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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Beijing 2008: A Painting and its Meaning

Facebook

I stumbled across this intriguing picture on Facebook, of all places. The image was posted by a certain Joel Ng, who appears to be living in Brunei, again of all places. And this what he said by way of accompaniment: “Amazing thought-provoking painting “Beijing 2008” by Chinese-Canadian artist Liu Yi. The woman with the tattoos on her back is China. On the left, focused intensely on the game, is Japan. The one with the shirt and head cocked to the side is America. Lying provocatively on the floor is Russia. And the little girl standing to the side is Taiwan. This painting, named Beijing 2008, has been the subject of much discussion in the west as well as on the internet. What’s interesting is that this painting is called Beijing 2008, yet it depicts four women playing mahjong, and conceals a wealth of meaning within . . . China’s visible set of tiles “East Wind” has a dual meaning. First, it signifies China’s revival as a world power. Second, it signifies the military might and weaponry that China possesses has already been placed on the table. On one hand, China appears to be in a good position, but we cannot see the rest of her hand. Additionally, she is also handling some hidden tiles below the table. America looks confident, but is glancing at Taiwan, trying to read something off of Taiwan’s expression, and at the same time seems to be hinting something at Taiwan. Russia appears to be disinterested in the game, but this is far from the truth. One foot hooks coyly at America, while her hand passes a hidden tile to China, both countries can be said to be exchanging benefits in secret. Japan is all seriousness while staring at her own set of tiles, and is oblivious to the actions of the others in her self-focused state. Taiwan wears a traditional red slip, symbolizing that she is the true heir of Chinese culture and civilization. In one hand she has a bowl of fruit, and in the other, a paring knife. Her expression as she stares at China is full of anger, sadness, and hatred, but to no avail; unless she enters the game, no matter who ends up as the victor, she is doomed to a fate of serving fruit. Outside the riverbank is darkened by storm clouds, suggesting the high tension between the two nations is dangerously explosive. The painting hanging on the wall is also very meaningful; Mao’s face, but with Chiang Kai Shek’s bald head, and Sun Yat-Sen’s mustache”.a

Beijing 2008

Ng continues that the “four women’s state of undress represent the situation in each country. China is naked on top, clothed with a skirt and underwear on the bottom. America wears a bra and a light jacket, but is naked on the bottom. Russia has only her underwear left. Japan has nothing left. At first glance, America appears to be most composed and seems to be the best position, as all the others are in various states of nakedness. However, while America may look radiant, her vulnerability has already been exposed. China and Russia may look naked, yet their key private parts remain hidden. If the stakes of this game is that the loser strips off a piece of clothing, then if China loses, she will be in the same state as Russia (similar to when the USSR dissolved). If America loses, she also ends up in the same state as Russia. If Russia loses, she loses all. Japan has already lost everything. Russia seems to be a mere ‘filler’ player, but in fact is exchanging tiles with China. The real ‘filler’ player is Japan, for Japan has nothing more to lose, and if she loses just once more she is immediately out of the game. America may look like she is in the best position, but in fact is in a lot of danger, if she loses this round, she will give up her position as a world power. Russia is the most sinister, playing along with both sides, much like when China was de-occupied, she leaned towards the USSR and then towards America; as she did not have the ability to survive on her own, she had to weave between both sides in order to survive and develop. There are too many of China’s tiles that we cannot see. Perhaps suggesting that China has several hidden aces? Additionally China is also exchanging tiles with Russia, while America can only guess from Taiwan’s expression of what actions have transpired between Russia and China. Japan on the other hand is completely oblivious, still focused solely on her own set of tiles. Taiwan stares coldly at the game from aside. She sees everything that the players at the table are doing, she understands everything that is going on. But she doesn’t have the means or permission to join the game, she isn’t even given the right to speak. Even if she has a dearth of complaints, she cannot voice it to anyone, all she can do is to be a good page girl, and bring fresh fruit to the victor. The final victor lies between China and America, this much is apparent. But look closely; while America is capable, they are playing Chinese Mahjong, not Western Poker. Playing by the rules of China, how much chance at victory does America really have?”.b And that is question, particularly now that America’s nominal figurehead is a buffoon like the Drumpf, who seems to be bumbling through life as much anything else. In fact, the artist also has a Facebook page, and I imagine that enterprising or merely curious onlookers might want to query Lui Liu.c Still, I would say that Joel Ng has done an excellent job at unraveling the various layers of meaning and decoding the iconography as well as iconology of the work.

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aJoel Ng’s post in ’21SilkRd’ Facebook (01 July 2019). https://www.facebook.com/groups/947867908642430/permalink/2287003388062202/.

b Joel Ng’s post in ’21SilkRd’.

c“Lui Liu. @luiliupainter” Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/luiliupainter/.

