Tag Archives: London

Advice from the great Gloria

What happens when one famous activist meets another? The world sits up and listens, that’s what.

A few weeks back, Harry Potter actress Emma Watson and feminist journalist Gloria Steinham (now 82) had a public chat at London’s Emmanuel Centre.

What struck me most about the event was the difference in age and experience between the evening’s hosts. At first, Emma’s youth annoyed me – compared with Gloria, she seemed naïve and inexperienced – steinembut as the evening went on, I realised that Gloria was taking the opportunity to pass her legacy onto the next generation and encourage them to continue her life’s work.

While the event was predominantly centred around her new book, My Life on the Road – an overview of her career and travels – it also allowed the audience to reflect on some of the biggest changes experienced by our society as seen and documented by Gloria herself.

US-born Gloria grew up travelling around in a trailer thanks to her father’s job as an antiques dealer. With a lack of formal education and plenty of exciting stories under her belt, Gloria admitted that she actually longed for stability and normalcy as a child.

Similarly, Emma – who experienced anything but a typical childhood thanks to the HP franchise – also spoke out about the importance of activism.

Gloria complimented Emma on taking a year off from acting to resume her responsibilities as a global goodwill ambassador for UN WOMEN and the #HeForShe campaign in particular. “We trust you,” said Gloria on behalf of us all.

Which made me think that Glroia’s current blessing rests in her being able to look back on her life and advice the new generation on what she has learnt.

One of the key topics that she feels we need to continue addressing includes establishing truly democratic family values. Gloria read out a statistic from Sex & World Peace, written by Valerie M. Hudson, that claimed more female lives are lost to suicide, domestic violence and sex scandals than in all of the 21st century wars combined. Her biggest concern is that we are devaluing the female life and this in turn, is creating an imbalance in our current global population. While this may seem like a broad statement to make, Gloria reminds us that this imbalance is affecting all aspects of living – poverty, terrorism and war – because it creates a culture that normalizes domination. With that in mind, she advises that we need to differentiate violence from pleasure – something she thinks today’s porn industry is only confusing. But, she claims that in sex, “cooperation beats domination” – it can be empowering! [Emma piped up here and encouraged the audience to check out female sexual pleasure site, OMGYes…]

emma-watson-an-evening-with-gloria-steinem-in-london-2-24-163Her suggestions to tackle this? We need to learn how to appropriately condemn sex crimes and reeducate the public about understanding their feelings. We could introduce a new language to talk about these issues, but fundamentally both men and women need to learn to embrace their emotions so that we can finally dispel gender stereotypes. Why is it so unusual to see a man cry?

She recognizes that time is a slow healer and credits the Indian American belief that it takes four generations to heal one act of violence – so don’t be expecting any radical changes immediately. But equally, don’t be discouraged by slow progress. “The means are the ends,” says Gloria. The length and the difficulty of the journey is part of the journey itself, so learn to instead embrace it and continue doing what you love while fighting the cause. “Never give up… and dance a little,” she also added. And on Gloria’s advice, hanging out with your friends and sharing experiences is our way of connecting with each other.

“Pressing send is not activism,” reminds Gloria. The problem with technology is that it allows people to connect with others but also to remain anonymous, if they so choose. And this can encourage violence against minority groups, including women. Various industries – like adland, which is under constant scrutiny for its use of the female form for commercial benefit – need to be reconstructed and updated to meet modern needs. Of course, there are some organisations in place that already do challenge the status quo but these are often female led. Men also need to be factored into this discussion and they are often absent from these conversations, as was the case with this event. But perhaps this is because the male consciousness is still in its very early stages, compared with the female movement which is currently enjoying its third wave. Campaigns like the #HeForShe attempt to initiate a discourse between the two sexes and can only be seen as a step in the right direction.

Gloria’s final words were not to leave disheartened, but to leave full of life, love and laughter – and with that, she encouraged us all to turn to our neighbours and have a real conversation (offline) because as she says, “Let’s make it better tomorrow because we were here today.”

