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6Photo: Fondazione Manifesto
Poggioreale, Sicily, one of the towns destroyed by a 1968 earthquake. A public art project has helped to heal the region’s survivors, many of whom were still suffering from depression decades later.

I’ve blogged a lot about the healing power of various arts in various contexts, but I think this is the first post about what art can do for a traumatized region after a natural disaster. The story takes place in Sicily, where a 1968 earthquake flattened an already impoverished region.

Patricia Zohn writes at artnet news, “On a recent day this summer, I [descended] into the rural, arid Belice Valley. I was accompanied by Zeno Franchini of the Fondazione Manifesto, an advocacy group that leads tours of the region, which was devastated by the 1968 earthquake in Sicily. …

“More than the number of people who died (approximately 400), or the number rendered homeless (approximately 100,000), the earthquake exposed grave fissures in the socioeconomic and political fabric of one of Italy’s poorest regions — disparities that linger to this day.

“While thousands of earthquake victims lived outside Gibellina, an isolated agricultural community, in two shanty towns with barebones infrastructure, in 1970, the National Institute of Social Housing in Rome, determined, after numerous plans for reconstruction were abandoned, to build an entirely new city, a Gibellina ‘Nuova’ for the victims at a site 11 miles from the ruins. …

“By 1979, scant progress had been made due to government corruption, the Mafia influence, and red tape, and victims were still living in dire conditions. That’s when Gibellina’s flamboyant, powerful gay Mayor, Ludovico Corrao, invited a number of leading Italian and German artists and architects to participate in a rescue mission. …

“Though there was no budget for art or culture, Corrao had already begged and borrowed to found the Orestiadi performance festival, just outside the ruins of Gibellina, with the help of performers like John Cage and Philip Glass. Emilio Isgrò, an artist and dramatist, described a wind-chilled night of 1983

‘where artisans, sheep farmers, housewives, anti-Mafia judges and theater directors and personalities from all over Europe sat together to watch’ his performance in the festival. …

“The concrete Utopian city of Gibellina Nuova [became] an open-air laboratory for assessing the healing capabilities of public art. Today, 50 years since the earthquake struck, many look back on Corrao’s radical experiment in civic engagement, rehabilitation, and unification as a cautionary tale. But new efforts are now underway to realize a more pragmatic version of [his] utopian dream.

“ ‘The city needs to really become an Art Town,’ says Alessandro La Grassa, president of the Center for Social and Economic Research of Southern Italy, the organizational heir to the early activist efforts. He envisions it as a place ‘where artists live or stay and where empty buildings and spaces start to find a new function.’ …

“Today the region is a symbol of hope. A newly revitalized combination of social activists, municipal agencies, educational institutions, and private support is finally bringing the unique art interventions of more than five decades in the Belice Valley — and especially the city of Gibellina — to the attention of a wider public. …

“Tours of Poggioreale, Burri’s Cretto, and Gibellina Nuova are available until November 14 through fondazionemanifesto.org.” More here.

I wonder how public art might by employed to rebuild after a hurricane like Michael. Something for art leaders in Florida to think about.

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Photo: Gabriela Bhaskar for the New York Times
A graduate of Rutgers University in Newark is teaching girls to ride bicycles as part of a program run by the organization she founded, Girls on Bikes.

I love reading how a small gesture or comment can lead to something big in a person’s life. It’s all about the Power of One. In this story, a bystander said something upbeat to Kala La Fortune Reed when she was biking to class, and it led to a movement.

Liz Leyden writes at the New York Times, “The training wheels were off. The young woman with a bright smile and golden sunglasses told Kaneisha Marable she didn’t need them. The little girl believed her.

“Kaneisha pedaled a wobbly path up the block beside Lincoln Park. House music thumped from the stage to her left, a festival underway, but the 8-year-old girl paid it no mind. Her eyes darted between the pavement ahead and Kala La Fortune Reed, the woman jogging by her side.

