By Deb A.
February is the shortest month, but it's no less packed with interesting tidbits from the worlds of art and literature.
A must-read: After the controversy surrounding the temporary removal of a pre-Raphaelite painting at the Manchester Art Gallery, Ellen Mara De Wachter at Frieze investigates the issues that arise when cultural institutions incorporate activism into their programmes.
Masterpiece found: Ben Ewonwu's long-missing portrait of Nigerian princess Adetutu Ademiluyi has been located in a North London flat. (The Telegraph)
An Olympic champion: Whether you follow every triple Salchow or not, you will want to take a look at this extraordinary pavilion. It's covered with Vantablack spray, not the pigment that can only be used by Anish Kapoor. (Dezeen)
Not recent, but related (and amusing): Stuart Semple has protested Mr. Kapoor's exclusive rights to Vantablack with the pinkest pink, the glitteriest glitter, and the blackest black that's actually available to artists. You can purchase any of these as long as you're not Anish Kapoor.
Reading the unreadable: The woman who deciphers centuries-old handwritten documents. "You see [Jane Austen's edits to Pride and Prejudice], and you think—that's so much better than it was before." (Atlas Obscura)
By Deb A.
Chris Ofili is arguably best known for creating art with elephant dung. Andres Serrano's Piss Christ was made with the artist's urine. Tracy Emin's My Bed hosted a range of bodily fluids, including one that has recently made headlines again in the art world: menses.
The first major movement in the West of using or depicting menstrual blood in art started in the 1970s, along with second wave feminism. And so it is no surprise that recent efforts to address the period taboo coincide with a reaction to the rise of high-profile misogyny.
In 2015 Rupi Kaur's photo showing the artist with a bloodstain at her crotch was removed (and subsequently reinstated following public backlash) from Instagram, leading Ms. Kaur to object to a world that "will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak."
Six months later, American artist and activist Sarah Levy used her period blood to create a portrait of a presidential candidate who reacted to tough questions at a debate by claiming the female moderator had "blood coming out of her wherever". He is now president, and the painting was purchased this year by the Museum of Military History in Dresden, Germany. It's hard to say which fact is stranger.
The latest controversial attempt to normalise a regular function of the bodies of half of the earth's human population can be found in an equally surprising place: the Stockholm subway. Its new exhibit by Liv Strömquist is a series of black-and white felt pen drawings that feature the occasional blotch of bright red between women's legs. Some have hailed it as a coup for womankind, while others have recoiled in disgust, angry at their newly uncomfortable commute.
For those who prefer to decide when they will be confronted with the reality of women's reproductive cycles--a luxury most women do not have--there's Period Piece in London, which "seeks to provoke critical dialogue about shifts in contraceptive technologies and constructions of the 'natural' around women's bodies." With music composed from ovulation cycles and poetry based on reactions to the Catholic church's rejection of birth control in 1968, the exhibit finds new, less confrontational ways of talking about periods. It is a pop-up event by the Science Gallery London, which opens officially in 2018.
For a brief overview of period art, this piece by Kristen Cochrane is a good place to start.
By Deb A.
Ursula Johnson, also known as Little Bear, is this year's winner of Canada's Sobey Art Award.
The prestigious prize recognises the country's most promising contemporary artists under the age of 40. This year's shortlist included a record number of women (four of five of the artists are female) and two Indigenous artists from the five regions.
Ursula Johnson, representing the Atlantic region, is a performance and installation artist of Mi'kmaw First Nation ancestry. She descends from a long line of artists, including Caroline Gould, her great-grandmother and master basket weaver. Often incorporating basketry traditions into her art, Ms. Johnson explores identity, community, colonialism, and her Indigenous heritage: she wove baskets around herself for her Basket Weaving (Cultural Cocoon) series (2003-2015), was symbolically scalped in Elmiet (He/She Goes Home) (2010) to draw attention to Nova Scotia's history of scalping, and collaborated with Soto Pow Wow dancer Bert Milberg for Hot Looking (2014), a commentary on the appropriation of indigenous culture.
"I will now have the tremendous opportunity to work on a larger scale and expand the reach of my work to a broader community while exploring more diversity in materials and content as well as beginning to create a network of collaborators internationally!" Ms. Johnson said of her win.
Her desire to work with and learn from others was just part of the reason Ursula Johnson received the $50,000 CDN award; the selection committee noted that she "was singled out for her strong voice, her generosity and collaborative spirit. Through her work, she redefines traditional materials and re-imagines colonized histories."
Ursula Johnson is a talented, insightful artist with a strong sense of community, history and social justice--in other words, a fitting representative for the nation's contemporary art scene in a year in which Canada's colonial history has come under the microscope and gender and identity politics dominate public discourse.
