Miral (2010)

April 30, 2011

From the director Julian Schnabel comes an incredible portrait of Rula Jebreal’s early life in the West Bank. The film is based on her book “Miral” which is a strongly autobiographical account of the things she has seen, lived and experienced as a Palestinian girl growing up during the 70’s and 80’s.

Now if the name Rula Jebreal doesn’t ring a bell for you; she’s a journalist who has hosted several talk shows of her own (where she interviewed various distinguished important political personalities from Italy, Palestine, Israel, and Europe), and has covered the most heated issues in the Middle East.  Aside from her work, she also makes her fair share of rounds around Democracy Now!, Al Jazeera, and others media channels.

I just finished watching the film and I can’t help but think this is one of the most ambitious films I’ve seen lately—and I can’t be happier with the word Ambitious for it fits this film perfectly. Let me explain.

To begin with, anyone who sets out to portray the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in any way is faced with a most ambitious task.
It is difficult,
and convoluted,
and full of different facets that need to be shown—it’s a maze, with mirrors, and infinite rabbit holes.

Having stated that, you should expect a loaded movie.
After finishing it, I can almost feel the director’s burning desire to further the plot and show so much more of the story, yet he’s forced to pick and choose the main points that will come together cohesively in two hours.

(Note that the stories are real, not just hers.)

With Miral, you get a fabric of experiences and people that are woven together to form a blanket that gives warmth to a personal story told through an intimate perspective.
Miral gives you the story of Hind Husseini (a woman who takes in 55 orphans from the Deir Yassin massacre and forms a school that will eventually host thousands of children); it gives you the story of Miral’s mother and how an abusive past leads her to alcoholism and suicide; it gives you the story of Miral’s mother’s prison mate (“the Three Life Sentences Terrorist”) who’s nothing more than a nurse being punished for having done something good among all the bad and the destruction she witnessed as a nurse.

Most importantly, it gives you a look into what it is to be a teenager (overflowing with extreme emotions of anger, passion, desire, naiveté and wisdom all together) living in the climax of the First Intifada. It lets you in on how a people’s youth is sometimes the only hope to hang onto and it shows you a love story maintained not by dates but by activist plots. This is a love that propagates in kisses but is sparked by the desire to be politically free.

And although this would be an issue worthy of an entire book, Miral also gives you a very interesting look on how a Palestinian girl upholds a friendship with an Israeli Jew. Briefly, Miral develops a friendship with a Jewish girl, and through this connection the viewer learns the complexity of dealing with animosity and overcoming personal baggage. The development of this relationship is particularly interesting to me because it opens up a can of worms (good worms, mind you) that give room to observe the intricacies of a current youth living with a past generation and compromising new, more tolerant outlooks with those that are a bit older and still remain today. This can apply anywhere between political compromises among the nations to the personal compromises of a torn people (i.e.: the idea of a Palestinian Muslim making friends with an Israeli Jew or vice-versa; the issue of sleeping with “the enemy” and so forth).

And of course, there’s a lot more depth to be explored.
As I mentioned before, the volume of information can seem overwhelming but Schnabel is determined to show a thread that connects all of these stories to show that—yes, it’s a troublesome, and loaded, and confusing, and tortuous issue, but that is the reality of the land. It is a reflection of the ongoing conflict; and while it is confusing, it is connected. It is a fractured land with endless facets yet it still has to wake up every morning and figure out how to breathe for one more day.

Naturally, I suggest you watch it and hope you’re not discouraged by its weight. Although it is loaded, the film gives you just enough of each issue to pique your interest and to make you shed a tear with each story portrayed.



Guantánamo Dossiers

April 26, 2011

Wikileaks has recently released close to 800 classified Gitmo Bay prisoner files.
I encourage you to read at least some of them. I dare say reading all of them wouldn’t be important because after reading a few, you’ll realize they’re all very alike: they have no real content.
They basically detail an inmate’s physical and health state, how the inmate was captured, his background, and a detainee “threat” level paired with an account of why they believe a prisoner is dangerous.
For instance, on Abdul Helil Mamut’s report (a detainee from China), they wrote things like “…[detainee] shouted obscenities at the MP. On 7 July 2003, the MP’s had to use moderate force to reshackle detainee after his shower because detainee refused MP’s instructions to leave the shower. Detainee continually practices martial arts and hand-to-hand combat despite repeated warnings by the MPs to stop. On 4 December 2002, detainee made an airplane and two buildings out of paper…”.

Now as I read these “classified” prisoner reports from Guantánamo Bay, I can’t help but think how ridiculously fabricated these can be.
What of the tortures? What of the waterboarding, and electric shocks, and several other forms of inhumane treatment they received? How is there not even a slight mentioning of this?

