"Mail art has a certain purity and equality to it," says Chicago mail-art czar Ashley Parker Owens, "because it is non-hierarchical and focuses on the process instead of the final product. Mail art is not bought or sold, eliminating the middle man function of the art world dealer. It is its own currency." It's easy to be a mail artist: you just create something and mail it in; there's no jury or selection process. War Mongers, an international mail-art show curated by Owens, opens tonight with a free reception at 5 at the ARC Gallery, 1040 W. Huron. Copies of his newsletter, Global Mail, which details mail-art shows around the world, will be on hand. The show closes January 30; gallery hours are 11 to 5 Tuesday through Saturday. Call 733-2787.
Filmmaker Juney Smith made the five men who shaped the Nation of Islam--Master Fard Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad, Wallace Muhammad, Malcolm X, and Louis Farrakhan--the subject of his feature film The Nation, which he wrote, produced, and directed. The Film Center, whose premiere of the film sold out in November, calls it an "alternative vision to Spike Lee's X." It's back for a few more screenings, scheduled for tonight and tomorrow at 8 and Sunday at 6; admission is $5. The Film Center is at Columbus and Jackson. Call 443-3733 for more.
If, like us, you're unclear on what movies belong to which of Eric Rohmer's film cycles, Facets is here to help set things straight. As part of the theater's French-film month, it's presenting Rohmer's seldom-seen feature debut, The Sign of Leo (playing tonight at 8, tomorrow and Monday at 7, and Sunday at 5:30), and the first five entries of his first series, the "Contes Moraux," or moral tales. It begins with two rarely shown shorts (indeed, Facets says they're on their first trip to America), The Baker Girl of Monceau and Suzanne's Career. These play tomorrow at 9, Sunday at 7:30, and Tuesday at 7. The series continues with La collectionneuse (Monday at 9 and Tuesday at 8:30), My Night at Maud's (Wednesday and Thursday at 7), and Claire's Knee (Wednesday and Thursday at 9). The last of the series, Love in the Afternoon, isn't showing. Facets Multimedia is at 1517 W. Fullerton. Admission is $5; 281-4114.
Sherrill Milnes grew up on a Downers Grove dairy farm, but by the early 1960s he was in New York singing with the New York City Opera, and his role in Verdi's Luisa Miller in a 1968 production at the Met made him a star. He's concluding a week-long residency at the Northwestern University School of Music with an open-to-the-public master class at 7:30 tonight for the school's voice and opera students and a performance tomorrow. The class is in the Lutkin Recital Hall, 700 University Place on the Northwestern campus in Evanston. It's $4, $2 for students. The concert, which features Milnes and various music- school faculty, is at 3 tomorrow afternoon in the Pick- Staiger Concert Hall, 1977 South Campus Drive. It's $8, $5 for students. Call 708-491-5441.
Allan Berube, author of Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women During World War II, will discuss gay and lesbian life during the war as part of the Chicago Historical Society's ongoing lecture series accompanying its current exhibit, Chicago Goes to War, 1941-45. Berube will talk at 2 PM in the education conference room of the society, 1601 N. Clark. It's free with admission to the society, which costs $3, $2 for seniors and students, and a buck for kids. Call 642-4600 for more.
If you're on the near north side between 4 and 5 today and see three camels walking by, don't panic: it's just a stunt from Heifer Project International, which specializes in sending farm animals to people in developing countries. The group's three Siberian camels, each with a wise man astride, will follow a route from Rush and Erie, down Rush to Huron, and over to the Saint James Episcopal Cathedral, at 65 E. Huron. Call 876-9991.
During winter months the Daley Center's noontime Under the Picasso program moves into the building's east lobby, 50 W. Washington. This month the city's providing three chances to learn ballroom dancing starting today, with two more lessons taking place Thursday and next Tuesday. There'll be dancing demonstrations and taped music. It's free. Call 346-3278 for details.
The Lesbian Community Cancer Project's monthly free Lesbian Gyne Clinic has been moved up to tonight, at the Chicago Women's Health Center, 3435 N. Sheffield. Pap tests are free, and patients get instruction on breast self-exam. The clinic starts at 5:30 but you must call 561-4662 for an appointment.
Chilean-born surrealist painter Roberto Matta Echaurren first came to Chicago in the 1940s, beginning a half-century of acclaimed visits, exhibitions, and teaching commissions. The Arts Club of Chicago, where Matta first exhibited 49 years ago, is saluting the artist with a new exhibition of his work. The new show is drawn exclusively from Chicago collections and will be up through March 6 at the club, 109 E. Ontario. Gallery hours are 10 to 5:30 Monday through Saturday. It's free; call 787-3997 for more.
Joe Sedelmaier's fast-paced commercials for Federal Express (the ones that featured that speedy talker), Wendy's (the ones with the "where's the beef?" lady), and others have made him one of the most celebrated living admen. He'll show a reel of his work and talk about his career at a meeting of the Independent Writers of Chicago, starting at 6 PM at the Inn of Chicago, 162 E. Ohio. It's $10, $5 for members. Call 263-5651 for more.
Richard Christiansen, the Tribune's patrician senior entertainment writer and a 15-year veteran of theater reviewing, is the guest of honor at tonight's meeting of the Society of Midland Authors. He'll talk and answer questions on the city's current theater season over wine and hors d'oeuvres at the 410 Club in the Wrigley Building, 410 N. Michigan, starting at 6. It's $10; call 944-7600 to make reservations.
Mary Daly, the celebrated feminist author of Gyn/Ecology, hits town tonight to talk about her new book, Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage. Say the folks at Women & Children First, where Daly is speaking tonight: "Combining autobiography and visionary philosophy, she provides a radical feminist critique of patriarchal thought and society and charts the way to an A-Mazing future." Daly's talk starts at 7:15 PM; the bookstore is at 5233 N. Clark. It's free. Call 769-9299 for more.
Yolanda Joe says her first novel, Falling Leaves of Ivy, has "a little bit of everything: mystery, suspense, murder, history, socio-economics." The murder mystery involves the killing of a member of a secret club at Yale. Joe, a WBBM TV newswriter, will read from the novel at 7:30 PM in the latest installment of the Guild Complex's poetry and fiction series at HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee. Also on the agenda is poetry from Michael Weaver and an open mike. It's $4, $2 for open-mike readers. Call 278-2210 for more.
It's not been a particularly auspicious time for Contemporary Liberation Movements in Central and South America, but that's the subject Magda Enriquez will tackle this afternoon in room 10 of the classics building at the University of Chicago, 1010 E. 59th St. Enriquez is a U.S. Sandinista Front representative, a founder of the Nicaraguan women's movement, and an observer with the Organization of American States. The talk starts at 3:30, and it's free. Call the university's Center for Latin American Studies at 702-8420 for more.