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Habibi Bazaar

Photo: Bianca Velasquez.
A rug called “Evil Eye,” by Pamela El Gergi.

Today’s story about beautiful craft rugs is reminding me of a college friend who was really into interior decorating. As a hobby. She got so enthusiastic about Scandinavian rya rugs that she began designing and selling her own. Nowadays, when I’m supposed to be replacing rugs with floor coverings that older people won’t trip on, I’m wishing that I had bought one one of her ryas. I could at least hang it on the wall if I was afraid of tripping. Like other crafts, rugs can hold a lot of meaning.

Bianca Velasquez reports at Hyperallergic about Utah-based Lebanese American artist Pamela El Gergi who “modernizes traditional rug-making as a way to stay connected to her heritage.

“A sweeping reclamation of traditional craftsmanship is taking place around the world,” Velasquez says, “with artists forming communities around their uses of stained glass, jewelry, beading, and textiles. Seemingly unapproachable crafts (because of restricted access to supplies or apprenticeship), such as rug-making and stained glass, have benefited from modernized and simplified techniques and technologies that make practicing these trades more accessible, creating a surge of independent creators who work at their own pace and through their own lens. …

“Among the new voices is Lebanese rug maker Pamela El Gergi, who creates her works under her business name Habibi Bazaar.

“Having relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah, from Beirut, Lebanon, in 2018, El Gergi felt an urge to keep an open connection to her hometown, which she found through the traditional craft of rug-making. … ‘Habibi Bazaar uses my own personal style, which is Oriental rugs, evil eyes (Nazar), patterns that you would see in churches and mosques in Lebanon,’ she told Hyperallergic in an interview.

“And while she applies her voice and background to rug-making in the US, El Gergi creates a new dialogue within traditional rug-making in Lebanon. ‘I’ve taken these vintage, older styles of Oriental rugs, and now I’m trying to make them more centered around Lebanese culture,’ she said. ‘We don’t have much Lebanese representation within Oriental rugs.’ …

“After finalizing her design, El Gergi projects and traces the outline onto her canvas, then uses the tufting gun to apply the yarn accordingly. After applying the carpet glue and backing to the other side of the fabric, she moves on to the final step. ‘I spend hours on each rug, shaving it properly and carving out the designs (or “sculpting” the rug). I finish it all with vacuuming, lint rolling, and doing one last quality check,’ she said.

“El Gergi is currently working on a rug collection in collaboration with her peer Samantha Nader who has created seven Oriental designs based on El Gergi’s concepts. ‘What makes this collection significant to me is the specific flower that is included in the design. This flower is printed on Lebanese coffee cups, and when you drink Arabic coffee, the grounds are collected at the bottom,’ El Gergi said. ‘Then you flip the cup over, and you let the grounds fall along the sides. After letting it sit for five minutes, it reveals a pattern that tells your fortune.’ …

“El Gergi’s pieces tend to use this medium to shed light on her experience as a Lebanese woman, as well as pay homage to and honor the cultural symbolism that has been passed down through her family for generations. 

“Creating cultural ties between Lebanon and the US does not stop at rug-making for El Gergi. Habibi Bazaar also kicked off a pronoun shirt campaign in collaboration with Mexican artist Alethia Lunares, who designed the t-shirt graphic. … She produced three different shirts saying ‘She, Her, Habibi,’ ‘They, Them, Habibi,’ and ‘He, Him, Habibi.’ El Gergi’s decision to include the term ‘Habibi,’ which translates into a non-gendered way of saying ‘my love,’ allows her to incorporate a little bit of her culture into the campaign.

“This year, Habibi Bazaar has been accepted to the 14th Annual Craft Lake City DIY Festival Utah’s ‘largest local-centric art, music, science, and technology festival.’ Not only has she been accepted as a vendor, she was also chosen to be sponsored through the Craft Lake City Artisan Scholarship Mentor Program, allowing her to be mentored by a more tenured local business owner through the entire process of tabling at a large event. 

‘[Her booth] will include her rugs, pottery, stickers, wall hanging, mirrors, and more. … Most importantly, El Gergi hopes to continue finding contemporary ways to pass down traditional Lebanese crafts to future generations.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Art: Anna Kronick.
Anna Kronick is one of very few Judaic paper cutters practicing today.

Every time you think an artistic tradition is dying out, some free spirit reinvents it for a new age. Consider the art of sacred paper cutting and its long history in Jewish communities.

Isabella Segalovich reports at Hyperallergic, “Few today know that the walls of many Jewish homes used to be covered with intricate papercuts. Bursting with detailed ornamentation and religious symbolism, these artworks decorated Jewish homes in Eastern Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia for centuries. While some homes today may have a paper-cut marriage certificate or ketubah, the tradition has mostly evaporated. Much of the fragile paper archive was lost to the fires of the Holocaust, or has disintegrated over timeAnna Kronick is one of very few Judaic paper cutters practicing today, with a highly contemporary body of work that breathes new life into the sacred tradition. 

“After graduating from the New York Academy of Art as a sculptor in the ’90s, Kronick was working as a conservator when she came across a richly illustrated book, Traditional Jewish Papercuts by Joseph and Yehudit Shadur. ‘When you come across paper cutting, it’s usually Chinese or Polish. So when I came across Shadur’s book, I was amazed to find that Jews had been doing it too,’ she told Hyperallergic. …

“Some 25 years of practice later, Kronick has earned a place as a master artisan who not only continues this little-known craft but brings a fresh approach that allows the tradition to live on and evolve. 

“Traditional Judaic papercuts are made by slicing through a folded piece of paper, which is then unfolded to reveal a perfectly symmetrical design. While Kronick fell in love with their intricacy, she found this strict symmetry too confining. Instead, her pieces are defined by movement: Her compositions curve as if being blown by the wind. Stunningly, she rarely sketches out her designs. Kronick often draws with the knife itself, allowing her visions to guide her as she cuts through thin silkscreen paper.

‘In the beginning, I drew more,’ she said. ‘But the more I cut the less I drew.’ 

“Some of her papercuts bring life to old Yiddish songs. A navy blue paper rendition of ‘Belz, mayn shtetele Belz’ (Belz, my shtetl belz) lovingly depicts a group of Klezmer musicians — appropriate for a song about longing to return to a life of Jewish community. But while her Yiddish illustrations often contain English lettering, she prefers the graceful lines of Hebrew. ‘I don’t really do a lot of English text, because it stops the eye. It prevents movement,’ she says. ‘But Hebrew just flows.’ 

“Hebrew lettering is woven into her visions of passages from the Bible, like the story of Joseph. … This piece is dense with lush palm trees, bending piles of grain, and billowing patterned textiles. Look closely and you can find tiny cattle, brick walls, and a vast array of plant life swirling together in a dazzling vortex of religious symbolism. 

“The earliest recording of Jewish paper cutting comes from a whimsical 1345 treatise titled The War of the Pen Against the Scissors. The Spanish Rabbi Shem-Tov ben Yitzhak Ardutie describes how he resorted to cutting letters out of his parchment when his ink froze on a cold winter night. Since paper is so delicate, there is little physical evidence to trace the history of papercuts,. … Expert Joseph Shadur has written that the ‘more we learn about Jewish papercuts in one form or another, the more reason we have to believe that they were once exceedingly common.’ 

“While ritual art like spice boxes and Torah crowns were made out of expensive materials, paper was cheap and plentiful in many Jewish homes. Anyone could take up a small blade and develop their own masterpieces at home for very little money, thus fulfilling the Jewish principle of creating beautiful spiritual art known as hiddur mitzvah.

“Papercuts were hung from walls and windows as decorations for holidays like Sukkot and Shavuot, as calendars, and even as protective amulets to ward off the evil eye. We often imagine life in the shtetl as cold, gray, and dull. Rather, it was bursting with color and life. ‘Of all Jewish ritual and folk art, papercuts … lent themselves to the freest expression of religious spirit,’ Shadur wrote. 

