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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.”

More at Hyperallergic, here. No firewall.

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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.”

More at Hyperallergic, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Peter Aaron/OTTO.
Jean Shin’s installation “FALLEN” at the Olana State Historic Site, part of the recent “Cross-Pollination art show.

I don’t know if growing up near the Hudson River has anything to do with it, but I’ve always loved the monumental nature paintings of the Hudson River School. In recent years, different kinds of art have made the region famous, including art shown at Dia Beacon and the offbeat Visitors film screened at the ICA in Boston and elsewhere. (That’s the one with the Icelandic musicians playing haunting music in the bathtubs and salons of a ruined Hudson River mansion.)

Not far from Rokeby, the ruin in question, another mansion has been turned into a museum called Olana, and today’s post is about putting its classic paintings together with more modern conceptions of nature.

Sarah Rose Sharp wrote at Hyperallergic last October about Cross Pollination, “a collaborative exhibition that spans institutions and centuries, to put artists in conversation with each other on the topic of ecology — and hummingbirds.

“The exhibition is organized between the Olana Partnership at the Olana State Historic Site (once the home of Frederic Church), the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. The historic presentations include 16 paintings from a series of hummingbirds and habitats — The Gems of Brazil (1863-64) — by naturalist and painter Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904).

“This Audubon-like survey of Brazilian hummingbirds — and the resulting writing on the artist’s part to protest the overhunting of their populations — serves as the aesthetic and philosophical inspiration for a series of new works commissioned for the exhibition. The exhibition also includes paintings by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, as well as botanical works on both paper and porcelain by Emily Cole, Cole’s daughter, and Isabel Charlotte Church, Church’s daughter. This generational affair also features some highlights from natural specimens collected by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, including items from the Church family’s extensive collection of bird eggs.

“The exhibition is presented simultaneously at both Olana State Historic Site in Hudson, New York, and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, New York.

“With these 19th-century collections that focused so intently on natural systems as their inspiration, a cohort of 21st-century American artists present works in response. The contemporary artists are known to take on issues of biodiversity, habitat protection, and environmental sustainability, and contributions include new works by Rachel Berwick, Mark Dion and Dana Sherwood, Lisa Sanditz and Emily Sartor, and Jean Shin.

“On location at the Thomas Cole Site, ‘The Pollinator Pavilion’ is a public artwork by Mark Dion and Dana Sherwood created for the exhibition, where pollinators and humans can share the same space. Jean Shin used the remains of a fallen hemlock tree at the Olana site to create a memorial artwork in its memory, titled ‘FALLEN’ (the tree died of natural causes). …

“Ironically, though Heade, Cole, and Church advocated for the preservation of natural spaces, the fad of biological specimen collections like the ones being presented fueled a market for hunting the birds that Heade idealized. Even these days, as evidence of our excess mounts in flaming piles on land and sea, it seems we can still hardly even agree that the planet is a finite resource, let alone determine who is entitled to take any little piece of it that catches their eye. Perhaps this exhibition [holds] the seeds of change within it.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

The video below did a pretty good job of educating me, but it’s painful. The “10-Minute” professor doesn’t ultimately shy away from our destruction of nature and native tribes.

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Photo Reflections

The next time that I post photos, I hope I can include some action around the bird feeder. Although there are experts who recommend feeding the birds year-round, I usually wait to put seeds in the feeder until it’s really hard for birds to find other food. As of this moment, they are still having a good time with all the berries and naturally occurring seeds in our yard.

I continue to take outdoor walks in the cold, identifying birds with my Merlin app for birdsong. I’m also working with a grandson to learn more about birds through Wingspan, the board game. (I blogged about it here but didn’t understand then how difficult it is to learn the rules.)

Here are a few more photos: from cold, frosty walks; from a nice, warm art gallery featuring a circus of skate-egg-case performers; and from Kristina’s visit to balmy North Carolina.