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Matisse’s cut-outs bring joy to London’s Tate Modern

Cutting shapes from colourful pieces of paper isn’t limited to childhood, according to French artist Henri Matisse.

His most recent exhibition, ‘The Cut-Outs’ is currently on display at The Tate Modern, London, until June 2 and boats a collection of his most prized works.

‘The Cut-Outs’ is curated chronologically, with each room mapping out Matisse’s logical process behind the artworks.

Matisse turned to the innovative technique of cutting shapes out of colourful paper in the last 17 years of his life, as a way of working out the arrangement of objects in his paintings.

The ‘cut-out’ method initially enabled him to experiment more freely with his paintings, as he would pin the cut-out paper shapes to explore new and different perspectives in his art.

This form expanded as he incorporated his fascination with dance into his work.

The paper cut-out shapes allowed Matisse to capture the energy and movement of life through their simplicity and ease of mobility around the canvas.

Matisse allowed his work to constantly evolve and retain a sense of playfulness and youthfulness.

He adopted bright colours in his cuttings as a way of attributing emotions to the shapes.

His work succeeded in portraying the emotional self in the faceless shapes, particularly through his earlier works like ‘Small dancer on red background’.

Story-Telling

Matisse’s artwork also became a vehicle for telling stories, and one of his most famous artworks ‘The Fall of Icarus’ (1943) reflects just that through recalling the mythological story of Icarus.

The Fall of Icarus (1947)

By borrowing traditional stories and readapting them, Matisse re-presented them to new audiences thereby making them modern again.

One of his most impressive works is Oceania, The Sky where Matisse transformed a wall in his Parisian apartment with paper cut-out wallpaper.

He pinned cut-out birds, fish, coral and leaves to the wall, all unevenly scattered to create a sense of the sea and the sky.

Oceania, The Sky (1946)

Matisse’s cut-outs were always irregular and seemed imperfect.

A film shown in Room 6 shares a moment with Matisse as he cuts into the paper, which as it catches in the wind, twists to reveal the three dimensional form he worked in, and exposes his imagination at work.

He relished the flaws in beauty, and his artwork focuses on the individuality in the irregular shapes.

His work explores the contrasting themes of permanence and impermanence, as his artwork – although tangible and very real – is made of easily-disposable paper and attached with pins so shapes could be moved around, rotated or inverted as he pleased. This technique enabled Matisse to continue experimenting.

His use of primary colours mirrors the simplicity of his work, as the colours evoke an infantile playfulness.

With the Oceania, The Sky piece, Matisse was able to create inspiration around himself, literally covering the cracks in the wall with his artwork and transforming his world.

His approach encouraged others to see the world around them how they wanted to see it.

Matisse’s simple and easy-to-apply method proves how easy it can be to transform the world around us.

He employs a ‘low effort’ method to obtain a maximum impact.

Matisse treated his life and surrounding wall space as a canvas for experimentation, where he could reflect his thought and emotions through colour and shapes.

Technique:

Matisse also adopted collaging as a way of layering colours and creating space.

Zulma’ is a particularly radical piece, known for its sense of depth in a cut-out composition, and earned Matisse the reputation as a youthful artist (despite being 80 when he made it).

The collage technique reveals the labour behind the artwork as pieces of paper are literally placed on top of one another to represent different layers of the self.

Later, Matisse adopted a technique he called “cutting directly into colour”, which allowed him the freedom to draw and sculpt at the same time.

The Blue Nudes’ best resemble this technique as Matisse cut into the colour to create their feminine outlines.

Blue Nude II (1952)

Once Matisse became too frail to leave the house, he brought the artwork into the house, making the studio a part of his daily life and becoming fully immersed in the artwork.

The Parakeet and the Mermaid’ became his indoor garden.

By surrounding himself with his colourfully playful artwork Matisse maintained his youthful audacity throughout his old age, which he employed when instructing studio assistants to position the cut-out shapes.

His youthfulness extended to his artwork, where he was no stranger to experimentation and sought to break the rules.

