Events
  • Otis College alumni in the New York/Tri-State area are invited to a reception welcoming visiting Otis College fashion students at Global Brands Group headquarters in the Empire State Building. Join fellow alumni to celebrate the culmination of the Fashion Design Department's annual trip to Manhattan. This special event - open to all alumni from both undergraduate and graduate departments - is a great chance to reconnect with friends, welcome new Fashion Design alumni from the Class of 2017, and meet Otis College leaders including Fashion Design Interim Chair Jill Higashi-Zeleznik.

  • In conjunction with the current exhibition Patterns Bigger Than Any of Us: Jesse Fleming / Pat O'Neill in Ben Maltz Gallery, May 7 - August 12, 2017.

    In Conversation: Jesse Fleming and Pat O'Neill, moderated by LA-based idependent curator and historian Ciara Moloney

     

    Jesse Fleming (b. 1977) is part of an emerging group of artists and technologists that examine the convergence of media art and mindfulness. Recent solo exhibitions were held at Five Car Garage; 356 Mission; and Night Gallery, all in Los Angeles, CA; and the University of Texas in Austin, TX.

    Pat O’Neill’s (b. 1939) artistic and filmmaking career spans over 50 years, and he is highly-regarded for his experiments with film and optical printing. Recent solo exhibitions were held at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA; Monitor in Rome, Italy; VeneKlasen/Werner in Berlin, Germany; Quinta do Quetzal in Vidigueira, Portugal; Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York, NY; and Cherry and Martin in Los Angeles, CA.

    Ciara Moloney is an independent curator, editor, and writer based in Los Angeles. She was formerly Curator of Exhibitions and Projects at Modern Art Oxford where she curated exhibitions by Barbara Kruger, Josh Kline, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Christian Boltanski and Kiki Kogelnik.

  • Amelia Gray is the author of the short story collections AM/PM, Museum of the Weird, and Gutshot, as well as the novels Threats and, most recently, Isadora, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Tin House, and VICE. She is winner of the New York Public Library Young Lions Award, of FC2's Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize, and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. 

  • Luis J. Rodriguez was Los Angeles Poet Laureate from 2014-2016. The twenty-fifth edition of his first book, Poems Across the Pavement, won a 2015 Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement. He has written fourteen other books of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and nonfiction, including the best-selling memoir Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. Rodriguez is also founding editor of Tia Chucha Press and co-founder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in the San Fernando Valley. In 2016 Tia Chucha Press produced the largest anthology of L.A.-area poets, Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes & Shifts of Los Angeles. Rodriguez’s last memoir It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award. His latest poetry collection Borrowed Bones appeared in 2016 from Curbstone Books/Northwestern University Press.

  • Raised in Philadelphia, with roots in South Africa and Trinidad, Zinzi Clemmons’ writing has appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story, Transition, The Paris Review Daily, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships and support from the MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Kimbilio Center for African American Fiction. She is co-founder and former Publisher of Apogee Journal, and a Contributing Editor to LitHub. She teaches literature and creative writing at the Colburn Conservatory and Occidental College. Her debut novel, What We Lose, as well as a second title, are forthcoming from Viking.

  • Louise Sandhaus is a graphic designer and graphic design educator. She was previously Director of the Graphic Design Program at CalArts where she currently is faculty. Her recent book on California graphic design, Earthquakes, Mudslides, Fires and Riots: California and Graphic Design 1936-1986, co-published by Metropolis Books and Thames & Hudson, has received laudatory reviews from The New York Times, The Guardian, Eye, and Creative Review. The book received the Palm d’Argent for best art book at FILAF (International Festival of Art Books and Films on Art).

  • Photo Credit: Jesse Pniak

     

    F. Douglas Brown received the 2013 Cave Canem Poetry Prize (selected by Tracy K. Smith) for Zero to Three, published by the University of Georgia. He also co-authored the chapbook Begotten with Geffrey Davis as part of Upper Rubber Boot Book's Floodgate Poetry Series. Both a past Cave Canem and Kundiman Fellow, his poems have appeared in the Academy of American Poets, The Virginia Quarterly, Bat City Review, The Chicago Quarterly Review, The Southern Humanities Review, The Sugar House Review, Cura Magazine, and Muzzle Magazine. He is co-founder and curator of un::fade::able - The Requiem for Sandra Bland, a quarterly reading series examining restorative justice through poetry as a means to address racism. Brown currently teaches English at Loyola High School in Los Angeles.

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Inside Dia de los Muertos

Otis College Students' Tribute to "Metamorphosis" to be Unveiled in Hollywood at Annual Celebration

For the last nine years associate professor Heather Joseph-Witham, Ph.D. has ended up in the cemetery with her students.

Joseph-Witham, an expert in folklore and mythology, teaches social science courses such as “Vampire Lit and Lore,” “Fairy Tales and Myths,” and “The Witch in Religion and Society,” at Otis College of Art and Design. Her “Modern Mysticism and the Afterlife” course, in its ninth year, includes a collaboration with Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Joseph-Witham, who has served as an expert on many television shows including, True Nightmares, Mythbusters, Sightings, Tornado Week, Real Ghosts, Magic Mysteries and Miracles, Animal Icons, A&E Biography, The Other Side, Exploring the Unknown, and Food Network Challenge, is currently researching and writing about gnome enthusiasts.

