Weekend

Required Reading

This week, National Geographic‘s racist past, reviewing Surrealism in Egypt, the best museum in the world, FBI surveillance of black bookstores, Portugal’s role in introducing tempura to Japan, and more.

Photographer Reuben Wu creates haunting landscapes by using modified drones as aerial light sources for his ongoing series Lux Noctis. (via Colossal).

How we present race matters. I hear from readers that National Geographic provided their first look at the world. Our explorers, scientists, photographers, and writers have taken people to places they’d never even imagined; it’s a tradition that still drives our coverage and of which we’re rightly proud. And it means we have a duty, in every story, to present accurate and authentic depictions—a duty heightened when we cover fraught issues such as race.

These Egyptian artists’ paintings struck me as ugly, cartoonish: grotesquely mutilated and disembowelled bodies executed with huge emphatic brushstrokes, cruelly exposed women in twisted landscapes, strange and opaque symbols straining for meaningfulness. But then I realised that this first impression was simply an effect of alienation, a primitive, instinctual rejection on my part of the unfamiliar, and that it was this very jolt to complacency and atrophy and idées reçues that the artists wanted to deliver.

The show’s layout and selection make it clear that the movement should not be seen as hierarchical, with Paris as the metropole and all the other clusters of activity – in Mexico, Martinique, Argentina, Chile and Egypt – as marginal, effects of cultural cringe and colonialism. The structure, as Bardaouil explains, was rather ‘a multi-latticed network of fluid hubs spread over a disparate number of cities across the world’; individuals moved between them, transmitting ideas as they went, like honey bees.

MoMA Warsaw wasn’t just accessible because it was literally transparent. The museum was also free. Occasioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent decision to charge a $25 admission fee for out-of-towners, there’s been a resurgence of talk about economic access to spaces of culture. An open letter to the Met signed collectively by the College Art Association, The Material Collective, The Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship, and other organizations laments the loss of, “[…] free and low-cost public access to educational and cultural institutions, a tradition that was once the engine of social betterment for low-income and working class families.”

“An engine of social betterment” is abstract, and might even be seen as condescending; but if you need a concrete, representational portrait of the benefits of a cultural education, you have only to look to my example: Museums opened a world for me. Free and low-cost access meant my mother could sign permission slips for field trips and other outings, and my participation enriched my understanding of, and allowed me to feel myself a part of, culture. Did art institutions change the course of my life? Yes, they did.

International Filmmor Women’s Film Festival announced that the Governorship of Istanbul banned on Saturday the planned screening of an Armenian-Iranian movie titled ‘Yeva’ over emergency rule and security concerns.

Melek Özman from Filmmor told Bianet that the Consulate of Azerbaijan first sent an official letter to French Institute, the venue of the Festival, and asked them to cancel the screening. “Later, they applied to Azerbaijan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they even applied to the Minister,’ said Özman.

Eventually they received a written order from Turkish authorities banning the screening.

According to Azerbaijan government, the movie creates the perception that Karabakh is an Armenian territory. The region of Nagorno-Karabakh is the subject of an unresolved dispute between Azerbaijan, in which it lies, and its ethnic Armenian majority, backed by neighboring Armenia.

In the case of these works by Matisse and Louis, figurative elements were instrumental in determining which way the paintings should be hung. Lacking such clues, Brown noted, Abstract Expressionist works can be particularly challenging.

A photograph of a work taken during the artist’s lifetime is often instructive, the rationale being they would not allow their own work to be shown “incorrectly.” The orientation of an artist’s signature can also help. But it’s not always definitive—and some abstract artists didn’t sign all their work. (Lee Krasner in the 1940s is a prime example, Brown said.)

And, sometimes, “right-side up” is simply open for interpretation. Some artists are comfortable with their work swapping between vertical and horizontal hangs; other artists have left their intentions unclear. Take two works by AbEx painter Mark Rothko from his “Black on Maroon” series, for instance.

In Hoover’s eyes, black-owned bookstores represented a coordinated network of hate-spewing extremists. His clumsy invocation of the phrase “African-type bookstores” betrayed his lack of understanding of pan-Africanism, a philosophy that people of African descent around the world should unite in pursuit of shared political and social goals. To Hoover, radical anti-government organizations actively fomented black Americans’ growing fascination with Africa in the hopes of using it as a weapon against whites. But Hoover grossly mischaracterized the organic groundswell of popular interest in African history, culture, and politics spreading throughout African American communities.

Indeed, the FBI’s war against black bookstores represents a sad chapter in the history of law enforcement in the U.S., a time when federal agents dispensed with all notions of freedom of speech as they targeted black entrepreneurs and their customers for buying and selling literature they deemed politically subversive.

For as long as the Zunis and other indigenous artisans have sold their crafts, they’ve been undercut by fakes—nonnatives posing as Indians to sell more of their work, factory made goods sold as handmade. But today’s fakes include a virtual torrent of knockoffs cheaply manufactured overseas and masquerading as genuine Native made—baskets made in Pakistan sold as Navajo, beadwork made in China sold as Plains Indian, Hopi katsina dolls cranked out in the Philippines—none more profitable than counterfeit Indian jewelry.

The insult isn’t just financial. “Our arts and crafts give us a really concrete way to stay connected to our culture and our history,” says Navajo jeweler Liz Wallace. “All this fake stuff feels like a very deep personal attack.” 

The Portuguese remained in Japan until 1639, when they were banished because the ruling shogun Iemitsu believed Christianity was a threat to Japanese society. As their ships sailed away for the final time, the Portuguese left an indelible mark on the island: a battered and fried green bean recipe called peixinhos da horta. Today, in Japan, it’s called tempura and has been a staple of the country’s cuisine ever since.

  • Renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawkings died this week and people had a lot to say about the man:

Mike E. William explains why you should not share ableist images of Hawkings:

ablebodied friends, please be very critical of the articles/pics you share regarding Dr. Stephen Hawking’s death. a lot of them are super ableist. avoid sharing the following, and call them out as you see them:
• language framing Dr. Hawking’s success “despite” his disability.
• art depicting Dr. Hawking walking away from or escaping his wheelchair.
• language describing Dr. Hawking as “freed from” or “no longer trapped by” his disabled body.
• language describing his accessibility devices as “confining” or “a prison”. Dr. Hawking was not “bound to a wheelchair”. Dr. Hawking was a “wheelchair user”. his accessibility devices gave him more liberty to interact with an ableist society.
• claims that he was “beyond disability” or outright erasing his disability.
• posts that only center images of Hawking before he needed mobility aids.

At one point during the 2016 presidential election campaign, I watched a bunch of videos of Donald Trump rallies on YouTube. I was writing an article about his appeal to his voter base and wanted to confirm a few quotations.

Soon I noticed something peculiar. YouTube started to recommend and “autoplay” videos for me that featured white supremacist rants, Holocaust denials and other disturbing content.

Since I was not in the habit of watching extreme right-wing fare on YouTube, I was curious whether this was an exclusively right-wing phenomenon. So I created another YouTube account and started watching videos of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, letting YouTube’s recommender algorithm take me wherever it would.

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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