“The bike tipped. Kaneisha teetered. Finally, the wheels began to spin. Ms. La Fortune Reed let go, watching girl and bike move farther away.

“ ‘Yes, she’s got it,’ she exhaled. ‘You got it!’

“The victory came on a [Sunday in August] at a learn-to-ride clinic run by Girls on Bikes, a community group aiming to achieve pedal equality for a new generation of girls and women in Newark.

“The effort began in 2016 when Ms. La Fortune Reed rediscovered her old bicycle and started riding everywhere: to classes at Rutgers University in Newark, thrift shops and parks throughout the city.

“One day, a man called out to her. Keep it up, he said. There aren’t enough girls on bikes.

“Ms. La Fortune Reed scanned the streets and realized he was right. … She recruited Maseera Subhani and Jenn Made, friends from Rutgers who shared her love of cycling and for Newark itself; the idea of using bicycles to spread empowerment resonated with each of them.

“The trio juggled full-time classes and part-time jobs to get the group going. Ms. La Fortune Reed interned with a local bike mechanic and learned how to repair bikes and build them from scratch. Ms. Made created a curriculum for school workshops. Ms. Subhani found graphic designers to make fliers and T-shirts, and reached out to other community groups to collaborate. …

” ‘We wanted to create a sisterhood,’ Ms. La Fortune Reed said. ‘We go really slow. We have fun. We’re doing this to build relationships, to build a movement.’ …

“Ms. La Fortune Reed said Girls on Bikes tries especially hard to reach girls in middle school.

“ ‘We try to catch them at that age, to build up bicycling and the idea of empowerment and leadership, before peer pressure hits,’ she said.

“In June, the group taught a four-week workshop for sixth- through eighth-grade girls at Marion P. Thomas Charter School. …

“ ‘Before, there was a negative connotation for a lot of them — this idea that if you rode a bike it meant you couldn’t afford a car, that you weren’t cool,’ [the teacher] said. ‘But having that reimagined by these strong, stylish young women, the students really bought into it.’ …

“More than 80 children, including 45 girls, participated throughout [the August bike] weekend. Some didn’t need any help, just a nudge to put on helmets. Simply watching them enjoy the bicycles made Ms. La Fortune Reed happy.

“But the moments when she saw girls growing in their confidence — testing out no-hands, standing on their pedals, letting go of training wheels — meant something more. ‘We’re leaving a memory in their lives that they can accomplish anything,’ she said.

“When Kaneisha Marable realized that she was riding on her own, she looked back at Ms. La Fortune Reed, astonished. She rode and rode and then ran off, returning a few minutes later with her mother. She climbed back on the bicycle.

“ ‘Look, Mommy, look! Look what I learned to do!’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Leroy Wilson outside his home in Marianna, Florida, a day after Hurricane Michael hit the panhandle.

I believe that when a hurricane is coming and you’re told to evacuate, you should evacuate. But this story about a homeowner who refused to leave is pretty great anyway.

Like the wolf in the “Three Little Pigs,” Hurricane Michael huffed and puffed, but the homeowner’s brick house not only stood strong, it welcomed neighbors whose houses were not so strong.

Read what Patricia Sullivan and Frances Stead Sellers wrote at the Washington Post about why the Marianna, Florida, native couldn’t bear to leave his house. It adds a whole other level to the story.

“The modest one-story brick house on Old U.S. Road,” they report, “meant more to Leroy Wilson and his family than a roof over their heads.

“Their ancestors lived on this land as slaves before Wilson’s grandfather acquired five acres here in 1874, right after emancipation. … So as Hurricane Michael ripped the top off a 50-year-old dwelling next door, brought a tree down on Leroy’s daughter’s home and snapped nearby pine trees like pencils, the Wilsons stayed put in their brick house on Wednesday, opening the doors to neighbors whose homes were succumbing under Michael’s powerful winds.