The Snail’ is a piece he describes as “abstraction rooted in reality”, where he spoke of a feeling of ‘unfolding’; a sense of the artwork overcoming him.

The Snail (1953)

In ‘The Snail’, this sense of experimentation is reflected in the supposed intentional mistake that sits in the top left hand corner of the piece, where a playfully torn piece can be seen.

The contrast between discipline and creative freedom suggests the intensity and clear thought-processes behind his work.

The final piece of the exhibition is his magnificent and visionary ‘Christmas Eve’ piece, which sees his cut-outs organised in a stained glass window.

Commissioned for the Time-Life Building, New York, the artwork truly acts as a precedent for his modern vision, all the while allowing him to remain young and experimental.

Paper-cutting became a pivotal art moment for Matisse who was surprised by the joy it brought him. In a letter to his son, he revealed “It is such a consolation to have achieved this at the end of my life.”

To buy tickets, go to the Tate’s website

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Ana Mendieta TRACES

2013 brought about many new and exciting opportunities. For Ana Mendieta, the Cuban performance artist, the end of the year saw her first ever UK retrospective in London’s Hayward Gallery – Traces. As one of the most under-acknowledged artists of the late 20th Century, yet one who embodies femininity through her interaction with nature, her work is perhaps even more relevant to our current society than ever before. What with us entering a period of acute awareness and greater understanding of globalisation and climate change, her artwork speaks volumes in its attempt to reconnect us with nature and emphasise our co-dependent relationship with one another. In addition to her artwork, featuring photographs, films, sculptures and drawings, the exhibition also unveiled her personal writings and notebooks, providing spectators with unseen information behind her pieces.

So who is Ana Mendieta? Born in Havana, Cuba in 1948, she was sent to the US at the age of 12 before the start of the Cuban Revolution. This move led to her later feeling culturally displaced, which was said to have fuelled her inner creativity. Her time spent studying painting at the University of Iowa developed her strong sense of self, where she enacted many performance pieces that used her own body. Her creativity was often considered to be a response to tragedy, as a way of dealing with her newfound situations. However, her unique and powerful artwork is often dwarfed by her untimely and tragic death, when she fell from the 34th floor of an apartment she shared with her husband, the minimalist artist Carl Andre, aged 37. However, all this information was unbeknownst to me and was not publicised in the exhibition, so it did not affect the public’s viewing of her art.

The exhibition was structured chronologically, taking the spectator through her life’s work. Upon entering the gallery, the spectator was confronted with Mendieta’s distortion of femininity as it featured in her early work. Images such as Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints) 1972, reveal her attempt to overcome stereotypical perceptions of female vulnerability and subjectivity. Mendieta used her own body to experiment with the concept of femininity, often transforming the body beyond recognition. By changing the body physically – either by distorting it on glass or by adding accessories to disguise her femininity such as wearing a moustache – she forces the spectator to consider how we view women, and perhaps even how we view ourselves. Mendieta was also fascinated by the way in which the media represented women and how this shaped our view as a society. This interest is paralleled in her artwork as she plays with the imaginary boundaries imposed on us that ultimately affect our views of what is accepted of women.

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Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints) 1972

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Untitled Facial Hair transplant, moustache 1972

Following on from her initial exploration of femininity, Mendieta developed this notion further through her incorporation of the female form in nature. Throughout the seventies, her work drew on Afro-Cuban influences and she created a series of images of herself often lying naked submerged somewhat by nature. Her use of the elements – she used blood, feathers, fire, earth and the body as mediums – evoked pagan and ritualistic tendencies, which suggested a spiritual undertone to her artwork. By using these elements, her work reflected the cycle of life, as these mediums were tainted by time, nature and recreated the ‘life versus death’ paradigm as materials were alive and thus subject to decomposing. Mendieta hoped to reconnect with the earth through her art, and her images succeed in exploring our mythical relationship with nature. Nature is the source of all energy, life and inspiration and so, Mendieta’s artwork and creativity naturally derives from its beauty and overpowering strength. She breaches the equilibrium between nature and art, thus creating a new space in which to explore and appreciate nature, which is apparent through her interaction during her art process.

