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Art Beat

Archive | Art Beat

Artistic Advances in Key West Between the United States and Cuba

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'Caracol' by The Merger. Source: The Art World Online

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.

‘Caracol’ by The Merger. Source: The Art World Online

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.

Born October 7th 1908 in the Key West neighborhood of Gato’s Village, Mario Sanchez is known for his colorful bas-reliefs depicting life in early 20th century Key West. Self-taught, his work captures the verve of everyday men and women by drawing on personal experience, Key West culture and the artist’s Cuban-American heritage. Today, Sanchez’s reliefs are valued at upwards of $50,000, however the social and cultural history chronicled therein is invaluable.

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Springsteen’s High Hopes

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Bruce Springsteen rehearsing for a tour to support, 'High Hopes'. Bruce Springsteen/Facebook

High Hopes, Bruce Springsteen’s 18th studio album, released January 14th, is one of his boldest sonic experiments; nearly every song supplants or supplements his classic instrumentation with produced artifice.

Bruce Springsteen rehearsing for a tour to support, ‘High Hopes’. Bruce Springsteen/Facebook

Springsteen’s strongest tools here, however, are his oldest: his own earthy singing voice and the E Street Band. The sweeping change in High Hopes is the addition of guest guitarist Tom Morello to Springsteen’s lineup. Morello, known for the industrial sound effects on guitar, lends his unique palette to nearly every song on the album. Perhaps Springsteen intends to use the guitarist, whom he calls his “muse,” to add hard rock and a sense of the surreal to his populist anthems. But Morello’s carnival of noises and major scale shredding tend to muffle Springsteen’s hymns for hard times.

The album opener, “High Hopes,” could be the natural progression of Springsteen’s recession frustrations in Wrecking Ball. The main riff on horns has all the fun and sass of great zydeco. It sounds like the Boss has replenished his hopes for America. But Morello’s effects-heavy guitar is a stranger to the New Orleans-style fête.

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Los Lonely Boys’ Disappointing Reveal

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Los Lonely Boys’ 'Revelation'

Los Lonely Boys’ new album, Revelation, falls short of its titular promise.

Los Lonely Boys’ ‘Revelation’

While it approaches the instrumental finesse of their 2004 eponymous debut, its lyricism and emotional intensity are diminished. The boys’ gumption and blues are missing—perhaps polished away by the outside lyricists credited for many of the tracks. Still, the album delivers enough of the band’s unique Tex-Mex moxie to warrant a turn or three. Its January release provides welcome warmth for those shoveling snow. Los Lonely Boys specialize in the soundtrack of summer.

“Blame It On Love,” the first track, announces the album’s theme. The introductory accordion flourish suggests conjunto roots, but the rest of the song sticks to pop at its most formulaic. The electric guitar tone is fluid and light and pleasant, but the lyrics are generic. “Give A Little More” launches with an uncharacteristic, driving reggae beat. Otherwise, it retraces the structure of “Diamonds”—a superior cut from their second album, Sacred (2006). This time though, Henry Garza’s guitar licks have lost some heat.

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Cultural Diversity Seen Through the Eyes of African Artists

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Mrisho Mpoto, Tanzanian poet and actor

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.

Mrisho Mpoto, Tanzanian poet and actor

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.

The 2012 Theatre Lab selected eight plays with actors from Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, New York, Chicago, and Hawaii. The play “Africa Kills Her Sun” was one of those selected. Sundance’s goal has been to help develop actors, writers, directors, musicians, composers, and producers, and give them the opportunity to network with American theatre experts; share their rich African cultures. Americans need to know more about this far away continent, and its multi-cultural tribal history going back hundreds of years.

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The Specials Performing “(Free) Nelson Mandela”

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The English Ska band, The Specials

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.

The English Ska band, The Specials

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. The one song in particular that always stuck with me was 1984’s “(Free) Nelson Mandela” by the Special AKA or The Specials, as they are widely known in the United States. The song became a rallying cry for his release. It would be a decade before he was released but his plight encapsulated the injustice of the apartheid system.

And while The Specials and Ska music, in particular, is widely regarded as a novelty act closely associated with Reggae and throngs of Skinhead fans, The Specials, along with Bad Manners, Madness and the English Beat are the best that the genre had to offer. I still remember approaching Neville Staple’s at First Avenue Nightclub in Minneapolis where I used to bartend to show my appreciation before their gig was to start in the mid-1990s.

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Human Nature on Display

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View of colossal stone figures in Rockefeller Center. Photo: John J. McGurk

Two major exhibitions of Swiss born, NYC based artist Ugo Rondinone close this week in Manhattan.

View of colossal stone figures in Rockefeller Center. Photo: John J. McGurk

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 presence of these large stone figures is at first unsettling, as their larger than life scale is accentuated by the diminutive comparison of the people standing in and around these sculptures, and yet they are also dwarfed by the very skyscrapers that surround them. There is more to the exhibit than the scale that impacts individuals. Indeed, there is a is an underlying mythical and spiritual subtext that is greatly enhanced by an art deco mural that features a god like creature greeting you at the entrance to Rockefeller Center.