“ ‘I wasn’t going anywhere,’ said Wilson, 74. …

“Sixty miles from the coast in Jackson County, this city of about 10,000 rarely suffers through hurricanes. Known as ‘The City of Southern Charm,’ Marianna has experienced storms that have taken down trees and power lines, but it has been largely spared the devastation regularly wrought in coastal towns. Hurricane Michael was different.

“ ‘It hit everybody hard,’ said Annell Wilson, Leroy’s wife. ‘We prayed a lot.’

“[Leroy’s son] Lamar, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, said he dismissed class around 5 p.m. Wednesday after getting a text from his sister describing the devastation in his hometown and he began making frantic telephone calls to his relatives. He knew they would not leave their land.

“ ‘To be able to own several homes you built with your hands, to protect the home your mother built, that your grandfather toiled for, it’s noble,’ Lamar said.

“And in this case, dangerously noble. His sister lost her home; his brother’s house is barely habitable.

“But the little brick house protected the Wilsons and the people they took in. It lost its water pump and its shutters, and the wind drove water in under the window panes. But the structure stayed intact — and by the end of the evening, more than a dozen members of five families were seeking shelter there.

“ ‘That’s what we do. We all help each other,’ said Annell Wilson, 73, Lamar’s mother, describing how she settled her unexpected visitors and got them fed, and then stuffed towels along the windows to mop up the water that seeped in.”

More at the Washington Post, here. No word on a wolf coming down the chimney or the canny homeowner setting a boiling pot in the fireplace to welcome him, but I wouldn’t have been surprised.

Don’t you love it when life imitates art? (Having said that, I still urge you, “Don’t sit out a hurricane when told to evacuate.”)

Tribes on the Edge

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Photo: The Explorers Club

You remember the great marine explorer Jacques Cousteau? Well, his granddaughter has grown up to be an explorer of vanishing cultures, and recently she made a movie about endangered tribes in the Amazon.

The film by Céline S. Cousteau is called Tribes on the Edge, and according to its website, it’s “more than a narrative of tribal reality in the Amazon [as it] suggests the universal story of our human tribe and how our future is interwoven with each other and with nature. This is a story that invokes the critical importance of respect and care – for land, culture, and humanity. …

“[The film] explores the timely topics of land threats, health crises, and human rights issues of indigenous peoples, expanding the view to how this is relevant to our world. More than a film, it has grown into a movement driven by a passionate effort to enact tangible impact in the Javari [Valley of Brazil] through education, advocacy, and activism. …

“Spanning more than 85,000 km2 (an area the size of Portugal), the Vale do Javari is the second largest indigenous territory in Brazil and is home to 5000 indigenous peoples from 6 tribes as well as the largest population of people living without any contact with the outside world in the entire Amazon and some say the world.

“Though the Javari has been designated for the tribes living there, there is looming pressure to increase harmful resource extraction which in other parts of the Amazon has led to environmental degradation. … It is estimated that the Amazon produces 20% the world’s oxygen and releases 55 gallons of water into the Atlantic ocean every second.”

Read more at the website, here, about what the International Union for Conservation of Nature calls “one of the irreplaceable areas of our planet.” And at the website for New York’s Explorers Club, which screened the film this past April, you can also can read about speaker Beto Marubo. A Marubo Indian, he has served with the national Indian foundation of Brazil, FUNAI, an initiative threatened by the likely election of someone Wikipedia calls “a polarizing and controversial politician” to the country’s presidency.

The movie is more timely than ever.

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Remember this September post on the way benches can civilize a town? Grace promised to send an addendum from Maine, and it was worth waiting for.

If you have others, send them along.

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I’ve always been interested in other countries and cultures and have tried to read books from afar if they are written in English or translated into English. Years ago, the works of Africa writers Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka were among my favorites. I have continued to read other African writers, but none have interested me as much as those two.

Recently I learned that some new authors have complained that African literary magazines — often the place to launch a writing career — have not been open to younger voices.

An article in Okay Africa provides an overview of the magazines that publish African literature and explains why the number of outlets has been increasing.

