In the year 1612, Jahangir, the fourth emperor of the South Asian Islamic-Mughal dynasty, was presented with a bird he had never seen or heard of before—the turkey.
But it wasn’t known by that name yet. In fact, turkeys (native to the Americas) would be called many different names as they passed through early modern trade networks, highlighting the ways in which commodities, ideas, words, and people floated freely.
Jahangir’s turkey was among the rarities that Muqurrab Khan, a high-ranking Mughal official, had purchased for the emperor from Portuguese traders at port city of Goa, located on India’s western coast.
The Portuguese, along with the Spanish, operated trading operations in the Indian and Atlantic oceans. Their cargoes carried exquisite goods –gemstones, spices, fruits, vegetables, textiles, and animals – from and to the ‘new’ world (North and South America), Southeast Asia, and South Asia.
Abu’l Qasim Firdausi (935–1020) ca. 1330–40 Iran, probably Isfahan Ink, opaque watercolor, gold, and silver on paper A manuscript illustration reflecting the traditional, highly formalised, Islamic style.
Muhammad Siyah Qalam 15th century Central Asia Black, red, blue ink on paper Topkapi Salayi Library A representative example of Muhammad Siyah Qalam illustrations
The paintings associated with Muhammad Siyah Qalam constitute, in their originality and strange subject matter, a striking aberration in the Islamic pictorial tradition. Unlike the book illustrations most immediately associated with Islamicate painting, with their highly formalized, almost didactic imagery, these expressive and imaginative compositions eschew convention. Dating to approximately the 15th century, these paintings depict nomadic people and demons in a style that incorporates elements of Persian, Indian, and Chinese artistic traditions. Sixty-five works originally collected in two albums, the Ya’qub beg Album and the Fatih Album, at the Topkapi Palace in Turkey, bear signatures attributing the works…
For all its transcendental appeals, art has always been inextricably grounded in the material realities of its production, an entwinement most evident in the intriguing history of artists’ colours. Focusing in on painting’s primary trio of red, yellow, and blue, Philip Ball explores the science and stories behind the pigments, from the red ochre of Lascaux to Yves Klein’s blue.
Having taken many centuries to figure out what the primary colours are, we are now in the process of abandoning them. The very notion of primaries can now spark furious arguments among colour specialists. Some point out that the trio many of us learnt at school — red, yellow and blue — applies only to mixing pigments; mix light, as in the pixels of television screens, and you need different primaries (roughly, red, blue, green). But if you print with inks, you use another “primary” system: yellow, cyan and magenta. And in the rainbow spectrum of visible light, there’s no hierarchy at all: no reason to promote yellow light above the slightly longer-wavelength orange.
What’s more, even though painters learn how to mix colours — blue and yellow to give a green, say — they quickly learn that the results can be disappointingly muddy compared to a “pure” pigment with the intended colour: it’s especially hard to get a rich purple from red and blue. As a result, artists often think of colour not so much as an abstract property but in terms of the substance that makes it: madder red, ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow. To truly understand what colour means to the artist, we need to think of its materiality. Or to put it another way, what the artist’s palette is capable of producing has always depended on the materials at his or her disposal, and the ingenuity that went into procuring them.
That ingenuity has never been lacking. During the last Ice Age life was nasty, brutish and short, yet humans still found time for art. Tools dated to around one hundred thousand years ago have been found in Blombos Cave on the coast of South Africa: grindstones and hammer-stones for crushing a natural red ochre pigment, and abalone shells for mixing the powder with animal fat and urine to make a paint that would be used to decorate bodies, animal skins, and perhaps cave walls. The paintings made 15-35 millennia ago at Chauvet, Lascaux and Altamira attest to the genuine artistry that early humans achieved using the colours readily to hand: black charcoal, white chalk and ground bone, and the earthy reds and yellows of ochre, a mineral form of iron oxide.1
But the classic red pigments don’t rely on iron minerals, the hue of which is not the glorious red of a sunset or of blood, but of the earth. For many centuries, the primary red of the palette came from compounds of two other metals: lead and mercury. The pigment known as “red lead” was made by first corroding lead with vinegar fumes, turning the surface white, and then heating that material in air. It was used in ancient China and Egypt, Greece and Rome.