Then I read Darryl Li’s article on AJE, and realized he expresses my thoughts and feelings exactly. Here’s his report.

He basically outlines five major points to this Wikileaks release:

1. ““Threat assessment” is a game with no winners”. Li shines a light on the bogusness of these prisoner “threat” levels. “…one can see very little analysis in them at all. They cite intelligence reports without any discernible attempt to assess their veracity. They read as if someone searched for the detainee’s name in a giant database and then simply pasted together all the passages they could find. For these reasons, one of the worst things one could do is use these files as a baseline for assessing the culpability or dangerousness of their subjects.”

2. “Torture”. Li highlights the absolute ABSENCE and LACK of torture information. He goes on to link the reader to the chilling confession of Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen who has luckily lived to tell a horrifying account of his torture. Habib also reveals the bloody and disgusting side of Omar Suleiman (who led all of Egypt’s security forces). Here’s his interview. I URGE you to read his account.

3. “The farce of prosecutions.” And the lack of evidence to detain these people.

4. “The other prisons”. Guantánamo takes the spotlight, but there’s SEVERAL other camps and prisons that receive almost no scrutiny from anyone.

5. “The role of client states”. The other accomplices and proxy regimes in this divine “War on Terror”.

Please review these links and information on the torture camp that is Guantánamo.

Mexico’s Next Oil Disaster

April 20, 2011

Originally a company created by the people for the people, Pemex (Petróleos Mexicanos), founded in 1938, has been the perpetrator of major land and water contamination in Mexico due to its faulty checks, lack of safety precautions, and vital maintenance habits. These occur in part because the excess revenue of the company is being used to pay bureaucrats instead of funding projects of exploration and production.

Al Jazeera recently put together a report on the Pemex situation exposing intimate details of how their careless maneuver is fiercely contaminating Mexico’s land and how violently it’s intoxicating its people.

Please watch this sharp report of People in Power: Mexico’s Next Oil Disaster

(The prosperity of petrol companies is obviously detrimental to the environment in every way, but you have to put this report into perspective.)

Some more info. if you’re interested:

In 1938, President Lázaro Cárdenas sided with oil workers striking against foreign-owned oil companies for an increase in pay and social services. On March 18, 1938, citing the 27th article of the 1917 constitution, President Cárdenas embarked on the state-expropriation of all resources and facilities, nationalizing the United States and Anglo–Dutch operating companies, creating Pemex. In retaliation, many foreign governments closed their markets to Mexican oil. In spite of the boycott, Pemex developed into one of the largest oil companies in the world and helped Mexico become the fifth-largest oil exporter in the world…More.



April 20, 2011

It’s been some time since I wanted to write a post about “dowdenboy”.
In short, Ben Dowden (“bd” or “dowdenboy”) is a filmmaker and artist based in Bristol, UK. His YouTube channel showcases talented up and coming artists that deserve a much needed listen [or watch].

The artists are filmed, usually, in one long take—which has your eyes and ears fixed on the subject without veering away from the beauty of their talent with cuts or any other distractions or transitions.

A great example is the video which I found him through–this beautiful song called “Beige Walls” by the acoustic/folk/blues Bristol band “Toyface” which I post below.

I recommend subscribing to his channel if you’re into finding new artists, I can assure you’ll have good music to look forward to.

Enjoy =)

You can’t forget that this is happening.

March 30, 2011

Yes, these pictures are graphic but that shouldn’t deter you from examining every single one of them and reading the sideline caption.

Rolling Stones publishes photos of Afghan killings

Here’s a video of another murder

I was first informed of this through the news report on the main page of Democracy Now. Here’s the report.

All of the photographs and videos are surely more than enraging, but the thing that triggers my outrage is the mockery. There’s something about smiling soldiers next to kids’ cadavers that is simply unfathomable. These are kids–young kids and teenagers being targeted for breathing and moving. To rejoice in their death is beyond evil, beyond human; it’s beyond anything.

This is where your money and work is going. These are your taxes funneled into the advancement and proliferation of weapons that will exterminate other humans more and more effectively. We pay for this so that it can continue to happen every day.

It’s been 8 years in Iraq, and that country–the birthplace of an ancient civilization, continues to be destroyed. Afghanistan is also looking to another…who knows how many more years.

What is your threshold?
When do you say stop?

Out of sight never means less tragic. Many live with the silent notion that there are different breeds of humans–but it’s not so.

An African mother mourns the death of her son or daughter just as much as an American mother, as an Iraqi mother, as a Bolivian mother, etc.
What gives anyone the right to destroy land, resources, and families this way?

It’s beyond me.

