A dress that protects itself? It's by Anouk Wipprecht. (via Wetheurban)

A dress that protects itself? It’s by Anouk Wipprecht. (via Wetheurban)

This week, the fallout from the Charlie Hebdo massacre dominated the news, while artist Tania Bruguera talks about her detention in Cuba, questions are raised about John Elderfield’s conflict of interest, and more.

 The reactions and think pieces on the Charlie Hebdo massacre have been overwhelming this week. Most are by people who probably shouldn’t be wading into a discussion they seem to know so little about (for instance, why do so many people who don’t read French feel qualified to “read” Charlie Hebdo to us?). But there were some standouts, and here are my selections:

  • Adam Shatz, writing for the London Review of Books, has some important observations:
    • Last night I spoke with a friend who grew up in the banlieue. Assia (not her real name) is a French woman of Algerian origin who has taught for many years in the States, a leftist and atheist who despises Islamism. She read Charlie Hebdo as a teenager, and revelled in its irreverent cartoons. She feels distraught not just by the attacks but by the target, which is part of her lieux de mémoire. A part of her will always be Charlie Hebdo. And yet she finds it preposterous – and disturbing – that even Americans are now saying ‘je suis Charlie.’ Have any of them ever read it? she asked. ‘You couldn’t publish Charlie in the US – not the cartoons about the Prophet, or the images of popes getting fucked in the ass.’ Charlie Hebdohad an equal opportunity policy when it came to giving offence, but in recent years it had come to lean heavily on jokes about Muslims, who are among the most vulnerable citizens in France. Assia does not believe in censorship, but wonders: ‘Is this really the time for cartoons lampooning the Prophet, given the situation of North Africans in France?’
  • Juan Cole on why al-Qaeda attacked French satirists:
    • The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.
  • Yazan Al-Saadi on Hebdo‘s version of satire:
    • Satire is supposed to be an act that punches up to power, and not down to the weak. The argument for “freedom of speech” and freedom of the press should not, and must not, place aside the question and understanding of privileges and differing power dynamics that are at work. By acknowledging and understanding that, perhaps we can all work to refine and develop a notion of freedoms that is truly universal and conscious of its role and duties. What is common today is that freedom of speech and freedom of press is brought up to espouse Islamophobic sentiments, and maintain power, but is ignored when facing issues of immigrant rights at home or wars fought abroad. In other words, “freedom of speech” is already restricted in many ways.
  • One of the surviving editors of Hebdo, Hélène Hofman, spoke to the Australian Broadcast Corporation:
    • ‘We have all decided, the journalists who survived and their ex-colleagues, that we are going to have a meeting tomorrow to publish the next Charlie Hebdo, because there is no way, even if they killed 10 of us, that the newspaper won’t be out next week.’
  • Arthur Chu on Hebdo and trolling:
    • When the only thing you’re reverent of is irreverence, you eventually get chan culture — people who shout racial slurs and think they’ve accomplished something in the name of ‘free speech.’
  • We’ve written about the myth of iconoclasm in Islam before, but this article on Huffington Post is interesting and makes the point:
    • There’s no part in the Quran where Muhammad says that images of him are forbidden. But the issue is mentioned in the hadith, a secondary text that many Muslims consult for instruction on how to live a good life … The theological underpinnings of the ban can be traced back to the very beginnings of Islam in Arabia, according to John Esposito, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University. Early followers of Muhammad held themselves apart from their Christian neighbors, whom they believed to be too deeply attached to icons and images. The ban is also informed by one of the central tenets of Islam — the idea that the Prophet Muhammad was a man, and not a god.
  • Mairav Zonszein on the massacre in context:
    • We must remember that although free speech is absolutely crucial to any society that claims to be free and democratic, the line between free speech and incitement is often unclear. Furthermore, although Muslim extremists use Islam to promote a political ideology that kills those it disagrees with, from 2007-2011, between 82 percent and 97 percent of all victims of terrorism were Muslim.
  • In response to Hebdo, and a supposed double standard, AP removed “Piss Christ” from its image database. Ugh.
  • And some comic responses by Joe Sacco and Albert Uderzo, the 87-year-old cartoonist behind the famous French comic Asterix who came out of retirement to pay tribute to those killed.

 Carolina Miranda interviewed artist Tania Bruguera about her detention in Cuba for performing a controversial work. She asked some excellent questions:

Q: This raises the issue of the privileged role you enjoy as an international artist. Some of your critics say that it’s easy for you to do something of this nature since you can go right back to living and working abroad when you’re done.

