Artist otherwise known as…Malik Nashad Sharpe ’14

Malik Nashad Sharpe ’14 set up an organic vegan bento-box cafe in upstairs Goodrich last week. robert Yang/Executive Editor
Malik Nashad Sharpe ’14 set up an organic vegan bento-box cafe in upstairs Goodrich last week. robert Yang/Executive Editor

On April 14-15, Malik Nashad Sharpe ’14 performed the first half of his thesis for his contract major of Experimental Dance and Live Art with “Die Vegane: The Organic Bento Box Café,” a café set in the fictional utopia of Coco. I sat down with Malik right outside the location of his “experience” — in the upstairs of Goodrich Hall–this Saturday to discuss his beginning and progression as an artist. Growing up in Bay Shore, Long Island, N.Y., Sharpe developed a love for art and the Home and Garden Network (HGTV). His childhood passion for constructing papier-mâché structures would soon push him to study the components of his recent performance. At Bay Shore High School, he studied dance and performance and in the 10th grade, his choir even had the opportunity to tour Italy and sing for the Pope. Coming into the College, Sharpe initially wanted to major in art history. But while studying artworks, he realized that he focused more on their technical aspects rather than their critical or historical context. From then on, Sharpe has worked toward a major incorporating a combination of study in the dance and studio art departmens. Junior year, he attended the Laban Dance Center in London, England. While in London, Sharpe worked at Pogo Café, a punk-anarcho-vegan café. He drew much from the ideals and structure of the café for his performance, including several of the disconcerting issues he found with how veganism has been stereotyped. Of his experience, he said “When I worked at the [Pogo] Café, I saw random people come in off the street that were turned off by veganism because the regular customers weren’t accepting and because they felt alienated.” Another crucial element of his performance came from his experience in Tokyo. He was especially drawn to the unusual use of space in Tokyo (placing grocery stores on the 6th floor of a skyscraper, retail outlets down dark alleys) and the idea of the bento box cuisine (food items packed into one tray). Sharpe was able to incorporate these elements into his choreography. Malik said of his work with dance, “I am interested in both experimental input and output in dance — really trying to expand what may be considered dance, and trying to find my creative home in that.” The performances on the 14th and 15th began with 16 reservations for each two hour time period for the entire performance. Several costumed students (Harry Gilbert ’14, Nancy Zhong ’15, Sophia Wilansky ’16 and Sam Flinn ’14) acted as guides into the fictional country, Coco, where Sharpe “placed” the café, playing servers and fellow dancers. The patrons were met at the entrance of Goodrich and after they were given a pamphlet and a brief description of the fictional utopia, they were then escorted to a side room in upstairs Goodrich constructed for the performance. There was one set menu for the café to stress the experience of living underneath an all-encompassing government rule over production. Appetizers, dinner and dessert were served and the dishes sampled a variety of foods from organic root veggie burger triangles to pomegranate coconut ice cream. The food was prepared in collaboration with cook Tha Poeuk from Dining Services. Sharpe carefully selected the ingredients from local and organic farms. During the meal, Sharpe and fellow students danced in the room, demonstrating several contemporary dance forms such as “contact” dancing, which is a free-form dance focused on the sensation of touching bodies. Sharpe stressed that one of the main goals of the performance was to give the audience a sense of claustrophobia and tightness. But at the same time, he also wanted to create an environment that made people feel more accepting of veganism, stressing “I swear, we’re not all weird!” He feels confident in the success of his performance, understanding that as an artist it is difficult to interpret the reception of a performance, but that he has received many positive reviews from administrators, faculty and students. Moving on from the College, Sharpe will work on his master’s in dance at the Laban Dance Center, but will first live in Tokyo for two years with artists and friends to further capture different elements that he will incorporate in his future work. His last words wished for a wider understanding of performance and dance choreography. He hopes more people will begin to appreciate the possibilities of performance and to see past only the human as the subject. All of the abstract concepts brought together by his performance were simply hiding in the most average of places and it only took a careful, closer look to find them.