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Untitled (Grass on Woman), 1972

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Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance, 1973

However, despite evoking a sense of spirituality through pagan and ritualistic similarities, these artworks are also overshadowed by death. As Mendieta lies motionless in her numerous fields of nature, the spectator is led to return to the eternal question – ‘Who are we?’ ‘And what remains of us after death?’ Her artworks controversially explore the notion of memory, leading us to question if anything permanent remains in death. Her body engrossed in nature looks peaceful and as though it is returning to nature’s rightful possession. These images suggest a sense of spirituality by way of questioning how best to grieve or bury the dead. By exploring different mediums, Mendieta explores new methods to remain alive even after death. One such image sees Mendieta covered in mud, blending into the surrounding nature setting. As the mud sets, it seems concrete-like and resembles a tomb, suggesting the act of burying someone. In comparison, a sculpture in the same room reveals a female outline recreated in melted black candle wax that represents the act of cremation. These artworks challenge our perceptions of death. A tomb is a fixed space that can be revisited and mourned, whereas cremation allows the person to live on solely through memory. Mendieta’s artwork throughout the seventies acts as a commentary on society and how we choose to remember the dead. Her art reflects the intangible nature of death, revealing the beauty and indestructible nature of the cycle of life. After all, perhaps it is an inherent characteristic of humankind to desire being remembered after death? Certainly, Mendieta’s artwork is the only Trace of her after her death – all that remains of her physical form.

mudTree Of Life, 1976

Mendieta’s realisation that her artwork would outlive her suggests an organic mutual relationship between mankind and nature. Like the displacement felt when she left Cuba, Mendieta is able to return to her cultural heritage and connect with her past through her art. Her decision to adopt the elements as artistic mediums, reflect her influences and reveal her ability to transform spiritual traditions and pagan rituals to create a new art form. Her artwork serves as her link to the past and to her inner, true self. Mendieta’s interest in Mexican spirituality – in particular the Maya culture – is reflected through her invocation of their Goddesses. Throughout her work, she stresses the importance of the female body, highlighting the pursuit of divinity through her interaction with nature. She believed that primitive art and cultures revealed an “inner knowledge, a closeness to natural resources”. Therefore, some of her final pieces from the eighties recall her original subversion of femininity and instead choose to focus on female strength and empowerment through symbolism. Her artwork acts as a voice for her inner divinity, becoming a mode of expression, a doorway for her to release her inner goddess. By evoking ancient civilisations, such as the Maya culture, Mendieta succeeds in restoring the original notion of divinity that surrounds the female body. She engages in a new discourse over the mythical female form and overcomes any mistreatment or abuse that she may have experienced previously in the media or in society.

The final section of the exhibition featured her most recent work and acted as an extension of her exploration of the female form. Mendieta continued her evocation of femininity and spiritual gods through focusing on natural elements and cave drawings. This section was dedicated to the impermanence of matter and the brevity of human life in comparison to the longevity of nature. Here, the artwork was presented in its simplest form; recalling history’s earliest form of art –symbols. By using this medium, Mendieta is able to incorporate her spiritual learnings to assist her in her search for self-acceptance, whilst also evoking her ancestral history. One of her most prominent works is ‘Esculturas Repuestres’ which is a series of mythical carvings on rock formations. Mendieta recalls that she “named [the symbols] after goddesses to bring them back, to reactivate them”, thus revealing her desire to understand and reconnect with spirituality and her own cultural heritage. In this way, Mendieta’s work transcends society’s expectation and acts as an exemplary model, using the elements in a non-destructive way and remaining delicate and loyal to her self and past. By including her interest of Mexican deities together with her own identity and incorporating it through her art, her work can be seen as a sacrificial device, as a gift to the gods. For her artwork channels her identity and her beliefs, it is a trace of her former self – a legacy, which is all that remains of Mendieta and all that we have to understanding her best.