“ ‘I think in pictures. When I listen to a Yiddish song, I just see it,’ said Kronick. ‘Maybe that’s why I don’t need drawing — I just cut it.’ But it’s nothing compared with how she sees passages from the Torah: ‘For me, the [Yiddish songs] don’t flow as much, even though it’s music.’ When she reads the texts, ‘it just moves differently. I can see the letters interwoven with the pattern.’ In work that keeps a beautiful craft from being forgotten, the results are deeply spiritual pieces, where we can witness Jewish joy and ancestral memories with our own eyes.”

Lots papercuts at Hyperallergic, here. No firewall, but subscriptions encouraged.

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Lydia Ricci, “I’m Not Sure They Need to Do That Now” (2020), scrap materials, 3 x 5 x 1 1/2 inches

The world is full of big wonders that people want to see before Covid or some other misfortune grounds them. As for me, I’m almost more interested in not missing some small, important thing close to home. I keep thinking there might be magic in the ordinary. No wonder I enjoy art that uplifts everyday items!

Sarah Rose Sharp writes at Hyperallergic about artist Lydia Ricci and the endless possibilities she finds in everyday objects.

“As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and no one embodies this sentiment more acutely than sculptor and filmmaker Lydia Ricci. From a pile of scraps and everyday detritus accumulated over the last 30 years, Ricci makes imperfectly perfect replicas of quotidian moments and objects.

“ ‘I have been collecting my family’s scraps for over 25 years,’ wrote the artist in a confessional essay on her website, ‘but I have to admit, I also steal some too.’ These purloined scraps include a reusable BINGO card from a family function at the local elementary school (‘fancy … with red plastic windows that cover the numbers’), dusty electrical tape (‘nobody needs three rolls’), a lightbulb box from a neighbor’s garage (‘the bulb probably didn’t even work’). …

“If you leave Ricci alone in a waiting room, she considers your paper clips fair game.

” ‘I treasure an electric bill from 1984 like others would covet their family jewels,’ Ricci told Hyperallergic by email.

The results are mementos that do not so much mirror their real-world counterparts as deeply evoke a sense of life as it is remembered — a little wonky, a little irregular, very detailed in places but highly abstract in others.

“Ricci poses and photographs her tiny sculptures in tableaux in which the objects are often out of proportion, giving them the surreal quality of dreams and memory. A tiny aquarium makes tight quarters for a peeled cocktail shrimp. A ramshackle miniature couch struggles to conceal life-sized keys and Cheerios and hairballs. A teensy dishwasher is slowly buried in a drift of life-sized detergent flakes.

“As if creating these scenes out of multiple media isn’t enough, Ricci then recasts them in multimedia productions, adding single-sentence text snippets that seem to voice over the images or serve as narration to short films. Her three-minute film I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU (2021) made the rounds this past spring at film festivals in Arizona and Washington, DC, and tells the story of an evolving relationship through its everyday dramas: the wait for a diner booth, the politics of toothbrush-sharing, the request (or lack thereof) for help reaching a high shelf, the need (or not) for company on a grocery run.

“ ‘There is absolutely nothing precious or precise about what I am constructing,’ Ricci added. ‘The sculptures are messy and imperfect just like our memories.’ …

“Ricci was part of a four-person show that ran through April at James Oliver Gallery in Philadelphia, with another show slated to open on August 23 at the Kohler Art Museum in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. She’s also hoping to publish a book of her images, titled Don’t You Forget About Me.” More at Hyperallergic, here.

You might also be interested in a book by Richard Deming called The Art of the Ordinary, of which Cornell University Press says: “Cutting across literature, film, art, and philosophy, Art of the Ordinary is a trailblazing, cross-disciplinary engagement with the ordinary and the everyday. Because, writes Richard Deming, the ordinary is always at hand, it is, in fact, too familiar for us to perceive it and become fully aware of it. The ordinary he argues, is what most needs to be discovered and yet is something that can never be approached, since to do so is to immediately change it.”

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Photo: Marc Domage/© Private collection.
A detail from one of Picasso’s sketchbooks for his daughter. 

I have read things about Picasso over the years that have made me think that he might not have been a person I would enjoy knowing. Then he goes and does something like this, and I have to remind myself that people are complicated: almost everyone weaves the good with the not good.

Dalya Alberge has a charming story about Picasso at the Guardian.

“They are the ultimate ‘how to draw’ books for a young child,” Alberge writes, “created by a doting dad who just happened to be one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. The granddaughter of Pablo Picasso has discovered an extraordinary collection of sketchbooks used by the artist to teach his eldest daughter to draw and color.

“Picasso filled the pages with playful scenes – animals, birds, clowns, acrobats, horses and doves. … He created them for Maya Ruiz-Picasso when she was aged between five and seven. On some pages, the little girl made impressive attempts to imitate the master. She also graded her father’s work, scribbling the number ’10’ on a circus scene, to show her approval.

“He drew two charming images of a fox longing for grapes – inspired by the 17th-century fabulist Jean de La Fontaine’s sour grapes fable, The Fox and the Grapes – and Maya colored in one of them. He also drew simple but beautiful eagles in a single movement, without raising the pencil from the paper, conveying his love of form and pure line to her.

“The previously unseen collection includes exquisite origami sculptures of birds that he brought to life for Maya from exhibition invitation cards.

“His granddaughter, Diana Widmaier-Ruiz-Picasso, found the works by chance while looking through family material in storage. Intrigued, she showed them to her mother, now 86, for whom memories came flooding back.

“Widmaier-Ruiz-Picasso told the Observer: ‘She said, “Of course, those are my sketchbooks when I was little.” ‘ …

“Picasso, who died in 1973, had been taught to draw by his father, a professor of drawing, ‘so that was something natural for him to do’ with Maya, his granddaughter said: ‘There’s a beautiful page where he’s drawing a bowl and she’s drawing a bowl.

“ ‘Sometimes she’s making an image and he’s doing another, showing her the right way to do it. Sometimes they would depict different scenes. Other times, he would draw a dog or a hat. Sometimes he’s using the whole page to draw one particular thing. Other times, he’s depicting certain scenes, scenes of the circus.’ …

“Maya particularly remembers that, during the second world war, color pencils and notebooks were in short supply: ‘That’s probably why my father wrote in my exercise books and colored with my pencils. I still have fond memories of those moments when we met up in the kitchen to draw together. It was the only place in the apartment where it was warm.’

“Widmaier-Ruiz-Picasso is an art historian, curator and jewelry designer, who has just published her latest book, Picasso Sorcier, exploring his superstitions and belief in magic.

“She described the discovery of the sketchbooks as ‘fortuitous’ because she was co-curating a major exhibition for the Musée Picasso-Paris on his close bond with his first daughter. … The exhibition, Maya Ruiz-Picasso, daughter of Pablo, runs until 31 December and includes his many portraits of Maya, personal possessions and photographs, along with the sketchbooks and origami sculptures, which are being shown for the first time. …

“In the exhibition’s accompanying book, [his granddaughter] writes: ‘Who has never heard it said when looking at a canvas by Picasso, “A child could have done that!” Many of the artistic revolutions of the 20th century were greeted with mockery and scandal, it is true, but in Picasso’s case there is a hint of truth in that judgment. As Maya, his first daughter, recalls, “the mystery of life, and therefore of childhood, always filled that father of mine with interest.” …

” ‘Picasso borrowed extensively from the unruly lines of children’s drawings. Where Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse concentrated on the graphic and pictorial naivety with which children draw, Picasso emphasized more the elements that upset figurative traditions, that is to say, distortion and deformity.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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In my last batch of photos, I showed a piece from an Art League of Rhode Island exhibit to which my friend Ann Ribbens had contributed. The show, “Below the Surface,” had a humanity-versus-water theme, and the quilt I shared in that post featured a warning about toxins in fish. Today I’m displaying Ann’s lovely “Undersea Tapestry” and two other pictures from “Below the Surface.”