The Fall

March 23, 2011

I open with a video-clip rather than words because this movie leaves one too speechless for any formal introduction.

*Deep breath*

As much as I don’t want to compare this movie to any other movie, I will do so [at my soul’s expense] to let you know what “sort of” movie I’m talking about. The Fall, the movie I fell in love with sometime in late 2010 and continue to fall in love with every time I see even a snippet of it. It’s …(and here’s what’s difficult for me to say) kind of like Pan’s Labyrinth in its contextual genre, but without the murkiness of it. Its other ingredients could include (for those of you more obscurely inclined) a bit of La Cité des Enfants Perdus, a film I will surely write about in the future, and maybe—literary-wise, just maybe a tiny bit of Lolita. This latter comparison is a far stretch and it might sound like an insult to The Fall since, rest assured, there is no pedophilia in this film, but there is a certain filial loving affinity that will make you think of it, at least for just a second. When you see it, you will understand.

But I digress for none of these external sources can embody what The Fall is like. You have to see it to understand that it flies more than it fits into any one film genre. This particular movie excels in beauty and poignancy, it’s emotionally powerful, visually breathtaking, and it all comes together in a magical way because when you watch the director (Tarsem) talk about the movie and how it was shot in over 24 countries in the span of 4 months, you have think he’s crazy or a genius, or both. You can actually see the essence of his eclecticism here.

Now, if you’re thinking this might again be one of those weird and bizarre movies I tend to like, it’s not. Well, it is, but I assure you, you will like it too, and I’ll explain why. I chose to write about this movie because not only is it beautifully shot but it also has the most amazing two-protagonist combination I’ve seen in a while. Lee Pace, the bed-ridden storyteller, and Catinca Untaru aren’t any less than magnificent on screen. As I watched the movie, I fell madly in love with both characters and their extraordinary acting. This powerful connection usually comes from the viewer feeling like he or she relates strongly to the character or aspires to be like the character in action, and this was my case with Catinca’s character as Alexandria. I fell in love with her because I saw my past self in her—a chubby foreign kid who liked to do weird stuff like throwing oranges at the priest and imagine frightening things whose fright never overcame curiosity. I felt the infinity of her imagination in my childhood’s memories.

And if you’ve ever been a child, you know childhood is weird. Kids are nuts—in the most beautiful, eccentric, limitless and shameless way. Her performance on screen just oozes that type of purity so much so that you can’t help but believe every inch of her genuine moves and lines.

Lee Pace, not falling behind, is a strikingly mesmerizing young actor who depicts to perfection the various broken mental stages he needs to portray. Without any more adoration, these two are a match made in heaven.

This is why I chose to write about this film—it’s because we can all relate to the weirdness of being a child and to the hopeless feeling of being broken, physically or mentally.

I recommend this for watching, for analyzing, for loving, and for observing.

“You always stop at the same part, when it’s very beautiful. And interesting.” -Alexandria



Never gonna give you up!

March 19, 2011

This post was written on March 2nd, 2011. I wrote this on my notebook since I couldn’t access the Internet at the time, so I’ll type what I wrote verbatim in order to keep all the magic that was felt at the time. Here it goes:

“I’m writing this entry while being carried at exactly 444 miles an hour at 31,145 feet into the air, and I wanted to do this at this precise moment to capture my emotions exactly as I’m feeling them.

I’ve just finished listening to an incredible podcast that only got better by the minute. Recommending it would be an understatement, I urge you to listen to it! It’s called “Lost and Found” and you can find it here.

I would divide it in two parts and say that the first one has to do with directional orientation (something I’m awful at–but now have some tips to improve) and the second half is an incredible story that had me tearing long after the player stopped.

Briefly, it’s the story of a small girl [an adult–but small in size] who was completely physically broken by an accident (a truck ran her over). For a long while, she was thought to be comatose, or vegetative, practically almost gone, but her boyfriend (and I believe they’re now married) couldn’t accept this as true–so he kept trying to come up with ways to communicate with her, and due to the persistence and ingenuity of love, she was given a second chance…to live.

After listening to this, the only words left to say are: Never give up on something or someone just because you haven’t found a solution yet.

Happy listening!”

***I’d like to add a remark about the ingenuity of love.
“Night is the mother of all suffering”, necessity is the mother of invention, and when a heart is aching to have what it needs, it will become the smartest, most innovative tool to breathe, love and pump blood.

What an incredible story! Enjoy!


Today we chant in VICTORY!

February 11, 2011

What an incredible victory for the Egyptians!

This needs to show the world what happens when people lock arms in brotherly union and ASK (rattle their cages!) to have their requests met by the government that is “supposed” to protect them.

