Art & Politics: An Introduction

Periodically, things go the rounds on social media, promising to break up the monotony of our dinners, or bad dates, or, now, our political postings, with art and music! Because who doesn’t want to see art and music in their timeline, amirite?! I mean, how could I argue with this? Art is beautiful! I have a degree in art history! I love early modern and colonial literature because the visual is so important!

But I can totally argue with it. Part of it, of course, is just that I’m a fighter, apparently, and arm myself with facts and data and critical theories to tilt at the windmills of bad and misleading information. (I often feel rather a lot like this and this, to be frank.) But the other part? It’s quite simple, actually: this is a bullshit theory. The arts are always political. Continue reading

Advertisements

Silence Against the Day

… I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam,” 30 April 1967

I have thought a great deal, of late, about the Moors and the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula, and about their expulsion from their own countries, the lands where they were born and where they had lived for, in many cases, generations. I’ve often wondered what I’d do, in a similar position. After all, the ancestors I can trace—most of them, given my brother S’s diligence—came to this continent in the 17th and 18th centuries, nearly all arriving prior to the Revolution (in which, of course, they fought). As far as I know, there are no cousins left abroad, no family members with whom to seek temporary shelter. Continue reading

Beyond the Caldecott (and the Nobel)

There are a number of very famous literary awards out there, from the Caldecotts and Newberys of children’s literature fame to the Man Bookers, the Hugos, and the Pulitzers—not to mention the Nobels—of adult literature. They award many great authors; they sometimes make incredibly bizarre choices (see the Nobel award for “literature,” 2016). They often do not, however, do a grand job of selecting representative fiction—which is to say, of course, that, despite problems in the industry, far more than men (often of one race, writing about other men) write great literary works. (There are some bright spots: Paul Beatty won the 2016 Man Booker prize for a novel about race in America! The National Book Awards celebrated diverse voices!)

However, there are also literary prizes out there which seek to recognize everything from literature celebrating the Arab-American experience to literature offering strong representations of characters with disabilities. I have tried to pull together as many of these diverse literary award winners in one space as I could; perhaps they can be among your 2017 reading challenges. The awards here include those specifically focusing upon adult’s and children’s literature, as well as awards which celebrate both.

I will edit the list with additional awards as I find them.

Continue reading

Christmas 2016 for Depressed Grinches

I’m dubious about the Christmas season, which might be why I really like “Nicholas Was,” the adaption of a Neil Gaiman poem, above, from 39 Degrees North. Holidays are really weird when you’re a musician’s kid: they are your bread and butter, after all, but they’re also definitely not “days off.” (To wit: my mother’s currently performing at a midnight mass; I, obviously, am sitting up, as I’ve done since I was maybe six months old. Since it’s midnight I am no longer watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, since that doesn’t seem quite appropriate, but I am considering Troll Hunters. One must do something, after all.)

From link.

I also never believed in Santa Claus. There are, after all, zero peer-reviewed sources to back up his existence. 😛

Victorian Christmas Card

So I actually like this one. Image from Nova Scotia Archives on Flickr.

Did you know that old-timey Christmas cards were gloriously, well, disturbing? They’re pretty amazing, actually. Hyperallergic has helpfully compiled numerous examples in “Have a Creepy Little Christmas with these Unsettling Victorian Cards,” which are well and truly unsettling. I definitely recommend a look, particularly if you like Victorian oddities (I do) and if you have a slightly warped sense of humor. (And definitely check out the originating links! Many, like this one, have all sorts of awesome images.)

Image from the Lily Library, Indiana University.

Want even more bizarre Christmas greetings? Check out Hyperallergic’s compilation of Victorian dead birds on Christmas cards. Because of course the Victorians put dead birds on Christmas cards. The cards at this compilation are often tamer; after all, they’re looking at cards as “aesthetic objects,” per the article’s title.

A 20th-Century Krampus with a bunch of babies who Just Don’t Care. Wikimedia Commons.

Are you in the mood for an evil Santa? Look no further than Krampus, who is apparently out to get you! And Krampus is definitely creepy, as demonstrated in these amazing photos from—you guessed it—a series of Krampus parades.Want more on Krampus? Here’s a National Geographic article from 2015, and a book, published just this year.