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There were quite a lot of opportunities for photos on sunny October days this year, and I’m not even counting funny pictures from Halloween in Providence, where one grandchild was Harry Potter, another was Princess Aurora, Suzanne was the Fairy Godmother from Disney’s Cinderella, and Erik had turned into a vampire after getting vaccinated (as some would have you believe).

I didn’t get to see my young Captain Marvel and her scary brother the Mummy in person. Fortunately, their mom sent a dramatic action shot.

I do try to be a bit restrained with family photos on social media, so today I will show you other shots I’ve collected. The photo above is of a kind of mandala that a Providence resident is in the process of creating near Blackstone Park. She encourages passersby to add something. I added more red leaves.

On the library lawn back home, I got to see Dr. Seuss’s famous Thing One and Thing Two and Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar. There was also a “walking” book, consisting of signs showing page spreads. The current choice is The Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade (illustrator).

My husband had been reading about Ralph Waldo Emerson — particularly about the influence that Quaker thinker George Fox had on him — and so decided it was high time to visit Emerson’s house. Among other things we learned was the fact that in the early 1800s, people didn’t know that tuberculosis was contagious. Emerson’s first wife died of it at age 18. Also, the original Emerson family still owns the home. It’s a rather dark and gloomy place, though. I preferred the recently restored barn and took a picture there.

Moving right along, I have art for you from the Umbrella. The two pieces of door art are “Pop Art on the Trail,” by Howie Green, and “Remember the Future,” by Amy Cramer.

Then there’s the art center’s fabulous annual Art Ramble in the Hapgood Wright Town Forest, which I generally hold off on visiting until the first frost kills off the mosquitoes that breed in Fairyland Pond.

The Shibori hanging series, “Windblown,” is by Kiyomi Yatsuhashi. The beautiful Luna Moth Life Cycle is by Jude Griffin. The lungs of the forest are depicted by Barbara Ayala Rugg Diehl (BARD) in a work called “In and Out.”

The next photo shows Lisa Nelson’s “Waves of the Aerial Sea.” And last but not least is a huge dragonfly, or “Ethereal Dreamer,” by Laurie Bogdan and Kimberley Harding.

Thanks for joining me in New England.

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The Boston Marathon was in October for the first time, after missing two Aprils because of Covid.

We ourselves had to hustle a little to get to the Boston Marathon as the new technology told us Erik was running faster than expected and might reach our viewing spot before we could get there. Fortunately, we arrived with a few minutes to spare.

Erik’s final time was a hair over three hours. The photo above is of runners near where we stood. It was a happy day, and although runners had to be vaccinated or show a recent test result, it had a welcome feeling of maybe-life-will-get-back-to-normal-sometime. And the sun was shining.

On a drizzly day, I went up to the Brush Gallery in Lowell to see Meredith‘s lovely exhibit. The artist herself came over from her studio in her rain gear, and I learned some interesting things about how she thinks about color and how she works. The first painting below was my favorite.

On another day, I took photos at Concord Art‘s juried show. The piece using corrugated cardboard was by David Covert. The wax art suggesting a dreamy ocean was Elvira Para’s. Nadya Volicer’s unusual sculpture was made from paper pulp and charcoal.

I couldn’t resist shooting an urban mural even though it wasn’t far enough along for me to understand what meaning flowers, a fish, a rooster, and a barefoot woman walking on chairs, might convey.

Meanwhile, nature has been making its own art, and there have been many beautiful days to enjoy it.

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Zunis Help Design the Park

Photo: Zuni Youth Enrichment Project.
By incorporating the Zuni people into the planning, design, and execution, a unique park in New Mexico addresses health on multiple levels.

Call it the department of “Don’t tell people what they need. Ask them.” It’s a bit of wisdom that organizations and government entities proposing to do good have been trying to apply to their work for years now. Unfortunately, past failures mean they first have to overcome suspicion.

Amanda Loudin reports at Shelterforce, “Six artists reside in the Shack family home in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico. While that many artists living under one roof is an anomaly, in the Zuni tribe there’s at least one artist living in nearly 70 percent of households, according to a study by the University of New Mexico. Art is part and parcel of the tribe’s history and culture.

