Month: July 2015

Deccan opulence

An exhibition at New York’s Met brings together some two hundred works of art from the opulent Deccan courts of India. The Deccan sultanates were five dynasties of Afghan, Turk, Mongol and various other ethnic backgrounds that ruled kingdoms in the south-west of India during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Featuring paintings in a lyrical poetic style, vivid textiles and intricate metalwork, these works are the result of a unique melting pot of cultural influence in the sultan’s courts. The splendour of these courts, which were built on the wealth of the diamond-rich regions of the south-west, attracted artists, writers and traders from Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Their influences combined to produce artwork of compelling beauty and lyrical charm. Sultans of Deccan India 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy is on at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, until July 26th 2015. Image: Attributed the Bombay painter (probably named Abdul Hamid Naqqash). Sultan ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah II Shooting an Arrow at a Tiger (detail). Bijapur, ca. 1660. Ink, opaque watercolor, gold and probably lapis lazuli pigment on paper. The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Lent …

Double take

The pioneering Argentine photographer and filmmaker Horacio Coppola (1906-2012) was a key Modernist figure. He was one of ten siblings born to Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires at a time when photography was only an emerging art form. He travelled to Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, where his early experiments with photography began to take on a Surrealist edge. Coppola is the subject of a new retrospective at New York’s MOMA, alongside his wife German-born Grete Stern, also an artist. Coppola enjoyed walking the streets of London, waiting for moments of Surrealist uncanniness to appear. In this photo, taken in London in 1934, clothes and shoes for sale outside a shop swing in the wind, giving the strange sensation that they are being worn. In another photo in the exhibition, also taken in London in 1934, he photographed a display of various antiques at a flea market in the city, including the reflections of passers-by in the mirrors. Viewed more closely, the reflection of a sculptural bust can be seen in the mirror too, …

Violence meets art

Colombian artist Doris Salcedo (b. 1958) is the subject of a new retrospective at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Over the past three decades, Salcedo’s sculptures and installations have addressed the often-violent history of modern-day Colombia. Her work also addresses other forms of social injustice, some of which are the result of colonialism and racism. The exhibition, displayed over four floors, features the artist’s most important series, made between the late 1980s and today. It also includes a video documenting her site-specific public projects and architectural interventions. Check out the latest issue of The Kurios for more exhibitions news from around the world. Doris Salcedo is on until October 12th 2015 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo: Doris Salcedo, Plegaria Muda (detail), 2008–10. Wood, concrete, earth, and grass in 122 parts, dimensions variable. Courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York.

A History, in objects

Captain James Cook landed on the east coast of Australia in 1770. The landmass he alighted on was larger than the continent of Europe. For the next more than one hundred years, the British would rule the land as a series of colonies, which would eventually join together to become modern-day Australia in 1901. But the country’s history goes back much further than Great Britain’s involvement. People are believed to have lived in Australia for between around 40,000–60,000 years. The first people to arrive were the Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. They came by boat from nearby islands that are now known as Indonesia. Each Aboriginal group settled in a different area of the country and had its own languages, laws and traditions. They lived in diverse environments ranging from lush rainforest and desert-like landscapes to inland rivers, islands and seas. They lived off fishing and hunting, and invented tools like the boomerang. However they never farmed. Their religion is known as the Dreaming, and art and music was important to them. The cultural habits of …

Revolutionary in Brazil

Tarsila and Modern Women in Rio at the Museu de Arte do Rio pays tribute to a number of female Brazilian artists, who worked between the end of the 19th century and the end of the Second World War. The women featured were all selected for the revolutionary work they did, albeit in very different areas of creative production. Tarsila do Amaral (1886–1973), known simply as Tarsila, is the central figure of the exhibition. Considered to be one of the leading Latin American modernist artists, she was a member of the notorious Grupo dos Cinco (Group of Five), perhaps the biggest influence on modern art in Brazil. She is also credited with having inspired Oswald de Andrade’s famous essay Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibal Manifesto), a key Brazilian cultural text which argued that the country’s history of of “cannibalizing” other cultures is its greatest strength. Tarsila and Modern Women in Rio is on at the Museu de Arte do Rio until 20th September 2015. Photo: Tarsila do Amaral, O Lago (The Lake) (1928). Courtesy of Museu de Arte do Rio.

History of violence

A dynamic new exhibition at the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA)  brings together the work of several international artists whose work has strong social and political themes. Featuring the works of Brazil’s Jonathas de Andrade, Argentina’s Leon Ferrari and Lebanon’s Walid Raad, the show includes works dealing with the conquest of Brazil by the Portuguese, the military coup in Chile, the civil war in Lebanon and the Tiananmen Square Massacre in China. Photo: Liu Wei, Unforgettable Memory (2009). Courtesy of MALBA. Memorias Imborrables (Indelible memories) is on at MALBA until 20th August 2015.

Dream or reality?

