London’s Hamiltons Gallery presents a reinterpretation of the work of Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, known for his often dark documentation of Japanese street culture. The gallery’s curator and owner Tim Jeffries has selected 16 images from the photographer’s vast portfolio, encompassing tens of thousands of photographs and spanning over half a century since the birth of his documentation of postwar Tokyo, to be presented in a new context in silkscreen. The noir master’s lens captured the disintegration of daily culture, notably the immense cultural and societal shifts occurring after the city’s occupation that thrusted a brash vulgarity on the then insular nation, recording the breakdown of its traditional value systems. The brief selection chosen to represent the photographer’s gritty oeuvre is given a calligraphic fluidity through the adopted medium, bringing to life the often harsh imagery captured in the streets around Tokyo’s Shinjuku area in a new way.
The Exhibition runs until 20th December
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Christo Geoghegan is a documentary photographer and writer who has made time to tell Sang Bleu about his time in the remote Northeast India and the fascinating culture of body modification practiced in the particular areas that he visited.
The art of tattooing and body modification has always been an intrinsic part of tribal culture. Cultural identity and heritage is the beating heart of any tribe and as such body art has been used as an external expression of internal values. It became a form of visual ID to indicate which tribe you were from and where your loyalties lied. And in the remote northeastern states of India, whose populations are predominantly tribal, this was important.
Northeast India is a collection of seven states connected to mainland India by a 21km wide stretch of land known as the Siliguri corridor. Though administratively Indian, much of the culture and people share almost no similarities with their Indian neighbours and as such the ‘Seven Sisters States’ are disparate siblings of their mainland brothers. Northeast Indian culture is far more influenced by the neighbouring countries of Myanmar, Tibet and to a lesser extent, Bangladesh. And it’s because of this isolation away from mainland governance and the inexorable modernisation that goes with it, that the region has remained one of the last bastions of tribal culture.
Back in 2009, I was incredibly fortunate to obtain the necessary permits required to enter the geographically secluded states of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland in order to meet and photograph two of its most famous tribal inhabitants: the Konyak Headhunters of Mon and the Apatani women of Ziro Valley. Both of these tribes are famous for their distinctive tattoos and body modifications, but the significance and origins of each are entirely different.
The Konyaks are a hill tribe separated across three different geographical locations. Some reside in the southernmost region of Arunachal Pradesh, some live in the hills of neighbouring Myanmar, and some, like the ones I spent time with, live in the state of Nagaland. The Konyaks have a rich history of being fierce and highly feared warriors and the tattoos that were adopted by the tribe were created to show this. The Konyaks became notorious across the region as headhunters, who believed that when they collected the skull of an enemy they could in turn harness the life force and soul that once dwelled inside of its original ‘owner’. Successful and prolific headhunters were then given the honour of being able to wear the mark, having their faces and chest covered in tattoos. The Konyak women however, would receive decorative tattoo designs (primarily on their legs) to signify various advancements in life. These tattooing practices would continue up until the late 1960s when Nagaland began to experience a cultural shift that would affect Konyak tattooing forever: Christianisation.
From the beginning of the 1940s Christian missionaries from America, Wales and New Zealand set out to the remote northeastern states to spread the gospel and attempt to convert non-believers. However, some of these envoys were of the opinion that many of the activities and beliefs that these tribes held were primitive or barbaric and preached to the tribesmen with a heavy hand. And as such, as Christianity began to spread across the region, many tribes began to lose sight of some of the ancestral heritage and original animistic beliefs that were once at the forefront of their very being.
This isn’t to say that Christianity did not bring some aspects of social prosperity to the region, in fact it was one of the main reasons that practices such as the violent art of headhunting were outlawed. But what is undeniable is that this shift in thinking began to have an impact on many forms of tribal art and expression, particularly tattooing culture. With the end of headhunting and a conversion to Christianity widespread, the Konyaks ceased all tattooing activities and with the number of tattooed Konyaks dwindling as their ages increase, the marks of the headhunter look set to be erased forever.
The women of the Apatani tribe however, had very different reasons for body art and modification. Believed to be the most beautiful in the region, the Apatani women were prone to being kidnapped and raped by the surrounding Nishi tribesmen. To stop this from occurring and protect the tribeswomen, the Apatanis agreed to begin a practice known as ‘imposed ugliness’. By ‘destroying’ the beauty that was so desired by these invading tribesmen, it was believed that they would no longer be at risk from attack. This practice was forced upon all Apatani women when they reached a certain age and began with facial tattooing: one single vertical line from the forehead to base of the nose and then five vertical lines beneath the lip to the base of the chin. Small incisions were then made into the sides of each nostril, and a plug, known locally as Yapping Hullo, were inserted into them. Over time, these plugs were replaced with larger ones in order to stretch the original incision until it was at an acceptable size.
