I have a huge interest in how twins are depicted in different cultures.Â Iâ€™m guessing itâ€™s because Iâ€™m a twin.Â My favorite story of twins comes from Antiquity, the myth of Castor and Pollux (who become the Gemini twins).Â But a close second is the Yoruba concept of the â€œibeji.â€
The Yoruba people are an ethnic group from Nigeria, which happens to have the highest rate of twin births in the world.Â Unfortunately, however, the death rate is also high.Â Yoruba beliefs holds that the first twin born is a sort of â€œscoutâ€ and, once they see the world, sends a message back to the other twin telling them whether they should continue into this world.Â If not, the twin yet to be born is stillborn.Â If neither twin thinks that life will be good enough, they are both stillborn.Â The twins also share a singular soul.
If one of the twins dies then there is the problem of the living twinâ€™s soul being in crisis.Â So physical representations of the twins, called ibeji, are created to house the soul of the twins.Â These have traditionally been carved wooden sculptures.
As per usual, European colonial powers sought to destroy this practice and impose Christianity.Â Under Englandâ€™s control, ibeji figures were made illegal.Â The Yoruba people adapted and created ibeji less noticeably â€œAfricanâ€ through photography
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and more European looking sculptures.Â The actual physical appearance of the twins is not important because the ibeji is meant to capture the soul.Â The statues are the same in appearance and for photography, the image of the surviving twin is duplicated.Â If the twins are of different sexes, then one of the photos will be of the surviving twin dressed as the opposite gender.
This past weekend I visited both the International Erotic Art Exhibition (also called the DIRTY show) in Detroit and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD).Â I feel as though I can say, pretty confidently, that the works exhibited at the MOCAD had a lot more artistic merit than the majority of those at the DIRTY, but regardless, both exhibits essentially posed the same question: what is â€œartâ€?
Admittedly, I think that is an extremely stupid, overly simplistic question.Â There are a million different avenues you can take to answer it and the secret Marxist in me is hesitant to say that only highly educated art historians and critics have the ability to determine â€œhigh artâ€ from â€œlow artâ€ (particularly considering they continually get it wrong; case in point: Bouguereau).Â When doing research for my art history degree, sometimes I feel as
though art categorized as â€œbadâ€ can be the most useful to me, because it tends to be overly reflective of a historical moment or culture and, in critical terms, too obvious.Â Too many symbols, too many allegories, etc.
In any case, the DIRTY show is more so asking the question of â€œWhat is pornâ€ and where the boundaries lie between art and porn.Â About 90% of the works seemed like they were just going for shock value and didnâ€™t seem to have a lot of technique or thought to them.Â There were a lot of poorly shot photos of S&M.Â Maybe itâ€™s the pretense of labeling these things â€œArtâ€ that ruins them for me; ironically, I think I could find more artistic value in them if they would just become comfortable with the title of â€œPorn.â€
The MOCAD exhibits were a little more thought provoking.Â I love contemporary art and Iâ€™m intrigued by the fact that we are still in the process of sorting out its definition.Â Many of the works made the same mistake as the DIRTY pieces, wherein they basically become a parody of themselves.Â Contemporary art has no shortage of critics and caricatures. Â There was one installation in the MOCAD that was simply a banana peel on the ground; the group I was with debated about whether it was an actual piece of art or just a dropped piece of garbage for about 5 minutes.Â Maybe the actual â€œartâ€ being made is just the provocation of the question about what â€œartâ€ even means.
Few fashion trends during the French Revolutionary period were able to create the same reaction as la coiffure Ã la Titus, a haircut that evoked both amusement and outrage. Â Its extreme shortness was purposefully masculine, having been appropriated from an earlier male fashion trend meant to imitate ancient Roman busts. Â Â It was also a style that was considered incredibly natural, standing in contrast to the highly powdered and structured wigs of the ancien regime.Â Women who cropped their hair in such a way were aggressively targeted in pamphlets, cultural journals, fashion prints, caricatures, books, and at least one play.Â This condemnation was, as one might expect, an overwhelmingly male exercise, with one contemporary critic going as far as to say that the women who wore the Titus were â€œdisfigured.â€Â Regardless of the deprecation, many prominent women wore the blatantly masculine hairstyle well into the first decade of the 19th Century, continually amending it to fit changing definitions of femininity.
While I was studying in Paris last year McDonalds introduced the “McBaguette;” this is my revue of their bleak attempt to pander to the refined French tongue:
But first, a disclaimer: I am not what you would define as a â€œfoodie;â€ I care not for the finer dishes that Paris has to offer so I feel that my lowly and unrefined state only makes me fit to review a food group that I know well.
