Category Archives: Arts Talk

Game of Thrones and International Politics

I trust most of you have already heard about Game of Thrones, HBO’s hit TV show based on a series of epic fantasy novels, written by George R. R. Martin. The show is well established within popular culture, as are the books, and now everyone knows the author and his work, nearly 20 years after the release of the first book.

Among the several differentiating aspects of the show and the books, are the violence, nudity, and intricate social and political connections. It is the political side of a fictional story that has specialized publications such as Foreign Policy or Foreign Affairs (the links will lead you to several articles on the subject), trying to explain what kind of world is the one portrayed in Game of Thrones, after having already tried to explain the world we live in. It also has veteran political journalists interviewing some of the actors.

Even if we don’t dwell into political theory, it is hard not to make parallels between our world and our history and Game of Thrones’ middle age based fantasy world, which happens to contain dragons, demons, dire wolfs, sorcery and ice zombies (they look as scary as they sound).

(SPOILER ALERT)

In this story, the civilized world is composed of a giant country that comprises seven kingdoms, most of which, at one point fight for the right to sit on the Iron Throne, which is the seat of the King. The King rules over all of the seven, which do have some autonomy, similar to the way Washington rules over all the states in the USA, even though each state has its own constitution and government. The scramble for power can be compared to what happened in Europe from middle age until World War II, when several countries / nations fought to expand their domains in Europe and the newly discovered continents (mostly Africa and America).

Besides power politics, there is also the other side of international relations in Game of Thrones. The alliances, the sanctions, the backstabbing and deceit. It is politics on a big level and on a small one, and it is fascinating to compare our world to the one we get to see on TV. Once we set aside the obvious fantasy aspects of that world, and the natural technological differences, it is interesting to understand that not much differentiates us from that ruthless planet. Class struggles, corruption, bribes, poverty, war and famine are all present and that should stifle some reflection on our own path, and on the evolution we ought to have achieved by now.

It is hard for me to dwell more into the subject more without revealing too much about the show. So, for those that have not seen it yet, I encourage you to watch it and read the above mentioned articles. For those that already do watch Game of Thrones, try to look at its political intricacies because you will probably find it interesting. The main reason being that it is rare to see such a complex and accurate portrait of how ruthless the world of politics really is.

Al midan – The Square

The people demand the downfall of the regime” – is the motto of this documentary set deep inside the Egyptian Revolution. The uprising in Egypt was one of the ground-breaking movements of the so called “Arab Spring” (wrongly, I believe). It was a landmark, on so many levels, as people stood up to demand the resignation of a dictator who had spent the last 40 years in power – Hosni Mubarak.

We all know the story – from the occupation of Tahrir square, to the repressive measures taken by the President and, finally, his actual resignation. We have also become too familiar with the roller-coaster it has been since Mubarak was toppled: the Islamic brotherhood, shunned for so many years, saw the opportunity and got one of its own elected President – Mohamed Morsi.

The Brotherhood turned out not to be what it had promised and the shortcomings of the Islamic state model – that we have analysed here, at the J.R. Chronicle – became apparent and the rebellions re-started.

Morsi was toppled by the military and a new government and constitution are on its way, with rising protests on the streets, especially in universities.  But we all know this, it’s in the news. What we do not know are the stories behind the news. That is what Al midan aims to show.

Starting in the roots of the revolution – at Tahrir square – this 2013 Oscar nominated documentary portrays the personal lives of several people and how they intervened, fought, adapted and lived in and through the uprisings. As it is so eloquently mentioned on the film’s own website, “The Square is an immersive experience, transporting the viewer deeply into the intense emotional drama and personal stories behind the news. It is the inspirational story of young people claiming their rights, struggling through multiple forces, in the fight to create a society of conscience”. For that, it won the Audience Award for World Cinema in the documentary category at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and the People’s Choice Award in the documentary category at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival.

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Ahmed Hassan, one of the activists featured in the film. On The Square’s website he is described as “a born storyteller and street revolutionary. He is a key part of the defense of Tahrir in the 18 days leading up to Mubarak’s resignation, and all of the occupations of the square since. His hope is to create a new society of conscience in Egypt”.

It is a story only made possible using the technologies of the XXI century and that can only be told because that technological evolution has occurred. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, combined with smartphones, DSLR and action cameras have speaking up and sharing your thoughts a lot easier. That is what made the revolution in Egypt and that is what made this documentary possible.

From a personal point of view, these are the kind of stories that one can connect to, that are the most telling and, last but not least, the ones that are definitely worth reporting.

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China’s New Art Collectors

Art has always been considered a good investment. Chinese investors do not except the rule and in recent years, the third country in the world with the most millionaires, has seen a explosion in the business of art collection. Today, China is considered the second art market in the world after the United States. The NYT’ article ‘The New Collectors”  tells the story of Mr Liu Yiqiam, a 50 year old financier from Shanghai who started his life as a taxi driver, and now has a fortune worth $800 million.

