Hyperallergic

30 Jan. 2023

Some New York City commuters and tourists traveling through Manhattan’s 34th Street–Pennsylvania Station will now discover Diana Al-Hadid’s new mosaic “The Time Telling.” The work was unveiled Thursday, January 26 by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Arts & Design initiative as a part of the new ADA-accessible street-level entrance to the 1, 2, and 3 subways on 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue.

“It’s a nice addition to a bleak station,” Kadia B., a Bronx resident, told Hyperallergic as she ascended the newly opened stairway. Inspired by the pioneering photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt’s black-and-white image “A Farewell to Servicemen,” (1943), Al-Hadid’s artwork features the famed clock that hung at the entrance of the original Penn Station until the building was demolished in the 1960s. The Syrian-born, Brooklynbased artist transforms the iconic shot into an abstraction while keeping the original’s somber yet grandiose tone.

At nearly 15 feet, the glass mosaic greets subway riders as they approach the stairs. Taking up the entire back wall of the stairway, the clock that once adorned the original train station can be made out clearly; arches, beams, a window pane, and a light fixture mimic the Beaux-Arts architectural style of the station, which was completed in 1910. But the soldiers from Eisenstaedt’s photograph, who were captured as they departed for service in World War II, are rendered as vague silhouettes.

To Nial Burke, a Brooklyn resident who was approaching the newly built elevator on a recent Friday afternoon, the mosaic looks like a cathedral or skyline. “I do like it; it’s grand,” Burke said.

Diana Al-Hadid’s “The Time Telling” at the 34th Street–Penn Station accessible entrance (photo Taylor Michael/Hyperallergic)

But the mosaic and new entrance can be easily overlooked, as they are surrounded by ongoing construction and scaffolding that cover Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. Many commuters looked frustrated as they walked by the entrance, seemingly searching for the escalators to the Long Island Railroad, or New Jersey Transit, which is also across the street. 

Victoria Kayes was one NJ Transit rider excited to find the entrance completed, telling Hyperallergic that she had been watching for several days as workers installed the artwork and was waiting for a chance to see the mosaic. Kayes echoed other riders’ observations that the piece is a boon for dreary commuters’ spirits, adding that she will enjoy strolling by the subway to appreciate Al-Hadid’s artwork before heading back to Jersey. 

Al-Hadid’s nostalgic tribute comes as New York State officials recently approved a major renovation for Midtown Manhattan, including Penn Station, in July 2022. The Penn Station overhaul, which is estimated to cost $7 billion, was first conceived by former Governor Andrew Cuomo and then picked up by Governor Kathy Hochul, who hopes to transform the current “hellhole” into a more aesthetically pleasing commuting center. The ambitious plan has drawn criticism over proposed tax breaks for real estate developers and concerns that the state will fall short of the projected revenue needed to fund the expensive construction. Some wonder if individual taxpayers will bear that burden and worry that redevelopment efforts will displace some tenants.

“The Time Telling” joins two other mosaics by Al-Hadid created for 34th Street–Penn Station, “The Arches of Old Penn Station” and “The Arc of Gradiva,” which were installed in 2019 on the mezzanine level.

“The Arches of Old Penn Station” by Diana Al-Hadid (photo Taylor Michael/Hyperallergic)
30 Jan. 2023

In the shadows of the Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara, archaeologist and controversial former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass and his team of 10 may have discovered Egypt’s oldest known mummy alongside other significant burials and funerary treasures dating back to the fifth and sixth dynasties of the Old Kingdom. The opulent tombs and accompanying artifacts were discovered several meters below ground at the Gisr el-Mudir stone enclosure during an excavation project with Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.

As described by the inscriptions on his sarcophagus, the most significant mummy from the excavation project is HqA-Sps (Hekashepes), a 35-year-old man who was found wrapped in gold leaf beneath the hefty five-ton lid of his limestone tomb. The body was preserved and buried about 4,300 years ago, indicating that it “may be the oldest and most complete mummy found in Egypt to date,” according to Hawass. If the gold leaf and astoundingly heavy sarcophagus weren’t proof enough, Hawass told CNN that the body was found wearing a headband and bracelet, emphasizing that “this was a rich man.”

Once called the “Mubarak of antiquities,” Hawass was removed from his ministry post in 2011 for alleged corruption and a financial relationship with former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and First Lady Suzanne.

A limestone tomb propped open by wooden logs

Among the additional uncovered tombs were the remains of a man named Fetek, the remains of a palace official named Meri who held the positions of “keeper of the secrets” and “assistant of the great leader,” and the remains of an important man named Khnumdjedef, who was found to be the “inspector of officials,” a “supervisor of the nobles,” and a priest within the pyramid complex of King Unas, the last ruler of the fifth dynasty during Egypt’s Old Kingdom. Khnumdjedef’s tomb was found with detailed decorations depicting scenes of Egyptian daily life during that time period.

Hawass and his team also discovered another tomb of an unnamed priest accompanied by a group of nine anonymous statues of people. Several of the statues show what are likely married couples, followed by a few statues of individuals and kneeling servants. While there are no attributions attached to the group of statues, the archaeological team hypothesizes that they may belong to someone named “Messi” as the name was found inscribed into a false door near the discovery site.

The excavation project also yielded Old Kingdom-era amulets, stoneware, and tools relevant in daily life, providing unique insight into art and culture during that point in history. Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mostafa Waziry stated that this is the largest group of such objects found in recent years.

Dr. Zahi Hawass with the nine statues found at the priest’s tomb.

The findings come as some institutions are questioning the use of the term “mummy” to identify preserved Ancient Egyptian individuals out of concerns of objectification. Several museums across the United Kingdom and the United States have switched their descriptive language to “mummified remains” to better reflect the human lives preceding the preserved bodies.

30 Jan. 2023
A steel railroad spike clad in gold and silver used in the ceremony marking the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, May 10, 1869 (all images courtesy Christie’s)

Excitement struck deep at Christie’s New York last week as the hammer dropped on a historic railroad spike that sold for more than $2 million. “The Exceptional Sale” featured 29 lots of “the best of the best,” according to the auction overview, and though many of the lots were Louis XIV-era decorative furniture and ephemera, the real belle of the ball was the “Arizona Spike” — a steel spike clad in gold and silver that commemorated the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.

This railroad spike is a symbol of the massive private and public works project that connected the United States coasts with a functioning means of public transportation, and its cache as a singular historical object shone through in the bidding, which shattered the pre-sale estimate of $300,000–500,000.

The object was one of four ceremonial spikes used to mark the “meeting of the rails” at Promontory Point, Utah, in May 1869. Commissioned and presented by Arizona Territorial Governor Anson P.K. Safford, it took its cue from the first spike commissioned for the event, by David Hewes, the brother-in-law of Jane Stanford, the wife of Central Pacific Railroad Director Leland Stanford. Hewes had benefited greatly from the railroad development, capitalizing on steam shovels to fill in wetlands surrounding San Francisco, and was seeking a celebratory gesture to combat what he saw as a lack of “proper sentiment being expressed by the people of the Pacific Coast, and especially by the great mining industries of the territories through which this railroad passed.” First envisioned as a notion of “silver rails” at the connecting railway lines, the idea morphed into a golden spike.

“Hewes opted to commission instead a golden spike as his offering to commemorate the meeting of the two railroads,” Christie’s catalogue essay explains. The event, which involved four commemorative spikes in total, was one of the first events in history to be live-broadcast to an entire nation.

To the unknowing spectator, the approximately five-inch-long piece may look like a slightly overblown souvenir from the state train museum, but Peter Klarnet, Christie’s senior specialist of Americana, said he and his team “knew it would be the subject of intense competition among collectors.”

“In the end, the value soared past our expectations,” Klarnet added. “I think the spike captured the imagination of collectors, in part, because it is a potent symbol of national unity. That sense of unity means as much today as it did when the transcontinental railroad was finished less than four years after the Civil War.”

A steel railroad spike clad in gold and silver used in the ceremony marking the completion of the transcontinental railroad, May 10, 1869

This purported sense of unity is a bit of whitewashing on an undertaking that, in addition to supporting the Manifest Destiny-fueled colonization of North America, also cost many thousands of (mostly Chinese) immigrant workers their lives, but the power of the spike as a symbol of American progress clearly resonated with contemporary bidders. Maybe we’re all just nostalgic for a time when the government supported functional infrastructure-building?

There were fewer bidders looking for a more satirical take on Westward expansion, as the original 35 mm reels of Andy Warhol’s 1968 film, Lonesome Cowboys, fetched merely their expected price of $25,200. With its homosexual overtones, a 1969 film screening in Atlanta triggered a raid known as the “Stonewall of the South,” which included the harassment of a movie-going audience of roughly 70 patrons, as well as the arrest of the theater’s owners.

Overall, specialty items seemed to be the auction trend of the week, with “The One” at Sotheby’s — featuring an iconic gown worn by Princess Diana — taking place on the same day and also placing a premium on one-of-a-kind objects through history.

30 Jan. 2023

In Santa Monica, California, the 18th Street Arts Center has been archiving its city’s history in the face of accelerating gentrification. Culture Mapping 90404 documents the people and places that have served as cultural anchors in the city’s Pico neighborhood, where the arts center and artist residency program has been located for almost 30 years. With a $3.3 million grant from the state’s Creative Corps, 18th Street Arts Center is now expanding its map to cover other California zip codes. Applications are now open for 18 artists to launch the project in their cities.

The culturally diverse Pico neighborhood is small, stretching only about a mile and a half through Santa Monica. Culture Mapping 90404 marks the area’s “cultural assets,” defined as people, places, events, and organizations that have served as anchors of the community. These are defined by the people who actually live there, and community members can submit assets to the project.

Culture Mapping 90404 also includes interviews with longtime Pico residents who tell stories about their lives and talk about the forces that have shaped them. In one clip, Gina de Vaca delves into the neighborhood’s history of gentrification and displacement, and in another, Iris Gee talks about her family’s return to Santa Monica after being sent to a Japanese internment camp and discusses the formation of a Japanese community in Pico.

The map has accumulated over 150 wide-ranging locations, including a hardware store called Busy Bee, a beloved family-run shop that opened in 1963 and closed its doors after more than half a century in 2017, and a ballet school that has existed since 1967. Other assets include a Catholic church, the city’s “Jazz on the Lawn,” an annual free concert in Gandara Park, and the Quinn Research Center, an organization working to preserve the history of Santa Monica’s Black community.

18th Street Arts Center also hosts exhibitions in which artists engage with the mapping project and the neighborhood’s history. One such activation was the 2021 installation “Three Sisters Touching,” a collaboration between Danish artist Maj Hasager and the Quinn Research Center. Hasager created her new series of work by drawing from the research center’s trove of archival information.

“The dialogue between artist and community is extremely meaningful,” 18th Street Arts Center’s senior director of engagement Michael Ano told Hyperallergic. “When artists create projects that deeply engage communities and reflect their needs and lived experiences, it creates a space for social change.”

Candidates interested in applying should review the list of eligible cities and towns across the state. In the first of two application rounds, 18th Street Arts Center will select 40 artists and provide them with $1,000 and professional coaching to help develop project proposals. The arts center will then examine the 40 proposals and choose 18 to fund. The selected artists will receive $65,000 grants and a year of free health and dental insurance.

Applications are open through February 20.

Artist Maj Hasager collaborated with the Quinn Research Center to create an exhibition at 18th Street Arts Center.
30 Jan. 2023

February is a big time in the Los Angeles art world, with four art fairs (Frieze, Felix, Spring Break, and the LA Art Show) coming to town later this month (not to mention Museums Free-For-All day). Galleries and museums here are mounting ambitious shows to take advantage of the moment. These include Alicia Piller’s Laocoönical assemblages at Craft Contemporary, Trulee Hall’s phantasmagorical multi-media environments at Rusha & Co, and the Fowler Museum’s show of Amir Fallah’s captivating paintings that pull from centuries of high and low visual culture. The peripatetic MexiCali Biennial touches down at the Cheech in Riverside with their latest edition focused on the contested histories of food and agriculture throughout California and Mexico, while UC Irvine’s Contemporary Arts Center Gallery presents British sibling duo Jane and Louise Wilson’s video installations that dig into the Cold War and its contemporary echoes.

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Bridget Mullen: Sensory Homunculus

Bridget Mullen, “Make Me Wavy (New York)” (2020–2022), flashe and spray paint on linen, 40 inches x 60 inches (photo by Matt Grubb, courtesy the artist and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles.)

