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May 28, 2013

Art Beat

Ancient art in Somaliland in Limbo

May 2, 2013 by

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 a country no other nation recognizes in 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. But the world still recognizes the region as part of Somalia, which has spent the past two decades in chaos without a functioning government.

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The Culture Bullies: Salman Rushdie Banned in Kolkata

January 31, 2013 by

Salman Rushdie speaking in Canada. Photo by 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.

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”.

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Fostering a New Generation of African Leaders

December 14, 2012 by

A Tuareg nomad stands near a mosque in Timbuktu. Image via Al Jazeera

My July 2012 commentary “Artistic Endeavor: Can Change the Face of Africa” 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.

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Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan

May 7, 2012 by

Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan
Institute for the Study of the Ancient WorldIf 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.

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.

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The Met: ‘New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia’

November 15, 2011 by

New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.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 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.

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The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara

August 15, 2011 by

The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara
Asia Society MuseumThe exhibit, The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara (the border between ancient Pakistan and Afghanistan), 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.

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Artists Mustn’t Sully the Principle of Human Rights

August 6, 2011 by

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.  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.  And yet it is Rudd’s claim that the omission of the work from the festival “infringes on the individual human right of freedom of expression through art” that is most troubling.

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