What’s the best part of Cameroonian culture?
“The beautiful women”
Name: Alfred, President of the local Moto Man Union**
“Tell me about your wife.”
“Our being together was natural. Why? Because she is very tall and I am a short man so we balance eachother. We’ve been married for 15 years now.”
**Alfred is a special Moto Man because he is also the leader of a union of 300 moto men in the region. He told me that men who formally sign up to be part of the union get some very needed services in the area. If a man goes to the hospital, then the union pays the hospital fees. If a man is stuck somewhere, the other members have a responsibility to stop and help them. In the event of death, the union gives the family money to help the grieving family.
Is Kiev what comes to mind when you think of an incubator for artists? Probably not, but that might slowly change. The Kiev Biennial was the first of it’s kind for the capitol and largest city in Ukraine. The massive Biennial had almost 100 exhibitors. An article in The Independent explains that the exhibits featured 22 artists from Ukraine, giving the Biennial a bit of a nationalist flavor.The international variety also gave voice to artists who are not from the traditionally saturated Western European art circuit. The Biennial brought 13 artists from China into the spotlight; the political nature of an exhibit might hit close to home for Ukrainians who share a common history with Communism.
The Mystetskyi Arsenal welcomed David Elliott as the curator for the Kiev Biennial, an art world superstar. Blouin Art Info mentions that some of his credentials include director/founder of the Mori Art Museum and curator of the Sydney Biennial in 2010. Elliott was attracted to Kiev, in part, due to the building it was being hosted in, which is an old weapon and military center. The Biennial really had a distinct flavor, making references to Communism and the Soviet era, issues that still profoundly affect Ukrainian life. Some of my favorite exhibits made commentary on ecological issues and consumption, which can speak to people of any culture. The Biennial really had a distinct flavor, making references to Communism and the Soviet era, issues that still profoundly affect Ukrainian life.
One of the local artists to be featured is Boris Mikhailov, who might be most well known for his social documentary photography. He is famous for his “Red Series”, which are both political and graphic in content. But that is the point of a Biennial, to stimulate discussions of politics and culture at present. His lense is not focusing on people at the Biennial, instead it depicts the urban decay and industrial grit of Ukraine. Mikhailov is truly something to brag about, as he is home grown with the silver lining of international fame.
An artist to be featured who has been a recent part of the news is Ai Weiwei. Weiwei is quite a force to be reckoned with–from China, who as of late, has been making his name criticizing the Chinese political regime. Weiwei is an internationally acclaimed artist who spent more than 10 years in New York City, studying at Parson’s. He has been instrumental in establishing the Beijing East Village and setting up a Chinese artists network. Weiwei has used blogging as one of his platforms to express his distaste for Chinese Human Rights policy and government procedure. The guts it takes to use one’s power to criticize a powerhouse like China for the betterment of a billion people is makes his art so powerful.
Ukraine has an image problem among the European Nations (among other more tanglible issues). It is always striving for admission into the European Union, but faces serious setbacks almost every time there is new press. Most people hear about government corruption more than advancements for the common good. This summer certainly seems to be dedicated to showing the world it’s cultural contributions. Florence Waters wrote in The Telegraph “The nationalistic incentive behind this event is no secret. Twenty-two of the 99 artists who are being represented in the main exhibition are Ukrainian born. Many of Ukraine’s successful artists – like their writers, among them ‘The Master and Marguerita’ author Mikhail Bulgakov who was born in Kiev – are perceived by the world at large as being Russian. By presenting these artists alongside international giants like American Paul McCarthy and Japanese Yayoi Kusama, the Ukraine can hope to re-claim their lost identity.” I would recommend readers to venture over to Waters’ full length article, it was one of my favorite perspectives of the Biennial. Some pictures from the exhibit are featured in my earlier post, Part 1. Cheers!
This week is going to be devoted to looking at some of the urban art that Kiev has to offer. One of the more enduring and interactive exhibitions of Ukrainian urban art is Landscape Alley on the Right Bank of Kiev. To do this post, I had to get some help from Slava, who is much more knowledgeable than I about the history of this park. From the eyes of the outsider, this Landscape Alley (translated from Paysazhnaya Alleya) is a pleasant surprise that winds past some restaurants and parks. I first visited this park in October and then again this summer; during that time, Landscape Alley grew as locals embraced the park which resulted in the creation of new sculptures. Landscape Alley is almost always busy, with people of all ages taking a stroll or sitting to enjoy a beer while their children play. Most of the sculptures are made of colorful tiles and look very child friendly. The sculptures are humorous and playful, featuring references to famous children’s literature in some of the pieces. You would be hard pressed not to find a child bouncing from the playground (which functions as a piece of art itself) to a fountain or bench. Landscape Alley makes Kiev’s rather gray and neutral background pop to life. Dotted along the entrance to the park are usually young people sitting in a circle around a guitar or couples resting on a blanket.