A sensory homunculus is a scientific figure of a human that illustrates how much of our brain is dedicated to controlling certain areas of the body. Its hand and mouth are monstrously oversized, given the exceptional neurological resources devoted to them. Bridget Mullen’s solo show at Shulamit Nazarian takes its name from the goblin-like creature, and her paintings elicit a similar sense of corporeal unease. With a nod to surrealism and psychedelia, she grapples with the tension between abstraction and figuration, as pools, blobs, and skeins of paint transform into body parts, hair, and effluvia. For both Mullen and the homunculus, representation is not limited to the visually mimetic.

Shulamit Nazarian (shulamitnazarian.com)
616 North La Brea Avenue, Fairfax, Los Angeles
Through February 10


Brad Phillips: I Know What I did Last Summer

Brad Phillips, “Brian De Palma’s Door #2” (2022), oil on canvas, 36 inches x 24 inches (photo by Jacob Phillip, courtesy the Artist & de boer, Los Angeles)

Canadian artist and writer Brad Phillips’s oeuvre is characterized by contradiction. His work jumps between autobiographical, photo-realistic paintings and deadpan text-based one-liners that transform familiar phrases into darkly humorous slogans. He continues to chart a course through the poles of sincerity and irony with his second solo show at de boer, I Know What I Did Last Summer, which features intimate portraits of artist Christine Brache, alongside cheeky fictional scenes from the home of director Brian De Palma, himself a genre-hopping auteur.

de boer (deboergallery.com)
3311 East Pico Boulevard, Boyle Heights, Los Angeles
Through February 25


Emily Barker: Illusions of Care

Artwork by Emily Barker (courtesy Carlye Packer and Christian Jarod Vitug)

For the 2022 Whitney Biennial, LA-based artist Emily Barker crafted a kitchen that was scaled up, so standing visitors could experience the challenges the artist faces as a wheelchair user in the domestic space. With new sculptures and installations included in Illusions of Care, they continue to lay bare the prejudices and barriers that society imposes upon those it deems “physically divergent.”

Carlye Packer (carlyepacker.xyz)
2111 Sunset Boulevard, Echo Park, Los Angeles
February 4–March 11


Trulee Hall: Plays on Foreplays

Trulee Hall, “Tiger Licks for Levitating Lady” (2022), acrylic, oil, and collage on panel with wood frame, 74 inches x 98 inches (photo by Ed Mumford, courtesy the Artist and Rusha & Co.)

Firing on all cylinders, Trulee Hall conjures her unapologetically erotic visions across multiple media. A scene that begins as a painting might be transformed into a stop-motion animation, then a live-action video, and finally a theatrical performance. Actors are mirrored in cinematic and real space; film props return as sculptures. Part celebratory, queer camp, part playful material investigation, Hall’s liberating, libertine world offers an inviting challenge to staid aesthetics and morality.

Rusha & Co. (rusha.co)
244 West Florence Avenue, Florence, Los Angeles
February 4–March 11


Dreamtime™: Jane and Louise Wilson

Jane and Louise Wilson, “Dream Time” film still (2001), Super 16mm film transfer to HD transfer to 35mm film, duration: 7 minutes and 10 seconds (© Jane and Louise Wilson; courtesy Maureen Paley, London)

British sibling duo Jane and Louise Wilson are known for their cinematic installations that often focus on institutional spaces such as governmental or military spaces, and the historical legacies they represent. Dreamtime™ looks at the Cold War, a quintessentially 20th-century conflict that has taken on a new life in the 21st. The exhibition is anchored by two works: “Stasi City” (1997), which was filmed at the former headquarters of the defunct East German spy agency; and “Dream Time” (2001), which takes its title from an American media company that advertised on the side of a Russian rocket en route to the International Space Station in 2000.

Contemporary Arts Center Gallery, UC Irvine (uag.arts.uci.edu)
Mesa Parking Structure, 4002 Mesa Road, Irvine, California
Through March 25


Mulyana: Modular Utopia

Mulyana, “Ocean Wonderland” (2020) Yarn, Dacron, cable wire, plastic net, metal rod, and felt fabric (courtesy STUDIO MOGUS)

With his immersive installations made from knit and crocheted objects, Indonesian artist Mulyana gives intimate hand-craft a monumental spin. For Modular Utopia, his first solo show in LA, he continues his explorations of undersea environments that are shaped by his own personal mythology and Indonesian folk traditions and costumes. He fills his tableaux with imaginary creatures alongside depictions of a full-sized whale skeleton and dying coral reefs, mixing fantasy with the realities of fragile marine ecosystems.

USC Fisher Museum of Art (fisher.usc.edu)
823 Exposition Blvd, University Park, Los Angeles
February 25–April 8


Pedro Pedro: Table, Fruits, Flowers and Cakes

Pedro Pedro, “Untitled” (2022), acrylic and textile paint on linen, 72 inches x 63 inches (courtesy the artist and The Hole)

Pedro Pedro creates sumptuous still lives that capture the unsettling binary of abundance and despair that defines our contemporary moment. Like the Renaissance still lifes which they reference, Pedro’s paintings depict tables laden with flowers, fruit, meat, and cakes, however there is always a hint of decay, a watermelon rind, or fallen rose. His cartoonish, Pop-inflected style is at once exuberant and disquieting. All of these delights are flattened and pushed up against the picture plane in a Mannerist flourish, threatening to slide off the surface and out of our grasp.

The Hole (theholenyc.com)
844 North La Brea Avenue, Fairfax, Los Angeles
February 14–April 29


Alicia Piller: Within

Alicia Piller, “Psychological seeds overgrown. Wildflowers blaze a path” (2022), mixed media, 75 inches x 85 inches x 11 inches (courtesy the artist)

Alicia Piller’s awe-inspiring sculptures give the impression of everyday material run amok, threatening to expand and overwhelm us like a mutant mycological strain. Her constructions incorporate xeroxed photos, found objects, and dried plants, with resin and latex, creating forms that are alien on the macro level but familiar up close. Within is her first solo museum exhibition, a site-specific installation curated by jill moniz that zooms between geological vastness and biological minutiae to bring forgotten histories into sharp focus.

Craft Contemporary (craftcontemporary.org)
5814 Wilshire Boulevard, Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles
Through May 7


Amir H. Fallah: The Fallacy of Borders

Detail of Amir H. Fallah, “No Gods No Masters” (2020), acrylic on canvas (courtesy the artist and Shahin Tabassi)

Amir Fallah draws on a rich mixture of sources, from Persian miniatures to children’s books, botanical illustrations, maps, and textile patterns to compose his vibrant, maximalist paintings. Born in Iran during the tumult of the Islamic Revolution, Fallah emigrated with his family to the US at age 7. He came of age in the punk and street art scenes of the 1990s, and co-founded seminal art and design publication Beautiful/Decay as a photocopied and stapled zine when he was just a teenager. The Fallacy of Borders, his first museum show in Los Angeles, presents painting, sculpture, stained glass, and printed matter that reflect his own experiences with migration, material culture, and multi-faceted identity.

Fowler Museum at UCLA (fowler.ucla.edu)
308 Charles E. Young Drive North, Westwood, Los Angeles
Through May 14


MexiCali Biennial: Land of Milk & Honey

Jessica Wimbley and Chris Christion, “The Unauthorized Histography of California, Volume 2: Fieldnotes” (2022), video collage (courtesy the artists and MexiCali Biennial)

Launched in 2006 by artists Ed Gomez and Luis G. Hernandez, the MexiCali Biennial explores the cultural and artistic terrain of California and Mexico. This year’s edition, Land of Milk & Honey, focuses on the region’s agricultural and culinary significance and associated issues surrounding labor, ecology, and politics. California was touted as a bountiful Eden by early promoters of the state, however the flipside of this starry-eyed view was exclusion, exploitation, and corruption, themes that the Golden State is still reckoning with. Participating artists include Carolyn Castaño, Edgar Fabián Frías, Narsiso Martinez, Ruben Ochoa, Jazmín Urrea, and many others.

The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture (riversideartmuseum.org)
3581 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, California
February 25–May 28

30 Jan. 2023

LOS ANGELES — Whether it’s capturing golden hour through gossamer curtains or dawn on a naked bough in autumn, Uta Barth has been chasing light throughout her career. In her solo exhibition, Peripheral Vision at the Getty Center, she demonstrates the way natural light can turn an overlooked, everyday setting into a sublime landscape. 

Barth often studies the interplay between optics and architecture. In the site-specific work “… from dawn to dusk” (2022), she finds one of the most unassuming enclaves of the Getty Center’s famed structure and uses it as a backdrop for a time-lapse of sorts. Over the course of a year, Barth photographed the same gridded section of architect Richard Meier’s aluminum facade, which reflects blinding light in the summer, but is subdued in the foggy mornings that so frequently consume the Getty Center’s hillside. A tightly gridded collage of the photographs mimics the facade, the pattern occasionally interrupted by bright red colorized iterations of the photos. Those jarring blocks of color replicate the afterimage that appears to closed eyes after looking at the glare reflecting off the Getty Center’s metallic surfaces.

Other studies emphasize the delicacy of light when filtered through fabric or glass. Barth turns sunshine into a painterly zigzag in her series … and to draw a bright white line with light (2011). The composition is surprisingly simple. A semi-sheer white curtain mutes the already subdued luster of a cloudy day. It falls against a white wall, its drapery invisible if not for the serpentine trail of sunlight that crawls across its surface. A hand is visible in one of the photographs, finessing the fabric, perfecting the curves for the shot.

Sparse, domestic settings feature prominently in Barth’s work, but the artist adjusts focus, framing, and aperture to imbue these familiar scenes with mystery. The blurred images in the series Ground (1994–97) transform interiors into ethereal dreamscapes. “Ground #30” (1994) reimagines the corner of white room as an impressionistic play of light and shadow. The soft-focus paintings hung on a turquoise wall in “Ground #42” (1994) are in the upper right-hand corner, shying away from the focal point. They appear to be a duo of Vermeers (“The Milkmaid” and “The Lace Maker”) but they are secondary to the blue-green void that consumes most of the frame.

Though most of the photos seem accessible, as if you could recreate them in your own home, a more recent series, In the Light and Shadow of Morandi (2017), foregrounds Barth’s technical prowess. The photographs, an homage to Giorgio Morandi’s still life paintings, show off the colorful refractions of liquid placed in a variety of clear containers. To capture the ghostly arcs of light, the artist photographed the images at extreme angles, then corrected the lens distortion digitally. While the jars appear to be their proper dimensions, the sharp, skewed angles of the pigment prints are evidence of their manipulation. 

By primarily working in her own studio or home, Barth’s photographs inspire viewers to search for the long shadows that stretch across the living room at dusk; to study the bouncing light illuminating from a tungsten bulb — to seek out the enchanting corners of our own living spaces.

Uta Barth, “… and to draw a bright white line with light ” (2011)
Uta Barth, “Ground 42” (1994)
Uta Barth, “in the Light and Shadow of Morandi” (2017)
Uta Barth, “Field” (1995–96)
Uta Barth, “Ground Series” (1994–97)

Uta Barth: Peripheral Vision continues at the Getty Center (1200 Getty Center Drive, Bel Air, Los Angeles, California) through February 19. The exhibition was organized by the Getty Museum and curated by Arpad Kovacs, assistant curator of photographs.

30 Jan. 2023

Nicola López and Paula Wilson: Becoming Land at the Albuquerque Museum presents the work of two artists who, through mixed media interpretations of human interventions in New Mexico’s desert landscapes, examine anthropocentric relationships with the land. The exhibition is contextually and physically placed front-and-center with a series of three simultaneous exhibitions, featuring historic and contemporary artists whose work engages the natural world. Becoming Land, Shi Guorui: Ab/Sense-Pre/Sense, Kiki Smith: From the Creek, and Thomas Cole: Memory and Inspiration, occupy the museum’s main gallery. 

Wilson, who lives in the small town of Carrizozo, New Mexico, presents artwork that feels deeply personal and centers women’s bodies as “places” of observation, inhabitation, and projection. In “Yucca Rising” (2021), the body does not exist within the landscape but becomes a part of it. At more than 15-feet tall, the figure rises well above other artworks in the room, its bowed head placed strategically between ceiling support beams. Combining varietal painting and printmaking techniques and media on muslin, the figure’s dress, adorned with patterns of yucca plants, seedpods, and flowers surrounding a central image of a large blooming yucca plant in front of a darkening sky, literally embodies the landscape. 

In “New Development” (2012), Wilson presents an image of an amphora holding a blooming cactus. The handles of the vessel are formed by figures of a pregnant woman and a man with an erect penis. Each figure wears headphones, anchoring them in contemporary times, though their nude bodies are timeless. On the body of the vase is an image of a landscape. A modern figure in a patterned outfit stands, with a dog, gazing from precipice across the path of a winding river that cuts through plains and disappears into distant hills. The imagery is highly suggestive of fecundity. Nicola López was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and now lives and works in Brooklyn. Her mixed-media works engage printmaking and photographic processes to present speculative landscapes, interrupted by the collapsing skeletons of imagined industrial structures. Printed as collagraphs over photographs of White Sands National Park, the images are reminiscent of the infrastructure scenes of the late Massachusetts-based painter and printmaker Donald Stoltenberg who specialized in collagraph. 

