Listening to Amanda Chestnut talk about ‘The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain’ by Langston Hughes and what a profound effect it had on her work as a Black artist. The essay provides trenchant clarity to all artists of color by confronting the assimilationist instinct of a colonial mentality.
i try to take breaks in between editing (which requires sitting at a computer for long periods of time, staring intently at a screen).
it’s super windy today, so much so that temperatures feel 10 degrees lower than they are. the husband was too cozy reading his book, so i put on my hat and jacket, grabbed my ski gloves and went to west meadow wetlands reserve (next to our house) for a 45 min walk.
i half walked, was half carried by the wind. it was invigorating to feel its force on my body and skin. the trees around me were twisting in the same gusty gale, the grass flattened by it, combed with little bits of sunlight, a few obstinate leaves held on to their branches like yellow tongues licking the sky, everything imbued with a deceptively warm rusty glow.
the clouds waited patiently, capturing and refracting each shade and emotion. the sun finally set in a climactic scene, birds windsurfed overhead, deer walked by me as if it was the most natural thing in the world. what a beautiful home, our planet. it’s the lifeblood that activates our minds and bodies. grateful to be alive, to be present.
highlights from my playlist: tu aja (remix by DJ usman bhatti), yamaha (dacosta), more than this (roxy music), 1979 (the smashing pumpkins), island in the sun (weezer), and float on (modest mouse)
The obligatory selfie after a satisfying dinner. It was a full house at Hofstra on Nov 9th for a discussion about Shirly Bahar’s book, ‘Documentary Cinema in Israel-Palestine: Performance, the Body, the Home,’ and my film, ‘The Injured Body.’ Here are my questions for Shirly:
1) You say that although oppression and racialization have impacted Palestinians and Mizrahim differently, the documentaries you discuss in the book share a political commitment and performative affinities. They defy the removal of the pain of Israel’s marginalized people from public visibility.
You discuss how documentary performances of pain by Palestinians and Mizrahim, when seen together, invite us to contest the segregation of pain and consider reconnection. Could you elaborate on that?
2) There is one sentence in your book which hit me hard. It is the commonly held notion that ‘the trauma of witnessing destruction directly harms the usage of language.’
Meaning that those who are occupied (on whose minds and bodies violence is constantly enacted) are never seen as credible witnesses of their own pain, of their own lived experiences, based on dominant codes of credibility. It’s like the gaslighting I was talking about in the context of microaggressions. You take issue with this notion. Could you tell us more?
3) Since we are talking about language and violence, I also wanted to bring up the constant threat of violence. You talk about Palestinian children experiencing ‘withheld violence.’
Your words reminded me of Fanon of course, and the muscular contraction of the colonized body. What does this imply in the P/I context?
4) I would like to end with something you say in the book, that ‘it takes perpetual learning and training to try and relate to the pain of others in a politically informed and committed manner.’
You also say: ‘More often than not, those who care for the pain of others are found in relative vulnerability themselves—political, physical, mental—thus chancing their becoming further undone.’
I think of the #BLM movement and its principled support for justice in Palestine. Could you expand on this important point.
it’s incredible that this book (written in 1912) continues to be a propos, fascinating, a literary feat today, in 2022, exactly 110 years later. it provokes disbelief and uproarious laughter, remains steadfast as a masterpiece, and ends with heartbreaking pathos.
there are as many interpretations of ‘the metamorphosis’ as there are readers (and that means a lot). some believe that gregor samsa “like other of kafka’s doomed protagonists, errs by failing to act, instead allowing himself to be acted upon.” others draw comparisons to willy loman from ‘death of a salesman’ and write about the degradation of modern capitalist work. there are those who see a freudian twist to the story and focus on gregor’s overbearing father. still others think the metamorphosis relates to gregor’s sister, grete, and her evolution over the course of the novella.
my take is sobering. to me the metamorphosis is about othering. the idea of otherness has been addressed elsewhere but mostly in terms of gregor’s own alienation, loss of identity, and lack of agency.
i see othering that can make someone seem ugly, disgusting, and less than human. without being threatening, difference can be turned into something dangerous and attacked with impunity. and this change can happen overnight, so that the other can now be crushed underfoot, starved to death, and left to die.
in the same way, children can be arrested, villages bombed, people tortured with the benediction of the law, and those committing the violence whine about being the victims. it’s always the monster who forces their hand.
last set of pictures from our fall adventures. a trip to mount greylock, the highest point in massachusetts, for breathtaking views.