Now I’m wondering if there’s something in the water that New England artists are drinking. The next group of photos is from a recent exhibit at a Massachusetts gallery, and the subject is “Undercurrents: Water and Human Impact.” If artists are to be believed (and they are), things are not looking good for water and it’s all our fault.

At “Undercurrents,” I especially liked Henry Horenstein’s photograph “Cownose ray” and Joan Hall’s “The New Normal,” which hints at manmade items that wash in with the tide.

Still on the subject of art, I want to mention that yesterday I checked out the new mural on the Boston Greenway, where I used to love walking when I worked downtown. There are many post-Covid changes in the area (I felt like Rip Van Winkle gazing around in wonder after a long nap), but the Greenway is still hiring artists to paint the wall of the giant Air-Intake building over the Big Dig. The latest painting, of a little boy with a boombox, has a wistful feeling about it.

The mural photos are followed by several local scenes, including a look at the bright cherries next to John’s front porch.

I end with a picture that Ann took last month while traveling in France. I couldn’t resist. It looks so utterly French to me.

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Piñatas as Art

Photo: Henry Gass/Christian Science Monitor.
Piñata sculptor Alfonso Hernandez in his garage studio in Dallas. He is one of a growing group of piñata makers hoping to transform the industry and get recognition for the piñata as an art form.

When you think of piñatas, what do you picture? Kids’ birthday parties? Long cudgels? Here’s an article about people who want you to know that piñatas can be a serious art form.

Henry Gass asks at the Christian Science Monitor, “Would you take a sledgehammer to the David? A flamethrower to the Mona Lisa? A shredder to the latest Banksy? (Actually, scratch that last one.)

“Why then, some people are beginning to ask, would you want to pulverize a piñata? Alfonso Hernandez, for one, wants you to lower the bat and take off the blindfold and appreciate the artistry of a form that dates back hundreds of years.

“The Dallas-based artist has crafted life-size piñata sculptures of Mexican singer Vicente Fernández and Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas. He wants the public to help turn an industry into art.

“ ‘Piñata makers never treated it like an art form,’ he says. ‘They’re taught to make it fast. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, just hurry up because they’re going to break it.’

“Unsatisfied with the generic mass production that has characterized their discipline for decades, piñata makers are pushing the artistic limits of the party pieces. These piñatas, bigger and more detailed, are made out of wood, foam, wire, and clay, and sculpted to look like beloved icons and life-size low-riders. Some move, some are political, and some even talk. Rihanna is a fan, as are, increasingly, art galleries.

“For generations, the real cost of bargain piñatas has typically been borne by the piñata makers themselves working long, arduous hours for less than minimum wage. By proving that piñatas can be more than just clubbable party pieces, people like Mr. Hernandez hope they can both create art and bring a wider respect and dignity to a craft long viewed as cheap and disposable.

“ ‘It’s been an underappreciated art form,’ says Emily Zaiden, director and lead curator of the Craft in America Center in Los Angeles. ‘Piñatas are so accessible. They speak to everybody,’ she adds. But there’s also a flip side. Piñatas ‘can be about appropriation, can be about, I think, the trivialization of a cultural tradition.’

“A new generation of Hispanic artists, she continues, ‘see how much metaphorical potential piñatas have, and how deeply it reflects their identities.’ …

“There are lots of questions around where piñatas come from. They may have emerged in Europe, or China, or the Aztec era – or in all three independently. There are few preserved, written historical records on the origins of piñatas – another sign of how underappreciated the craft has been, Ms. Zaiden believes.

“ ‘A lot of this work probably hasn’t been collected or preserved in ways that other types of art have been,’ she says. ‘It’s all speculation and oral history really,’ she adds, ‘but that goes hand in hand with the idea that these are ephemeral objects.’

“For centuries, piñatas were used for religious ceremonies in Mexico. Typically built to resemble a seven-pointed star, symbolizing the seven deadly sins, they would decorate homes – and be smashed – during the Christmas season.

“Their religious significance faded over time, and they became the popular children’s birthday party feature. But as the piñata industry commercialized, quality and craftsmanship became secondary to quantity.

“Yesenia Prieto grew up in that world. A third-generation piñata maker, she watched her mother and grandmother create in her grandmother’s house in south central Los Angeles, and when she was 19 she started helping herself. It was a constant struggle to survive, she says.

“ ‘I was tired of seeing how poor we were,’ she adds. ‘My grandma was about to lose her house. And we just needed to make more money. We needed to survive.’

“She describes a week in the life of a typical piñata maker. A four-person crew makes about 60 units out of paper, water, and glue a week. Selling wholesale, they make $600 and split it between the four of them. That’s about $150 for a full week of work. …

“ ‘What you’re seeing is an art form having to be mass produced and rushed because they’re getting sweatshop wages,’ she adds. …

“In 2012, Ms. Prieto went independent from her family, and independent from the mainstream piñata industry. She founded Piñata Design Studio and set to making custom, complex pieces that reflect the artistic potential of the craft.

“They’ve created pterodactyls and stormtroopers. They’ve made a giant Nike sneaker, and an 8-foot-tall donkey for the 2019 Coachella music festival. They made a piñata of singer Rihanna for her birthday. …

“But the need to hustle hasn’t abated, according to Ms. Prieto. They work longer on their piñatas than most makers do – up to 16 hours in some cases – but still struggle to sell them for more than $1 an hour. They’ve been leveraging the internet and social media – posting pictures of pieces as they’re being made, to illustrate the labor that’s involved – and they’re slowly raising their price point. …

“She’s also now reaching out to other piñata makers about forming a co-op. By working together, she hopes, piñata makers can get paid fairly, at least. Artistic quality could also improve. And as people see elaborate, custom piñatas more often, she believes, demand will grow, and pay will grow with it. …

“ ‘There is a shift taking place,’ she adds. She’s seeing piñatas in galleries more often. But ‘there’s [still] a need for us to push hard to survive.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: via Wikimedia Commons and Hyperallergic.
Unknown artist, “Mummy portrait of a young woman named Eirene from Egypt” (c. 1st century BCE), encaustic on wood panel.

Isabella Segalovich at Hyperallergic recently had a lot of fun surveying women’s eyebrows in art.

“Being a public persona on the internet means that my face is looked at almost constantly by strangers,” she writes, “leading to uninvited comments about one feature in particular: my eyebrows. On TikTok, the more viral my video, the more ‘feedback’ my bushier-than-average, Ashkenazic brows receive. Reactions range from applause to truly unhinged amounts of anger and disgust. 

“I started wondering: Have people always been this weird about eyebrows? … Let’s take a quick tour of how [eyebrow] ideals have shown up in art across civilizations throughout history: from bushy, to bold, to completely bare. 

“Ancient Egypt: No matter the gender, many people in Ancient Egypt took special care to bolden their eyebrows with kohl or mesdemet. Like other Northern African and Asian cultures, the face was understood to be sacred, and thus, it required protection: kohl and mesdemet both served to guard against infections around the eyes. Kohl is used by many to this day around the eyes, both for adornment and for spiritual protection or devotion. This preference for strong eyebrows combined with traditions of carved reliefs resulted in highly defined, expressive arches in many Ancient Egyptian portraits. [Check Hyperallergic to see that the] wooden Inner Coffin of the Singer for Amun-Re is a beautiful expression of this high-contrast aesthetic. …

“Nigeria: From 1500 BCE to about 500 CE, a culture in Nok, Nigeria left behind now-famous terracotta sculptures with particularly detailed faces. Researchers Peter Breunig and James Ameje observed Nigerian craftsman Audu Washi, who showed them how to make these terracotta features using traditional methods.

A sharpened, sanded-down piece of wood is gently pushed into the clay to create fine details including the very distinct, graphic [Nok] eyebrows.

“The arched outlines of the eyebrows in these sculptures are similar across the portraits, but subtle tweaks in their shape and the space between them conjure vastly different personalities.

