Weekend

Required Reading

This week, very very soft furniture, butt types, the Combahee River Collective, Samuel Fosso talked to curator Okwui Enwezor, PowerPoint activism on Instagram, climate apartheid, and more.

I’m kind of obsessed with these very impractical items of furniture that are made of foam, and change according to what you place in or on their shelves. Dutch designer Dewi van de Klomp calls these fun creations “Soft Cabinets.” “The cabinets seem almost alive,” said the designer, “protecting their content while carrying them in their own way, questioning and challenging our vision of strength and resistance and therewith the material used, in a very poetic way.” That’s one way of looking at it. There are more images and info over at Dezeen. (via Dezeen)

My other revelation came out of their insistence that “Black feminism” was necessary to clearly articulate the experiences of Black women. It had never occurred to me that the framework of “race” was not nearly capacious enough to capture the particular ways that Black women experienced American society. I had seen the everyday variety of racism in the U.S. that left most Black people with a bitter edge, at least those in my family. I had seen my father harassed by police, in Cincinnati, Ohio, for jaywalking. When I was seven, I saw my father jump in to stop a group of white teen-agers from threatening my older brother, only to have the police blame him for the altercation. But my mother’s experiences were altogether different. She and my father met in high school, dated through college, and eventually landed in graduate school, at suny Buffalo, in the early nineteen-seventies. While my father believed that a revolution was within the grasp of those who fought hard enough to make it happen, my mother, who had studied English, French, and Spanish in college, was finishing her doctorate and raising me and my brother. My father left when I was two, and my mother took us to Dallas, where she worked as a reading specialist for the Dallas Independent School District. Three of her brothers followed her to Dallas, and one, a Vietnam veteran, lived in our garage for a time, as he tried to jump-start his life. When, in the early eighties, my mother got burned out from haggling with less qualified white male administrators and a fancy career that was going nowhere fast, she started a house-cleaning business. She didn’t know about the Volcker Shock and the recession that would follow. My mother’s advanced degrees could not protect her from bankruptcy in 1982. They could not stop our lights from being periodically turned off, or a steady stream of bill collectors from coming to our front door. They could not help her relax, work less, or be more present. My mother died at fifty-two, fifteen years after she filed for bankruptcy; the chronic exhaustion she felt from work was masking the symptoms of an untreated and ultimately deadly case of lupus. Doris Jeanne Taylor’s life was unceremoniously extinguished two weeks after she entered the hospital.

Enwezor: What kind of work did you do in the studio while you were learning?

Fosso: When you are employed as an apprentice, your work involves everything—sweeping the studio, errands, and more. I was very eager to start photographing, but for about one month I did not even touch the camera.

I became impatient and went to the photographer and asked him how long it would take before I could start photographing. He told me it was not a quick process and that I should continue working on the assignments he gave me. Then I found another way, through his assistant, to whom I offered my breakfast money every day for additional instruction. This way, I could learn the job more quickly. It was from then on that I really began to learn to make pictures.

Enwezor: What year did you start this apprenticeship?

Fosso: I worked at the studio for about five months, between October 1974 and March 1975. And in September 1975, I opened my own studio.

Enwezor: You were only thirteen years old. Were there other photographers your age in Bangui at this time?

Fosso: None. There was not a single one. The majority of the photographers were Nigerians and Cameroonians. I was very young, and people sometimes wondered about me when they came to have their pictures taken in the studio.

Unclear If Art Good Or Just Lights Up

But my favorite is this conversation over at New York Magazine with a gynecologist about the song, which stands for “wet ass pussy”:

What did you think when she says, “I want you to park your big Mack truck right in this little garage”? Is there any danger involved in that sort of size differential?

Some women worry that their vaginas are too big. And again, I don’t think they mean to be vagina shaming. I think they’re just trying to say, “I’m enjoying this too” and “Come on in!” But if women have a partner that’s larger than what they’re used to, we tell them, “The vagina is amazing in what it can accommodate, including a nine-pound baby. So if you’re unable to accommodate this [penis], it doesn’t mean you’re too small; it just means this person is bigger than what you’ve had to accommodate before.” Sometimes the vagina panics, and it goes, “You’re not coming in here!” And the muscle contracts. So we do a lot of dilator therapy. A lot of people think it’s to stretch out the vagina, the tissue. It’s not. It gets the pelvic-floor muscles to relax. My point being, someone might have a situation where they think, Oh my God, it’s too big, it’s not gonna fit, and that’s something that we can certainly fix.