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Tenor Anthony Kearns Kicks off Memorial Day Parade

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American flags at every grave in Arlington National Cemetery, May 23, 2013 in remembrance of those who died in service to our country. The tradition dates back more than 60 years

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.

American flags at every grave in Arlington National Cemetery, May 23, 2013 in remembrance of those who died in service to our country. The tradition dates back more than 60 years

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.”

Kearns sang a resounding rendition of “America the Beautiful,” with a 260-member chorus in front of an estimated crowd of 300,000 people to mark the 70th anniversary of World War II, the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, and the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

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Ancient art in Somaliland in Limbo

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Laas Geel cave paintings in Somaliland.  Source: Stories from Somaliland

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.

Cave paintings of prehistoric cattle. Source: Stories from Somaliland

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. But the world still recognizes the region as part of Somalia, which has spent the past two decades in chaos without a functioning government.

Somalia, which restored a government just last year, has not signed the UNESCO World Heritage treaty, so the caves in Somaliland cannot receive U.N. protection. “We definitely need a heritage protection support,” said Somaliland Foreign Minister Mohamed A. Omar. “These are a very old and historically and scientifically very important asset which has a global significance. Any help in protecting this is much appreciated by the Somaliland government.”

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The Culture Bullies: Salman Rushdie Banned in Kolkata

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Salman Rushdie speaking in Canada. Photo: Jake Wright

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.

Salman Rushdie speaking in Canada. Photo: Jake Wright

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.”

Rushdie wasn’t even scheduled to speak at Kolkata’s Literary Meet, Asia’s largest book fair. A “senior minister” had gotten on the blower to the organisers of the KLM, asking if Rushdie would be so much as appearing for the promotion of Deepa Mehta’s film Midnight’s Children, based on his Booker-Prize winning novel. A written assurance was sought that he would not even be allowed at the event. There were no protests in advance of the gathering, and not a sense that any trouble would arise – as if that might have even mattered.

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Fostering a New Generation of African Leaders

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Tuareg nomad in Timbuktu, Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

My July 2012 commentary was about Sundance Institute Theatre Lab’s play premiere “Africa Kills Her Sun,” which I attended.

Tuareg nomad in Timbuktu, Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

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.

The play was adapted from a short story, by Ken Saro-Wiwa a popular writer and satirist, which combined slam poetry and storytelling. Saro-Wiwa was a vocal critic of the government, advocating on behalf of the Ogoni people who lived in abject poverty in the oil rich Niger Delta. After the uprising in 1994 which he was accused of instigating, he was jailed, put on trial, and executed shortly thereafter. Ken Saro-Wiwa became a folk hero for other African’s suffering from human rights abuses and injustices.

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Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan

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'Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan.' Photo: Debra L. Rothenberg

If you fly nonstop from New York to Tokyo, you fly over the Arctic Circle.

‘Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan.’ Photo: Debra L. Rothenberg

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.

And when you step into the exhibition areas of this new exhibit, Nomads and Networks, the first in North America to display objects from the nomadic cultures of Eastern Kazakhstan’s Altai and Tianshan regions, from roughly the Eighth to First Century’s B.C., the objects still retain that quality of wildness. A signature piece on exhibit of brilliant metal, gold and bronze is the enigmatic cat face over what the catalog calls the “stylized ornament” connected to horse tack. It is small but shines brilliantly in the compact museum exhibit rooms. The eye is drawn to it and stays there. Somehow not what one would expect of a wild nomad far from civilization.

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The Met’s Art of the Arab Lands

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The Met's new gallery, 'Art of the Arab Lands.' Ruth Fremson/New York Times

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.

The Met’s new gallery, ‘Art of the Arab Lands.’ Ruth Fremson/New York Times

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 first impression is overlaid with a truer understanding. This experience of astonishment and rediscovery lasted through my viewing of The Met’s wonderful new exhibit. As the Director of the Metropolitan Museum, Thomas P. Campbell, has said, “The Metropolitan Museum’s grand reopening of 15 ‘New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia’ provides a unique opportunity to convey the grandeur and complexity of Islamic art and culture at a pivotal moment in world history.”

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The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara

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The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara

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 Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara

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.

Expect to see an unexpected artistic synthesis of East and West, Indian and Pakistani, Greek and Roman, of Buddhism and of Greco Roman religious syncretism. Some pieces exuberantly merge all of the above, such as the groups of the Indian-Buddhist Goddess of Childbearing, Hariti (the protector of children, and of easy delivery) grouped together with Roman Abundantia and Greek Tyche (Abundance and Fortune). When you consider that Hariti is also the goddess one prays to if barren, the association makes a lot of sense!

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Artists Mustn’t Sully the Principle of Human Rights

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Van Rudd's 'Pop Goes the System'

Van Rudd’s work Pop Goes the System was absent from the opening Human Rights Arts and Film Festival in Melbourne.

Van Rudd’s ‘Pop Goes the System’

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.”

Rudd, who is the nephew of the Foreign Minister, issued a strongly worded statement on his personal website in which he suggests he was censored by festival organisers for inciting “racism,” “violence” and “division.” Festival organisers have responded to Rudd’s claims by stating that the piece “doesn’t fit the theme of the show.” Furthermore, since it was received two days prior to the opening and thus did not meet the terms of his commission.

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