 Untitled_-Labyrinth_of_Venus_Series-,_1982_de_Ana_Mendieta._Lelong_Nueva_York

Untitled (Labyrnith of Venus Series) 1982

Hayward Gallery’s Promo Video for Mendieta’s Retrospective:

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Remember Remember, the 5th of November

Fireworks night is a popular celebration with many happily embracing the creeping cold, armed with heavy layers, food and wine, or perhaps a lover. Traditionally, we marvel at the display, ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ahhh-ing’ accordingly, enthused by the bright lights.

Demonstrators London 2013

However, this year’s November the 5th saw a return to the historical meaning behind the yearly-scheduled spectacle. The Anonymous Operation group (AnonOps) organised for a protest to take place worldwide, calling this movement Million Mask March. The idea was for the public to unite against the government in a non-violent way to remind the State of the people’s power. It would be a continuation of #OpVendetta, a call to extend the earlier international 15-M, Arab Spring and Occupy Movements. London’s event was located opposite the Houses of Parliament. Therefore, it served as a direct reminder of Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow up the government through his Gunpowder Plot of 1605. London’s 2013 meeting thus also acted as an indirect threat, revealing the cracks and discontentment in our current society and leading many to question our future political stability.

Participating in the protest, I was amongst those who met at 6pm at Trafalgar Square, London. From here, there was a short, mostly silent march to Parliament with all sorts of passionate protestors holding up signs to publicise their beliefs. People wore masks and headpieces in an attempt to cover their faces and remain anonymous, as was the intended protocol for the protest. Once we reached Parliament, we established ourselves, taking to the streets and filling the Square. We remained like this for a few hours, with people chanting on megaphones, milling amongst themselves and becoming familiar with the different arguments.

In reality, the protest brought together a mixed group of people; even Russell Brand attended (his usual look decorated with the Anonymous mask). There were those who used it as an opportunity to self-promote – I bought a rap CD about the Bedroom Tax [find out more at http://www.girofunk.org] – and those who pragmatically distributed information and leaflets about politics and upcoming events, such as the People’s Assembly… There were passionate, radical protestors, many of whom were rather aggressive in their demonstrations and often confronted and provoked the police, but they were content to be amongst other more peaceful demonstrators, such as those who sought protection for badgers (a surprisingly large group!), students, friends who were reunited unintentionally and people that played music – both on the drums and through the megaphone (Get Up Stand Up by Bob Marley was a popular song choice). At one point there was a clearing and one woman started fire dancing to music, much to the enjoyment of the crowd, until the police broke up the spectacle. Later on, two girls dressed revealingly in rags and wearing what looked like Halloween make-up enacted a contemporary dance, snaking between the audience and the police, distributing snippets of information scrawled with handwritten messages such as “When the bodies are tuned together, we win”. The audience drew their own conclusions as to the purpose of the dance. People were united and free to talk to one another, ask questions and exchange ideas. In my eyes, the police were very understanding towards demonstrators; they passively accepted the protest and all its spectacles, instead peacefully watching it unfold in front of them, stepping in only to prevent danger, minimise conflicts and reorganise traffic.

Fire Dancer

Truthfully speaking, I thought the protest lacked structure. The Anonymous movement is iconic for its lack of leadership. Instead it favours “a loose and decentralized command structure that operates on ideas rather than directives”[i], which is characterised by supporters wearing the appropriately stylised Guy Fawkes masks. Although anonymity is a trademark feature of this protest, anonymity created ambiguity among fellow demonstrators. Despite the conjunction of interests – from badgers to austerity cuts – there lacked a concise united feeling. People in attendance seemed confused by the various approaches offered and there was disorganisation spreading ideas about the post-protest assembly. Eventually, people became divided by rumours of a wrap-up meeting on the other side of the river. Some eagerly followed the alleged gossip, longing for a summary of the protest and some explanation to strengthen their sense of belonging. However, this confusion resulted in dividing the crowds and ultimately led to the early end of the protest.

