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African Cinema

Abigail George

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Television, films and churches formed a large part of the origins of my writing when I was younger. My childhood was not as bleak as some; I was happy, obedient, kind, patient, loved dogs, tennis and swimming; dancing wildly, joyfully in the sprinkler during summertime with my siblings and got sunburnt on holidays in Calitzdorp, Oudtshoorn, George, Wilderness and Carmel. My mother saw to my extra lessons; my father to my education and higher learning.

I was touched by the mirror images that I saw on the screen of the television in my intimate surroundings, my immediate environment, my estranged and my extended family, my father, my best friend and confidante.

What do churches you might say have in common with the ancient composed core of the entertainment value of our films today? The principles, values, beliefs, norms of contemporary ministers and today’s filmmaker get on like a house on fire and often give rise to an unholy demise; a boundary, a burdened limit that leads to a subliminal dead end, the enquiring gaze of a pupil that is not self-conscious only candid, vital and knowing.

Are South African films all touted in the media as genius or given the all thumbs dumbed down, is the public critical enough, or do we shrink back in horror terrified at any criticism as if it would harm our intellect, is what they say relevant, outspoken or politically correct, are we prudish when it comes to overt sexuality or averse to it?

During my childhood I was taught to use every emotional experience that used both the element of anticipation and surprise and that resonated throughout the fiercely grounded essence of my soul to the full.

Images that came to be in my hushed dreams, the gravity of it unceasing as the impulse of the superfluous adrenaline of flight, the tidal triangles of love, the swarm of bullies, the budding nature of best friends that came with my growing years on a school playground I seldom found abhorrent.

In church, I learnt that the art was not to fail to misbehave, daydream; be disobedient, honour my father and my mother, collect subtle small nothings like the dry, thin-skinned wafer like paper autumn leaves that I crushed casually between my fingertips with my best friend. We were inseparable; played like monkeys rock, paper; scissors every break.

Watching films accounting our dark-edged history; Ghandi portrayed by Ben Kingsley, Steve Biko by Denzel Washington in Cry Freedom for example, fringed deftly with racism and prejudice and saints; I learned that there were paths that I had not travelled, that I had journeyed gently as a child, heavily guarded, claimed by my parents, protected from harm, hidden from the sight of evil incarnate, paedophiles patrolling the streets in fast cars.

The only place I was not protected was in front of the television. I shuffled in every afternoon after school and planted myself in front of the screen not moving an inch except to drink my juice and eat a sandwich.

It did not go to waste. I used all the information that I got from the different accents and the clothes, the illnesses written on the bodies, the women’s bodies, done up, coiffed hair, the women’s hair salons, the men’s wisdom from all three channels as teaching examples for my writing.

The tainted, self-absorbed voices from the actors from the different channels resounded in my head as if they were of my own making. Sometimes my pen could not keep up with the internal dialogue. It was as if it was a deluge, a downpour, an unstoppable, unchallenged flood. They put something into motion that could not be diminished, masked, temporary, erased or frozen over time.

These powerful, seasonal shadows sometimes led gripping, violent, aggressive, brutal lives that could not be dissolved completely by my pen.

It left me with a quaint state of mind; here I was a fugitive on the run from the justice that was my parents’ burden. I was left drowning in the portrayals, the loveliness of White, Coloured, Black children in black and white, finally erased of colour. I saw couples on the screen settle into their married life and watched as if I was invited in.

The end of the rollercoaster ride that came with each film left me strangely bereft, half-born, half-living like the strangled cry of a bird or a night owl or the fisherman’s catch dead; life snuffed out in the dragged net hung over the edge of the rocking boat in the seawater. South African films taught me life lessons, how to disguise a bellyache laugh in the territorial quiet of the cinema, it taught me how to whisper like a frigid wind through my clenched fingers that disguised my mouth.

We should pursue our history from memory, from childhood, from the elders in our community, our next-door neighbours, from humourous anecdotes, headlines in the newspapers found in the archives of your local libraries and our own parents’ alarming knowledge from their own life experience.