“The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP) understands this, so when it began planning a new youth center and park in 2015, Zuni artists and community members were invited to play a central role in the design and execution of the project.

“Their opinions and their art were woven into the fabric of the process from start to finish. The end result is the 2.5-acre H’on A:wan, or ‘Of the People,’ Community Park, which officially welcomed youth and the wider tribal community in 2018.

“ZYEP is a grassroots nonprofit founded by community members with the mission of enhancing the health of the tribe’s youth, who number 2,900 of the 10,000 tribe members. Zuni households face many challenges, including systemic poverty, which affects one in two Zuni families with children. And poverty, of course, is closely linked to health.

“Daryl Shack, one of the six artists in his Zuni household, played an integral role in the youth center/park project. ‘I kind of became involved by accident,’ Shack says. ‘We had a Main Street Art Walk project underway, and I was already involved in that to help ensure the modernization included a cultural aspect to it. When I heard about the park project, I wanted to learn more.’

“Funding for the park and community center originated with ArtPlace America, a 10-year collaboration among federal agencies, foundations, and financial institutions. … By design, the projects involve artists, culture bearers, and community members in every step of the planning and implementation.

“With the grant money, ZYEP set its sights on developing a center for youth that would benefit their spiritual well-being. To ZYEP, this meant Zuni art, history, and culture needed to be integral to the project. But Zuni youth also need access to safe spaces to play and be physically active, says ZYEP Executive Director Joe Claunch.

“ ‘We were well aware of the fact that they lacked space where they could run, play, and fall down without getting injured — every surface was either concrete or desert,’ he says. ‘The park represents a green space that celebrates Zuni identity and [is a] safe place where kids and families could engage in a range of healthy activities without concern.’

“Like many kids today, the Zuni youth have access to technology, which can quickly override cultural influences and healthy traditions. ‘Kids can get stuck on technology and start practicing a sedentary lifestyle, planting the seeds for preventable diseases,’ says Claunch. …

“The original intent for the park goes back more than a decade. ‘We had a local pediatrician who heard too many times from youth that they had nothing going on in their summers,’ Claunch explains. ‘He recognized that they needed healthy spaces and places, not just activity.’ …

“On a spiritual/emotional level, [the park] is a supervised space with a positive, culturally sensitive staff in place to encourage healthy activity. ‘We provide training to our staff that focuses on the strengths of the community, the family, and the youth.’ …

“In 2014, ZYEP approached the Zuni Tribal Council about acquiring land to develop the park and community center. Together, they found a spot near the center of the village, and ZYEP leased 2.5 acres. A year later, they applied for the ArtPlace America grant. …

“Typical government-sponsored development brings with it an institutional look, says Claunch, rather than a cultural look. Think chain link fences, sometimes even topped with barbed wire, which is unwelcoming and devoid of character. The same goes to new housing developments, which are designed for the nuclear family, rather than the extended family commonly found in Zuni culture. A government-designed home will look like a typical two-to- three-bedroom home, whereas a traditional Zuni home will house three to four families living under one roof — much larger in structure with large communal spaces for family functions like meals.

Having a recent history of development that often neglected the role of Zuni culture meant that when approached by ZYEP, community members were initially skeptical about the good intentions of the project. …

“Like others in his community, Shack came to the table with a healthy dose of skepticism. ‘Usually, grants come into Zuni and the planning and models are made, the meetings are held and that’s where it ends,’ he says. ‘When the park project was directed to the artists community, I was hesitant but interested.’

“Shack’s first introduction to the project was in a large-scale meeting he attended to listen in and hear about the planning process. ‘Subsequent meetings were smaller, and that’s when I decided to sign on,’ he explains.

