Weekend

Required Reading

This week, artist Arthur Jafa, the history of the Stradivarius violin, the politics of criticism, Latinx underrepresentation in the US media, an inflatable garden, and more.

Moscow studio SKNYPL has proposed an Instagram-friendly garden in Seoul, South Korea, which is made from turquoise, pebble-like inflatables. It’s a contemporary interpretation of a traditional Korean garden, and more images can be seen over at Dezeen. The designers propose that the inflatables will be constructed with ETFE, which is a fluorine-based plastic that is recyclable. (via Dezeen)

The tipping point for Jafa was a seven-and-a-half-minute film he made the same year, “Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death.” Composed to a large extent of found footage spliced together, it’s a kind of D.J. mix of pure chills, spun with urgency: The white South Carolina police officer Michael Slager shooting and killing the unarmed black forklift operator Walter Scott in 2015; a black Texas teenage girl in a bikini being hurled to the ground by a white policeman two months later; a clip of the British sprinter Derek Redmond pulling a hamstring in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, followed by his father rushing to help his injured son hobble to the finish line. We see swaying crowds and iconic faces — Coretta Scott King, Nina Simone, Barack Obama singing “Amazing Grace” — as well as newer ones, like the young actress Amandla Stenberg, who asks, “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?” In the finale, LeBron James gloriously dunks a basketball, the surface of the sun blazes and James Brown grabs a microphone stand and collapses onto a stage. A phantasmagoria of brutality and magnificence, the short unsparing film is an expansive, unshakable fever dream of blackness as both a creative force and an object of white violence, a kind of digital-age “Guernica.”

  • Carolina Miranda points out that the vacuum of Latinx representation in the US may be why it has been relative easy for the US President to vilify a whole group of people that account for roughly 20% of the US population:

“The major event that contributes to Trump denouncing Mexicans is the vast vacuum that exists, the lack of a multitude of representations of Chicanos and Chicanas,” Los Angeles conceptual artist Harry Gamboa Jr. told me last year when his photographic exhibition “Chicano Male Unbonded,” an exploration of the often menacing ways in which Chicano men have been represented, opened at the Autry Museum of the American West. “This allows people to insert negative ideas into the vacuum. And this justifies the mean-spirited behavior on behalf of our government.”

  • The politics of criticism is the topic of Kim Kelly’s article for the Columbia Journalism Review and it’s full of interesting insights into the life of a politically engaged journalist:

According to NPR, I should have tried harder to keep my activism under wraps—or at least done more to avoid being targeted by Fox’s preeminent propagandist. Trust me when I say that I was not exactly thrilled when a friend sent me a video link to Carlson’s minute-and-a-half-long tirade, during which he denigrated my work, implied that I was inciting terrorism, and took a brief moment to mention that I contributed to NPR. On the phone with the senior director, I was told that my “obvious” status as an activist violated their rules. I ended the conversation with the observation that, in 2019, they’re going to have an awfully hard time finding writers who don’t have a political opinion.

Voicing political views is hardly unusual in the realm of criticism—just ask John Berger, dream hampton, Douglas Crimp, Tory Dent, Gary Indiana, Eve Ewing, Mario Ontiveros, Joan Morgan, or countless others. Yes, some music writers shy away from politics, and that’s their prerogative, but I never saw much value in feigned objectivity. How is caring enough about something to get involved in organizing around it an indictment of ethical purity?

Being an outspoken feminist who writes about heavy metal—typically a straight, cis male–dominated universe—has never been easy. Nor is being stridently anti-fascist when digging into subgenres like black metal, whose inherent nihilism and pagan leanings can provide cover for white-supremacist propaganda. All the while, I’ve engaged in activist organizing that has influenced how I choose which artists to cover and what labels to support.

They don’t tell you how you’ll feel when you finally sit down with a fertility specialist to review the single-digit success rates for couples your age, the four- and five-figure costs (not covered by your insurance) for each escalating artifice in this business that profits from hope and fear. How you’ll reel when you learn your ovaries have been shutting down — treacherously, inexorably — all this time you were hitting your scholarly stride, running and biking five times a week, feeling in your prime. You always felt sorry for Greek and Roman girls, married off in early puberty. But in the eyes of modern reproductive medicine, women over 35 are already “geriatric” and your particular meat cage prematurely teeters on the brink of reproductive death.

They’ll explain that you were born with all the eggs you’ll ever have. Their numbers peaked at several million, then began their steep downward march, four months before you left your own mother’s womb. Your whole life, you’ve been both sheltering and shedding primordial seeds of future selves as old as your own, cradled in your mesodermal sanctum like unborn souls in the Underworld. Women’s bodies, you realize, are the true classical tradition: for millions of years, on macro and molecular levels, we’ve done intergenerational labor of preservation, replication and loss that dwarfs scribes’ transmission of a few hundred texts. You never treated your flesh like a temple, those summer afternoons you drank life and mimosas to the fullest; never thought of chromosomal decay all those nights in smoky pubs or long-haul flights. But all that time, you’d been a secret library, tending and discarding ancient ciphers just in case one zygotic codex — like the Veronese manuscript that rebirthed Catullus — might someday burst forth, be fruitful, and multiply.

“He ruined my life and a lot of girls’ lives,” said Michelle Licata, another of Epstein’s alleged victims.

Girls. Girls. Girls. This is the crux of it. “He told me he wanted them as young as I could find them,” Wild said. When the Epstein story re-broke as news in early July, however—because of an indictment brought by the Southern District of New York, and aided greatly by Brown’s reporting—a common error began to spread: Many media outlets referred to Epstein’s victims, both acknowledged and newly alleged, as “underage women.” The New York Times used the term. So did New York magazine. Jezebel counted 90 instances of it aired on broadcast news in the days after Epstein’s arrest alone.

The phrase is wrong in every sense: There is no such thing as an “underage woman.” Underage women are girls. But the mistake, repeated several times since July, has been in its own way revealing. It suggests an American culture that remains reluctant to equate the interests of powerful men and the interests of vulnerable girls. And it suggests an ongoing ambivalence about what it means to be a girl in the first place.

In short, the 1619 Africans were not “enslaved”. They were townspeople in the Ndongo district of Angola who had been captured by Imbangala warlords and delivered to the port of Luanda for shipment to the Americas. Raiding, capturing and selling people was not an exclusively African practice.

Raiding for captives to sell belongs to a long human history that knows no boundaries of time, place or race. This business model unites the ninth-12th-century Vikings who made Dublin western Europe’s largest slave market (think of St Patrick, who had been enslaved) and 10th-16th-century Cossacks who delivered eastern European peasants to the Black Sea market at Tana for shipment to the wealthy eastern Mediterranean. The earliest foreign policy of the new United States of America targeted the raiders of the Barbary Coast who engaged in a lively slave trade in Europeans (think Robinson Crusoe). Sadly, the phenomenon of warlords who prey on peasants knows no boundaries of time or place.

There’s more to Virginia history, of course, than bondage. There’s freedom, not only after the American civil war, but also in the 17th century, when an Angolan man called Antonio, arriving in Virginia in 1621, became Anthony Johnson, a wealthy free farmer and slave-owning planter in Northampton and Accomack counties. His immediate descendants prospered. His eighteenth-century descendants, living within a hardened racial regime, did not. It is in the eighteenth century that we find the more familiar, hardened boundaries of racialized American identity.

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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