There is no satisfaction

“There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

—Martha Graham

 

Full quote here.

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Iranian Mirrorwork: Contemporary and Historical

Two years ago, I traveled through Iran for 10 days, and parts of the trip still jump out at me at unexpected moments. I recently visited “Infinite Possibility,” a retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum of the work of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, a distinguished artist with a career spanning over 50 years and the first Iranian artist to be featured at the Guggenheim. When I arrived and I gazed into one of her shimmering wall-mountedsculptures, I had an irresistible flashback.

During the trip, we visited a palace in Tehran whose walls were encrusted with carefully cut shards of glass arranged in geometric mosaic patterns–I believe it was Reza Pahlavi Palace. The sumptuous room seemed to glow with reflected light. According to the tour guide, legend had it that one of the Shahs in history had tasked a functionary to safely transport several giant mirrors to be installed in this palace, or, of course, risk execution. Inevitably, in the course of the journey he broke the mirrors. Thinking quickly, he installed the shards of glass in as a mosaic on the walls of the palace. The Shah liked it, the functionary kept his head, and mirrorwork decor became a staple of Iranian decor and art.

During the rest of my trip in Iran, I saw several other mosques and palaces whose walls were decorated with this kind of stunning geometric mirrorwork. In some cases, mirror mosaics stood side-by-side with brilliant stained glass windows, to marvelous and luminous effect.

Farmanfarmaian’s work is a sleek, contemporary continuation of that rich tradition of aineh-kari, “mirror mosaics,” in Iranian artistry. See for yourself–in the gallery above I interspersed photos of Farmanfarmaian’s pieces with photos I took in Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan. For more about Monir and the historical and contemporary context of her very impressive mirror mosaics, the Guardian has an excellent piece here.

Anyone Can Fly

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“…It’s very easy, anyone can fly. All you need is somewhere to go that you can’t get to any other way. The next thing you know, you’re flying among the stars.”

–Cassie Lou Lightfoot in Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold, a prominent and accomplished American folk artist, published Tar Beach the year after I was born, and my parents both read it to me when I was child. The large, striking illustrations always stuck with me–especially, for some reason, the whitish-pink ice cream the family eats in the middle of the story–but the book also grabbed me because the main character coincidentally has the same first name (Cassie) and middle name (Lou) as me.

I rediscovered the book earlier this year in one of my literacy teaching courses, and I realized with some vindication that I not only share a name with Cassie Lou Lightfoot, but am now living in the same city as her, near her neighborhood of Harlem. The things that she flies over–the Washington Bridge, the lights of the city–are now part of my landscape too, just as I always dreamed since I was cognizant enough to know what New York City was and know where it was I wanted to fly to in the world.

It’s true, it seems, that when you have somewhere to go, you can fly.

Socially-Conscious Turkish Souvenirs at Nahıl Gift Shop (Yabangee)

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There comes a time for all of us when we have to purchase Turkish souvenirs for curious kith and kin back home. To get them their fix of evil eyes and olive oil soaps, I used to have to trek out to the Grand Bazaar or Galata. Besides these places being crowded and hectic, I always felt a tinge of guilt and unease with the racks of identical knick-knacks. Where are these products made? What kind of working conditions are they supporting? In an era of globalization, I think many of us, not just me, wonder whether our nazarlık were actually made in Turkey or were assembled in a far-off factory.

That’s why I was so glad to find Nahıl Gift Shop…

Read more at Yabangee: Socially-Conscious Turkish Souvenirs at Nahıl Gift Shop.

Bring me everything

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Bana insanlar getir,
Her biri geldiği yerin tesellemecisi olan.
Bana hayallerini getir,
Yaşarken beni baştan ayağa sen yapan.
Bana kendi belleğimi getir,
Hasretle karşılaşmayı beklediğim.
Bana her şeyi getir,
Her biri bir başka şeyin her şeyi olan.

Bring me people,
May each be the storytellers of their home towns.
Bring me your dreams,
These dreams that turned me into you, head to foot, as I lived.
Bring me my own memory,
That memory I yearn to meet.
Bring me everything,
Each thing the everything of something else.

–Handan Börüteçene, 2008, extract

Striking poem on memory, time and the interconnectedness of life that I found displayed alongside an installation at the Istanbul Modern. The full poem is below: Turkish text provided by Evrenin Dunyasi, translation from Istanbul Modern.

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Freewheeling Reports: Prague

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This past December, I had one motivation: get out of Turkey and get to somewhere that celebrated my kind of Christmas.

Of course, Turkey has a Christmas, of sorts. Noel bayram is celebrated as a New Year’s festival. Mall Santas, lights, and decorations show up everywhere. Many families decorate trees and exchange gifts on January 1, which is referred to as “Christmas,” but it’s all completely secular. In fact, our boss at work didn’t know that Christmas is a religious holiday until we pointed it out to her.

Normally I wouldn’t really care either way–I’ve never been particularly fond of Christmas.  But this was my first time away from home during the holidays, and the awareness that all the friends and family I cared about in the States were celebrating together made me feel especially far away and, yes, even homesick. Plus I was weatherworn, sick to death of administrative struggles at work, and just plain exhausted. The seeming inaccuracy and sacrilege of of mixing up Christmas and New Year’s Day… it was the last straw. I had to get away.

Prague was the obvious choice not just because it’s culturally Catholic (my brand of Christianity, for whatever reasons) but also  because, when I was younger, my father traveled through Central Europe for work and always brought back stories about how utterly beautiful this city is. And he was right. It was perfectly charming and just the right amount of Christmas therapy. I came upon a wondrous and confusing Christmas exhibition/craft fair in the basement of Bethlehem Church, feasted my eyes on nativity scenes and Christmas trees galore, explored Christmas stalls and markets in all the major plazas, saw lots of paintings of Jesus in the museums, and on a rainy night in the New Town stumbled upon a group of carolers singing and playing music under the Charles Bridge.

