Posts filed under 'Art'

Youmein Festival: Creating Art in the Liminal Space Between Tradition and Imitation

“Is a society made up of endless imitations that become canonized as tradition? Or do traditions change through borrowing from other cultures?"

Diverse languages and artistic disciplines intersected at the Youmein Festival in Tangier where artists and writers from Morocco, Algeria, Spain, and France created pieces to reflect the interplay between tradition(s), taqalid, تقاليد, and imitation, taqlid, تقليد.. Asymptote’s Tunisia Editor-at-Large Jessie Stoolman and writer Alexander Jusdanis report from Tangier. 

For the past three years, Youmein (“Two Days” in Arabic) has brought together diverse artists in the city of Tangier to create art installations based on a central theme over a 48-hour period.

The festival is run by Zakaria Alilech, a translator and cultural events coordinator at the American Language Center (ALC) Tangier, George Bajalia, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Columbia University, and Tom Casserly, a production manager at Barbara Whitman Productions. They’re quick to emphasize their hands-off approach. “We’re not curators,” says Alilech. Instead, they see themselves as facilitators, providing artists the initial inspiration, space and support to realize their ideas. The trio stressed that Youmein is less about the final product and more about the process of making art.

They intend the festival to be an opportunity for the artists and audience to discover Tangier through the lens of each year’s theme. While strolling through the city’s streets, historically a meeting point for peoples from around the Mediterranean and beyond, it is not uncommon to hear any combination of Rifiya, Darija, Spanish, French, English, and Italian. Thus, it is perhaps unsurprising that language has played an essential role in selecting the theme of the Youmein festival from its inception.

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Meet the Curator: Joselia Aguiar on Charting the Path To the Peripheries of Literature

The curator of a venerated literary festival in Brazil on innovation, diversity, and the role of the overlooked minority in art and literature.

Flip is a literary fiesta celebrating art and the written word in Brazil. The festival takes over the streets, squares and buildings of the colonial town of Paraty in Rio de Janeiro from July 26 to 30 every year, and calls itself a “feast.” Since its inception in 2003, Flip has garnered accolades in Brazil’s literary circles while also being controversial for favoring mainstream intelligentsia and largely leaving out minorities. The festival’s name stands for Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty (Paraty International Literary Festival). 

The curator for the 2017 edition of Flip is journalist and academic Joselia Aguiar. Over the last twelve years, Aguiar’s work has focused on literature, the editorial market, and public policies for reading. She has served in the capacities of an editor, columnist, academic and workshop leader. Aguiar is also writing a biography of the Brazilian modernist writer Jorge Amado (1912—2001), focusing on the literary and political exchange between Amado and writers of Hispanic America.

Every year, Flip pays homage to a Brazilian literary figure. This year’s honoree, chosen by Aguiar, is Lima Barreto, the Afro-Brazilian writer and journalist, best known for his novella, The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma. Aguiar spoke about curating the festival with journalist and poet Jeanne Callegari in an exclusive interview for Asymptote.

—Maíra Mendes Galvão, Asymptote Editor-at-Large, Brazil.

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Highlights from the Asymptote Winter Issue

Our editors recommend their favorite pieces from the latest issue.

First off, we want to thank the five readers who heeded our appeal from our editor-in-chief and signed up to be sustaining members this past week. Welcome to the family, Justin Briggs, Gina Caputo, Monika Cassel, Michaela Jones, and Phillip Kim! For those who are still hesitating, take it from Lloyd Schwartz, who says, “Asymptote is one of the rare cultural enterprises that’s really worth supporting. It’s both a literary and a moral treasure.” If you’ve enjoyed our Winter 2017 issue, why not stand behind our mission by becoming a sustaining member today?

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One week after the launch of our massive Winter 2017 edition, we invited some section editors to talk up their favorite pieces:

Criticism Editor Ellen Jones on her favorite article:

My highlight from the Criticism section this January is Ottilie Mulzet’s review of Evelyn Dueck’s L’étranger intime, the work that gave us the title of this issue: ‘Intimate Strangers’. Mulzet translates from Hungarian and Mongolian, but (being prolifically multilingual) is also able to offer us a detailed, thoughtful, and well-informed review of a hefty work of French translation scholarship. Dueck’s book is a study of French translations of Paul Celan’s poetry from the 1970s to the present day (focussing on André du Bouchet, Michel Deguy, Marthine Broda, and Jean-Pierre Lefebvre) and is, in Mulzet’s estimation, ‘an indispensable map for the practice of the translator’s art’. One of this review’s many strengths is the way it positions Dueck’s book in relationship to its counterparts in Anglophone translation scholarship; another is its close reading of passages from individual poems in order to illustrate differences in approach among the translators; a third is the way Mulzet uses Dueck’s work as a springboard to do her own thinking about translational paratexts, and to offer potential areas for further research. The reviewer describes L’étranger intime as ‘stellar in every way’—the same might be said of the review, too.

