By Deb A.
The tides are turning against a major donor in the art world. Over the last week, the Tate Modern, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Guggenheim all announced that they would no longer be accepting donations from the Sackler family.
The Sacklers earned themselves a name in the art world by donating millions upon millions of dollars to museums and galleries. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre have Sackler Wings, the British Museum has Raymond and Beverly Sackler Rooms, and the group of Tate galleries had already accepted over $5 million from the family before their recent announcement.
The problem lies in the source of the Sackler family's billions: Their company, Purdue Pharma, developed and aggressively marketed OxyContin while hiding its addictive properties, making the Sacklers almost single-handedly responsible for North America's opioid crisis.
Photographer Nan Goldin, who herself became addicted to painkillers after being prescribed OxyContin, established Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (PAIN) to protest the Sacklers's involvement in the arts and insist that they fund rehab programmes and overdose antidotes instead of making prestigious donations. She led demonstrations at the Met and the Guggenheim, and threatened to withdraw from an exhibition of her work at the National Portrait Gallery if it accepted a million-pound donation from the Sacklers. The gallery turned the money down.
The Sacklers are far from being the only ethically problematic patrons of the arts, and it is unlikely that museums and galleries around the world, especially those with long histories, will be able to extricate themselves completely from blood money and ill-gotten gains. But this is no reason to avoid taking a stand; galleries must make it clear that they will no longer accept money that was earned by putting lives at risk.
By Deb A.
William Stanley Merwin died on March 15, 2019. He was 91. Merwin was a poet whose life and works lend themselves well to elegant variation. He was a conservationist—not only in his poetry, which often bemoaned the destruction of the natural world, but also in his personal life; he and his wife restored 19 acres of land in Hawaii ("His poems, like that forest, are a kind of time preserve," noted Dan Chiasson in the New Yorker) and founded the Merwin Conservancy. He was a literary translator who took up the practice on the advice of Ezra Pound as a way of improving his own writing. He was a practising Buddhist and an anti-war activist; he was a conscientious objector in World War II, and he rejected his 1971 Pulitzer Prize (for The Carrier of Ladders), requesting that the prize money be donated to a peace activist and the draft resistance movement. As well as being a Pulitzer Prize winner (twice: He also won in 2009 for The Shadow of Sirius), he was a U.S. Poet Laureate and the recipient of nearly every other award available to American poets. Merwin was a prolific writer, publishing over 20 books of poetry—which, in his signature style, offer little in the way of punctuation—and nearly as many books of translation, as well as several plays, memoirs, and other books. His last original collection of poems, Garden Time, was published in 2016, 64 years after his first, A Mask for Janus (1952).
For the Anniversary of My Death
By W. S. Merwin (The Second Four Books of Poems, 1993)
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
By Deb A.
"Every black person deserves to see themselves this way": Mikael Owunna's Infinite Essence photography project is his reaction to the barrage of images of dying or dead black bodies. It is both poignant and incredibly beautiful, and a thorough look at his website and social media, along with this interview with NPR, is well worth your while.
Patrick Heide Contemporary Art in London is showing a group exhibition focused on Brexit entitled Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
It didn't take long for the first comic depicting U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (as an establishment-fighting hero) to emerge. (Devil's Due Comics)
The New York Times marked Black History Month by telling the stories of some of the notable black men and women who did not receive obituaries when they died. The project is called Overlooked, and its last entry of the year is a look at graffiti artist Dondi.
If it's too cold to get outside, at least there's this: The Outdoor Photographer of the Year winners for 2018.
It's somehow hard to imagine a list like this that didn't include Margaret Atwood (spoiler alert: This one does): CBC's "10 Canadian books coming out in March we can't wait to read."
By Deb A.
