A few weeks ago, T asked a handful of illustrators, artists and designers to dream up paper-doll outfits of their own — for figures created by Ilya Milstein — and the results feel anything but predictable. Some of the looks would be at home at an avant-garde runway presentation (and you may find that some of the pieces, especially the more conceptual ones, require a bit of tape).
The designer Katie Stout, for instance, was drawn to the bulbous shapes of produce, like carrots and Ugli fruit. Other participants offered casual pieces, like patterned separates or a floral dress, for sunny spring days. Having spent much of his period of self-isolation watching old Hollywood movies, the tattoo artist Mars Hobrecker went for full glamour, fashioning a gown with ruffles inspired by the costumes of Edith Head.
Paulina Olowska, an artist based in Rabka, Poland, nodded to a more immediate past, drawing on human-size clothing items she and her partner have picked up on their various travels: a straw hat from Lamu, Kenya; a black linen vest from Fez, Morocco.
The fashion designer Aurora James, meanwhile, looked closer to home — and to our current moment: “I’ve been swaddling myself in sheets and blankets and walking around like that,” she said. The architects Adam Charlap Hyman and Andre Herrero of Charlap Hyman & Herrero also created outfits that resonate with today’s world: Their reflective chrome suits are complete with plant headpieces that seem to assert, hopefully, that life goes on.
At a construction site on the Lower East Side, there’s a set of posters far different than the rest: they show photographs of people kissing while wearing surgical masks. Art in the age of Covid-19? Perhaps. But also a call for unity as the nation faces pressure living under the weight of pandemic.
With New York City close to a full lockdown, a local photographer has sought to bring a message of love at a difficult time. The Act of Love is a street art campaign across Manhattan and Brooklyn created by Arina Voronova.
“While scientists are working on finding a cure for the virus, we, humans, can only spread love and support each other,” said Voronova.
While roughly 500 posters have already gone up, 500 more will be distributed across New York this month, according to the artist. She also hopes to shed a light on the discrimination that Asian Americans are experiencing at the moment.
“A lot of people won’t even walk through Chinatown right now,” she said. “What does Chinatown in New York City have to do with the virus, when you think about it? It could have started anywhere in the world, but people have this reaction.”
“When I walked into an Asian coffee shop the other day, nobody was there,” said Voronova. “The worker said: ‘It is what it is, we can’t do anything about that.’”
Jing Fong, the largest Chinese restaurant in New York’s Chinatown temporarily closed last week, while residents and business owners are worried about the long-term impact the discrimination will have on the community.
The virus doesn’t have a gender, race or nationality, Voronova stresses. “It’s everywhere,” she adds. “We can only remember we’re all human beings.”
It raises the importance of buying locally during the pandemic, rather than from large, corporate companies; from ordering takeout from family-run restaurants to getting toilet paper from bodegas.
“People, if you’re really freaking out, just support your local businesses,” said the artist. “It’s everyone’s choice how to act during a pandemic but be mindful of where and how you’re doing it.”
The social anxiety Americans are experiencing, she says, makes us miss out on simple but important things: “Support, love, kindness and tolerance,” she says. “The project is a reminder to all of us of what being a human is, being able to deal with the current world’s most significant problem with love and sympathy.”
It really started with the racism experienced by her Asian American friends. As a result, the artist went searching for face masks for her photo project. But after visiting 23 stores across New York, Voronova couldn’t find any, as there was a shortage (ordering online could involve a months-long wait). But in early February, she found masks in Flushing and hit the streets with her camera.
Voronova approached strangers on the streets, mainly couples, but also parents with their children, across several New York neighborhoods. She’d ask: “Do you want to participate in my project?” and offer them the masks to wear, “to support a global community.”
“I just wanted to get different people to show New York as the variety it is,” she adds, “all genders, relationships, skin color, all kind of love.”
There are over a dozen photos in the series, but Voronova plans on shooting more. There is a photo of a couple, both wearing navy blue, kissing at the High Line in Chelsea, while another shows a couple photographed in Red Hook, Brooklyn. In another shot, a pair of women kiss in Washington Square Park, while another shows a nanny in Brooklyn kissing a child in her care.
This project aims to add a different dimension to the Covid-19 numbers we see in the news. “I wanted to humanize it,” said Voronova. “The goal was to show love and positivity and support to all countries, including the US.”
It’s also part-social experiment. “I am curious about their possible reaction, the questions they may ask and the ideas they have about the current virus situation,” said Voronova.
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Some of the portraits are the artist’s friends and neighbors. “It turned out most of them like the concept and many friends were happy to be a part of it,” she said.