The Mari Lwyd is watching you! 2011 photo by Wikipedian R. fiend. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Considering that the deeply horrifying Mari Lwyd is still very much a part of Welsh celebrations, even though it is clearly delineated as evilevilevil in Silver on the Tree, the clear expert in all such matters, this sort of parade makes a weird kind of sense. Also! The Mari Lwyd is itself a horrifying Christmas tradition! (It is likely someone’s favorite tradition; unfortunately, as someone with an amazing imagination and a fear of the dark, as well as an excellent memory for novels, it scares the daylights out of me.)

One cannot forget the medieval artists who were apparently often trippin’ while they were creating their masterpieces. Luckily, sources such as Marginalia and Discarding Images help out with a steady stream of fabulously bizarre blasts from the past.

Truly horrified mother and infant, anyone?

I have so many thoughts about this one, but I’ll leave it at this: what fascinating syncretism we have on display here!

Here’s another absolutely glorious old illumination, courtesy of Marginalia. I am amazed, and know not what to say. (Also, the anatomy is definitely not right.)

As a musician’s kid, I intensely dislike the piped carols with which stores assault our ears starting in October or November. However! I do like some holiday music!

I’ve probably mentioned Apollo’s Fire before. They’re an amazing Baroque orchestra; their theatricality and musicality make for a spectacle in the truest sense of the word.

“Kuando El Rey” has zero to do with Hanukkah, which started Christmas Eve; however, it’s really pretty, and it’s old Sephardic music, which we don’t often hear. And I’m a colonialist, and a medievalist, and I can’t resist this sort of music. Incidentally, it has an interesting history; the lyrics are written in Ladino, and the song itself dates to…sometime or other, before the expulsion or after. Different sites have different ideas. Also, for those interested: it’s performed by different groups here, here, and here, among others.)

From link.

Gifs are an excellent way to celebrate anything, are they not?

From link.

From link.

This isn’t exactly “holiday,” but so what! From link.

(I mean, my cat actually takes ornaments off the tree, which is why we have none until like three feet up, but.)

From link.

And, finally, for all your holiday questions: here is Geoffrey Chaucer offering sound advice, courtesy of NPR!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Festivus for the Restivus, and happy day off (if you have one) regardless of what you celebrate. And, on a different note, the Thorne Rooms are decorated for the season, and they’re charming as ever—a wonderful respite from an unhappy world.

Merry Socially Conscious Winter Holidays!

It’s almost the end of this trash-fire year! Which means we get to embark on a whole new trash fire, far, far too soon. So, this burning year from hell is about to end (and merge into more hell, unless there’s a miracle). But, if you are here, you presumably care about human rights, and about people who might not look like you. You might even want to have young folks in your life read about great moments in American history, such as the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement and the recently gutted Voting Rights Act, which was, while we had it, a shining testament to what we could be as a country.

Interested in last-minute, socially conscious reads that are also fun and engaging? Have no fear! There are booklists aplenty to help with your selection. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center—the very place where my grandmother long did cataloging—has compiled an incredible list of “50 Books About Peace and Social Justice.” They range from picture books for munchkins to early and middle grades, on up to high school. Many—maybe even most—of the books on the list are real, actual award winners, too. And many deal with histories, often dark ones, in which young people took a stand. Sometimes it cost them a lot—think of the White Rose. Sometimes it cost them liberty, at least for a time, but not life (see the young folks behind the Churchill Club). And, often, they were the only people to take such a stand, and, by their daring, helped sway the course of history. And did you know that before Brown v. Board of Education there was Mendez v. Westminster? Sylvia Mendez was only eight years old when she became the face of that early step on the fight for integrated schools, yet another reminder of the incredible bravery of young children in this ongoing fight for equality.

Working with really young kids? A lot of the books on the CCBC list, ranging from Last Stop on Market Street and Drum Dream Girl to What Does Peace Feel Like? and Each Kindness, are definitely for the wee ones—just check the suggested age ranges, which the CCBC, naturally, includes. But are you interested in even more suggestions for the picture-book set? Well, no worries. Despite part of its machinery clanging to appeasement, ALA is a vast creature of many parts. One of said parts, the Association for Library Service to Children, or ALSC, has released its own booklist, called “Unity. Kindness. Peace.” It’s available as either a webpage or a pdf, and, from what I can tell, all the included books both encourage empathy and are geared towards the young. We none of us, I think, want to see an uptick in bullying—yet are very much seeing such an uptick. Need I remind anyone, as someone who still has scars from bullying, that it is profoundly damaging? That its scars sink deep and last forever?1

Teens and Up (Or, the Bulk of This Document)

