The recent art exchange program in Key West between the United States and Cuba is underscoring the important role that art plays in the human experience. In January, the first exhibition in 50 years of an American artist opened at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana. The exhibit, entitled “Una Raza La Raza Humana” or “One Race The Human Race,” showcases work by the Cuban-American artist and Key West native Mario Sanchez (1908-2005). The exhibit – open through April 17, 2014 – forms part of the museum’s Cuban Art collection and is considered a monumental step in improving artistic relations between Cuba and the United States.
In July 2012, I wrote the article “Artistic Endeavor: Can Change the Face of Africa,” after attending the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab production of “Africa Kills Her Sun,” or “Afrika Inaua Mwangaza Wake” in Kiswahili. The play had a cast of three African actors and one American, who expressed the plight of the Ogoni people in Nigeria under the dictator Sani Abacha, whose regime was noted for widespread corruption, human rights abuses, and the suppression of free speech. The Sundance Institute Theatre Lab in collaboration with African playwrights and actors has pursued stories such as the one by Ken Saro-Wiwa based on a condemned man’s last letter to his beloved. It was adapted into Kiswahili, combining slam poetry and storytelling, talking about the corruption and inhumane treatment that had taken place in Nigeria.
As the world mourns Nelson Mandela’s passing at the age of 95, he will be remembered not necessarily for his rule as president following his release from prison but for what he symbolized. The end to an unjust system during an unjust time. It was during his imprisonment that an almost cottage industry formed solely focused on his release. And during the 1980s, various artists of all ilk called for the release of Mandela through various mediums.
Two major exhibitions of Swiss born, NYC based artist Ugo Rondinone close this week in Manhattan. In both exhibits, Rondinone presents the viewers with large groupings of bluestone stacked together to create figures ripped straight from books of JRR Tolkien’s famed Lord of the Rings. The larger of the two installations, supported by the Public Art Fund, is located at Rockefeller Center between 49th and 50th St.
The renowned Irish Tenor Anthony Kearns opened the 2013 National Memorial Day Parade Program, which took place in Washington, D.C. a little less than two weeks ago. While it may seem erroneous to have an Irish singer open for an innately American holiday, the executive director at the American Veterans Center, Tim Holbert dispelled any doubts, stating, “As one of the most acclaimed tenors currently performing, Anthony Kearns is a perfect fit to open the 2013 National Memorial Day Parade’s telecast.”
The world’s most famous prehistoric art is in caverns in Europe, but the most recently discovered ancient cave paintings are in Somaliland, a region of Africa associated mostly with terrorism, pirates and famine. The Laas Geel cave paintings in Somaliland in the Horn of Africa are not as old or famous as the art in France’s Lascaux or Spain’s Altamira caves, but the quality is just as good, archaeologists say. Unlike the European caves, however, Laas Geel has no chance of international protection as a site on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of the region’s complicated diplomatic situation. Somaliland declared its independence more than 20 years ago and has been building a democracy ever since.
Salman Rushdie might have written a very indulgent autobiography about his travails and joys as the world’s most conspicuous writer in persecution, but a few authorities are certainly not willing to let Salman Rushdie forget his mischief making potential. There is more than just a little part of Salman Rushdie that loves mischief. Better that than the discrete, quiet life. Rushdie preoccupies himself somewhere in the area between ego and doom. In India, and most notably in the state of West Bengal, Rushdie became the subject of what was termed a pre-emptive ban. Sandip Roy, writing in the First Post, found it “a pre-emptive strike most foul.”
My July 2012 commentary was about Sundance Institute Theatre Lab’s play premiere “Africa Kills Her Sun,” which I attended. The play was a collaboration of African playwrights and actors, expressing the plight of the Ogoni tribe in Nigeria, under Dictator Sani Abacha’s corrupt regime; human rights abuses, and suppression of free speech. Sundance had brought into focus the injustices in Africa through a social awareness–reaching out to young minds.
If you fly nonstop from New York to Tokyo, you fly over the Arctic Circle. The view from the plane at -59 degrees is raw and beautiful – huge moving masses of white and gray clouds, water, ice and snow. It is hard to believe that there is or was human habitation in this area. And yet the steppes of Kazakhstan – the taigas, rock-canyons, hills, deltas, mountains, snow-capped mountains, and deserts – lie not so very far beneath. It is a vast wild landscape.
When you walk into rooms full of exquisite works of art which are foreign, you might try to make sense of the shapes, forms and colors in order to understand what you are viewing. This is often a liberating experience — whether or not you recognize how religion has inspired an image, for example. Nevertheless, you may recognize that image and why it is important and worth exploring. The results can be surprising. What appears to a Westerner to be a lovely abstract drawing in cobalt blue and yellow, highly decorated, in a shape not unlike a musical note turned on its side turns out, amazingly, to be the official signature in gold leaf of Suleiman the Magnificent.
The exhibit, “The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara,” has just opened at the Asia Society, and will be up through October 30, 2011. Many consider the exhibit a place of wonder. The statuettes and friezes of Buddha and other figures inside and outside of the Buddhist canon are on loan to the Asia Society from the National Museum in Karachi, the Central Museum in Lahore, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Asia Society Museum, and private collections. Most of these pieces have never been exhibited before in the United States. The traditional images of the Buddha are accompanied by many figures and styles and influences, not all religious, which may be new to Western viewers.
Van Rudd’s work Pop Goes the System was absent from the opening Human Rights Arts and Film Festival in Melbourne. The piece consists of two cartoons, printed front and back on a large canvass. On one side Justin Bieber — a Canadian teen pop idol who recently toured Israel — is depicted spray-painting the separation barrier in the West Bank alongside various messages in support of the boycott of Israeli products and services. On the other side, in an apparent tribute to the Arab Spring, an exploding suicide bomber is juxtaposed by a message about the uprisings’ effective use of “people power.”