(At Least) 150 Words: Shamsia Hassani

So before the word count lets have a quote shall we?

“I am from Afghanistan , the country which is famous by War-Bomb – …lets change the topic of news about Afghanistan . lets bring PEACE with art , lets make it famous by ART not by WAR.”— Shamsia Hassani

Ok the count starts below*:

Shamsia Hassani is a graffiti artist working in Kabul. She is afghan, but grew up in Iran where freedoms were limited because of her nationality. Shamisa was not allowed to study art until 2006 when her family moved to Kabul. As a girl Shamisa practiced art on her own, but gravitated towards graffiti after attending a work shop by a UK artist. Today she teaches at Faculty of Fine Arts, Kabul University and is a founder of Berang Arts Organization,.

Shamsia has four main reasons for making street art:

  • Create positive and empowering imagery to “cover up bad memories” left after years of war.
  • Introduce art to a community of people who have no other means accessible.
  • Use meaningful images to express her messages because “the picture is more expressive than words.
  • Create awareness of the plight of afghan women.

Standard subjects include women in Burqas, fish, and symbols representing ambient atmosphere. Her street art generats positivity in communities damaged by war. Of course she cannot freely express herself in this country because of censorship and the dangerous associated with voicing opposition. As a result one of her most well known projects is a collection of her preliminary sketches drawn over prints of pictures taken from different parts of Kabul she calls “Dream of Graffiti.”

Shamsia’s continued effort’s to exchange her street arts experiences with her students and present more artists to the community. She was selected as one of Top10 for the 2nd Afghan Contemporary Art Prize in 2009, and since then has been part of solo and group exhibitions inside and outside of Afghanistan (e.g. Germany, Australia, India, Vietnam).  

Links:

http://www.streetartbio.com/#!shamsia-hassani-interview/c19pn

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shamsia-Hassani/252100761577381

http://artradarjournal.com/tag/shamsia-hassani/

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/feb/24/graffiti-street-art-kabul

*I didn’t really do a word count. I might be over 150.

Short Bit: Alfredo Jaar

“The Eyes of Gutete Emerita” 2004

Currently a large portion of artist Alfredo Jaar’s oeuvre is on display at Kiasma titled “Tonight no Poetry Will Serve” it opened on April 11 and will show through September 2014. Named after a poem by the late American writer Adrienne Rich (1929-2012), an important source of inspiration for the artist, the retrospective occupies two floors comprising more than 40 works from 1974–2014. It features real ground-breakers like “Lament of the Images,” “The Silence of Nduwayezu,” and “The Sound of Silence”. But the premium piece is Jaar’s re-creation of “One Million Finnish Passports;” the striking and historic landmark work shown originally in Helsinki in 1995 and was destroyed right after the exhibition.

The Chilean native has lived in New Year since 1982, gaining international fame as an ethical artist, architect and filmmaker with installations and public interventions. The overriding theme in Jaar’s body of work is social morality. He challenges us to question the practicality of our principles, revealing the holes in Western society’s attitudes regarding righteousness and social justice. His large scale installations, films, photographs, objects, and neon works examine human and social morals by negotiating the balance between our responsibility for ensuring self well-being and that of others. With art he tackled the Rwanda holocaust, gold mining in Brazil, toxic pollution in Nigeria, and immigration issues between Mexico and the United States. In a lot of the works, Jaar contrasts light and dark to expose moral disparities or focuses on eyes as points of entry into another person’s experience, effectively eliciting empathy and real compassion. Though he also distances the viewer from the human aspect to provide “room” for reflection upon the full implication of a problem, the spread of injustice in situations like immigration and persecution. Many of Jaar’s works are extended meditations or elegies, including videos like Muxima (2006) that portrays the extreme contrast between poverty stricken Angola and the oil economy and “The Gramsci Trilogy” (2004–05). The latter is a series of installations documenting Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s imprisonment under Mussolini’s Fascist regime.

details from Biennial exhibition

He has exhibited individual works in Finland in both the 1995 and 2011 ARS exhibitions and in 2010 as part of the Capital of Culture year in Turku Archipelago. Among Jaar’s many awards are a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award (2000); a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award (1987); and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1987); and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1985). He has had major exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2005); Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome (2005); Massachusetts Institute of Technology, List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge (1999); and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1992). Jaar emigrated from Chile in 1981, at the height of Pinochet’s military dictatorship. His exhibition at Fundación Telefonica in Chile, Santiago (2006), was his first in his native country in twenty-five years. Jaar lives and works in New York.