“Ancient Greece and Rome: While it’s hard to imagine with today’s inaccurate images of pristine white sculptures, many women in Ancient Greece and Rome were also unibrow fans! In some settings, a hairy unibrow was not just considered beautiful, but viewed as a sign of wisdom. Victoria Sherrow’s Encyclopedia of Hair recounts how Ancient Greek women used powdered antimony (also known as kohl) or even patches made of goat hair glued onto the forehead to achieve this look. A fresco of Terentius Neo and his (unfortunately anonymous) wife was a unique find in Pompeii because they are displayed as having equal status. Many may have been envious of her pair of prominent eyebrows — or really, just the one. …

“China: Women of the Tang Dynasty in China (618–907 CE) painted their eyebrows in dozens of different fashions, long, short, thick, thin, and wavy, depending on what was in style that year. Well-off women would use qingdai, a blue-ish pigment made from indigo. The woman in the portrait [here] has her face painted with additional decoration on her forehead — huadianor plum makeup. In 5000 Years of Chinese Costume, Xun Zhou writes that women would even decorate between their brows with luminous materials like ‘specks of gold, silver, and emerald feather.’ 

“Europe: Women in late medieval art display a very distinct hairstyle; that is, no hair at all! John Block Friedman writes that ‘misogynistic scientific writing had made female body hair a psychic and physical danger to men.’ So when it came to eyebrows, some women would pluck them until they were almost nonexistent. This plucking extended to thinning out hairlines to reveal large, bald foreheads. Petrus Christus’s 1449 painting ‘A Goldsmith in His Shop’ shows a wealthy woman bedecked in sumptuous fabric. She may have even used harsh chemicals to help rid herself of unsightly hairs. …

“Japan: Eyebrow fashion had an especially unique moment in the Heian period of Japan (794–1185 CE) where, in a manner similar to Chinese trends, both men and women would pluck out their eyebrow hairs completely, drawing new ones an inch above the natural browline. One of these styles was known as hikimayu (引眉) in which both thumbs were dipped in black makeup pigment and then used to create mirroring prints far up on the forehead. This print actually comes from many centuries later in 1876, and is a part of Toyohara Kunichika’s dazzling print series titled Thirty-six Good and Evil Beauties, which are portraits of ‘good and evil’ women throughout Japanese history. …

“Iran: At the beginning of the Qajar dynasty in Persia (1785–1925), male and female ideals of beauty grew closer and closer together, and so did the eyebrows! [Scholar] Afsaneh Najmabadi has shown that women would darken their eyebrows and even decorate their upper lips with mascara to show a faint mustache. Men often took on stereotypically feminine features, sometimes appearing beardless with slim waists in paintings.”

For fabulous pictures from those locales/eras and others, click at Hyperallergic, here. There is even a lovely eyebrow photo of a robot called Kismet. No firewall at Hyperallergic; donations encouraged. PS. Check out the author’s eyebrows here.

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Photo: Erin L. Thompson/ Hyperallergic.
Paubhā painting of Vishnu surrounded by other major Hindu deities, based on various historical paintings from the Malla era.

Around the world, artists are finding unique ways to blend ancient and contemporary, taking the most meaningful aspects of tradition and interpreting it for new generations.

Erin L. Thompson has a story about Nepal artists at Hyperallergic.

“The Vietnamese monks said they wanted a river. So Lok Chitrakar, one of Nepal’s most prominent painters, wrote ‘need river’ amid the folds of a landscape on a preparatory sketch for the gateways of a Buddhist monastery in Vietnam.

“These drawings stretched across the wall of a room in Chitrakar’s studio when I visited Nepal late last year. I was there to see the reinstallation of a 10th-century sculpture of a deity into the shrine it had been stolen from in 1984 … but I couldn’t help being drawn into Nepal’s vibrant contemporary art scene. …

“The Chitrakars have long followed their name’s Sanskrit meaning: ‘image maker.’ But Chitrakar’s father tried to persuade him to follow a different career path, believing that it had become impossible to make a living creating paubhā, the devotional paintings used in Newar Buddhism. …

“But Chitrakar, born in 1961, persevered. His paubhās, painted following the exacting dictates of traditional form and subject matter in hand-ground mineral pigments bound with buffalo-hide glue, are now in collections and Buddhist sites across the globe. Chitrakar also receives commissions, like the one from the Vietnamese monastery. …

“Chitrakar correctly anticipated that the lull during his youth was temporary. Now, the streets around the major Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the Kathmandu Valley are lined with artists’ shops selling deities in paint, limestone, wood, and copper. Ordinary tourists take some home, but the most magnificent examples are commissioned by Tibetan Buddhists eager to establish new sanctuaries outside their homeland.         

“The Valley’s sought-after artists used the pandemic to catch up on these orders, often placed years ahead of time. Chitrakar also finished an enormous painting of the elephant-headed deity Ganesha, who is worshipped in both of Nepal’s major religions, Newar Buddhism and Hinduism. The artist had to climb a ladder to unveil the painting to me. Its intricate details took him 20 years to complete. Ganesha, worshipped as a remover of obstacles, is usually shown as a peaceful deity sampling a bowl of sweets. Chitrakar’s magnum opus depicts his wrathful side. Holding a skull cup and flourishing a variety of weapons, Ganesha dances, symbolizing the strength necessary to protect his devotees.

“Chitrakar was easy to find, but it took me much longer to track down another artist I wanted to meet. … I especially admired a mural with saddhus — Hindu ascetic sages — meditating on heaps of coals, intertwined with bouncy figures wielding spray-paint cans, wittily squirting out the traditional scroll-shaped depictions of clouds.

“I finally spoke to Sadhu X, who created the mural in collaboration with the illustrator Nica Harrison. Today, Sadhu X’s works blend traditional iconography and modern influences into his own distinct style. But when he was growing up, the only street art in Nepal was made by visiting foreign artists. In 2010, as he was completing his undergraduate degree, a teacher suggested he use the stencils he was creating on walls outside those of his art school. He followed the advice, soon met others interested in creating street art, and helped found the art space and community Kaalo.101.

“Helena Aryal, who also joined the video call, is another of Kaalo.101’s founders. She expressed her frustration at the perception, both inside and outside Nepal, that street art is a Western phenomenon. Aryal insisted that although the medium might be foreign, the form is deeply rooted in Nepal’s history. The hand-painted paper illustrations of snakes (nagas), pasted on many homes and buildings in the Valley during the annual rainy season festival, confirm that paste-ups are nothing new in Nepal. And the concept of creating art by modifying the public landscape also fits in well with the interactive, multisensory nature of devotion in Nepal, where worshippers in open street-corner shrines leave fingerprint marks in vermillion powder on deities’ foreheads and offer them marigolds, perfumes, food, and even music, by ringing bells. Some shrines are covered in names written in marker — not casual graffiti, but reminders to the gods about who has prayed for what.

Sadhu X told me that he’s never seen a rigid distinction between the style of traditional paubhās and the work of street artists he admires from other parts of the world. …

“Sometimes he thinks that his work is helping traditional Nepali art to evolve, but more often he’s just mixing together his influences and inspirations because he wants to tell stories using a visual language that he hopes his audience will understand. …

“I also had long discussions about this question with Birat Raj Bajracharya, a scholar of Newar Buddhism and part owner of a gallery selling the works of artists intent on both preserving and transforming paubhā painting. …

“Like Sadhu X, Bajracharya does not see a fundamental distinction between traditional Newar style and classical European models. For example, he pointed out to me that the texts describe paintings as portraying deities with emotionally expressive faces. But such expressions are difficult to render in the linear style of traditional paubhās. Bajracharya thus believes that the more complex shadings of emotion captured by artists who use European Renaissance techniques and the full range of colors of modern pigments may better approximate the ancient texts than the older paubhās. …

“Bajracharya advises the artists associated with his gallery about details like the color, attributes, and hand positions of deities in their paintings, making sure they follow the standards passed down in Buddhist and Hindu texts. He wants art to transform without ‘letting go of its core sense.’ “

More at Hyperallergic, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Jennifer Croft via the First News.
The translator Jennifer Croft will no longer work with publishers who don’t put her name on the cover.

