Required Reading

This week, images from the Cassini space probe, medieval history’s reckoning with Nazis, the artist behind many Pre-Columbian fakes, your brain on art, font detectives, and more.

One of the final images of Saturn and its main rings captured by the Cassini space probe before it was commanded to fly into Saturn’s upper atmosphere and burn up in order to prevent any risk of contaminating Saturn’s moons. You can find more impressive images here. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

White supremacists explicitly celebrate Europe in the Middle Ages because they imagine that it was a pure, white, Christian place organized wholesomely around military resistance to outside, non-white, non-Christian, forces. Marchers in Charlottesville held symbols of the medieval Holy Roman Empire and of the Knights Templar. The Portland murderer praised “Vinland,” a medieval Viking name for North America, in order to assert historical white ownership over the landmass: Vinlander racists like to claim that whites are “indigenous” here on the basis of medieval Scandinavian lore. Similarly, European anti-Islamic bigots dress up in medieval costumes and share the “crying Templar” meme. Someone sprayed “saracen go home” and “deus vult”—a Latin phrase meaning “God wills it” and associated with the history of the Crusades—on a Scottish mosque. The paramilitary “Knights Templar International” is preparing for a race war. In tweets since locked behind private accounts, University of Reno students reacted to seeing classmate Peter Cvjetanovic at the Virginia tiki-torch rally, saying they knew him as the guy who said racist things in their medieval history classes.

  • Brigido Lara is an artist responsible for many Pre-Columbian fakes that continue to fool museums around the world. Kristen Fawcett of Mental Floss writes:

It’s not entirely clear whether Lara began making these figurines for fun or profit. But according to the man himself, traveling dry-goods merchants had noticed his talents before he had even reached his teens. They accepted his “interpretations,” as he called his early work, in lieu of cash—then sold them on the black market. Looters also came to Lara, asking him to fix and restore stolen works. Eventually, the artist wound up working in a Mexico City atelier that produced forgeries.

No detail was too tiny for Lara. He visited archaeological sites to study just-dug-up artifacts, and harvested clay from the surrounding region to sculpt exact likenesses. He later told Connoisseur magazine that for true authenticity, he even crafted his own primitive tools and stockpiled 32 grades of cinnabar—a reddish form of mercury used by the Olmec, an ancient Mesoamerican civilization that existed between 1200 BCE and 400 BCE—for precise pigmentation. He finished his works with a ancient-looking patina made from cement, lime, hot sugar water, urine, and other ingredients, and coated the final products with a seal made from dirt and glue.

  • Hank Willis Thomas’s new public art work in Philadelphia is getting a lot of attention, including on our Instagram account, but did you know the source image? Introducing the history of the black fist afro comb:

This iconic comb represents the ethos of the civil rights movement, with the power of the clenched fist and the peace sign in the centre. For subsequent generations the comb has a range of meanings. In preparation for the 2013 exhibition ‘Origins of the Afro Comb’ at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, whenever I met someone who had a black fist comb I asked what it meant to him or her. Answers have ranged from: ‘Black Power’; ‘Black pride’; ‘Nelson Mandela’s release’;‘ it’s just a nice shape’; and ‘unity’. For younger generations the combs also seem to take on a sense of the retro or ‘old skool’. It is perhaps the comb’s multiple associations that have ensured its success across generational divides and time. Whereas some of the young people I spoke to were not aware of the details of the American Black Power movement, their own associations with the design were nonetheless linked to ‘Black’ culture and identity.

RELATED: A Signe Wilkinson editorial comic.

If you think about it, having a great time at the theater defies logic in many ways. We’re surrounded by strangers, bombarded with unusual images and often faced with a wordless language of symbols. Yet, on a good night, we generally laugh more, cry more and enjoy ourselves more at a live performance than when we’re watching TV at home. We may even lose ourselves and feel connected to something larger. How does this happen?

… Social connection is one of the strengths of our species — it’s how we learn from others by imitation. We’re keenly attuned to the emotions and actions of people around us, because our brains are designed for this.

If, for example, you’ve ever gone to an experimental performance-art piece where there’s hardly anyone in the audience but you, and you’ve felt a little exposed and awkward, this is why. We crave social connection. And the cues we get from those around us help our brains make sense of our surroundings. This starts from the moment we walk into a crowd.

