College of the Arts Looks East

Individuals -- and influences -- from China, Japan, India, Pakistan, and South Korea make their mark across all disciplines

The Great Wall of China

"East is East, and West is West and never the twain shall meet," wrote Rudyard Kipling in his poem, The Ballad of East and West.

However, here in the College of the Arts at Montclair State University, East and West have not only met, but are co-existing side-by-side as harmoniously as yin and yang.

Following are examples of some Eastern-inspired individuals and events making their mark at the College across all disciplines.


Department of Art and Design

Art Forum, a weekly speaker series featuring notable artists, designers, art historians and art critics from around the world who share their work and ideas, is presenting two artists from the Asian subcontinent who will speak to our students about their work and culture.  

On April 8, Tara Sabharwal, an artist from India, presented her paintings and prints. Sabharwal explores themes of lost, remembered and revisited personal narratives in her works, which are mostly inspired by natural and architectural imagery. Sabharwal has presented solo shows in London, Germany, New York, Japan, Italy, France, and Portugal. She has taught at the Guggenheim Museum, Cooper Union, City University (CUNY), and the Rubin Museum of Art. Her work is in collections of the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, London and Peabody Essex Museum in Boston. She lives and works between India, the UK and New York.  .  

On April 22, Ruby Chishti, an installation artist from Pakistan, will present “Art Comes from Life,” a lecture focused on her unique art practice. Born in Pakistan, Chishti graduated from the National College of Arts, in Lahore and, for the last 13 years, has produced a series of lyrical sculptures and installations that touch on such issues as gender politics, and universal themes of love, loss and of being human. Her work has been exhibited at various international venues including Hong Kong; Madrid; India; United Kingdom; and  New York, among others. Chishti now lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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This summer, Fashion Studies Prof. Abby Lillethun will be accompanying a dozen students in the Department of Art and Design for a 10-day study tour of Japan as part of the Kakehashi Project Student Creators Program, a youth-exchange program organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan and supported by the Japan Foundation to heighten potential interest in Japan.

"The...program aims to enhance understanding of Japan and promote deeper mutual understanding between young people and future leaders of the U.S. and Japan," Lillethun said.

During the trip, scheduled from June 9–19, students will visit cultural sites and organizations, as well as a Japanese school, among other venues.

"In Japan, the group will meet with professional artists and designers, visit both contemporary and traditional art and design sites, and participate in exchanges with Japanese university students," Lillethun said.

The 12 student travelers will create and present projects inspired by the trip during the 2014–2015 academic year, Lillethun added. It is expected the trip will also result in a school-exchange program with Japanese students scheduled to visit Montclair in 2015. 

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A new program in the works will allow students from South Korea as well as Montclair State's Graphic Design and Industrial Design programs to receive a dual BFA degree from Montclair State University and the Seoul National University of Science and Technology (SeoulTech) in Seoul, South Korea. In the 1+2+1 Dual BFA Degree program, Korean students will spend their first year at SeoulTech, then study two years at Montclair State and complete their last year back at their mother institution. Students from Montclair State are also eligible to complete the program, mirroring the same sequence of study. With successful completion at both institutions, graduates will receive two BFA degrees — one from SeoulTech and one from Montclair State. Prof. John Luttropp, Program Director of the BFA in Graphic Design program, and Asst. Prof. Kyeong-Won Youn, have travelled to Seoul, South Korea, to initiate the new program.  (Read more here.)

Department of Theatre and Dance

Assoc. Prof. Clay James, coordinator of Montclair’s Musical Theatre program, participated in a 10-week residency last October-December at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts (SIVA), in China, where he helped to establish the institution’s first-ever Musical Theater program. As a result, SIVA will admit the first batch of musical theater majors this coming fall. James said he's spent the last two years developing the program. While there, James served as associate director and choreographer for Shanghai Dreams, which was performed in Chinese. With students translating for him, James said he was able to overcome the language barrier, adding that the production was a hit.

"Shanghai Dreams was very well received and there are hopes to remount if for an open-ended run in 2015 in China in a professional theater with professional actors," he said.

James also sang the praises of the students at SIVA.

"They're incredible. They love musical theater," he said. "They have very strong performance skills, they are very good singers, and all the performances were done in English, so they loved that."