There is something slightly different about the coverage of the 2019 winner of one of Australia's most prestigious literary prizes; it is as though there are too many angles to address at once. The Victorian Prize for Literature honours the best in Australian writing, but the winning book was not written by an Australian citizen or permanent resident. It did not take shape in a traditional way: It was neither scribbled into a notebook nor typed into a laptop. No; the winning author, Behrouz Boochani, is a Kurdish-Iranian refugee living in detention on Manus Island. He wrote his non-fiction book, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison, in Farsi and primarily on WhatsApp, sending his work message by message directly to his translator to ensure it would not be destroyed.
The Wheeler Centre, which organises the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, called No Friend But the Mountains "a voice of witness, an act of survival, a first-hand account, a cry of resistance, a vivid portrait through five years of incarceration and exile," It made an exception to its rules on the recommendation of its judges so that Mr. Boochani could enter the competition, noting that the story of asylum seekers on Manus Island is an Australian story and therefore including No Friend But the Mountains for consideration was in the spirit of the awards' intention. The Australian government did not make an exception to its rules, however; Mr. Boochani was not allowed to accept his prize in person in Melbourne. Instead, his translator, Omid Tofighian was there in person, watching the author deliver his speech via video link.
"This award is a victory," Mr. Boochani told the audience. "A victory for human beings, for human dignity, A victory against a system that has never recognised us as human beings. It is a victory against a system that has reduced us to numbers."
Mr. Boochani is a journalist who fled Iran after several of his colleagues were imprisoned. He has chronicled life in detainment for The Guardian and filmed and codirected a documentary, Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time, on his phone. The centre where he was originally detained was closed in 2017; since then, he has lived in facilities that Amnesty International described as "moving refugees and asylum seekers from one hellish situation to another." Upon receiving the Victorian Prize for Literature, he told The Guardian that his "main aim has always been for the people in Australia and around the world to understand deeply how this system has tortured innocent people on Manus and Nauru in a systematic way for almost six years."
Follow Behrouz Boochani on Twitter: @BehrouzBoochani
By Deb A.
What did you do last Thursday? In 2005 UNESCO designated the third Thursday of November World Philosophy Day. This year, the Institute of Art and Ideas celebrated with a list of 70 philosophy books everyone should read. With its own caveat that it is "by no means exhaustive" and that some key titles and thinkers are missing, it is nonetheless a decent overview that refuses to linger around old white males for too long; categories include ancient Indian philosophy, Japanese philosophy, Islamic philosophy, feminism, and African philosophy alongside the usual line-up of Greeks, Romans, Enlightenment thinkers and phenomenologists. The full list is here, but we've got some of the highlights for you below.
Ancient Indian philosophy: The Upanishads (8th to 1st century BCE) are a collection of over 200 religious and philosophical texts. Each Upanishad stands alone but taken together, they offer both a univocal account of the importance of religious knowledge and conflicting messages about reality and the individual self.
Japanese philosophy: The ideas of Nishida Kitarō were crucial to the development of Japanese philosophy in the twentieth century. An Inquiry Into the Good (1911) marks the start of his thinking around the concept of "pure experience," a concept he expresses through Zen Buddhism.
Islamic philosophy: Averroes, or Ibn Rushd, argued from an Islamic legal perspective in The Decisive Treatise (1178) that philosophy is not in conflict with Islam; he claimed that not only was it allowed, it was actually mandated in the Qur'an.
Feminism: You've heard of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949) and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929), but what about Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), where she takes on a report presented to the French government that suggested that women were not suited for formal education? Wollstonecraft argued that women are indeed rational—they appear otherwise specifically because they have been denied a proper education.
African philosophy: Kenyan philosopher Henry Odera Oruka began his Sage Philosophy Project in the 1970s to document the thinking of wise men and women in communities across Africa. Sage Philosophy: Indigenous Thinkers and Modern Debate on African Philosophy (1990) countered the Eurocentric bias against viewing traditional African sages as philosophers.
Postcolonialism: While her professor and lover Martin Heidegger did not make the IAI's list (perhaps due to readability issues, or his involvement with Nazism), Hannah Arendt did, with The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Her analysis of Nazism and Stalinism is often lauded as one of the best nonfiction books of the twentieth century; it experienced a new surge in popularity after the 2016 U.S. elections.
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