February 1, 2012

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–Anita M. Harris

New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group, specializing in public relations, thought leadership and social media for clients in health, science and technology, worldwide.


Photo of Les Femmes du Moroque

Les Femmes du Moroque-Reclining Odalisque

Lalla Essaydi’s Les Femmes du Maroc  is a must-see. Today is its last day at the DeCordova Museum, in Lincoln, MA, but it will be soon travelling to the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum in Rutgers, New Jersey.

In her large-format photos of women in chadors, and, sometimes veils,  Moroccan- born Lalla Essaydi presents a beautiful and provocative challenge to  perceptions about Muslim women going back centuries.

The limited palette photographs in henna, black, and gray on white, depict individual or groups of women in chadors and, sometimes, veils, in poses or situations modeled after  paintings by great European masters, reproductions of which accompany most of the photos. Les Femmes du Maroc #4

But instead of  emulating the rich color and sexual innuendo of the paintings, Essaydi changes  gestures, replaces men with women, and covers much of the surface area with arabic writing–illegible even to those who know the language.

As described on the DeCordova Web site, These women inhabit a place that is literally and entirely circumscribed by text, written directly on their bodies, apparel, and their surroundings by the artist herself.

Les Femmes du MarocIn commentary provided through cell-phone dial in (difficult to hear because Lincoln has limited cell service)  Essadi explains that she wants to make clear that the work of male artists of centuries past has done a disservice to Muslim women by objectifying them as sexual objects, often in harems.

She points out that writing was a form reserved for men, and that one of the original  painting is so extraordinarily beautiful that one can easily overlook the subject matter: a naked woman being sold as a slave.

She brings up the difference between private and public space–that painters would never have been allowed into women’s homes, which were considered private space–but thought nothing of bringing women into their studios and showing paintings of them in public spaces–which were ordinarily reserved for men.

Les Femmes du Maroc #4 Essadyi also provides a complex interpretation of  “the veil”. On the one hand,  its use is sometimes considered a way of subjugating women, of keeping them out of public life, of denying them equality,  full citizenship. On the other hand, she says, she herself sometimes appreciates the veil and finds it freeing–because it protects her and her privacy from a potentially dangerous outside world.

Organized by Senior Curator Nick Capasso, Les Femmes du Maroc will travel to the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, January 30, 2010 – June 6, 2010.

——-Anita M. Harris

New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA. We also publish Harriscomblog and Ithaca Diaries blog.

Url for  LaDanse Trailer on U-Tub: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iU2l0XFrek&feature=player_embedded

My friend E. and I made it a point to sit in on the aisle in the last row when we went to see Frederick Wiseman’s latest film, La Danse, last night at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge–in case we needed to leave in a hurry.  We’d heard it was very long (120 minutes) and that it needed some editing.

But we ended up staying through to the end–partly because we wanted to take part in the question and answer session with Wiseman,  but mainly because, despite the film’s  length and some imperfections, we found it quite beautiful.

It’s cinema verite, shot by Wiseman with a handheld 16MM camera, of  practice, dress rehearsals, and behind the scenes discussions  at the Paris Opera Ballet, over 13 weeks in Paris in 2007.

I was fascinated by the sessions in which choreographers and coaches viewed and critiqued dancers  such as  Nicolas Le Riche, Marie-Agnès Gillot, and Agnès Letestu, among others.  In those scenes,  Weisman provides the rare opportunity to understand what emotions the dancers are asked to convey and how they do it; the  detailed movements that go into that; and  the occasional difficulty some dancers have in translating direction into specific action.

A photographer myself, I enjoyed the interspersing of arty still views of stairwells, window casings but,  because some outside shots of Paris and the Opera House seemed to repeat, I wondered if Wiseman had come away with too little covering footage.

It was also great to see some of what happens behind the scenes: the painstaking sewing of sequins into costumes, one by one; the serving of  apparently overcooked broccoli and fish with sauce in the cafeteria; the cleaning of the performance hall, and,  especially, meetings of administrators discussing their fundraising efforts–which, combined,  give some sense of what’s involved in producing some 250 performances a year.