SEGMENT  Art21 follows and films Jaar in his native Chile during a major retrospective of his work, which he shares for the first time with the Chilean public.

http://www.pbs.org/art21/watch-now/segment-alfredo-jaar-in-protest

 

“Lament of the Images, version 2,” 2002

“Lament of the Images, version 1” 2002

From Rwanda project

“Geometry of Consciousness” 2010

“Lament of the Images, detail” 2002

“Gold in the Morning”

“Real Pictures”

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

So where do I start with this outrageous character of Dada legend and lore? Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven is pretty much the founder of Dada in New York during the 1913-20’s. (Dada came about as a reaction against the academy’s stuffy rules regulating, defining, organizing, and otherwise controlling an understanding/definition of art; the anti-art scene then escalated into anti-culutre movement in part as a search for meaning and consolation in the catastrophic aftermath of WWI.) Marcel DuChamp, her contemporary and friend, credits her as being the original dadaist stating that, “she is not a futurist, she is the future.”

It is right that DuChamp should be so admirable of The Baroness. She brought Dada to the fore front of culture in at the start of the new century in New York by pushing the boundaries of elite culture. Dada’s darling went to war with the bourgeois, attacking decency with her explicit dadaist poetry, constructed ready-mades that upset traditional art making practices, crafted dangerously anti-religous sculptures, and designed her own elaborate costumes from found and stolen items. The Baroness did not just cause a riot, she was a riot, making scene with her outlandish, ridiculous behavior everywhere she went. In short, the woman was a hot mess. Today we’d call her a ratchet, with the singular gift of provoking everyone around her into a hissy fit.

The Baroness was born July 12,1874 in Germany, she studied art in Dachau, near Munich before marrying her first husband in 1901, Berlin-based architect August Endell, at which time she became Else Endell. Ever one for a good scandal, she lived an avant-garde bohemian lifestyle, having an open relationship with her husband while working as an actress and vaudeville performer. She had numerous affairs with artists in Berlin, Munich and Italy, and in 1902 she became involved romantically with a friend of Endell’s, the minor poet and translator Felix Paul Greve (later the Canadian author Frederick Philip Grove), and all three went to Palermo in late January 1903. They then lead a faery nomadic lifestyle, traveling to various places, including Wollerau, Switzerland and Paris-Plage, France.  She found work modeling for artists in Cincinnati, and made her way east via West Virginia and Philadelphia.

Elsa became a baroness by marrying Baron von Freytag-Loringhoven in 1913 and maintained that title the rest of her life, despite numerous affairs. She exploited her aristocratic status as a weapon to assault bourgeois taste. One of my favorite Baroness antics was her single-handed effort to present futuristic fashion to the bohemians of Greenwich Village, by scandalizing her neighbors parading about semi-nude along 14th Street, barely covered with feathers. It is evident that her preferred method for undermining the avant-garde was to always be as naked as she could get, even wearing nothing but tea-balls on her breasts while reciting poetry on street corners.

Until recently, The Baroness was best known for her  provocative poetry, which was finally published in a 2011 posthumous compilation of her writings Body Sweats: The Uncensored Writings of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Irene Gammel. (The New York Times praised the book as one of the notable art books of 2011.) She liked to experiment with punctuation and grammar to challenge the structure of langue. She made good use of dashes to set unique tempos and almost actual motion within her sentences, and created portmanteau compositions that made a mockery of coherency with non-sensical phrases.  As the poem “Loss” states:  “She is mad— / I am lost— / Utter.” (Loss, 234)

When reading her poems you often have to pause to rethink her meaning. I find I have to recompose the poems, decide which statements are spoken by which voice/persona, in what order lines are meant to be read, and in what combination with the lines surrounding it.  Take a second look at the tercet cited above—here the two-syllable word line “Utter” may be a command “to utter” and if so who is to speak?  Is the command directed to her, us, or is it the owl in the poem? Or is “utter” not a verb at all but a displaced adjective, one which should be read as if it precedes the word “lost” in the penultimate line? And if so does The Baroness ask the reader if this refers to utter loss? And who utterly lost and what was it? Or is the speaker utterly lost? Or is she talking about a random cow’s utters?! By being evasive with layers of meaning, The Baroness wrote very polarizing poetry, causing some people to either find their meanings very personal to each reader or very isolating and shallow. Ezra Pound was not always her biggest fan, but what does he know?

Another one of her stylistic elements is her laudable exploration of the thin line—made up of one to three syllables and streaking down the pages like a stripe, an arrow’s shadowtrail. At times these tiny lines create a clipped, staccato pacing, at others they embody speed and slippage; are aquatic in their rush. This is especially true in poems where sound seems beyond control, tumbling and falling

And of course she is never shy about discussing sex. A lot of her portmanteaus are highly explicit, such as “Kissambushed” and “Phalluspistol.”  The Little Review put her on the map in 1918 by publishing 20 of her poems and more than a dozen of her essays and notes. The magazine thereupon gave the baroness a forum for the next four years, establishing her among Dada luminaries. One of the Baroness’ poems, reproduced by Gammel, reads:

No spinsterlollypop for me!
Yes! We have no bananas
I got lusting palate
I always eat them…
There’s the vibrator
Coy flappertoy! …
A dozen cocktails, please!