For the Roman author Pliny, any bright red was called minium — but by the Middle Ages that Latin term was more or less synonymous with red lead, which was used extensively in manuscript illumination. From the verb miniare (to paint in minium) we get the term “miniature”: nothing to do, then, with the Latin minimus, “smallest”. The association today with a diminutive scale comes simply from the constraints of fitting a miniature on the manuscript page.
In the first of two exclusive video interviews with Christo, the artist explains how the giant London Mastaba installation on the Serpentine lake is the culmination of over 60 years of working with stacked barrels.
The temporary London project, which is 20 metres high and consists of 7,506 barrels, was unveiled last month. But the artwork has its genesis in experiments made by Christo, 83, and his late partner Jeanne-Claude in the fifties and sixties.
“I was born in Bulgaria and I escaped from the communist country to the west on 10 January 1957,” Christo explains in the movie, which Dezeen filmed in London. “I met Jeanne-Claude in November 1958 and we together fell in love.”
“We lived in Paris in between 58 and 64,” he continues. “I was so poor, I had no studio and I was living in one room. I started working with little cans, tin cans of industrial paint. From the cans of the smaller size, I moved to the smaller sized barrels. I rented a garage outside of Paris when I started working with real barrels.”
In 1962 he blocked a Paris street with stacked barrels in a reference to the Berlin Wall that was erected the previous year.
“I was worried the third world war would start,” Christo says. “The Soviets took over Budapest during the revolution [in 1956] but I escaped and there was a big turmoil. I remember I was very scared that they would run over West Germany and come back to Paris and I proposed to do my artistic Iron Curtain in the smallest street, in the Rue Visconti, of the left bank of Paris.”
It’s often said that we are a product of those closest to us. Growing up on the outskirts of Johannesburg in the Tsakane township, it was three women who shaped the man Tshepo Mohala would become.
Denim designer Tshepo Mohala grew up watching his mother grind to give him the opportunity of a good education, he listened to his pastor grandmother’s stories of hope that transported him back to 1945, and he admired his cool aunty who dressed for the red carpet. “I don’t know if you remember Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake’s Canadian tuxedo moment at the 2001 American Music Awards?” Tshepo says with a smirk. “She rocked that look.”
This exposure to hard work, community and bold style would lay the foundations for Tshepo’s character and inform his namesake denim and ready-to-wear label, Tshepo the Jean Maker. In five years, the brand has grown from a Facebook page to a fan base that includes Meghan Markle and a team of 15. Its success can be chalked up to the designer’s positive outlook on life. Seldom without a smile, his energy is infectious. “If you’re willing to put yourself out there if you’re courageous, and if you really love what you do and want to leave a mark on this world then it can happen,” Tshepo tells me. It is an attitude he has learned from the powerful women around him. “I was raised by my grandmother who was a public servant in her duties as a pastor,” Tshepo says. “I watched her treat everyone in the neighbourhood with the same respect regardless of who they were. The biggest thing for me is serving the public.”
Matthew Burrows is an East Sussex based abstract painter. However, if you regularly post your artwork to an Instagram account you may recognise his name as the founder of the Artist Support Pledge. When the Covid-19 pandemic started to affect the UK in the first half of March, Matthew Burrows had the idea to start posting works for sale for £200. When he had sold £1k worth of artwork he pledged to buy some artwork himself for £200 and encouraged other artists to do the same. 95,000 posts later the #artistsupportpledge is playing a vital role in keeping the visual arts industry alive, as well as helping to build a community and promote generosity. In this interview, I wanted to find out more about the man who has inspired thousands of artists to buy and sell contemporary art, and take a closer look at his paintings, and find out exactly how he’s managing through Covid-19 lockdown.