There’s a book by French-to-English translator Kate Briggs called This Little Art. Briggs and others have been opening my eyes lately to the notion that translators are almost on the level of the author they translate. They write a new version of the book. It’s an art.

Alexandra Alter wrote an interesting story at the New York Times about another translator, Jennifer Croft. She knows her worth.

“When Jennifer Croft talks about translating the Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Flights, she sometimes affectionately refers to the book as ‘our love child.’

“ ‘It’s Olga’s, but also it has all of these elements that are mine, these stylistic elements and these decisions that I made,’ she said in a recent interview.

Flights was a labor of love for Croft, who spent a decade trying to find a publisher for it. It was finally released by Fitzcarraldo Editions in Britain in 2017 and Riverhead in the United States in 2018, and was celebrated as a masterpiece. The novel won the International Booker Prize and became a finalist for the National Book Award for translated literature, helping Tokarczuk, who was later awarded the Nobel Prize, gain a much larger global audience.

“But Croft also felt a twinge of disappointment that after devoting years to the project, her name wasn’t on the book’s cover. Last summer, she decided to make a bold demand:

“ ‘I’m not translating any more books without my name on the cover,’ she wrote on Twitter. ‘Not only is it disrespectful to me, but it is also a disservice to the reader, who should know who chose the words they’re going to read.’

“Her statement drew wide support in the literary world. Croft published an open letter with the novelist Mark Haddon, calling on publishers to credit translators on covers. The letter has drawn nearly 2,600 signatures. … Her campaign prompted some publishers, among them Pan Macmillan in Britain and the independent European press Lolli Editions, to begin naming all translators on book covers.

“Croft’s latest published translation is Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob, a 900-plus page historical novel about an 18th-century Eastern European cult leader named Jacob Frank, whose story unfolds through diary entries, poetry, letters and prophecies. …

“This time, Croft’s name appears on the cover. Riverhead added her after she and Tokarczuk requested it. Croft is also being paid royalties for The Books of Jacob, which she didn’t receive for Flights. (Translators, who typically receive a flat, one-time translation fee, don’t automatically get a share of royalties from most publishers.) …

“ ‘She is incredibly linguistically gifted,’ Tokarczuk said in an email. ‘Jenny does not focus on language at all, but on what is underneath the language and what the language is trying to express. So she explains the author’s intention, not just the words standing in a row one by one.’ …

“For Croft, the campaign to bring greater recognition to translators isn’t just a plea for attention and credit, though it’s partly that. Croft also believes that highlighting translators’ names will bring more transparency to the process and help readers evaluate their work, the same way they might assess an audiobook narration for not just the content but for the performance.

“Translation isn’t just a technical skill, but a creative act, she argues. ‘We should receive credit, but also have to take responsibility for the work we have done,’ she said. …

“That work often entails much more than rendering sentences and syntax from one language to another. Translators also find themselves in the role of literary scout, agent and publicist. Many are constantly reading in the languages they’re fluent in to find new authors and books, then pitch them to publishers. When English-language versions come out, translators are often called upon to facilitate interviews and join authors on book tours and manage their social media accounts in English.

“Translated literature accounts for just a fraction of titles published in the United States. Despite the success of books by international stars like Elena Ferrante, Haruki Murakami and Karl Ove Knausgaard, many publishers still worry that American readers are put off by translations. …

That belief has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since 2010, fewer than 9,000 English-language translations of fiction and poetry have been published, and in 2021, just 413 translations were released, according to a database of English-language translations that is compiled and maintained by Chad W. Post, the publisher of Open Letter Books, and is available on Publishers Weekly’s website. …

“An even smaller number of titles feature translators on the cover. Less than half of the English-language translations released in 2021 had translators’ names on the covers, Publishers Weekly reported last fall.”

More at the Times, here.

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Photo: Ichihara Art x MIX Committee.
An astronaut greets passengers at Kazusa-Murakami station. Leonid Tishkov titled his installation “Mr. Murakami’s Last Flight,” or “Waiting for A Moon-Bound Train.

Today I have a couple links to something fun happening in Japan, where whimsical art in the countryside is drawing tourists.

At the Economist we learn that “a cosmonaut sat for most of the winter on a platform at Kazusa-Murakami station in Chiba, a rural Japanese prefecture next to Tokyo. As they waited for trains, local grandmothers would chat with the inanimate installation, the work of the Russian artist Leonid Tishkov. Visitors to an abandoned clothing factory in the nearby village of Ushiku found a multimedia labyrinth assembled by the Japanese artist Nakazaki Toru, using objects and memories retrieved from the site: old sewing machines, mannequins draped in fabric samples and recorded interviews with the family that once ran the place. These were two of over 90 pieces created for a triennial festival known as Ichihara Art x Mix, held in the Ichihara area of Chiba in late 2021.”

Alan Gleason at Artscape Japan continues the story: ” ‘Art x Mix’ may seem a curious title for the triennial art festival in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture. However, the event does boast an unusual blend of elements that serve the art it showcases very well. One is the verdant, rolling landscape of the Boso Peninsula. But even more central to the festival’s identity, and perhaps the key to its success, is a tiny privately operated train line, the Kominato Railway.

“The festival is a fairly new event. First held in 2014, its third edition was scheduled for 2020 but delayed by a year due to the Covid pandemic. Sponsored by the city of Ichihara, the program itself is planned and directed by a team under Fram Kitagawa, Japan’s reigning outdoor art festival impresario. …

“Operating since 1917, the [Kominato] line is a living anachronism, a holdover from the days — well into the postwar era — when trains got everyone everywhere in Japan. As roads improved and rural areas emptied out in a mass migration to the cities, passengership plunged and, one by one, Japan’s local railways shut down.

“How has the Kominato Railway survived? At least partially thanks to the vision and marketing savvy of its management, it would seem. In the last decade the company has carried out what it calls ‘reverse development’ of its stations, restoring them to their appearance in days of yore; enlisted the help of residents along the line to keep brush trimmed back and the station yards attractive; purchased used diesel rolling stock from closed lines in other parts of the country; and, in 2015, introduced the Satoyama Torocco (from ‘truck,’ a small rail car used in mining or logging).

Satoyama, literally ‘villages and hills,’ is a buzzword the city and the railway favor to highlight the pastoral beauty of rural Ichihara. The Torocco is a special train outfitted with open-air passenger cars and a miniature steam locomotive that is actually a diesel. …

“Ichihara Art x Mix is a brilliant initiative on the city’s part, not least because it gives the Kominato Railway pride of place as an art object in itself. The trains — at most two cars in length — trundle slowly along a single narrow-gauge track at roughly one-hour intervals, making the 40-kilometer trip from Goi, on Tokyo Bay, up the Yoro River Valley to its southern terminus in the Boso highlands in one and a half hours. …

“The other defining factor in the festival’s allure is the Yoro River itself, which twists and turns its way through the highlands, carving deep ravines and creating some impressive cliffs and waterfalls in the bargain. …

“In typical kitchen-sink festival fashion, the organizers have installed works all over the area — far too many to see in a day, or even two or three. … A car is certainly the most efficient mode of transport, but also the least rewarding. The train is a pleasure in itself, but its sparse schedule, and the distance between the stations and many art venues, will limit the number of destinations you can easily get to. A good compromise is the festival’s free shuttle bus, which travels around two circuits that cover most of the major venues. …

“Ushiku: In a copper-clad former sundries shop, Chinese artist Ma Leonn’s Mobile Photo Studio has a hilariously retro stage set inspired by prewar kamishibai (‘paper play’) storytellers; staff will kindly photograph visitors posing against this backdrop. …

“Satomi Elementary School: The dark, cavernous gymnasium is the perfect setting for a ‘playback’ of Artists Breath, a tour-de-force display of multiple videos with corona-related messages by artists from around the world. …

“Tsukizaki Village: Sitting in the middle of a fallow rice field is Dutch artist Elmo Vermijs’s cryptically titled installation Mirror of Soil. But that is precisely what it is: a shallow concave hemisphere scooped out of the ground that functions as a ‘sound mirror.’ Stand on the raised platform smack in the center of the pit, and it’s true — you will hear a faint murmur you did not hear before, which the artist describes as the ‘sounds of nature.’

