Art beat: Writing a recipe for change

Robert Karimi confronts the growing risk of diabetes through theater

THE WEDGE — When the playwright and spoken-word artist Robert Karimi set up shop in a tiny gallery room at Intermedia Arts in February, he had a wide, eye-level slot cut into one wall, right next to the door.

The size and shape of a kitchen window, a visitor imagined Karimi might slide a steaming plate of food into the opening, slam a service bell and shout, “Pick up!”

It would not be out of character for Karimi — who offered to share the scrambled egg, mushroom and onion tacos he whipped-up for lunch during a recent interview — or his theatrical alter ego, chef Mero Cocinero Karimi. Mero Cocinero (“best cook” or “your homie cook,” translated from Spanish by Karimi) is the star of “The Cooking Show con Karimi y Comrades: Diabetes of Democracy,” a new performance Karimi plans to debut next year.

Past versions of Karimi’s interactive theater piece served up commentary on culture, race and politics in the format a PBS cooking show. The next episode, to be developed during Karimi’s 18-month residency at Intermedia Arts, will focus on the growing health threat posed by type 2 diabetes.

More than 8 percent of the U.S. population, or nearly 26 million people, is diagnosed with diabetes, the seventh-leading cause of death in the country, according to a January report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ninety to 95 percent of new cases are type 2 diabetes, a form associated with such factors as old age, obesity and physical inactivity that is more frequently being diagnosed in children and adolescents.

Diabetes also disproportionately affects minority communities. The CDC reported African Americans, American Indians, Hispanics and some Asian-American populations all had diabetes at higher rates than whites.

It’s those communities, in particular, Karimi wants to reach with his recipe of humor, storytelling, participatory theater and, of course, food. In each episode of “The Cooking Show,” Mero Cocinero Karimi cooks a dish that he then shares with the audience.

The new episode will develop through a series public events held on the fourth Wednesday of each month at Intermedia Arts. All events will include a glimpse into the creative process, conversation and free food.

Diabetes of Democracy events are the fourth Wednesday of every month at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S. 871-4444. Food will be served at all events.


A prequel to Soviet Realism

WINDOM — Call it a “prequel.”

That’s the word Bradford Shinkle IV, president and director of The Museum of Russian Art (TMORA), used to describe “Shades of Red,” a major new exhibition of Russian paintings produced between the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the start of World War II. Perhaps better than any previous TMORA exhibit, it provides context for the Soviet or Russian Realist painting at the core of the museum’s collection.

Naturalistic depictions of peasants toiling cheerfully for the Communist state would become the official style under Stalin’s regime. But avant-garde movements flourished in the early years of the Soviet state, before party leaders clamped-down on works that, in their abstraction, seemed dangerously open to interpretation, or, in their celebration of expressive line or impressionistic color, seemed to embrace bourgeois Western European ideals.

In the early post-revolution years, Shinkle said, “There was a tolerance for stylistic variability as long as the content was consistent with socialist ideology.”

Artists such as Georgi Rublev — represented here by a remarkable, neo-primitivist painting of factory workers meeting around a table draped in red cloth — eventually ran afoul of party authorities for their artistic explorations. Aleksandr Gerasimov publicly toed the party line on realism, and privately produced impressionistic paintings celebrating light and color.

For anyone wishing to better understand Soviet Realism, this is essential viewing.

“Shades of Red” runs through Sept. 15 at The Museum of Russian Art, 5500 Stevens Ave. S. 821-9045.


Minnesota history, in dance

THE WEDGE — Frontier Minnesota was a melting pot of French Voyageurs, American Indians, British and Canadian traders and trappers, Yankees from back East and others seeking to create a life on the edge of the Great Plains.

Into that environment was born Pierre Bottineau in 1817. A métis — the son of a French-Canadian father and American Indian mother — Bottineau helped to found St. Anthony, now part of Minneapolis, and was hailed as the last great voyageur upon his death in 1895.

Dance Revels Moving History tells the story of Bottineau’s life and those of other famous early Minnesotans — including Cloud Man, who founded a village near Lake Calhoun in the 1820s — through a blend of theater, traditional dance and music.

Performances of “Bottineau Jig: Untold Tales of Early Minnesota” are 7:30 p.m. April 1 and 2 at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S. For more information, or to order tickets, visit