With disappointment growing towards the Chinese stock market and real estate, the Chinese art market is attracting more and more newly rich investors. Mr Liu Yiqiam is the perfect example of the Chinese new money. He has put together a unique private collection of the finest Chinese art and is willing to share his treasures in two private museums of Shanghai. Like he explains in this video, only years ago, many Chinese did not even have money to buy food. No no one would pay for a museum ticket so who would spend money setting up one?

Yet China’s emerging interest in Art is changing the world art market. Guilaume Cerutti from Sotheby’s France argues that “we are living the biggest thing in the art world in 20 years”. A market that used to be governed by the United States and Europe, now truly has a third participant composed by Chinese buyers seeking to buy primarly Chinese art. Check out this article about how investors are redrawing the map of the art market.

The Monuments Men

After seeing the trailer of the new George Clooney’s movie “Monuments Men”, we went to dig a bit more about the history behind the scenes and we discover the truly amazing tale of the “greatest treasure hunt in History”.  In the wake of the destruction brought by the World War II, even before the United States entered the war, several American art organisations were working to find ways to protect European arts and monuments from devastation. In 1943, the pressure done by these organisations resulted in the establishment by President Roosevelt of the “American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas”. Later that same year, the Commission helped to found the ‘Monuments, Fine Arts and Archive Program’, a program set up by the Allied armies to protect all cultural property during the war.  This group that became known as the ‘Monuments Men’ was composed by approximately 350 voluntary men and women from 13 different nations, mainly architects, artists, art historians and museum directors. Their first responsibility was to try to control the damages of combat, especially in churches, museums and other historic monuments. Yet, as this task proved to be rather impossible their responsibilities changed. Their mission became to discover or locate art works that had disappear or been stolen during the war.  In Germany alone, they found out 1500 hiding places with art and cultural objects from all around Europe. Indeed, the ‘Monuments Men’ rescued thousands of works, from Manet to Raphale, De Vinci to Cezanne. Without a doubt, “they restored the cultural heritage of Europe back to the hands of its own people”.

In-Yer-Face Theater

“In-yer-face theater is the kind of theater which grabs the audience by the scruff of the neck and shakes it until it gets the message”; that is the definition given by the movement itself. Although quite unknown to the general public, ‘In-yer-face theater’ emerged in Great Britain in the 1990s and is an artistic movement easy to remember. Deeply influenced by the “Theatre of Cruelty” of the French writer and director Antonin Artaud, ‘In-yer-face theater’ is born from the will of the authors and directors to affect the audience as much as possible. Its pieces are characterized by their harsh vocabulary and by the taboo themes which they develop, i.e. mainly sex, violence and consumerism. Curiously, the majority of ‘in-year-face’ plays are “experiential” in the sense that they intend to make the audience feel the same extreme emotions that are shown on stage to the point that the spectator might actually want to get on stage and stop the action happening. The most notorious authors of this movement are Mark Ravenhill, Anthony Neilson and Sarah Kane. They were repeatedly accused of confusing subversion with gratuitous violence. Yet, they claim that it was only through controversy and provocation that real criticism of society could be dressed. You can learn more about it here!

Remembrance Poppy

It has become a familiar sight on the weeks before Armistice Day (November, 11th) to see British officials, politicians, policeman and generally all sorts of people wearing poppies on their lapels. But what does the poppy stand for? “It’s to support the troops” – that is the most common answer and it is, usually, accurate enough, but here at The J.R. Chronicle we like to dig a little deeper.

As mentioned, the Poppy is mostly worn on the weeks preceding Armistice Day, which marks the date (and time, 11 a.m.) when, after four years of incessant fighting, guns stopped on the western front. It marks the end of the First World War.

Armistice Day has been remembered ever since it happened, with the first celebrations taking place in 1919. The poppy, however, only came a year later and its origin can be traced back to a poem.

While fighting in Flanders, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian physician, witnessed some of the most gruesome battles in human history. During World War I, as you may know, both sides resorted to the use of chemical weapons. McCrae fought in the second battle of Ypres, where the German launched one of the first chemical attacks in the history of warfare, using chlorine gas.

His position was amongst the ones attacked and suffered heavy losses. McCrae had to perform the burial service for one of his companions and he noticed that poppies quickly grew around the graves of those that had fallen. The sight stuck with him and inspired him to write about it:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, 1919

Soon after, inspired by McCrae’s poem, the American Legion started using the poppy as an item to show support for those who had died in World War I, with the red symbolizing the blood they spilled for their country. The poppy tradition soon spread to other Commonwealth countries and, today, it is mainly used in the United Kingdom and Canada.

Its meaning has evolved as well, honoring not only soldiers that died in World War I, but also other conflicts in which the UK or Canada have taken part it. In addition, today’s poppies are mostly made of plastic and are sold by The British Legion in a fundraising campaign known as the Poppy Appeal. These poppies are designed so that workers with a disability, such as wounded veterans, can easily assemble them, a principle that has been in place since 1922. Poppies are then sold until November 11th (Armistice or Remembrance Day) and the proceedings are used to support the Legion’s welfare work with the Armed Forces community.

It is a noble initiative that is one of the best ways of saying “thank you” to those that fight for us. Ideally, we would not have to fight and there would be no wars. That idea, however, seems utopian, at least today.