“Just down the road stands an imposing edifice, the now-vacant residence of one of the village’s more eminent citizens. Currently it is home to Turkish artist Ayse Erkmen’s installation Inventory. Erkmen videotaped the process by which the entire contents of the house — not just furniture, but decades of accumulated bric-a-brac — were removed, sorted, and placed in wire crates that now line the path from the gate to the house. Running this gauntlet of family heirlooms, one encounters everything from wall clocks and electric fans to old swords, stuffed birds, dolls, and souvenirs of the kind that all postwar families of means used to acquire on holiday excursions. The experience will give anyone who has lived in Japan a twinge of nostalgia; we all have friends whose parental homes were full of just this sort of stuff. Inside the house, the artist has placed video monitors in each room that play back her recordings, striking a poignant contrast between the on-screen activity and the silence of the emptied rooms.

“The ancient but well-preserved stations along the Kominato Railway are also part of the fun. Each one features at least one prominent outdoor art object, and one extremely eccentric public toilet. The toilets are the brainchild of architect Sou Fujimoto, who appears to have thoroughly enjoyed himself designing facilities customized to the ambience of each stop. Kudos go to Itabu station’s Toilet in Nature, a pristine white throne that sits in a glass box surrounded by a 200-square-meter garden. It’s for women only, by the way. Privacy is ensured by a curtain and the 2-meter-high log fence around the garden.

“Greeting every train at Kazusa-Murakami — an unmanned station that is the first and last stop on the line just outside the Goi terminus — is Russian artist Leonid Tishkov’s astronaut.”

More at Artscape Japan, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Masha Karpoukhina for Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain.
Soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause. Bernie Krause, 2021.

Spring is a time of year when birds are so vocal, I really do feel accompanied by music on my walk. Today’s story is about turning the sounds of nature into a kind of music that can be heard at any time of year.

Christine Ajudua at Artnet interviewed the artist behind “The Great Animal Orchestra” in November. His show will be at the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, until May 22.

“In the late 1960s, Bernie Krause was at the top of his game as a musician, sound designer, and master of the Moog synthesizer, recording with the likes of Van Morrison, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Brian Eno, and The Doors, while working on films such as Apocalypse Now. Then, he gave it all up and went wild — literally.

“Krause has been exploring the natural world as a pioneering soundscape ecologist ever since. And his masterpiece —’The Great Animal Orchestra‘ (November 20–May 22, 2022), originally commissioned by Paris’s Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in 2016 — is about to have its North American premiere at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. …

“The exhibition is based on 5,000 hours of Krause’s field recordings from the past 50 years, featuring 15,000 terrestrial and marine species from around the globe — many of them since lost or currently at risk. With the soundscapes reinterpreted as large-scale, animated spectrograms by the London-based collective United Visual Artists, it is an immersive and highly moving experience of the ever-vulnerable sound universe.

“Krause is meanwhile the subject of a new Cartier Foundation–produced documentary directed by the French filmmaker Vincent Tricon. …

ARTNET: What inspired you to move on from your life as a musician to explore the natural world as a soundscape ecologist? What are the biggest differences — and perhaps similarities — between your lives then versus now?

BERNIE KRAUSE: Paul Beaver, my late music partner, and I got invited to record with some awesome artists and groups [in the late 1960s]. But when it got to the point where we were being asked to replicate the sounds produced on previous sessions, something inside snapped — I found myself staring at the padded, windowless walls of studios in L.A., London, and New York, with mixed feelings of terror, boredom, and immobility. It was at that point that I began looking for an escape. …

“As it happened, Paul and I had just been signed by Warner Brothers to do three albums. For our own mental health, we sought to produce something thematic that hadn’t been tried before and where we could explore some of the Moog’s performance options we hadn’t shared with other artists. Our initial album, titled In a Wild Sanctuary, centered on the theme of ecology, and natural soundscapes [were] a main constituent of the orchestration. We needed a quiet rural area or wild forest in which to record.

“I didn’t go terribly far to secure those early recordings — just across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to a small park in Marin. But when I cranked up my new stereo recorder and heard the numinous impression of a nearby stream, the illusion of larger-than-life sonic space, the edge-tones of a pair of ravens’ wingbeats as they cut an arc across the sky overhead, and a gentle sea breeze in the redwood canopy wafting in from the Pacific to my west …

… something inside me instantly changed. I felt relaxed and present in the living world and amazingly free of anxiety.

“I had discovered for myself a new sense of being and felt obliged to go wherever that reaction took me. I was 30 years old then. …

“I begin by finding habitats that are relatively untouched by human endeavor. Then I identify a local naturalist or biologist that knows intimate details of the area [and its] unique wildlife [to] help facilitate my time on site. But for the most part, I prefer to work alone.

Over the course of a 24-hour day, I’ll likely record four two-hour sessions: a dawn chorus, a midday chorus, dusk and nighttime choruses, times when biophonies are likely at their peak. [These are] the collective sounds coming from all organisms in a given habitat at one moment in time.

“When I return to the studio, the first thing I do is transfer all of the field data related to that recording into my archive. Then I have two basic avenues of expression. The first, through science, is to write and publish a paper related to what I’ve observed given what the data show. The problem with that avenue is that very few people read this literature.

“If I want to reach a much larger audience, I turn to the arts, transforming the data into programs that are widely accessible and emotionally evocative while at the same time keeping the integrity of the message firmly intact. …

“I had written and released a book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places — basically the story of how we learned to sing, dance, and speak from mimicking the voices of the natural world. [It] was translated into seven languages, one of which was French. Somehow, a French anthropologist, Bruce Albert, who has been working with the Yanomami tribe in northern Brazil for decades, found a copy and gave one to his good friend, Hervé Chandès, director of the [Cartier] foundation. After reading it, Hervé contacted me in 2014 proposing that I take some of the raw field data and transform them into large-scale sonic art pieces. …

“Over the course of a few intense days, we auditioned the soundscapes of many habitats, whittling them down to a couple of dozen. From those, I proposed a selection of 15 or 16 habitat recordings to choose from. With the field recordings from those selections, I began the transformation process, taking raw material representing each location, assembling and mixing the various segments and generating a seamless acoustic narrative that I felt would capture and evoke the essence of each unique biome.

“And because most of what we observe of the living world has been through what we see, we decided to include a visual component — one that illuminated the soundscapes. …

“If the habitats they represented were healthy, that condition [would] show in the structured detail of the spectrograms. Conversely, if the habitats are under stress, then the spectrogram images will appear to be chaotic and incoherent.

“With the expertise and insight of Matt Clark and his team at UVA [United Visual Artists], the problem of converting those sounds into instantaneous streaming spectrograms was solved.”

More at Artnet, here. No firewall.

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Art: Jacobo Bassano.
Museum security officer Joan Smith chose a painting called “The Animals Entering Noah’s Ark” for a special staff-curated exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Last fall, my husband and I took Minnesota visitors to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The museum’s amazing landscaping and art were not the only treats. One gallery’s security guard was deeply enthusiastic about the art, especially the pieces in his room that had been stolen, and the background he provided really enriched our experience.

That’s why today’s post about giving museum security guards a chance to curate an exhibit makes so much sense to me.

Cathy Free writes at the Washington Post, “Security officer Ricardo Castro spends most days on his feet at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where he answers a lot of questions. …

“ ‘If you’re a guard, you hear it all,’ said Castro, who has worked for the museum’s security team for three years. ‘I enjoy the interaction — especially when you can tell that people are really moved by something hanging on the wall,’ he said.