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The Ottoman Tuğra: A Twitter Feed

Osmanlı Padişah Fermanları (1986)

When I was but a lowly undergrad studying in Brussels, I first encountered the Ottoman Tuğra in the summer of 1988. That chance meeting took place at the Türk-İslam Eserleri Müzesi in İstanbul.1 In fact, I became so enamoured with these samples of Ottoman calligraphy that I wanted to write my undergraduate thesis on them. Alas, due to lack of a qualified supervisor in the neighbourhood, that desire of mine remained unfulfilled. Needless to say, I have ever since always had a great love for Ottoman Tuğra‘s, but have in my academic career not been able to do anything about that. And, by sheer happenstance, nearly 31 years after my first exposure to the Tuğra, I just now stumbled across this quite wonderful Twitter feed, explaining nearly everything anyone would like to know about the delicate caligraphic flowers. The one doing the tweeting was Maryland-based historian who also happens to be a  PhD student Jonathan Parkes Allen, and here is a rendition. Dr Allen-to-be begins by saying these humble words: “And now a super-thread on the winding & complicated (pun intended) history of the tuǧra, a textual feature often defined as a ‘calligraphic emblem’ for ‘Turkic’ rulers, though that definition doesn’t capture the whole story. Let’s start with a ‘classic’ Ottoman tuǧra: That of Süleyman the Great. Here’s the entirety of the tuǧra I showed in detail view yesterday (LACMA M.85.237.17); it’s a good example of where the tuǧra would go under the Ottomans, with a fairly set form, lots of floral flourish, and a range of uses”.

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Continuing like this: “Use of the tuǧra goes back to at least the Great Seljuks. Exact origins are fuzzy (including the word’s etymology), but it seems like that the bow and arrow emblem visible on this gold dinar of Tughril Beg (d. 1063) represents an early tuǧra, or what would become the tuǧra”.

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Going on, “Our earliest textual attestation is from the Dīwān lughāt al-turk of Maḥmūd al-Kāshgarī (d. 1102), who gives this definition: ‘The tughra is the seal (ṭābiʿ) and signature (tawqīʿ) of the king; Oghuz dialect and not known to the [Western] Turks; I do not know its origin. The historian Bar Hebraeus (d. 1286) gives more context: ‘And from this time Sultan Tughril Beg began to inscribe the figure of a bow at the top of his seal, and inside it were these titles. And that sign was called ‘tughra’, and he who wrote [it] being commanded, ‘tughrai. No Seljuk tuǧras proper have survived, but Mamluk examples have, such as this one recorded by al-Qalqashandī (d. 1418) in his Ṣubḥ al-aʻshá. The basic form of the tuǧra is evident: soaring verticals (originally arrows?) with the rest of the letters interlacing (like bows)”.

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Moving along, “Al-Qalqashandī also discusses the administrative uses of and scribal practices associated with Mamluk tuǧras, which eventually fell out of fashion among the Mamluk rulers. From the Mamluks the tuǧra would go in two different directions: the Ottoman one and the Indian one. n India-especially in late medieval & early modern Bengal- Turkic Muslim rulers would employ the tuǧra style in spectacular fashion in inscriptions on architecture, such as this c. 1500 example from a west Bengal mosque built by Shahzade Daniyal (Met. 1981.320)”.

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And, “Or this one from 1487 from a mosque built by the Bengal Sultanate ruler Jalal al-Din Fath Shah (d. 1487), which beautifully displays the evolution from Mamluk tuǧra-as-calligraphic-signature to tuǧra-as-monumental-calligraphy (BM OA+.2299)”.

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The tuǧra would also continue, sporadically at least, to develop in India into its better known usage among the Ottomans as the calligraphic emblem of the ruler, culminating in Mughal tuǧras, such as this one of Shah Jahan embedded in a illumined rosette (Met. 55.121.10.39)”.

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Dr Allen-to-be then says that the “Mughals would also use a blockier (to use the technical language) form of the tuǧra affixed to official documents, such as this c. 1645 instance, also from Shah Jahan, w/ that of his son Dara Shikoh, on a fermān responding to a request for aid (Met. 1997.205)”.

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Finally getting down to the nitty-gritty he says: “Now for the Ottomans: one of our earliest surviving tuǧra, on a coin minted by a şehzade (prince), Süleyman Çelebi (d. 1411), shows what would become the typical features of the O. tuǧra: three verticals going up & two ellipticals going left, name & titles inside”.

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Explaining then that the “tuǧra would become an emblem used especially by sultans but also by other members of the elite; with a few exceptions, calligraphers from the inner hierarchy would draft, write, & illumine the reigning sultan’s tuǧra, the process governed by an array of officials & steps. Besides fermâns, the tuǧra was affixed to deeds, endowed books, to coins, (eventually) architectural inscriptions, and various other substrates, such as this book of Islamic jurisprudence with Bayezid II’s gorgeous gold and floral bedecked tuǧra (Khalili Collections MSS 83)”.

