- Emily Block of the Philadelphia Inquirer introduces us to the woman who gifted Ron DeSantis a “fascist” snowflake:
Ross, who describes herself as a “craftivist,” made a handful of paper snowflakes for Trump, cheating the lewd ones behind seemingly innocuous designs. Over the years, she’s made similar snowflakes for politicians including former presidential candidate and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) — each time taking smiling photos and presenting them with her creation.
“Originally, I would put dummy ones on top,” she said. “But then, I realized they can’t read them anyway.” But, she said, that’s not a slight on any politician. The words are intricately laced into the snowflakes like an optical illusion. Sometimes, it takes a moment to figure out what the design is.
Ross got her start making snowflakes around 2008 while working at a local children’s museum.
- If you thought the Iraq War was over, take a look at Simona Foltyn’s piece in the Boston Review about Iraq today and how the country continues to be destabilized decades after the illegal US invasion:
To some, what happened inside the Green Zone didn’t come as a surprise. When I first moved to Baghdad in 2018, a military officer who had just returned home after years of fighting ISIS told me that the next war would be fought between the Shia. Now that the Sunni jihadists had been defeated, he predicted, it wouldn’t take much for longstanding tensions between the Shia to boil to the surface. He knew the different factions well, having fought against them in some of Iraq’s wars and together with them in others. He faced the Sadr’s Mahdi Army in 2008, when former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a campaign to drive the militants out of Iraq’s southern port city of Basra. Years later he shared the battlefield with the PMF after the paramilitaries were mobilized through a religious edict to help defeat ISIS. I asked him which side would prevail. “The PMF is better equipped, but the Sadrists have experience in urban battles,” he said. “Ultimately, it will depend on which side the government takes.”
Indeed, the government’s role in the August clashes deserves closer examination, not least because prime minister Kadhimi was Washington’s man in Baghdad. That alliance was forged when he served as the head of Iraq’s spy agency, which enjoys close cooperation with the U.S. government. Kadhimi was appointed prime minister in 2020 on the back of mass protests calling for an end to corruption and Iranian influence. Sadr made his rise to power possible: the cleric had successfully co-opted the demonstrations by positioning himself as a reformist who wanted to meet protesters’ demands, though in reality he used the movement to strengthen his hand for the coming elections. Kadhimi seemed like a good choice to help execute Sadr’s plan. His reputation as a liberal human rights defender would placate Iraq’s streets and Western capitals alike, while his lack of a political base made him firmly beholden to Sadr’s agenda. Kadhimi’s promises to rein in Iran-aligned groups earned him plaudit among Western officials, who remained steadfast in their support even as allegations of corruption and abuse of power began to surface. Kadhimi’s office didn’t reply to requests for an interview.
- For Novara Media, Sam Bright writes that London’s creative scene is being taken over by corporate culture:
The facts back up his argument: 12 years of austerity has seen the UK arts world lose more than a third of its funding, while a new ‘levelling up’ agenda is also seeing grants funnelled away from London theatres – a short-sighted plan to rob Peter to pay Paul. A third of London’s music venues and studios shut between 2007 and 2016, and more than half of London’s nightclubs closed their doors between 2008 and 2016, with a further quarter following during the pandemic.
London’s decades-old cost of living crisis is manifesting as a cost of culture crisis, with the young people flocking to our capital every year scared of even attempting to enter insecure, low-paid creative professions in the arts, cinema or even journalism. Instead, our universities are spewing out swarms of management consultants; more than half of the country’s nearly 100,000 consultants are based in London, despite the capital only accounting for some 15% of the overall UK population.
- Christopher Knight of the LA Times says this wreck of a sculpture (Matt Johnson’s “Sleeping Figure”) at Desert X 2023 is worth celebrating:
Here, however, the dramatic gesture is more ambiguous. The splendid colossus takes on the mythologies of land art unique to the West in the last half-century, at once celebrating and questioning the vaunted legacy of artists like Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt and Walter De Maria, whose monumental sculptures reside in remote desert sites from Utah to New Mexico. And it artfully raises the stinging issue that has plagued Desert X since 2019. That’s when organizers, apparently indifferent to the state-led murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, regrettably forged a working relationship with Saudi Arabia, the vicious and repressive absolute monarchy where free speech is illegal.
- Hussein Omar writes about a rare library oasis in Egypt in the form of a 19th-century mansion a couple has renovated for over a decade. Photographs are by Simon Watson:
IT TOOK TWO more years to fortify the structure, which they named Bayt Yakan (bayt is Arabic for “house”). In the process, they discovered that the residence was a palimpsest that actually dated to around 1640. Thought to be built by a military official named Hasan Agha Koklian, it was originally designed in the style of his ancestors, who were Mamelukes — non-Arab, ethnically diverse originally enslaved soldiers, mostly from the Caucasus and Turkic regions, who established a sultanate in Egypt and throughout the Levant. They favored elaborately carved stone surfaces, geometric patterns and vegetal arabesques. Once Muhammad Ali took over the property and handed it to his nephews, they obscured any sign of the former owners’ structural and decorative choices, walling up ornate columns and closing off entire rooms where they didn’t like the original painted wood ceilings. In other places, atop some of the Mameluke ornamentation, they added then-fashionable Baroque, European-inspired details.