Zimbabwean-born Virginia Chihota makes highly introspective work that occupies a place between dream and reality. The quietly striking works showcased in the following pages are from her series munzwa munyama yangu (A Thorn in my Flesh). Her expressive paintings result from a mixture of screen-printing and ink on paper, and the artist has said she finds inspiration in solitude. Chihota moved to Triploli, Libya, in 2012 and has spoken of how the culturally isolated experience of living in a foreign culture has fuelled her work. Continue reading about Virginia Chihota in the July/August issue of The Kurios.  Photo: Virginia Chihota, The Root of the Flower we do not Know, screenprint on paper, 2014. Courtesy of Tiwani Contemporary.

Floating fantasy

In Carlos Bongiovanni’s works, objects are not what they seem. Seen from afar, these unsettling paintings may appear to contain conventional imagery – birds, pieces of fruit, for instance – but upon closer inspection, strange, unsettling objects appear. They retain some elements of the original image, but morph into something else, something less obviously recognisable and disconcerting. Bongiovanni was born in Ushuaia, Argentina in 1983 and now lives in Buenos Aires. To see more images of Bongiovanni’s work, read the  July/August issue of The Kurios. Photo: Heart © Carlos Bongiovanni. Courtesy of Galeria Mar Dulce, Buenos Aires.

Beautiful waste

Serene mosaic figures rise out of the courtyard at Pallant House Gallery, the subject of a new exhibition displaying the eclectic work of the late Nek Chand (1924-2015). The renowned Indian artist died just a few days before the exhibition opened in mid-June, giving this show special significance. Chand was born in 1924 in the village of Berian Kala, in what is now Pakistan. In 1947, he relocated to India with his family. As his day job he was a public roads inspector, but in the evenings he began to mould figures out of recycled and found materials including shells, cooking pots, broken crockery, glass bangles and electrical fittings. Chand, who as entirely self-taught, would make the body of each figure from a mixture of cement and sand, before covering it with discarded objects. The resulting sculptures are highly tactile but also transcendently beautiful. “Nek Chand is a deeply spiritual man, fascinated by the mystical significance of rocks,” said the curators of the exhibition, which is taking place at the gallery in Chichester, southern England. “Chand believed that …

Now who’s wearing the trousers?

Pioneering photographer Annemarie Heinrich (1912-2005) had hard mountains to climb but her persistence eventually paid off. The daring Argentine artist, who moved to Argentina with her family to escape the Nazis, lived at a time when photography was considered a lesser cultural form in Buenos Aires. To complicate matters further, Heinrich liked to experiment with photographing nudity. She kept this a secret which, given that society even disapproved of her habit of wearing trousers to work, was probably wise. A comprehensive retrospective of the German-born photographer’s work at the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (MALBA) — which ended earlier this month — uncovered her passionate, and very private, experiments with photography. Heinrich photographed many stars of the cinema, theatre and ballet in the 1930s and 1940s, when Argentina cinema was experiencing its Golden Age. In this era, Buenos Aires – dubbed the ‘Paris of the South’ — was a magnet for foreign performers who relished the rich cultural life of the city. The resplendent Colon Theatre is still considered one of the …

Through the looking glass

Since Europeans first made contact with China in the sixteenth century, Chinese art has exerted a heady influence on Western fashion. A new exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, China: Through the Looking Glass, examines the influence of Chinese aesthetics on some of the West’s most lauded fashion designers. A collaboration between the Met’s Asian Art department and The Costume Institute, it mixes high fashion with costumes, films, paintings, porcelains, and other art from China. The exhibition seeks to draw out the image the West has of China, a country which has inspired nostalgia and fantasy in the minds of many of these designers. The curator’s decision to reference Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland in the title of the exhibition reflects the fantasy China has inspired in the West. Chinese history and cinema are seen to have exerted a particular pull on the West’s imagination. Three periods of Chinese history are given particular emphasis — Imperial China, the Republic of China, and the Imperial Republic of China. In the Republic of China, Shanghai …

Remote corners

The work of British photographer Jimmy Nelson (b. 1967) has taken him to some of the least-travelled parts of the world. The self-taught artist began taking photographs when he embarked upon a journey across Tibet in 1987, aged just 19. His year-long journey through the Himalayan country lasted one year, and resulted in a visual diary of images of parts of Tibet that had not previously been explored. His initial foray into photography was published and gained him international attention. Fast forward nearly three decades and Nelson has been present at some of the most culturally and historically significant events of our time. In the 1990s, he was commissioned to document Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan and the beginning of the war in Yugoslavia. In 1994, Nelson and his Dutch wife also embarked on a pioneering photography project in China just as the People’s Republic was opening up. The 30-month project, to be called Literary Portraits of China, took them to the far reaches of the vast nation. In the late 1990s, Nelson began to receive …