“Most models said after our shoot, ‘we’re happy to be a part of the change,’” she adds.
COVER PHOTO: The Act of Love by Arina Voronova. Photograph: Courtesy of Arina Voronova
From the Virgin Mary to Demi Moore, art history swells with iconic mums-to-be. But can a single image ever do justice to such a head-scrambling state of flux – especially one made by a man?
Pregnant. A single word has to capture so many states. There’s early pregnancy, with its peculiar secret knowledge of change. The nausea, the exhaustion, the understanding that multiplying cells are forming themselves into the shape of lentils, hazelnuts, plums; the fear (or hope) of miscarriage; the strange, triumphant certainty of the heartbeat, beamed into the consulting room – that first call from a creature who is telling you that in eight, seven, six months, it will be there to claim you, your child. And all the while, your body appears unchanged. Historically, many women didn’t even know they were pregnant at this stage.
Then, months later, there’s the weight, pushing down hard against your back, your ribs, your bladder. There are the kicks – charming flutters that become more insistent, reminding you that this will become a child with needs, a child whose shouts of “Mummy” will become impossible to ignore, rousing you to provide food, help or the finding of lost things. And all along, the changes are not month by month, not even week by week, but hour by hour. Why is it that at one moment a foot protruding outwards can bring a contented feeling of companionability but an hour later can feel more like an invading alien – stealing your iron, your nutrients, your warmth. No wonder that, as an adjective, we use “pregnant” to mean “full of meaning”.
So how do you represent so fluctile a state in art? Susan Hiller did it, with matter-of-fact clarity, by taking day-by-day photographs of her growing belly, in her 1977 work Ten Months. Many artists have recorded single moments, but the best find some way to suggest movement and change. We can see an impressive selection of the British artists who have attempted it across the centuries in Portraying Pregnancyat the Foundling Museum in London. The exhibition, curated by Karen Hearn, takes us from the Medieval Books of Hours, with their depictions of the Virgin Mary’s pregnancy, to Annie Leibovitz’s iconic naked photographs of Demi Moore and Serena Williams in Vanity Fair.
Historically, the majority of these images were made by men, which opens up the question of who pregnancy belongs to: this state where women are filled with both agency and vulnerability seems to put them unusually at the mercy of the male gaze. The women are sometimes serene, as in Hans Holbein’s wonderfully delicate 1527 drawing of Cecily Heron, daughter of Thomas More; sometimes smug, as in Peter Lely’s 1664 portrait of Charles II’s mistress Barbara Villiers, garbed as the Virgin Mary, pictured pregnant while holding a cherubic floating toddler aloft, intended to advertise the king’s saintliness and fertility.
But it may be the male portraitist’s feelings we’re seeing – especially when he’s the father of the child. It can be tough, when you’re pregnant, hearing a partner describe your state. I remember being unreasonably maddened, months later, by my husband’s announcement that the birth had gone well for me, at a point when every hour of labour still felt painfully present and was still playing out in my mind.
I felt something of this, too, in early pregnancy with my first child. The jubilant privacy of being alone with this new person got mixed up with how indescribably awful the exhaustion and the nausea could become. Other people’s descriptions sometimes felt as if they were trying to take the experience away from me, even when they were sympathetic and nuanced. Early on, I was also frightened that talking about it might somehow jinx it, because these peculiar changes were so invisible that I couldn’t quite believe a baby would follow.
So to be painted looking mutinously glum – as Kitty Garman was by Lucian Freud in 1947, a year before their marriage – may not be very welcome. It’s an extraordinary picture though. Garman, pregnant with their daughter Annie and draped in swathes of black velvet, is clutching a rose and seems to be staring white-faced into the future with a kind of electrifying foreboding. This is a moment of taking in the reality of change: presumably for the painter, as much as the sitter.
More pleasing, I find, is Augustus John’s portrait of his wife Ida, pregnant with her first child in 1901. They’d recently married and were enjoying domestic life, though Augustus had already hinted that he wasn’t going to consider himself overly constrained by domesticity. And Ida, while lovingly acquiring baby clothes by day, was experiencing the baby as a monstrous invader by night: “I dreamt last night that the baby came – an immense girl, the size of a two-year-old child – with thick lips, the under one hanging – little black eyes near together and a big fine nose. Altogether very like a savage – and most astonishing to us.”