“Now Castro is prepared for questions of a different kind when an exhibit he curated with 16 other guards opens at the museum March 27. … Castro’s selections, three objects by unidentified artists from Indigenous cultures, reflect his desire to see more works in the museum that spotlight early cultures, including his own Puerto Rican ancestry, he said. …

“The idea to have security guards take a turn at selecting pieces for an exhibition came about in February 2020 when Baltimore Museum of Art trustee Amy Elias went to dinner with the museum’s chief curator, Asma Naeem.

“ ‘We were talking about ways to engage with the security guards, who spend more time with the art than anyone. … ‘I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear from the guards about which pieces of art were the most meaningful to them?” ‘ [Elias] said. …

“She and Naeem said they thought about the possibilities for a while, then put out a memo last year to the museum’s 45 security guards: Would any of them be interested in developing an exhibition based on their personal selections from the museum’s vast collection? They would be paid for their time as guest curators in addition to their regular hourly wage.

“ ‘For the past few years, the Baltimore Museum of Art has tried to bring in new voices that haven’t been heard before,’ Naeem said.

“ ‘Our guards are always looking at the art and listening to people as they talk about the art,’ she said. ‘People enjoy talking to them, and their education is really a “hands on” gallery experience. We wanted to see things from their perspective.’ …

“The 17 guards who signed up attended Zoom meetings for a year to learn how to put on an exhibition, from framing artworks and writing description labels for the public to making sure that each piece has correct lighting, Naaem said.

“ ‘We asked them each to select up to three objects, and they then did a deep dive with our librarian to research each one,’ she said. …

“Several guards chose social justice and change as a theme for their selections, she added, while others chose pieces to match their experiences of rotating each day between the museum’s galleries.

“Alex Lei chose Winslow Homer’s ‘Waiting for an Answer'(1872), because ‘it’s strangely reflective of the experience of being a guard — a job mostly made up of waiting,’ he said.

“Ben Bjork said he selected Jeremy Alden’s ’50 Dozen’ (2005/2008) — a chair made entirely of pencils — because he sometimes fantasizes about sitting down when he is tired.

“Sara Ruark chose two works, including Karel Appel’s ‘A World in Darkness'(1962), because she wanted to convey the current uncertainty in the world, she said. …

“’These are disconcerting times’ … she added. ‘There are people pushing for positive change, but somehow we just keep winding back in time.’

“Alex Dicken, a security guard for two years who recently moved to the museum’s visitor services team, said he chose Max Ernst’s ‘Earthquake, Late Afternoon'(1948), because he was struck by how the painting appears serene and detached from the crisis it depicts. …

” ‘Working as a security officer involves so much more than just standing in a gallery,’ said Dicken, 24. “When you have repeated exposure to the artwork, you learn a lot about it. I hope I was able to pass that along to the people who visit.’

“Ricardo Castro said he feels the same way. ‘When I first came here as a guard, I thought it would just be something to do to pay my bills,’ he said. ‘But I really came to love it, especially when I’d see how joyful people were when they looked at the art.’ “

Don’t you wonder how the surprise opportunity to act as a curator will affect these people’s lives going forward? You have until July 10 to see the show.

More at the Post, here. The Denver Channel version of the story has no firewall.

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Photo: Michael Miller / OCA.
Venice Biennale Sámi Pavilion artist Máret Ánne Sara and her brother, Jovsset Ante Sara.

The Sámi are indigenous people of Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Today’s post is about the art some of them have chosen to present to the world at the Venice Biennale this year.

Anna Souter reports at Hyperallergic, “Sámi artist Pauliina Feodoroff says that ‘to be Indigenous is to be site-specific.’ For centuries, colonial governments have deliberately represented the site-specific Indigenous landscapes of the European Arctic as empty wildernesses. In reality, these are the ancestral lands of the Sámi people. Far from empty, they are ecologically diverse sites of culture, care, and collective endeavor. 

“At this year’s Venice Biennale, the Nordic Pavilion will be transformed for the first time into the Sámi Pavilion. The project undermines the nationalistic structure behind the Biennale, instead recognizing the sovereignty and cultural cohesion of Sápmi, the Sámi cultural region, which covers much of the northernmost areas of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, as well as part of Russia. The three contributing artists — Pauliina Feodoroff, Máret Ánne Sara, and Anders Sunna — draw attention to the ongoing colonial oppression and discrimination experienced by Indigenous Sámi under local and national governments across the Nordic region. 

“Feodoroff’s family members are Skolt Sámi reindeer herders, originally from the part of Sápmi within the Russian border. They were pushed into Finland after World War II, into a reputedly toxic area ravaged by mining and fallout from Chernobyl. Feodoroff’s work for the Sámi Pavilion will combine performance and video installations to explore non-colonial modes of physical expression, emphasizing the close relationship between the body and landscape in Sámi culture.

“Feodoroff has no artist studio; instead she sees the landscapes with which she works as her expanded studio. Her creative practice is inseparable from her work as a land defender. … She laments and resists the logging of old, slow-growth forests for one of Finland’s key exports: toilet paper. The bathos is not lost on Feodoroff and local Sámi reindeer herders, who are bypassed by the transaction, gaining nothing but a degraded landscape and poorer survival rates for their reindeer. 

“To protect and restore remaining old-growth forests, Feodoroff is attempting to use the art market to buy back land to be owned and managed collectively by Sámi people. Purchasing one of her works is framed as a contract through which the collector buys the right to visit an area of land in Sápmi; in return, the artist pledges to protect that land. …

“In 2015, the Norwegian government introduced mass reindeer culling quotas for Sámi herders, hitting younger herders such as artist Máret Ánne Sara’s brother particularly hard. Throughout a lengthy and expensive legal process, Sara has supported her brother’s appeal against the ruling, showing solidarity and resistance through her artistic project ‘Pile o’Sápmi’ (2016-ongoing).

“In 2016, Sara piled 200 reindeer heads outside the Inner Finnmark District Court and topped the pile with a Norwegian flag. The work refers to the 19th-century white settler policy of controlling the Indigenous population of Canada by slaughtering millions of buffalo and piling their bones in enormous heaps. …

“Sara’s work emphasizes that reindeer herding is at the heart of both Sámi culture and the complex ecologies of Sápmi. Her installation for the Sámi Pavilion incorporates preserved dead reindeer calves as bittersweet symbols of both loss and hope. …

“Anders Sunna’s painting and sound installations speak directly to his own history. ‘My paintings tell stories of what happened to my family,’ he says. ‘Today our family has no rights at all, we have lost everything.’ Located on the Swedish side of Sápmi, Sunna’s family has been refused its ancestral right to herd reindeer because of the competing interests of local Swedish landowners. … Sunna’s family has been practicing what he describes as ‘guerrilla reindeer herding’ for 50 years.

“Sunna’s paintings borrow motifs from international protest movements, news footage of riots, and his artistic origins as a graffitist. His move into the fine art world is helping to bring his family’s story to an international audience. For the 2022 Venice Biennale, he has created five paintings depicting episodes from the last five decades of the Sunna family’s struggles. … Sunna tells stories of oppression and even despair in the face of relentless attacks on his family’s rights, but he also hopes for a better future for the next generation.

“Before I visited Sápmi to meet the Sámi Pavilion artists in February 2022, I felt disillusioned with the power of the art world to enact change; despite countless artworks raising awareness of climate breakdown, for example, society has failed to make meaningful changes. But across Sápmi, I met individuals who believed in the capacity for art — and for the Venice Biennale — to make a difference. …

“The stories told in the Sámi Pavilion have rarely been presented on an international stage; and though often deeply personal, they speak to issues that affect us all. The Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world; it is a litmus test for our environmental future. Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous land management could lead us toward a safer ecological future.”

More at Hyperallergic, here. For related posts, search on “Sámi” at this blog.

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Photo: Harout Bastajian.
The Mohammad al-Amin Mosque, also referred to as the Blue Mosque, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon.