Looking for books for teens and adult people? Again, the CCBC has some really amazing suggestions. I have additional suggestions. Many of the authors listed—those I know best include Matt de la Peña, Margarita Engle, Jacqueline Woodson, Sherman Alexie, Sharon Creech, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Sharon Flake, Walter Dean Myers, Jason Reynolds, Ruta Sepetys, and Marjane Satrapi—write extensively on themes pertaining to human rights. Sandra Cisneros, she of The House on Mango Street, is another excellent choice. (I love Mango Street; I also own Woman Hollering Creek, which I think is marvelous—I am a fan of vignettes and of short stories.) Kekla Magoon consistently tackles hard topics; she even has a pair of books—The Rock and the River and Fire in the Streets—about race, gender, and politics in 1968 Chicago, following the assassination of Martin Luther King and around the time of the infamous convention.

Did you know Asian-Americans have been a part of the United States for a long, long time? Stacey Lee‘s award-winning novels, including Outrun the Moon, about a Chinese-American teenager working her way up through the social strata in San Francisco at the time of the earthquake, and Under a Painted Sky, about two girls—one Chinese-American, the other African-American—who work together to survive the Oregon Trail, cover some of this history, bringing to light contributions of people many of us never thought were there at all. (A reminder: Asians—largely Chinese—worked on the railroads alongside my Irish ancestors.) The Secret of a Heart Note is coming soon; it appears to be contemporary magical realism, and, I’m glad to say, it’s already been well-reviewed, by no less than Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love and Death is, at first glance, perhaps an odd suggestion: it is a fantasy, a high-stakes “game” played by Love and Death, immortals who chose their players…and set them against one another. It is Seattle in the 1930s; Henry, a young white man, and Flora, a young African-American woman, are their unwitting pawns. They must choose each other, and love…or one must die. In the midst of this rather horrifying game, the reader learns a great deal, both about the place and the time and about racism, sexism, and constructions of gender (check out Henry, who is a sensitive, gentle sort of guy). I will, for once, spare you the total spoiler; I’ll just say that this book, which has won its share of awards, made me cry. A lot. It probably sounds like a horrifying premise, but, goodness, what a lovely book.

Similarly, Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Weight of Feathers is a strange, lyrical fantasy, one delving deeply into belonging, hate, love, and bigotry. The feud between Palomas and Corbeaus seems almost mythic, a thing of legend, living and awful, feeding on the irrationality of generations, yet Lace Palmoa and Cluck Corbeau are drawn together against all odds and despite the years of hate that should simmer in their blood. They move through a world that is like and yet unlike ours, filled as it is with casual magics; but the hate and bigotry and irrationality with which they must contend is something all of us will know, all too well.

Looking for love stories? Jenny Han is a great place to start. Sara Farizan’s Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel features the coming of age of a young woman of Persian background who is interested in girls (and worried about what will happen should it get out to her classmates); Becky Albertalli’s award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, a particularly sweet romance, deals with bullying, race, and class, as well as homophobia. (And it ends happily! Promise!) Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz, has come to me highly recommended by the teens for whom it was written.

The Blacksad series, graphic novels featuring a hard-boiled anthropomorphized black cat detective named Blacksad, are hard and intense and beautiful, homage to the old noir school and also a testament to the ways in which we can incorporate history and social commentary into graphic novels featuring talking, suit-clad animals. While I suggest all the Blacksad novels, starting at the beginning—because I always start that way—Arctic Nation, with its emphasis on the horrors of racism and segregation, is particularly chilling and apropos.

There are also, maybe in the vein of The Weight of Feathers, dark love stories. Libba Bray’s Diviners seriesThe Diviners, followed by Lair of Dreams, with more, eventually, to come—follows a diverse group of “diviners” as they work together against rising evil…but, since they are a diverse group, our heroes must also contend with the daily evils of sexism, racism, and homophobia, among other petty human hates. Leigh Bardugo’s shattering Six of Crows duology—Six of Crows followed by Crooked Kingdom—pits a diverse group of “criminals”—including a dyslexic—against a corrupt merchant class, grown fat and venal on the spoils of their ill-gotten gains. (I’d argue that the “crooked kingdom” of the title could very well refer more to those venal merchants who abuse their labor.)

