31 July 2009

An Uppity Non-invitation to the 'Beer Summit'

The three highly-trained guys who reacted badly (Professor Gates, Sgt. Crowley, and even President Obama) are getting together tonight for a beer at the White House.

The only person in the script who did not overreact is not invited.





I don't know. Maybe it's a guy thing.

Obama got himself in the middle of this mess by saying the police acted "stupidly" which is how he now finds himself hosting a 'Beer Summit'.

But ... behind all the bombast, posturing, and political games that almost everyone has been playing, there seems to be little or no room in the narrative for a person who simply tried to do the right thing in a difficult situation, with full cognizance and awareness of the difficulties of that situation.*

Lucia Whalen, a quietly Uppity Woman with no special training.

"Have a Bud," guys. You deserve it.


* From Aaron Bady on Cliopatria (History News Network).

22 July 2009

A Syrian Zenobia in Bahrain

Readers with long memories may remember my writing about the huge Mansour Rahbani Zenobia musical-play which was a great hit in Dubai in 2007 (Zenobia Receives Royal Patronage).

Some may also recall my follow-up posts -- when I was moaning about the faulty costumes (Zenobia : the Musical and Conquest's Law), or my futile tirade against the terrible anachronism of Zenobia brandishing an Arab scimitar -- a sword that only came into being 1,000 years after her time (Zenobia's Terrible Curved Sword) -- or even my banging on about Zenobia not being an Arab at all, let alone a precocious freedom-fighter against Western imperialists (aka the Romans).

Well, it's time I stopped being so grumpy about every misreading of the historical Zenobia ... and so will tell you instead about the newest new Zenobia in the Gulf (above): the all-dancing 'Story of Zenobia', performed for the first time this week at the Summer Festival in Bahrain.

The Bahrain News Agency says it all:

"INANA DANACE THEATER PRESENTS ZENOBIA, QUEEN OF LEVANT

SYRIAN TROUPE, THE INANA DANCE THEATER, PRESENTED AT THE CULTURAL HALL YESTERDAY ZENOBIA, QUEEN OF THE LEVANT, GODDESS OF LOVE, FERTILITY, CULTURE, ART, LITERATURE AND MOON FOR ANCIENT SYRIANS. THIS IS FROM WHERE THE TROOPE DERIVED ITS NAME"

They mean Inana, the goddess; not Zenobia.

Oh I hope I'm not going to get grumpy again.

In[n]ana is the Sumerian name of a most ancient Mesopotamian goddess (though not, as far as I know, a Moon Goddess; rather she is identified with the star of Venus). The equivalent early Semitic goddess is Ishtar, and later -- even closer to their Syrian home -- Astarte. So, by all that's holy, they should dance to the tune of Astarte and not Innana.

"IT IS WORTH NOTING THAT INANA IS THE FIRST SYRIAN DANCE THEATER TROOPE TO PRESENT SINCE ITS INCEPTION IN THE 1990'S A LARGE NUMBER OF SHOWS DERIVED FROM THE ARAB HISTORY, FOLKLORE AND CIVILIZATION.THIS AUTHENTICITY EARNED INANA LOCAL REGIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION."

"THE SHOW TELLS THE STORY OF ZENOBIA, A GREAT LEADER WHO ACCOMPANIED HER HUSBAND ODAENATHUS (above left) IN HIS CAMPAIGNS AGAINST PERSIA AND WHO AFTER HIS DEATH TOOK POWER AND RULED AS A REGENT FOR HER INFANT SON VABALLATHUS.SHE MADE VICTORIES, PLANNED WISELY, AND HAD A FIRM GRASP ON HER ARMY.SHE WAS DESCRIBED AS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL AND NOBLE WOMAN IN THE EAST AND AN INDEPENDENT AND COMPETENT RULER."


The Inana Dance Theatre


The company's strength is that it presents Syrian and Arab folklore in a contemporary manner, merging reality with fiction. Folkloric-inspired dances at the same time embrace the aesthetic of modern ballet -- synthesizing the traditional and the avant garde. The music remains oriental in flavour, though performed on traditional Western instruments and 'nodding' in the direction of symphonic music.

On the Inana Theatre website, (also transcribed as 'Enana') you can watch a short video which amply illustrates the group's superb dancing skills and "Creativity and Brilliance" as recently displayed in their Egyptian tour, with stops in Cairo and Alexandria.