The shortlisted artists, Raymond Boisjoly (West Coast & Yukon), Divya Mehra (Prairies & North), Bridget Moser (Ontario), and Jacynthe Carrier (Quebec), will each receive $10,000 CDN. All five artists' works are on display at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto until December 9th.
By Deb A.
A book of poetry written by Leonard Cohen just before his death will be published next year. (Billboard)
We've talked about the Fearless Girl statue at length, and we wish we could be shocked that the firm behind it has a history of underpaying women and people of colour. (NPR)
Thirty publishers rejected Matt Cain's book on the grounds that it was too gay, but the general public disagrees: it's well on its way to getting published through crowdfunding instead. (The Bookseller)
505 new books were released during the UK's "Super Thursday". Which will you read first? (BBC)
Prize round-up: Kazuo Ishiguro won this year's Nobel Prize for literature. And the five finalists for Canada's Giller Prize have been announced. (Nobel Prize, Giller Prize)
The Guardian asked the art world about the biggest question currently facing artists. In one way or another, money comes up a lot. (The Guardian)
A school librarian rejected the First Lady's donation of ten Dr. Seuss books. (The Washington Post)
The Yayoi Kusama museum in Tokyo is open for business! (Yayoi Kusama Museum)
By Deb A.
This week we offer you a simple concept: admire artworks by Puerto Rican artists, then click on the accompanying links and make a donation to support Puerto Rico's recovery.
José Campeche (1751-1809)
The Daughters of Governor Ramón de Castro
United for Puerto Rico
Livia Ortiz Ríos (1985-)
Lorenzo Homar (1913-2004)
Image © the Estate of Lorenzo Homar
Antonio Martorell (1939-)
Vigilance from The Wake (Blue Curtain)
Center for Popular Democracy
Collection: Dr. José Cangiano
Francisco Oller (1833-1917)
La Hacienda Buenavista
Rafael Tufiño (1922-2008)
Carlos Dávila Rinaldi (1958-)
Angel Otero (1981-)
Save The Children
By Deb A.
2018 will mark a century since women first got the right to vote in the UK.
Two years ago, author Kamila Shamsie suggested a unique celebration for the literary world: publishing new titles written by female authors only.
The idea came after 2014's Year of Reading Women, which emerged in part as a response to a study that revealed a drastic imbalance between male and female writers, as well as male and female reviewers. Just around a quarter of books reviewed in titles such as The London Review of Books and the New Yorker were written by women, and approximately a quarter of all reviewers were women themselves.
"The question isn't, 'Is there a problem?' It's: 'Are we recognising how deep it runs and do we know what to do about it?'" Ms. Shamsie wrote the following year. She proposed that a 'Year of Publishing Women' would kickstart gender parity throughout the literary world, resulting in more equality "in review pages and blogs, in bookshop windows and front-of-store displays, in literature festival line-ups and in prize submissions."
Independent UK publishing house And Other Stories quickly took the call to heart and committed to publishing only books by female writers in 2018, but since then, there have been no further takers. Overall, response was lukewarm at best, with several agents and writers agreeing with the importance of highlighting the systematic exclusion of female voices in the industry, but balking at excluding men altogether.
"Depriving the reading public of any book on the basis of gender, race or creed is surely antithetical to everything that culture stands for?" mused Jonny Geller, Joint C.E.O. of Curtis Brown, while Andrew Franklin, Managing Director of Profile Books, told The Bookseller that "it will never happen in full but it serves as a reminder that we should do better."
The industry should indeed do better. But so far, it seems that reminders are not enough.
How do you think female authors should be promoted in what is currently a male-driven industry? Tell us below.
By Deb A.
If you're in need of some inspiration to begin your week, look no further:
Art is good for us: On Wednesday the British Parliament will announce the results of its two-year inquiry into arts, health and wellbeing. In anticipation of the report, Nicci Gerrard offers an eloquent account of the role of arts in helping people with dementia. (The Guardian)
Beware the selfie: A single snapshot was to blame for the domino effect that knocked over a row of plinths holding $200,000 worth of art. Too perfectly awkward to be true? (The New York Times)
Sketching the unknown: How artists and researchers teamed up to find and introduce new species to the rest of the world. (The Atlantic)
Illustrator, cartoonist, trailblazer: Canadian artist Jillian Tamaki's new book of graphic short stories marks her emergence as a "consummate storyteller". (The Walrus)
Visual activist: Photographer Zanele Muholi highlights racism, homophobia, and hate with Somnyama Ngopnyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, a series of self-portraits she took every day for a year. The Guardian dedicates two spaces to her work, and rightly so: a striking photo gallery and a compelling article.
When is a Modigliani not a Modigliani? Twenty-one artworks have been confiscated from a major exhibition in Genoa after several were confirmed as fakes. (The Telegraph)
The Commuter Pig Keeper? You still have time to vote for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. (The Bookseller)
Agave alumna: Agave Magazine contributor Karla K. Morton's twelfth book, Wooden Lions, is now available.