Yup. Those are blatant phallic references. By today’s standards perhaps these aren’t so shocking, but in the early 1900s worn were still admired for their gentle and modest qualities. And even men could get into trouble for being so open about sex acts.

The Baroness also worked with found object making assemblage sculptures and collage paintings while in New York. Her habit of collecting rubbish and refuse to create sculptures of anti-art greatly offended art critics. But her radical behavior impressed and inspired her contemporaries. She was feared and admired by the likes of Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and Djuna Barnes who all, like Ezra Pound, found themselves discussing her work in verse whether they liked it or not. And the very first movie made by Duchamp and Man Ray was about Elsa, titled The Baroness Shaves her Pubic Hair. The film cements her status Queen of Dada, but sadly only a handful of film stills have been salvaged by history. She is featured in many other Dada artists works, adding further testament to the depth of her influence and the admiration held to her by contemporaries.

Being friends with DuChamp, The Baroness was likely also involved in the conception of the famous ready-made, Fountain (1917). As Irene Gammel has documented, the choice of a urinal as art work is more in line with Freytag-Loringhoven’s scatological aesthetics than with Duchamp’s.  Moreover, Duchamp indicates in a letter to his sister written in 1917 that a female friend of his had sent him the urinal for submission at the Independents Exhibition. Rediscovered by the Whitney Museum in New York City in 1996, her Portrait of Marcel Duchamp (no longer extant) is an example of her ready-made pieces. She also contributed to New York Dada by collaborating with Morton Schamberg on the 1917 assemblage sculpture God, which is constructed of plumbing materials.

Unfortunately her death was not a glamorous or scandalous as her lifestyle. Finding herself finically insecure, in 1923, The Baroness went back to Berlin, expecting better opportunities to make money. Instead she came home to an economically devastated post-World War I Germany. Regardless of her difficulties in Weimar Germany, she remained there, penniless and on the verge of insanity. Though she still had several friends in the American expatriate community, in particular Djuna Barnes, Berenice Abbott, and Peggy Guggenheim, who provided emotional and financial support, she continued to deteriorate over the next few months.  She died on December, 14 1927 of gas suffocation after the gas was left on in her flat. She may have forgotten to turn the gas off, or someone else may have turned it on; the circumstances were never clear. She is buried in Paris, France at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

So there you have it. The Baroness is the original socially unacceptable bad girl. Her life reminds us that Miley Cyrus only wishes she could be as naughty as The Baroness, and Madonna and Lady gaga have nothing on her scanty outfits. I leave you with what is my favorite poem, for now, and I’ll also leave a few of images of her art and costumes. I highly recommend you read the Gammel book and check out this link to her digital library hosted by the University of Maryland digital library: http://www.lib.umd.edu/dcr/collections/EvFL-class/index.html

Ah Me!

Trust me
I do agree
Madam—I firmly stand that ground
Coitus is paramount
Ab-so-lu-te-ly!

Nay—Mr. Twitch do me allow
To cool define: when you know how!
As poetry—coitus urges
Driven courses rhythmic surges
Energy—
Executive ability.
Fancy’s wing composed complex
Genius sex’
Bagpipe spell
Sunsirens’ crimsoncruising yell
It is—

Else:
Hell!
Well?
Saucerorbs agog enorm
Smirks he
Ah me!
I don’t perform. (43)

“God” Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Limbswish, sculpture 1917-1919

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven 1874, Swinemunde, Germany – 1927, Paris Portrait of Marcel Duchamp 1919 Collage, pastel, and ink on board 31 x 46 cm

The Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven in her Greenwich Village apartment, December, 1915

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven Wheels are Growing on Rose Bushes, 1921-22 Ink on paper, 5 3/4 x 8 3/4 inches

Short Bit: Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer is a conceptual artist living and working in New York. The main objective of her oeuvre is to make narrative or commentary an implicit part of visual objects. Essentially, her medium are words. Belonging to a generation of feminist artists from the 80’s, though her work began in the 1970s with the New York City posters. Her first experiments with projecting anonymous messages resulted in her Truisms (1977–9), which she printed onto broadsheets in black italic script on white paper and wheat-pasted to buildings, walls, and fences in and around Manhattan. These one-liners are extractions from a scholarly reading list from the Whitney Independent Study Program, where Holzer was a student. Recently, Holzer’s light projections on architecture and landscape challenge ignorance and violence with humor, kindness, satire, and moral courage.

Projections (1996-2011)

In 1981, Holzer began printing on aluminum and bronze plaques, the presentation format used by medical and government buildings, and dubbed the series  “Living.” The following year, Holzer installed the first large electronic sign on the Spectacolor board at Times Square, New York thanks to a sponsorship from the Public Art Fund program.  Using L.E.D. (light emitting diode) allowed Holzer to communicate to a much larger audience. The texts in her subsequent Survival series (1983-85) comment on the great pain, delight, and ridiculousness of living in contemporary society. In her 1986 exhibition at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York, Holzer revealed the maturity of her concept when she introduced her first total environment, where viewers were confronted with the relentless visual buzz of a horizontal LED sign and stone benches leading up to an electronic altar. This practice culminated in the installation at the Guggenheim Museum in 1989 of a 163 meter-long sign, forming a continuous circle spiraling up the parapet wall.