Mubarak is down but this should never turn into Mubarakism without Mubarak; it’s not over here, people need to remain unified until they acquire a system that suits them.
PEOPLE make up governments, governments don’t make people.
May there never be distance between these two, the relation must always be a close one.

Excitement is taking my words away, but simply VIVA EGIPTO!

What a wonderful day! May this be the beginning to many more revolutions in the Arab countries!!

Egypt, now.

February 10, 2011

We wake up in the morning, softly and warm, and the quietness reminds us that Egypt is very far, but over the Atlantic the clamor is unbearable.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working incessantly on certain projects—and this will continue on into the upcoming couple weeks; but theKoss hasn’t been forsaken!

I haven’t had time to develop a good post but there’s one thing that is absolutely worth mentioning.

Coming from a country that is perpetually protesting, what is happening in Egypt is immeasurably touching to me.
So, although I’ve been working a lot; I’ve been permanently glued to Al Jazeera English’ broadcast and coverage of the Egyptian revolution, so much so that I wanted to commend their reporting and their assiduous efforts to bring the newest updates on what is happening in Egypt.

Please check their LIVE streaming broadcast here.

Not only are they showing a lot of live footage but every now and again they have interviews and short documentaries about people’s lives and how they’re coping with such an event.

Also, a most generous cyber-accolade to one of the best journalists of our time, Nick Kristoff who is constantly writing, tweeting and facebooking—telling the world about the situation in Egypt through his eyes.

You can find his column here, his facebok here, and his tweets here.

That’s all for now!

Thanks for stopping by.


January 10, 2011

Mammoth (2009) by Lukas Moodysson is one of those movies I’ve been waiting to write about but was ever so scared to even start. It’s just too big; it’s a mammoth of a movie. ;)

To put it simply, a film like this deserves an entire book for a review—and then some, so in order to not lose myself in the myriad of layers and issues this film brings up, I’ll touch upon one of the major subjects of the film, and of course, I would be delighted to discuss other topics on a thread.

As a fair warning, yes, this movie has the eternally charming Gael García Bernal, the stunning Michelle Williams, and yes, they’re a wealthy young couple living in New York; however, this movie is anything but your typical Hollywood tragedy packed with a heart-attack-inducing climax. It’s none of that, and if you are a fan of Hollywood’s over the top, unrealistic, and un-relatable stories, then this might not fulfill you. There are no car chases, no explosions, no Samuel L. Jackson lines, but there is a lot of thought, passion, and realistic issues addressed.

Here’s a modified plot summary taken from Wikipedia:

“Leo and Ellen are a successful New York couple, totally immersed in their work. Leo is the creator of a booming gaming website, and …has to board a business flight to Thailand in order to sign a contract.
Ellen is a dedicated emergency surgeon who devotes her long shifts to saving lives. Leo and Ellen have an eight-year-old daughter named Jackie. Due to her parents’ lack of presence, she spends most of her time with her Filipino nanny Gloria, who introduces the girl to her Filipino culture and reads about Jackie’s favorite subject, astronomy. Even with the little time that Ellen has for her, Jackie often prefers to be with Gloria, which provokes jealousy on Ellen’s part.
Gloria has two children of her own, staying in the Philippines. The older boy, Salvador, who misses his mother dearly, makes frequent phonecalls to her and begs her to come home.
In Thailand, Leo meets a prostitute named Cookie, and pays her to not have sex with any client that evening. Later on Leo reluctantly has a romantic fling with the girl, but he regrets it afterwards. We find out at the end that Cookie is a working class single mother who is away from her baby girl.”

Like the trailer, the summary doesn’t do any justice to the movie; there’s simply no way to condense such a piece without losing a lot of its essence. Every shot and every scene of Mammoth is full to the brim with thoughtful innuendos and political attacks on how alienated we are to the world we live in. That’s the one subject I feel absolutely compelled to mention about this film; blindness.

It starts with Leo and Ellen’s blindness towards the very woman who’s raising their child, Gloria. She is the smiling, foreign nanny who oozes niceness, care and hospitality but is really dying of pain inside; she longs for the treasures of her life who live back in her homeland –a whole Pacific ocean away. Ellen manages to ask Gloria how her kids are doing during a small talk scene, but she does so in a very nonchalant manner, completely oblivious of how it might feel to live thousands of miles away from one’s children; moreover, she keeps failing to remember Gloria’s kids’ names. This also happens with Jackie, who at one point asks Gloria “what are their names…again?” Despite being the “mother” figure, everything about Gloria, everything she cares about remains unexplored by the people with whom she shares a roof.

