Understanding other cultures (and sculptures)

collections, Connections, Egyptian, Philosophy, Relationships, Soul searching
21687546_10154704271297015_4363395845708369774_n

‘Defender’ 2017 Only Human Collection

This was the first piece the sculptor made in ‘The Only Human’ collection and I am writing about it last as we round-up this collection of work. At the moment a few of this collection are on display in London, until the end of August. (link)

If you have spent time within a different culture then you’ll know how sometimes somethings can seem baffling, unusual and can challenge your way of thinking. Alternatively there are experiences which can be preferable or that you may want to adopt. Either way a new or different culture can open us up to a new ways of seeing.

When I was younger I remember my Father, who is a teacher, doing a school assembly on the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant , it cleverly demonstrates how a person can have one way of seeing something very differently to another and it affecting their interpretation of that idea. Culture can be very much like that.

I was fortunate to spend time in Japan at the age of 18 which opened my eyes to sights, sounds, smells and tastes that were totally new to me. My first image of a lady walking a cat on a lead, wearing what looked like a surgical mask over her face was definitely a diary entry. Green tea that tasted bitter, bland tofu and miso fish was a first meal that made me wonder if I would survive my 6 months there, such a lover of food am I. This was also back in the days before we had any of these food flavours and products available in the UK. Now matcha lattes and ramen bowls are all on trend. My eldest even requested sushi for one of his school lunches! Japanese food in lots of small little bowls and chop sticks whilst siting on the floor was certainly something I fell in love with, along with the house design and contemplation of nature and tranquility.

madame b2

‘Madame Butterfly’ Calligraphy collection

On Saturday evening we went to see the Opera, Madame Butterfly, a Christmas gift from my parents.  My husband had already seen it before in Cairo which had inspired him to make the sculpture above, titled after the opera and a very different style and material to ‘Defender’. The Alhambra opera used shadows in the performance at at the weekend to depict some of the scenes. So I loved the connection between the set design and this piece.

The Japanese culture could be summed up in two words, honour and respect and this is very much what fuels the tragic ending of the opera. Japanese design and living is about capturing the beauty then discarding the rest.  ‘Madame Butterfly’, the sculpture from the Calligraphy collection (also a Japanese art form) nods to this etiquette in that it is displaying only what is essential in exploring outline rather than playing with form.

In contrast to ‘Madame Butterfly’, ‘Defender’ is all mass and form. It is interesting how seeing something from a different angle can influence how we look at something. Writer, Cherry Smyth when first viewing this piece describes; “In ‘Defender’ (2016) the buffed, open arms of the upright, stocky animal –human hybrid end in what could be black hooves. It tilts its head as if ready to take on anything that comes, and its stolid black and yellow torso is built to impress. For Shendi, the figure represents the ‘defender we all need from time to time.’ It could also suggest the super-ripped gym bodies we increasingly seek, that render the limbs less agile and flexible for the sake of a pose of durability.”

The sculptor didn’t make ‘Defender’ with Egypt in mind, but it was a consideration for placing in an outdoor area in Cairo at one point. The idea of needing a defender is fitting for Egypt and the contrast between these two sculptures is very much like the Japanese and Egyptian culture.

My next big culture experience was at 21 in Egypt, I cried at the airport in Cairo not wanting to leave at the end of my travels. This was way before I was to meet my own Egyptian Sculptor. Funny how fate intervenes. My heart planted a root unbeknown to me. But travelling for a few weeks through a country is not the same as being immersed in one. Although I have since been back several times and am now married to an Egyptian. Egypt is a complex one and certainly less ordered, neat and tidy than the Japanese. It’s almost antithetical in every way.

CLASH is an Egyptian film set in Cairo during the 2013 protests. It portrays the claustrophobic intimacy of a police vehicle where the viewer witnesses the intense heat, no water and over crowded conditions of the van. In many ways it parallels the country as a whole. The individuals in the van display kindness and anger within seconds. Emotions flare up in all directions and we see the injustice, senseless behaviour that is a country at war with itself as so are the people it is made up of. Perhaps, ‘Defender’ is for those moments like in the van, breaking down barriers, pushing past the intensity of the stiffling experience and the personalities which almost smother each other.

It’s hard to sum up Egypt in two words and that really says it all. It is a multitude of attacks on all the senses. Yet the exotic history, heat, passion and flare all give it a romanticism that entices you in. There is a saying once you have tasted the waters of the Nile you have to go back. Maybe, that is for the ‘foreigner’ but for the Egyptian, the corruption and disorder and preference for the outsider make it a very different reality.

Just like with these art works I could not choose which culture I prefer over the other. They both appeal to different sides of me. Perhaps two parts that reside in all of us. We can often choose to dig in our heels and defend what we first think to be our opinion about things. It’s often a good idea to check our thinking and question why we have that point of view.