Musical cure

The kissar is a 19th-century lyre from northern Sudan, traditionally used at ceremonies to eliminate possession by spirits, considered mental illness in some parts of the Middle East. An enormous kissar adorned with coins, charms and beads is currently on display at the British Museum, and gives us a fascinating insight into the cultural practices of the region. The kissar would have been played at weddings by a singer and spirit healer. It would also have been used at cults known as Zār ceremonies, and the trance dances which took place during these ceremonies. Zār ceremonies, which remain popular in the region to this day, were designed to calm the restless spirits of the possessed in Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. The ceremonies are typically viewed, not as exorcism, but as a means for women to form a social bond and communicate more openly in conservative Muslim societies. To continue reading about the traditions of the Sudanese lyre, check out the July/August issue of The Kurios. Music, celebration and healing: the Sudanese lyre is on at the British Museum, London, until …

Zurich to Tehran

Iranian-born Shirana Shahbazi produces photographs in classical art-historical genres, including landscape, portraiture and still life. She often repeats images across different mediums, for instance in hand-painted billboards in Iran, or in hand-made carpets. Recently, she has also translated her imagery into large-scale installations hung on wallpaper. In her latest body of work, shown here, Shahbazi was inspired by a family road trip from Zurich to Tehran in April of last year. These delicate, washed-out images appear to evoke travel and landscape photography, but they are far more intimate than typical images of that kind. See more images of Shahbazi’s work in the July/August issue of The Kurios. Photo: © Shirana Shahbazi. Photo courtesy of On Stellar Rays, New York.

A stranger no longer?

It has been a long time coming, but now that a sequel to Albert Camus’ classic L’Etranger (The Stranger) has arrived, we wonder why it didn’t happen sooner. The French writer’s existentialist classic about the absurdity of life was first published in 1942 and is still widely read and loved (particularly by men, if you are to believe the reader surveys). The novel is set in Algeria when it was still a French colony. The nihilistic protagonist, Meursault, shocks through his indifference. L’Etranger famously opens with his emotionless reaction to the death of his own mother. The story reaches a climax when Meursault kills an Arab on the beach, for seemingly no reason at all. No argument precedes the killing, so it gives Camus a device for exploring the absurd psychology of the protagonist and anti-hero. Now Algerian journalist Kamel Daoud has written a sequel from the point of view of the brother of the Arab who was killed. This is what makes The Meursault Investigation so different to L’Etranger, in which not a single Arab …

Blurred lines

In Boris Nzebo’s multi-layered works, human heads merge with urban cityscapes. These boldly coloured and patterned works evoke the visual dynamism of a West African city. Born in 1979 in Gabon, Nzebo now lives and works in Cameroon. He draws his subject matter from his hometown of Douala, where he is particularly inspired by the elaborate hairstyles of locals, which often feature as hand-painted advertising illustrations in West African beauty parlours. To continue reading about Boris Nzebo and see more images of his work, read the July/August issue of The Kurios. Photo: © Boris Nzebo. Photo courtesy of Saatchi Gallery, London.

Bold enigmas

You could be forgiven for thinking that some of the work by Chinese artist Zhu Da, better known as Bada Shanren, is by a contemporary artist. Born in 1626, Bada Shanren is remembered as reclusive and somewhat eccentric. He produced highly individualist works which were daring for their time, some of which have been brought together for the exhibition Enigmas: The Art of Bada Shanren, at Washington’s Freer Gallery of Art. The artist,who was born a prince of the Ming imperial house, later retired to live a secluded life as a Buddhist monk. It is said that he suffered from epilepsy and became dumb. The direct, expressive style of his ink paintings of birds and flowers does not jar with contemporary viewers. His work has been very influential in China but also in Japan, where his bold style is particularly appreciated for its similarity to Zen painting. To continue reading about Bada Shanren, check out the July/August 2015 issue of The Kurios. Photo: Lotus, Bada Shanren (Zhu Da) (1626-1705). China, Qing dynasty, ca. 1665. Bequest from the collection of Wang Fangyu …

Rio remembered

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Kurt Klagsbrunn (1918-2005) arrived in Rio de Janeiro, the then-capital of Brazil. The Austrian medical student of Jewish descent had been forced to abandon university with the rise of the Nazis. He fled from Vienna, seeking refuge first in Lisbon, then Rotterdam,with his family. He finally alighted in Rio in 1939. Klagsbrunn began, slowly but surely, to start taking photographs of life on the other side of the Atlantic. His work began to reflect the diverse panorama of people living in this vibrant city, from slave descendants to aristocrats. Rio would become a source of lasting inspiration to the young immigrant and he began to document parties as well as social and political events. More than 200 of his Rio photographs are brought together in the enlightening exhibition Kurt Klagsbrunn, a humanist photographer in Rio (1940-1960), at the Museu de Arte do Rio. “One of Kurt’s features is a very loving relationship with Rio de Janeiro,” said Paulo Herkenhoff, one of the exhibition’s curators. “Klagsbrunn produced an …