There were non-yuletide-themed activities as well: art museums, drinking copious amounts of tea and reading books in cafes when my body got too frozen, shopping, and a nifty Hall of Mirrors on Petrin Hill. I finally found a pair of hiking boots I love, and in the Shakespeare & Son’s Bookstore, I came upon a copy of Carnet de Voyage, the only Craig Thompson novel I hadn’t read (plus I was traveling solo, so reading his travel comic about traveling alone was perfect). I drank hot wine for the first time, ate street food including a foot-long crepe, listened to holiday concerts in Old Town Square, people-watched, and generally felt great surrounded by so much beauty and history. I studied European history and knew about the Defenestration of Prague, the burning of Jan Huss, the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia–but I had never been in the place where all three things had happened. (It’s rather surprising to realize how many historically significant acts of violence–defenestrations, burnings, beheadings, hangings, bombings, etc.–have happened just in the Old Town Square alone.)

At one point, I was walking around the outside of St. Vitus Cathedral, gazing at the intricacies of its facade along with hundreds of other tourists, when I heard singing. A procession dressed like the holy family–Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and a pair of angels–appeared from around a corner. They processed, singing, to the steps of the church, followed by a flock of camera-snapped tourists, and struck up an entire nativity play on the threshold of the Cathedral. I didn’t understand the Czech words, but I didn’t have to–I knew the story by heart from years of masses, Catholic schooling. In fact, I thought of all the times I had heard the story of Jesus’s birth, from my hometown in the Midwest to here in Prague, I began to cry. Even though I was here, so many degrees of separation away from where I started my journey in this weird confusing life, this story and this day (Christmas) was always there. I’m not religious, but I was struck by the power of my memories, and the power humanity has to create meaning and connect connect ourselves intensely to ourselves and each other through that meaning.

Basically, everything felt spontaneous and magical. I had an extra bit of luck: the entire IST-PRG flight was spent chatting (more like engaging in vigorous political/philosophical debate) with my Turkish seatmate, who upon landing introduced me to his girlfriend, a current Erasmus student in Prague. She eventually invited me to her friends’ Christmas Eve dinner party, organized by a friendly and vivacious group of Peruvian students and expats. Besides my Turkish friends and the Peruvian hosts, there were guests from Macedonia, Romania, Singapore, and me from America. Eating turkey and speaking Spanish among others who were far away from “home” somehow made me feel right at home. And as an English teacher, the meeting made me shiver with pride at some points: there is a lot wrong with the global spread of English but international, cross-cultural gatherings like this would never happen (or at least, be a lot less likely) without a shared language. Also, it made me realize–don’t balk from talking to folks on airplanes! You never know who you’ll meet and where it where lead.

In conclusion: Prague, folks! Go there! Belated happy holiday and check below for a photo essay.

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Living the Answers: Rules

You have to know the rules in order to break the rules.

Spanish painter Pablo Picasso is world-renowned for dramatically subverting the established conventions of Western European art. By doing away with classical proportions, perspective, and color he incited and spearheaded a brand new artistic style and movement (Cubism) as well as revolutionized sculpture, collage, and printmaking. But he did not pick up a paintbrush one day, draw two eyes and a mouth on the same side of the face, and change the world. His teacher put a model foot in front of him and made him draw it, from the same angle, over and over hundreds of times, and young Pablo repeated this exercise incessantly. By the time he was done, he  could draw the classical human and paint classical compositions as well as any other European master, and many of his early works look conventional (see above, below). Only then, after he had fully mastered what came before in the artistic tradition, did he revolutionize European art (see above, top).

Before the world will take you seriously, you have to take it seriously, because it came first. This does not mean we have to be slaves to tradition and authority for its own sake. But the world–history, society, the artistic, scientific, and intellectual traditions–came first. They are the product of centuries of thought and work and dedication by millions of people whose lives came before ours. It does not have anything to prove to us, but we to it. We have an obligation to take the world seriously, and learn what we can from it and understand why things are the way they are–because there might be a good reason for them to be that way–before we reject it or move past it. Progress comes from breaking the rules, but before we break them we have to know them.

However, this idea has more mundane applications. Want to play hooky one day? Fulfill your responsibilities at first, show that you care and will put in the work, then don’t show up. You can usually break the rules if you break them gracefully–in fact, sometimes people admire a graceful rule-bender.

Beauty

“Salads are more useful than flowers,” said the housekeeper.
“You are wrong,” replied the bishop. “The beautiful is as useful as the useful.” Then after a pause, he added, “More so, perhaps.”

— Victor Hugo, Le Misérables

Is the bishop right? I think so. Useful things may give us a means to live, but beautiful things give us a reason to live. Utility is at least as important as beauty.

Top: Portrait of a Woman by Leonardo da Vinci; Bottom: manuscript of “Bright Star” by John Keats

Starry embraces

I am still working on all your (challenging!) drawing suggestions from last week. In the meantime, I have been finishing final exams, packing, moving, spending time with friends and family, babysitting, beginning one of my summer jobs, and finishing this painting.

Looking back, I can see it was clearly (but unintentionally) inspired by this great Matisse print that I adore (click to make larger–in case you want to read the attribution info) wherein you can see that the guy had a knack for drawing fabulous buttcracks…

..but also, of course, a knack for composition, movement, crisp dynamic linework, emotively stylized human anatomy, playfulness, and passion.