We caught up with Joseph-Witham to learn more about her class and the annual Dia de los Muertos Festival taking place at Hollywood Forever Cemetery this weekend.

You teach a number of intriguing courses at Otis College. Tell us more about “Modern Mysticism and the Afterlife.”

In the class, we explore the concept of the soul/spirit.  Do we have one, what is it and what can it do for people while they are alive and where does it go and what can it do when the human body dies? 

We look at the spirit as viewed through modern mysticism, mystic individuals, and social movements.  We discuss cross-cultural perspectives regarding death and life after death, the customs surrounding these beliefs and the eternal search by individuals and cultures for meaning within these concepts.  We explore rites of intensification that allow people to bring death into the life cycle.  We also explore how people seek to contact those in the afterlife and how it affects how they choose to live in this life. 

There are many goals for this course, but most importantly I want students to have a space to discuss and explore their own identities and diverse perspectives regarding a universal experience that fosters deeply held beliefs, customs, and rituals.

Day of the Dead altar

An altar from one of Joseph-Witham's previous classes.

How do the students react to looking into these topics?

This class engenders tremendous reactions from students.  Most of them assume they know what family members or even their religious or spiritual group believes about the afterlife.  In the course they perform ethnography projects and find out things they never suspected which makes them want to question more, explore further, and conduct more research. 

We have some wonderful and surprising discussions in class – it is a rare space where they can discuss and analyze the role of death, life, spirituality, skepticism, magic, ghost hunting and mediums safely and without ridicule. While our students are predominantly quite young, they do wonder about the central question – do they go on?

What is the Dia de los Muertos celebration and how is your class involved in the event?

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a syncretic holiday that was created through a combination of belief systems including Catholic All Souls and All Saints days and the rituals of the indigenous peoples in Mexico. Through migration and popular culture it has become a well-known event in the U.S. as well. It is a time for celebration, remembrance, community, tradition and is a reaffirmation of life. 

Our site partner for the class is the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which is one of the most gorgeous places in Los Angeles. The cemetery has hosted a Dia de los Muertos festival for 17 years and they do an amazing job of bringing together a variety of fine and folk artists, altar artisans, dancers, musicians, and costumers with the diverse cultures of Los Angeles. The people at Hollywood Forever are wonderful, and they promote creativity and community with the celebration, and they do it in a grand and spectacular manner. The festival is huge, fun, at times emotional, beautiful, exhausting, and wonderful.

Each year the class creates a grand, interactive altar in about a 24-foot long space.  These altars provide a pathway to celebrate and bring back those in the beyond.  We are able to experience people reactions to our altar at the celebration, which is pretty amazing.  We also explore that particular syncretic approach to death and the afterlife, and research the function of the festival for the participants.

We strive to make the altar interactive, so that people can enter and comment, write or record something.  It is a piece of ephemeral folk art that exists only in one moment of time and evolves throughout the celebration as people enter and leave pieces of themselves through their thoughts and actions.  

Last year, for example, one small element of our altar was a table dedicated to Ray Bradbury.  The students had set up an old typewriter next to a calavera and images and books of Bradbury’s.  People came through and wrote and wrote.  By the end of the day, we had really what amounted to a book of thoughts, poetry, and stories.  It was incredible. 

Day of the Dead

Altar to Ray Bradbury, from the 2015 Dia de los Muertos celebration. 

Who else has been honored with altars?

Each altar has a different focus or honors different people.  The first year was dedicated to various artists: Warhol/Kahlo/Dali.  The next year it was Dr. Seuss and the students created a giant red and white hat people could walk into where they heard recorded. Seuss poetry. 

We have honored space pioneers including Laika the dog, and visionaries like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, and Lewis Carroll. Last year the class could not agree on one person – so they settled on writers that take you to other worlds, and they created spaces for Shel Silverstein, Ray Bradbury, and Hunter S. Thompson. 

The most challenging day of the course is when we decide, discuss, and debate about what our altar theme or honoree will be.  The students are very passionate about who they admire and wish to honor so that day can become pretty crazy. 

And this year’s altar?

This year, oddly, there was little debate.  After throwing around names like Tolkien and Disney, they went with the concept of Metamorphosis as symbolized by the Monarch Butterfly.  The monarch has been closely related to afterlife traditions.  Not only do they return to parts of Mexico during this time of year, but they have been seen as carrying the souls of the departed, or even being the souls themselves.  So, our altar this year celebrates this transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, to the beyond and back, which evokes both awe and beauty.  The students also each created a figure of one of their own ancestors to dangle from our monarch adorned ‘tree of life.' 

You can check out this year’s altar at the annual Hollywood Forever Dia de los Muertos celebration on Saturday, October 29 from noon to midnight.

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