#mtgreylock #mountgreylock #massachusetts #highestpoint #fallphotography #fallfoliage #fallinstagram #autumnphotography #autumninstagram #panoramicviews #berkshires
hiking with my favorite human last tuesday. too much beauty to soak in. sheer joy and overwhelming gratitude for being alive <3
#sheephill #williamstown #massachusetts #berkshires #fallfoliage #fallphotography #fallinstagram #autumnphotography #autumninstagram #toomuchbeauty #gratitude
i went to the clark institute to see tomm el-saieh’s work.
his paintings are kaleidoscopic, pulsating, shimmering. they push and pull. they embody languages, sounds, hieroglyphics. they feel like sacred scrolls, like maps with districts, neighborhoods, borders and connecting grids, like cities or skin cells that grow, evolve and transform organically, much like his paintings.
he uses patterns, abrasions and erasures. they are disorienting. one must focus and refocus one’s eyes. parts emerge, recede, resurface. they throb, balloon, shift. like a shallow depth of field where the foreground and background keep switching.
the paintings have texture, like quilted fabric. i’ve never wanted to touch a canvas so much.
my favorite is kafou (below) from carrefour, a commune in haiti – i couldn’t stop looking at it. then there was canape vert, vilaj imajine and wanga neges.
tomm el-saieh was born in haiti, where his family has had roots in port-au-prince for 5 generations. his father is palestinian-haitian and his mom israeli. he lives and works in miami.
today we went to the berkshires, a place that’s been close to my heart for almost three decades. from staying at the cranwell and cross country skiing (while my mom and sister kindly babysat our toddler), to enjoying fall with a cousin and her fam, to taking the kids skiing there almost every winter, and to my husband bringing me back (and giving me all the time i needed at mass moca) after my daughter left for college and we became empty nesters, the berkshires have always been a part of our lives. we started going there when we lived in CT, and kept it up from long island and then from rochester.
saw so much beauty today, my eyes couldn’t hold on to all of it. so i took countless pictures because i wanted to remember everything.
we started with the clark art institute in williamstown with its white marble museum building designed by architect daniel perry and its breathtaking reflecting pool (part of a complex hydrological system that reduces water consumption by 50 percent). more about the art i saw later.
#clarkartinstitute #williamstown #massachusetts #berkshires #partofourlives #fallbeauty #fallphotography #fallinstagram #autumnphotography #autumninstagram #marblebuildings #architecture #reflectingpools
morning walk around the farm and then i went to see the milking of the cows, by dan, and seven brand new piglets that were born day before yesterday, while we were here.
#wanderinggoosefarm #pawlet #vermont #farmlife #milkingcows #rawmilk #freshproduce #pigletsaresocute
the place where we’re staying in west pawlet, vermont, announces its (good) politics as soon as u turn into their driveway. there are signs everywhere, including the largest one which says: all lives don’t, until black lives do. yesterday i went to their tiny store by the roadside and was impressed that it was based on an honor system. u take what u need, enter the items/addition in a large register, and pay via cc, venmo or cash based on the info they’ve provided. it reminded me of berlin’s ubahn which works the same way. there are no gates or turnstiles. people are supposed to buy their tickets, validate them before getting on the subway, or any other public transportation, and that’s it. someone might check once in a while but no one did for the entire week i was there. i had my active pass on my phone, but was never asked to produce it. by visiting the store, i also found out that laurie, my host, is a wonderful artist. it makes a lot of sense. i bought one of her beautiful cards with birds on it.
#goodpolitics #farmlife #honorsystem #berlin #ubahn #artist #art #pawlet #vermont
today we drove through dorset where we found this stunning marble quarry now filled with water and reflections of burnt orange trees. then on to manchester and cute bookstores and antique shops. look what i found in one of them – dark chocolate, union-made, with bernie’s face on it.
we then drove thru the mettawee valley, on route 30, a spectacular scenic drive. “the valley winds through the taconic mountains and along the mettawee river with beautiful vistas all along the way. in the northwest corner of bennington county are the picturesque and rural vermont towns of pawlet, rupert and middletown springs. going back to the 18th century, farms and quarries dotted the countryside. today, you can see plenty of working farms in all three towns, including dairy farms that make the cheese that vermont is famous for.”
on the way back we stopped at mach’s general store in pawlet and bought some peach crumb bars.
#pawlet #vermont #dorset #rupert #manchester #marblequarry #farms #barns #taconicmountains #mettaweeriver #mettaweevalley #machsgeneralstore #pawlet #countryside #ruralvermont
Yesterday I was honored to meet Jeremy Dennis at Ma’s House & BIPOC Art Studio, which is a nonprofit he founded. ‘The project began in June 2020 and serves as a communal art space based on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton, New York. The family house, built in the 1960s, features a residency program for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), art studio, library, along with hosting an array of art and history-based programs for tribe members and the broader local community.’ It is inspiring to see the work Ma’s House is doing in creating, nurturing and presenting BIPOC art. It’s a wonderful way to connect and collaborate with local Indigenous communities. I hope to visit often and work together on mutually meaningful projects. Also, google Jeremy’s brilliant work in photography and storytelling. It’s stunning.
