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.
My country is
There are 7000 human languages in the world. Over half are endangered; one dies every two weeks. What happens to cultures as languages disappear?
The Southbank Centre's Endangered Poetry Project was created to preserve the unique poetic traditions of languages on the brink of extinction.
By reflecting a way of understanding the world, poetry gives us a glimpse into a culture: the ideas people have, what they care about, and how they interpret their surroundings. Documenting poems not only offers us insight into how others live, but also provides us with a novel way of seeing the world around us.
"I'm Iranian and I grew up in Germany--when I came to the U.S., it was very strange to me to learn that the colour blue stands for sadness," Dr. Mandana Seyfeddinipur, the head of the Endangered Languages Archive at SOAS University of London, explained to the BBC. "To me, blue is hope--the sea and the sky."
The intricacies of poetic language are windows into worldviews that can inform our own perspectives, or keep our cultural memories alive. According to Dr. Seyfeddinipur, reading poetry from other cultures "makes you more agile in thinking, because you have to be flexible," incorporating foreign concepts that may not appear in your own culture into your way of thinking.
Members of the public are invited to submit well known poems in an endangered language to the Centre to preserve them for future generations. The call is open until the end of this year.
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.
In case you missed these highlights over your summer holidays (and the subsequent recovery period):
And finally, a big congratulations to our very own Contributing Editor: Literature, Linda Romano, for welcoming her first child to the world this summer! We wish you and your family all the very best.
By Deb A.
The many facets of the legacy David Bowie leaves behind as a musician, a writer, an actor, an intergalactic explorer, an icon, can all be subsumed under one broad thought: David Bowie was, in every aspect of his being, an artist. Beyond creating his own art, he was also an obsessive collector who surrounded himself with works that inspired and moved him.
This November, nearly 400 pieces from his private collection will go up for auction.
The incredible scope of David Bowie's diverse tastes as well as his insatiable appetite for art have resulted in an auction of three parts that will take place over two days: parts one and two for modern and contemporary art, featuring everything from Jean-Michel Basquiat and Damian Hirst to contemporary African art to outsider art; and part three for post-modernist design, focused primarily on Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Group.
Highlights of the collection are on display at Sotheby's in London until August 9; the selected works will also tour Los Angeles, New York and Hong Kong before the entire collection is exhibited November 1-10 in London.
By Deb A.
It's technically not a paint, but that hasn't prevented Vantablack from exciting the art world--especially artists who no longer have the right to use it.
Vantablack (for Vertically Aligned NanoTube Arrays) was developed in 2014 for satellite imaging systems. It absorbs 99.96% of light. It makes shadows on its surfaces imperceptible, turning busts into black holes and making crumpled tinfoil seem two-dimensional. It is the blackest black.
The creator of the material, Surrey NanoSystems, recently announced that Sir Anish Kapoor's studio had secured the exclusive rights to Vantablack in the field of art.
"It's blacker than anything you can imagine... So black you almost can't see it," Sir Anish told the BBC.
"Imagine a space that's so dark that as you walk in you lose all sense of where you are, what you are, and especially all sense of time."
An artist famous for his work on voids and boasting a large portfolio of monochromatic pieces is a likely candidate for experimenting with Vantablack, but Sir Anish is not the only artist who wants to use the material. His monopoly on the purest black has caused ripples of outrage, with Christian Furr (who had planned on using Vantablack on a project) denouncing the move and Shanti Panchal telling the Indian Telegraph that he "had never heard of anything so absurd."
The real absurdity lies in the fact that artists could, in theory, still use Ventablack--as long as it's not for art. If their urge for creative expression can unfold in an ad campaign for body spray, they're in luck.
By Deb A.
Thirty years ago today, Georgia O'Keeffe died at the age of 98.
She was a pioneer of modern art, a woman unwilling to sacrifice her own innovative vision to trends in the art world. Her career spanned seven decades and gave the world fresh views of arresting landscapes, magnified flowers and bleached bones... and yet, to many she is best known as the woman who painted flowers that looked like vaginas.
Throughout her career, Ms. O'Keeffe denied the popular Freudian interpretation of her paintings of flowers. She even steadfastly rejected proposals of cooperation from feminists who celebrated what they believed was the inclusion of female iconography in her art.
Instead, she explained her approach to the paintings as a focus on a flower's essence: “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else… Nobody really sees a flower – really – it is so small – we haven’t time – and to see takes time… So I said to myself – I’ll paint what I see – what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it.”
If only they had taken the time to examine other ways of interpreting it. While the case can be made for there being an erotic aspect to her flowers, it seems strange that this would be the only interpretation, especially in the face of her outright rejection of the theory. It is also absurd to anchor her reputation as an artist on just one aspect of a full and vibrant career.
Achim Borchard-Hume, Director of Exhibitions at the Tate Modern, believes trivialization of a great talent would not have occurred had Georgia O'Keeffe been a man.
"O'Keeffe has been very much reduced to one particular body of work, which tends to be read in one particular way," he told The Guardian. "Many of the white male artists across the 20th century have the privilege of being read on multiple levels, while others – be they women or artists from other parts of the world – tend to be reduced to one conservative reading. It’s high time that galleries and museums challenge this.”
The Tate Modern is aiming to do just that this summer with an exhibition that will mark a full century since Ms. O'Keeffe's first exhibit in New York.
By Deb A.
This week, dear Reader, you get five posts in one.
X, Y, Z, &. Thank-you to Mairead Small Stead and The Poetry Foundation for a fascinating look at the ampersand.
The Guardian is commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death by commissioning leading actors to perform some of the playwright's most famous soliloquies. Go on, let Adrian Lester (as Hamlet) or Ayesha Dharker (as Titania) mesmerize you in Shakespeare Solos.
Jacoba Urist at The Atlantic takes a look into how the AP art history course was revised to tackle cultural and racial bias.
Warning: Reading Sarah Lyall's article on Heywood Hill might make you yearn for the custom library of your dreams. (Or you could just join the bookstore's A Year in Books subscription.)
And finally, Agave Magazine contributor and former Poet Laureate of Texas Larry D. Thomas has released an expanded print edition of his chapbook, The Circus.
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