The third phase of Holzer’s For the City, projected on the Fifth Avenue side of the New York Public Library, October 6–9, 2005

For more than thirty years, Holzer boldly displayed her astringent ideas, arguments, pleasures, and sorrows in public places and international exhibitions; including 7 World Trade Center, the Reichstag, the Venice Biennale, the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Whether formulated as a T-shirt, as a plaque, or as an LED sign, public display and reception are integral to the concept of her work. Holzer received the Leone d’Oro at the Venice Biennale in 1990 and the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum in 1996. She holds honorary degrees from Ohio University, Williams College, the Rhode Island School of Design, The New School, and Smith College. She received the Barnard Medal of Distinction in 2011.

Installation in lobby at 7 WTC

Happy Birthday John Singer Sargent

Today is the birthday of American portraitist John Singer Sargent. To celebrate I want to talk about one of his controversial portraits Portrait of Madame X, because despite it’s blatant objectification of women, I find the portrait to be stunning. I have always loved and admired the mysterious woman for her controlled and powerful sexuality, just oozing from within the painting. Perhaps because I feel that the woman is employing the power of her beauty and figure at her own will, I am more forgiving to Sargent for the shameless exploitation of female sexuality. And I admit I may have a bit of a lady-crush on the stunning Madame X.

But first a little about Sargent. The painter was born on January 12,1856 and is regarded as the leading portrait painter of the Edwardian era for his rich oil and watercolor evocations of elite luxury. During his career, he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings. His oeuvre documents worldwide travel, from Venice to the Tyrol, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, and Florida— though he lived in Europe for most of his life. Through out his career Sargent’s commissioned works were consistent with the grandiose manner of portraiture, while his informal studies and landscape paintings displayed a familiarity with Impressionism. In later life Sargent expressed ambivalence about the restrictions of formal portrait work, so his work evolved as he devoted more of his energy to mural painting and working en plain air (which means “in the open air,” and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors, which is also called peinture sur le motif (“painting on the ground”) in French.)

From the beginning Sargent’s work was characterized by remarkable technical facility, particularly in his ability to draw with a brush, generating admiration as well as criticism for a supposed superficiality. But despite the international acclaim Sargent enjoyed, he was not without controversy and critical reservation. His early submission to the Paris Salon of 1884, none other than the famed Portrait of Madame X, was intended to consolidate his position as a society painter. But the entry resulted in a scandal that ruined his chance at establishing a career in Paris; though he became infamous in Britain and America.

Portrait of Madame X

Portrait of Madame X is a study in opposition by characterized by the woman’s pale flesh tone contrasted against the deep blacks of the dress and background. With jeweled straps just gracing her pale shoulders, the sitter is practically falling out her fine black satin dress, tightly fitted to her form— it is a dress that reveals and hides at the same time. Her high forehead, graceful neck, shoulders, arms, full bosom and shapely figure assert a careless but controlled sensuality. The recessive browns add to her mystery and provide further contrast to the skin tones. The final result is a fixation on the whiteness of her skin, an overt contrivance of “aristocratic pallor”; by contrast her red ear is a jarring reminder of the color of flesh unadorned. The pose is Sargent’s careful selection: her body boldly faces forward while her head is turned in profile. A profile is both assertion and retreat; half of the face is hidden while, at the same time, the part that shows can seem more defined than full face. The table serves the dual purpose of providing support and echoing the woman’s curves and stance. At the time, her pose was considered sexually suggestive. Her unnaturally pale skin, cinched waist, severe profile and emphasis on aristocratic bone structure all imply a distant sexuality “under the professional control of the sitter,” rather than offered for the viewer’s indulgence. Though the viewer does receive a salacious and bold display of woman flesh, she is also aloof, mysterious, and clearly unattainable.

But what was most disconcerting to the viewers upon the painting’s debut, is that the woman is clearly upper-class; adding to the image’s unsettling erotic suggestion. The sitter is young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau, an American expatriate who married the French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities. Gautreau represented the parisienne, a new type of Frenchwoman recognized for acquiring her sophistication through soliciting. The English-language term “professional beauty”, referring to a woman who uses personal skills to advance to elite status, was also used to describe her. Her unconventional appeal made her an object of fascination for several and Sargent was also impressed. He anticipated that a portrait of Gautreau would garner much attention at the Paris Salon, and increase interest in portrait commissions. In a letter to a friend he wrote:

“I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think she would allow it and is waiting for someone to propose this homage to her beauty. If you are ‘bien avec elle’ and will see her in Paris, you might tell her I am a man of prodigious talent.”

