About Anaka Kaundinya

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What’s Up With the Giant Spikes Outside of Cooper Union?

Jan Palach Memorial at Cooper Union (Photo: Anaka Kaundinya)

Cube, meet spikes.

The Alamo returned in November and now another piece of monumental art is being installed outside of Cooper Union’s Foundation Building. The sculpture, a nine-foot-by-nine-foot cube with spikes mounted on top, is by John Hejduk, an artist, architect and former Dean Emeritus of Cooper Union.

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Watch a Little Girl Absolutely Lose It to This Psychedelic Didgeridoo Player

A toddler dances to Mueller’s music (Photo: Anaka Kaundinya)

“It’s scratch and sniff,” says Marc Mueller as a young man reaches for his business card. “It smells like me right now.” He gives a somewhat contemptuous half grunt before returning to his instruments. On this particular evening, the seasoned musician is stationed under the dull subway tungsten of Penn Station, coaxing psychedelic jungle sounds from a didgeridoo-inspired pipe while all four limbs accompany him on percussion. He looks disheveled, wearing his grey stubble with a touch of “wild.” He sprawls himself on a box that doubles as both seat and instrument, occasionally pointing at bewildered passers-by with his didgeridoo. As I’d come to understand, the scratch-and-sniff comment is one of his stock responses to the skittish commuters who make up his audience.

Not that I fully comprehend the meaning of the phrase, but it is emblematic of what makes him different from the typical polite and distanced busker. Every now and then Mueller, who is tall and lanky with sharp eyes, lightly scolds his underground listeners. That’s right: scolds. The reason? Around 2007 he started noticing that people became fixated on taking videos of the performance instead of enjoying the live presence of the performer. “People are much more interested in collecting data and capturing something for 5 to 10 seconds rather than stopping and being part of a collective public group,” complains Mueller.

He views the taking of videos for Instagram and Facebook as an obsession, one that jars directly with his sensibility as an artist. For this old-school musician and his ilk, the act of performing music is about forming a meaningful connection, however fleeting, with another human being. “We’ve had to respond to that phenomenon of disconnect by trying to engage people with either conversation or stopping a song,” he says, defending the need to scold.

Mueller performs with impressive frequency, averaging about 170 shows a year. Both his solo act as StreetMule and his band Mecca Bodega have been widely successful. He co-founded the latter with his brother 25 years ago, and together they’ve played at venues ranging from Lincoln Center and the Celebrate Brooklyn Summer Festival, to the Sydney Fringe Festival in Australia. But through bouts of public notoriety, Mueller remains grounded to his roots with the Music Under New York (MUNY) performing arts program, one that he’s been associated with since 1995.

Over the course of the evening, I began to empathize with Mueller’s frustration– it is kind of irritating when streams of people stop for only as long as it takes to get a photograph or video. That being said, the scattered audiences that do gather are respectful, attentive and seem to appreciate Mueller’s uncommon talent. A handful of people walked up to him, reverentially asking about his instruments. He plays on an assemblage of world music and hand-made instruments; his didgeridoo, originally meant to be wood, is really just a painted PVC pipe. He also has a string of bells wrapped around an ankle, two shakers, a plastic drum and more, relying heavily on his wooden seat/box to provide a percussive base.

One young tourist was so moved that he bought a CD, got Mueller to sign it and asked me to take a photo of them together. The true delight on Mueller’s face at these interactions– particularly with little children– undeniably outweigh the irritation of constantly being filmed: “It’s wonderful,” he says, “that’s why I’m out here. I get a chance to share my energy which is the most important thing and hopefully I’ll get some energy back from those conversations.”

Watch this video of toddlers enjoying Mueller’s music:

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NADA to See Here: Best of the New Art Dealers Alliance Fair

The annual NADA New York art fair kicked off yesterday in Soho. With a new space (Skylight Clarkson North) and a new time of year (Armory Week), NADA remains a cacophony of serious art enthusiasts and neophytes. Among the 100 exhibitors are a host of downtown galleries like Jack Hanley Gallery, Regina Rex, Rawson Projects, Alden Projects, and Brennan & Griffin. In classic style, nearly everyone was dressed in an all-consuming black. Here’s a look at what was on display this year.

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Designers Search For a Way to Confront the Immigration Crisis

L-R: Ezio Manzini, Rachel Lehrer and Ker Thao (Photo: Mashal Khan)

Design is something that most of us have a vague interest in, if only while furniture shopping. But what does a plebeian like me, to whom design still relates to physical products, make of the changing definition of the word? What do all the thousands of students entering design school every year really do? Surely they can’t all be trained to design pretty wall hangings? Sometimes the words “social impact” creeps into my mind and I think of things like this utilitarian tent-cum-jacket meant to shelter refugees fleeing war, but that’s as far as my imagination stretches.

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Sanctuary Restaurant Movement Takes Root on Lower East Side

(Photos: COLORS on Facebook)

News of President Trump’s tightened deportation plan together with the forty ICE arrests made in NYC last week and the earlier executive order restricting the entry of immigrants into the country has created an atmosphere of fear across the service industry. According to a national study by the Pew Research Center in 2009, 12% of the restaurant industry’s workforce are undocumented. The industry is notorious for paying near-poverty wages. And the increasingly hateful rhetoric surrounding immigrants, legal or not, is likely to restrict restaurant workers from fighting for better conditions.

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What A Day Without Immigrants Looks Like in NYC

Uniting under #adaywithoutimmigrants, businesses across the nation remained closed today in powerful defiance of Trump’s crackdown on immigration. The protesters, enraged that Immigration and Customs officials reportedly arrested 680 immigrants last week, have been urging immigrant workers to stay home from work and school, and refrain from buying anything. The idea is to highlight how integral immigrants are to the backbone of the country by stalling economic contribution for one day. Close on the heels of Washington D.C., which became the epicenter of the strike/boycott, dozens of businesses across NYC will remain closed today. Most are, fittingly, restaurants– an industry largely dependent on immigrant employees.

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Ralliers Try to Seduce Mayor Into Blocking East Village Dorm

Residents, activists, community groups and their elected representatives gathered at the steps of City Hall yesterday afternoon with a Valentine’s Day message for Mayor de Blasio. Their request – to convert the long vacant P.S. 64 building in the East Village into a community center and disallow owner Gregg Singer from developing it into a college dorm.

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City Doesn’t Have Greenbacks For Rehab of Sara D. Roosevelt Park

(Photo: Cassidy Dawn Graves)

(Photo: Cassidy Dawn Graves)

“It’s not so good, huh?” laughs Kathleen Webster, president of the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition as she refers to the D- grade that the park received from New Yorkers for Parks. The near-failing grade was issued last year by the nonprofit whose research and policy recommendations help in advocating for more equitably distributed, sustainable and well-maintained parks in the city.

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What Happens When You Stop and Talk to a Clipboard Person

Kasigo Tshwene of Amnesty International appeals to a passerby at Astor Place (Photo: Anaka Kaundinya)

Kasigo Tshwene of Amnesty International appeals to a passerby at Astor Place (Photo: Anaka Kaundinya)

I can come up with a handful of half-decent excuses to not talk to a canvasser on the street, ranging from the whiny to the legit– I really am too broke to help. But to tell the truth, I also don’t want to get into a difficult conversation about the dismal state of the world. Don’t we have enough of that shoved down our social media feeds everyday? So yes, turns out I am that person that we wrote about in October, the one who brushes past Amnesty International canvassers. There’s an art to it, too: first I let my gaze turn steely, then I tighten the grip on my bag and put on an air of a person with a purpose. It works like a charm and at worst, I’m left with a slight twinge of guilt.

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