Month: December 2015

The Arab world writ large: Walid Raad

New York’s MoMA is showing the first comprehensive American survey of the Lebanese-born artist Walid Raad (b. 1967). It features his work in photography, video, sculpture, and performance from the last 25 years. Raad’s work is informed by his upbringing in Lebanon during the civil war of 1975–91. His work is also preoccupied by the socioeconomic and military policies that have shaped the Middle East in recent years. Two of Raad’s long-term projects are the main emphasis of the show: The Atlas Group (1989–2004) and Scratching on things I could disavow (2007–ongoing). The Atlas Group is a 15-year project exploring the contemporary history of Lebanon. In it, Raad produced a series of fictionalized photographs, videotapes, notebooks, and lectures that related to real events and research into audio, film, and photographic archives in Lebanon and elsewhere. In his ongoing work, Scratching on things I could disavow, Raad expands his focus to the wider Middle East. The work examines the recent emergence in the Arab world of new infrastructure for the visual arts, including art fairs, biennials, …

The originality & elegance of a little-known style icon

Countess Jacqueline de Ribes (b.1929) is not a household name like other style icons such as Audrey Hepburn or Jackie Kennedy. But to those who knew her, the French aristocrat’s style was like no other. A new show at New York’s Met celebrates her originality and elegance, featuring haute couture and ready-to-wear pieces primarily from de Ribes’s personal archive, dating from the late 1950s to the present. Uniquely, the exhibition also features de Ribes’ fancy-dress balls, which she often made herself by cutting up her haute couture gowns to make something fresh, and subtle. The countess developed an interest in fashion as a child who enjoyed fancy-dress. As an adult, she had no shortage of haute couture designers who wanted to dress her – she would become a muse to many. But de Ribes was not destined to play a passive role. She used what she had learned from her exposure to the haute couturier’s drapers, fitters and cutters to establish her own design business. From 1982 until the mid-1990s, de Ribes directed the business …

Illusion & spectacle: the video art of Theo Eshetu

London-born Ethiopian artist Theo Eshetu was showing recently at Tiwani Contemporary, his first solo exhibition in the UK. Working exclusively in video art, Eshetu combines the formal components of film with anthropological ideas, as a way of examining the notion of culture itself. He draws on his joint European and African upbringing in his work, combining themes and symbols from his dual inheritance. Eshetu lived in Ethiopia until the age of five. Eshetu’s acclaimed 2014 work Anima Mundi, an immersive multimedia and video installation, is included in the show. Situated within a mirror box, a flickering globe of moving images “alludes both to the multiplicity of ways to perceive the world and the capacity of video to create illusions,” according the show’s curators. The viewer also becomes part of the installaton as their own image is reflected ad infinitum. The artist may have wanted to represent the idea of life as a spectacle, or could be alluding to the proliferation of images in contemporary life. Works from The Mirror Ball Constellation (2013) are also featured in …

Image game: Adriana Varejão’s challenging work

In a new series of paintings created for Dallas Contemporary, Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão (b. 1964) explores themes of colonialism and cultural identity. The artist has used her own image as a starting point, then changed her appearance through adding facial markings and altering the tone of her face. In this way, she manipulates her ethnic background and the manner in which her image is interpreted. Varejão’s rigorous practice is informed by cultural and historical research. For each series of work, she investigates fields such as art history, anthropology, colonial trade, demography, and racial identity. In her early work, she made graphic depictions highlighting what she perceived to be historical inaccuracies and hierarchies of power during Brazil’s colonial period. She would often allude to the subjugation of native people by Portuguese conquistadors and the evangelisation by Catholic missionaries. Varejão lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. In 2013, she won the Mario Pedrosa Award from the Brazilian Association of Art Critics, which recognizes the Brazilian contemporary artist who most contributed to national culture the previous …