Although she had refused numerous similar requests from artists, Gautreau accepted Sargent’s offer perhaps because Sargent was an expatriate also. But if their collaboration was motivated by a shared desire to attain high status in French society, its controversial reception amounted to the failure such a strategy. The attempt to preserve the Gautreau’s anonymity was unsuccessful, and the sitter’s mother requested that Sargent withdraw the painting from the exhibition. Sargent refused, saying he had painted her “exactly as she was dressed, that nothing could be said of the canvas worse than had been said in print of her appearance”. Later, Sargent overpainted the shoulder strap to raise it up and make it look more securely fastened. He also changed the title, from the original Portrait de Mme ***, to Madame X – a name more assertive and title dramatic that by accenting the impersonal, gave an illusion of the woman archetype.

The poor public and critical reception was a disappointment to both artist and model; Gautreau was absolutely humiliated by the affair. Soon after Sargent left Paris to move to London permanently. Sargent brought the painting with him and hung Madame X in his studio. Starting in 1905, he displayed it in a number of international exhibitions and finally in 1916, Sargent sold the painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He wrote to the museum director “I suppose it is the best thing I have ever done.” and honestly, I find I am of a like mind with Sargent. Even though he created many remarkable paintings of incredible places and people, Madam X remains my favorite for the reserved sexuality she masterfully unleashes upon the viewer.

Merry Christmas! Mark Ryden

So in honor of Christmas I thought I’d share the holiday themed work of one of my favorite illustrators, Mark Ryden. I’ll keep it brief since we all have gifts to wrap, popcorn to string, and  in-laws to entertain.  Ryden’s choice of subject matter is incredibly diverse, but his unique style remains consistent and many credit him as being the “god-father of pop surrealism.” Objects and important figures feature prominently in his work, but myths and religions that evoke mystery and nostalgia serve to orient the viewer within the story of his illustrations. So it is not surprising that Ryden  creates his own darker parodies combining Christmas characters and pagan traditions as well as objects of greed and lust.  To get you into the holiday spirit, I’ve gathered some of my favies from his more wintry works, chock full of creepy-cute arctic animals, religious ephemera, scuba Santa, and even an and some chick with a beard.

Abdulnasser Gharem

Abdulnasser Gharem

“I want to change that text culture to a visual thing, because the people here they didn’t used to the visual or to the images because it was prohibited”— Abdulnasser Gharem

I am obsessed with artist Abdulnasser Gharem for two reasons. First, he is brave enough to use art to challenge censorship traditions in a culture greatly controlled by its government and second because he lives a double life as a Major in the Saudi Arabian Army.

Whoa.

So I was checking NPR’s recent articles— ’cause I am weird and prefer reading them to listening to them— and I stumbled upon an interview Gharem gave to NPR reporter Renee Montagne. Immediately I am impressed with how boldly Gharem expresses himself in such a censored  and conflicted country. I’ll put the link at the end of my gushing because I am sure you will want to read it.

One of the first questions Montagne asks regards one of his first performances in 2007 delivered in his home town of Khamis Mushait (near Abha) in which he wrapped himself and a tree up in plastic. Performance art was an early solution to the problem of reaching people with his art. He said that there was no art in his city, no museum, no gallery, nothing for him to exhibit in. So Gharem asks himself, “Why should I wait for them? Why don’t I just go to the main street of my city and just do the performance? Just go and connect with a real audience.” I love it! He puts the situation in his control and just strolls on down to the main street of his hometown and wraps himself up with a tree. His performance that day was a criticism of the government; he was challenging their decision to plant a foreign trees that were now sickening native trees. This kind of political criticism is nothing new in the US where we have so many people involved with activism that there we’re bombarded with a “Rights for [any cause]” promotion until we’re apathetic to pleas, but these organizations do not exist in Saudi Arbia. So Gharem’s actions are very radical and possibly dangerous. But he goes further, he is trying to actually begin a tradition of visual art in Saudi Arabia.

You see, even since ancient times  Middle Eastern culture forbade the use of images. In their religion, images are regarded as idols so instead of a culture of imagery what developed was a rich artistic tradition of nonobjective design, such as elaborate floral motifs on tapestries, colorful complicated patterns on walls, beautiful illuminated manuscripts, and of course amazing feats of architectural engineering. But images, short of gods and important political figures in historical and religious texts, are very rare and follow very specific guidelines. Talking about censorship Gharem admits that, “I’m trying to be careful with these things. You know, with the social media, I think no one now can block anyone or not letting anyone to show what he want. But I’m a little bit worried. I can’t do that sort of show — the one I just did in London — in Saudi Arabia. I think it would not be allowed, to be honest.”

So Gharem’s efforts to bring a new art culture Saudi Arbia is as ambitious as it precarious. A lot of his work he has to show outside of the country, such as his instillations and recent exhibition of paintings in London where he is allowed more liberalism. Gharem has achieved international fame for recently becoming the highest selling living Gulf Artist when his instillation “Messege/Messenger” made history at an auction in Dubai by selling at a record price. The artist, staying ever true to his goal of encouraging visual art traditions for his homeland, donated all the proceeds to the art education organization Edge of Arabia, of which he is a founding member.