Cat Winters’ The Steep and Thorny Way is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The heroine’s African-American father, murdered, walks the crossroads, seeking justice and his daughter’s safety; the man accused of his murder escapes, and tells his daughter, a biracial girl in a racist town, that he is innocent: the Klan is behind her father’s death. The darkening atmosphere balances with our protagonists, who must outrace time and try to hide from the KKK to find out what really happened. Even darker is Out of Darkness, Ashley Hope Pérez’s award-winning novel built around a historical school bombing in Texas. A word of warning: while the protagonists are sweet, and deeply in love, this one is a tragedy. (Pérez has other books that are not quite so tragic; they all look pretty good.)

The newest Captain America on the block, Sam Wilson, must also make an appearance; he is a true Captain America of our age, like Luke Cage a heroic Black man, standing, as it were, not only for that old, trite saying of truth, justice, and the American way, but for an American way that includes liberté, égalité, and fraternité: one in which racism will surely one day fall beneath his boot—or perhaps beneath Misty Knight’s. M. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel features another bright young hero, Kamala Khan, Pakistani-American teenager by day, superhero by night. There’s the new Black Panther…and the Avengers have assembled to fight white supremacy. (I think I am going to just go ahead and order that one, actually.)

And, on this theme of superheroes who look like the country at large (check out the adventures of Super Indian while you’re at it! And, coming soon, a whole comic book about Choctaw code talkers!), don’t forget mild-mannered Hank Chu, just trying to do his thing in China Town, LA…while being a superhero at night. Gene Luen Yang has told his story in The Shadow Hero, and it is definitely worth a read. Hank is heroic and an angsty teenager…and he must contend with racism and even class issues as he navigates both his day-time life and his superhero world, into which his mother, who has a thing for superheroes, has thrust him. (Well, also an old deal his father made—but you’ll have to read it to find that part out.)

Shadow Hero is really important to me for a couple of reasons. The first is super simple and not deeply emotional: I liked it. The second is deeper, harder to explain, and deeply emotional. The building of my childhood was quite diverse; if it was majority-anything, it was majority-Asian—but there the majorities tended to fall away, as there were people from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Mongolia, Indonesia, the Philippines. I didn’t realize, because I was a clueless kid, that there was anything unusual about this; it was something I accepted, just like I accepted the decades-long cold war between my grandmother and her next-door neighbor. I was pretty old—I think I was in high school—before I ran into anti-Asian slurs for the first time. I was, in short, pretty clueless about what Yang describes in his brilliant, moving graphic novel American-Born Chinese. In truth, in case you’re wondering, I still feel badly that I was so clueless about what my best friends must have been living. Never again, guys.

For, la, it is a tapestry. Scene 6, Bayeux Tapestry. Wikimedia Commons.

There are so many more books than what I have listed here; so many authors, to be discovered, read, and cherished. As a Hyde Parker, my America doesn’t look like this country of which I’ve heard too many, lately, speak; I would argue that what makes us great—if, indeed, we are great—are all the threads that make up the tapestry that is us. Tapestries are amazing things, you know: textile art of the highest order, in which every single yarn is chosen with care, and every single piece tells its own story. At a glance, unless one knows something about fiber arts, one probably won’t even notice all the variances that make up a great tapestry. But up close, on careful inspection, one might begin to see.

Fiber art: Peruvian Chimu Mantle, possibly c. 1000-15th century. Wikipedia.

I’ve never cared for the “melting pot” analogy; everything melted together is ugly. But, fashioned as a sort of tapestry, well, our differences make us stunning. And so I present this incomplete list of books which delve into, and celebrate, so many of the threads that make up our American tapestry.

Happy Endings for Teens and Older

Everything sucks; perhaps you only want to read super-happy stuff set in our super-diverse and beautiful world. Maybe some of these will fit the bill.

 Additional Resources


1 For more information on bullying, see any or all of the following studies:

A Votar: Last-Minute Information

Image thanks to ACLU.

In the United States and not sure where to vote? Google has a really good tool for you.

Running into…issues at the polling place? (Intimidation or otherwise.) You have recourse. You can contact the lawyer-run Election Protection hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE. The ACLU’s information on voter intimindation—including handy-dandy downloadable guides—can be found here.

¿Se encuentra problemas cuando se va a votar? Se puede llamar 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA. Para más información sobre sus derechos, se puede leer «Conoce tus derechos: Intimidación al votante», escrito por el ACLU.

Finally, in many states (most? all?), if you are in line when the polls close, you are still able to vote—just don’t leave that line. Ballotpedia has more information; International Business Times also has poll close times.