Alternative reality: Sara Ramo’s blurred boundaries

Spanish artist Sara Ramo (b.1975) recently presented new works, including videos, photographs and sculptures – at Galeria Fortes Vilaça in Sao Paolo. The works in Os Ajudantes (The Helpers) blur the boundaries between reality and fiction. In one video, twelve masked creatures wander through a dark landscape, playing musical instruments. Under the flickering light of bonfires, their appearance comes and goes, lending the video a mysterious atmosphere. Bereft of any narrative, we are left pondering the reality of these odd creatures, which at times appear familiar and at other times, completely foreign. In the series Matriz e a Perversão da Forma (Matrix and the Perversion of Form), the artist presents sculptures made of dental stone. Each piece is a mixture of the real – its material is something we recognize – but the shape is unfamiliar. As in the video, we are confronted with fragments of a whole, which has a distancing effect on the viewer. Sara Ramo was born in 1975 in Madrid, Spain, and currently lives and works between the city of her …

Art from elsewhere: issue 4 of The Kurios out now

Issue Four of The Kurios is out now. Here’s a selection of highlights from the latest edition: Australian printmaker Jessie Traill was as adventurous in her travels as in her art – but her genious is barely known outside of her country. Chilean photographer Leonora Vicuña’s lyrical images capture nightlife in her native Santiago as well as in Paris and Barcelona. Tarsila do Amaral revolutionised Brazilian art in the early 20th Century, forging a path for generations of Latin American artists to ‘go native.’ South Africa-born Oliver Kruger documents Johannesburg’s youth culture in his striking series of photographs Golden Youth. The Kurios pays a rare visit to the former home and studio of Argentine expressionist painter Raquel Forner, in the bohemian heart of Buenos Aires. The Kurios is available to read on iPhone, iPad and online. Subscribe here or search for The Kurios App in the iTunes store.  

Documenting youth: Oliver Kruger’s striking photographs

In the striking series of photographs Golden Youth, South Africa-born Oliver Kruger documents Johannesburg’s youth culture. After visiting a street festival with a friend, the artist decided to set up a studio on the sidelines of the event and take portraits of people attending the festival. The result is a series of sensitive yet psychologically probing portraits of his sitters. On the surface, flamboyant dress gives us a very real sense of the sartorial preoccupations of Johannesburg’s youth culture. But these are not photos from fashion pages, as these intimate shots prize out an intimacy from their sitters, however tough they appear. Kruger was born in Stellenbosch in 1977 and now lives and works in Cape Town. Oliver Kruger was profiled in the November/December issue of The Kurios. Photo: From the Golden Youth series, courtesy of Oliver Kruger.

Candid tales

The Black Book of Arabia is a collection of candid tales about women’s lives across the Middle East, written by artist and entrepreneur Sheikha Hend Al Qassemi. These fantastical tales – of women falling in love, preparing to marry, going to university – are less conventional than they seem at first. They are filled with twists and surprises—and a whole gamut of characters from sultans to paupers to sorcerers. In one story, a princess is betrayed by a friend who literally tries to steal her wedding; in another, a jealous wife lures her husband into falling in love with another woman. These are universal tales that read simply, without literary pretension, as though the stories are being passed down to us by word-of-mouth. Their simplicity however reveals some emotional truths about the meandering paths we take through life. The Black Book of Arabia is published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (2015).  

Revolutionary in Rio

A young girl’s long hair is blown by the wind, while she stares ahead at a small collection of trees. Three heads – human or animal we are not sure — protrude from wellington boots on the pavement. It is hard to describe what it happening in the paintings of Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973), even though the colours and the shapes are vivid. Upon first glance, some of these works can resemble France’s Henri Rousseau, the self-taught artist who captured now-famous jungle scenes. In others, she is more like the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte. But in all her work, she is overwhelmingly Brazilian – with her bold use of colour and indigenous subject matter. Her legacy can be seen in the vivid work of contemporary Brazilian painters like Beatriz Milhazes. Indeed, Tarsila (as she is known in Brazil) has been described as the Brazilian painter who best achieved a nationalistic modern style in her country. She is also credited with having revolutionised Brazilian art. The much-loved artist is one of a number of female Brazilian …

Constructing modernity

Radical Uruguayan artist Joaquin Torres-Garcia (1874–1949) epitomised individuality in the arts. A key figure in Latin American modernism, his influence nonetheless extended much further than the continent of his birth. A number of North American artists, including Louise Bourgeois and Barnett Newman, felt his idiosyncratic influence. The artist was born in Montevideo. He left for Barcelona aged 17, where he trained as an artist. In the Catalan capital, he became active in the local artistic movement known as Noucentisme, or “Nineteen-hundreds Style.” The artists and intellectuals that worked within this movement were reacting against what they considered the aesthetic excesses of Modernisme. Noucentista art was characterized by a return to order. Its artists set out to embody the timeless values of the Mediterranean through their art, as well as revive the classical past. In the decorative arts, the values of Noucentisme were seen in an emphasis on traditional hand-craftsmanship. As one of the leading members of Noucentisme, Torres-Garcia became a well-known painter during his years in Barcelona. His first major commission was for a series …