I was excited to discover that they also produced a "dancing theatrical performance" based on the life of Julia Domna, the Syrian princess who married Septimius Severus, the future emperor and empress of Rome. I've written about this empress -- a most emphatically Uppity Woman (More Uppity Women I) and probable role model for Zenobia. While I haven't yet seen any reviews from Bahrain, I imagine that the opening scenes of Julia Domna and Zenobia, Queen of the Levant are similarly deeply rooted in mythological times:

Here's what they look like.
The curtain rose to violent percussion and instrumental fortissimo. Thunder rolled and lightning flashed across Cairo Opera's darkened main stage: the Gods were on the Mountain of the East and they were preparing to do battle, as is the wont of such divinities. Gradually the sombre shadows lifted on the early stages of the battle. Baal, rider of the clouds and god of lightning and thunder, is revolting against his father, Il, who prefers Yam Nahar, god of the rivers and the seas.

Marduk the Wise and Tiamat the Vengeful, Ishtar "goddess of the morn and of the eve," and Shamash, god of the sun, sing songs of praise. According to a Sumerian tablet -- now in Oxford -- ten mythological kings ruled for a total of 456,000 years.

As the antediluvian gods and kings were evoking their glorious past on the Main Stage the background changed from dark blue to dark green.

The narrator pranced around them, revealing their tales and disclosing their secrets to the attentive audience. Finally the divinities decide to return to their heavenly abode, leaving the earth to mankind. Thunder and lightning accompany their departure as, with the end of Scene I, human history started."*


The starring lady (left) is, I think, Yara Eid, who dances the role of Zenobia and the king is Jihad Mifleh, who heads the group and is the main choreographer, and dances here, I believe, the role of Odenathus. But I would be happy to be corrected.




Reviews


A first review in at Dalal's Cue: Tidbits of Bahrain, Bahrainis & The Girl Who Writes Them: What makes this performance truly unique, compared to Broadway for example, is the strong Middle Eastern tint to it. Levantian “shaami” music fuses with the traditional orchestra, bringing the distinct sounds of “qanun,” “oud” and “nay” to the songs. In a couple of scenes, you do not hear music at all, only the melancholy of a female vocalist – what we call “mawwal.” Read more at Dalal's Cue ...


*
Amal Choucri Catta writing in Al-Ahram 9-15/03/06 .

Illustrations

Fourth left.
Al-Ahram. Credit: Sherif Sonbol

All other photographs from Bahrain Festival website.



10 July 2009

Zenobia Lost and Found (updated)

Is this is the little woman who made the big statue?

I have written about Zenobia In Chains, the monumental marble statue of Queen Zenobia which was recently installed at the Huntington Library (The Huntington Makes Space -- For Zenobia) -- and, a year earlier, about Harriet Hosmer, the sculptor who created this great icon (Zenobia is Back in America).

Hosmer was the artistic leader of the "White Marmorean Flock" in Rome (a quip by Henry James), a circle of strong-minded, mostly expatriate, and fiercely independent female artists. Hosmer lived as a professional sculptor, working in the neoclassical style of the time. She had patrons in Italy and in America and won some sculptural commissions against all-male competition -- no mean feat in the middle of the 19th century.

Zenobia In Chains (1859) was the first of Hosmer's three celebrated large-scale statues of female sovereigns. The second (1868) was a portrait from life of her friend (and rumoured lover), Maria Sophia, a Bourbon princess who became the last Queen of Naples. Unfortunately for the commission, the queen and King Francis II had to flee into exile when Garibaldi tossed them out of Naples on his way to re-unifying Italy. The third queen was another larger-than-life statue of Isabella of Castile. Hosmer imagined her as a co-discoverer of the New World, and pictured her "Giving Her Jewels to Columbus" to finance his epic voyage of exploration.



We'll come back to the three queens in a moment. But first, let's look at what's written on the undercarriage of our Zenobia statue:

Harriet Hosmer Me Sculpsit Romae.

No she didn't. She didn't sculpt the statue of Zenobia that is pictured left.

And, no, I'm not repeating the slander that this 'little woman' couldn't possibly have made such a big statue. When Hosmer exhibited Zenobia at the International Exhibition in London in 1862, critics swore that a man must have carved it. Females didn't have the power of hand and arm (still less the brains) to sculpt such a monument. The little woman surely put her name on a man's work. She sued for libel and won.

That shut them up.

So why am I saying that she didn't sculpt it?

Because it's not a marble statue at all. It's a watercolour.