In her Apparition series, López chose to set her structures in the bright gypsum dune fields of White Sands, where the oldest known fossilized human footprints in North America were discovered. Also in the area is the White Sands Missile Range, a US Army testing area and firing range that includes the infamous Trinity Site, a circular scar upon the earth where the first atomic bomb was tested. The history and development of White Sands combined with López’s futuristic abandoned structures present a clever commentary on the interaction of the natural and built environment. Will López’s derelict structures be swallowed by their environment just as previous evidence of human habitation in the area has been shrouded by sand?

Becoming Land offers an exciting and surprising variety of interpretations of landscapes that begs viewers to reconsider preconceived definitions of what landscape means, how it can be represented, and how we humans interact with and embody natural spaces. 

Installation view of Nicola López and Paula Wilson: Becoming Land (2022-2023) at the Albuquerque Museum; Nicola López, “Never Wild” (2021), cyanotype on mulberry paper (photo Rachel Harris-Huffman/Hyperallergic)
Installation view of Nicola López and Paula Wilson: Becoming Land (2022-2023) at the Albuquerque Museum; (left) Paula Wilson, “Yucca Rising” (2021, woodblock print, relief print, trace monoprint, monotype, acrylic, and oil on muslin (photo Rachel Harris-Huffman/Hyperallergic)
Paul Wilson, “New Development” (2012), intaglio with screen print on Somerset textured soft white paper (courtesy the Albuquerque Museum)

Nicola López and Paula Wilson: Becoming Land continues at the Albuquerque Museum (2000 Mountain Road NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico) through February 12. The exhibition was organized by the museum.

30 Jan. 2023

LOS ANGELES — The way Pa,Sacio Davinci tells it, he never wanted to be an actor. “Acting has never been a part of me, ‘cause I don’t like it,” he said. “I had to do it.” 

It all started in 1997 during a visit to LA’s Griffith Observatory, when Davinci received a divine message. “It said, ‘Go do Moses,’” he recalls. “I said, ‘Look God, I’m no Moses, I don’t do miracles like that.’ The only way I could do Moses, is I could act Moses.” Davinci bought a robe and wig, picked up a staff from Home Depot, and climbed a peak in Griffith Park. Setting up his camcorder, he preached for about 15 minutes. (“No script … I just did whatever came to me.”) He then intercut his own interpretation of the Biblical prophet with footage he shot of animals at a zoo in Florida: elephants, camels, lizards.

This was the birth of The King Show, a public access program featuring Davinci and a rotating cast staging theatrical performances mixed and remixed with clips from Hollywood films, stock footage, simple costumes, green-screen effects, and a soundtrack featuring soul, R&B, and Gospel composed mainly of Davinci’s own music. On Sunday, February 5, the Velaslavasay Panorama exhibition space and theater in South LA will present Davinci’s Film Festival of Hollywood, an all-day showcase of select episodes of The King Show.

“You could watch one and it’s fascinating in its own right,” Sara Velas, founder of the Panorama, told Hyperallergic. But after watching several clips, she said, “you begin seeing patterns, how he works with other people, remixes stuff, his approach to sampling … This guy is a genius.”

Velas did not first encounter Davinci through his films, however, but through his paintings. In August 2021, she urgently needed signs painted for a project when she came upon a red truck covered with portraits and hand lettering at a supermarket parking lot. She waited for the owner to come out of the store and met Davinci, who ended up painting the signs for the Panorama’s Union Square Florist Shop. He casually mentioned his films. “One of these days I’m gonna bring you some of my movies, you might find them interesting,” Velas recalls him telling her. She was struck by the similarities between The King Show and her Panorama, which revives a pre-cinematic form of landscape painting in the round. “Both of our projects, in different ways, riff on themes of facades, illusions, tropes of cinema, the hopes-dreams-and-nightmares given to us by Hollywood,” she said. In August 2022, the Panorama held its first screening of Davinci’s films to commemorate the 25th anniversary of The King Show’s debut. This week’s all-day screening will present a larger selection and invite viewers to vote on their favorite film and even enjoy a hot dog grilled by Davinci himself.

Sara Velas in conversation with Pa,sacio Davinci on August 6, 2022 (photo by Forest Casey, courtesy Velaslavasay Panorama)

Davinci’s films play with traditional Hollywood genres — Westerns, sci-fi, romance —reinterpreting them with DIY sets, props and costumes, improvisational dialogue, and low-fi effects. Fiction and reality come together — a cowboy story may be set to contemporary R&B music, intercut with scenes from high-budget films and footage depicting the streets around the South Central strip mall studio where The King Show was shot and edited. Davinci often reused clips in multiple films and even reshot the same film years apart. Notably, these familiar narratives are recast as Black stories with Black characters, made apparent by their titles: “1st Black Tarzan,” “First Black President,” “Black Trek,” and characters like “Black Shane,” “Captain Black,” and “Black Poison.” (Davinci also offered his version on “Blacula,” itself a 1972 Blaxploitation spin on the horror classic.)

Velas notes she also felt a kinship with Davinci based on their shared “extreme do-it-yourself nature.”

“We’re just going to do these things, channel these things, we feel compelled to create these things regardless of whether someone has given us permission or an audience,” she says. “We’ve created our own audiences and peculiar forms of community in doing so.”

Davinci’s Films of Hollywood at the Velaslavasay Panorama on August 6, 2022 (photo by Forest Casey, courtesy Velaslavasay Panorama)

Davinci’s “extreme DIY nature” is not limited to his filmmaking but extends across all his creative endeavors. He trained as a sign painter in Delaware where he grew up, and supported himself painting signs and portraits as a young man. He was the singer of a Gospel group, the Supreme Echoes, when he lived in Buffalo, New York in the mid-1970s, and continues to record his own songs that — like his films — sample elements of influences such as Otis Redding and the Manhattans. (His prolific audio-visual output can be found on one of his three YouTube channels, or three websites he’s created.) Above his red Toyota minivan, he has built a painting studio covered with portraits of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Barry White, Selena, and Bonnie and Clyde alongside advertisements for paintings and haircuts (he is a master barber.) The vehicle is usually parked at the corner of Manchester and St. Andrews, just outside the studio where The King Show was filmed.

“I’ve always done too much, everything I do is too much,” Davinci explained. “I always go to the extreme of everything I do. I am an extremist. I go all the way with it, and that’s what it is.”

30 Jan. 2023

Every year since I first had the pleasure of studying art history at university, I have longed for a sourcebook “detailing” art from India.

I am sometimes quite annoyed with publications with “global” in their titles that continue to reduce tones of art historical material from South Asian countries like India and Pakistan into a few pages, while chapters on Eurocentric art seem never-ending. Thus, every semester, I continue to hunt for the best possible written sources for my undergraduate students who are keen to learn — critically and in depth — about the many distinct aspects of art in South Asia. I am highly relieved to report that now a title compiling remarkable research on the subject is finally available to academics, students, and general readers.

20th Century Indian Art (Thames & Hudson, 2022) brings over 600 pages worth of generously illustrated essays on modern, post-independence, and contemporary Indian art. The volume is coedited by historian of art and culture Partha Mitter, and art historians Parul Dave Mukherji and Rakhee Balaram. While the volume is not all-encompassing or encyclopedic, the content is plenty and is divided into four major parts. The first three sections chronologically scrutinize Indian art, while the last briefly introduces art history in the nation-states of Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, closing with artist and critic interviews.

Rather than the coeditors penning every chapter in the book, the publication connects several articles and essays by many writers. Part I brings notice to challenges faced by Indian artists while reclaiming their national identity during the era of colonial modernity in India. Saloni Mathur’s “Retake of Amrita Sher-Gil’s Self Portrait as a Tahitian” explores how Sher-Gil, a Hungarian-born Indian artist of tremendous importance, gave rise to the early 20th-century Indian avant-garde by invoking a Gauguinesque female nude and elements of Japonisme in earthly palettes in her self-portrait. Amongst other writings, Naman P. Ahuja writes about the anti-imperialist land- and history-driven Indian Arts and Crafts movement while Sanjoy Mallik offers social context for the works of the Calcutta Group during the devastating Bengal famine of the 1940s.  

Raqib Shaw, “Absence of God VIII” (2009), acrylic, glitter, enamel, and rhinestones on board (© Anish Kapoor)

Post-independence, Indian art decentralized into an idiosyncratic interpretation of “what it means to be modern,” especially in the aftermath of colonialism. The “modern” in Indian art is audacious and self-aware, figurative and abstract, political and personal, ornamental and minimal, regional and beyond. Writers expand these narratives in the second part of the book, addressing modernity through regional activism, including the ornamental aesthetics in Andhra Pradesh, the complicated history of museums, post-colonial modern art groups such as the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG), monumental sculpture, and writings of modern critics.

Within India, no modern art style or movement was the same or derivative of the West, as commonly misunderstood. Explaining that many women artists and local villages constituted an original modern style in Madras, Ashrafi S. Bhagat writes, The emergence of Modernism in South India was distinct from the West as well as New Delhi.This section also covers art forms such as photography. In her essay “Framed Borders: Photography in India After Independence,” Rahaab Allana considers photography instrumental for national celebration; one that set out “to document India’s historic transition into political sovereignty and nationhood.”

Here, readers will find further contextualized underpinnings of post-colonial Indian art. In “The Delhi Silpi Chakra: Art and Politics after the Radcliffe Line,” Atreyee Gupta demystifies constellations between Pakistani and Indian artists who came to be associated with the Mayo School of Art (now the National College of Arts in Lahore), established in 1857 by the British, and the Lahore School of Fine Art, inaugurated by Indian artist Bhabesh Chandra Sanyal, who also cofounded the collective Silpi Chakra.

I am especially delighted with this volume because, as an academic and historian of South Asian art, the title introduces vital perspectives on the subject to readers. For instance, in “The Making of The Baroda School: When People Become Public,” Parul Dave Mukherji considers the alternatives of internationalism, politics, and photorealism in the art from Baroda School, where the urgency in the comeback of the figure transpired as a polemical response to abstraction in modern Indian art. Further, to supplement research on artists and movements, essays by Sonal Khullar and Kavita Singh expand on the role of criticism and academic print for modern Indian art, and the role of museums and displays in India through specific case studies, respectively.

F. N. Souza, “Death of the Pope” (1962), oil on canvas (© Estate of F N Souza, courtesy Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation)

Consequences of globalization, technological breakthroughs, conflict, contemporary society, and exhibitions have significantly shaped Indian art and its diaspora at the turn of the 20th century. In Part III of the book, many writers bring Indian art into a robust dialogue with trends from neighboring countries such as miniature painting from Pakistan, the state of the Indian art market, works of Indian artists being exhibited in the West, films, and international biennials. Additionally, Gayatri Sinha analyzes Indian women artists whose works were being impacted by feminist discourses in “Revisitations: Women Artists of India Since the 1990s.”

The book concludes with in-depth and nuanced interviews conducted with renowned critics and artists including Tapati Guha-Thakurta, Anita Dube, Geeta Kapur, Iftikhar Dadi, K. G. Subramanyan, Jogen Chowdhury, Krishen Khanna, R. Nandakumar, Jitish Kallat, and Raqs Media Collective.

20th Century Indian Art illustrates styles of art and craft in India that are complex and deeply enmeshed with geopolitics, identity, nationhood, post-colonial sensibilities, and creative subjectivities. At every page, readers enjoy pleasant visuals and sound research in this highly instructive sourcebook, urging us to broaden our minds as we critically approach these unique strands of Indian art history.

Jitish Kallat, “Horrorificabilitudinitatibus” (2009), acrylic on canvas, bronze sculpture (© Jitish Kallat)
Amrita Sher-Gil, “Self-Portrait as Tahitian” (1934), oil on canvas (© and courtesy Vivan and Navina Sundaram)

20th Century Indian Art: Modern, Post-Independence, Contemporary (2022) by Partha Mitter, Parul Dave Mukherji, and Rakhee Balaram is published by Thames & Hudson and is available online and at independent booksellers.

30 Jan. 2023

Join the New York Historical Society on Friday, February 10, at 1pm (ET) for Human/Nature: Pathways from Art to Environment. Drawing on the Anchorage Museum’s program of artist residencies in the Polar North, this session will explore how museums and artists in collaboration might connect or reconnect us to the Earth’s landscapes and build deeper understandings of past, present, and future.

