Free love

Philly Fringe 2019: Dana Suley­mano­va presents Dear qupid’

3 minute read
Ready for your questions: Dana Suleymanova in ‘Dear qupid.’ (Photo by Alaina Johns.)
Ready for your questions: Dana Suleymanova in ‘Dear qupid.’ (Photo by Alaina Johns.)

Most people hustling through Center City in the middle of the day are thinking about lunch, not love, but Dear qupid, a charming Philly Fringe experience from Dana Suleymanova in Love Park, is worth a stop.

When I went to the first of three interactive, free performances, some of the people gathered around were Fringe patrons, but many were curious passersby who stopped to read the hand-made sign. “Hey!” they yelled to less-observant companions. “Free love advice!”

A seat in the sky

Keep your eyes down, and you might miss Dear qupid. Suleymanova, with short-cropped dark hair, a white sports bra, and what looks a cherub-style diaper, perches gracefully atop an ordinary metal ladder in the southeast corner of Love Park. She’s got a pair of white-feathered wings, a small bow, and a red quiver of arrows tipped with plush hearts. A pulley attached to her seat at the top of the ladder lets her draw a small metal bucket, holding markers and strips of blank paper, up from the ground and back.

“Dear qupid, free love advice,” reads a blue sign affixed to the ladder. A pair of people in white jumpsuits parade back and forth behind qupid, holding a small assortment of cardboard clouds and celestial bodies on the end of long poles, evoking qupid’s seat in the sky.

What to do?

It’s hard for folks to figure out what to do at first, but the silent Suleymanova exudes a wistful benevolence as her eyes travel around the onlookers’ faces. She beckons them to the bucket.

Write your question about love on a piece of paper. Qupid will hoist it up, read it, consider deeply, and write you a personal response on the other side of the paper. She tapes it to an arrow, aims it at you, and lets it fly (given the state of Love Park at midday, it’s probably a good thing that these arrows are less than aerodynamic). Patiently retrieve the fallen arrow, and reads qupid’s advice.

The audience

Witnessing this small ritual at the first performance, many folks passing by were quickly intrigued, from sleek-suited office-dwellers to tourists to uniformed city workers on duty in the plaza. It was fun to watch them either get up the gumption to put a question in the bucket, or veer away.

Here’s what qupid had to say. (Photo by Alaina Johns.)
Here’s what qupid had to say. (Photo by Alaina Johns.)

A passing man pushing a toddler in a stroller watched an arrow fall to the pavement and called out, “Yo, that was weak! That was ’cuz you were aiming at me.” He let go of the stroller, left the kiddo alone (looking around in bewilderment), walked up to Suleymanova, appraised her at close range, and rendered completely unnecessary help by handing her the bucket already on its way up.

Our questions

Did I ask a question about my love life? Of course. I thought the answer was pretty good, too. You can see it in the image here, and captioned at the bottom of this piece. Returning the arrow, I peeked at some of the other questions and answers already at the base of the ladder. With heart-tugging sincerity, people had scribbled questions about things like wanting a partner but being afraid to use dating apps, or the challenges of long-distance love. Qupid’s answers were sweetly affirming both of love and the individual.

Especially in the digital age, love is a funny mix of private sentiments and curated public display. Suleymanova’s gentle gravitas invites an apt combination of romantic imagery, tender ritual, public vulnerability, and personal reflection. You can catch Dear qupid again at 1pm on Sunday, September 15 and at 12pm on Sunday, September 22.

The image above shows the handwritten text of Alaina’s question: “Will romance ever be as satisfying as my career?” and qupid’s answer: “They’re satisfying in different ways. But your career will be there for you when people can’t.”

What, When, Where

Dear qupid. By Dana Suleymanova. Presented by Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation with support from ArtPlace America. Through September 22, 2019 in Love Park, 16th Street and JFK Boulevard, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.

Love Park is a wheelchair-accessible venue, but nearby seating is slim.

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