Thx to my dear friend Nancy Ghertner for suggesting I connect with Ma’s House.
[It was rainy and windy yesterday, the first picture of Ma’s House was taken from my car through a rainswept windshield]
i have not watched (neither do i plan to watch) ‘blonde,’ a fictional biographical film written and directed by andrew dominik and loosely based on a novel about marilyn monroe’s life, as imagined by joyce carol oates – yes, the number of ‘removes’ from the actual woman at the center of this ceaseless capitalist production is astonishing.
the reviews, especially by women, stating how the film ends up being soft porn with expensively produced cinematography would have kept me away, but the film is so much more problematic. it turns marilyn into a victim (something she resisted throughout her life), it is crassly graphic in how it shows affairs, abortions, and miscellaneous sexual assaults that never happened, not only does it objectify and diminish marilyn monroe (all over again) but it also exploits ana de armas, the young actress playing her (the director seems to have a fetish for some of her body parts).
many of these borderline art/adult films are written, directed and produced by men. remember ‘blue is the warmest color,’ a french film by abdellatif kechiche? it became famous for its graphic lesbian sex, but it was pretty obvious that the sex scenes were written and choreographed by a man. later on there were accusations of sexual assault, bullying and aggressive behavior on set. it seemed to fit.
as a woman i find it unbearable that our usefulness/import is still so intimately tied to our bodies. whether to cover us or disrobe us, whether to allow us to use contraception or not, give birth to a child or not. some of us are forcibly sterilized while others are not allowed to end unwanted pregnancies. some of us can be killed for not covering our hair while others are utilized to fulfill gross male fantasies and compromise our body sovereignty.
it has always enraged me that 99.9% of victims portrayed in western detective novels and crime thrillers are women and the methods used to torture, kill and mutilate them ever so creatively are invented by men. it normalizes violence against women. even as we cringe, there is something lurid about it that teases, tempts, raises the stakes. we are told the movie is make-belief, controlled, safe. but real life is not, and this is where we continue to struggle.
as fascism takes over the world, one election or coup as a time (look at italy’s giorgia meloni), all i know is that it will get tougher for all of us out here who are not straight, white, able-bodied, european men. this is the time to understand true intersectional feminism and fight together as equals.
a few more posts about berlin.
checkpoint charlie (or checkpoint C) was “the best-known berlin wall crossing point between east and west berlin during the cold war (1947–1991).” it’s famous for its death strip, bordered by mines and channels of ploughed earth to stop people from escaping to the west. now it’s a tourist trap. our guide suggested we skip the fake museum and enormous gift shop and just look at remnants of the wall. i found some old b&w pictures of the area, the way it used to be before the wall came down. it’s the human suffering that sticks in one’s mind, families separated forcibly as they have been (and still are) by colonial borders across the world. there was a sign (in many different languages) saying: “in this very place just 30 years ago u might have been shot at…” and “can u imagine what life must have been like with a wall on ur doorstep…”
all i could think was: this is not history. these crimes against humanity are ongoing. what u are asking us to imagine is every day life for the people of palestine. my only hope is that one day soon, their apartheid wall will also become a tourist trap where people will congregate, reflect, and say to one another: “can u imagine what life must have been like to live with a racist, separation wall on ur doorstep and checkpoints every few steps that encroach on ur human right to move freely?” this is my hope.
the day i got to berlin from praha, my train was delayed and so i checked in late. it was already getting dark. my host, lara, told me about this unique restaurant (a very special place) that was a 40 min walk. i was hungry, having had breakfast in prague and nothing else, but i decided to go for it. walked around kreuzberg and all the way to the water. found lila and ordered lara’s favorite – the truffle pasta. i was sitting at a high table right in front of the kitchen so i could see the pasta being prepared. it was delicious. full of flavor, buttery, sumptuous. as i was finishing it off, i wished that i could turn back time and eat it all over again. for dessert i had panna cotta. it came with a lovely sauce that tasted like caramel and coffee. there was a paper thin wafer on top of it (melted in one’s mouth instantly). under the wafer, a fruity surprise. crumble on the side for some nutty crunch. the panna cotta itself was like a cloud – smooth and just the right degree of lusciousness. it was the best meal i’d had on this entire trip. lila restaurant is special.