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A performance brings history to life
History will come alive on Friday, when well-known Island performer Mik Kuhlman literally steps inside some of the most iconic images from the civil rights era as part of an installation staged in an empty storefront in downtown Vashon.
With the audience watching from the streets, Kuhlman will project historic photographs of the early Civil Rights movement onto the windows of the vacant former Island Variety store and step into them as a shadow — artfully expressing the stories behind those powerful images.
Kuhlman described the project as an experiment and the first step in working out the details of a much larger concept that she hopes will both challenge and enlighten audiences.
“I love to bring art outside the box,” she said.
And while the performance piece is new, Kuhlman said it is something she has been thinking about for a long time.
She first got the idea for “Shadows” eight years ago, while working on a piece about Rosa Parks. After coming across a photograph of Parks taken from the rear of a bus, Kuhlman decided to use a slide projector and a suspended sheet to insert herself into the image as a shadow — walking down the aisle and taking a seat on the same bus.
She also developed an interest in other profound images from the era and the stories behind them, including the grief of Emmett Till’s mother and the dignity of the Little Rock Nine.
Kuhlman said she was excited to bring the project to Vashon.
“I love that it will be at Island Variety, because it’s an old five-and-dime store,” Kuhlman said. “A big reason I’m doing it in the windows is that the civil rights movement happened on the streets, so my whole idea was to make it very public.”
A team of collaborators, including choreographer Sonia Dawkins, has helped bring “Shadows” to fruition, and the performance will include both live and recorded music, with freedom songs from the era as part of the soundtrack.
Kuhlman’s biggest hope for the piece, she said, is that it will stir memories of a bygone time, and spark discussion and debate about important issues.
“What does it take to become an engaged citizen?” she asked.
Performances of “Shadows” will take place at 7, 8, 9 and 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1, in the windows of the former Island Variety store. There is no admission charge, but donations will be accepted. A post-event follow-up discussion about the performance will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3, at Minglement.