Category Archives: Arts & Culture

James Baldwin as Prophet

By Sophie Browner

In one of the opening scenes of Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, we are shown a clip of James Baldwin as a guest on The Dick Cavett Show. Cavett is asking Baldwin about whether he is hopeful or despairing for the future. Baldwin breaks into that dazzling gap-toothed smile of his and takes a breath before beginning. It is a particular skill of Baldwin’s that remains uniquely his own: to rain down thunderous truth with such measured grace. In Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin writes of living in a white world, “One is always in the position of having to decide between amputation and gangrene.” Neither option is particularly enticing: either one lives as a cripple or suffers the “equally unbearable…risk of swelling up slowly, in agony, with poison.” To throw a glass of water at the owner of a diner who refused to serve him — something Baldwin writes about in his book — is amputation. To smile through the ignorant questions of white folks, that’s surely gangrene. To tell the truth, Baldwin concedes to Cavett, he doesn’t have much hope. Does that make Baldwin a pessimist or a fortune-teller? Continue reading

The Subtle Brilliance of Mr. Donkey

By Josh Freedman

Moviegoers in China pull no punches skewering the big-budget, low-quality offerings that dominate at the country’s theaters. Famed director Zhang Yimou, known for socially critical films, “has already died,” according to the top review of his widely-panned epic The Great Wall on the popular site Douban. Nearly all of the most-liked user reviews are similarly unforgiving: “Zhang Yimou finally unloaded the burden of being an artist, glamorously turned around, and told his former self, ‘goodbye!’” Continue reading

On “Traditional Ecological Knowledge” for the 21st Century

By Jon Christensen

There are different stories to be told about our relationship with nature, different understandings, different knowledge, still.

Tending the Wild, a new documentary on the traditional ecological knowledge of California Indians produced by KCET and Link TV, makes this abundantly clear. The documentary builds on the work of ethno-ecologist M. Kat Anderson and her book of the same title Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of Californian’s Natural Resources (University of California Press, 2005) through in-depth, personal, on-the-ground stories from around California about indigenous management of the essential trinity of fire, water, and food. Continue reading

The (Un)Draped Woman: Contemporary Iranian Art and New Self-Portraits

By Austin Park

The (Un)Draped Woman is the third in a series of pop-up shows organized by Roshi Rahnama and Advocartsy, a “collaborative visual arts platform” examining an exciting and highly active Iranian contemporary art scene in Los Angeles and beyond. This particular iteration seeks to challenge and interrogate the established or conventional image of the woman in Iranian culture, a central visual aspect of which is the image of women in various states of cover. Virtually all the works in this show engage primarily with questions about the image of self or the self-portrait. In this sense, the show as a whole attempts to visualize a contemporary Iranian and Iranian-American image of feminine self, ones that might possess qualities and inspirations from both Western and Eastern culture. Continue reading

When Chris Marker Freely Photographed, and Briefly Fell in Love with, North Korea

By Colin Marshall

Even though I live there, I still only with difficulty perceive Northeast Asia through any lens not borrowed from Chris Marker. This owes mostly to the influence of dozens of viewings of Sans Soleil, his 1983 fact-and-fiction cinematic travelogue through places like Iceland, Cape Verde, San Francisco, and especially Japan, a feature-length realization of the peripatetic form of “essay film” he invented with 1955’s Sunday in Peking. Between that and Sans Soleil, he’d gone to Tokyo during the 1964 Olympics and come back with the materials for a 45-minute documentary about the titular young woman whom he happened to meet in the street there. Le Mystère Koumiko came out in 1965, just three years after his best-known work: La Jetée, the short drama of apocalypse, time travel, and memory made almost entirely out of still photographs. Continue reading

Leonard Cohen’s Art of Losing

By Oksana Maksymchuk

In a 1959 letter to Canadian publisher Jack McClellan, a 25-year old Leonard Cohen characterized his audience as “inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists, French-Canadian intellectuals, unpublished writers, curious musicians etc., all that holy following of my Art.” After he turned to songwriting and the circle of his admirers grew ever wider, the description remained surprisingly accurate. What bonds the groups on Cohen’s list is the sense of striving, an underlying — and mostly inarticulate — need. The 1960s, when Cohen emerged, was, after all, a moment for movements, and Cohen’s witty catalog suggested that even the misfits — scattered in their idiosyncratic pursuits — would have a movement of their own. Continue reading

Music Disownership in the Streaming Economy

By Thomas Klepacz

On January 9th, Spotify found itself in the public eye of an atypical arena. The Swedish music streaming company — whose public persona typically consists of lime-green odes to U2, Rascal Flatts, and gingerbread emulations of prominent rappers — engaged in greater Twitter-political-discourse by proposing a tongue-in-cheek offer to Barack Obama. As Daniel Ek, the founder and CEO of the company tweeted, “Hey @BarackObama, I heard you were interested in a role at Spotify. Have you seen this one?” Continue reading