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek, who stepped in to edit our Writers on Writers section for the current issue, had this to say: 

When asked to pick a highlight from this issue’s Writers on Writers feature, I was torn between Victoria Livingstone’s intimate exploration of Xánath Caraza’s fascinating oeuvre and Philip Holden’s searching essay on Singapore’s multilingual—even multivocal—literary history, but the latter finally won out for its sheer depth and detail. Moving from day-to-day encounters with language to literary landmarks of the page and stage, Holden surveys the city’s shifting tonalities with cinematic ease, achieving what he himself claims is impossible: representing a ‘polylingual lived reality’ to the unfamiliar reader. And as a Singaporean abroad myself, Holden’s conclusion sums it up perfectly: the piece is ‘a return to that language of the body, of the heart’.

Visual Editor Eva Heisler’s recommendation:

Indian artist Shilpa Gupta addresses issues of nationhood, cultural identity, diaspora, and globalization in complex inquiry-based and site-specific installations.  The experience of Gupta’s work is explored by Poorna Swami in her essay ‘Possessing Skies’, the title of which alludes to a work in which large LED light structures, installed across Bombay beaches, announce, in both English and Hindi, ‘I live under your sky too.’  Gupta’s work, Swami writes, ‘positions her spectator in an irresolvable conversation between the abstracted artwork and a tangible sense of the so-called real world, with all its ideologies, idiosyncrasies, and fragilities’.

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The Belarus Free Theatre takes its highly politicized “Burning Doors” on the road

In order to transmit the trauma experienced by Pavlensky, Sentsov, and Alyokhina, playwright Nicolai Khalezin also traumatizes the audience.

This hell-bent play by what The New York Times has called “[t]he world’s most visible and lionized underground theater” keeps finding ways to pull the rug from under the feet of astonished audiences. 

“It will not be his balls, but ours, behind the door,” a buffoonish technocrat rants to his doppelgänger, as the two leisurely defecate in their ministerial toilets, in unison. Moments later, the other one expounds on the evils of modern art: “Before Picasso, art was normal.” (As it turns out, he owns two of the deviant’s paintings.) When they finish shooting the shit, and shitting, they pull up their government-issued trousers to discover a lack of toilet paper. Following the pair’s exit, masked bandits inexplicably slip onto the stage to replenish the needed supplies in a sort of winking parenthetical—or, better still, a puckish middle finger.

These gag lines satirizing the absurdities and hypocrisies of dictatorships—specifically the Putin regime—are the sort of irreverent zingers that some of us relish: comedic relief with a reactionary backhand, using both shock and shtick to slice through inaction and fear. It’s a particular specialty of Burning Doors, performed by the UK-based Belarus Free Theatre, which celebrated its tenth anniversary last year despite being banned in its home country. Currently in the second staging of its UK tour at the Soho Theatre, one of London’s essential performing arts labs, the show is a wielding and warped montage of vignettes based on the testimonies of artists targeted by Putin. These include the Russian artist Petr Pavlensky, who nailed his own testicles, referenced above, to the cobblestones of Red Square; the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is currently serving a twenty-year prison sentence in the Russian Far East; and the feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina.

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A Fractured Peace: Artist Schandra Singh speaks with designer Shaill Jhaveri

It is over-stimulating, heartbreaking and beautiful. It's like falling in love and having your heart broken every day.

Although considered one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, the Indian art market is still very much in its infancy. Painting dominates it. Artists are broadly divided into the “moderns”: the more mature “legacy” artists whom collectors feel more secure in buying, and the younger, more current “contemporary” artists, who push the boundaries of Indian art. There was not much of a market till the 1990s, when a more vibrant art scene emerged for established and younger artists alike. Since then, despite economic ups and downs, Indian artists and artists of Indian origin have been making their presence felt across the globe. And the world is paying attention, not just to India, but to artists from throughout South and Southeast Asia.