  • Keynote Moderator: Julie Decker
    Director and CEO of the Anchorage Museum
  • John Grade
    Seattle-based artist
  • LaMont Hamilton
    Multidisciplinary autodidact artist

Registration is required to receive a link. To RSVP for this free discussion, visit nyhistory.org.

Since its founding in 1982, the Henry Luce Foundation’s American Art Program has supported wide-ranging collection projects and exhibitions at art museums in all 50 states. In commemoration of the program’s 40th anniversary, the Foundation has organized a year-long series of virtual conversations moderated by field leaders and Luce grantees, past and present.

Deliberately forward-facing rather than retrospective, the Henry Luce Foundation Conversations on American Art and Museums explore what the best futures of American art and museums might look like. The participants will explore the role of the visual arts in an open and equitable society, and the capacity of art museums to challenge accepted histories, elevate under-represented voices, and host the critical conversations in which we need to engage.

View the full schedule of future programs.

30 Jan. 2023

Rhode Island School of Design Continuing Education (RISD CE) is thrilled to open registration for over 170 online courses this spring for adults and teens. Programs include online certificates for adult learners, RISD’s pre-collegiate Advanced Program Online, and new teen online courses. 

Continuing Education students at Rhode Island School of Design can take online classes from anywhere in the world, at any time of day or night. Courses are taught by academics, creative practitioners, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders who advance our mission to provide an art and design education for everyone! 

With no entry requirements, the non-credit online adult certificate programs allow you to learn with motivated peers to develop your portfolio, broaden existing skills, explore a new career path or life pursuit, or start your own business — and build the network that will help you do it.

Teen online courses represent 11 visual arts and design subjects and allow students to engage in a community of makers while crafting their own stories. Students ages 13 to 17 attend weekly live Zoom meetings, receive narrative assessments with written personalized feedback in place of grades, and gain support and guidance from RISD undergraduate student teaching assistants. When students join teen online classes at Rhode Island School of Design, outstanding artists, designers and educators will lead them toward inspiring career paths and creative problem-solving skills.

At RISD Pre-College, rising high school juniors and seniors can live like RISD students and work alongside hundreds of other creative, highly motivated students who will inspire them to push their limits and produce their best work. Students will follow a college-level curriculum with day-long studio classes, visits to the Nature Lab and RISD Museum, critiques, and projects that will forever shape the way they approach art and design. Summer 2023 runs from June 24 to July 29.

RISD’s Advanced Program Online is a year-round online intensive and designed for high school students interested in pursuing art and design in college. This certificate program is for changemakers who want to develop their art practice, learn new ways to collaborate, and create a future they’re excited about. Spring 2023 term runs from March 4 to May 21 and Summer 2023 term runs from June 17 to August 13.

Both pre-collegiate programs offer a college-level curriculum that provides a strong foundational understanding of drawing and design principles. Whether on-campus or online, students will participate in courses led by professionally practicing instructors, learn to manage time and self-motivate, and develop a portfolio of concepts, sketches, and finished pieces that can be included in or inform their college application.

Spring 2023 term starts February 27.

For more information, visit ce.risd.edu.

Apply for the RISD Pre-College residential summer immersive and register for RISD’s Advanced Program Online year-round intensive.

29 Jan. 2023

LAS VEGAS — Circling the streets of Las Vegas in early 2022, you may have spotted a series of complex lines of thread arranged in strict, geometric shapes in fences across the city. Moving too fast on your commute, looking out of the corner of your eye one second too late, and you might miss them. Like illusion drawings from childhood, the pieces reveal themselves only when approaching their canvas straight on. The long segments of thread comprise large, slanted block letters. Focusing your eyes at just the right distance, the words become clear. 

“MORTGAGE” is placed on a fence, only steps away from the tourist hotspot the Freemont Street Experience; “FAKE IT,” with the iconic Vegas stratosphere in the background; “EMPTY,” on a pedestrian bridge above an aqueduct; “ELDERS,” on a street corner by a freeway underpass; and “CREDIT,” on a nondescript fence, a row of casinos not too far behind.

These yarn phrases are the work of installation artist Eric Rieger, who goes by the name HOTTEA, whose previous yarn work includes massive installation pieces like “The Collector” (2015), a collaboration with Sesame Street, and pieces on the streets of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Minneapolis — HOTTEA’s hometown. The yarn pieces in Las Vegas are a mere side effect of HOTTEA spending his birthday celebrating in the city in December of 2021. 

More than a year later, HOTTEA’s words have blended into the Las Vegas landscape. The pieces remain in place, their mystery alive and well. Showing the wear and tear of a summer in extreme heat, some lengths of string have changed colors, some have shredded to bits. 

The myth of HOTTEA begins in the mid-2000s, when the artist spent time in jail for graffiti. In interviews, HOTTEA describes how he sought to no longer be an anonymous artist, painting at night to keep his work a secret from his family. Yarn was an antidote, a way to be vulnerable. We see it in HOTTEA’s Las Vegas pieces — as light and landscape seep through the yarn, distorting the surrounding space little by little, yarn becomes what HOTTEA describes as a beautifully elaborate, yet simple, presence.

In Las Vegas, art hides away in casino hallways, in tourist-oriented interactive exhibitions, murals commissioned by massive music festivals, and decorated freeway intersections. The local art scene is up and thriving, seeking to exist beyond these boundaries. Without institutional support, individual artists have created pop-up gallery spaces in industrial buildings and suburban homes. In these spaces, any kind of artist, whether early in their career or established, is welcome. 

HOTTEA’s practice shows that artists here in Las Vegas can, and do, engage with the framework of this city in enticing new ways with any materials — yarn, spray paint, fabric. The work exists here. Perhaps we need only a moment to take notice. 

HOTTEA, “Hot Lunch” (2017), installation at the Mall of America
HOTTEA, “Hot Lunch” (2017), installation at the Mall of America
HOTTEA, “Stepping Stones” (2013), installation, Minneapolis
HOTTEA, “Mirrors” (2022), installation, Las Vegas
29 Jan. 2023

LIMA, Peru — Wedged between the prosperous neighborhoods of San Isidro and Miraflores, Lima’s Lugar de la Memoria (LUM) preserves the story of the Peruvian government’s struggle against Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and other Maoist terrorist groups that tried to take over the country in the 1980s and ’90s. 

The idea for the museum, whose official title is the Lugar de La Memoria, la Tolerancia y la Inclusión, came from the Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (Truth and Reconciliation Commission). Established in 2001 to investigate human rights abuses, the committee felt that there needed to be a public space to commemorate the victims as well as promote discourse. At the time, Peru was divided between those who believed the state and military’s side of the story, which represents the Maoists as the sole aggressors, and the humanitarian version of events, which maintains that both parties committed war crimes.

Despite being managed by the Ministry of Culture, the LUM takes the humanitarian route. One-half of its permanent exhibits are dedicated to the massacres carried out by Sendero Luminoso soldiers to scare the government into submission. The other half brings to light the equally gruesome tactics employed by the armed forces in their attempt to erase the Maoists — not to mention the peasant communities that may or may not have associated with them — from existence. The museum’s first floor gives an overview of violent altercations alongside information about the fate and identities of the victims, while the floor tells how collective action managed to restore democracy and rule of law to Peru, for a time. 

When I visited the LUM in November 2022, I did so in the hope of better understanding a country I sensed was on the verge of chaos. Instead, my takeaway was that Peruvian history is a contentious subject, and that the authorities in charge of writing its first drafts should not be taken at their word. 

The memory of domestic terrorism has given Lima’s political establishment, wary of sharing power with other regions of the country, a nefarious excuse to identify every left-leaning person lobbying for reform or representation as a terrorist. Ex-president Pedro Castillo, a subsistence farmer and union leader, was labeled as such when he ran for office and won.

Exterior of El Lugar de la Memoria, la Tolerancia y la Inclusión Social (photo by Mayimbú via Wikimedia Commons)

His successor, Dina Boluarte, who was not elected but rather inherited the presidency, is using the term to refer to protestors calling for new elections. Various commentators have been critical of her vocabulary, and for good reason. While protestors have organized roadblocks and pummeled law enforcement with stones, these actions are a far cry from the tactics of Sendero Luminoso. 

Considering that 49 of 50 reported deaths were civilians shot by military and police (the one other was an officer whose car was set on fire), all this terrorist rhetoric is an attempt to justify the government’s use of excessive, lethal force. 

As shown in Iran, force doesn’t intimidate protestors so much as strengthen their resolve. Peru’s current protestors are no longer marching just to remove Boluarte, but to demand justice for fallen friends and family members. 

Many ordinary Peruvians I spoke with think that the ongoing crisis is about more than a corrupt politician doing whatever she can to hold on to power — to which many national emergencies in the country boil down. Rather, it highlights the growing divide between the Lima-based elite and the disadvantaged, underrepresented, largely Indigenous populations of the Peruvian countryside.

As Dani, a lawyer from Trujillo, told me over WhatsApp, most of the protestors come from the south of Peru, “an area that historically has always been forgotten in political matters and wealth distribution. A lot of people minimize this feeling and call it rebelliousness or, even worse, ‘terrorism.’ In my opinion, the protests reflect the desire for a fair country that respects democracy and is free of corruption.” 

The city of Puno, struck by an unprecedented drought (photo Tim Brinkhof/Hyperallergic)

Augusto, an architect from the southern city of Puno, which has suffered heavily under government crackdown, agrees. “The worst of the Lima elite,” he said, “who have never respected or understood our culture, are imposing their reality and brutality, and once again committing all kinds of illegalities to silence the oppressed.”

I saw history being repeated as I looked around the Lugar de la Memoria, where displays of Sendero Luminoso executions of journalists and politicians make way for exhibits of government-sanctioned kidnapping and torture. On August 22, 1990, to name just one example, security forces killed 12 members of Peru’s Iquicha community, including three children, because they had refused to join the soldiers in an armed standoff against the Maoists. 

Having spent only two months in Peru, I do not profess to be an expert on the country, its people, or its problems. All I can say is that while I was there I noticed a stark difference in wealth between the center of Lima and the rest of the country, Cusco and Machu Picchu included. Of all the Peruvians I met, not a single person expressed faith in the country’s government — a government that has fed on bribes, extortion, and unkept promises for as long as they can remember. 

My feeling is that these protests are not just about removing Boluarte or reinstalling Castillo, or even holding new elections. They are a release of pent-up frustrations with a system whose operators have shown time and again that they will look out only for themselves. Having lost their last ounce of trust in that system, protestors are now taking to the streets. But does that make them terrorists?

29 Jan. 2023

When Vincent van Gogh said that his “The Night Cafe”(1888) shows “a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime,” he indicated that his paintings dig beneath the surface, that they can reveal what’s hidden.

It’s hard to imagine a painter less like van Gogh than Alex Katz, whose work is all about staying on the surface. Gathering, which fills the Guggenheim’s ramps and two of the side galleries, is a comprehensive survey of his six decades of art making. “Ella Marion in Red Sweater” (1946) and the subway drawings from the late 1940s are modest, surprisingly subdued pieces. But by the 1950s Katz found himself in landscapes like “Pink Sky” (1955), with its intense pale greens and pink. And soon enough, as in “10 AM” (1959), he discovered his signature portrait style of large, flat figures on the surface of monochromatic backgrounds. The “Double Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg” (1959), with Rauschenberg shown mirrored because Jasper Johns refused to participate, is a perfect example. The artist faces us, seated in front of two windows that look like framed monochromatic pictures. Color field painting meets elegant portraiture — that was Katz’s successful formula. His portraits, more varied in the poses than Andy Warhol’s celebrity portraits, are almost as impersonal. Katz’s attractive subjects have no visible conflicts. 

These portraits became larger in the 1960s and in some cases the compositions were more elaborate. “Paul Taylor Dance Company” (1963–64) depicts eight dancers in varied poses. I was less impressed with Katz’s many cut-outs, his ingenious freestanding paintings on aluminum that literalize his fascination with surfaces. But I was astonished by some of the recent landscapes, which are much more varied than the formulaic portraits. “Fog” (2015), for example, transcends his concern with surfaces, as does “Rain” (1989) and “Grass 6” (2017). And so does the great “Yellow Tree 1″ (2020). These are all-over images of natural scenes, without any reference to the glamorous people of his portraits. Katz’s late style is sometimes remarkably supple.

After I left the Guggenheim, I saw an ad for a Broadway show on a bus and, without reflection, said to myself, “just like Katz’s portraits.” When later I read Arthur Danto’s characterization of an earlier Katz retrospective, “agreeable … but not stirring,” I agreed. Katz is ultimately a splendid artist but too often his work is merely superficial. 