“From the get-go, says Claunch, ZYEP aimed to build trust in the community, and did it by engaging residents in conversation. ‘We didn’t make any promises but assured them that over time, we’d show them we were serious about having them shape decisions,’ he says. ‘The artists took on the role of advocates and cast the vision. They also took the feedback and concerns from the neighbors, often in the Zuni language. If it weren’t for the artists, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.’ ”

Read more about how this beautiful park came together at Shelterforce, here.

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Photos: Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun.
“The Sound of Our Resurrection Is Stronger Than the Silence of Death” is what McCormick and Calhoun call their picture of A Chosen Few Brass Band.

A recent article in Smithsonian magazine about the Louisiana photography duo Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun got me interested in learning more about them.

Reporter Amy Crawford focused on something new they were doing with old photographs: working with the Hurricane Katrina water damage to elicit the ghostly spirit of an indomitable city.

Crawford writes that in 2005, “Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans, so Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun packed their photography archive — thousands of slides, negatives and prints the couple had amassed over three decades documenting African American life in Louisiana. …

“Then they drove to Houston with their two children, planning to be gone for maybe two weeks. Ten weeks later, McCormick and Calhoun returned home to…devastation. ‘All there was, was waterlogged,’ Calhoun says. ‘Imagine the smell — all that stuff had been in that mud and mold.’

“They figured they had lost everything, including the archive, but their teenage son urged them not to throw it away. They put the archive into a freezer, to prevent further deterioration. With an electronic scanner they copied and enlarged the images — at first just searching for anything recognizable. The water, heat and mold had blended colors, creating surreal patterns over ghostly scenes of brass band parades, Mardi Gras celebrations and riverside baptisms.

‘Mother Nature went way beyond my imagination as a photographer,’ Calhoun says of the otherworldly images. McCormick says, ‘We no longer consider them damaged.’

“Today McCormick and Calhoun’s altered photographs are viewed as a metaphor for the city’s resilience. Yet they’re also a memento of a community that is no longer the same. By 2019, New Orleans had lost more than a quarter of its African American population. ‘So much is vanishing now,’ Calhoun says. ‘I think this work serves as a record to validate that we once lived in this city. We were its spiritual backbone.’ ” More at the Smithsonian, here.

From the couple’s website: “Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick were born and raised in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans, Louisiana. As husband and wife team, they have been documenting Louisiana and its people for more than 25 years. In New Orleans, they have documented the music culture, which consists of Brass Bands, Jazz Funerals, Social and Pleasure Clubs, Benevolent Societies, and the Black Mardi Gras Indians.

“In addition to documenting New Orleans social and cultural history, Calhoun and McCormick have also covered religious and spiritual ceremonies throughout their community, as well as river baptisms in rural Louisiana. They have created several photographic series, including: Louisiana Laborers; The Dock Worker, Longshoreman, and Freight Handlers on the docks of New Orleans; Sugar Cane Field Scrappers in the river parishes along the Mississippi river; Cotton Gins, and Sweet Potato Workers in East Carrol parish of Lake Providence Louisiana.

“Calhoun and McCormick have documented the soul of New Orleans and a vanishing Louisiana [including] the displacement of African Americans after Katrina … and the cruel conditions of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, a former slave-breeding plantation named for the African nation from which ‘the most profitable’ slaves, according to slave owners, were kidnapped. …

“[Angola] is an 18,000-acre prison farm where inmates are traded like chattel among wardens of neighboring penitentiaries. Although the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery in 1865, its prohibition of forced labor does not apply to convicted inmates. … Calhoun and McCormick’s work restores visibility and humanity to a population often forgotten by the public at large.”

And from the Southbound Project: “The photographic emulsion merging with mold and water sedimentation left interesting patterns and color transformations. … Sometimes the textural quality of the effects even suggests physical markings and scars of trauma. Ida Mae Strickland (1987, ca. 2010), for example, is a portrait of an elderly woman shown from the waist up, seemingly lost in thought with a furrowed brow. She appears contemplative and dignified, as one whose internal strength has carried her through the years. The water damage creates rippling patterns that appear to emanate from her head and evoke wrinkled folds of aged skin. These unintentional effects reinforce qualities of the original image. The photograph, like the original sitter, has quietly weathered the influence of time and nature but still survives.” 