Some years ago, I read Jason Elliot’s fascinating book about his travels in Iran, Mirrors of the Unseen. One thing that stuck with me was his theory about caves and how they might have influenced Islamic art and the dome shape of mosques. I wrote about it before.

Today I chose an article on a man who is often called in to paint or repaint domes, both Islamic and Christian. His own theories are about which types of imagery are best for which sects.

Hrag Vartanian reports at Hyperallergic, “At the center of downtown Beirut is the prominent Mohammadal-Aminmosque, the largest mosque in Lebanon. …

“Inside is a stunning painted dome. It is the work of an artist who has gained a reputation as a leading painter of decorative ornament, particularly in mosques. What may surprise many people unaware of the rich cosmopolitan tradition of Islamic religious art is that the artist, Harout Bastajian, is not Muslim himself. When people ask him how a Christian is creating the decorative program of a mosque, he likes to answer, ‘God works in mysterious ways, brings us all together to decorate his house of worship.’

“He embarked on this artistic path back in 2004, when he was asked by the Hariris, a prominent business and political family in Lebanon, to decorate the newly inaugurated Hariri mosque in Sidon, Lebanon. …

“The journey into painting in sacred spaces has been inspiring for the artist. Not only has he painted the interiors of mosques but he’s also been involved in the restoration of Roman Catholic and Armenian Catholic buildings in Lebanon. He remembers his first mosque commission in Sidon well. ‘When I went in and saw the huge dome, which is like 900 square meters [roughly 9,687 square feet], I couldn’t sleep that night.

‘I was thinking, “How am I supposed to do this?” And then I was playing basketball in my backyard. I saw the basketball, the shape, how it’s divided. So I started thinking, how can I divide the dome and try to manage it?

” ‘And it was easy. Within two months I was able to finish the project with my team,’ he explains. … ‘I go through history, through different schools, and I try to come up with something somehow contemporary and work on it. And I will always use the golden ratio as a fundamental for my work. Regarding the colors, I don’t see one color. I always work with layers of colors.’ …

“He currently has a team of six or seven colleagues who work with him full time, and a graphic designer who helps organize the project plan since Bastajian doesn’t like to work with digital tools. …

“In the last 18 years, Bastajian says, he has painted 37 full and half domes, which translates into over a dozen mosques and many secular projects as far afield as Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Switzerland.

“ ‘[When] I did my first few mosques, I had to travel a lot and check other mosques in order to understand it all better. Then I took some courses in Islamic design and Islamic art [and] after a while it became part of me. I can see the end result only by doing the sketches and preparing the designs.’ …

“He conceives each project from the ground level, where visitors will experience the work, incorporating a mixture of geometric designs, along with vegetal and floral motifs, to create a rich web of patterns. ‘The shape of the dome itself, it has something divine in it because it’s circular. It doesn’t have a start or an end,’ Bastajian explains. ‘And the light that comes in from the windows, they call it the light of God. The dome itself, you feel that it’s flying, it’s something divine.’

“[The artist] is sometimes inspired by other works, such as the designs from the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, which influenced his work for the al-Aminmosque in Beirut. He adjusts the designs according to the sect: Ottoman designs tend to work better for Sunni spaces, while Shia holy spaces tend to take their aesthetic cues from Persian-influenced styles and geometry.”

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Photo: Asortymenta Kimnata.
People are working ’round the clock to save Ukraine’s museum collections.

Everyone is doing their part. You have probably read about groups working to transfer zoo animals from Ukraine to a safer country. In today’s story, we learn what Ukraine’s museum workers are doing.

Lisa Korneichuk at Hyperallergic interviews the founders of Museum Crisis Center on their work to safeguard museum staff and save Ukraine’s cultural heritage.

“Many art and cultural monuments in Ukraine fall victim to Russia’s full-scale invasion along with civilians. [Russian] troops have damaged libraries, churches, and a mosque, and shelled local historical museums in Chernihiv, Okhtyrka, Ivankiv, an art museum, architectural monuments in Kharkiv, and many more. As of this writing, they dropped a 500-kilo bomb on the Donetsk Regional Drama Theatre in Mariupol, where over a thousand people were hiding from the shelling. 

While the Ukrainian governmental institutions are focused on saving the national art collections, local heritage and contemporary art remain vulnerable to the war threat.

“Moreover, museum teams in the region often risk their lives staying in the war zones to guard exhibits. To save overlooked Ukrainian heritage from vanishing, local citizens, cultural workers, and NGOs organize independent initiatives and evacuate art that has fewer chances to survive the war. 

“On March 3, Olha Honchar, director of Lviv museum ‘The Territory of Terror‘ asked on Facebook if there were any funds supporting Ukrainian artists and museums in wartime. She later updated her post: ‘Meanwhile, we start making such a fund ourselves.’ In partnership with the team of the NGO Insha Osvita, Olha launched Museum Crisis Center, a grassroots initiative aimed at helping museum workers in the emergency regions and evacuating artworks. …

“The main task of the center was the rapid financial and organizational support of museum workers, many of whom found themselves face to face with the war and without a means to support themselves. The center has to look for ways to get around long bureaucratic processes to aid those who need it immediately.

Hyperallergic spoke to the Museum Crisis Center co-founders Olha Honchar and Alyona Karavai over Zoom about the balance between legal requirements and efficiency in times of war and their critical stances on international humanitarian institutions. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Hyperallergic: Tell us exactly what your organization is doing?

Olha Honchar: We have offices in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv [cities in the west of Ukraine]. We joined our efforts and found more people to launch the Museum Crisis Center, or the Museum Emergency. I coordinate quick support for museum workers in war-torn areas that are under attack. We provide donations for basic things, like food, water, medicine. Many museum workers haven’t received salaries, their expenses increased. Our goal is to ensure that these people can survive the war. …

“We are developing an efficient algorithm for our work because within the bureaucratic Ukrainian system, it’s quite difficult to respond to people’s needs quickly. Everything is designed for a long bureaucracy. But in many regions we are working with there are no accountants, the treasury is bombed, or the culture department is not operating. Therefore, the only way to help is to send money directly on a personal card. Our task is to make it transparent and convince donors that help is received by those who need it.

“The next step will be the reconstruction of museums and infrastructure, but these are large-scale things. At the moment it is crucial to support teams and people so that there is someone to do the reconstruction later.

H: You are also involved in the evacuation of works, focusing on grassroots initiatives and art projects that will be the last to come to the attention of government agencies for cultural heritage.

Alyona Karavai: Or won’t come at all. The other day we met with the Minister of Culture and they said that they were focused on objects that are defined as being ‘of cultural value’ under Ukrainian law, i.e. objects that are 50 years old and older. Their primary mission is to save large national collections. Thus, they are unable to help even the small state museums which they have under their control. Grassroots initiatives and contemporary art are generally beyond their sphere of influence. We [NGO ‘Insha Osvita’] evacuate works from artists’ studios, private collections, and art centers. 

H: How often are you asked for help and do you carry out any selection of works?

AK: There is no selection. We help everyone we can. We’ve received 17 requests for assistance, so far we’ve fulfilled six. One request was from Mariupol, but it was clear that we could no longer help there. There are areas where we are powerless. …

OH: We help museums that we have personal contacts with. Our monitoring team includes museum workers [and] directors of centers, who call each other and gather information about needs. It is very important for us to do this through proven contacts because now there are many suspicious situations, fake news.

“People are afraid to say what they have in museum collections because it is unclear for what purpose this information can be gathered. That’s why we rely on the trusted network and work through the close contacts I have made during my career, including as the director of the ‘Territory of Terror.’ …

H: How do you evacuate artworks?

AK: We have a few volunteers on the ground. There are some people in Kyiv, in Odessa who help to evacuate artworks by buses. We’ve been looking for trucks. It takes a while to find any, we are not a transport company, we have never done that before. There were moments when we found a car and then it dropped [out] at the last minute. The situation on the roads is changing fast. So if we were able to use a route yesterday, it does not mean that we can go there tomorrow.”

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