In Augustus’s portrait, Ida leans backwards, showing off her belly. She glances sideways at the painter, appearing partly amused, partly irritated. It’s a look that tells him he can’t possibly understand. There’s a pleasure – even a three-way complicity between Augustus, Ida and the viewer – in seeing him take this in. Augustus knew that Ida’s life was about to get harder. And, imminently, there was the danger of death in childbirth. About five of every 100 births still resulted in death at the turn of the century. Today, it’s hard to recapture the feeling of terror this must have brought on, but the danger of childbirth emerges as a theme in this exhibition. There are several subjects here who didn’t survive the ordeal.
Most historically significant among these is Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, painted in 1817 by George Dawe while pregnant with the child who would have succeeded her as heir to George IV’s throne. She sits in regal splendour looking away from the viewer, not yet visibly pregnant but wearing a silk blue tunic (that has survived and is included in the exhibition). The baby was stillborn, and the mother died shortly after. It was because of this that George was succeeded by his younger brother, William, and we ended up with Queen Victoria.
Perhaps unsurprisingly – perhaps because I trust them more – I found it was the female artists here who had most to say. The exceptions are the medieval and early-modern portraits of the Visitation: that moment in the Bible when the Virgin Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visits her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth apparently felt her baby quicken in her womb and representations usually depict the two women touching each other’s bellies, comparing flutters. It’s an affecting moment that speaks easily across centuries and cultures, humanising these women and their changing bodies, bringing out the volatility of pregnancy: here, now, a moment of change.
In more recent times, two of the women included here get across the strange flux of pregnancy very powerfully. In Chantal Joffe’s 2004 self-portrait, we can still see the paint dripping, changing colour as it dries. There’s a provisionality to the lines and shapes that suggests we’re seeing a painting in the act of being made, just as we’re seeing a body in the act of being formed. “Being pregnant,” Joffe says, “was like, ‘Wow, how brilliant to paint yourself changing so much.’” Even the spotted mismatched underwear has a carelessness that suggests this is a moment about to be succeeded by others.
In Jenny Saville’s 2012 Electra, lines and bodies multiply before our eyes. Saville gave birth to her first child in 2007, drawing herself throughout pregnancy and having herself photographed during the birth. She had always celebrated the bodies of women – bruised, contorted or mutilated – in portraits that owed something to Lucian Freud’s images of female fleshiness. Here she made the most of the opportunity to represent growth, layering images on top of each other. “You’re literally reproducing yourself when you’re pregnant,” she says, “like the way the lines reproduce themselves.”
Electrawas originally a drawing of one pregnant woman, but then Saville added a larger figure, clutching a child. It is unclear whose limbs are whose, and it seems possible that there are more people hidden amid the mass of charcoal lines. It’s an image of fleshy fecundity that’s both terrifying in its unstoppability and ecstatic in its profusion of touch. She takes charge of Freud’s imagery and makes it more fully yielding. As in the Visitations, there are hands at the centre of this picture, made all the more striking because they are gripped on to naked flesh. This is pregnancy and motherhood without serenity, without smugness, but given tenderly embodied form.
Portraying Pregnancy is at the Foundling Museum, London, until 26 April. Lara Feigel is the author of Free Woman: Life, Liberation and Doris Lessing.
New evidence suggests a drop-off in results after the age of 17.
THOSE who want to learn a foreign language, or want their children to, often feel they are racing against the clock. People seem to get worse at languages as they age. Children often learn their first without any instruction, and can easily become multilingual with the right exposure. But the older people get, the harder it seems to be. Witness the rough edges on the grammar of many immigrants even after many years in their new countries.
Scientists mostly agree that children are better language learners, but do not know why. Some posit biological factors. Is it because young brains have an extreme kind of plasticity? Or, as Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, argues, an instinct for language-learning specifically, which fades as the brain ages and (in evolutionary terms) is no longer needed? Others think children have special environments and incentives, not more conducive brains. They have a strong motivation to communicate with caregivers and imitate peers, and are not afraid of making mistakes in the way adults are.
Some believe any “critical period” may only apply to the sounds of a foreign tongue. Adults struggle with accents: eight decades after immigrating to America and four after serving as secretary of state, Henry Kissinger still sounds fresh off the boat from Fürth—in what is nevertheless elaborately accurate English. (An alternative explanation, runs a joke about Mr Kissinger, is that he never listens.)
But grammar is different, and some researchers have reckoned that adults, with their greater reasoning powers, are not really at a disadvantage relative to children. One study found that when adults and children are exposed to the same teaching materials for a new language for several months, the adults actually do better. Most such research has had to rely on small numbers of subjects, given the difficulty of recruiting them; it is hard to know how meaningful the results are.