It’ll take you about 1,500 hours (or 62 days) to complete a full play of The Campaign For North Africa. The game itself covers the famous WWII operations in Libya and Egypt between 1940 and 1943. Along with the opaque rulebook, the box includes 1,600 cardboard chits, a few dozen charts tabulating damage, morale, and mechanical failure, and a swaddling 10-foot long map that brings the Sahara to your kitchen table. You’ll need to recruit 10 total players, (five Allied, five Axis,) who will each lord over a specialized division. The Front-line and Air Commanders will issue orders to the troops in battle, the Rear and Logistics Commanders will ferry supplies to the combat areas, and lastly, a Commander-in-Chief will be responsible for all macro strategic decisions over the course of the conflict. If you and your group meets for three hours at a time, twice a month, you’d wrap up the campaign in about 20 years.

It was about 05:00, as he returned home to his flat, that Mwaikambo spotted the body.
A corpse, wrapped in plastic, apparently dumped in the enclosed courtyard area outside his flat’s front door.
“God knows what I was thinking in my head,” he explained.
“But I was holding my iPad. The body was not wrapped tightly; it was loosely wrapped.
“Inside I was just saying to myself ‘does anybody know this person?’ I just took the picture.”
Mwaikambo started off by taking photos of the body bag from a distance. Then he went further. He lifted the plastic sheeting around the corpse’s face, and took more.
“[I was] not even knowing what I was doing.” he said.

Detecting fraud via fonts isn’t as sexy as sleuthing art forgery; it often involves tedious measurements with digital calipers, examinations under loupes and microscopes, charts that track the slight differences between two versions of the Times Roman face, or evidence that a particular form of office printer didn’t exist at the document’s dated execution.

Even so, such measurements can be worth millions—and can even be lucrative, for the handful of experts (maybe a dozen) who have hung out a font-detective shingle. Phinney had an expert declaration filed last month as part of a lawsuit against Justin Timberlake, will.i.am, their labels, and others. The suit is about a sample used in Timberlake’s 2006 “Damn Girl,” but the case might hinge on the size and clarity of the type on Timberlake’s CD cover. (How could that be? Read on.)

Lighting should be used to sculpt, rather than bleach, an actor’s skin, a technique championed by Charles Mills in Boyz N the Hood in his night-time exterior shots. Although many directors lament the shift from shooting on film to digital cameras, one of the advantages is that one can digitally recreate the effects of shooting on extinct Fuji, Kodak or Agfa film stocks, which were particularly good for capturing the richness of black skin. The colour palette is key, whether in the production design or the post-production grade – drawing a rainbow of colours from the actors’ skin itself to create something more vibrant and less concerned with being “real”. After all, the original title for Moonlight was In Moonlight Black Boys Appear Blue.

There are many theories or schools of thought regarding the origin of the Greko community in Calabria. Are they descendants of the Ancient Greeks who colonized Southern Italy? Are they remnants of the Byzantine presence in Southern Italy? Did their ancestors come in the 15th-16th Centuries from the Greek communities in the Aegean fleeing Ottoman invasion? The best answers to all of those questions are yes, yes, and yes. This means that history has shown a continuous Greek presence in Calabria since antiquity. Even though different empires, governments, and invasions occurred in the region, the Greek language and identity seemed to have never ceased. Once the glorious days of Magna Graecia were over, there is evidence that shows that Greek continued to be spoken in Southern Italy during the Roman Empire. Once the Roman Empire split into East (Byzantine) and West, Calabria saw Byzantine rule begin in the 5th Century. This lasted well into the 11th Century and reinforced the Greek language and identity in the region as well as an affinity to Eastern Christianity.

Today, there is more evidence of a Byzantine legacy rather than an Ancient Greek or Modern Greek footprint.

  • The small European nation of Luxembourg has shown how far a tiny country can go by serving the needs of global capitalism, now they are helping private companies colonize outer space. Atossa Araxia Abrahamian reports:

Space is becoming a testing ground for these thorny ethical and legal questions, and Luxembourg – a tiny country that has sustained itself off of regulatory intricacies and tax loopholes for decades – is positioning itself to help find the answers. While major nations such as China and India plough increasing sums of money into developing space programmes to rival Nasa, Luxembourg is making a different bet: that it can become home to a multinational cast of entrepreneurs who want to go into space not for just the sake of scientific progress or to strengthen their nation’s geopolitical hand, but also to make money.

It already has a keen clientele. Space entrepreneurs speak of a new “gold rush” and compare their mission to that of the frontiersmen, or the early industrialists. While planet Earth’s limited stock of natural resources is rapidly being depleted, asteroid miners see a solution in the vast quantities of untapped water, minerals and metals in outer space. And the fledgling “NewSpace” industry – an umbrella term for commercial spaceflight, asteroid mining and other private ventures – has found eager supporters in the investor class. In April, Goldman Sachs sent a note to clients claiming that asteroid mining “could be more realistic than perceived”, thanks to the falling cost of launching rockets and the vast quantities of platinum sitting on space rocks, just waiting to be exploited.


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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