Named after a pygmy who was brought to the United States in the early 1900s and placed in a zoo, Otabenga Jones & Associates consists of Jabari Anderson, Jamal Cyrus, Kenya Evans, Robert Pruitt and, of course, the spirit of the eponymous martyr, who eventually committed suicide after being released from captivity. His associates offer us heavy reminders of the oppression he underwent, creating works that are both socially provocative and visually interesting. For We Did It for Love at the Contemporary Arts Museum's "Amalgama" show, the guys flipped a cop car in the middle of the space, leaving the viewer with crushed metal, broken glass and a question: How the hell did they get that car in here? This inquiry is key, since it brings to mind the rage required to flip an official vehicle. But we especially dug the collective's protest, We are blacker than your white box, staged at the opening of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's "African Art Now" exhibition. Pruitt and Cyrus held up signs, urging the museum to consider why it had let the taste of one Swiss man, Jean Pigozzi, dictate the canon of contemporary African art. Hmm, good question.
Though the name conjures up a utopia where families are created, God's Temple of Family Deliverance is not a pro-life Christian rock band. In fact, it's quite the opposite, the antithesis of both rock and roll and fundamentalism. What's delivered by this brooding foursome is monolithic, 15-minute-plus songs of sheer cacophony. The temple for which they're named is built with stacks of Marshall amplifiers, loud and powerful enough to raise the dead. Though they play hard and loud, they often bring the tempo down to a suffocating pace, like a Screw tape for heshers. Comparisons to the Melvins come to mind, as drummer Chris Ryan plays with the same dynamic fervor as Dale Crover, and guitarist Eric Faucette's caterwauling fretwork matches that of King Buzzo.
Sure, there are plenty of DJs who are well known in and around the city, but it seems few branch out and explore the world, let alone the state. Not so for West Columbia, Texas, native DJ Jester the Filipino Fist, a.k.a. Mikey Pendon, who left his tiny hometown to travel the globe in 2003, when fellow Filipino Kid Koala asked him to be a part of his interactive turntable band and took him across North America, the United Kingdom and Europe. In late 2004, DJ Jester took off for San Francisco. This year, he went down to New Zealand with Lederhosen Lucil, to Australia with Kid Koala, and to Norway with both. After hearing one of Jester's mixes, you'll understand why he was named one of Urb magazine's Next 100 to Watch. He mashes all types of genres (even some Willie Nelson) into one flawless and danceable mix.
The Whiskey is in a league of its own. Whether you decide on a Shiner or one of their $12-and-worth-it specialty martinis, you can't help but feel cool in the dimly lit atmosphere, amid the muted reds and golds. You can drink at the bar, settle into one of the cozy chairs overlooking the lobby, or hit the seductive Whiskey Den. The black-lacquered and mirrored walls, chinoiserie ceiling and mohair banquette seating define swank. Luxury hotel bars have a reputation as being pretentious, overpriced and devoid of charm. But check out the Whiskey. You'll be glad you did.
Aurora is known around the country for its consistently challenging, cutting-edge shorts and feature films. The little theater, housed in a former church, shows animated and illustrated films as well as computer, video and other experimental works. Audiences often spill out from the pews onto the floor. Our favorite offerings this year: Iraq, Inc. and Shocking and Awful, two daring small-budget documentaries exposing how the corporate-controlled news outlets manage the information the American public receives about the war in Iraq. Lectures often follow the films, so drop in for a service, er, flick, and you may be startled by a familiar-looking host. Guest presenters have included the likes of Laurie Anderson and William Wegman.
A recent article about Mari Carmen Ramirez is titled "The Evangelist for Modern Art." It's an accurate assessment -- she's caused a lot of people to see the light. Ramirez is the first director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's International Center for the Arts of the Americas. Opened in 2001, the ICAA was established as both a curatorial department and a collecting and research center focusing on modern and contemporary works created by artists from Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean, as well as Latino artists based in the United States. With last year's groundbreaking exhibition "Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America," Ramirez pened not only Houston's but the world's eyes to a wealth of phenomenal art we barely knew existed. In "Inverted Utopias," Ramirez showed us the art of a Latin American avant-garde that knocked Eurocentric and America-centric art histories on their asses.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
The well-culled celluloid offerings this year have included the gritty realism of Soviet filmmakers Stanislav Rostotsky and Yuri Ozerov, Japanese masters Kenji Mizoguchi and Akira Kurosawa, a 75th anniversary of The Maltese Falcon -- and yes, French New Wavers Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, Robert Aldric and Jacques Tati. If you didn't catch the screening of Tati's Playtime, you missed out. The film's exploration of Paris circa 1967 is a cacophony of motion and music; it tells the story of a man looking for an American official who gets caught up with a group of tourists. As any film worth its stock -- and most films screened at the museum -- will do, Playtime offers commentary on life's circus. Trying to figure it out for yourself? Spend an afternoon taking in a vintage flick at the MFAH.
This funky new watering hole in the Heights is the perfect hangout for hipsters, artists, slackers and the newly relocated yuppies who populate all the new town-home developments in the area. Located in the building that used to house Silky's, which was one of the grungier blues joints outside the Third and Fifth wards, Chaise Lounge represents the growth and renewal of our little strip of nightlife along Washington Avenue. The design is bold and diverse -- the classic black-and-white tile floor contrasts well with the modern couches and colorful tables throughout. And the drinks are no joke. While we lament the demise of yet another prime live music venue, we also celebrate the opening of this uber-chic, loungy little wine bar just outside downtown.
Readers' choice: Pub Fiction
Alice's Tall Texan Drive Inn
David Rozycki
Quite simply, nobody does it better than Alice and her crew at the Tall Texan. Located on the northern edge of the Heights in a residential area that's anything but hip, this little out-of-the-way watering hole attracts all kinds. From elderly barflies to middle-aged professionals to young movers and shakers, the clientele here generally comes for one thing: the beer. Funny thing is, they only sell two on tap, Lone Star and Shiner. But they're served in frosty, goldfish-bowl-size schooners that, at least for the first few sips, take two hands to lift. They come at a buck fifty a pop, making this about the best deal you're gonna find at a bar in Houston. Occasionally, you'll spot a regular ordering setups to accompany his own bottle of whiskey, but this no-frills juke joint is famous for the beer. Like all good dive bars, the Tall Texan is the place for intriguing, often political conversation. As you sip your beer, sit back and listen to the old codgers pontificate on the president while the TVs play whatever sport is in season and the paint on the walls continues to fade.
Since the 1940s, "fill'r up" has been a popular phrase at Washington and Yale. Nowadays, we aren't talking petrol. Housed in what once was a gas station, this classy, uber-chic bar has a rich sense of nostalgia. The bar still has original tile work from the gas-station era, and its richly colored, comfortable leather and vinyl furnishings are striking. The patio is one of the best in town, with a clear shot of the downtown skyline, as well as a Guinness World Record-holding Absolut bottle sculpture by the Art Guys behind the outside bar. If you want to capture the good times, step inside the color photo booth and record them for posterity.

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