Growing up in India, I was initially attracted to the Indian portrait painters, especially the sumptuous portraits of a royal India, with the Maharajahs showing off their impossible jewels. Later, I was drawn to the more accessible colored photographs, hand colored over black-and-white prints, stiff but theatrical, with the textiles and jewels jumping off the images. There are the overwhelmingly opulent paintings of the 19th c. Raja Ravi Varma from the princely state of Travancore, who fused European academic art into Indian traditions. Then, there are the haunting self-portraits of a half-Indian, half-Hungarian Amrita Sher-Gil. Of the younger artists, the portraits by Surendran Nair, precursors to his more stylized flat narrative paintings, are so very powerful, as is the realism of Abir Karmakar. The digital portraits of Mahatma Gandhi by Aditya Pande push Indian portraiture into another arena entirely.

Today, a lot of the geographical and cultural boundaries have blurred. A young Pakistani artist Salman Toor lives between Lahore and New York City, and finds that he paints himself in a lot of the figures of his poetic canvases. 

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The Afrofuture, for the Time/Being: In Conversation with E. Jane

"...the Internet was always the space where I could mostly engage all of my selves."

Much of my fascination with contemporary Afrofuturism revolves around studying the ways in which Black artists in the field are utilizing the Internet to complicate the idea of ‘alien space.’ Afrofuturism necessarily points to an-other space—traditionally, outer space—as the destination point for the Black human-being, who, being so totally extradited from Earthly society, requires a more total severance in form of a physical migration. The cosmos has, for decades prior, served as the primary landing space for the Black alien migrant, but in recent years, the Internet has made its way to the forefront of the Afrofuture. Relative to cosmic space, the Internet has served as a perhaps closer and seemingly just-as-expansive alternate realm to which to escape. And in fact, the ‘proximity’ of the Internet calls into question whether ‘escape’ is really the dominant motion; rather than, for example, the motion of transformation. (I don’t think that anyone doubts anymore that the relationship between meatspace and cyberspace is mutually mutative.) The contemporary fugitive as shapeshifter and space-shifter.

E. Jane is one such artist who has made the Internet a primary medium. Creating cyber-installations across multiple social media platforms, as well as video, and sound-based works, E. Jane’s work is a seminal voice in the growing field of Internet-based Afrofuturism. Not to mention, E. is also one half of the Philadelphia-based sound-duo named SCRAAATCH—the other half being their partner, chukwumaa. Notably, the duo recently appeared The Fader in a feature titled, “The Voices Disrupting White Supremacy Through Sound.”

E. and I met in cyberspace to chat about their most recent work. We began with a quote from Toni Morrison, whom E. had spent the day reading.

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Art Talks: the Photography of Andrea Modica

"Many believe photography is different from language, that it is less culturally contingent. But Modica questions such oversimplifications."

Looking at the work of Andrea Modica, professor of photography at Drexel University and recent recipient of the 2015 Knight Purchase Award for Photographic Media, is a bit like reading a poem for the first time in translation. Engaging with her images, I am struck by the knowledge that I carry my own culture alongside my language, and that my language brings me to my experience of Modica’s photography.

This is to say that what results is a harmonious coexistence of estrangement and intimacy with the image. It’s widely understood that you can never really read the same poem in translation. Many believe visual art (and specifically photography) is different from language, that it is somehow less culturally contingent, or even a container for a sort of singular, “universal” meaning.

But Modica’s work is particularly poetic in that it boldly questions such oversimplifications, drawing attention to the language systems that inform our diverse understandings of images. In one black-and-white photograph, a distinctive silhouette emerges from behind a long, pale curtain, both defined and obscured by its paper or canvas-like veiling. To the viewer, the semiotics of this shadow, with its distinct black and white contours, constitutes a horse. READ MORE…

Waywords & Meansigns—Composing with the Explosion of Language

How do you "understand" James Joyce to translate him? Rebecca Hanssens-Reed in conversation with Mariana Lanari, musical translator of the "Wake"

Mariana Lanari hosts performative readings of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in Amsterdam, and recently recorded two chapters for an audio-musical version of Finnegans Wake, unabridged, called Waywords and Meansigns. Featuring established—as well as up-and-coming—artists from around the world, Waywords and Meansigns strives for a version of Joyce’s work that is stimulating and accessible to even the most casual of readers and listeners. The project officially launched a week ago, on Monday, May 4th: the 76th anniversary of Finnegans Wake.