Cornbread 4 Eva: Graffiti, Part II

In honor of less-than-stellar days, here is some stellar street art.

graffiti: cornbread 4 eva, with a crown.
Cornbread 4 Eva on Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

I’m going to assume the above is cornbread for ever, rather than cornbread for my middle name, although clearly one can never be sure—perhaps Eva really likes cornbread! This is one of my all-time favorite whacko pieces of graffiti; I got the image fairly early in my tenure in Chambana, though it may still be on the building. I’d like to think that it was some performer in a moment of high hilarity (or perhaps excess alcohol!), providing us all with sufficient entertainment to make it through another round of exhaustion and overwork. Cornbread 4 eva!

Kilroy was here!
Kilroy was here! Somehere in Urbana.

Kilroy’s here! I think I’ve seen him all over, but I’m pretty sure this iteration of our national trickster lives somewhere in downtown Urbana, just as delightfully tricksey as ever he was.

an ink eye, UIUC campus
The eye is watching. UIUC campus.

The eye is close kin to IT’S CHALK, which was not written in chalk, and which I presented in Part I. I occasionally wonder if it’s the same person—I mean, I’m pretty sure it’s the same not-chalk—but this person probably was more concerned with surveillance (maybe? I’m really not sure?), while CHALKer was just goofin’ around.

white swirly design on a sign post
swirly things on a signpost! UIUC

The signposts in Chambana—probably in every college town, everywhere, if Hyde Park is any indication—are a canvas for local street artists, taggers, and drunk people. Some of what gets tagged isn’t really worth remembering, but some, like this random design, really is.

stenciled bear with one round eye and one star eye on a no parking sign
Stencil Bear and No Parking

Like signposts, No Parking signs are great for tagging. This one is, I’m pretty sure, a stencil (look at the edges), decorating a NO PARKING sign. I love this kind of decoration. Facilities probably doesn’t.

smileyface on the back of a sign in the UIUC area
🙂 on the back of a sign in Urbana

🙂 Check the back of a sign the next time you’re in a college town—it might have a stencil, or a sticker, or a political slogan (there are a lot of those)…or it might be smiling at you!

Person made out of pins on a cork board.
Pin person on a pin board in a hallway

The pin person isn’t quite street art, and it isn’t graffiti, but it is hallway art, which, I think, must be close kin to the transitory nature of so much street art. Pin guy lived, for a while, on one of our corkboards in the Foreign Language Building, the fabulously ugly building which was my home away from home for the four years I spent in Urbana. Little things like PinPerson really made FLB home, the sort of place where a (dis)placed student could feel safe. Everyone decorated FLB, from posters to bumperstickers to PinPeople. There may forever be new generations of students living in its unhallowed halls, but that, at least, will remain the same.

TOY written on WORKERS sign.
Watch out for toy workers! Urbana, Illinois

Is this art? Probably not really? But I don’t care! It’s amazing! TOY WORKERS injected a whole lot of humor into my summer the year it appeared.

Butterflies on a piller between science buildings, Urbana
Between the science buildings.

Sometime while I wasn’t around—which wouldn’t, in truth, have been difficult—someone stenciled the pillars between two science buildings with butterflies. Lots and lots and lots of butterflies. I’m not, of course, entirely sure what they meant to do with them, but I loved them then, and I love them now. It’s a startling and joyous thing to stumble across, while rushing to work and to class and then home again, jiggity-jog.

TEMPO written on a signpost in Hyde Park, University of Chicago campus
TEMPO, Hyde Park

I feel like TEMPO is profoundly Hyde Park graffiti, although I suppose it could just as easily have been found on a building near Krannert. But here’s (down) tempo for you, on the back of a sign.

Detail of the (pre-2015) Red Herring sign shows an eggplant bassist, Urbana, Illinois
Detail of the (pre-2015) Red Herring sign, Urbana, Illinois.

This isn’t quite what we usually consider street art—it’s a business sign, the one formerly attached to the Red Herring in Urbana—but it really is street art, too: it’s a part of the urban art scene, for the time that it is there. Alas, it’s been painted over now; I don’t like the new sign half as much as I like this eggplant bassist.

Red Herring sign with leaves, vegetables, and eggplant bassist, Urbana, IL. Pre-2015.
The Red Herring sign, pre-2015. Urbana, Illinois.

For reference, here’s the full sign. It was a gem, I tell you, and I mourn that it is gone.

And that’s it for Part II—though there will definitely be more. 🙂

Save

Save

Save