(Photo: #1: Jackie & Gloria, #2 Ellen, #3: Gloria on the phone with Salvador, #4: Salvador & Manuel)

A similar situation occurs with Leo and Cookie. When he firsts meets her, he pulls out all the cash he has in his pockets and hurries her home telling her never to come back to work (the club where she meets her clients). His attitude in this scene is almost reprimanding, as if he were advising her not to do this terrible thing she does for a living. Cookie, always smiling, says “ok! Goodnight!” and the scene is dismissed as the altruist man who saves the happy prostitute from working that night. But he never asks her why. Why is she selling herself?

Cookie, determined to spend more time with Leo, basically pushes herself on him, or rather, pushes her company on him to the point that Leo eventually gives in. All the while they’re spending time together in Thailand, the question still never rises. Why is Cookie, a young, beautiful girl, selling her body to rich tourists? By the end, we learn that Leo is, not surprisingly, oblivious and blind to Cookie’s life as well –she has a daughter to take care of somewhere far, and she’s saving money to see her.

As a whole, Mammoth is a powerful piece structured with infinite layers dealing with alienation, identity, awareness, family values, contemporary lifestyles, etc. crafted together in a way that the brilliant Lukas Moodysson manages to subtly bring poignancy to the blindness we live with.

This is the quality of material that needs to be seen, observed, and scrutinized; I can only hope for the day where movies like this show in theatres everywhere.

If you haven’t yet, I hope you get the chance to watch this gem that sits in my top 5 list, and if you do let me know what you think, I’d love to hear it.

Tongue Beats

January 3, 2011

A few weeks ago, I was sitting with a friend of mine at a coffee shop in Fort Lauderdale writing down Bengali vowels and consonants in hopes that I could understand the basics of Bengali language. “Writing down” however sounds a bit off since the experience of writing these letters felt more like drawing symbols—which is another way of saying “writing”, but if you’ve ever tried to write in a different alphabet, you’ll know what I mean; you draw—small little strokes as if you’re sketching a figure.
Here’s the interesting part, and I will try my best to illustrate this concept for I feel it’s a bit difficult to communicate, but here we go:
In Bengali language, there are many letters that sound almost the same (to me at least—for a Bengali speaker, they’re undoubtedly and undeniably different). I have a picture here:

These first 4 letters vary slightly in sound; they all “generally” sound like saying Kaw but there are slight variations from each one.
Same with these following set of 4 letters that generally sound like saying Chaw but vary in pitch and sound:

(Yes—please note the double HH, I’ll address this shortly).
As I was trying to say these letters, my voice was unable to find the right pitch or the right sounds to produce the tongue movement and exchange of air that these letters needed. When I thought I was saying “Jhaw” (and I tried saying it a thousand times probably) I couldn’t seem to get the right sounds most of the times. Here’s the interesting thing; in my head, I thought I was saying what my friend wanted to say, I thought I was saying the same thing she was uttering, but in reality, I wasn’t. Her hearing, and her use of this delicate pitch/tone language was much more acute and developed that she could tell when I was uttering the sound of the letter correctly and when I wasn’t.
Regarding the double H, or the many other pages of notes I wrote trying to phonetically spell the sounds of Bengali letters, the problem that I was facing was that I was trying to use my sounds and letters to write Bengali sounds and letters. And clearly, since Bengali is so different from the languages I know, I didn’t have enough letters to write the sounds that I needed to learn. When my friend would list all the different variations of a certain letter, I could hear the difference (a very slight nuance) but I couldn’t write it, I had no way to express it. So there I was, making new letters, or rather defining new sounds in a way that I could understand and remember, like this “X Bengali letter” sounds like a mix of a K with a J, and a bit of an H sound, and maybe I would write that K/J+h.

Now, as I sat there repeating letters trying to hit the right notes, I remembered a podcast I’ve listened to some time ago about tone languages.
To begin, a tone language is basically a language where words can vary in meaning depending on the tone in which they’re said. For instance, in Mandarin, depending on the way the word is enunciated, “Ma” can mean, Mom (in the 1st tone), hemp (in the 2nd tone), horse (in the 3rd tone), or a reproach (in the 4th tone).

The podcast features, Diana Deutsch, a professor of Musical Psychology at the University of California, who conducted an experiment where music students of different backgrounds were asked to identify 36 notes without resorting to a piano or any instrument that would let them figure out which note it was. Essentially, the students that spoke an East Asian language scored nearly 100 percent, whereas the students who did not speak a tone language scored the worst on average.
The experiment was featured on Science Daily, and you can click here for a more detailed explanation.