And not over-life-size 7" (2.13 m) tall, but a small 15 x 12" (38 x 26 cm) piece of paper.

Oh, and not by Hosmer but by Patricia Cronin.

Who?

Patricia Cronin at the Brooklyn Museum

Cronin’s Harriet Hosmer show -- which opened on 5 June 2009 at the Brooklyn Museum -- is a complex package of conceptual art: a total work that is also a historical document of the careers of two female artists, past and present, and a self-referential program meant to secure the visibility of both artists over time.

Cronin is well known as a conceptual artist. Her erotic watercolors from the early 1990s invited the viewer to witness intimate moments between herself and her partner, the painter Deborah Kass. Her three-ton marble, larger than life-size, mortuary marker, Memorial to a Marriage (2002), used the style of classical sculpture to depict herself and her lover locked in an embrace. Memorial to a Marriage is permanently installed at their future burial plot in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Cronin began researching the history of sculpture in order to make her own tomb monument:
While combing through every tome on sculpture, I stumbled across two statues I had never seen before. They were extraordinary. One was of Beatrice Cenci [right] and the other was the Tomb of Judith Falconnet . I fell in love. I looked at the artist's name ... and read the words "Harriet Hosmer." I said out loud, "Hmmm, I've never heard of her." And then wondered, "WHY had I never heard of her?" I knew then and there she would be my next project.

Who Gets Written into History? Who is forgotten?

Over five years (including a year in Rome), Cronin located most of Hosmer's known works, documented their current locations, and painted a watercolour of each. The result of the project has just been installed in the Brooklyn Museum's Herstory Gallery and Forum.* Cronin’s black-and-white watercolours are accompanied by a Harriet Hosmer catalogue raisonnĂ© (a book that comprehensively lists an artist’s complete works), in which each of Hosmer’s statues is represented by a watercolour painted by Cronin. Together, they constitute a document of -- and homage to -- Hosmer’s work.

In Harriet Hosmer: Lost and Found,** Cronin plays biographer, art historian, and artist. As biographer and art historian, she researched every one of the 62 works that Hosmer is known to have produced, from her first original sculpture of 1852 to her last in 1893. The complete set of paintings, arranged in chronological sequence, is reproduced in the catalogue along with scholarly data about each sculpture and commentary by Cronin.

Then the artist takes over. Cronin painted all the sculptures that are extant or that survive in printed reproduction, each statue turned into a small monochrome watercolour:
Because of its transparent properties, watercolor is the perfect medium to represent the luminosity of marble -- how light penetrates the surface of marble, swirls around about an inch below the surface before it bounces back out.
In her research, Cronin also found written references to a handful of Hosmer pieces that do not appear to have ever been photographed. To represent these sculptures, she has made watercolours of what she calls “ghosts”—vague, formless, and ethereal images of sculptures that may exist somewhere in the world, but are lost to art history.

That's what happened to the Queen of Naples (right), a life-size marble statue idealizing the queen's most heroic moment when she led her troops against Garibaldi on the battlefield. That's why Hosmer was said to have pictured her wearing a long billowing military cape. Although the queen lost the battle, her bravery under fire made her a cult figure among the female aristocracy. But where is her statue? It was last seen in 1891 at Castle Ashby, the home of the 7th Marquess of Northampton, in England. Now this sculpture (which had been called Hosmer's masterpiece, her crowning achievement) has been revived as one of Cronin's 'ghosts', an apparition with a phantom aura.
It was a great way to talk about [Hosmer's] ‘missing’ or ‘lost’ career. It’s not just one statue missing but a whole career.
The fact that Harriet Hosmer has been all but forgotten, save by a few art historians, formed the inspiration for Patricia Cronin’s investigation into her life and work. Cronin views this project as not only the re-evaluation of the work of another artist, but as a meditation on her own fate in the future of art history.
Doing a reclamation-type project like I’m doing, the whole point is that she was so well-known, so well-respected in her time. It’s not like I found somebody that nobody knew and am saying this was an important artist. This was the most important artist in her day and she’s forgotten. It’s a great way to talk about the plight of being a woman artist. Unfortunately not that much has changed. But it won’t stop me.
This is Hosmer’s art as seen through the eyes and hand of another woman and artist.
If I’m trying to make the case for what a great artist she was, I needed to show the breadth and whole scope of her work, said Cronin.

Left: Medusa by Harriet Hosmer (1854). Right Medusa by Patricia Cronin (2006).