Only then can we understand others but, not only that, we can understand ourselves.

19665210_10154503465027015_4136747621357040296_n-1

‘Defender’ side angle

 

 

A whole lot of Greek going on

Colour, History, Philosophy, Soul searching

The symbolism and history of Troy is immense, the Trojan horse, not only as great tactic of war and deception but a pivotal moment in ethics of morality. Simon Armitage considers “how we are locked in the same cycles of conflict and revenge, of east versus west, and the same mixture of pride, lies and self-deception that fed the Trojan War”. In the moral world of the Greeks, revenge was the way to go and there was great honour in that. Now in modern or perhaps western understanding there is a shift because of the way society is organised and social needs , the way we think of ourselves as human has changed. Perhaps we believe that the shift from vengeance to justice and forgiveness much greater in the moral compass. In many ways we fool ourselves into a deception of thinking how we would react, if a situation would arise that provoked us would be vengeful?

I felt I needed to research a little bit before writing about this piece but consequently it is harder to finish. It has taken a bit more working out. Having studied Classics at A level, the subject is not too foreign however, my memory appalling. In its own twist of fate I happened to listen to a ‘Start the Week’ episode on Radio 4 about Greek Tragedy and it would appear that with the memorial of world war one this year there is a harbouring back to the past about war and tragedy. Perhaps I am scrambling up all that was discussed in the programme and not coming out with much sense but it highlighted to me again the idea of the subconscious interconnection of ideas between artists. In this case there is definately a lot focus on Greek history this month. So in a good arts and culture plug: The Last Days of Troy is on at the Royal Exchange, Manchester from 8 May – 7 June and then at Shakespeare’s Globe, London from 10 – 28 June. Thebans, with words by Frank McGuinness and composed by Julian Anderson, is at the London Coliseum until 3 June. The writer Kenan Malik’s book ‘The Quest for a Moral compass’ is also out this month and in discussion at the Hay Festival this weekend (30 th May).

In a more rural setting, in a small village a sculpture stands in a studio. This epic piece took its own journey of making ( as you can see from the images in the entry ‘Space to play, place to work’) From a block of polystyrene the craftmanship of this is paramount to those Greek and Roman sculptors of past.

'Troy'

‘Troy’

'Troy'

‘Troy’

It is a contemporary recreation of an idea that fascinates my husband. The horse itself as an animal a majestic creature and the idea that sculptors, craftsmen, creators have been making things for centuries. This work may seem very different in style from recent works which have been more minimal more geometric such as the ‘Souls’ pieces.

There is the link of colour but there is also the link of ‘Soul’. For me ‘Troy’ is not just the idea of a tactic of war and of armies or military power. It is the shift from the outward reality to the internal.  The human condition internalized. We may not personally seek vengeance on the gods as in Greek history but we analyse and over analyse our behaviour our minds. However, like the horse on the outside, impressive, beautiful and an object of admiration, inside destruction is about to manifest. So, today are we, on the individual level, all about making an external impression, beautifying ourself and showing off our achievements.  Objectifing and materializing. We forget our integrity and what is hiding within. Our own internal beauty gets lost and so where is our ‘Soul’.

 

Sutra

Colour, Connections, Philosophy, Public Art, Soul searching

A little capsule of culture entered my life yesterday which already seems like a dream, as it felt like a dream itself. Boxes like coffins or bathtubs, ships or tower blocks used in numerous imaginative ways. Effective lighting and manipulated shadows made for sculptural inspiration. A sound world of single cello, violin and piano made you lose all thoughts within a captivating display of movement from the monk marshal arts dancers. The opening of this show began with two figures like a Father and Son, Puppeteer and puppet or Creator and Man; sat on a box playing a game that becomes the performance, Sutra Dance Consortium. Have a little glimpse of it;

My mind, hypnotised couldn’t go past the minimalistic figure, the human form, the individual verses society. Conforming, confronting, obeying, order and uniformity. Isolated. As though it was all inspired by my husband’s piece;

isolated 2

‘Isolated’

isolated

‘Isolated 2013’

After the show my friends opened up another dimension of ideas, flowers, the world, creation, the creator, the pilgrimage. Endless possibilities. I wanted to hear the thoughts of all the audience, to tap into the fireworks of isolated ideas that bounced off this futuristic space and around our minds. I felt as though I had been thrown into a different world for a brief moment, the setting at The Lowry in Salford so different from my usual environment. The architecture, the light, the metal, the water reflecting a futuristic modern world polors apart from my green hills and muddy puddles, and daily life without wellies. We become isolated in our own world and forget there are others around us. It was a moment of inspiration a time to refresh, recharge and re-energize. Taken into another world of ideas and imagination.