Tadiwa Madenga writes, “African literary magazines and journals don’t just shape literary culture, they offer the most rebellious responses to political and social movements. They not only respond to the cultures they’re in, these magazines also create distinct cultures of their own that reflect the personalities of their editors.

“Some are experimental and bold, some are satirical and polemic, some can also be aesthetically conservative, but they all find beautiful ways to confront the most pressing issues in society. Magazines archive stories that might not always gain the attention that books will, but are sometimes the most thrilling work in a writer’s career. Here are five of the most notable literary magazines that have shaped contemporary African literature.

“Based in Nigeria, Black Orpheus was groundbreaking as the first African literary periodical on the continent publishing works in English. It was founded in 1957 by German editor Ulli Beier, and was later edited by Wole Soyinka, Es’kia Mphahlele, and Abiola Irele. The magazine stopped printing in 1975.

“At a time when African writers needed spaces where they could simply gather and enjoy each other’s works, the magazine was started to promote African literature, publishing the works of literary giants like Chinua Achebe, Ama ata Aidoo, and Christopher Okigbo in their early career. The best part of the magazine was that it introduced literature from French, Spanish, and Portuguese speaking regions to an English speaking audience …

Transition was founded [in 1961] by Rajat Neogy in Kampala when Uganda, like other African nations, was gaining its independence. Like Black Orpheus, the magazine published notable writers like Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Nadine Gordimer, and Taban lo Liyong when they were new writers.

Transition … has had fearless takes on politics that eventually forced it to be transferred to Nigeria when Soyinka was editor, and later to the U.S. Transition is now housed at Harvard University and is still producing provocative work …

Kwani? began after a group of Kenyan writers, artists, and journalists became frustrated with the slow publishing scene in the country that mostly accommodated earlier writers like Ngugi from the Transition and Black Orpheus generation. A new publication was created in 2003 for emerging writers that has led to the incredible literature we enjoy today from Kenya. The journal has published works by writer like Yvonne Owuor, Parselelo Kantai, Andia Kisia, Uwem Akpan and Billy Kahora.

“Edjabe is a Cameroonian journalist and a DJ who engages literature, music, and politics with a rebel spirit [in the magazine Chimurenga]. Edjabe founded Chimurenga in 2002 in Cape Town at a time where South Africans were having lively discussions about life during and after political and social revolutions. What makes Chimurenga unique is not only the amazing writing that they publish, but the ways the platform evokes other mediums with literature. …

“While the other literary magazines and journals where mostly print magazines, JALADA represents the digital moment where African literature is thriving on online platforms like Saraba, Enkare, and Brittle Paper. JALADA began after a group of writers from various African countries published their work on their own website which became so popular they began receiving submissions from other writers.”

Read more here.

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Except for the cannon balls at the Civil War monument in New York City, these photos are all from my walks in Massachusetts.

The town of Concord recognizes the International Day of Peace every year by putting up the flags of all members of the United Nations. This year I sent photos of my relatives’ countries of origin to them — Sweden and Egypt.

The Old Manse, run by the Trustees of Reservations, is decorating for fall. Its most famous tenants were author Nathaniel and artist Sophia Hawthorne. Tour guides like to show visitors where the couple carved window messages with her diamond ring.

The injured Blackpoll warbler had a tough fall migration and didn’t make it through the night. I did learn from Kim that one should put an injured bird in a “small, warm, dark box for night. If living in the morning, drip a little sugar water into mouth and release.” Something to keep in mind.

The pumpkin has an important quotation from former Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black about a free press. My neighbor puts 24 small pumpkins on her fence posts every year near Halloween and inscribes something on each. This year the words are from Supreme Court justices, the 19th Amendment (giving women the vote), Massachusetts justice Margaret Marshall (making the state the first to allow gay marriage), and the like.

I wind up with another neighbor’s new tree house and a couple fungi photos. There seems to be a huge array of fungi in town this year, some of them very peculiar looking. We also have a lot of mosquitoes. Too much rain?

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