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Humanities event explores how artists challenge authority

by Cindy Weiss - March 31, 2008

The third annual Day in the Humanities on April 4 will explore how artists ranging from Renaissance painters to rappers have used their celebrity to challenge or celebrate the authority of the state.

“Artist + State + Celebrity,” a day-long forum of lectures, discussions, and a dramatic presentation, will take place in the Nafe Katter Theatre from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The yearly celebration of the humanities is organized by the University’s Humanities Institute in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in collaboration with the dramatic arts department in the School of Fine Arts.

The day begins with the play Scenes from an Execution by Howard Barker, produced by Gary English, department head and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Dramatic Arts.

The play, set in Venice during the Italian Renaissance, concerns the relationship between the authorities in Venice and a female artist who is commissioned to paint a monumental work on the Battle of Lepanto.

Rather than glorify the battle as a victory for Christianity and Venice, the brilliant but stubborn painter shows the violence and horror of war.

Tensions arise that test the ruling Doge; his brother, the admiral who won the battle; the Cardinal; and the artist, who is imprisoned.

Nafe Katter, emeritus professor of dramatic arts, for whom the theater is named, will play the Doge.

Talks following the play will be led by faculty members from the departments of philosophy, modern and classical languages, English, history, and music.

Philosophy professor Diane Meyers will speak about how two artists presenting shows in New York City in 2006 used their work to protest the war on terrorism.

Brenda Murphy, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of English and a Humanities Institute fellow, will speak on “Naming Names: Miller, Kazan, and McCarthyism,” about how playwright Arthur Miller and film director Elia Kazan responded to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Other speakers will talk about rappers rebelling against the Bush Administration’s policies; the use of Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, as a representation of German culture; and the role of bankers, princes, and popes as patrons of the art in the Italian Renaissance.

Harvey Sachs, music historian and biographer of Arturo Toscanini, will deliver the keynote talk at 4:30 p.m., “Conducting Resistance,” on Toscanini’s response to fascism.

Toscanini, one of the most famous conductors of the 20th century, would not conduct in Italy under Mussolini’s rule. When Hitler was in power in Germany, he withdrew from the major music festivals in Germany and Austria. Sachs will speak about Toscanini’s actions and the relationship of art and politics.

For more information about Day in the Humanities, go to the Humanities Institute web site: web.uconn.edu/uchi/home.php

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