Thursday, 8 December 2016

Unwilling actors in centre stage

The New Americans Museum. Panel vandalised.
(image taken from the museum's Facebook page)

Not surprisingly, after the elections, the Tenement Museum in New York, a museum that tells America’s urban immigrant story has seen an “unprecedented number” of negative comments by visitors about immigrants.  It’s not an isolated incident. Other museums, such as the Idaho Black History Museum or The New Americans Museum, recently suffered racially charged vandalism on their premises.

Beware politicians who bring out the worst in us, one might think. But one might also add, beware museums which fail to see the politics in what they do. This was what I thought when reading the first paragraph in Zach Aaron’s (a Tenement Museum board member) response to the negative comments from visitors:

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Diplomatic silences

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister
As the the Web Summit was coming to a close in Lisbon, a day after the results of the American elections became known, the Municipality of Lisbon placed some outdoors that read: “In the free world you can still find a city to live, invest and build your future, making brigdes [sic], not walls. We call it Lisbon”. The outdoors were classified as “anti-Trump” by the opposition, which preferred to think that this was “an abusive interpretation and that [the mayor’s] intention was not to disrespect the democratic choice of the American people, it was not a demonstration of ideological arrogance, it was not an opportunistic precipitation as a result of becoming dazzled with the international attention." In short, the opposition asked for explanations (read the article).

Sunday, 30 October 2016

MAAT, a generator of expectations

Image taken from the website of MAAT.
I am still amazed at the way the recently inaugurated MAAT - Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, designed by Amanda Levete, is integrated into the landscape. When I approach that area or when I cross the bridge from Lisbon, I always expect to see a huge building overlapping or hiding the Central Tejo power plant. But no... The Central Tejo still emerges majestically and the new building stands at its side as a smooth and fluid note.
My first contact with the new museum was back in June. In fact, it was the reopening of the "old" museum (Museum of Electricity in Central Tejo), after its renovation, and the MAAT brand was launched. Afterwards, I followed the campaign for the inauguration of the new building and I read some interviews of the museum director, Pedro Gadanho, thus forming an initial opinion / expectation. The various criticisms that arose with the opening of the building, as well as some discussions with colleagues, brought me more "food for thought", just like my first visit to the new building.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Unlimited

"Uma menina perdida no seu século à procura do pai", CRINABEL Theatre (Photo: Paulo Pimenta, courtesy of National Theatre D. Maria II)

Two years ago, I was questioning here the purpose of festivals that present the art of specific groups of people (gay, black, disabled, etc). It was September 2014 and the second edition of Unlimited festival was taking place at Southbank in London. “I keep questioning myself”, I was writing at the time, “who attends these festivals, exhibitions, activities and what happens after? Do they attract the already ‘converted’ or they appeal to a wider audience? Do gay or disabled or black artists become more acknowledged by the sector and the public? Are they seen as the professionals they are? Are we moving towards an inclusive representation, where they are seen first and above all as artists, or rather curators and audiences still go to see something ‘special’, confined in a specific space and time, its ‘own’ space and time? Do these festivals help us move towards caring more and more about the art and less and less about ‘the rest’?”

Monday, 3 October 2016

Justin Bieber and the fight against islamic extremism

The Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, and the Italian Prime Minister , Matteo Renzi (Photo: Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters, taken from the newspaper The Atlantic)
A recent NPR article, entitled Italy's 'CulturalAllowance' For Teens Aims To Educate, Counter Extremism is a clear demonstration of the confusion existing, at various levels and in various contexts, in relation to access to culture and to culture as a panacea for many ills of this world.

The title is not an exaggeration of the newspaper. It was the Italian Prime-Minister himself who said, when announcing this culture allowance (€500 for every 18-year-old to spend on cultural products), shortly after the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015: "They destroy statues, we protect them. They burn books, we are the country of libraries. They envision terror, we respond with culture."

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Naming the impact: it may be Telmo or Rafael or Gustavo…

Telmo Martins, member of the Orquestra Geração (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

A few years ago, I saw the documentary Waste Land. It is about the work the Brazilian visual artist Vic Moniz created together with garbage pickers at the world’s largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Moniz said that he wished to change the lives of a group of people with the same materials they deal with every day. So, together they used garbage to create large-size portraits of the garbage pickers, which were later sold in auction and the money was distributed among the garbage pickers. The works were presented in exhibitions in a number of contemporary art museums.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Choices

Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, 2016 (image taken from You Tube)

Having followed the heated discussion regarding the appearance of Muslim women athletes in the Olympics with full-body suits, as well as the ban of the burkini on some French beaches, I find that some facts are – deliberately or not – left out of the equation.