Yet sometimes a small detail in an artwork can change everything, not just in your sense of that one work, but also in how you view a larger exhibition. That happened to me when I studied the catalogue more closely. I was looking at “Round Hill” (1977), in which five youngish men and women are sunbathing. A surprising detail caught my eye. The woman on the far right is reading a paperback edition of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. The use of books within pictures, familiar in old master art, isn’t found elsewhere, so far as I can see, in the Katz exhibition. But this appearance of a book about a woman’s decisive role in an epic war — the ways it can be unpacked in the context of the painted scene and the broader world, in 1977 and today — inevitably inflects my perception of the entire exhibition. Something hidden is hinted at for anyone who looks closely. And what this little detail reveals is that sometimes what is right on the surface can change our understanding of the whole.

Alex Katz, “Round Hill” (1977), oil on linen, 71 inches x 96 inches (© 2022 Alex Katz / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Barry and Julie Smooke)
Alex Katz, “Yellow Tree 1” (2020), oil on linen, 72 inches x 72 inches (© 2022 Alex Katz / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery; Private Collection, Republic of Korea)
Installation view of Alex Katz: Gathering, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (© Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York; photo by Ariel Ione Williams and Midge Wattles)

Alex Katz: Gathering continues at the Guggenheim Museum (1071 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through February 20. The exhibition was organized by Katherine Brinson with Terra Warren, and with additional support from Andrea Zambrano.

29 Jan. 2023

QUEBEC CITY — A shitshow is literally taking place at the Musée de la Civilisation. Bad jokes aside, there is actually more to shit than meets the eye. Bottom line: excrement — and its mismanagement — are major drivers of global inequality. Not talking about shit openly is actually getting in the way of social justice. Oh Shit! is a golden opportunity to “go there” and to educate ourselves. It was worth the trip to Quebec City — the earliest known French settlement in North America and the only fortified city north of Mexico whose walls still exist.

Oh Shit! retraces the historical arc of feces from ancient Rome to the sewage challenges and potential innovations of the 21st century. The first room is a menagerie of chamber pots and antique toilets. The second section presents a series of seven toilets with the seven stool types through which doctors gauge diet and bowel function. It’s more science than art museum. The third section is like a vast public bathroom with several oversized partitioned stalls. Each stall features a mini-exhibition recounting different episodes in the history of shit — whose material history is often repressed. The fourth area presents objects and wall texts that reveal how excrement’s mismanagement exacerbates global inequality and how rethinking poo could narrow the gap between rich and poor and mitigate climate change. No shit.

One of the most dynamic installations is a life-sized reconstruction of a public latrine from Roman Gaul (in modern-day Nice, France). It demonstrates the degree to which modernity’s shame-based relationship with shit is arbitrary. The Romans built large public latrines where colleagues would discuss business and friends would chat — literally and figuratively “shooting the shit.” A shared sponge on the end of the stick, rinsed in aqueduct water between uses, may not be toilet paper, but it was state of the art in antiquity. The accumulated excrement was cherished by famers as fertilizer to improve the local harvest. Throughout the Roman Empire, heading to the public latrine was understood as a civic duty to improve the community’s agricultural yield.

This reconstruction of a public latrine from the first century CE is based on an archaeological survey of what is now the Cimiez neighborhood in Nice, France. (photo Daniel Larkin/Hyperallergic)

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the circular logic of public latrines, and its benefits, never came back. As cities grew in medieval Europe, roads became obstacle courses from emptied chamber pots. Such “shitstorms” are portrayed in a reproduction of an anonymous Dutch illustration in the exhibition, “The Emptying of Chamber Pots” (1554), which is derived from Joos de Damhouder‘s legal manual, Praxis rerum criminalium. By the Renaissance, inventors began to ponder a better solution than smelling crap on the way to the market. The first flush toilet was invented and installed in the 1580s by the amateur British poet and courtier Sir John Harrington. Although Queen Elizabeth I tried out the prototype in 1592, Harrington’s invention did not take off. It would take two centuries for flush toilets to become economically viable, at least for the upper class. In 1775, the British entrepreneur Alexander Cummings patented a “flushing water closet” that became a bourgeois sensation.

Over the course of the 19th century, cholera outbreaks forced London’s leaders to build sewers in the city at an enormous expense — somewhere between £240 million and £1 billion in today’s money. Witnessing London’s success, other major cities in Europe and North America soon laid sewers and installed flushing toilets, compelled to bear the astronomical costs due to the risk of communicable diseases. However, sewers were unfortunately not laid in overseas territories and colonies. The racist legacy of this colonial inequality persists today. According to a 2020 United Nations white paper, nearly 750 million people, encompassing 69 percent of Africa’s population, still do not have access to basic sanitation services. This is the root cause of numerous public health challenges on the continent.

The challenge of Oh Shit! is to picture the lived experience behind these statistics. A partition in the show vividly recreates the unsanitary conditions under which far too many people in the world still defecate. The floor is covered with a mixture of artificial mud and fake poo amid a bustling street scene. Getting grossed out is the point. The museum estimates that today 673 million people will be forced to defecate outside. Two billion people, predominantly in the developing world, do not enjoy the basic human right of a clean toilet. These conditions expose individuals to numerous health risks.

Nanomembrane toilet from 2014 (photo Daniel Larkin/Hyperallergic)

Additionally, one billion women will risk rape and sexual violence today when they defecate out in the open or are forced to take a long journey to an inadequate facility. Queer and trans people in the developing world are also targets, but these statistics are not tracked and disseminated. Toilet access is one of the most definitive gaps between wealth and poverty, health and illness, safety and rape or other forms of violence.

The next section of Oh Shit! features the new nanomembrane toilet, which is an effort to fix this problem. Designed for countries that lack sewer infrastructure, it attempts to harness recent scientific advances to affordably and sanitarily dispose of urine and feces. This invention uses nanomembranes to filter the toxic parts out of urine, transforming it into water that can be employed for watering plants or cleaning. A small furnace incinerates feces, generating enough electricity to charge a mobile phone. As often happens when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation throws money at a problem, the global south is “blessed” with a fancy new gizmo that presents scalability and maintenance challenges. It might be effective in urban areas, but it is not the game changer it promises to be on paper. It is ineffective in rural areas and war zones that are hard for maintenance technicians to reach, which is where the need is most acute. Privilege is literally the capacity to adequately deal with your shit, your family’s shit, and your neighbor’s shit.

But there is hope — your shit could be powering your iPhone. Unlocking the power of our poop as bio-fuel presents a major opportunity to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and the war-mongering nations that sell it. In addition to displaying an elaborate machine that can turn shit into usable fuel, visitors can learn about a stove in India that cooks food with bio-gas, as well as a bus in Brighton, England, that runs on bio-fuel. In this way, we are coming full circle to ancient Rome. Your dung actually holds electricity value for the community, and scientists are just beginning to find ways to unleash this power. Redefining our society’s relationship with shit could advance racial, economic, sexual, and energy justice in the years ahead. But to get there, we need to be willing to deal with our shit in new ways.

Bio-fuel power generator (photo Daniel Larkin/Hyperallergic)
Installation view of Oh Shit! at the Musée de la Civilisation, Quebec City (photo Daniel Larkin/Hyperallergic)

Oh Shit! continues at the Musée de la Civilisation (85 Rue Dalhousie, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada) through March 26. The exhibition was organized by the Musée de la Civilisation with a scientific committee of Catherine Bourgault, François-Joseph Lapointe, Corinne Maurice, Alain Veilleux, and Céline Vaneeckhaute.

29 Jan. 2023
John Martin, untitled (2017-18), ceramic, dimensions variable (photo Glen Helfand/Hyperallergic)

Creative Growth, the Oakland, California, studio for artists with intellectual, physical, and developmental disabilities, is beloved. Founded in 1974, with a hands-on, “creative community” approach, Creative Growth has become a national model in their field, and has brought artists ever-increasing exposure through art fairs and exhibitions. It is a resource, launching pad, and welcoming community center all in one. 

The John Michael Kohler Arts Center, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, is also a beloved institution that has consistently showcased and supported artists working outside of the mainstream art world. Kohler’s range of activities — galleries, an industrial strength residency program, and the groundbreaking Art Preserve museum of artist environments — form a cultural oasis in the Upper Midwest.

A mini-survey of works from Creative Growth makes perfect sense within the Kohler program, both being institutions with similar goals of fostering a broader range of art and artists. Creative! Growth! is curated by White Columns Director Matthew Higgs, an ardent, longtime supporter of the art studio. Billed as the first exhibition to consider Creative Growth’s nearly 50-year history, the show features extended wall text introducing founders Elias Katz and Florence Ludins-Katz and the politically and socially progressive context of 1970s Bay Area, which is home to two other centers for artists with disabilities, Creativity Explored in San Francisco and NIAD in Richmond. The show includes archival posters and historical photographs, while Katzs’ quotes touting their belief in “joy and fulfillment through creative self-expression” are emblazoned atop the perimeter of the gallery.

The context, disappointingly, ends there: Creative! Growth! seems to promise a more comprehensive historical view, but it is a compact showcase of work by artists who have produced work at Creative Growth since its inception. It does include some key works such as yarn-wrapped sculptures by the late Judith Scott, perhaps the most well-known and most collected Creative Growth artist. Also on view are William Scott’s (no relation) portraits of smiling couples and landscapes, along with a beige suit upon which he’s painted radiant faces, and the phrase “Inner Limits.”

Installation view, Creative! Growth! (2022), John Michael Kohler Arts Center; (foreground) William Scott untitled works (courtesy John Michael Kohler Arts Center)

Whereas much of the work is in traditional mediums of painting and sculpture, Susan Janow (whose videos and drawings are currently featured in a solo show at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art through December 4) offers time-based alternatives. Her two 10-minute black-and-white videos “untitled (Questions)” and “untitled (Answers),” both from 2018–2020, are probing standouts. The artist, dressed in a Tony the Tiger sweatshirt and unstructured blazer, asks probing questions (“At what age did you become an adult?”) and offers subjective answers. 

Janow’s monitors are installed on ungainly freestanding wall structures, which take up a conspicuous amount of gallery space. Workshop-style tables that showcase Judith Scott’s sculptures, I was told by a staff member, were intended to suggest the active nature of the Creative Growth workshops — a difficult thing to convey in a gallery setting. Any survey of Creative Growth requires focus on its community, but with little to no information on the artists (a few, but not all, of the artists get biographical and artistic inspiration notes on the Kohler website) that key angle remains opaque. 

There is, however, a window into Creative Growth’s culture in a three-channel video by filmmaker Cheryl Dunn who has been documenting the studio’s vibrant annual fashion show and fundraiser, Beyond Trend, for years. In the video, artists are shown dressed in vibrant, bedazzled, wearable art, and feeling as empowered as supermodels ready for the runway. In their behind-the-scenes moments, they exude creative spirit, and joy. It’s here that we see just how special Creative Growth really is.  

Installation view, Creative! Growth! (2022), John Michael Kohler Arts Center; Susan Janow, (from left) “untitled (Questions)” (2018–2020), video, 10:05 minutes; “untitled (Answers)” (2018–2020), video, 10:06 minutes (courtesy Creative Growth and John Michael Kohler Arts Center)
Dan Miller, untitled (2017), acrylic and ink on paper (courtesy Creative Growth and John Michael Kohler Arts Center)
Installation view, Creative! Growth! (2022), John Michael Kohler Arts Center; Nicole Storm, (from left) untitled (2022), acrylic on wood panel, 48 x 72 x 2 inches; untitled (2022), acrylic on wood panel, 48 x 72 x 2 inches (courtesy Creative Growth and John Michael Kohler Arts Center)
Installation view, Creative! Growth! (2022), John Michael Kohler Arts Center; (foreground) Judith Scott untitled sculptures (photo Glen Helfand/Hyperallergic)
Installation view, Creative! Growth! (2022), John Michael Kohler Arts Center (photo Glen Helfand/Hyperallergic)

Editor’s note: Travel to and accommodations were provided by John Michael Kohler Art Center in connection with the exhibition.

Creative! Growth! continues at the John Michael Kohler Art Center (608 New York Ave, Sheboygan, Wisconsin) through May 19, 2023. The exhibition was curated by Matthew Higgs.

29 Jan. 2023

Naiyer Masud (1936–2017) is regarded as one of the greatest short story writers from India. He is the author of four acclaimed collections of short stories in Urdu, Seemiya (The Occult), Itr-e-Kafoor (Essence of Camphor), Taaoos Chaman ki Maina (The Myna from Peacock Garden), and Ganjifa (Card Game).

His works of fiction have been translated into many languages other than English, such as Spanish, French, and Finnish. Masud’s stories are marked by impenetrable obscurity, eschewing narrative in favor of sensations and feelings. Debutant filmmaker Shahi A. J. attempts to penetrate the late writer’s concealed world and make sense of it in his creative nonfiction project Letters Unwritten to Naiyer Masud (2023). 