Now, through this experiment Deutsch speculates that speaking a tone language is key for achieving perfect pitch. Perfect pitch is the ability to tell the exact note of sounds (e.g.: knowing that a faucet dripping is in D sharp and things of the like).
What’s interesting is that the big names: Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Sinatra, Tchaikovsky, etc., all had perfect pitch. So what does this mean? Is perfect pitch attributed to their inherent talent or gift, or is it something that could possibly be achieved by many, granted that they learn a tone language at the adequate time?
This is exactly what Diana Deutsch argues; she believes (and I think she provides strong evidence) that perfect pitch is more of a nurture quality rather than a nature quality, she words it beautifully like this: “Here we have a faculty that had been thought to be confined to a few rare individuals who are just extraordinarily gifted that might in fact be available to any individual provided they’re given the right exposure at a critical period. And that raises the question of what other sorts of abilities could be brought out if we only knew just what to do, there may be much more human potential than what we had realized.”

To conclude, if you ever plan on having a kid, let them learn a tone language early (6 months to a year is a critical time period in a baby’s life where he/she can learn crucial sounds and differences in pitch characteristic of a tone language).

That’s all I have for Tongue Beats this time, thanks for reading!

P.S.: Regarding sound but very off-topic, here’s a beautiful video on Sound Sculptures and the way they’re created:

A Brown Basel ’10 MIA

December 23, 2010

And yet again, Miami showered the first week of December with the most dazzling, perplexing and impressive art pieces it could offer during the annual art show known as Art Basel Miami Beach.
For those uninformed, Art Basel Miami Beach is an annual art show (a sister event to the Basel show in Switzerland) where artists from all over the world come down to the tropical warm climate and showcase their work to gain recognition. Luckily, Basel is not restrained to one convention center; the whole city of Miami dresses up with the most talented and creative pieces it can wear –Wynwood, the Design district, Downtown MIA, Miami Beach and just about every venue in the area is booked with art shows.

Due to my work schedule, I was not able to attend Art Basel at the main convention, but I was lucky to experience Art Miami. Here’s a bit about it taken from their website: “World-famous for its stylish gallery-like decor, its extraordinary variety and outstanding quality, Art Miami showcases the best in modern and contemporary art from 100 international art galleries and prominent art institutions.”
For a 10$ student pass, I was able to walk around under an extremely large and endless tent that seemed to produce more and more art work as I took each step. It took me a few hours to go around the whole place and as tiring as it was on my legs, it was worth every effort, Art Miami showed off some beautiful artwork.

As much as I would love to talk about the most salient pieces in the exhibition, time, space and word count would leave me breathless. I decided instead that I should talk about the most salient piece –for me, obviously; the one that caught my eye, held it tight, and did not let it go.
I hope it’s understood that I pick this piece over any piece at Art Miami, yes –over any piece among the thousands that I saw throughout the hundreds of feet I treaded upon.

Somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd hour of walking (when all art starts blurring together and looking the same), I happened to catch a glimpse of this one frame propped up on a corner. It wasn’t even hung, it was sitting on the floor, title-less and name-less, no artist signature and no label next to it. But God damn, did it grip me…

I stared at it for a while, and after some time I started getting angry wondering why isn’t this piece hung, why didn’t they make an artist label for it, why is it sitting on the floor, etc. I looked for the person in charge of the booth and asked her who was the artist responsible for this little muse of mine. “Carol Brown” she said.

I researched Carol Brown and found out she’s a sculptor by trade but has done extensive work in painting lately. She resides in New York and has developed an interest in photographing the mundane people of the streets in a very voyeuristic manner.
Here are some samples of her work: http://bit.ly/ft5CKI

Here’s an interview with her: http://bit.ly/fhltIA

It was days after Basel that I realized why the piece had captivated me so much (and by days I mean, close to 3 weeks). If I could explain it in any way, I’d call it a conglomerate of things I love the most. I think it was the subject that caught my eye first; a homeless man sleeping on a bench next to his cart of belongings. If there’s anything defined as realist in my art book, it is that. To me, that painting is the pinnacle of all definitions of realism –how can anyone not relate to what they’re seeing when they see this piece? Secondly, how wonderful of her to paint someone who deserves a lot more worth than what he’s used to. I’m already sold on it at this point.

But there’s more. As much as abstract art has engulfed the past century, naturalism in its technique will always be the soft spot in my heart. I give in, I just do; I can’t not appreciate and be enthralled by its beauty. Maybe it’s because I’m in the field of computer animation and one of our many goals (sometimes) is to make something look as real as possible, but regardless, I’ve always been dazzled by detail. The dirt on this man’s jeans, the folds in the plastic bags, the chub of his foot, the detail in his tumultuous beard –I ravel in this.

