Responding to The Migration Series: Annalisa Dias

The Phillips has commissioned five plays from local playwrights in response to Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series.  The resulting 10-minute, one-act plays will be performed on Oct. 20. In this series, we interview each playwright.


Annalisa Dias

Why did you decide to get into theatre? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
Annalisa Dias: I did theatre in middle school and high school. I had an English teacher who suggested I try participating in the Pittsburgh Public Theatre (PPT)’s annual Shakespeare monologue contest in 8th grade, so I did that, and then very quickly got hooked and participated in basically every education program that PPT offered for the next five years. I still look at my experience with their Shakespeare Intensive program as formative. This was a three-week high school summer program by the end of which students put up an entire play on the PPT stage. The year I did it, we did Macbeth. I’ve been sort of obsessed with that play ever since. The irony, of course, is that as my understanding of colonial power structures has grown, I’m no longer a huge proponent of Shakespeare. In fact, just recently, I was invited to speak at DC’s Shakespeare Theater Company about race, identity, and the implications of colonialism on the supposed universality of Shakespeare.

Tell me a little bit about your writing process. Do you have any writing rituals? Do you write in the same place or in different places?
AD: My process is different depending on the project. Some of my writing is solitary. I think many people would tell you that much of my writing is collaborative or devised. It’s interesting to think about ritual in that respect—I’ve been reflecting recently on the active and contemplative lifestyles (I come from a Catholic background, what can I say?), and now I’m wondering about whether different writing or playmaking modes might map onto those. Maybe there’s something to be said for striking a balance between active and contemplative playmaking.

Please share your thoughts on what The Migration Series means to you. What excited you about being a part of this festival?
AD: The Migration Series is so fascinating to me for a number of reasons, not least of which is its narrative capacity. It’s exciting that all of the panels are being brought back together so they can be experienced as a whole story. Recently, I had a passing thought when walking through the Phillips about how the gaps in the separated The Migration Series narrative actually reflect something of the gaps in our understanding of the complexities of American systemic racism.

Tell us a bit about your play. What is it about, and what do you hope audiences will walk away thinking about after hearing it?
AD: My piece is about the current, largely unseen and coerced, migration of black and brown bodies into prison cells. The United States currently incarcerates more people than any country in the world. Our society has criminalized black and brown bodies, and then legally sanctioned disenfranchisement and discrimination against those folks. And our education system is complicit in that. If anything, I’d hope people walk away thinking about the way The Migration Series as not just a historical artifact, but also a signpost that points to still prevalent racism in our country.

Which of the Migration Series panels inspired your play? What drew you to it? What was it like to write a play inspired by a work of art?
AD: I was inspired by so many of the panels, but particularly Panel no. 49. There was something about the acceptance of physical divisions in daily life that spoke to me about our contemporary assumptions about physical spaces. I’m a visual artist myself, so I actually started by doing some pen sketches based on the spatial composition of Panel no. 49. Believe it or not, that led to an image of a balloon with chain link as its ribbon. And that image is alluded to in the piece that I wrote.

Why do you think the message of The Migration Series still resonates today? How does your play relate to that message?
AD: I think the difficult reality is that we live in a racist society, so while we’d like to think that the civil rights movement of the ’60s put an end to the spectre of racial disenfranchisement and discrimination, the reality is that racism is still alive and well. What’s troubling about The Migration Series for me is that I don’t want to think about it as though racism is over and solved, and we might run that risk by sheer virtue of it being housed within a museum. I’m excited by the opportunity to engage with it through theatre, where contemporary bodies might add another layer of complexity to the dialogue about our lived experience with racism today.

What advice do you have for up-and-coming playwrights?
AD: In many ways, I think I still am one! So I guess the advice I’d give to myself is: be rigorous in your thinking about the ethics of creating art, failure is necessary to creation, and be as generous and kind to those around you as you can.

