Friday, June 5, 2009

Culture, Here and Elsewhere

President Obama’s recent trip to Saudia Arabia and Egypt acknowledges the importance of the Muslim world and makes possible a new dialogue, encouraging new politics. Interestingly, “Muslim Voices: Arts & Ideas,” is a ten-day festival, June 5 through 14, 2009, devoted to Muslim culture, involving important New York institutions: Asia Society, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and New York University Center for Dialogues.

The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts with The Museum for African Art has an exhibit, June 4 through September 14, on “Perspectives: Women, Art and Islam,” and on June 6th there is a talk at the Contemporary African Diasporan Arts museum in downtown Brooklyn by the exhibiting artists from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“The art, the history, the traditions and the geographies of the Islamic world from the Far East to the Iberian Peninsula are the subjects of the exhibition The Worlds of Islam in the Aga Khan Museum Collection,” reports from Madrid, Spain.

The American Folk Art Museum on 53rd Street in Manhattan will be open, free, tonight for three hours, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Meanwhile, The Art Newspaper reports that museum shows in different parts of the United States, dependent on funding by private patrons, are being cancelled, due to the economic downturn and its effect on wealth.

Blues singer Koko Taylor and actor David Carradine have died, and both will be missed, and while Taylor is more important to her art form that Carradine to his (she is considered the queen of the blues and though respected he does not have anything resembling a similiar place in film or television), it is he who has been getting the network television attention, although NPR has noted her passing.

Amy LaVere’s album Anchors & Anvils begins with the most dramatic song—“Killing Him,” about a woman who kills the man she loves, a man whose responses have been making her crazy—and there are other songs on the album about domestic conflicts: ending the album with the song would have given the entire album the scope of an unfolding tragedy, but in our time, artists (in literature and film as well) are encouraged to present the most dramatic scene first—to engage public attention—whether or not that works aesthetically.

I saw, one evening this week, a PBS special featuring European classical musician David Garrett, blond, youthful, very casually dressed, performing live from Berlin before a large audience, a performance interesting for his commitment to blending classical music and rock. He is a very good musician and an even better entertainer (it’s obvious he loves sharing his music, which is key to entertaining).

It looks like singer Mariah Carey has been getting some good reviews for her acting performance in the new film Tennessee. (I have had a fondness for Carey for a long time.)

The International Federation of Film Critics—FIPRESCI—offers online reports on film festivals, including this year festival in Istanbul in April: “…The new Turkish cinema, as seen in the festival, shows an astonishing diversity of themes, styles, handwritings; and it shows an amazing number of debutants — such as Asli Özge, whose first fiction feature Men on the Bridge (Köprüdekiler) won the main prize, the 'Golden Tulip' in the national competition, over new films from established directors like Yesim Ustaoglu, Reha Erdem, Semih Kaplanoglu and Erden Kiral. Without any doubt, Men on the Bridge is an excellent debut which should make its mark, and which deserves the prize ... even if it seems a little unfair to prefer it to new films from Ustaoglu (Pandora's Box) and Erdem (My Only Sunshine)…” (May 2009 report)

David Hudson at IFC’s The Daily continues to produce a film digest worth reading, covering everything from festivals to film criticism to film productions plans. [Writer's note: Hudson, formerly of Greencine Daily, announced in late June 2009 that he would no longer proceed with The Daily at IFC in its existing format.]

C.D. Wright has won the 2009 Griffin Prize for international poetry: the prize, given every year, is estimated at a value of $50,000.

Newsweek has an article on Oprah Winfrey’s giving air time to people involved in alternative health therapies, a critique; and, Winfrey, is number two rather than number one on the list of powerful media people put out by Forbes: and last night talk show host Craig Ferguson attributed both facts to the need for controversy to sell magazines in an age when print media is suffering great declines. It’s fascinating how transparent that is.

Two CW shows “The Game” and “Everybody Hates Chris,” both featuring black characters, are being cancelled; and fans of both programs are outraged: they are entertaining shows, and, apparently, popular, but the network seems to want a different demographic. (Erin Evans at the online magazine The Root has an article on the subject.)

There was a local Louisiana television news report about Chinese drywall that has caused a problem for residents, and the legal issues involved (people will sue). It is another in a series of problems with Chinese products—everything from dolls to toothpaste has been an issue in the last few years, suggesting a lack of care and an equal lack of proper regulation. It’s an irony that a culture once known for craft has grown slack in an age of mass production—and fascinating that the Japanese seem to have found a way to continue high standards with new technology. (The subject is worth more research and thought.)

Louisiana State University may have to eliminate as many as 1900 jobs, due to state budget cuts, reports Louisiana’s Independent Weekly and television station WAFB. Education and health care are often sacrificed in difficult times, an unfortunate choice as that will affect the future...