- Valparaiso University in Indiana has some valuable art in its museum’s collection, and now the school is debating whether it should sell some of it (including a Georgia O’Keeffe painting) to renovate two dormitories. Writing for the New York Times, Kalia Richardson reports:
Valparaiso, a Lutheran university in northwestern Indiana that is struggling with the declining enrollment seen at many schools, is planning to sell several works from the collection of its Brauer Museum of Art to raise $10 million for the renovation of two freshman dormitories, which it sees as key to securing its future.
The announcement angered many arts organizations and has divided the university: Last week the faculty senate approved a nonbinding resolution that sought to halt the sale and identify alternative ways to fund the renovations.
Richard Brauer, a retired art professor who served as the director of the museum that now bears his name, has told the university’s leadership he wants his name removed if the school goes through with the sale.
- Alissa Quart thinks we have to end the “independence” myth of American culture. In an opinion piece for the New York Times, she writes:
I have recognized the art of dependence in various ways in my own life. I have learned to fully acknowledge those who have helped me along the way and punctured the triumphal and false story line of individual success. I think of my grandparents, who took care of me for most of the weekends of my childhood, offering me unequivocal care, quite a bit of which was nonverbal. (They had owned a small shoe store in the Bronx, which meant sometimes I was literally playing — probably my interest in taking back the term “bootstraps” is not a coincidence — with boots and shoehorns on the floor of their apartment.) Or the creative writing instructors who helped and praised me in my teen years, including the author Frank McCourt, one of my English teachers at Stuyvesant High School; he and others led me to become a writer.
More recently I have been dependent on my daughter’s caregiver Kylie for intermittent afternoon pickups, and the friends who call me and whom I call in states of duress or boredom, and the hundreds of people who have been involved in supporting the media nonprofit I run. Everyone is dependent on the support of others — whether that’s family, friends or the state — and coming to accept and appreciate that should help us to identify with those who are more obviously dependent, including the people who rely on government aid.
- A trans woman who was convinced to return to Saudi Arabia and then forced to detransition is reportedly dead. Reporting for Vice, Anya Zoledziowski and Tim Marchman have the story:
In August, according to the note, Eden was contacted by a man offering to help her fix her fractured relationship with her parents. Hayden told VICE News that this was a phone call, which he overheard because Eden had put it on speaker; the man on the phone, he said, complimented half-naked photos of Eden he’d found online.
“I remember that really struck me as odd and that was my first red flag with the guy,” Hayden said. “He was such a fucking creep.” Hayden and Bailee said the man didn’t bring them into his conversations with Eden, despite the fact that she was living with them.
That man, according to both Eden’s note and direct messages which she sent at the time and were reviewed by VICE News, was Michael Pocalyko, CEO of Special Investigations—a Washington-area government contractor specializing in “investigations, intelligence, and cyber”—as well as a novelist and former Republican official whose website describes him as “a combat aviator, Navy commander, political candidate, venture capitalist, and global corporate chair.” In a private message, Eden described him as “famous.” Neither Pocalyko nor the chair of Special Investigations responded to requests for comment.
- Kenyon Review announced Karen Kao’s “Fish Tales” as the winner of its 2022 nonfiction contest, which was judged by Maggie Nelson. In choosing Kao’s entry, Nelson wrote: “‘Fish Tales’ has great rhythm and propulsion. It’s pretty then gross then sad then worrying then exciting. It slips in and out of weird synecdoche, swerves with grace between divergent forms of address. It treads on cultural fault lines, familial discord, sensory experience, the move from childhood to adulthood, without wasting time explaining. I’d read a book of it.” You can read the piece online; here’s how it begins:
Today, we shun the swing set. Forget the crabgrass lawn and its gravel path. The green ball is too soft for fun.
We race instead on the retaining wall, waist high and two sneakers wide. We start at the Indian paintbrush, circle the cypress, clutch the ice plants for balance. Purple streaks rune our hands. We leap the mound of lava rocks and tear for the chain-link fence. We land hard, and the fence presses diamonds into our soft palms.
We’re laughing too much. Our sneakers turn slick. My left foot wants to trade places with my right. I slip, but I do not fall.
One sneaker clings to the retaining wall. The other one drops until I am a flamingo standing on one bloody leg.
My first scar is shaped like a fish. Silver, striated, swimming.
- I can’t stop laughing at “rich presenting,” so good:
- Let’s face it, parents are never happy:
Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, 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.