In defining an African film I believe we first have to define Africa itself and who or what is an African or whose soul aspires to be African before we can talk about films made about the African continent and South Africa. We cannot only do that by erasing every trace of colonialism. It is still part like a love knot in a message of our past, present and future. The history of the colonists channels the dissolve of my old unhealed wounds and confusion into hellish lists. It does not easily close doors on the past.

Director John Berry decided for his film based on playwright Athol Fugard’s ‘Boesman en Lena’ to choose American actress and actor Angela Bassett and Danny Glover to play the lead roles. There was a furore over the fact they were neither African nor South African.

The serious human focus that is often learned in academia, from gathered intelligence which is kept hidden by those in the know from the human race or by those who are book smart because of being avid readers can often be described as being locked up inside of a box, like an airtight container that has shut in a war of nerves and put a lid on it far away from the unseen public; the chanting masses who call for service delivery, better homes with window panes, not structured out of plastic sheeting, tarpaulin or tin, youth, who struggle with unemployment gives rise to stories which must be told.

The audience is there. It begins here. The future beckons; it is now.

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

Arts & Culture

Public art that brings a smile to your face

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Artists observe a link between spending time in these spaces and a feeling of relaxation, safeness and peace of mind. Photo by Georgina Avlonitis

This International Day of Happiness on 20 March reminds us that life is happier when we’re together. It urges us to focus on what we have in common, rather than on what divides us.

One thing that has the power to bring us closer together is art. Art can also bring us closer to nature, helping to blur the boundaries between the “concrete jungles” of our cities and outside spaces.

This International Day of Happiness we sought inspiration, especially among young people, in public urban art. Despite being drawn to cities for a myriad of reasons, for many of us, happiness is closely tied with our proximity to nature and green spaces. Humanity evolved in close connection with nature, and a need for its presence is woven deeply into our consciousness.

“Connecting to our living environment through enjoying public art in urban spaces can change how we understand the world, help us relax and reduce stress and anxiety, and provide memorable experiences,” said Garrette Clark, UN Environment’s Sustainable Lifestyles Programme Officer.

“Sustainable living and lifestyles are about reducing negative environmental impacts as well as spending more time and resources on the experiences that add value to our lives.”

One example is Conservation Conversation Corners, in Johannesburg, South Africa and Livingstone, Zambia. This project involves four young artists—South African upcycler Heath Nash, Zambian sculptor Owen Shikabeta, Zambian painter Mwamba Chikwemba and South African installation artist Mbali Dhlamini.

Using mural paintings, public participation and sculpture, they visually and physically transform urban public spaces to reconnect their users with nature.

These artists observed a link between spending time in these spaces and a feeling of relaxation, safeness and peace of mind. Some stated that the only time they really felt safe and happy in these—and other—cities was when they felt connected with nature.

Twenty-eight-year-old Mbali Dhlamini observed: “As a woman in Jozi, you always feel like you need to keep eyes at the back of your head. We stay on our guards and alert at all times, whether walking or driving in the city, because of the crime here. How wonderful it would be to feel free and at peace. Nature has that. Nature gives us that. We need to access it and conserve it more in our towns and cities.”

Public art like this is playing an important role in shaping urban neighbourhoods, boosting a sense of community, and bringing people together.

In 2008, for the first time more people lived in urban areas than in rural ones. Urbanization is occurring everywhere and at unprecedented speed—especially in Africa. Urban populations in Africa are expected to triple in the next 50 years, and urban space is expected to increase by more than 700 per cent between 2000 and 2030.

Reflecting on how we can better bring nature into ever-expanding urban spaces, public art can help us provide access to green spaces in cities as a potential source of happiness.

A growing number of scientific studies demonstrate the power of nature to positively affect our health, well-being and happiness, and in 2017, National Geographic identified the greening of urban areas as one of the top five aspects shaping the future of cities.

Isabel Wetzel, Associate Human Settlements Officer at UN-Habitat and Greener Cities Partnership liaison between UN Environment and UN-Habitat, added: “The beneficial relationship between nature and happiness in urban areas is apparent – and public art can provide a beautiful channel to express it.

“Art has the power to connect people from different backgrounds and generations, and green public spaces have a positive impact on the health of the residents.