Aided by a grant from the India Foundation for the Arts, Shahi, along with a few batchmates from his alma mater, the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), undertakes a train journey to the city of Lucknow, where Masud spent his entire life. Like his other batchmate from FTII, Payal Kapadia (A Night of Knowing Nothing, 2021), Shahi opts for an epistolary narrative form interspersed with a melange of footage: train travel, blurbs from Masud’s stories, newspaper tributes to the author, reality, charcoal-illustrated animation, photographs, and interviews with people associated with Masud. 

Masud’s ancestral residence, Adabistan (the abode of literature), forms a prominent backdrop in most of his stories. Shahi’s animator friend Bharath Murthy recreates Adabistan filled with curios, symbols, and insignias that pop up frequently in Masud’s imagination. This animated world is juxtaposed with footage of Shahi and his friends paying a visit to Masud’s seat of inspiration, which in reality lacks many of the fictional elements. The missing pieces of the puzzle lead them to the wider canvas of Lucknow, which pervades Masud’s dreamy world. A travel guide, Samir Kher of Deep Dive India, wipes off the dust from the shrouded culture and history of the city’s old neighborhoods for them. The visitors explore Lucknow’s narrow lanes, crowded streets, dilapidated mansions, and vintage buildings, which crystallize into Bharath’s illustrated color map of the city portrayed in Masud’s stories. They chance upon the fish insignia absent in Adabistan, nestled on the arches of many building facades, and discover its fish weather vane at the historical monument Chota Imambara. 

From Letters Unwritten to Naiyer Masud (2023), dir. Shahi A.J.
From Letters Unwritten to Naiyer Masud (2023), dir. Shahi A.J.

The alternating voice-overs by Shahi and his friends constitute the unwritten letters addressed to Masud, which serve as their imagined personal interactions with the cherished author. This transposing pattern in the narrative mirrors the enigmatic author’s works, in which the narrator’s identity seems fluid. To shed more light on the elliptical nature of Masud’s writing and his personality, the team interacts with his brother Azar Masud, son Timsal Masud, and fellow writer-friend Ayesha Siddiqui. The three share the opinion that Masud believed in maintaining some element of secrecy in his life, which naturally reflects in his work. This conscious decision to hide something also influences Shahi’s filmmaking approach. He avoids showing any characters, all we hear are voices. Masud’s is a world of interconnected closed doors that when opened lead to other mysterious paths. The film depicts this fever dream through tracking shots of grainy, blurred visuals that reveal more of the background with each forward movement. If Masud’s enchanting prose could conjure up a magical world for his readers, then Shahi’s interdisciplinary tribute to the artist haunts the viewer with its power of imagery and impassioned voices.

From Letters Unwritten to Naiyer Masud (2023), dir. Shahi A.J.
From Letters Unwritten to Naiyer Masud (2023), dir. Shahi A.J.
From Letters Unwritten to Naiyer Masud (2023), dir. Shahi A.J.

Letters Unwritten to Naiyer Masud (2023) is screening as part of the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2023 on January 30, 31, and February 1.

29 Jan. 2023

Using facial recognition technology, researchers in the United Kingdom concluded that a tondo once attributed to an unknown artist was “highly likely” made by Renaissance master Raphael.

The “de Brécy Tondo,” acquired by the late British businessman and art collector George Lester Winward in 1981, depicts a classical Madonna and Child scene. The Madonna wears a dress with a white gathered collar, a dusty pink bodice, and what appears to be a loose teal skirt. A beige cloth covers the mother’s hair as she holds her baby close to her chest. The description applies, with uncanny accuracy, to Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna,” commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1512. 

Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, Germany, which holds “Sistine Madonna” in its collection, has long thought Winward’s Tondo to be a copy. The collector, however, was convinced that the work was an original Raphael and founded the de Brécy Trust in 1995 to sponsor research projects that could support his claim

Winward was posthumously vindicated, so to speak, when a team of researchers from the University of Nottingham and the University of Bradford in the UK announced their findings on Monday, January 23.

Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna” (1513-14) (via Wikimedia Commons)

“This study demonstrates the capabilities of machine learning to give a probability of the same artist between different ‘Old Master’ paintings,” said Christopher Brook, an honorary research fellow at the University of Nottingham and expert in digital image analysis. He added that the research, which he co-authored, “promises much for the future examination of works of art.”

Using facial recognition systems developed by Hassan Ugail, a professor of visual computing at the University of Bradford, the team compared the face in the “de Brécy Tondo” with Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna.” They found a 95% similarity between the Madonnas in the two paintings and an 86% similarity in the Child. In research terms, a similarity of 75% or higher is enough to label two works “identical.”

The technology was originally created to identify international criminals from grainy CCTV security footage. After feeding the software an image, the machine learning algorithm closely reads the face, collecting information on features such as skin color, face shape, and expression. That data is compared to a second known image to determine how similar the two faces are.

“We’ve never applied this algorithm to paintings,” Ugail told Hyperallergic in an interview. “At the end of the day, the software is analyzing two images. From a technical point of view, we didn’t have to do anything extra; it’s exactly the same software.”

This finding confirms previous research by Howell Edwards, a scientific adviser to the de Brécy Trust which argued that the painting was not a Victorian-era copy. Pigments in the Tondo were studied and found to be typical of pre-1700 work. The team’s findings will be published soon in a peer-reviewed paper.

29 Jan. 2023

There is a tendency to think of art conservators as serious types, dabbing minutely at priceless paintings with Q-tips, but this week, conservation experts at the Museum of London set their sights on a quite hilarious art object: a giant inflatable effigy of the United States’s most ridiculous president.

Created in 2018 by Leo Murray, the “Trump Baby” blimp was intended to be raised as a temporary form of peaceful protest during Trump’s state visit to London in July of that year. But the massive infant balloon, which sports a diaper and clutches a cell phone, blew up both literally and figuratively, traveling all around the United Kingdom. A petition to fly the bossy baby outside the Trump Turnberry golf course in Scotland gained thousands of signatures, though ultimately this was not permitted.

And in 2021, the Museum of London picked up the Trump baby in a loving embrace for its protest art collection, which includes banners, flags, and tents dating back at least a century to Britain’s suffrage movement. The blimp was donated to the institution, and though Director Sharon Ament told the BBC at the time that the museum was “not political and does not have any view about the state of politics in the States,” they felt the balloon had touched on something fundamental to British character, in terms of satire.

“We use humour a lot,” said Ament. “And we poke fun at politicians. This is a big — literally — example of that.”

Now, conservative politics take a back seat to the politics of conservation. Reports note that the museum characterizes the Trump inflatable as a challenge due to its intended use as a “short-lived” object.  

“It was made to be … a quick, flexible and visible icon, as opposed to the permanent statues in Parliament Square made from the much more durable materials,” a spokesperson from the Museum of London said. “Plastics age and break down in sometimes unexpected ways, so this will help us establish how we can best preserve it in the long-term as part of our collection.”

This week, the museum employed a specialist firm in Chelmsford to re-inflate the baby and check for any needed repairs. It’s a good thing too, because as the FBI can attest, the right loves to leak!

The test inflation is the final step in preparing the item for possible display at the museum’s new location in West Smithfield, set to open in 2026.

27 Jan. 2023

Some museums are ditching the term “mummy” to describe the preserved Ancient Egyptian bodies in their collections. According to a recent CNN report, three British museums have adopted the terms “mummified remains” and “mummified persons,” and several institutions in the United States told Hyperallergic that they are also updating their language in order to command more respect for the individuals that they display to the public.

Across the United Kingdom, the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle, London’s British Museum, and Edinburgh’s National Museums of Scotland have rewritten their display labels and online resources with the new language as it “can encourage visitors to think of the individual who once lived.” Jo Anderson, the assistant keeper of archaeology at the Great North Museum: Hancock, referenced the historical evidence of the UK’s disrespect and desecration of Ancient Egyptian bodies in a 2021 museum blog post clarifying the terms of the change in descriptive language.

According to the blog post, the museum’s famed body of an Ancient Egyptian woman known as Irtyru was brought to England and became the subject of a public “unwrapping party” in 1830 — one of the more grotesque impacts of the Victorian-era “Egyptomania” craze that succeeded the centuries-long European practice of consuming ground-up mummies to prevent and treat various illnesses. Sadly, the flagrant objectification of preserved Ancient Egyptians extended into the art world as well. From the 16th through 20th centuries, “Mummy Brown” was a largely popular shade of oil paint pigmented with pulverized remains looted from Egypt and sold across Europe.

“Examen d’une momie” (“Examination of a Mummy”) by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux, circa 1980 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Adam Goldwater, the museum’s manager, told CNN that visitor research yielded evidence that museum patrons “did not recognize that [Irtyru] was a real person,” prompting the institution to “display her more sensitively.”

The National Museums Scotland (NMS) has also updated its language. Its use of the term “mummified person” was first introduced during its 2017 exhibition The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial and was implemented throughout the permanent Ancient Egypt Rediscovered gallery that opened in 2019. The British Museum still uses the word “mummy” across its galleries, but also adopted the term “mummified person” in new displays as well. A spokesperson for the British Museum did point out that there is no intention of phasing out the word “mummy” across the institution.

The change in language is happening across the pond as well. Four museums informed Hyperallergic that they’ve either already adopted the terminology in their displays and additional literature, or are in the process of reestablishing policies to include more sensitive language for the individuals in their funerary collections.

“We have had many internal discussions around adopting the term ‘mummified remains,’ or ‘mummified person’ as well as best practices around how to alert our visitors to the presence of mummified persons in our gallery space,” a Brooklyn Museum spokesperson told Hyperallergic, citing the decision to rename their Mummy Chamber, housing four mummified individuals, to the “Funerary Gallery” five years ago. (Separately, the institution has recently been identified on a ProPublica database for its possession of Native American remains that have yet to be identified and repatriated under NAGPRA.)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan has over a dozen mummified individuals in their collections and uses the term “mummified remains” across their galleries as well, with a representative noting that the museum “seeks to convey care, dignity and respect throughout explanatory and contextual information.” 

The University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute has 89 mummified remains in their collection, 13 of which are human. A spokesperson for the institute told Hyperallergic that while administrative and faculty discussions are taking place to establish policy on the terminology, gallery signage refers variously to “mummified remains,” “mummy of (individuals name),” and “mummified boy.” They also noted that there is a sign at the entrance of the Egyptian Gallery alerting visitors that they will be viewing human and animal remains.

Chicago’s Field Museum has one of the country’s largest collections of mummified remains with 23 human individuals in their possession. While the museum’s Africa and Egypt galleries are being revamped, a representative stated that they would “certainly consider a shift from “mummy” to “mummified remains” in referring to these individuals and their funerary context.”

Mummy of Ukhhotep, son of Hedjpu, Middle Kingdom ca. 1981–1802 BCE (via The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

But the notion that “mummified remains” is the more appropriate and humanizing term for preserved bodies is not widely accepted. Professor Salima Ikram, the unit head of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, has used the word “mummy” across multiple books, articles, and publications, and told Hyperallergic that she actually finds the term “mummified remains” to be “insulting and dehumanising,” and that several of her colleagues share her opinion.

“‘Remains’ suggests that the body is fragmentary (and to my mind, evokes to what one leaves on ones plate),” Ikram elaborated. “I think the problem is that one needs to educate people so that they realise that a mummy is indeed a human being (or other animal) that has gone through a complex process of transformation that the Egyptians believed was crucial for the person to stop being human and become divine so that the individual could live eternally.”

The ancient Egyptian process of mummification was not rooted in a preoccupation with death, but out of love of life and the desire to continue it after passing on. Priests worked as embalmers to carefully remove the organs, dry out the body, and wrap it carefully with hundreds of yards of linen while performing rituals to ensure that the deceased would maintain all their faculties in the afterlife. Mummies were kept with their belongings that the living believed they would need in the afterlife as well.

“I am saddened by this idea that name-changing will alter or enhance people’s understandings,” Ikram lamented. “Explanations and education are crucial, and indeed, the word mummy, at least here in Egypt, very specifically refers to a human being, albeit in a transformed state.”

In response to Ikram’s comments, the National Museum of Scotland told Hyperallergic that the adopted language has been woven into its educational resources and online information as well.

“Our interpretation addresses both ancient Egyptian beliefs about mummification and colonial-era collecting practices,” the NMS spokesperson stated.

“In our digital sessions for schools and in our schools workshop, children are encouraged to think of these individuals as real people who once had lives of their own and taught about what ancient Egyptians hoped to achieve through mummification.”

27 Jan. 2023

What do we owe to the memories of one another’s hearts?

This central question resonates throughout the exhibition The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto, presented by Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art and the McCormick School of Engineering from January 26 through July 9, 2023.