Finnegans Wake contains over sixty languages. In spite of this, it has, in turn been translated into several other languages from its original English (though a number of translators of the text have given up, gone mad, or mysteriously disappeared, as was the case for a Japanese translator). This raises some interesting questions when considering its “translation” into an audio-musical language. What is lost, gained, or changed when we transfer a multilingual text to a musical, non-linguistic platform? Finnegans Wake reconstructs notions of language, and that process is echoed in converting such a text audio-musically. What we are left with is something resembling a full spectrum of meaning-making (in the loosest sense of the term).

Mariana, alongside composer Sjoerd Leijten, scored the first and last chapters of the text to music. Mariana and I talked about the novel and her involvement in Waywords and Meansigns, including the sensation of foreign-ness, how Finnegans Wake changed her life, and the odd comfort of settling into a vulnerable place of not-knowing or understanding. READ MORE…

A Winter’s Night in Sydney: Poetry Plurilingual

Reporting from the front lines of poetry, translation, and performance

I walked through Sydney’s back streets and upstairs to the crowded room where “Poetry Plurilingual” was about to begin. We sat on mismatched armchairs and wooden benches and squeezed up against each other. The night started with a series of readings of poems in foreign languages, followed by English-language translations. The focus of these readings was on the “original,” foreign, text. But the night took a sharp turn when two readers—Jack Breukelaar and Toby Fitch—boldly shifted the audience’s attention to the process and text of translation.

Jack introduced the audience to the work of Japanese writer and manga artist Kiriko Nananan, showing us a “1994 cool female authors” edition of Garo, an avant-garde manga periodical that began in the sixties, that he bought for a dollar at a discount bookshop. The book was visually striking—Jack didn’t know the work’s significance when he bought it—“but was drawn to [the] cover image by Nananan, reminiscent of Schiele or Baudelaire.” More of Nananan’s work has been translated into French than into English, and Jack had not found any previous English translation of his chosen poem:   READ MORE…

In Jazz-like Dialogue: Interviewing Guest Artist Robert Zhao

In conversation with Robert Zhao, Asymptote's featured guest artist for the summer issue

As the guest artist for Asymptote’s summer issue, Singaporean visual artist Robert Zhao Renhui contributed our cover image and illustrated 15 texts in the Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, and Latin American Fiction Feature sections. I interview him about this experience, as well as the relationship between image and text in his art practice.

I’ve been following your trajectory for quite a few years, but it’s safe to say that the Asymptote summer issue is presenting your work to an audience that is largely unfamiliar with your practice. How would you explain your art, and the Institute of Critical Zoologists, to our readers?

I am interested in both photography and nature, so in my work, I use photography to investigate our dialogue with nature. The Institute of Critical Zoologists (ICZ) is an umbrella concept under which I create and present my work. The meaning of the ICZ takes shape with each of my projects and exhibitions, which create different realities and fictions.

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Could you describe the process of creating/selecting images for this issue?

There was a tension between choosing images that were too literal a representation of the text, and pictures that encapsulated a very personal connection to the text that regular readers may not get. My guiding principle was that my images should be in a jazz-like dialogue with the text, and occasionally surprise the viewer. I submitted a few pictures for each essay, leaving it up to the journal to do the final selection. In some cases, I didn’t know what was chosen until the issue was published. READ MORE…

Cuban Literature, Translation, and Baseball with Leonardo Padura

"What I say here in Brooklyn is exactly what I say in Havana.”

As the diplomatic stand-off between the United States and Cuba reaches its fifty-fifth year, an anxious audience packed into 61 Local in Brooklyn, New York to hear from Cuban writer Leonard Padura and his translator, Anna Kushner.

Online translation journal Words Without Borders gathered Padura, Kushner, and writer-editor Jonathan Blitzer to discuss the recently released Padura novel The Man Who Loved Dogs (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux 2013), translated by Kushner. The evening included a reading by Padura in the original Spanish, followed by Kushner reading the same passage in English. READ MORE…

Fascinations

My year in film, art, and reading

I’ve been working on an art exhibition called LOST HORIZON this year which has meant re-visiting the James Hilton classic from 1932 — ‘The first paperback ever published’ —or so the blurbs say.  This is where the term ‘Shangri-La’ comes from. The movie, by Frank Capra is wonderful, too.

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