Month: December 2015

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).   Advertisements

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 …