Defining a nation

Olya Ivanova photographed some of Russia’s most traditional people for her evocative Village Day II series of photographs. She travelled to the small and remote Vologda region in Northern Russia to carry out the project. The photographer, born in Moscow in 1981, is interested in articulating Russia’s modern-day cultural identity, especially in the country’s remote towns and villages. Village Day takes place every year in August. Villages all over the country take part, inviting musicians, staging performances and drinking into the night. It is more than just a celebration of Russia’s traditional villages however; it brings together rural life, Soviet rituals and modern pop music, according to Ivanova. “My research is between photography and visual anthropology. I photograph people at village festivals to articulate Russia’s national identity and understand who we are as a nation. Village festivals are a great time to communicate with people, to find entire families ready to be photographed,” she said. Ivanova received a BA degree in literature in 1998, before graduating from Moscow’s Institute of Contemporary Art in 2014. She now lives and …

Eggcentricity

The Argentine artist Federico Manuel Peralta Ramos (1939 – 1992) and his famous egg sculpture are examined in a new exhibition at the MALBA, La Era Metabolica (The Metabolic Era). The sculpture, known as Nosotros afuera (Us Outside) and originally made in 1965, has been specially reconstructed for the show. Peralta Ramos was one of the country’s most eccentric artists. At the vanguard of modern art in Buenos Aires in the 1970s, he has been linked to the Dadaism art movement and is also considered a pioneer of conceptual art in Argentina. He made himself the subject of many of his works. One of six siblings born in the Argentine coastal city of Mar del Plata, Peralta Ramos would study at the Instituto Di Tella with Marta Minujin, another key figure in Argentine 20th Century art. She would go on to become a pioneer of conceptual and performance art in Argentina, becoming one of the country’s most subversive artists. Several other Peralta Ramos works are featured in the show including the 1981 work Mi vida es …

Santiago nights: Leonora Vicuña’s lyrical work

Chilean photographer Leonora Vicuña (b.1952) creates timeless, lyrical images that capture nightlife in her native Santiago as well as in Paris and Barcelona. Her photos immortalize these nocturnal scenes, giving us a rich array of bohemian characters, including musicians, waiters, transvestites and vagabonds. During the dictatorship of General Pinochet in the 1970s and ‘80s, Vicuña spent some years living and working in France. She was one of the founders of the AFI, the first association of professional independent photographers in Chile, which fought for the restoration of democracy in the 1980s. Vicuña, who is also a Professor of Photography in Santiago, has been employing colour pigments and pencils on the surface of her silver gelatin prints since the late 1970s to bring her images of popular culture to life. In this way, she is able to add a personal touch to the images and recall the atmosphere of the original scene. The photos are a nostalgic, personal interpretation of everyday activities – playing cards, dancing, having a drink at a tapas bar – that take …

Radical leanings

Cultural production in Eastern Europe and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s shared certain characteristics, namely radical experimentation and a dissemination of ideas. There was also a marked scepticism towards authority, including artistic authorities and hierarchies. As such, there was an emphasis on creative production outside of the market. The parallels between cultural production in these geographically distant regions are explored in a new exhibition at New York’s MoMA. At that time, anti-art magazines circulated and radical artists operated in underground collectives that were outside of the cultural mainstream. There was a proliferation in process-directed exercises, games, gatherings, walks, alternative music, and concrete poetry. Anti-art groups sprung up, like Gorgona in Yugoslavia, Aktual in Czechoslovakia, and El techo della ballena (The Roof of the Whale) in Venezuela. A community of avant-garde artists operating in Argentina in that period is explored in some depth. The artists Oscar Bony, David Lamelas, Lea Lublin and Marta Minujín – who were all associated with the influential Instituto Torcuato Di Tella – confronted mass media communication. These politically-engaged artists …