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Photo: Washed Ashore.
Rosa, the bald eagle, was created by Washed Ashore volunteers collaborating nationwide despite the pandemic. Washed Ashore is a nonprofit that repurposes ocean plastic to make art and raise awareness.

Having read about Washed Ashore at the New York Times before the pandemic, I wondered how these plastic-waste-fighting artists managed to keep going during lockdown. I should have known: nothing can stop them.

Founder Angela Haseltine Pozzi showed her mettle in an early March 2020 interview with Alex V. Cipolle: “Angela Haseltine Pozzi stands shoulder to shoulder with Cosmo, a six-foot-tall tufted puffin, on a cliff overlooking the blustery Oregon coast. It is January and the deadly king tides have come to Coquille Point, making the shoreline look like a churning root-beer float.

“Cosmo endures the weather just fine, as he is composed of plastic that has washed ashore — flip-flops, bottle caps, toy wheels, cigarette lighters — all mounted to a stainless-steel frame and bolted to concrete. The puffin is a sculpture from Ms. Haseltine Pozzi’s art and education nonprofit, Washed Ashore, whose tagline is ‘Art to Save the Sea.’

‘We’ve cleaned up 26 tons off the beaches, Ms. Haseltine Pozzi said, ‘which isn’t a dent in the actual pollution issue, but we’re doing something by raising awareness and waking people up.’ …

“Washed Ashore has taken those 26 tons of garbage, all debris that washed up on the Oregon coast (the majority within 100 miles of Bandon), and built 70 large-scale sculptures and counting, including Octavia the Octopus, Edward the Leatherback Turtle and Daisy the Polar Bear. …

“[The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] estimates that eight million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year. Marine animals become entangled in it or ingest pieces they mistake for food, such as the whale that recently washed ashore in Scotland with 220 pounds of debris in its belly — the same weight in plastic an American throws away annually.”

So having read about Haseltine Pozzi’s efforts to draw attention to this travesty through art, I wondered what happened to Washed Ashore during the pandemic. Surely, there would have been no more of Pozzi’s in-person workshops, workshops where Washed Ashore invites “the Buddhists and the Baptists, and the rednecks and the hippies, and the Republicans and the Democrats, and they all sit around the table and they all work together.”

The nonprofit’s excellent blog has that piece of the story.

“When the Covid-19 pandemic led to a national lockdown of indoor spaces in early 2020, the Washed Ashore gallery and art studios were affected much like everyone else. Volunteer activity ceased, exhibits were closed, and workshops were emptied. Washed Ashore relies heavily on a steady stream of volunteers to collect and sort debris and build parts of sculptures, accompanying our full-time staff of artists and helpers. But overnight, our doors were closed and volunteers sent home.

“Knowing the problems of plastic ocean pollution were too great to ignore, Washed Ashore looked to find a creative way to continue our mission to create ‘Art to Save the Sea’ and finding a way to still work together, but differently. …

“And so we got to work, calling on supporters and putting together a plan to unite us as the pandemic kept us all apart. [We] opened our determined efforts nationwide with a goal to work together and create a new sculpture, a symbol of unity.

“What better symbol of hope and unity for the people of the United States than a giant American Bald Eagle, the symbol of our democracy?

“The project was named ‘Come Soar With Us,’ by our Executive Director Katie Dougherty, and our team got to work putting together detailed plastic debris construction kits and instructions and mailing them out across America to over 1,550 volunteers across seven states. Their tireless participation stretched well over eight months, creating the feathers for what would be become Rosa’s impressive wingspan. …

“During a time when so much was halted, the momentum and collaboration from creating Rosa with all of our staff and volunteers was inspiring and has given our team an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment. … You can see Rosa in person at Norfolk Botanical Garden in Norfolk, Virginia, from August 21 – November 4, 2021.”

More at the Washed Ashore blog, here, and at the New York Times, here.

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