“Highlighting the need for nature restoration and conservation of our green and blue ecosystems in urban areas through public art is a powerful way to reconnect people, particularly young people, with the natural world.”

So, if you, your family and your friends are feeling unhappy in your city—seek urban green spaces, and if they don’t exist yet, create them!

UN Environment

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Arts & Culture

5 Museums You Don’t Want to Miss in Athens

MD Staff

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The National Archaeological Museum is the largest museum in Greece. Although its original purpose was to secure finds from 19th century excavations in and around Athens, it gradually became the central national institution, enriched with finds from all over the country. With more than 11,000 exhibits, its abundant collections provide a panorama of Greek civilisation, from the beginnings of prehistory to late antiquity.

MUST SEE: The famous gold mask of Agamemnon and the Antikythera mechanism. Address: 44 28is Oktovriou St, Athens.

The Benaki Museum was the first private museum established in Greece and has three satellite spaces in hip areas around Athens. Its flagship building can be found in the first-class district of Kolonaki, housed in one of the biggest and most impressive neoclassical buildings in the city. This private collection was cultivated by Antonis Benakis, a wealthy cotton merchant, in memory of his father Emmanuel Benakis. You’ll find artefacts from Greek pre-history right through to the Mycenaean and Classical eras, continuing with items related to such pivotal events as the fall of Constantinople and the Greek War of Independence.

MUST SEE: The reconstruction of mid-18th century reception rooms found in stately mansions in Greek Macedonia, featuring the original gilded ceilings and wood-panelled walls. Address: 1 Koumbari St & Vasilissis Sofias Av, Kolonaki.

The Museum of Cycladic Art also found in Kolonaki, showcases a fascinating collection gathered by the late shipping magnate Nicholas Goulandris and his wife Dolly. Housed in a stately mansion that was built in 1895, this private collection expands over four levels. The artworks give insights into the ancient civilisations of the Cycladic Islands. The semi-abstract figurines inspired Cubism and 20th century artists like Picasso and Brancusi. Intricately painted amphorae (vases) are also on display.

MUST SEE: The renowned male figure believed to come from Amorgos, is one of the very few represented in the upright pose, it is the only known male figure of these monumental dimensions. Address: 4 Neophytou Douka St, Kolonaki.

Visiting the Byzantine and Christian Museum provides an oasis from city life. The building, nestled in a peaceful, well-kept courtyard that is set back from the road, was built in 1948 in a Tuscan Renaissance style and is an architectural rarity in Athens. The permanent exhibition is placed over several levels covering 18 centuries of art and culture. You will be reminded of how much power and influence the Byzantine Empire wielded and the legacy it left behind. More than 25,000 exhibits with rare collections of pictures, scriptures, frescoes, pottery, fabrics, manuscripts and more.

MUST SEE: A rare 13th Century mosaic icon of the Virgin Mary from Constantinople, one of only 40 known to exist. Address: 22 Vasilissis Sofias Av, Kolonaki.

Consistently rated as one of the best in the world, the Acropolis Museum is located at the edge of the southern slope of the Acropolis and should be visited before or after your visit to the ancient city. Devoted to the Parthenon and its surrounding temples, it showcases and protects the surviving treasures from the Acropolis. The collections touch on the Archaic and Roman periods moving all the way through to the 5th century AD. An obvious emphasis is placed on the 5th century BC, considered the pinnacle of Greece’s artistic achievement.

MUST SEE: If you’re short on time, don’t miss the Parthenon Gallery (Level 3) and the five caryatids (Level 1) that are the original maidens that once held up the roof of the southern porch of the Erechtheion. Address: 15 Dionysiou Areopagitou St, Athens.

TIP: The Benaki Museum, Museum of Cycladic Art and Byzantine and Christian Museum are all within walking distance of each other.

