There is always light

2021: Are We Gonna Make It?

Ritik Dholakia


Even as 2021 bounced back, before landing an end of year gut punch, there is still an overall sense of dread lingering about things. Not least because the systems and institutions, big and small, that should work for us seem to be breaking down, and the systems and institutions, big and nefarious, that work against us seem like they aren’t being held accountable.

So, I focus on doing good, useful work. And exploring the good stuff— art, music, food, friends, and some bits of travel. Here’s hoping.

Highlights & Recommendations
Reimagining travel, as journeys and sabbaticals, not vacations and weekends, is a goal for me. How to reshape workaday life to enable a deeply different relationship with time away? It seems achievable — it is how travel used to work, except the last half century (i.e., my lifetime).

Travel in 2021 for us was a fairly local affair, centered around excursions from NYC, seeing friends, and some overdue family visits. Vermont and the Berkshires in Massachusetts treated us well, certainly Mass MoCA and Hancock Shaker Village. We returned to some favorite places like Dia Beacon, Philly, and Rhode Island. And spent some time exploring the valleys and coastline of Central California.

And NYC still provides succor — wandering Brooklyn, wandering Manhattan, taking ferries to Queens. Saw some good things at Jack Shainman gallery, discovered the rooftop performances at Kingsland Wildflowers, considered things at the Noguchi Museum.

Looking forward to the aperture opening up in 2022.

Not me.

Movies, Books, Music, and Art
The thing I watched too much were two moments of pure — what’s the word we’re opening 2022 with in NYC? — swagger from Jadakiss during the Lox v. Dipset Verzuz. Here and here. Come to my block and see me! I’m outside!

Tampopo was the best thing I’ve ever watched. Ever. I don’t understand how I’ve never seen this before — it was pure magic. Thanks to Criterion Collection.

I enjoyed the Denis Villeneuve Dune, although seeing it in the weird sub-basement Alamo Drafthouse lower Manhattan was itself post-apocalyptic.

The Arthur Russell documentary Wild Combination was lovely.

Exterminate All the Brutes was a necessary mix of history, allegory, and personal reflection, brutally perfect for our current moment. I’ve become a huge fan of Raoul Peck’s work. Feels like the 3rd episode should be required viewing for everybody, to understand how colonialism and white supremacy have poisoned our understanding of history and humanity.

South Side is the smartest, funniest, and most underrated sit com on TV.

Sorjonen / Bordertown provided grisly Finnish crime procedurals to help get through quarantine.

Seeing Kevin Morby & Hamilton Leithauser together was peak singer-songwriter, but I enjoyed it. And multiple times seeing Yo La Tengo.

Musically, I guess 2021 I finally really got Phoebe Bridgers and Kevin Morby. I enjoyed the H.E.R. album. Faye Webster’s “Kingston.” And Irma Thomas’ “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is” pleasantly popped up a few times.

Two novels in translation stood out, although they were each grim in their own way, so I don’t know if I really recommend them. Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season was a vulgar, violent Mexican gothic. Gianfranco Calligarich’s Last Summer in the City was wistful and melancholy, conjuring the decadence of literary youth in Rome. Both were impulse buys — thanks to the booksellers at Greenlight and Books are Magic — and lingered longer than other things I read.

Miriam Toew’s Fight Night was madcap, with some of the funniest characters and writing I’ve read in a while.

On the non-fiction side, Suchitra Vijayan’s Midnight’s Borders is a sobering reflection on how strange and unwelcoming a place modern India is becoming. And I am eager to rip in to The Dawn of Everything.

Standout meals from the past year:
- Falansai in Brooklyn, who hosted a studio dinner
- Via Carota in Manhattan
- Kalaya in Philadelphia
- The Gallery x Rikrit collab in Manhattan
- Takeout from Pecking House in Queens

Other food, from old standby’s to pop-ups that brought richness to the year: Winona’s, SriPraPhai, Thai Diner, Hanyeo, and Baby Luc’s.

Old standbys and new, like For All Things Good, Fausto, Finback Brewery, Claro, and Panzerotti Bites.

Unclebrother in Hancock, NY. Hermit Thrush in Brattleboro, VT. The Isfahan pop-up in North Adams, MA.

Erin’s Corner
Erin’s recommendations while not crafting or studying:

Sort Of on CBC/HBO Max

Dickinson on Apple TV+

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

Alice Neel: People Come First at the Met

Albers and Morandi: Never Finished at David Zwirner

Lost Bread Co. in Philly and the Union Square Farmers Market

Korean meal kits delivered by Hanjan / Hooni Kim

Never minded working hard
It’s who I’m working for

- “Everything is Free,” Gillian Welch

Studio Rodrigo continue to be charmers and produce great work. Lucky to have this be the work in my life.

Among the highlights were collaborating on a new travel company Fora Travel, a culinary-world live-streaming platform with Kittch, and helping launch Petra, who hope to build a more resilient utility grid by making it cheaper to put electrical transmission underground.

We also helped launch new websites for the Art for Justice Fund and Police Free Schools.

Check out the full studio review here.

If you have any music/movies/books, would love to hear about them!

If you have any people or organizations doing positive work around climate, arts, or justice issues, I’m always looking for people to support however I can.

And I’d like to meet some young writers/editors open to collaborating on weird projects, particularly those interested in history and culture of diaspora communities.

Here’s hoping — 2022.

Take care,