Last but absolutely not least, Brown does something that, subconsciously, I’ve always wanted to do. She isolates her subjects. No backgrounds, no color, no sense of environment, no relation to space. Her subjects are three dimensional in technique but they are set alone –accompanied only by their shadow, they make no connection to depth in space. When I realized this, I felt the way people feel when somebody takes the most accurate and precise words to describe a feeling they could not. I’m in love.

I’ve never been a fan of creating backgrounds or the “filler” stuff that grounds the subject to something coherent; instead, 99% of the thrill of creating something was always the subject. That’s where my fun lies, that’s where I lose myself, that’s all I care about –it’s what I choose to do first, and the rest, it can wait. Brown does exactly this. She unloads her talent and makes these subjects shine in their own isolation because who cares how the floor looks like, or if there are buildings behind this man, I for sure don’t, and I’m glad there’s none of that. Homeless man, the spotlight is 100% focused on you and you look damn great. Chapeau to Carol Brown.

Gripping Your Pillow Tight

December 16, 2010

This very exciting post begins with this little fellow that I found right outside my door:

To be honest, it was my dog who found this little creature. I would’ve never noticed had my dog not stopped cold as soon as he stepped out the door; he usually runs out and I can’t get him back for at least ten minutes.
So there I was sitting right in front of this bird wondering what was wrong with it. My first thought when I saw Iky (my dog) smelling it, was “Oh crap, dead bird”; I steered Iky away and then sat down right in front of this winged creature. I’m thinking “it can’t be dead, it’s clearly breathing and has its eyes open”.
My first reflex thought was that it was a female. I don’t know a thing about birds and I admit I’m completely ignorant, but I do know that with certain kinds of birds, the males have bold feather colours (to attract mates) whereas the females tend to have a more dull and unified plumage colour. I guess the way she camouflaged so well with the cement made me think she was a female.
I understand there’s a 100% chance I could be wrong, but for intuition’s sake and grammatical simplicity I will say she/her (pardon me in advance to all my avian-philes!).

After observing her regulated breathing and declaring that she was indeed, alive, I noticed she was also in the shade of my plants. “Maybe she’s hurt, maybe her legs are broken…”. I get close and reassuringly enough, her little…feet (?) –I hope that’s the proper term for bird limbs, were perfectly intact and folded under her body. She’s fine. And then I started to remember…

About a month ago, I was working on one of my first paintings, and there’s nothing I love more than listening to Radiolab while I paint (or drive, or sleep). For those who don’t know, Radiolab is an NPR broadcast that talks about scientific experiments, mind-boggling stories, etc. It’s kind of like a “Did you know?”-radio broadcast. The particular broadcast I was listening to that day was “Sleep” (if you have an hour to listen to it, I strongly recommend that you do, if not, I’ll briefly go over some points). Throughout this thrilling hour, the hosts: Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich delve into the science behind sleep in aquatic, aerial, and terrestrial life-forms (we’re the latter!) and basically come to the conclusion or rather “primal conflict” that sleep is “danger”.

For instance:
Since dolphins are conscious breathers (yes, they have to “think” about breathing), and are not like fish –they need air, they constantly need to come up and out of the water to breathe. So how do they sleep? How can they be sleeping yet thinking about breathing and doing it? Well, rest assured (hehe) that they do sleep, a lot, about 8 hours; like us, and they do so by “uni-hemispheric sleep”. What that means basically is that half of the brain goes to sleep while the other half stays conscious in order to breathe and move.

In homo sapiens [sapiens] terms, this would translate to what I call the twilight zone, and I don’t think it’s just me calling it that, I think it’s an actual psychological term. It’s the state where you’re falling asleep… but you can still hear the TV –that’s how dolphins sleep. Personally, I think I would be one angry dolphin. At any rate.
More importantly, this uni-hemispheric practice is not exclusive to dolphins; it also includes: whales, seals, sea lions, and walruses.
It also includes birds. And lizards.
And sometimes, humans.
There’s one particular and very neat experiment mentioned in the podcast that deals with a row of ducks. As they’re sleeping, the ducks in the middle sleep with both eyes closed while the ones in the outer sections sleep with one eye closed (the ones in the middle feel safe, while the outer ones act like guards). And get this, since the right eye is connected to their left brain hemisphere and their left eye is connected to their right brain hemisphere, after a while, they get up, do a 180º turn, and fall back asleep (you know, to rest the other half).
Clearly, there’s a predation-fear problem that troubles sleep, and somewhere along the line of our human history we lost the ability to “half-sleep” due to our increasingly safe environments (this is yet to be proven, but it makes complete sense to me and I would not be surprised if this was proven correct).
So when I mention that uni-hemisphere sleep also includes humans sometimes, this refers to the few cases of patients who have a condition known as Parasomnia, and for them, their brains can’t achieve to fully fall asleep.