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Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again

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Andy Warhol, Ethel Scull 36 Times, 1963; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; jointly owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art; gift of Ethel Redner Scull; © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announces the exclusive West Coast presentation of the critically acclaimed exhibition, Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again on view from May 19 through September 2, 2019. Spanning the artist’s 40-year career and featuring more than 300 works on three different floors of the museum, the exhibition includes paintings, drawings, graphics, photographs, films, television shows as well as a personal time capsule of ephemera. The retrospective features examples of the artist’s most iconic pieces in addition to lesser-known abstract paintings from later in his career. Uncannily relevant in today’s image-driven world, Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again provides new insight into Andy Warhol himself by examining the complexities of this enigmatic artist more than 30 years after his death in 1987. The show’s title is taken from Warhol’s 1975 book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), a memoir featuring the artist’s musings on fame, love, beauty, class, money and other key themes that frequently appear in his work.

“He’s a complicated figure and a complicated artist,” said Gary Garrels, Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at SFMOMA. “His inner emotions, his psychic self were not his subject matter. Warhol is constantly labeled a Pop artist, but all that happened within a couple of years and then he moved on and the work goes quite dark and explores questions of gender and sexual identity, fame, subcultures. At the time of his death, the consensus was that Warhol was no longer relevant. But the last major retrospective in 1989 was a wake-up call: this is an artist we have to reckon with.”

First presented at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and curated by Donna De Salvo, Deputy Director for International Initiatives and Senior Curator at the Whitney, with Christie Mitchell, senior curatorial assistant, and Mark Loiacono, curatorial associate, this exhibition provides an opportunity for new generations to reconsider Andy Warhol, one of the most influential, inventive and important American artists. Warhol’s understanding of the growing power of images in contemporary life anticipated our social media-focused world and helped to expand the artist’s role in society making him one of the most recognized artists of the 20th century.

Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again also showcases SFMOMA’s impressive holdings of many of the artist’s most important works including National Velvet (1963), Liz #6 (Early Colored Liz) (1963), Triple Elvis (Ferus Type), (1963), Silver Marlon (1963), Robert Mapplethorpe (1983) and self-portraits.

THE EXHIBITION

Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again will be presented on three floors of SFMOMA: two, four and five.

On the museum’s second floor, two galleries of works on paper offer a detailed look at Warhol’s earliest drawings from the 1940s and hand-drawn commercial illustrations created for advertising in the 1950s. These early drawings lay the groundwork for many of the techniques and approaches he would use throughout his career. This portion of the exhibition includes delicate, gilded collages and sketches of shoes for the Miller Shoe Company, and illustrations for publications such as Glamour Magazine and The New York Times.

On display in SFMOMA’s fourth-floor special exhibition galleries, the exhibition takes visitors chronologically through the arc of Warhol’s career and his production in painting, drawing, photography, film and installation. The first half of the exhibition opens with his best known work from the creatively active period of 1960–68, with his earliest paintings such as Dick Tracy (1961) and Superman (1961), followed by the groundbreaking, iconic Pop Art paintings, Green Coca-Cola Bottles (1962), 192 One Dollar Bills (1962) and the sculpture, Brillo Boxes (1969, version of 1964 original). The exhibition then highlights Warhol’s depictions of celebrities, including Elvis, Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy. In a dedicated black box gallery adjacent to the early Pop Art work, samples of Warhol’s films and videos will be on view including his series of Screen Tests featuring Ethel Scull, Edie Sedgwick and Billy Name (1964–65).

Subjects take a darker turn in Warhol’s Death and Disaster paintings (1963–64) memorializing car crashes, the electric chair and a benign yet sinister can of tuna fish contaminated with botulism. An eye-popping gallery filled with 16 colorful Flower paintings (1964) will be installed on top of Warhol’s Cow Wallpaper (1966) for a bold immersive experience. Visitors will have a chance to experience Silver Clouds, Warhol’s sculptural installation of shiny Mylar balloons created in 1966, the point at which he declared himself to be done with painting.

Warhol’s work of the 1970s and 1980s focuses on post-Pop artwork, which Garrels observes are “very unknown to most people.” In these galleries Warhol shifts his focus with a massive portrait of Chairman Mao (1972), followed by a gallery featuring photographs and paintings of trans women and drag queens from the 1970s, which provide a look into Warhol’s fascination with the elusiveness and complexity of gender and identity. A separate suite of photographic self-portraits of Warhol in drag provides a different view into the artist’s carefully cultivated persona. A large single gallery is dedicated to Warhol’s grand experiments with abstract painting, featuring a gold Shadow painting (1978) and two large-scale Rorschach paintings (1984). Warhol’s influence on the young artists of the East Village in the 1980s is highlighted through collaborative works created with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Also on display is an unpacked personal time capsule, one of 610 created over the course of the artist’s life.