James noted that the singers faced an especially daunting task in that, because they couldn't read Western notation, they had to learn all the musical pieces by ear. He said all the students worked very hard and he applauded their strong work ethic, which he credited to their rigorous schedule.

"In China, they go to school six days a week, for 12-14 hours a day," he said. "And their academic year is longer, usually from the first week in September to mid-July, with six weeks off for summer."

But, he's quick to add, in many ways, the students are the same, whether they're in China or at MSU.

"Students are students, everywhere," he said. "They love the performing aspect but not so much the general-ed requirements."

It was the second trip to SIVA within a few months for James who, last summer, went for eight weeks to teach a musical theater intensive for acting. In between the two trips, he returned to MSU to host four faculty members from SIVA who visited from September 28-October 4. James said the delegation's visit was to establish an exchange program for musical theater students at both institutions, with a group of MSU students slated to go over first in 2015, and a contingent of SIVA students coming to MSU the following year.

James said such exchanges are invaluable, not only for musical theater students, but all students, and also for the host country.

"It increases students' global perspective, as far as their craft and training," James explained. "Students in the musical theater program need to understand there is a global demand for entertainment in musical theater. Students shouldn't be so narrow in their focus of their training. They need to broaden their perspective of performance opportunity, and that is part of Montclair State University's mission as a whole."

John J. Cali School of Music

The Cali School has looked East for some time in that it's been home to its resident ensemble The Shanghai Quartet for more than a decade. The group, whose members include Honggang Li (viola), Weigang Li and Yi-Wen Jiang (violin), and Nicholas Tzavaras (cello), has served as artists-in-residence since 2002. Formed at the Shanghai Conservatory in 1983, the Shanghai Quartet has worked with the world's most distinguished artists and regularly tours the major music centers of Europe, North America and Asia. In addition to its residency at Montclair State, the Shanghai Quartet also serves as Ensemble-in-Residence with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, and visiting guest professors of the Shanghai Conservatory and the Central Conservatory in Beijing. The group performs regularly as part of Montclair State University's Peak Performances series, including the March 30 Northeast premiere of David Del Tredici’s Bullycide, a new work written in memory of five gay teens who committed suicide, including Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi.

This academic year, the School welcomed internationally prominent composer and performer Elizabeth Brown as a composer-in-residence (see article here). Brown plays the shakuhachi, or traditional Japanese bamboo flute. After hearing the instrument on a concert tour of Japan, Brown began studying shakuhachi in 1984 and its music has been a major influence on her musical language. A Grand-prize Winner in the Makino Yutaka Composition Competition for Japanese traditional instrument orchestra in 2011, she was also a prizewinner in the SGCM Shakuhachi Composition Competition 2010, with performances in Tokyo's Kioi Hall and Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, Takemitsu Memorial. She has been an artist-in-residence in locations from the Hanoi National Conservatory to Grand Canyon National Park. January 30, Brown performed works for shakuhachi as part of the School's Faculty series (see more information here). In addition to the shakuhachi, Brown plays the flute, and theremin, an electronic instrument controlled without physical contact by the thereminist (performer).

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The Cali School also hosted 19 students and five instructors from East China Normal University (ECNU) for two weeks this year, culminating in a December 8 concert that  featured works by Chinese composers, the “New World” symphony by Antonin Dvorák, and a Cali School-commissioned, world-premiere work by noted American composer Roberto Sierra. Highlights of the concert included performances of Chinese pieces by members of the ECNU Symphony Orchestra, and a solo performance on the erhu, the bowed, two-stringed Chinese fiddle by the erhu master, Wang Guowei. Director of Orchestral Studies Ken Lam led the orchestra, with guest-conductor Hou Runyu, music director of ECNU and artistic advisor to the Asian Youth Orchestra. (Read more about the concert here.) College of the Arts' Dean Dan Gurskis said Cali students are expected to go to Shanghai to play with the ECNU Orchestra next year as part of the School's global performance-ensemble exchange trips.


Vision for the Future

Montclair State collaborations with its Asian counterparts is ongoing, with many plans for future programming.

Dean Gurskis added that College officials are also in talks with representatives at SIVA for an exchange program in documentary production with the College’s  School of Communication and Media in the near future.

"Although the plans are still very exploratory at this point, they are an indication of the College's continuing interest in the East," Gurskis said.