For American artist Dario Robleto (b. 1972), artists and scientists share a common aspiration: to increase the sensitivity of their observations. Throughout the history of scientific invention, instruments like the cardiograph and the telescope have extended the reach of perception from the tiniest stirrings of the human body to the farthest reaches of space. In his prints, sculptures, and video and sound installations, Robleto contemplates the emotional significance of these technologies, bringing us closer to the latent traces of life buried in the scientific record.

The Heart’s Knowledge concentrates on the most recent decade of Robleto’s creative practice, a period of deepening engagement with histories of medicine, biomedical engineering, sound recording, and space exploration. The exhibition organizes the artist’s works as a series of multisensory encounters between art and science. Each piece seeks to attune viewers to phenomena at scales ranging from the intimate to the universal, returning always to the question: Does empathy extend beyond the boundaries of time and space?

In “The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854–1913)” (2017), Robleto transforms early measurements of heartbeats made by 19th-century pioneers of cardiography into exquisite photolithographs executed on paper hand-sooted with candle flames. For the installation “The Pulse Armed With a Pen (An Unknown History of the Human Heartbeat)” (2014), Robleto digitally resurrects these historic heartbeats, allowing visitors to listen to pulses of life recorded before the invention of sound playback. Two immersive video installations, “The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed” (2019) and “The Aorta of an Archivist” (2020–2021) weave Robleto’s archival inquiries into the first recorded heartbeats with a meditation on the cosmic limits of perception, while intricate sculptures like “Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas” (2018) give shape to the speculative search for intelligent life in the universe.

The Heart’s Knowledge marks the culmination of Robleto’s five-year engagement as Artist-at-Large in Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. This exhibition reflects the spirit of that enterprise, expanding conversations around ethics and empathy in scientific fields, and inviting us to look and listen to the life that surrounds us with curiosity and compassion.

The companion publication is currently available through ARTBOOK DAP.

The Block Museum of Art is always free and open to all.

To learn more, visit blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.

26 Jan. 2023

There’s a novel trend sweeping across TikTok known as “Corecore,” a sarcastic play on the suffix “-core” that web users tack onto a variety of different nouns in reference to niche aesthetics and micro-trends like bimbocore, glitchcore, and normcore. But as some users on the platform have pointed out, Corecore bears a striking resemblance to the century-old artistic movement known as Dada. Tiktok user @aamirazh and several other art history aficionados have highlighted how both operate through the “artist’s act of choice” to attribute meaning to the meaningless.

Remember when “cottagecore” had its moment and we all wanted to grow gardens, make bread (see: sourdough starter trend), and bounce on top of mushroom caps in the forest in response to our exhaustion with late-stage capitalism and overreaching technological reliance? Well, “Corecore” is stripped of the escapism elements that made “cottagecore” take off, confronting viewers with an onslaught of media tidbits stitched together and overlaid with melancholy orchestral (or piano) compositions and pseudo-deep talking points that waver between encouraging defeat and sparking a revolution.

If you scroll through #corecore videos on TikTok, there’s an overarching element of “We Live In a Society” that permeates through the content in the form of clip arrangement. The more I try to explain it, the more I feel like I’m standing in front of a crime investigation bulletin board connecting related elements with red string, so just have a look for yourself:

From the “Top-Liked Videos” section of the #corecore tag dashboard

Corecore TikToks layer or flicker between clips from viral videos of people admitting loneliness or depression, nihilistic dialogue scenes from popular films or TV shows, deep-fried memes, and other staples of “chronically online” web culture in a curated supercut that hits the nail on the head in terms of our collective feeling of hopelessness and anxiety as we hurtle through continuously “unprecedented times.”

Something that I can appreciate about Corecore is its distinct ability to pinpoint both highly nostalgic and anxiety-inducing moments across a large audience through an evolved use of what I would consider its predecessor, “Weirdcore.” According to the Aesthetics Wiki page, Weirdcore is a “Surrealist aesthetic centered around amateur or low-quality photography and/or visual images that have been constructed or edited to convey feelings of confusion, disorientation, dread, alienation, and nostalgia or anemoia.” Weirdcore primarily resides on the depersonalization and trauma sides of Tumblr, but appreciation for the aesthetic has been renewed on Instagram, Reddit, and TikTok as well.

An example of Weirdcore content posted by @we.dont.really.exist on Instagram (screenshot Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)

Corecore utilizes the moving image and capitalizes on the infinite capacity of TikTok’s algorithmic curation to evoke similar feelings of existential dread from those who come across it. You’ll see flashes of viral ASMR content, fast fashion hauls, dating or weight loss advice, influencer drama, and other TikTok trends throughout Corecore videos as a form of metacommentary on how the app itself is a large contributor to the generalized anxiety and addictive overstimulation we’re experiencing in the digital age.

Corecore’s repeated attempts to convey widespread doom and gloom with the state of the human condition do harken back to the dawn of Dadaism. Dadaism was born in Zürich, Switzerland, out of disillusionment with society near the end of World War I. In 1916, German writer Hugo Ball sought refuge in Zürich as the war claimed tens of millions of lives and shared his horror with the world by performing a nonsense poem at the Cabaret Voltaire. Ball wanted to shock everyone who believed that “all this civilized carnage as a triumph of European intelligence,” and thus, the anti-war anti-bourgeoisie absurdist movement of Dada was born. (Though we should also acknowledge that Ball has recently come under scrutiny for his flagrant antisemitism.)

Despite its origins as an “anti-art” movement, Dadaism spread like a wildfire and opened the floodgates for both originality and reappropriation of existing content through untraditional means.

It’s not lost on me that Dada and Corecore have the same sound, either. Apparently, the name “Dada” was coined after the word was found in a dictionary — it’s a term for “rocking horse” in French, and translates to “yes, yes” in Romanian and Russian. And like Dada’s anti-war stance, Corecore props up anti-technofuturism and anti-capitalism by recontextualizing random content to present a new message or meaning altogether.

Digital culture reporter Kieran Press-Reynolds wrote about Corecore at the end of November 2022, calling the movement an “anti-trend” in the same vein as Dadaists exclaiming that “Dada is anti-Dada!”

One Corecore TikToker he spoke to, Dean Erfani, simply defined the aesthetic as “essentially the abstract concept of taking random videos and editing them together to the point that it makes sense to the viewer. Or at least have the viewer interpret it in their own way.” Some Corecore videos actually fixate on specific issues such as the cosmetic procedure frenzy, the loneliness to incel pipeline, rapid climate change, and gross class inequities.

To me, Corecore’s “aesthetic” reads as an art school freshman’s first found-footage project in Adobe Premiere Pro (no, I’m not projecting) presented with the societal dread induced from doom-scrolling on one’s phone at 2am after one too many bong rips on a weeknight (again, not projecting …). But at the very least, it’s an evidence-based manner of expressing one’s frustrations with the world that seems to strike a chord with a large number of TikTok users. In its own way, Corecore is Gen Z’s means of “shocking” sense into the people around them.

Whether or not it inspires change is debatable, but I think the following screenshot from a Corecore TikTok comment section pretty much sums it up:

A particularly enlightening exchange about Corecore (screenshot by Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic)
26 Jan. 2023

Twitter and YouTube have reportedly taken down posts and clips relating to the BBC documentary India: The Modi Question following requests made by the Indian government to remove content related to the film, which analyzes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role during the Gujarat riots in 2002. Kanchan Gupta, India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting advisor, took to Twitter on Saturday, January 21, calling the film “propaganda” and citing emergency powers under India’s information technology rules to block it.

According to Lumen, an independent research project out of Harvard University, Twitter has taken down posts in India by politicians, journalists, and news media in response to the request. Derek O’Brien, a member of parliament in India’s upper house, noted on Saturday that his tweet about the documentary, in which he called out the prime minister for his alleged “hate for minorities,” had been taken down. A post by actor and activist John Cusack, who co-wrote Things that Can and Cannot Be Said with Arundhati Roy (a critic of the Modi government), was also among the tweets reportedly removed in India. It included a link to the documentary on YouTube that was later removed after being blocked by the video-sharing platform. (A YouTube spokesperson told Hyperallergic that the documentary was blocked by the BBC due to a copyright claim.)

Another member of parliament, Mahua Moitra, tweeted, “Sorry, haven’t been elected to represent world’s largest democracy to accept censorship” with an Internet Archive link to the documentary online, which was also taken down.

A BBC spokesperson told Hyperallergic, “The BBC has not asked Twitter to remove any content relating to the documentary. As is our standard practice, we issue Takedown Notices to websites and other file sharing platforms where the content infringes the BBC’s copyright.”

“A wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached, and we have featured a range of opinions — this includes responses from people in the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party],” the spokesperson continued. “We offered the Indian Government a right to reply to the matters raised in the series — it declined to respond.” It is unclear if and when the documentary will be released to viewers outside of the UK.

The BBC aired the first segment of the two-part series in the United Kingdom on Tuesday, January 17 and the second a week later. The documentary brings to light a previously unpublished report that the BBC acquired from the British Foreign Office that questions whether Modi, who was chief minister of Gujarat at the time, was “directly responsible” for the ”climate of impunity” that enabled violence in the region.

The riots coming under new scrutiny took place on February 27, 2002, when a train transporting Hindu pilgrims caught fire and killed 59 people. Hindu mobs retaliated to the fire, which was linked to an altercation between Hindu activists and Muslim residents in Godhra and sparked riots for more than two months. About 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed and about 150,000 were displaced. Modi was criticized for not doing enough to stop the violence that erupted against Gujarat’s Muslim minority. In a 2012 victory speech celebrating the Bharatiya Janata Party’s state election win, Modi apologized for mistakes he may have made, alluding to the 2002 riots. In 2012, the Supreme court appointed a special investigation team that concluded it could not find evidence with which to prosecute Modi, who was first elected prime minister in 2014. 

Data shared by Twitter shows a compliance rate with legal requests to remove posts by India’s government at under 20% in the year before Elon Musk took over. Musk has attempted to position himself as a “free speech absolutist” since he acquired the company in October 2022. However, he has been criticized for reversing account suspensions imposed on far-right politicians such as former President Donald Trump after the January 6 insurrection and Representative Marjorie Taylor Green who spread COVID-19 misinformation. Musk has also come under scrutiny for failing to reverse the suspension of Distributed Denial of Secrets, a watchdog group known for leaking documents in the public’s interest. In December 2022, journalists who covered the platform critically, including reporters at the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN, among others, had their accounts suspended

Since Indian authorities’ attempts over the weekend to block posts about the documentary, students have been detained for going forward with screenings of The Modi Question at universities. BBC reports that police dressed in riot gear detained a dozen students at Jamia Millia Islamia university on Wednesday night, calling the screening an “unauthorised gathering.” The previous night, students at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi accused officials of shutting down electricity and Internet access to stop a planned screening. 

Human rights and free speech organizations such as Human Rights Watch, International Press Institute, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and PEN America have condemned what they see as a decline in freedom of expression and space to openly criticize governments.

“While you can argue that yes there needs to be some element of control, what’s been happening in India has largely been executive,” Prateek Waghre, Internet Freedom Foundation policy director, told Al Jazeera. “There is a lot of discretionary control at the executive level with minimal oversight. And that’s where the concern is.”

26 Jan. 2023
  • If you’ve never come across the bizarre Twitter account Carnivore Aurelius, beyond false claims about sunscreen and patriarchal idealizations of bygone eras, you’re not missing much. For Buzzfeed News, Katie Notopoulos debunks the rumor that the person behind these viral tweets is actually a woman:

To many of his followers, it isn’t entirely clear if the account is genuine or satirical. He explained to BuzzFeed News that it’s a mix of both. He is genuine about the benefits of beef liver, but not the breast milk ice cream. “I just find that adding some playfulness, humor and exaggeration is helpful to bring some light-heartedness to such a tribal and dour dietary world,” Carnivore Aurelius said.

But there are themes and imagery at play that point to something beyond just diet advice and jokes. Curtis Dozier, assistant professor of Greek and Roman studies at Vassar College, leads a project called Pharos, which tracks and debunks the co-opting of classics and antiquity by the alt-right. Dozier told BuzzFeed News that the use of a Roman statue avatar (in this case, emperor Marcus Aurelius, a key adherent of the philosophy known as stoicism) is a visual motif associated with certain alt-right or neofascist accounts.

  • For n+1 magazine, Ken Chen reflects on late activist and organizer Corky Lee’s most iconic images of Asian-American life and community organizing:

Corky Lee started out as an organizer at Two Bridges Neighborhood Council. He convinced tenants to collectively withhold rent until their landlords made repairs and ameliorated their abysmal living conditions. The apartments in Chinatown often lacked heating, hot water, and plumbing and packed several people into a tiny, dingy room. Of course, these inhumane conditions meant that even poor migrants could afford them. To persuade the tenants to organize, Lee showed them photographs he’d taken in other buildings, displaying the original state of neglect and the improved conditions brought by collective pressure—a little like, he later joked, the before-and-after photos in a weight-loss commercial. At first, he did not even own a camera and had to borrow his roommate’s Pentax.