Two galleries in the museum’s fifth floor Pop, Minimal and Figurative Art presentation feature a 1970s “facebook” of wall-to-wall grids of large-scale silk-screened portraits representing a “who’s who” of celebrities, cultural icons, gallerists, athletes and business leaders. These galleries feature nearly 40 portraits such as Halston (1975), Dominique de Menil (1969), Liza Minnelli (1978), Pelé (1977), Leo Castelli (1975), Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1976) and Gianni Versace (1979–80), as well as the artist’s mother, Julia Warhola (1974). For the subject, a Warhol portrait provided social validation and an immediate status symbol; for Warhol these commissions were a consistent revenue stream that supported his studio and desire to explore other more personal ventures. Warhol’s television shows and videos are on display in the city gallery on this floor.

THE ARTIST

Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh, PA in 1928. In 1949, he graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) with a Bachelor of Arts in pictorial design.  Shortly after graduation, Warhol moved to New York City, where he would live for the rest of his life, and began what would become a vaunted career as a commercial artist, for which he earned numerous awards and accolades. Despite his commercial success, Warhol was determined to pursue a career as a fine artist. He first exhibited his work at the Hugo Gallery in 1952, though he did not gain recognition in the fine art world until 1962 when the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles staged his groundbreaking exhibition of Campbell’s Soup Can paintings. Through the 1960s, Warhol exhibited at Ferus, Stable Gallery, Castelli Gallery, Sonnabend Gallery and internationally to great acclaim. He established “the Factory” in 1963, the same year he began his pioneering work in film. In 1965, Warhol announced his “retirement” from painting to pursue filmmaking full-time; underground films such as Empire (1964) and The Chelsea Girls (1966) remain some of his most influential works.

In 1968, Warhol was shot in a near-fatal assassination attempt, but by 1969 he had founded Interview magazine and his interest in producing work across all media—including sculpture, video and performance—was reignited. In 1975, Warhol published The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) and by the late 1970s had expanded his practice to cable television shows with Andy Warhol’s Fashion, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes and Andy Warhol’s T.V. Warhol’s work of the late 1970s and 1980s exhibits an increased interest in abstraction and collaboration and often reflexively returns to his own earlier work and iconography. His late work speaks to a voracious interest in current events and enthusiasm for artists from the East Village scene such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, with whom he collaborated. In February 1987, Warhol died after a brief illness following routine gallbladder surgery. The Andy Warhol Diaries, his infamous account of his own life from the mid-1970s up to his death, was published posthumously in 1991.

Major exhibitions during Warhol’s lifetime include his first institutional solo exhibition at the ICA Philadelphia in 1965, a 1968 exhibition at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, a 1970 retrospective organized by the Pasadena Art Museum, which traveled extensively and Andy Warhol: Portraits of the 70s organized by the Whitney Museum in 1979–80. The final exhibition of his work during his lifetime, at Robert Miller Gallery, New York, in January 1987, debuted a new series of stitched photographs.  Warhol’s work is collected by significant institutions across the world including major repositories at SFMOMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate, The Museum of Modern Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum Brandhorst, Munich, The Museum Ludwig, Cologne, The Marx Collection at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh.

CATALOGUE

The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color, 400-page scholarly monograph edited by Donna De Salvo spanning all periods of Warhol’s career and including paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, videos, photographs, archival and printed material, installations, films and media works. A contextualizing essay by De Salvo is complemented by essays and contributions from Jessica Beck, Okwui Enwezor, Trevor Fairbrother, Hendrik Folkerts, Bill Horrigan, Bruce Jenkins, Branden W. Joseph, Barbara Kruger, Glenn Ligon, Michael Sanchez and Lynne Tillman, as well as a plate section with 450 images. The catalogue is published by the Whitney and is distributed by Yale University Press.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

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