In addition to growing interest toward social justice content, there’s a unique stylistic uniformity among these activism slideshows that earn them virality — an element I struggled to put my finger on. The fonts and colors of these guides aren’t necessarily similar, but there’s an inexplicable familiarity to these posts, making them approachable and extremely shareable when they first floated across my Instagram feeds in late May. Hu noticed that successful graphics tend to be heavily over-designed, featuring whimsical, colorful, and even “grotesque” typefaces and illustrations.

“From a design perspective, they’re pretty horrible, but it is that type of Instagrammable graphic that the platform favors,” he said. And what Instagram favors, coincidentally, has been used for years among many millennial-facing, direct-to-consumer brands.

A recent study published in the Nature Climate Change research journal predicts that the socioeconomic fallout of COVID-19 will exacerbate the destruction caused by climate crises. This year, scientists expect that the United States will be hit with more hurricanes, wildfires, and floods. As these compound crises accelerate, they will, inevitably, present problems in excess of policing capacity. The state and its police will have to decide who and what to protect.

When deemed useful, the incarcerated represent a hyper-exploitable population, which can be pressed into service for pittance. In recent years, California has relied on thousands of incarcerated firefighters to quell wildfires. They risk their lives for very little pay—between $2 and $5 a day—both because they are exempt from minimum wage laws and legally prevented from unionizing. Incarcerated firefighters are compensated with minor reprieves from the harshest versions of prison life, including sentence reductions and opportunities to visit with their children.

When not deemed useful, the incarcerated represent a hyper-disposable population. During Hurricane Katrina in 2006, the city of New Orleans faced its first ever mandatory evacuation. Yet evacuation was not possible for those imprisoned in Orleans Parish Prison, as Sheriff Marlin Gusman assured the public that the incarcerated would stay “where they belong.” Where they belonged, apparently, was crowded in a large gymnasium without food. Incarcerated people, including children as young as thirteen, were left for days in toxic water that rose as high as their chests. As one lawyer put it in the ACLU’s scathing report: “The Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals did more for its 263 stray pets than the sheriff did for the more than 6,500 men, women and children left in his care.”

  • I’m going to overlook Oliver Wainwright’s weird “Islamic World” framing, which I hate — we don’t use “Christian World” because it erases minorities (same with Islamic World) — and never mind one of the buildings he discusses dates to before the advent of Islam, but this is a fun read regardless. He discusses the non-European origins of some “great” European buildings:

The transfer of Islamic motifs to the west wasn’t always so simple, though. The pointed arch took a more circuitous route. Darke traces how the arches first spread to Cairo, becoming sharper and more pointed under the Abbasid empire, and were in turn admired by visiting merchants from the wealthy Italian port of Amalfi, who channelled discoveries from their travels into their eclectic 10th-century basilica. This exotic building caught the eye of Abbot Desiderius, who visited Amalfi in 1065 on a shopping trip for rare luxury merchandise, and decided to take the pointed window design for his monastery at Monte Cassino.

Those windows were then copied for the Benedictine abbey at Cluny in France, the largest church in the world at the time. Abbot Suger, an adviser to kings Louis VI and VII, liked how the windows let in more light, and immediately applied the same design to his Saint-Denis basilica in Paris. Regarded as the earliest fully gothic structure, the basilica was completed in 1144 and its architect went on to work at Notre-Dame. “They all just copied it,” says Darke. “These were the most powerful churches in Europe, so the style completely took off, as all fashions do. When powerful people adopt something, everyone wants one.”

Making Your Zoom Look More Professorial from Andrew Ishak on Vimeo.

  • If you know anything about me then you’ll know how interested I am in post-Ottoman photography and its afterlives. This fascinating DW documentary about Armenian photographer Kegham Djeghalian, who opened a photo studio in Gaza City at the end of the 1940s, is worth a watch. His images, taken between 1945 and 1970, show a little-known face of Gaza:

Required Reading is published every Saturday, and it 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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