“Rubber Stamps”

Aside from instillations and performance art, Gahrem also makes art that comments on international events and his duties as a part of a bureaucracy. His three-foot tall stamps are larger-than-life interpretations of the bureaucratic seals he employs in his day job — as a lieutenant colonel in Saudi Arabia’s army. He was inspired by the authority stamps give to documents that receive their marking. In his country, anything that is of importance— birth certificates, licenses, marriage contracts, vacation documents,anything asserting value— gets a stamp marking its importance. He uses stamps often in his work for the army and noticed that the younger generation rebels against the requirement to obtain approval through stamps. This piece illustrates a gap dividing the youth and the elderly, and blames bureaucracy for creating the divide. He also has a painting commemorating the 9/11 attack in America. Bearing the titled “Pause” the painting is very but very moving. It is simplified to the extreme in a very flattened perspective using only graphic shapes, two shades of grey, and a streak of yellow. But it simplicity allows you to immediantly recognize what is happening in the image; literally it forces you to stop to consider the event for a moment. I am just going to paste what he said in the interview right here because I could not summarize what he says about this painting and maintain the same impact:

“Pause”

“That painting, I call it “Pause” because it’s related to 9/11. You know, in that moment, I think the whole world were like someone pushed that button: pause. And the 19 who were in the airplane, most of them are from Saudi Arabia, and two of them, I was studying with them. They were with me in the same schools. … They were with me in the high schools, and I was wondering why did they choose this path while we have the same knowledge. We were in the same school, we were sitting next together, and I don’t know why did they choose that path. It was a crazy thing, to be honest.”

So yeah, I am just kind of obsessed with this man and what he is doing for his country. Sometimes we really do not appreciate the freedom we have to create like we should. We can be artists, we can be writers, we can be performers, and we can be collectors of whatever kind of art we want. This is a great thing and when there is so much in life that we cannot control, at least we have art— in any form— to satisfy our desire for expression of whatever needs to be expressed.

Here’s Gharem’s NPR interview

http://www.npr.org/2013/11/08/243492165/saudi-soldier-questions-authority-with-art-and-plastic-wrap

And here is his awesome website:

http://abdulnassergharem.com

1,400 Works of Degenerate Art Found in Nazi Collector’s Home

This past Monday Germany’s Focus magazine finally released official press information about a  stash of 20th century art that was discovered back in 2011 under the headline “The Nazi Treasure” (Der Nazi-Schatz). German investigators and tax officials discovered a cache of 1,400 pieces of “degenerate art” when they visited  the cluttered apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich. They found missing paintings, both known and previously unknown, by famous painters such as — it has Picasso, Renoir, Max Beckmann, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and other works have never been seen before now!  Gurlitt is the son of a WWII official who, obviously, was also an art collector during this time and probably had to hide his collection of so called “degenerate” art.

So degenerate art, what is that you may be asking? Well first, a little known fact about Hitler is that he a failed art school in Vienna. He was told he was not very talented, and he was rejected by the arts academies.  He held a grudge over the negative criticism, but he still considered himself an “arbitrator” of art. Later when he came into his power he organized the Degenerate Art Exhibition (Die Ausstellung “Entartete Kunst”) in an effort to control Germany’s media and art culture. Hitler commanded Nazi solders to confiscate modern art that, according to him, promoted anti-Nazi ideas. According to the art school flunky, art could be deemed degenerate if it “insulted” German feeling, or destroyed and confused natural form or simply revealed an absence of adequate manual and artistic skill. So basically any art that showed support for free thinking ideologies was labeled degenerate, and that definition includes nearly all modernist art.

The exhibit was designed to promote the idea that modernism was a conspiracy by people who hated and conspired against German decency, also called Jewish-Bolshevist. (Although only six of the 112 artists included in the exhibition were in fact Jewish.) The second purpose of the Degenerate Art show was to identify which artists were considered verboten by the Nazi leadership. The exhibit consisted of 650 works of art by modernists like Marc ChagallGeorg GroszWassily KandinskyErnst Ludwig KirchnerPaul KleeGeorg Kolbe,Wilhelm LehmbruckFranz MarcEmil Nolde, Picasso and others; all of the art was stolen from German museums and galleries. Hitler and the Nazi leadership pulled off of museum walls thousands of pieces of art that were considered “degenerate,” and exhibited them in Berlin. The show ran from July 19 to November 30, 1937 and was hosted in the Institute of Archeology in the Hofgarten. The day before the exhibition started, Hitler delivered a speech declaring “merciless war” on cultural disintegration, attacking “chatterboxes, dilettantes and art swindlers”. One million people attended the exhibition in its first six weeks which is an average of 20,000 people per day!— and the final estimate is that about 2,009,899 visitors attended the show.  Oh and the exhibition was held simultaneously with the Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung (“Great German Art Exhibition”), which served as a counterpoint to the Degenerate show. Its purpose was to example “proper German sensibility” and displayed the classical and “racially pure” type of art advocated by the Nazi regime. That exhibition was hosted near Hofgarten, in the Haus der Deutschen Kunst and was described as mediocre by modern sources; it attracted only about half the numbers of the Degenerate Art show.