According to Fashion Park website Landscape Alley was a group effort, with pieces “created by Ukrainian artists: Nazar Bilyk, Zhanna Kadyrova, Konstantin Skritutskiy, Mihail Vertuozov, Alexey Vladimirov, Vasiliy Tatarskiy, Aleksander Alekseev, Vladimir Kuznetsov, Alexander Lidagovsky. There are also the unique garden benches designed from the sketches of well-known Ukrainian fashion designers: Alexey Zalevskiy, Lilia Pustovit, Andre Tan, Zinaida Lihacheva, Olga Gromova, Lilia Litkovskaya and Sergey Danchinov (for TM IDol)”. For locals, Landscape Alley can serve as a tribute to the local art community because it features artists that are native Ukrainians. These sculptures are a great family friendly destination to visit that is free in Kiev. If you notice the buildings that serve as the background for these pictures, you will notice how they contrast in spirit and character from the sculptures. The neighborhood that is home to Landscape Alley is not so pretentious, giving a tourists a peek into everyday life.
Check back on Friday for the second part of Landscape Alley and some cultural comments on how locals approach it.
**Note to readers: I am not from Ukraine, and lack language skills. In the spirit of not sounding like a know-it-all I will be happy to correct any unintended errors, feel free to contact me if you have anything to add to the conversation! Thanks, Elise
Let’s be honest, Detroit has been in decline for a long time. Roughly 20% of its houses are vacant. That’s what I like about Detroit, the visibility of the working class that used to populate it, the grit. At the same time, it would not be Detroit without the soul and bristle of the people that live there. Just as Rome must fall, Detroit must eventually hit the bottom and begin climbing back to the ranks of respected cities one day. It seems that the natural process to respectability, according to both the masses and the media, will be through art. Many years ahead of that curve is the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor multiple block art installation. The Heidelberg Project is now in it’s 26th year in Detroit’s East Side, standing out against its competitors. It is so much more than some stuff haphazardly grouped next to graffiti covered abandoned houses, the items you see in the pictures below are all reclaimed items found in Detroit. The Heidelberg Project is a major force in the local art community hosting programs for children and adults alike, literally making itself a must-see tourist destination in the process. While I was there, multiple families milled around discussing the art on a weekday afternoon! I am certainly no expert on art or even qualified to make judgments on it, but the value I find in what I saw is that it is pulled from the community and literally represents the community, while being thought provoking to those who may not know Detroit intimately.
While admiring the houses of the Heidelberg Project, a man in a large carpenter’s van stopped and asked us what we thought, “Its really cool, who did all this?” we said. With his arm on the drivers window, he squinted into the sun and said “I did” before continuing his conversation with the woman weeding her garden on the sidewalk nearby. Tyree Guyton is an internationally renowned artist and world traveler who is down to earth enough to bypass a very clear opportunity to talk about himself with some camera ready tourists and stroke his own ego in favor of having an everyday conversation with his neighbor. After reading press from his website, I would dare to say that this is an embodiment of him, Mr. Guyton is most interested in participating in his community than trying to gain something from it.
In the spirit of disclosure, I want to be honest: I am not sure I fully understand the depth of some of the art, maybe most of it. But the picture of the sunken car that is led by a bike emerging I can confidently point to the decimated auto industry which used to be such a Motor City stronghold. My favorite photo (below) is of the auto mobile that uses syringes as part of the auto body; it was so bold because the red coiling of the auto body also could be veins within the body, calling to mind the rampant drug problems in Detroit. What is your favorite photo?
Above is the Detroit Industrial Gallery
Until the birth of the Panama Canal, Valparaiso was arguably the most important port in the Pacific Southern Hemisphere. Valparaiso began not as an entirely separate city, but rather the port to Santiago. Through time, Valparaiso has created its own identity rooted in art, intellectual pursuits and the still busy port. While in Valparaiso, I was fortunate to be staying with a host family in nearby Vina Del Mar (the more polished neighbor to Valparaiso), I quickly learned that my Spanish is horrifically rusty. Midweek I came home after a long day, and tried to excuse my weak conversation at the dinner table with fatigue. I said to the family “Yo casada” which was followed by raised eyebrows and 5 very long seconds of silence. The next morning I learned from another girl in my group that my intended “I’m tired” (yo cansada) translated mistakenly to “I married” (yo casada). Sometimes all it takes is on letter differenc e to really mess up a conversation.
The street art in Valparaiso is fascinating. The city officials have a unique relationship with the street artists, who have sometimes asked permission to claim the spaces they paint. The art is laced with political statements and cultural symbols. The street art documents the historical characters that have shaped Chilean culture while incorporating the very current student movement. One part of Valparaiso is called the Open Sky Museum, where internationally renowned artists worked together to paint about 60 murals that are a part of public space. The artists often will not sign their name on the murals, making them a common good for the city. As the art appeared, Valparaiso was able to use the art to transform the previously rundown historical neighborhoods into something that was not so typically gentrified.