However, it wasn’t Christianity that ended this bizarre form of rape prevention, but peace with the Nishi in the 1960s. Many Apatani women, distraught from having the practice carried out on them, chose to have elective plastic surgery to remove their imposed ugliness. But many embraced their modifications and a popular belief is held amongst many in the tribe that the larger the Yaping Hullo, the more beautiful the woman, inverting the original intention of the process.
There are still many other tribes in the region such as the Wancho of Arunachal Pradesh who still tattoo tribesmen, but as external influences begin to creep in at an increasing rate and globalisation begins to grip the region like an ever tightening vice, the art of tribal tattooing in Northeast India is beginning to slowly, but surely fade.
All images and text has been created by Christo, to find out more visit his website here: http://christogeoghegan.com
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Universal Music Japan, Lady Gaga’s Japanese record label last week uploaded a 30 second teaser video. What this film is actually advertising is quite unclear; we are shown what seems to be a bleak factory with moulds of Lady Gaga’s face and body being compressed, moulded and bolted and eventually made into a robot.
The teaser ends with the statement that: “GAGADOLL COMING SOON”. Is Gaga’s new concept that she will now become a consumable entity more than she already is? Exactly how reactive will these robots be if they can be bought by individuals? This is of course another aspect of her expansive marketing strategy but what is it exactly about Robots that is so fitting towards Gaga? What is it about advanced technology that she wants to intertwine herself with so much? How many robots will be made? What will their function be? Will these robots be made in mass or will a one off robot be made as a piece of art? The video seems to show a whole army of silicone bodies hanging in a room.
Lady Gaga is yet to make an announcement about where this footage will lead however Japan is forever associated with robot creation so it almost seems a little too obvious for Gaga to promote her music within that particular country in this manner. As Lady Gaga’s career becomes more and more extreme within pop culture the notion of her creating robots of herself hardly seems surprising especially within the context to ‘ARTPOP’. Fans have speculated that the TechHausdesign branch who recently designed her flying dress are behind this concept. TechHaus is the technical division of the Haus of Gaga founded in 2012 to create the ARTPOP app.
The video succeeds in exactly what its aimed to complete, its left us with questions about her ever growing estate. For a woman who likes to play with extremes and is fully aware of wanting to conquer various aspects of popular culture recreating a mechanical version of herself seems fitting to her progressive nature within her field as a pop musician.
You can watch the video here:
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Theo Costantinou of Paradigm magazine has specially created these images from his recent trip to Cuba for Sang Bleu.
The primary intention regarding Cuba was to interview American born artist John Dominguez for the printed version of Paradigm set to release early 2014. To him Cuba was no mystery, it was in his blood, but my only knowledge of the island had been pop-culture icons like Chano Pozo, El Duque, the Bay of Pigs and Che Guevara. Then I read Listen, Yankee by C. Wright Mills which gave my superficial lens to a much different outlook to what Cuba meant from the revolutionary mind and the realities of life for those citizens after January 1, 1959. These photographs speak to that pop-culture ignorance and the effect of post-revolutionary ‘intelligentsia.’ This was the Cuba I saw; untouched by western racketeering, controlled still by ‘the man whose name is not spoken’ and the inherent fact that revolutionaries, peasants, blacks, whites, children, and politicians are ALL human.
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I was very excited to receive my copy of Drawing with Great Needles, a new compilation of essays published by the University of Texas Press on Native American tattooing in North America. The book claims to be “the first book length scholarly examination into the antiquity, meaning, and significance of Native American tattooing in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains.” Despite my initial eagerness to delve into the volume, I felt that as a whole, Drawing with Great Needles suffered from methodological and thematic issues. Although I am neither a tattoo expert nor an anthropologist and cannot speak to the accuracy of the historical sources presented in its many essays, I did take issues with some of the broader claims of the volume and the evidence used to make them.
Some of the issues in the book become apparent in its introduction. In the summary of Chapter 1, editors Aaron Deter-Wolf and Carol Diaz-Granados explain how Antoinette Wallace’s essay “compiles ethnohistorical documentation and art historical evidence of Native American tattooing…These accounts from European and Euro-American explorers, settlers, and artists provide an essential window into the extent and variety of indigenous tattoo traditions that existed prior to European contact.” The notion of reconstructing a practice as it existed pre-contact by using post-contact, often biased colonial documents seems to me a problematic exercise, and, frankly doesn’t accurately reflect what Wallace does in her essay. In fact, Wallace thoroughly acknowledges the problems inherent in using colonial sources in her synthetic study of colonial texts and images. Some of the other essays in the volume do, however, un-critically use these kinds of sources in analyses of tattoo motifs and iconography without accounting to the historical specificity of tattooing and the documents that record it.