So lol at Hitler!

Many works were displayed without frames and partially covered by derogatory slogans. No catalog was created for it, and it had to be reconstructed by modern scholars from secondary sources. But not all of the stolen art was put on display. Historians estimate that around 20% of great European art was stolen by Nazis during WWII, so there is a great deal of outstanding art to be found. The recently discovered Munich trove is  part of the continent’s seven-decade rediscovery of an artistic heritage that is still recovering from the Nazis’ efforts to wipe it out. This collection of looted art has an estimated value of $1.35 billon. Stolen art is known to be out there in private hands, but this kind of cache of nearly 1,500 works is really just unprecedented. It’s a mind blowing huge collection and I would just LOVE to be one of the historians there to document it.  I am sure that art historians will have their hands full recording it all and museums and dealers will be busy trying to figure out who owns which pieces— apparently there are some outstanding requests to locate some of the art found in this cache. But according to Anne-Marie O’Connor, a Jerusalem-based journalist interviewed for an NPR article, this discovery will probably affect the art market more than the art history, and drive up the price of paintings by these artists that are already privately owned.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/11/06/why-nazi-seized-art-is-only-now-resurfacing-and-how-it-will-change-the-art-world/

A Call to Examine the Ills of Selfies on Men

*I started this as a freelance assignment. I wanted to share a version of it here for you guys. Enjoy!*

A lot of contemporary selfie literature is just fodder for feminist arguments and claim that the selfie phenomenon is simply the latest form of the “male gaze”.  Such arguments accuse selfies of further de-humanizing women into sex objects. Ben Ager describes the trend as “the male gaze gone viral,” and women’s studies professor and anti-porn activist Gail Dines argues that selfies are vehicles for the normalizing of porn culture in our society.  Writer Andrew Kleen thinks this should be of great concern when it comes to girls and women, “unless women don’t care about being transformed into commercial pornography.” All the while insight gathered from selfie studies like these are used to measure the effects on women while claiming men are to blame.

While I do not question conclusions that accuse selfies of pressuring women, I do think that to approach the subject of selfies as though women are the only victims is flawed. In fact I am convinced that selfies are just as bad for men as they are for women. While reading these articles I noticed that the arguments are constructed from one direction and with one purpose in mind: to demonize the contemporary male gaze fueling a porn culture. Andrew Keen, Gail Dines, and Ben Ager have written about how vulnerable women are to feeling pressured to over edit selfies for a socially constructed expectation of perfection. Dines especially has interpreted studies with such a focused agenda— accusing selfies of teaching young women that to be positively received their pictures must meet a man’s expectations— that they overlook the harm selfies could pose to men.

Selfies are not new and have been around since the advent of the camera; even before the social media apps of today made it so easy to snap and share every moment of your day. I was able to find photographs of “selfies” taken by the “mirror” method— posing in front of a mirror and capturing the reflection— as far back as  in the early 1900s. The Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia took one of the first teenage selfies using a mirror and a Kodak Brownie camera to send to a friend in 1914, but even less famous people of Edwardian society have left us with photos of their reflections. This shows us just how much people almost instinctively obsess over how to preserve a present moment to document their lives. And these photos show that since the beginning of our media culture both men and women were active “selfie” takers.

472px-Unidentified_woman_taking_her_own_photograph_using_a_mirror_and_a_box_camera,_roughly_1900 546px-Grand_Duchess_Anastasia_Nikolaevna_self_photographic_portrait 1938 1948

So men take selfies just like women and edit them before sharing. In fact the main appeal of selfie sharing is that anyone with a camera on his or her phone is able to participate, not just women with low self-esteem. Sites like Instagram have premade filters that let users quickly edit lighting, quality, and saturation without having to tediously work photo-editing programs. This instant ability to edit a self-portrait to an acceptable perfection gives users a sense of control over their image, and this extends to believing they can control how they are socially perceived.  And while celebrities take selfies too, Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D., faculty director of the media psychology program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, points out because of selfies, “There are many more photographs available now of real people than models”. Selfies enable us to broadcast to hundreds of people a perception of ourselves that transcends into a definition of character and social relevance. For the “normal” person, posting a selfie through social media feels like an empowering act.