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Or this set-on-its-side tuǧra of Selim III, added in 1802 to a book of fatwas (Khalili Collections MS 84)”.

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Coins continued to feature sultanic tuǧras, such as this lovely instance minted in 1703 under Ahmed III (BM 1947,0606.1567)”.

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Going into some more detail, Dr Allen-to-be explains that the “tuǧra made its way into other contexts, too, such as in the following analogy made by the sufi şeyh Ismail Hakkı (d. 1725) in his Kenz-i maḫfî: ‘All of the prophets with the divine books in their hands are like a fermân of the exalted Sultan, while the Messenger of God, with the Qur’an in his hand, is like the fermân’s ṭuǧrâ. Just as if a sultanic fermân is not marked with a ṭuǧrâ it is not in force, if all of the prophets [& their books] had not been revealed & made manifest within the Muhammadan form…they would not be in circulation’. Ahmed III helped usher in new developments in the tuǧra, by drafting a hadith (‘My intercession is for those in my community, who commit greater sins’) in tuǧra form, which would become extremely popular in coming years, like other material forms of devotion”.

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And on, “[m]any, many copies of this hadith-tuǧra, to use Philippe Bora Keskiner’s term for it, exist, such as this elegant 18th c. copy, which would have been mounted by itself, similar to a hily-i şerîf. Going to stop for now- other tasks call- but I’ll pick this thread up later with 19th and 20th century permutations of the tuǧra, and of course others’ contributions and/or questions are welcome!”. . . And you can tweet him at @Mar_Musa.

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1Osmanlı Padişah Fermanları (Kültür Bakanlığı Yayınları Ankara 1986 ).

Banksy’s Mural Support for Zehra Doğan

Zehra Dogan

On Thursday, 15 March 2018, the anonymous graffiti artist Banksy, in cooperation with another “graffiti artist [named] Borf“ unveiled a mural depicting Zehra Doğan behind bars on the Bowery in New York City. The anonymous artist even spoke to the New York Times in an attempt to draw public attention to the plight of the imprisoned Turkish artist. Banksy said the following: “I really feel for her. I’ve painted things much more worthy of a custodial sentence”, adding that Dogan had been “[s]entenced to nearly three years in jail for painting a single picture“.1

Zehra Dogan 2 (Banksy, March 18)

Last year, the London-based wrtie and photograpger Perwana Nazif explained that the Turkish-Kurdish painter and journalist Zehra Doğan has been sentenced to two years, nine months, and 22 days in prison for creating a painting which depicted the destruction caused by Turkish security forces in the Nusaybin district of Mardin province, a Kurdish region in Turkey . . . According to Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, the Mardin Second High Criminal Court in Turkey handed down the sentence because she drew Turkish flags on buildings destroyed by Turkish forces. However, according to Artforum, the court expressed that Doğan’s sharing of the image of her work, featuring current military operations, was the cause for her prison sentence“.2

Zehra Dogan (Banksy, March 18)

Doğan herself tweeted “I was given two years and 10 months [of jail time] only because I painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings. However, [the AKP-led Turkish government] caused this. I only painted it”.3 The tweet has since apparently been deleted. There had been a two-year cease-fire in place between Turkish security forces and the PKK, when the negative election outcome in July 2015 led the Prez Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP henchmen to renew hostilities in order for popular sentiment to become more amenable to a renewed AKP mandate . . . which was successfully delivered in a election re-run in November — Turkey’s so-called November Surprise. Since then, all-out war between the two parties has erupted anew, a war which has now also swept into Syria, where the AKP-led government is currently fighting the PKK-affiliated PYD with the help of its Jihadi terrorist warriors carrying the misleading moniker FSA or Free Syrian Army.

Zehra D

1Tom Powell, “Banksy unveils New York art mural as a protest against jailing of Turkish artist Zehra Dogan” Evening Standard (16 March 2018). https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/banksy-unveils-new-york-mural-in-protest-against-jailing-of-turkish-artist-zehra-dogan-a3791411.html.

2Perwana Nazif, “Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan Sentenced to Prison for Painting of Kurdish Town Attack” Artnet News (24 March 2017). https://news.artnet.com/art-world/painter-zehra-dogan-sentenced-to-jail-for-artwork-902015.

3Perwana Nazif, “Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan Sentenced to Prison for Painting of Kurdish Town Attack”.

AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENTS ERDOĞAN, JUNCKER & TUSK

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‘As European leaders prepare to meet Turkey’s President Erdoğan at the NATO summit this week, [the Cartoonists Rights Network International] is just one among many human rights orgs urging the Presidents of the European Commission and Council of Europe to ensure that protection of human rights and detention of journalists in Turkey remain a central point of discussion’.