JR

Today we want to talk to you about one of our homonymous. JR is a French artist, who “owns the biggest art gallery in the world”: the streets. He is an “unknown” artist, because no one knows his true identity despite the fact that there are several pictures of him. Mainly specialized in photography, he is best known for making large panels with photos and displaying them in the streets. His objective is to portrait a society, and to expose it right back at her.

One of his best well-known projects was “Face 2 Face” in 2007, which he did in partnership with Marco. In this project, he portrayed Israelis and Palestinians side by side in huge photographs, covering the Israeli West Bank barrier. In “Women Are Heroes”, he intended to put women on the spotlight for the important role they play in the society, but which is often neglected, besides of all the violences women face constantly. For instance, he imprinted large pictures of women in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, and he did the same in Kenya, in Liberia and in India. Finally, yet another example of his art is “The Wrinkles of the City”, where he exposes pictures of old people in cities such as Los Angeles, where appearances are at the center of all attentions and old people are often cast away.

JR’s photos definitely have a political meaning and can be very controversial, as one can see with the Face 2 Face project. As he says it himself, “Art is not welcome everywhere”. Nevertheless, JR’s art is very interesting and it is maybe not without reason that Fabrice Bousteau, director of the Beaux-Arts Magazine, described him as the 21st century Henri-Cartier Besson.

Banksy in New York

Is art over-rated? Banksy, the anonymous British artist, is maybe proving that it is. He is now back in New York, making some of his well-known art and it is making a fuzz. For the month of October, he decided to go around several neighborhoods making stencils, for which people line up to photograph.

More than an artistic statement, Banksy probably does political statements. In “Better Out Than In”, one of his most recent ideas was to put several of his original works for sale on the streets, for $60. He was not the one selling the art-works, but an old man. Only six people bought them because no one knew they were the “real-deal”. His art has already been sold by $1.87 million. He is also making moving installations like the “Sirens of the Lambs”, a livestock truck full with animal farm toys.

On the other hand, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is very opposed to these public displays, calling them vandalism, and stating that “Graffiti does ruin people’s property”. The police is apparently looking for him to charge him on vandalism accounts, and the New York Post published a news stating “Get Banksy”. This latter’s answer: “I don’t read what I believe in the papers”. The problem with this, is that some of his “works” are also being “vandalized” or erased.

Not knowing who Banksy is creates a mystic ambiance around him, that in a certain way gives his art-works even more value. What he does is undeniably interesting and a very good food-for-thought. But the question remains. Is it overrated?

Either way, check out his website, where he has been exposing his works in New York!

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Work

Surely, lovers of Photography as well as all of our Francophone friends have heard about him and know his work. Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was a French photographer and is considered the father of modern Photojournalism. After unsuccessfully studying music, Cartier-Bresson entered at the Lhote Academy, the studio of the Cubist painter André Lhote. There, although he became very close to the Surrealist movement, he progressively became tired of their approach to art. With the “Photography Revolution” taking place, quickly Cartier-Bresson embraced its motto “Crush Tradition! Photograph things as they are!”. It was in the 1930s, during a trip to Africa, that he decided to take photography seriously. By 1937, after starting working as a photographer for the French Communist Party newspaper, Cartier-Bresson’s first photojournalist photos were published after he covered the streets of London during the coronation of Queen Elisabeth and King George VI. Nevertheless, when World War II broke up, he was assigned to the Army Film and Photo Unit. He was captured in 1940 by the Germans and sent to a forced labour camp where he was imprisoned for 3 years. It was at the end of the war that his work started to be recognized as he photographed brilliant moments such as this one – “A former Gestapo informer being identified as she tried to hide in the crowd”. He later founded the Magnum Photos – which we already wrote about here. Photography took him everywhere and famously permit him to freely photograph the daily life in the Soviet Union (check his photos here). Many, consider Cartier-Bresson the most brilliant photographer of the 20th century. If you have the chance, we strongly advise you to visit the Henri Cartier Bresson Foundation – which has been “preserving and keeping alive his spirit and work”.

The Nation Room – Embassy of No Land

This week, we were introduced to this amazing blog, Africa is a Country, a blog sharing the ‘work of Africans and non-Africans about the continent and its diaspora’. It was good to find intelligent and fun media with people who want to challenge our knowledge and understanding of the African continent. We strongly encourage you to take a look at it.

Anyways. We discovered this cool project, The Nation Room – Embassy of No Land (Salão da Nação – Embaixada de Terra Nenhuma), where Angolan visual artist, Kiluanja Kia Henda, and Portuguese architect, Paulo Moreira, have mixed arts and politics. Indeed, this Luso collaboration for the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, is embedded in politics. In a time of discontent for politicians and diplomacy in general, The Nation Room project is, as its name indicates, an “embassy of an imaginary nation that does not represent any particular time or place”. Weekly, NGO’ workers and activists meet at roundtables, debates and performances to discuss their ideas about citizenship, activism and social inclusion.

All of you in Lisbon, go check it out and come tell us about it.