After I revisited this podcast and read a couple articles online, I had no doubt that my little friend outside had to be sleeping. The thing is, I only saw her from the right side. As shown in the picture, her right eye is fully open. After all this, I wondered whether she was also sleeping with one eye open; maybe the eye I saw, the one I photographed, was open and the other one closed. “Hopefully she’s still out there”. I ran out the door with my camera again, and what a delightful surprise…

She had moved a bit, and now her left eye was open and the right one closed! Meaning that when I originally took the picture the side that I saw (the right one) was the open/awake one, while the other one was the sleeping one!

And the rest, folks, is all history…

Thank you for taking the time to read about my little experiment, ‘til the next time ;) (I’m not winking, I’m just closing one eye).

The Word On The Street

December 16, 2010

Sometime in August 2001, I set foot in what all of my friends jokingly called “the 1st world”. As my mother drove me in her car (something I’ve never seen her do before) to my new home, I remember looking out the windows and realizing that my first impression of the US was: “Everything is so…clean”. Coming from a place where nearly every wall is tagged with graffiti, the lack of paint on the street surprised me.

Bart Simpson is from the US, Bart Simpson is always tagging walls with aerosol cans, what happened? Is this not like The Simpsons?

And the thing is, every place has its own set of regulations regarding “vandalism” or “art”.  In certain places, you could give me a can and I would not think twice about the consequences; in other places, I would simply admire the ones with the cojones to tag a wall. This is the case with “A1one”. A young Iranian graffiti artist who regardless of Iranian regulations (for in Iran, all graffiti is vandalism –there’s no way around it), carries on with his beautiful Farsi writing and acetate stencils. Not only is he extremely talented and creative but, thankfully, he’s also very courageous. “A wall is a very important medium” he says.
Without a doubt, I think a street wall is the most political canvas one can paint.

Nevertheless, being this widespread all over the city walls of Teheran isn’t easy; you also have to be very careful about keeping your identity as anonymous as possible. Consequently, as much as I would like to give you his name, and date of birth, I could not find anything about him beside his artwork –which, for me, is more than enough.

Below I post a video on A1one. I watched this a couple months ago and it inspired me to make this piece which I call “Omma” (Mom in Korean):

The text reads “Mom always knows”.



Water -A myriad of responses

December 15, 2010

“The scriptures say that widows have three options: Marry your husband’s younger brother, burn with your dead husband, or lead a life of self-denial.”

Director Deepa Mehta delves into the last option in her 2005 movie called “Water”. Set in 1938, Mehta explores the lives of Indian widows living a life of self-denial—basically a life nurtured by simplicity, seclusion, religion, basic staple foods and abstinence of any slight commodity or luxury (and definitely no sweets, no ladoos nor gulab jamuns, none of that).

Water, however, is not a simple documentation of women hardships, Water is also conflict. Age old traditions were facing a strong change in 1938, Gandhi’s ideas were confronting all of India with fury, and the vital debate of tradition vs change was unavoidable. Mehta surely portrays this tug of war through the film’s love story between Kalyani –a widow, and Narayan –a liberal recent graduate of medicine.

From a personal point of view, Water is a beautifully shot Bollywood film that falls into several categories (documentary, foreign film, romance, drama) and delivers the appropriate material to each one. Nevertheless, it stretches itself thin to touch so many boundaries that it doesn’t manage to deliver enough of any particular category (though I don’t think it intends to fall under one unified roof). In other words, if you’d like to learn about widows in India, you’ll get a depiction of their life but not a harrowing account of it. If you like love stories, Kalyani and Narayan will show you their story, but it won’t make you cry. If you like foreign movies for the sake of learning about culture, you’ll be dazzled by the colours, but Water won’t show you the grit, the dirt, nor the tears in a way that will make you angry. This is, in no way, a criticism to Water; I fully acknowledge I’m biased to crude and raw type of filming and it’s because of that that Water left me wanting more…anger, to put it bluntly. When a movie treats the subject of the unjust life of widows in India, I like to see the emotional hardship of living like that, the rawness of the flesh that lives downtrodden. And don’t get me wrong, Water delivers, but it does so in a very subtle way—a classy way. In a sense, Water is its women. Women that suffer so many injustices but still are forced to act classy.

The film in its entirety was like knot in the throat; I felt that in any moment it would burst out screaming, but very patiently, and relentlessly, it contained itself. I wanted to hear it scream but it just managed to give me a poignant smile. I give Deepa credit for making me crave something so much.

Here is the trailer, it’s a hard movie to find “in the internet” (with subs) but Netflix delivered me a beautiful copy. I hope you get the time to watch this gem and let me know what you think:


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