The Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations held its 34th Cultural Rhythms Festival honoring Janet Mock, an acclaimed writer, producer, director, and transgender rights advocate as the Artist of The Year on Saturday.
Cultural Rhythms is an annual event showcasing and celebrating Harvard’s cultural and ethnic diversity, according to the foundation’s website. A day-long event, the festival includes a Q&A with students and The Artist of The Year, a luncheon, and a show in Sanders Theater. This year’s show also featured 12 performances by students and cultural groups.
Janet Mock began her day of festivities at an Artist Conversation event in the Kirkland Junior Common Room. She was welcomed with performances by the Harvard University Band and Najya A. Williams ’20, a poet and activist. Williams, previously honored by the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations for her work on campus, recited her original poem "Motherless Child."
Mock spoke to students about her life experiences navigating her identity as a black, native indigenous Hawaiian, transgender woman. She touched upon topics ranging from the importance of groups having access to space on campus to her relationships with family and friends. A New York Times best-selling author, she also spoke about her two memoirs, “Redefining Realness” (2014) and “Surpassing Certainty” (2017). After the event, a luncheon was held in honor of Mock in the Kirkland Dining Hall which included a performance by FUSIAN, an “East Asian-interest” a capella group.
Later in the afternoon, the Cultural Rythms Performance took place at Sanders Theater. Emmy Semprun ’22 opened the show by performing a Spanish flamenco dance (above).
“It was such an accepting space. I’ve become friends with all the performers now and we were all cheering each other on,” she said in an interview. “And it was just really nice to see such different performances, but we were all just trying to understand and support each other.”
The Kuumba Singers of Harvard College, the oldest existing Black organization at Harvard College, followed Semprun with several songs from their repertoire.
Founded in 1970, the choir “emerged as a source of community, spiritual inspiration, political motivation and cultural stimulation among the small but growing number of Black students at Harvard,” according to Kuumba’s website.
The Cultural Rhythms Show audience also saw classical dance performances by the Asian American Dance Troupe (right) and Harvard College Deepam, a classical Indian dance group, (left).
Under Construction, a Christian a capella group, wrapped up the first part of the show with a cover of NF’s “Paralyzed.”
After the intermission, Cultural Rhythms director Hakeem O. I. Angulu ’20 presented Mock with the 2019 Artist of the Year plaque.
Throughout the rest of the evening, other groups took to the stage to showcase their cultural acts, including Mariachi Véritas de Harvard (above) and Harvard Taekwondo Demonstration Team (below).
Following their performances, student representatives from each group were able to speak about and share the significance of their art to their culture and identity (below).
Abyssinia, an East African dance group, performed for the first time at Cultural Rhythms this year (below).
“Performing on Sanders stage, the biggest stage at Harvard, was huge for our community — to have that privilege and visibility,” Aaron Abai ’22 (back), Abyssinia performer and Cultural Dialogue co-director said in an interview.