What next for you? Where can we follow your work?
AD: I’m a Producing Playwright with The Welders, so I’ll be working here in DC for the next few years, and you can find more information on my website or Twitter @ajdm. I also co-founded the DC Coalition for Theatre & Social Justice, and if you’d like more information on that, please visit the website or email

ArtGrams: Framing the Elephant


Photo: Instagram/nicoleeboni

We’re sad to see Karel Appel: A Gesture of Color go, but Appel’s The Elephant remains on our corner for a bit longer! In this month’s ArtGrams, we’re sharing your creative shots of this sculpture. Share your photos in and around the museum for a chance to be featured on the blog.


Photo: Instagram/francoisehazel


Photo: Instagram/kac906


Photo: Instagram/esoteric_soiree


Photo: Instagram/caseycats


Photo: Instagram/jenniferway


Photo: Instagram/rejanefe


Photo: Instagram/efstewart


Photo: Instagram/quicoycoco

ArtGrams is a monthly series in which we feature our favorite Instagrammed pictures taken around or inspired by the museum. Each month, we’ll feature a different theme based on trends we’ve seen in visitor photos. Hashtag your images with #PhillipsCollection or tag your location for a chance to be featured.


In this series, Education Specialist for Public Programs Emily Bray highlights participants in the 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through September 19, 2016.

Anna E. Kaminski, "code"

Anna E. Kaminski, “code”

Anna E. Kaminski

Anna E. Kaminski, Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Anna E. Kaminski, Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Tell us about yourself and your work.

As an artist and activist, my work stages elaborate scenes to create political narratives. Having started in photojournalism in the midst of the Iraq War, politics, religion, and human rights are central themes in my work. I work in the realm of photography, sculpture, installation, and performance. Through curating environments that have often lived at the intersection of photography and installation, I work specifically to make audiences uncomfortable and provide a space for questioning and contemplation about our collective roles on the political stage and within the capitalist spectacle.

My work aims to question the realities we know and complacencies we accept.  I have been involved in the activist community through organizations like CODEPINK, occupy, women against military madness, and worked in the realm of homelessness and housing at DC area shelters and policy organizations. These experiences deeply inform my work.  I am currently working on a long-term project re-envisioning power politics, issues of anonymity, and complacency in Washington, D.C. and also creating new work about drone warfare. Currently, I am one of the twelve individuals in the inaugural class at the S&R Foundation Fillmore Studios program for emerging artists in Washington, DC.

What do you do at The Phillips Collection? Are there any unique/interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?

I just recently started at The Phillips Collection as a part-time Sales Associate in the gift shop. After working with various non-profits, I am so happy to finally be working in the realm of the arts again. I am so grateful to be working in a place that values artistic contributions and with some really creative and knowledgeable people.

Who is your favorite artist in the collection?

For many reasons I would have to say Georgia O’Keeffe. Her strength, independence, and resilience as a woman artist is something I deeply admire as a feminist. I think her work helped pave the way for women like myself in the arts. Ironically, I also value the work of Alfred Stieglitz, someone who broke O’Keeffe’s heart and I think provided so much emotion that is seen clearly in her work. Also perhaps more than certain images, I value his contributions to photography and determination in shaping it into a recognized art form.

What is your favorite gallery or space within The Phillips Collection?

My favorite space in the museum is the Laib Wax Room by Wolfgang Laib. For me, it is evocative of so much and can and does provide a symbolic core of the museum. For bees, the production of wax is essential to sustaining their colonies. I find strong parallels between the human need to produce and consume culture to sustain ourselves and a bee’s need to produce and consume honey. The single light bulb, an invention that has become such a marked symbol of the beginning of the modern era, illuminating the vibrant yellow wax, also illuminates the museums’ role as a cultural producer.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2016 Staff Show (or your work in general)?

The three photographs hanging in the 2016 Staff Show are part of a larger series of six photographs shot with a 35 mm camera as an experiment for a performance piece that has yet to be performed.  The work draws inspiration from Post-humanism and meditates on technology’s complacency in the erasure of the human. Inspired by the binary code making up photographs from predator and killer drones as well as the binary code making up images of women in pornography, this series seeks to merge the themes of women under erasure as well as technology’s capacity to swiftly disappear us.

The 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view August 14 through September 19, 2016.