Another pattern that bothered me was the nonchalance of cross-cultural comparisons. Benjamin A. Steere’s essay, for example, tried to make a case for the plausibility of Swift Creek paddle designs being used as tattoo designs. To set a precedent for this “admittedly speculative” (by his own admission) claim, he discussed the tattooing and craft practices of tribal people in Africa and Borneo. I felt, however that this type of comparison neglected the cultural and historical specificity of tattooing in each place, reducing what could have been an in-depth analysis of Native American practice into a essentializing and reductive argument about “primitive” people across the world. For example, his discussion of anthropomorphic pottery in Africa provided some culturally-specific evidence behind the intersection in pottery and tattoo designs that did not exist in his discussion of Native America. His suggestions for further research, however, were very intriguing, and I hope they are followed through. As someone who studies art history, I was personally confused by F. Kent Reilly’s invocation of both Panofsky and “Myer [sic] Schapiro,” neither of which were examined in their full complexity and specificity (and even necessarily correctly, though perhaps that’s misreading on my part).
I do not want to discount some of the important work presented in this volume. Surely, the synthesis of colonial documents and prior scholarly work in the field is a worthwhile endeavor. Deter-Wolf’s essay, which used comparative archeological evidence to present a means of identifying tattoo instruments was very helpful. Furthermore, many of the essays presented here, especially Lars Krutak’s chapters suggest further thematic points of study. Not only does he contextualize tattooing motifs within Native American culture, but his thoughts regarding facial tattooing and the mouth as a “liminal zone” interested me by discussing the tattoos within context, on the body. Many essays in this volume established the aesthetic precedents for tattooing in other types of artistic practice, so I appreciated Krutak’s thoughts on why tattoos were placed where they were. I also found his photographs of ornamented deer skins intriguing, and wonder about the connection between the many sets of tattooed skin.
Essentially, I feel like this field of study requires a shift in focus, from trying to reconstruct traditional or “ancient” meanings and practices to thinking about the complexity of these practices after contact. If tattoos did have ritual functions, how did these functions change after the introduction of metal tattooing needles rather than the faunal instruments used previously? What can colonial interactions and the critical examination of colonial texts on tattooing tell us about the people who were observing as well as the people being observed (and what about the interaction between the two)? Furthermore, I think that scholars will need to grapple more strenuously with the issues and complexities created by the historical specificity of their sources, including images, which were often stylized or staged. Hopefully that will allow a more fruitful investigation into this interesting body of work in the future.
If anyone else has read the book (especially tattoo experts/anthropologists/historians), I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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Since 2002, Montreal’s annual Expozine has brought thousands of visitors together for two days in November for Canada’s largest zine fair. Expozine’s 2013 edition took place this past weekend in the basement of the Église St-Enfant Jésus church, exhibiting small run publications from zines to books with diverse content ranging from left wing literature to graphic art, poetry,photography, art theory, and countless others.
We were in attendance and are happy to present to you our favorite publications below in no particular order.
Jurgen Maelfeyt, Breasts, 2013
Published by Art Paper Editions, Jurgen Maelfeyt’s Breasts presents 32 pages of just that – breasts. An edition of 250, the pages in Breasts consist of uncensored, grainy black-and-white photos of female breasts. Cropped from the rest of the body, Maelfeyt’s images confront the viewer directly, creating a voyeuristic relationship between the viewer and the photographs. This results in a certain level of objectification, where one must evaluate his or her own gaze in relation to the breasts, while simultaneously illustrating the natural beauty of the female form.
eil, Jon Estwards, 2013
eil by Montreal-based photographer Jon Estwards consists of 24 colour pages of Polaroid and 35mm photographs. Many of the images in the zine display Estward’s self-taught fibre process, which gives the images an organic feeling – bridging the gap between those depicted in the images and the natural settings they are photographed in.
Alexandre Lemire, “– – – IS – – WAS”, 2013
Published in an edition of 40, the opening page of Alexandre Lemire’s “– – – IS – – WAS” states “TURNED FROM AN IS TO A WAS BEFORE HE EVEN HIT THE GROUND.” The title of the zine seems to suggested a shortened and cryptic form of this quotation. Like the title, Lemire’s photographs are equally mysterious. Printed entirely in colour, Lemire’s photographs consistently display and reference the human presence in the urban landscape, while at the same time, are entirely devoid of people.
Tomé Duarte, Nome de Doenca Rara, 2012
Tomé Duarte’s 2012 zine Nome De Doenca Rara displays what is perhaps the epitome of the homemade zine aesthetic – raw, no nonsense, black-and-white xeroxed pages. Published in an edition of 100, Duarte’s zine consists of 35mm photographs, collage, drawing, Polaroid photos, and contact sheet scans. With content ranging from photos of a dead body in a casket to various instances of nudity, Nome De Doenca Rara presents a gritty slice of life through this Porto-based photographer’s point of view.
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