AJ Vanderelli are facilitating programming for all ages and abilities on the artist side.

Through all of the changes on the way, the staff at 400 Square are committed to bringing the public the same high quality of workshops, events, exhibitions, and more that have always been part of their unique creative community.

Stay tuned for more info—the new 400 Square officially rolls out during the weekend of Columbus Arts Fest 2019, June 7-9.

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