By Deb A.
After Senator Kamala Harris was accused of being hysterical for the (professional) way she questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the world-renowned Strand Book Store posted a list of "strong feminist voices you need to listen to" under the title We Are Not Hysterical.
If you'd like feminist books like those delivered to your door every month you might want to keep an eye on the Card Carrying Books and Gifts Indiegogo page.
Enormous portraits of inspiring black women now grace the streets of London thanks to artist Neequaye Dreph Dsane and his You Are Enough series.
New York City will also look a little more interesting as of June 26th, when works by female artists will take the place of ad space on Lower East Side billboards thanks to SaveArtSpace.
Meanwhile, Emma Watson is up to her usual tricks: hiding feminist books around a major city. After leaving copies of Maya Angelou's Mom & Me & Mom around London and New York, she's now stashing The Handmaid's Tale in Parisian nooks and crannies.
Joanna Moorhead of The Guardian rightly asks: Why isn't Anna Atkins famous?
Shikha Sharma spotlights feminist Indian authors we should get to know for Youth Ki Awaaz.
Grace Meets Matisse: Coming to a NYC billboard soon. (via Elise R. Peterson)
By Deb A.
When it emerged from the night in 1989, Arturo Di Modica's Charging Bull symbolised optimism. The 3200-kg bronze sculpture, featuring testicles that, thanks to constant grabbing, are as shiny as Il Porcellino's snout (no word on whether the tourists who goose the bull are destined to return to New York City), was erected as a monument to strength in the face of adversity and the American spirit.
And then one morning in 2017, everything changed. The bull was no longer a snarling testament to power and perseverance: it was the embodiment of Wall Street misogyny and greed.
Since International Women's Day 2017, the bronze figure of a child has stood facing Charging Bull--calmly, defiantly, hands on her hips, chin tilted upward, ponytail waving in the same static breeze that holds many a superhero's cape permanently aloft. The bull is enormous and aggressive and the newcomer is a mere slip of a thing at 250 kg, but she is unmistakably unafraid. She is Fearless Girl, and for many, she reclaimed the space for feminism in a district overwhelmed by men in suits.
Critics were quick to point out that Fearless Girl was no innocent child--she was a corporate shill, commissioned by an investment firm that offers an index fund of companies with higher percentages of women in leadership positions. The plaque at Fearless Girl's feet references the product. While the vision for corporate leadership is admirable, the sponsorship was read by some as a disingenuous attention grab. But most of the people who pass by to snap selfies laud Fearless Girl as a statement about female empowerment.
This is exactly the problem for Mr. Di Modica, who recently held a press conference to claim that the artistic intent of his work has been violated: it is nearly impossible to imagine Charging Bull as a symbol of hope now that it is mere metres away from trampling a child.
As Wall Street's reputation has suffered over the last quarter-century, the bull has admittedly become more vulnerable to reinterpretation, but placing another artwork in direct interaction with it changes the context enough to fully alter the original meaning. While Mr. Di Modica wouldn't stand much of a chance in a legal battle, the question remains: To what extent is it morally acceptable to alter the context, and therefore the implied message, of a work of art?
Although both creatures are officially temporary, it looks like they'll be staring each other down for a while: Mayor Bill de Blasio extended Fearless Girl's one-week permit to one year, to the chagrin of Mr. Di Modica and the glee of parents of little girls linking arms with their bronze counterpart.
By Deb A.
The slide of a book off a shelf, the crack of its spine; the shushed shuffling, the silent studying, the click of keys on shared computers... public libraries house the subdued hums of entire communities at work. And yet, a library is not merely the sum of its stacks of books and rooms of computer screens. Libraries offer so much more than simple literary transactions: they are community hubs in which users can learn to navigate the world outside.
Anyone entering a library can access a world of knowledge: the non-fiction that equips us with the information we need and the fiction that feeds our imagination, helping us build empathy each time we walk through a world in someone else's shoes. Libraries are community centres that operate on principles of equality and civic duty; they are the natural home of intellectual freedom. And so, when four librarians founded Libraries 4 Black Lives, it made perfect sense: as they argue, "if we uphold intellectual freedom then we must also uphold freedom itself. As library workers, we must, then, grapple with the forces stripping communities of personal, religious and collective freedom."
The initiative was brought to life following two separate murders of black men by police officers within 24 hours last summer. The idea was to encourage fellow librarians to promote, support, and collaborate on the pursuit of social justice in their institutions and across the country. Alongside offering resources (including "Building Empathy Through Reading", "A Black Lives Matter Reading List", and "Helping Children Deal with Shootings and Other Bad News") and a pledge, Libraries 4 Black Lives examines the role libraries can play in addressing "systemic racial injustice and implicit personal bias" and enabling entire communities to transform.
Another great reason to make sure you have your library card.
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