Both women and men are likely to alter photos with filters to “improve” their image. The user’s need to edit their image indicates the precarious balance between feeling empowerment and feeling anxiety over selfie sharing. In reality, control over your image reception is an illusion. According to Andrew Keen points, the user loses all control of reception once the photo is made public. Keen tells Straight, “It’s the opposite of controlling your own image.”  People post pictures of themselves looking attractive to generate more positive feedback. They become obsessed with accruing “likes” and comments on their photos. As a result, the process of making a selfie attractive has become very precise. In Grisham’s USA article he notes it has been shown that women will place the phone at high angles to make their eyes larger, cheekbones more defined, and we all remember the “duck face” trend in which women pulled their cheeks in and made “kissey” faces. And like women, men set up their pictures in very specific ways. Exploring these differences reveals insight into social pressures men possibly feel, and it is not a stretch to assume that a media driven porn culture would cause men to edit photos because they want the same validation women seek from selfie sharing.

What I have observed is that men are far more likely to take a selfie at eye level showing their chests and arms than women. Typically, men photograph themselves at least from the torso up flexing their arms or abs to show muscle. Often they are shirtless while flexing, there is far less emphasis on their faces and much more so on their bodies which could reveal a desire to appear strong and play up their physical abilities. On a tumblr site titled “Selfie Boys” men, many of whom are gay (another category of selfie takers that has been marginalized), post pictures of their penis or in poses that allude to sexual acts. Looking at photo after photo of a penis with the “#selfie” tag makes it clear that men are suffering from powerful feelings of insecurity. It is evident from these photos that the porn culture we live in puts extreme sexual pressure on men, straight or gay, to the point that they would rather share an image of their a penis than of their face. How is that any less disturbing than a woman filtering her face? These men are hiding behind their “manhood” feeling so insecure and invaluable they chose to identify themselves only as a penis. Perhaps these men are just trying to send images that they believe others want to see?

But thus far no one has thoroughly explored the ill effects of selfies or of porn culture on men. Scholars, especially Gail Dines, have only generated a lot of persuasive buzz blaming men for creating a porn culture, not considering whether they too are victims of it. This could be because of the belief, extolled by Dines, that masturbation and pornography are men’s primary experience viscerally and bodily with the Internet. Dines argument proposes that women and girls only have one way of visibility, and that way is “fuckabilty”. But I am woman and selfie taker myself, I know that when I am framing a pose that I am thinking more about how my friends, both male and female, will receive my photo. I am not thinking about just my male peers and I think the same would apply to most women also. I just want to take a goofy picture and send it to a few friends because I wish they could be there with me. Additionally, this model perpetuates a prejudice that women are less sexual than men. I think it is shocking that many writers still draw their conclusions from gender distinctions founded on assuming that men have an inherently higher desire for sex than women. Biased assumptions like Dine’s lead to more assumptions, particularly that women take selfies only for men, which limit the scope of the selfie problem. After browsing the Selfie Boys website for only a few minutes I am persuaded to argue strongly that there are men who similarly feel that their only way to acceptance is through their fuckabilty.

When we acknowledge that men are also sensitive we can understand that there are some men only feel valuable when they are perceived as sexual, and selfies reveal that. It is a mistake to approach the study of selfies assuming that only half the population would suffer harmful effects of the social phenomenon. We live in a society in which, according to a Samsung survey, selfies account for 30 percent of all photos among people ages 18 to 24.  And 91 percent of teenagers admit to posting photos online. And with the staggering popularity of selfies, I ask how could selfies not engender similar abuse on men by pressuring them to take socially acceptable, or sexual pictures as well? Yet, because of gender biases we have assumed that women are more likely to suffer insecurity over their images than men, so thus far selfie criticism only enlightens us to the problems they pose for women.  I argue that men do have similar concerns about acceptance and it is worth exploring selfies because these sexualized portraits are equally troublesome. Perhaps cultural scholars will similarly find that men are sharing selfies to satisfy the demands of perceived masculinity, similar to women taking them for perceived femininity.

—Sharon Singletary

Sources

 Bussel, K. Rachel. “Dear Mrs. Hall: Boys and Men Can See Sexy Selfies and Still Respect
Women.” Medium.com https://medium.com/boinkology-101/e775d466b17c

Keen, Andrew. the author of Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing,

             Diminishing, and Disorienting Us, disagrees.

Lang, Ian. “Selfies: Why Taking Selfies is the Least Manly Thing You Can Do.” AskMen.com.
http://www.askmen.com/entertainment/austin/selfies.html

Murphy, Meghan. (April 3, 2013) “Putting the Selfie under a feminist lens.” Straight.com.
http://www.straight.com/life/368086/putting-selfies-under-feminist-lens

Nimrod Kamer. “Thinkfluencer Episode 1: Selfies video.” (August 29, 2013)
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/video/2013/aug/29/thinkfluencer-episode-1-
selfies-video

Seville, Rachel. (July 23, 2013) “Can Men Take Selfies?” Four-Pins.com http://four-
pins.com/style/can-men-take-selfies/

Walker, Melissa. (August 2013).“The Good, the Bad, and the Unexpected Consequences of
Selfie Obsession.” Teen Vogue http://www.teenvogue.com/advice/2013-08/selfie-obsession