Now a large new study led by Joshua Hartshorne of Boston College (with Mr Pinker and Joshua Tenenbaum as co-authors) has buttressed the critical-period hypothesis. The study ingeniously recruited 670,000 online test-takers by framing the exercise as a quiz that would guess the participants’ native language or dialect. This made it a viral hit. The real point was to test English-learners’ knowledge of tricky bits of grammar, and to see how this correlates with the age at which their studies began.
Do younger beginners do better because their earlier start gave them more learning time, or because they learned faster in early years? It can be hard to tease apart these two questions. But testing a huge amount of data against a number of possible learning curves allowed Mr Hartshorne to do precisely that. Many previous researchers had posited a drop-off at around puberty. The new study found it to be rather later, just after 17.
Despite that later cut-off, learners must begin at around ten if they are to get to near-native fluency. If they start at, say, 14, they cannot accumulate enough expertise in the critical period. Unfortunately, 14 or so is precisely when many students, especially in America, are first introduced to a new language. (Even worse, this is an age when children are acutely sensitive to embarrassment in front of peers.)
Children who start at five don’t do noticeably better than those who start at ten over their lifetimes. But there is still reason to begin in the first years of school, as in Denmark and Sweden. Because mastery takes a long time—perhaps 30 years until improvement ceases—those who begin at five and are obliged to read and write English at university will by then have made much more progress than those who took the plunge at ten, even if their level is roughly the same by 40.
The existence of the critical period is not a reason for anyone 11 or older to give up. Some people remain excellent language students into adulthood. And Mr Hartshorne tested some truly subtle features of grammar that take years to master. A language learned even to a lower level can still be extraordinarily useful at work or enjoyable while travelling.
But for policymakers, the implication is clear. Earlier is better. Students outside the English-speaking world will eventually face English in the classroom or at work: they’ll have a better shot if they start younger. As for the Anglophone countries, getting foreign languages into the tender years is a hard sell. Many bureaucrats can hardly see past reading and maths. That is a mistake for many reasons. This study demonstrates one of them.
With two concurrent exhibitions, the artist’s daring and difficult to define body of work is set to provoke, shock and inspire debate.
Last week was a busy one in Los Angeles for Nina Chanel Abney. The New Jersey-based painter’s California debut has two concurrent exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) and the California African American Museum (CAAM), both called Royal Flush. (It debuted last year as a single show at Duke University’s Nasher Museum.) Headlining a double feature like that had amounted to twice as many openings, and twice as many cocktail receptions.
“I’m excited to see the responses to my work,” she added, ostensibly the focus of her practice. Her paintings are engineered to elicit response. Royal Flush surveys the past 10 or so years since Abney graduated from Parsons’ MFA program and introduced the art world to her searing sense of humor. There’s a 2008 painting called Randaleeza at the ICA that summarizes the media fascination fueling her work. It’s a chaotic scene: there’s a woman in red lipstick and a white bikini next to a young man in a flannel shirt being shredded by a pack of dogs. If they look remotely familiar, well – the woman is former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and the man in flannel is “my friend Randall”, Abney deadpans. (In the tradition of former it couples Bennifer and Brangelina, she portmanteaued their names for the title.) The dogs are Michael Vick’s, and the star tattoos on Condi’s shoulders belong to Lil Wayne, who was performing on an award show when Abney was painting.
Having debuted at Chelsea gallery Kravets Wehby in a show called Dirty Wash (a phrase that alludes to gossip, or airing out one’s dirty laundry), Randaleeza embodies Abney’s talent for distilling the absurdity of American media and its convergence with tabloid culture into a new, singular narrative. Ten years of political tumult later, Abney’s work remains loaded with the cultural scandals of given point in time, but presented these days in almost complete ambiguity.
While the acidity of her satire has never wavered, Royal Flush traces Abney’s development of a distinct and coded visual language. Figures are less figurative; they’ve been abstracted into an erratic symphony of brighter colors and more basic shapes. They possess androgynous bodies and an array of skin tones, finding a universal appeal in their ambiguity. The kaleidoscopic, geometric blocks and fields of patterns frequently elicit comparisons to Picasso and Matisse. Abney has pointed to the layered cut-outs of Romare Bearden’s collage as a point of inspiration for her later works, as well as the advent of emojis. They’re a “universal language”, she says, one that’s simultaneously open to interpretation.
Jeffrey Deitch, who commissioned Abney to paint a mural in Coney Island in 2016 (and whose New York gallery is currently hosting Punch, a show that she curated), compares her improvisational skills to those of Keith Haring. Rather than plan ahead, Abney works intuitively, mapping her compositions as she’s painting. “She has this ability to take a visual concept, expand it to mural size, and execute it perfectly with no hesitation,” he says. “It reminds me of a skill Haring had – to find the perfect rhythm, and to get everything right.”