In Greek mythology, the beautiful mortal woman, Medusa, angers the goddess Athena by sleeping with (or being raped by) Poseidon. Athena retaliates by changing her hair into a mass of wriggling serpents. Now her appearance becomes so monstrous that men who get even a glimpse of her are literally turned to stone, a power she retains even after she is beheaded by the hero Perseus.

In Hosmer's version, however, despite her snaky hair, she is still beautiful and still embodied (even a bit sexy, with her bare breasts). Perhaps it is the moment of the transformation. Her expression is not one of frightfulness but of sorrow for her fate. Another wronged women, in fact.

Cronin's Medusa is an idealized version of almost photographic accuracy. Nonetheless, one sees the sleight of a modern hand in picturing the gaunter face of a woman who is suffering and a slight emphasis on her nipples which inevitably gives a sexual charge to the image.

Hosmer would have loved it.

Cronin's watercolours seem to add a shade of vulnerability and pathos to what is left of Hosmer’s fame, but they also, by their very existence, seek to restore her predecessor's glory.

Glory is, of course, unpredictable. The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns a version of Hosmer’s 'Daphne' -- the first sculpture that Hosmer made in Rome at the beginning of her career there -- but hasn’t included the piece among the sculptures displayed in its recently revamped American Wing. You'll have to go down into the vaults if you want to see her.

Or better yet, go and contemplate Cronin's watercolour of 'Daphne' in the Brooklyn Museum.

The Museum show marks the first time these paintings, for which Cronin has won the Rome Prize in 2007, will be on public view. If you can't possibly make it to Brooklyn, I highly recommend Harriet Hosmer: Lost and Found, the catalogue with all of Cronin's watercolours and her extensive commentary on each work, which has just been published by Charta Press.

Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

With her Hosmer project, Cronin is highlighting the canon of art history's exclusions and inclusions.

When I'm again in New York in December, I'll certainly visit the Herstory Gallery (the show runs until 24 January 2010),and join in this meditation on mortality, legacy, and remembrance.

And visit my Zenobia in Chains in another guise.

Oh, by the way, this is Hosmer's Zenobia pictured here.





Update 24 September 2009
:

Patricia Cronin: Artist Talk and Book Signing

First Saturday Celebration at the Brooklyn Museum, Free Admission:

Date:
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Time:
6:00pm - 7:00pm
Location:
Brooklyn Museum
Street:
200 Eastern Parkway
City:
Brooklyn, NY

* The Herstory Gallery is dedicated to exhibitions that elaborate on the 1,038 women who are named in Judy Chicago's iconic feminist artwork 'The Dinner Party', installed in the adjacent space. Harriet Hosmer's name appears on the Heritage Floor, near the place setting for Georgia O'Keeffe. See my post on 'The Dinner Party' at Hatshepsut Meets Judy Chicago.

** Harriet Hosmer: Lost and Found is published by Charta Press, Milano/New York.

Illustrations

Top left: Portrait of Harriet Hosmer, about 1854–57, by William Page (1811–1885). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Lucien Carr, 1922).

Top centre: Inscription on Zenobia in Chains at The Huntington. Credit: Anja-Leigh Russell and I am most grateful to her for sending me this photograph.


Middle left: Zenobia in Chains by Patricia Cronin (1859, 2007).
Watercolour on paper. Credit: courtesy of the artist.

Middle right: Beatrice Cenci by Patricia Cronin (1856, 2007).
Watercolour on paper. Credit: courtesy of the artist.

Below left: Medusa
, marble by Harriet Hosmer (about 1854). Hood Museum, Dartmouth College (Purchased through a gift from Jane and W. David Dance).

Below right: Medusa by Patricia Cronin (1854, 2006). Watercolour on paper. Credit: courtesy of the artist.

Lowest left: Zenobia in Chains at The Huntington.
Credit: Anja-Leigh Russell. I am again most grateful to her for this photograph.

Illustrations right: Queen Isabella of Castille by Patricia Cronin (1893, 2007).
Watercolour on paper. Credit: courtesy of the artist.


P.S. In the comments section, Nicholas asks if anyone can identify the subject of this piece by Franklin Simmons (left), another expatriate American sculptor working in Rome -- a near neighbour, in fact, of Harriet Hosmer. Since it is not possible to publish photographs in the comments, I post it here in the hope that someone can help.

I confess that I'm stumped.


But it does show just how good Hosmer was compared to many (most? all?) of her male competitors.

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