Websterâ€™s Dictionary defines the â€œMcBaguetteâ€ as nonexistent, but a semantic revolution is upon us.Â Just as Greek mythology held that whoever consumed the food of the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there, the McBaguette will entomb you within the walls of McDonalds and shame will be your proverbial sepulcher.Â But it will be worth it because, unlike the Underworld, the McBaguette is great and only 4.50 Euros! So, dear reader, take a stroll with my paletteâ€¦
When you first taste the McBaguette a certain sensation will grip you; this is the taste of two peppered steaks (TWO! Because why not!?), nestled between mustard, lettuce, cheese, and of course, a baguette.Â Welcome to the sandwich of the future.Â No more will you have to deal with the troublesome food of peasants that is the sesame bun.Â You are better than that.Â With the McBaguette a whole new era opens; finally, a food from McDonalds that you donâ€™t need to be ashamed to eat in public because the thing is that whichever marketing genius decided to create this hydra of flavor was acute enough to make the McBaguette visually resemble your average French sandwich that can be bought in a boulangerie.Â Maybe the reason the McBaguette is not being marketed in the U.S. is because this appeal wouldnâ€™t stick.Â In any case, I must bid adieu to this seraph in bread form and, like bats returning to their cave, I will adjust back to the darkness.
This coming Friday at 6 pm in the Tappan basement is the History of Art Honors Symposium. Â I happen to be one of the poor suckers presenting, so here is a brief explanation of what my fellow thesis writers have been working so hard on:
Genevieve King, “Ideology and the Idyllic: Painting Anarchy in Paul Signac’s Au Temps d’Harmonie”
– Gen’s thesis is on a beautiful topic that, frankly, I am pretty jealous of (I had originally wanted to do something similar). Â Her’s deals with a Signac painting called In the Time of Harmony and its relationship with anarchistÂ UtopianÂ thought at the end of the 19th Century in France. Â Its a complicated subject, as anyone who has even glimpsed at the constantly changing politics of 1800’s France knows. Â Her thesis has a landscape, it has propaganda by the deed, it has the Paris Commune. Â Its got everything.
Jessica Larson (me), “Shear Power: Scandalous Women and the Coiffure Ã la Titus”
– My thesis is on a short-lived haircut from the French Revolution. Â Originally men wore it in an attempt toÂ imitateÂ ancient Roman emperor styles, but women took it as their own and chaos ensued. Â Surprisingly, men in 18th Century France didn’t like it when women cut off all of their hair. Â And Napoleon definitely didn’t like it.
Sarah Rabinowe, “Illuminating Jurisprudence: Judges and Judgement in the WolfenbÃ¼ttel Sachsenspiegel“
Sarah’s topic is crazy complicated and I am so impressed with anyone that does something outside of Modernism. Â As my stupid, Modernist mind understands it, her thesis presentation is on how judges are portrayed in a specific medieval legal code. Â There are lots of parallels between the gestures of judges and those in Christ imagery. Â It is very exciting and the images are amazing.
Melinda Stang, “Rally Round the Flag: Propaganda in Britain During the First World War”
– Melinda’s thesis presentation is on the English propaganda that was produced by Wellington House during WWI. Â It is very nice to see someone doing a thesis on something English and post-1900 for once. Â Her presentation largely deals with the ways in which the English propaganda bureau manufactured ideas of nationalism through visual imagery. Â It is very well done and has crazy diagrams.
Beginning in the 1950s, the Ga people of Ghana began a new artistic tradition called “Fantasy Coffins.” Â The creation of Fantasy Coffins is generally credited to Kane Kwei, a carpenter whose dying uncle had requested that his coffin resemble his fishing boat. Â After this coffin was wellÂ receivedÂ at the funeral the commissions started to pour in, with people generally requesting coffins that reflected their status and wealth during their lifetime. Â Not everyone is allowed a Fantasy Coffin, however; you must be sufficiently successful and, of course, be able to afford one (they are expensive). Â The coffin reserved for the mostÂ prestigiousÂ people is the Mercedes Benz, considered by many to be the most expensive and rare car in Africa.
Though most of the people able to afford these coffins are Christian, they are not allowed in Christian Churches (unless it is shaped like a Bible). Â This is also due to the fact that many of the death ceremonies that take place incorporate
animist traditions, including animal sacrifice. Â Despite these traditional African spiritual practices, Kane Kwei veryÂ emphaticallyÂ stated that Fantasy Coffins reside outside of the traditional African art cannon, with many of the coffins taking the shape of distinctly Western objects like cell phones, sneakers, and Coca Cola bottles.