Abney takes the comparison as an utmost compliment; Haring was universally loved, widely disseminating his art in the form of murals and merchandise. Wanting to appeal to the widest audience possible herself, Abney insists there are no judgments embedded into her paintings, or at least, she refuses to share them.
“I would see how certain people would react to paintings that were clearly about race, and how they would shy away from that because they’re not black,” she says, with an open admission that she’s pulling a bait-and-switch. Their ambiguity gives the viewer options. The beauty is that anyone can read them however they like.
Where socially aware art can teeter aggressively into overt, one-dimensional statements, Abney remains a covert operative. As a rule, her paintings remain inscrutable, but one of the few exceptions was a 2015 body of work called Always a Winner. Featuring a clear condemnation of police brutality, it prompted headlines aligning her work with the Black Lives Matter movement, exactly the kind of media pigeonholing she had wanted to avoid. Not wanting to be defined by a single political motivation comes down to the burden of representation forced on black artists. “If I paint a black figure, it can’t just be a figure,” she explains in the exhibition catalog. “It has to be about blackness or race or whatever, where white artists don’t have to think about those things.”
Towards the end of Abney’s visit, she sat for a panel discussion at CAAM with ICA curator Jamillah James and CAAM Naima Keith deputy director. She led a rare explainer on some of the symbols she uses, flipping through projections of her source material: news clippings, protest signs, cartoons, vintage ads of Sea Monkeys. A heart on the canvas often denotes a figure in distress. At least one instance of text was pulled from Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
Withholding the paintings’ meaning, however, is what asks you to spend time with them, parsing the symbols and assessing what exactly you’re looking at, and why they look so familiar. The explosive compositions are a visual assault of images we’ve been repeatedly exposed to, thanks to the similar assault of our current news cycle.
“I’m working through it with the viewer,” she says of the unrelenting media. It’s like we’re going through a collective trauma that rarely finds closure and keeps us in a state of uncertainty. “You scroll through your timeline and it’s on to the next. Nobody’s talking about Bill Cosby anymore.”
“People are sometimes mad at me because I can’t give them a specific meaning for a painting, but that’s not my agenda,” she adds. “My agenda is to present your Instagram timeline back to you so you can take time and digest it.” For better or for worse, the candy coating makes it easier to swallow.
Royal Flush is on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the California African American Museum through 20 January
Cover photo: Nina Chanel Abney poses with her work First and Last. Photo: Image courtesy of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Photo by J Caldwell
The Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo is hosting a temporary exhibition of 300 artifacts from the era of Queen Cleopatra.
The display’s inauguration on Wednesday 18/4/2018 was attended by Minister of Antiquities Khaled al-Anany.
The antiquities were excavated by a Dominican archaeological mission who has been operating in Egypt for about 10 years in the Taposiris Magna area in Alexandria.
Anany hailed the exhibition as “unprecedented and distinguished”.
One of the most important pieces of the exhibition is a unique painting inscribed with hieroglyphic and demotic writing, reminiscent of the gifts given by Ptolemy the Fifth to the priests of the Isis Temple, said the Director General of the Egyptian Museum Sabah Abdel Razek.
Head of the Dominican mission Kathleen Martinez said Taposiris Magna was a vital location for Queen Cleopatra as it included statues of goddess Isis. Coins and paintings with many inscriptions dating back to the era of Cleopatra were found in the site, she said.
The exhibition also includes some distinctive pieces, including a bronze piece in the form of a fly that was dedicated by the king of Ptolemy to a soldier due to his bravery and dedication in battle, and a number of bronze coins inscribed with Isis on the front, and Cleopatra’s name on the back.
Martinez said the discovered pieces so far are a reminder that there is still much to be discovered about the mystery of Cleopatra VII rule as well as the mystery surrounding the burial of many Ptolemaic rulers of her predecessors.
The expedition also found during excavations a large cemetery outside the building of the temple dating back to the Greek Ptolemaic period. Mummies covered with gold were found in the coffins at the cemetery with their heads looking towards the temple as if an important person was buried in the temple.
Martinez believes that Cleopatra and Mark Antonio were buried inside the temple of Isis and Osiris in the area of Taposiris Magna, about 45 km west of Alexandria, due to the religious and political importance of the temple.
After the death of Alexander the Great, who invaded Egypt in 332 BC and founded the city of Alexandria, the Macedonian state in the Ptolemaic era was established, according to Martinez.
Over the course of about 300 years of Ptolemaic rule of Egypt, Egypt flourished culturally and mixed ancient Egyptian and Greek art, religions and languages.