The CRNI published a public letter addressed to the Turkish Prez and his European interlocutors:

Your excellencies,

Turkey has been a member of the Council of Europe for almost sixty years and is party to the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a meeting with the European Committee on Foreign Affairs held in Strasbourg on May 15th Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council made the following statement with reference to journalists arrested in Turkey on charges pertaining to support for terrorist organisations:

“… there is case law [in the European Court of Human Rights]… that one cannot have a journalist in pre-trial detention for more than four months.”

Staff from the Cumhuriyet newspaper including our colleague the acclaimed and internationally respected cartoonist Musa Kart were formally arrested on November 5th 2016. They were finally indicted on April 4th 2017 – a gap of five months.

Last week they spent their two hundredth consecutive day in custody. When the first hearing of their trial takes place, scheduled for July 24th, they will be approaching the end of their ninth month. And their circumstances are far from unique; Amnesty International’s figures indicate that a third of the world’s imprisoned journalists are in Turley.

By any measure of jurisprudence the protracted detention of these journalists constitute a violation of rights accorded to those awaiting trial.

Furthermore we reject the charges levelled against Kart and his colleagues, who have done nothing more than pursue careers in journalism.

We urge President Tusk and his delegation to press President Erdoğan on conditions for journalists and media workers in Turkey and remind him that, in the word of Sec.Gen. Jagland:

“… [the ECHR] has communicated to the journalists that their[s] are cases of priority.”

Finally we call upon President Erdoğan to consider his own words last year following the attempted coup against his government:

“I feel that if we do not make use of this opportunity correctly, then it will give the people the right to hold us by the throat.”

Time for Turkey to behave “correctly” i.e. like the robust, mature, lawful democracy and valued world player her friends in Europe know her to be.

Joel Pett, President, CRNI”.(1)

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(1) “AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENTS ERDOĞAN, JUNCKER & TUSK” CRNI. http://cartoonistsrights.org/JaAJH

Molly Crabapple: Drawing Blood

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‘From sex workers in the US to prisoners in Guantanamo, artist and journalist Molly Crabapple has been there. Her bold and powerful work has also taken her to Abu Dhabi’s migrant labor camps, and with rebels in Syria. Her new memoir, Drawing Blood, was just released in December [2015]. She is a contributing editor for VICE and has written for publications including The New York Times, Paris Review, and Vanity Fair. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. This episode also features a commentary from Laura on the dark magic of the art market. Published on Jan 12, 2016′.

About three years ago, Molly Crabapple wrote that “Camp X-Ray is the first place that the US held detainees in Guantanamo. Captives lived there for four months in 2002 while the military built permanent prison camps. Prisoners lived in open mesh cages under the brutal Cuban sun. Their cells had no running water. Guards gave them two buckets: one for water and one for shit. The classic photos of GTMO, (dogs, marines, hooded captives in orange jumpsuits) were taken here. With its watchtowers, clapboard interrogation huts, and rings of barbed wire, X-Ray looks like nothing so much as a concentration camp in the Caribbean”.[1]

Gitmo_drawing

 

X-Ray

 

[1] Molly Crabapple, “Molly Crabapple Draws Guantanamo’s Camp X-Ray” VICE (20 June 2013). http://www.vice.com/read/molly-crabapple-draws-gtmos-camp-x-ray.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go at Burning Man!

‘Based on Dr. Seuss’s final book before his death, this is a story about life’s ups and downs, told by the people of Burning Man (Uploaded on Jan 6, 2012)’.  

‘Directed by: Teddy Saunders (http://tedsaunders.com), Parker Howell (http://parkerhowell.com), William Walsh (http://willpowercinema.com). Produced and Edited by Teddy Saunders’.  

The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn

‘In 1909 the millionaire French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn embarked on an ambitious project to create a colour photographic record of, and for, the peoples of the world. As an idealist and an internationalist, Kahn believed that he could use the new autochrome process, the world’s first user-friendly, true-colour photographic system, to promote cross-cultural peace and understanding. Kahn used his vast fortune to send a group of intrepid photographers to more than fifty countries around the world, often at crucial junctures in their history, when age-old cultures were on the brink of being changed for ever by war and the march of twentieth-century globalisation. They documented in true colour the collapse of both the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires; the last traditional Celtic villages in Ireland, just a few years before they were demolished; and the soldiers of the First World War — in the trenches, and as they cooked their meals and laundered their uniforms behind the lines. They took the earliest-known colour photographs in countries as far apart as Vietnam and Brazil, Mongolia and Norway, Benin and the United States’.[1]

Europe on the Brink

[1] “About Albert Kahn” The Wonderful World of Albert Khan. http://www.albertkahn.co.uk/about.html.