Despite this seeming lack of united front, the protest was a success. The relatively peaceful carnival-esq vibe that ensued after the march reflected the original intentions and ideas of AnonOps. The Facebook page previously expressed that they wanted to “change the rules [of protesting], by turning this ‘new tradition’ of petition into more of a festival of ideas, performance art and symbolic new age discussion that has formed the political views of the youth of today.”[ii] In this sense, AnonOps achieved exactly what they set out to create. Effectively, a street party took place outside the Houses of Parliaments, and only 11 people were arrested, despite an estimated 2,000 in attendance. And of course, the detention of individuals is what the media concentrates on…

AnonOps have been running this yearly march since 2011 with numbers growing almost double each year! It is important to generate support for this movement, in order to mobilise social change and to be able to express the needs and desire of the public. Fireworks are a symbolic metaphor for the public’s voice, so let us be heard!

Join Next Year’s Event

Info re: Million Mask March

Info re: AnonOps

Info re: Gunpowder Plot, 1605

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Salgado’s Message To Us All

The art world is becoming increasingly diverse and provocative. Both audience and artist adopt an ‘anything goes’ attitude in which they willing accept the changing face of art. Often, the more obscure the artwork, the more determined we are to try and bring meaning to the piece.

Yet, Sebastião Salgado’s latest photo exhibition ‘Genesis’ in London speaks for itself. He is a Brazilian photojournalist, who is famed for his characteristic black and white photographs. The exhibition, recently held at London’s Natural History Museum, is unique. Usually Salgado focuses on the plight of people; however Genesis documents the simplicity and beauty of nature, hoping to remind the audience of the art that surrounds our planet.

Since his late arrival to the industry, acquiring his first camera at the ample age of 29[i], Salgado has used photography as a medium of expression. He deems it a “universal language”[ii] that can be accessed and understood internationally. His career has grown as a result, and he has made it his life’s mission to educate his audience through his artwork.

Thus, Genesis emerges, as a culmination of 8 years’ hard work. The museum room is divided into continents, marking Salgado’s travels – everywhere from Antarctica, Patagonia, Africa and Asia – purposefully avoiding cities and any hint of Western civilisation. The title and the subject matter suggest a return to the (literal) nature that preceded our consumerist societies and lifestyles; a throwback to the pre-civilisation that inhibits our current daily lives. In fact, I think that by holding the exhibition at the Natural History Museum, Salgado’s artwork is compared with other historical artefacts and collections, merely by association. This then evokes a cyclic quality as his photographs, through documentation, succeed in the preservation of nature.

Salgado & his creations

However, ironically, his exhibition has been deemed utopian[iii]. Critics have commented that rather than focus on the destructive nature of humans, perhaps as before, Salgado has instead intended to portray the beauty and unquestionable value of nature. Perhaps his vision is less utopian; perhaps he captures the imagination and freedom within nature. In the Antarctic section for example, Salgado explains how an iceberg sculpture transformed itself to embody a Scottish castle[iv]! Salgado hopes to reconnect the mystery and overpowering strength of nature. Perhaps by disconnecting our fast-paced lifestyles with these photographs, Salgado succeeds in separating and comparing the commercial civilisation of our city lifestyles with our more primitive brothers and their (co-dependent) relations with nature.

Antartic Scottish Castle

Salgado’s exhibition is a welcome reminder to the co-dependent relationship we have with nature. His exhibition acts as a visual stimulant to encourage his audience to take responsibility for our planet. At the end of Genesis, there is a large piece of writing that describes Salgado’s ‘Terra Project’[v], whereby he personally accounted for the destruction of part of the Amazon forest, and undertook the role of replanting trees. This project, his exhibitions and others, such as his TED talk videos, allow Salgado to continue travelling, documenting and preserving beauty in the world.

In conclusion, Salgado’s work looks past our current state of destruction. Instead, he chooses to focus on nature, which constantly surrounds us. His photographs are a visual reminder to open our eyes and be aware of the cycle of life. He actively urges us to participate in the international debate concerning our responsibility to preserve nature, and his exhibition, if anything, reinstates the speed at which things change. So, I say that we listen to Salgado, feel inspired by his artwork and find a project – be it large or small – to get involved with and help preserve. Our future relies on our actions!

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