John Greyson opera Fig Trees tackles AIDS activism

York film Professor John Greyson, of the Faculty of Fine Arts, says opera could be seen as an “inappropriate medium” for the subject matter of Fig Trees, his new video opera, wrote May 21. It defies conventions of genre, politics and even Mother Nature – the film is narrated by a singing squirrel – in a way that clashes with its serious subject matter, AIDS.

Greyson’s experimental work Fig Trees challenges both convention and what the Canadian filmmaker and activist sees as an epidemic of complacency. “[We] see complacency,” he told CBC’s “Q” cultural affairs show. “[We] see a smugness in society, thinking that we’ve dealt with it. We’re buying T-shirts to save people in Africa. What we’ve got to do is see through that complacency.”

Greyson is an acclaimed director of eccentric, often gay-themed works with socially charged messages. Fond of defying convention, Greyson admitted an AIDS story in the form of an opera is a strange creature, as is the film’s narrator – a singing albino squirrel.

The film takes a global perspective because that’s what AIDS activism needs, Greyson said. "One of the most important things about AIDS activism right now is the global character. It’s really simple: it’s because of the drug companies. If the drug companies are multinational, then our activism has to be multinational in the same way," he said.

When he created Fig Trees, Greyson wanted to make opera socially conscious again.

"We were definitely taking on opera as this conservative, elitist monolith, but on the other hand, trying to tease out a tendency that’s sometimes forgotten, a tendency of resistance, a tendency of social activism buried within those surtitles and grand divas parking and barking on centre stage," he said.

York’s beginning remembered in Globe archives story

50 YEARS AGO: The Globe and Mail reported the announcement that York University would open its doors to students in September 1960 as a direct affiliate of the University of Toronto, wrote The Globe and Mail May 22.

Young entrepreneur struggles with delays due to strike

Annandi Merhai, 21, a visual arts student at York University, became involved with the Summer Company program last month, wrote the Richmond Hill Liberal May 21 in a story about the self-employment program offered through the Richmond Hill Small Business Enterprise Centre.

Unfortunately, her photography venture Devi Designs is starting slowly at present, as instead of focusing her efforts on her summer business, she must balance her business model workload with lectures, notes and homework.

“Thanks to the strike at York this year, I will be at school until the end of May. I should have been done a month ago and now I can’t dedicate 100 per cent to my photography,” Merhai said with some anger. “It is already so hard to find work and a clientele. Professional photography is such a competitive industry and you have to get your name out there and deliver a finished product quicker than the next person. That is really tough when I am at school every day,” she added.

Yet she said she remains optimistic about the future success of Devi Designs and hopes the Summer Company program will help her make an all-important first career step. “I am quickly learning how to market myself, while learning proper business practices at the same time. Sure, it has been a tough start, but this experience will no doubt kick-start my career.

Fine arts grad embraces the art of wait and see

When I travel, I fully embrace the idea of being a tourist and I go to all the “must-see” attractions listed in the guidebooks, wrote photographer and York grad Dan Hudson (BFA Spec. Hons. ’84) in The Calgary Herald May 22. Thankfully, my passion for photography impedes my progress in the blind rush from one tourist attraction to the next. Looking back at my vacation snaps, I notice that most of my favourite shots were taken either on my way to, or on my way from, tourist attractions. If you think about it, when travelling you spend most of your time in-between attractions and for me that ends up being the real travel experience.

Photography provides me with a reason to hang out in these in-between places for much longer than I might without a purpose…. The point is simply that having a photographic purpose eliminates the urgent need to stampede through the world and often allows the world to unfold in remarkable ways.

Hudson lives in Canmore, Alta. where he works as an artist and photojournalist, and received his BFA from York University’s [Faculty of Fine Arts], wrote the Herald.

Tamara Gordon enjoys motivating other young people

York student Tamara Gordon was very busy a few Mondays ago receiving accolades for her outstanding volunteer work and academic achievements and delivering an inspirational address at York University, wrote Toronto’s Share May 21.

Confined to a wheelchair for the past seven years, Gordon was one of eight recipients of the Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers presented earlier in the day at Queen’s Park.

Gervan Fearon was one of the people who nominated Gordon for the award. He attended the event. “I nominated Tamara because of her contributions to student and academic success, particularly at York University, and her community engagement and volunteerism,” said Fearon, currently the associate dean, academics at York University’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. “She has done a tremendous amount of work in motivating people and she has also demonstrated that their lives matter and that their contributions to society are valued. Tammy is an ‘A’ student who has received many honours at our University.”

On air

  • York student Mike Liscombe, a member of the York University Rover Team, spoke about the team’s entry in the 2009 Mars Society Rover Challenge on Discovery TV’s “Daily Planet” May 21.