A: I know I have privilege. But it’s about using it. Artists in Cuba have always been the exception to the rule. Cuban artists were buying houses when it was illegal and the government allowed them to do it. I remember artists traveling when no one else could travel. I wonder if artists in Cuba understand what to do with their privilege, other than buying bigger houses and creating bigger studios and becoming upper-middle-class. An artist cannot solve the problem of the whole society, but you can do something with your privilege.

Even so, when I was in prison, there were moments that were very intense. I had no email, no phone contact, no nothing. So I had no idea if people were asking questions, if they were suporting me or not. The police were telling me the opposite. I felt like I was really alone.

 Some doctors are diagnosing people in historic artworks, like one girl in Thomas Jones Barker painting (1878) who might have had Down Syndrome:

Artists and doctors share some approaches. They are visual people who study the intricacies of human anatomy. Medical literature is peppered with speculation about artistic diagnoses in recent decades. There are papers in scientific journals weighing in on Rembrandt’s 24 self portraits, debating whether he had strabismus, or “wandering eye.” Some have claimed that figures in El Greco’s paintings show signs of Marfan’s syndrome, a connective tissue disease.

 This is a sweeping generalization — is graffiti a force for good or evil? — but still worth reading:

Buenos Aires is a particularly fascinating example of a city where the walls talk, telling tales of a turbulent past. Here, graffiti has been continuously harnessed as a tool of political communication, resistance and activism by citizens caught up in a cycle of military dictatorship, restored democracy and economic collapse. Although there are laws prohibiting graffiti, the city has gained worldwide recognition for its urban art. Now a new bill proposes to assign a registry of graffiti artists to designated spots in Buenos Aires, with the aim of decreasing undesirable markings elsewhere.

A similar approach has been adopted in Toronto, where a Graffiti Management Plan sees that “graffiti vandalism” is removed by city staff, while “graffiti art and other street art that adds vibrancy” may remain if commissioned by the building’s owner. Toronto council has even assigned an official panel of specialists to judge the value of graffiti, deciding whose markings are artistically worthy to grace the city’s bricks.

 Writer Christopher Glazek annotated his Stefan Simchowitz article, and it’s rather epic.

 Lee Rosenbaum does a thorough job of looking into the potential conflict of interest for John Elderfield shuttling between the museum and commercial gallery worlds. Historically, that was considered a no-no; now, she asks, why aren’t people being more vocal about the former Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) curator, who went to work for the Gagosian Gallery, being hired by the Princeton Art Museum (while still working as a consultant for Gagosian)?

Apparently, though, it isn’t obvious to Elderfield or to James Steward, director of the Princeton University Art Museum (PUAM), where the Museum of Modern Art’s curator emeritus is about to become “distinguished curator and lecturer” while still working as a consultant for Gagosian.

Let me elucidate, in this post, the conflict-of-interest potential that seems to me self-evident.

 Noah Berlatsky considers “know-nothing” criticism:

Art isn’t just for fans, which means that it’s not just for the knowledgeable, but for passersby as well. Expertise, then, seems an excuse to make everyone talk about the same things in the same way. But there’s no one true way to view a piece of art; no one privileged perspective that will give you the right experience of Shakespeare, or Wonder Woman, or video games, or romance novels. A partial view may be as meaningful as a whole one, and being alienated by a work of art, or feeling you don’t want to finish it, or look at it for a second more, is as valid as obsessive interest and passionate fandom.

 Journalist Doug Sanders, the author of The Myth of the Muslim Tide, shared this incredibly telling map on Twitter:


 And, according to Vox, these are the anti-Muslim attacks (as of yesterday) that have taken place in France since the Hebdo massacre:


 You remember that time when socialist workers in Vienna fought for great public housing? Yeah, me neither, but it happened:

The building program was a massive effort, involving around four hundred different architectural offices. The early buildings in particular show a wide variety of styles, although most are fairly modest. They tend to stay in keeping with existing building patterns, street profiles, and decorative flourishes. There were mandates to ensure that each unit would be well lit, have its own bathroom, water, gas, and electricity, and have easy access to the street or to a courtyard.

But nothing like a uniform style was mandated. While patterns did emerge, the Gemeindebauten of Red Vienna demonstrate a great diversity of multi-unit housing forms: row houses, multi-story buildings enclosing courtyards with large archways resembling medieval city gates, semi-connected suburban villas, and many ordinary infill apartment buildings. A core group of buildings were designed by students of Otto Wagner and show his influence.

 This was the video CNN created back in 1980 (when it started) in case the world ended. It was recently rediscovered by an intern:

 And you thought data journalism was a new thing? Check out this, from 1873:


Required Reading is published every Sunday morning ET, and is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.