Matthew Burrows’ Studio
To read the full interview, please go to the following link:
In the year 1611, an English trader by the name of William Finch came to Lahore with the sole purpose of purchasing indigo, which according to him after accounting for all expenses to get it to England via Persia, yielded a 400 per cent profit.
It was Finch who for the first time wrote about the story of Anarkali the dancing girl who was buried alive by the Moghal emperor Akbar. He had heard the story from many a person in the streets of Lahore and from other indigo traders.
The scandals of the Moghal court and the fight between father and son over this beautiful courtesan were titillating conversation in Lahore in those days. I decided to once again pick up this indigo trade story and to see how the strands of Lahore’s greatest export played out, and how this trade, eventually, died out.
My story starts off at three points, for that is all that a brief piece like this allows. A graveyard, a ‘mohalla’ inside the walled city and from well-known historical facts. Very few might know this but surely the oldest Christian graveyard in Lahore is opposite the Nursing Hostel of Mayo Hospital just behind Ewing Hall at Nila Gumbad and next to the back wall of Sacred Heart School opposite the GPO. Behind the wall are scores of ancient graves; among them are several graves of the pre-Sikh period of ‘Indigo Planters’, which description is clearly marked on the tombstones.
The indigo consignment of Finch was “a large boatful that left the docks” that then existed at Khizari Gate, now known as Sheranwala gate, for the River Ravi then flowed around the walled city and moved southwards towards an alignment that today is the Sanda Road moving towards the present river alignment.
It headed towards Multan and then to Bander Karatchi (Karachi) to a Persian port and towards the North African coast and on by sea towards Portugal, which in those days was the world’s largest trading nation. The effort to reach India by Vasco de Gama had specifically indigo and spices in mind when undertaken.
Just one word about the graveyard before we move on to our ‘mohalla’. The old folk who live nearby and look after the graveyard tell of an unmarked grave of the real designer of the Taj Mahal. I have written earlier about this architect from Venice who was executed on the orders of Shah Jehan by a Portuguese Jesuit monk and buried at this place.
The pen is mightier than the sword, they say, but sometimes it’s the cartoonist’s pencil that stings the most. Around the world, caricaturists of all political stripes have long used their illustrations to lampoon the rich and powerful. Sometimes, their humour is focused on the foibles and follies of celebrities. This can take a dark turn when jokes are based on racist, misogynistic, homophobic or other tropes (consider the controversy over a cartoon of Serena Williams in 2019). But, such illustrations can also be a lighthearted means of exposing the mundane and endearing flaws of those whom we admire. Roasting the actions and decisions of the political élite, on the other hand, can bring about wrath unmatched by that of sports or entertainment stars, even when the images’ stated purpose was the betterment of society and progress in politics. The lands of the former Ottoman Empire are certainly no stranger to such dynamics. In 2017, our colleague Daniel Lowe curated an exhibition of the Arabic comic tradition that contained a considerable representation of satirical cartoons. For this year’s World Press Freedom Day, I’m going to share a few examples of the Ottoman Turkish satirical press from the British Library’s collections, and highlight some of the special connections between the United Kingdom and this vibrant part of Turkish culture.
While a lot of people grew up watching Popeye and Tom & Jerry or had their kids watching it all the time, most likely just a handful knew the genius behind it. Eugene Merril Deitch, most commonly known simply as Gene Deitch, was an American illustrator, animator, comics artist, and film director. He was also known for creating the animated cartoons Munro, Tom Terrific, and Nudnik.
Deitch spent most of his life in Prague, where he relocated back in 1959 when Rembrandt Films promised to fund Munro. He lived there his whole life and sadly passed unexpectedly on April 16, 2020, at the ripe age of 95. Since hearing about his passing, artists from all over the world have flooded the Internet with touching artwork as a tribute to the late illustrator.