  • Scholar Tressie McMillan Cottom, who was banned from TikTok after explaining her research on blondeness and whiteness, writes for the New York Times about the need to lay bare the “invisible power of blond”:

People often get angry when I write about aesthetics and power. Most of us hate the idea that whom we are attracted to, for instance, has any political context. We hate thinking that the things we enjoy — like a soapy western with conservative tropes — mean anything. That is the thing about status. We all want it, but, should we acquire it, we don’t want it to mean anything. We don’t want to feel bad about having status. The real blondes let me have it because, they maintained, being blond should mean something for them but not mean anything for the rest of us. That is not how status works.

  • NYC Mayor Eric Adams has pushed aggressively for increased police funding, yet after he took office, policy changes stripped already vulnerable trans women incarcerated at Rikers Island of much of their existing support, George Joseph reports for The City:

The LGBTQ+ Affairs Unit now found its work consumed by conflicts with mid-level bureaucrats, who resisted requests to house detainees based on their gender identities and no longer had to worry about pushback from above. 

As a result, monthly programming for the LGBTQ+ community and weekly check-ins with the dozens of known trans detainees scattered across the island fell by the wayside. 

“I haven’t seen the LGBTQ coordinator or anything like that,” said Kirby Hiciano, a trans woman who has spent more than a year on Rikers Island at Rose M. Singer and various male jails. “I have never met with nobody here from the LGBTQ team.”

“The program has now dissolved,” said one uniformed staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Those services and all of the support for staff and persons in custody no longer exist.” 

For most of the 20th century, the Italian food served in restaurants came from southern Italy: olive oil, pasta with red sauce and meatballs, pizza. By the 1940s, the Works Progress Administration of the New Deal created a project on restaurants in New York City, marking Italian restaurants as “interesting, sometimes cheap, exciting places to eat,” says Ray. As such, it was becoming a popular food.

But, cautions Ray, “things can get popular, but it’s very difficult to climb the class ladder.” For Italian food, that didn’t come until the 1980s and 1990s, when restaurateurs began to emphasize northern Italian cuisine rather than southern. Risottos and wine sauces from the north became fashionable, and provided a class marker between the pastas and pizza of the south. In the 1990s, says Ray, “if you want[ed] to charge a price that’s higher, you [had] to call yourself northern Italian.”

  • Salman Rushdie’s newest novel Victory City is set for publication this February, six months after he was attacked during a talk at Chautauqua Institution, Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris report for the New York Times:

In Rushdie’s vision, the city of Vijayanagar — the name means Victory City — is a place of magic and miracles that owes its existence to its creator, the poet Kampana, who blesses seeds and gives them to the cowherd brothers. If they planted them in a particular spot, she told them, a city would rise instantly from the ground. When her prophecy comes true, she breathes life into the city by whispering stories into people’s ears, imbuing the new place with history. Kampana envisions a society founded on the principles of religious tolerance and equality among the sexes, but is driven into exile, and eventually sees her empire conquered.

  • For New York Magazine’s Grub Street, Emily Sundberg investigates the rise of boutique “shoppy shops” that all seem to sell the same things — products you probably don’t need but will certainly be tempted to buy:

Successfully marketing a product so that it feels local everywhere is an art. I’ve started calling this crucial step in a product’s development “smallwashing,” i.e., when a brand positions itself as a small business and shows up on shelves as if it were small, even though it has probably been through at least one comfy fundraise and a hotshot General Catalyst VC sits on the board. (Bonus points if the company in question hires Gander to handle the design.)

It’s up to the actual companies to decide on their values — Will the jarred condiment be woke, aligned with a cool chef, or “artisanal” in some way? — but regardless of the chosen messaging, Instagram then takes over, drilling its users with targeted ads that help build a company’s story (Omsom lets you cook faster, for example; Momofuku’s noodles let you cook like David Chang). By the time a customer discovers an Instagram brand in a shoppy shop for the first time, it may even feel like a mirage: This chile crisp really exists just for me — it’s not only a story on my phone! 

  • Media and TV love a lesbian best friend character with no meaningful storyline or development, and the impact is real and harmful. Emma Copley Eisenberg writes for Mother Jones:

So how did we get all these flattened, second-fiddle renditions of queer women in our popular culture? The Lesbian Best Friend is, to some extent, a variation on the well-documented Gay Best Friend trope, a harmful stereotype of a gay man who exists in a narrative for heterosexual amusement without any real agency, nuance, or development. “The Gay Best Friend character serves the function of being titillating, being a little raunchy, saying all the things that the main character wants to say but doesn’t get to,” says Hollis Griffin, an associate professor of communications and media at the University of Michigan specializing in queer media studies. “These characters are for comic relief, or they are a way to outsource all sexual references, to make sexuality safe by putting it on ‘the Other.’ The gay character functions as the Id, becoming the repository for all the main character’s deepest wants.”

  • Seeing therapists on TikTok is such a strange experience; commenters gush over their expertise, but why would a respectful mental health professional offer up their clients’ private information as social media catnip? Sarah Manavis digs into the dimensions of this trend for the New Statesman:

Though many of these videos are merely vain and banal, some are actively unhelpful. Many TikTok therapists seemingly attempt to differentiate themselves in a flooded market by giving counterintuitive and, frankly, bad advice. Others encourage self-diagnosis of a variety of conditions – ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder – based on “symptoms” that are extremely broad (many public bodies, such as the American Psychological Association, have said social media is leading to a spike in misdiagnosed mental health issues). More than anything, these videos are simplistic – the advice offered is rarely illuminating. Videos such as “how to self-soothe” or “this is gaslighting” rehash the basics of well-known topics: a quick Google search would be far more instructive. With incredible frequency, these therapists make the bold suggestion that your problems might be rooted – gasp! – in your childhood. Videos toe the line between counselling and inspirational speaking, doling out shallow and unhelpful self-help platitudes. Struggling with low self-esteem? Have you tried simply not listening to other people’s opinions?

  • Students at Harvard walked out of Professor John Comaroff’s class on Tuesday, protesting his history of predatory behavior and the university’s failure to take action, Lexi McMenamin reports for Teen Vogue:

The protest was organized by a group of concerned students, Our Harvard Can Do Better, and the grad union’s Feminist Working Group, according to campus paper The Crimson, as well as students from Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard and the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement. Photos from the action, published by The Crimson, show several students plastering a classroom with critical signs and weaving through the campus in protest.

“For the good of the university community and Harvard’s academic mission, it’s past time for Harvard to act,” freshman Rosie Couture said in a statement, accusing Comaroff of “undermining Harvard’s value of creating an equitable, safe learning environment for all.”

  • For The Dial, Lucía Cholakian Herrera interviewed three leaders of the Argentinian reproductive rights movement, which organized to achieve an overturn of the country’s abortion ban in 2020:

JULIETA BAZÁN, doctor: From the health and science perspective, the debate inside Congress and in academia focused on underscoring the high fatality rates for clandestine abortions. Most women who underwent them ended up in the hospital, which put their health, and in some cases their lives, at risk. If illegal abortions were so dangerous, our approach was to develop safe techniques within the public health care system to prevent them [from being necessary].

We worked on two fronts: We wanted to build a consensus on legalization within the health care system, and we also worked on the social decriminalization of abortion among doctors in order to stop the surrounding stigma.

  • Frieda Afary writes for Truthout about the working-class organizers whose leadership has been largely overlooked in the movement for women’s rights in Iran:

What also needs to be singled out is that while the majority of the protesters in the current uprising are young, most are either from the working class or represent the impoverished middle class in a country where two-thirds of a population of 88 million fall under the relative or absolute poverty line.* The four young protesters who were hanged by the regime in December and January were all from the working class: Mohammad Hosseini, a poultry worker; Mohsen Shekari, a coffee shop worker and caregiver for his grandmother; Majid Reza Rahnavard, a shop clerk; and Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a Kurdish karate champion and son of a street vendor.

  • It’s been quite the past couple of weeks for film censorship in South Asia, from Joyland in Pakistan to the BBC‘s documentary on Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Muslim pogrom in India. Twitter user @agirlhasnogames provides some comic respite in the midst of this grim reality:
  • A reminder that your land acknowledgment as a marketing strategy is not a cute look …:
  • Is there a Drag Race guest appearance in Congressman George Santos’s future?:

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

26 Jan. 2023

Hamline University faculty are calling for the resignation of President Fayneese Miller after the school failed to renew the contract of an adjunct who showed artworks depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, student newspaper The Oracle reports. It’s the latest development in the controversy involving former adjunct Erika López Prater, who recently filed a lawsuit against Hamline after a system-wide email sent from the office of inclusive excellence in November denounced her conduct as “Islamophobic.” President Miller has since recanted on the administration’s use of the term.

During an emergency meeting earlier this week, 71 out of 92 faculty members voted in favor of officially requesting Miller’s resignation, adding in an official statement that the school’s administration “mishandled” the issue and that “great harm has been done to the reputation of Minnesota’s oldest university.”

“We, the faculty of Hamline University, stand for both academic freedom and the education of all students,” the letter reads. “We affirm both academic freedom and our responsibility to foster an inclusive learning community. Importantly, these values neither contradict nor supersede each other.” The statement also alleges that López Prater was not afforded due process or provided with an opportunity to defend herself.

López Prater was denied the opportunity to teach a spring semester class after showing two figurative depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, including a famous Medieval Islamic painting, during a World Art lecture on October 6. Prater issued a warning before showing the images, but one Muslim student in attendance, Aram Wedatalla, was offended by their display. Though some practicing Muslims do not create or intentionally view figurative imagery of Muhammad, Islamic scholars such as historian Christiane Gruber were quick to point out that the works in Prater’s lecture were made with the intent of veneration and devotion, not idolatry.

In a university-wide email, Assistant Vice Principal of Inclusive Excellence David Everett called the classroom incident “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.” When reached by Hyperallergic, López Prater described how the accusations have impacted her.

“Unfortunately, my name will be associated with Islamophobia throughout my career, to my great detriment,” López Prater told Hyperallergic, referencing the “emotional distress” and “loss of income” outlined in the lawsuit. “I have not only been impugned unjustly. More broadly, the fields of Islamic Art History and Islamic studies, and many diverse Muslim voices, have been dealt blows and mischaracterized as monolithic in nature, which only promotes damaging stereotypes.”

On January 17, the same day López Prater filed her lawsuit, President Miller and Ellen Watters, the university board of trustees chair, issued a joint statement rescinding the use of the term “Islamophobic” to describe the incident, affirming that “language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom.”

“Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed,” Miller and Watters wrote, acknowledging that they have “learned much from the many scholars, religious leaders, and thinkers from around the world on the complexity of displaying images of the Prophet Muhammad.”

Professor Mark Berkson, chair of Hamline University’s Department of Religion and voting faculty member during the emergency meeting, told Hyperallergic that while the “terrible mishandling of the situation involving Prof. López Prater” was the final straw, it wasn’t the only reason the faculty called for her resignation.

“I was on the search committee that hired President Miller, and we recognized her talent and potential,” Berkson remarked. “Unfortunately, her administration has been plagued by problems that culminated in the recent controversy.”

Berkson also commented that while he supports calls for Miller’s resignation, David Everett “is certainly one of the people most responsible for the damage done to Hamline.”

“Without bothering to educate himself about the issues at the heart of the controversy, he acted to exclude our colleague from the community, silence questions and condemn dissenting voices,” Berkson continued. “While the ‘buck stops’ with the president, and therefore she should resign, I strongly believe that Hamline deserves a better voice for diversity and inclusion than David Everett.” 

Fayneese Miller, David Everett, and Hamline University’s media relations department have not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comments.

López Prater has expressed gratitude to the multiple Muslim and Islamic groups who have shown public support for her at this time, highlighting the Muslim Public Affairs Council, CAIR-National, Muslims for Progressive Values, and the Association for Iranian Studies Committee for Academic Freedom in particular.

“I am committed to continue participating in conversations that illuminate and celebrate the broad diversity within Islam — historically and contemporaneously — with my colleagues and students, Muslim and non-Muslim,” López Prater told Hyperallergic. “This is an opportunity for us to mend bridges collectively, and to strive toward greater understanding, education, and reconciliation.”

Back on campus for the spring semester, Berkson notes that there is a lot of work needed to restore the university’s reputation from the “near-universal condemnation of the administration from across the political spectrum.”

“The person whose problematic leadership got us into this situation cannot be the person who will lead us out of it. We need and deserve a new leader and a new vision,” Berkson concluded.   

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