Wiseman did a wonderful job of filming rehearsals for seven ballets: Genus by Wayne McGregor, Le Songe de Mede by Angelin Preljocaj, La Maison de Bernarda by Mats Ek, Paquita by Pierre Lacotte, Casse Noisette by Rudolph Noureev, Orphe and Eurydice by Pina Bausch, and Romeo and Juliette by Sasha Waltz.  Some of the more modern pieces seemed to go on  and on but most  were mesmerizing–and unlike any I’ve seen in the US.

Wiseman could, perhaps, have left out a few–and, because it’s hard to stare at a screen for three hours straight,  I’d have appreciated an intermission. (And,  no doubt, so would those who got up to go to the rest room in the middle, blocking our view of the screen).

I  found Wiseman’s fly-on-the-wall technique a bit disturbing–mainly because it showed almost no verbal interaction among the dancers, who were portrayed as objects to be molded and by teachers and administrators.  But perhaps that’s how it is in the dance world and in the company, described by artistic director, in one segment, as  “hierarchical.”

In the Q&A, Wiseman seemed reluctant to answer questions about content or meaning.  (When someone asked why he’d included a scene involving beehives on the roof of the opera house, he said that’s for the viewer to figure out–perhaps, I thought,  because it’s too obvious a metaphor).

Nor was Wiseman  forthcoming about his thought processes (or lack, thereof)  in structuring or editing  the film.  He spent a day looking around the building, then started shooting, he said. After 13 days, he returned with 130 hours of film; spent a year reviewing, culling, editing, reviewing, adding, cutting–and here we were.

It seemed to me that  the film could use more structure and that some scenes were repetitive–but given the beauty and grace of the dancers, I’m hard-put to say which sequences I’d leave out.

—–Anita M. Harris

New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA. We also publish HarrisComBlog and Ithaca Diaries Blog.

Obama-hope poster

Obama-hope poster

Yesterday, I returned  to the Shepard Fairey Exhibit at the ICA–this time, with visitors from out of town.

We were impressed with how prolific Fairey has been, with the precision and beauty of his images, and  with his complex, ironic juxtaposition of past and present. (His backgrounds include a lot of old newspaper clippings and many references to art forms of the past).

In one work, Fairey selectively uses and amplifies portions of the American dollar bill–included an eye, which I’d never noticed until Jessie pointed it out; a man carrying a briefcase of money in one hand and flowers in the otherm and a woman, probably his wife, carrying a small missile in her arms.  A caption reads: “No cents.”

This time, I studied the controversial Obama “Hope” poster, which, from across a large room DOES look like a colorized version of the copyrighted Associated Press photograph on which it was based.

But on closer inspection, in this version,  it becomes  clear  that Fairey has greatly transformed the photo, which he uses in a provocative interchange with the colors, images, slogans, stencils,  newspaper clippings and other elements  typical of  (and original to) his work.

Black “brushstrokes” highlighting Obama’s facial features serve as a frame for those elements, which in turn, provide the color, shading and chiseled shaping of Obama’s head.

As a result,  the poster becomes a figure-ground study portraying many past events, conflicts and dilemmas that brought the US to the crises with which Obama is grappling, today.

The poster’s  intertwining of past and present with the Obama image bring a definite irony to the slogan “Hope.” (One of the newspaper headlines in the background reads:”Congress Blames Hoover for Having No Sense of Humor).

Donna  pointed out that  the portrait  is yet another example of  Fairey’s overriding message: how the slogans, art and icons of advertising are used  to move us to obey–whether the order be “buy”, “peace”,  “shoot” or “hope.”

Fairey employs the same techniques for his portraits of Martin Luther King and other political leaders, musicians, artists and even one of a Campbell’s soup can–  referencing and repeating the work of Andy Warhol, whose photography-based work, like Fairey’s,  used  advertising’s methods  to comment on and exhibit the medium’s power.

Regarding Fairey’s recent arrest for illegally postering public property: Nancy (who happens to be a judge) and I wondered what controversy would arise if  his work were posted as paid-for advertising–to sell what some might view as subversive, anti-establishment or  propagandist ideas.

She later commented “Fairey seeks to reframe the constitutional debate so that artistic expression/speech is favored over commercial speech/intellectual property”.

Doree questioned whether Fairey’s work is political commentary  or art.   I’d have to say: it’s both.

Comments welcome!


New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA.