Artists shouldn’t have to endlessly demonstrate their value. Coalition leaders used to know it

Bell Shakespeare’s recent Hamlet tour was cut short by COVID-19.
Photo: Brett Boardman

Julian Meyrick, Griffith University

For more than 190,000 Australians employed in the cultural sector, the last month brought a quadrella of horror.

First, having spent decades promoting flexible labour markets, the federal government is now using those same conditions to exclude thousands of casual cultural workers from its JobKeeper assistance scheme.

Second, though it is pumping $189 billion into the economy it is offering a “rescue” package for the arts of just $27 million, the latter being 0.14% of the former, and 13.5% of what the Queensland government alone is offering Virgin Australia.

Third, the results of the last Australia Council funding round for key organisations show a reduction in its client base of 34% over the last five years. The kicker came when the arts minister announced the scrapping of Australian content broadcasting requirements and launched an Options Paper on their future.

For a sector where 53% of business have recently closed their doors, this is catastrophic. The olive in the dog-wee martini is that when the debt for supporting the country through COVID-19 arrives, cultural workers will be expected to pay it off just the same. Some governments subsidise their cultural sectors, and others do not. Only the Coalition, it seems, has found a way of getting its cultural sector to subsidise them.

Ibrahim Mahama’s No Friend but the Mountains (2020) during the Sydney Biennale. Installation view at Cockatoo Island.
Photograph: Zan Wimberley

Stop telling the arts to do better

The response so far to this right-royal example of policy ineptitude has been a predictably economic one. The Australia Institute has put out a report on the economics of the creative arts and called for the sector to be more “confident” in dealing with government on the basis of that data.

Arguments for Australian culture often focus on what it should say to demonstrate its worth. Rarely considered is the government’s capacity to listen, or the extent to which it is able to meaningfully interpret the truckloads of evidence put to it. The sector can present all the data it likes. In the end, the government has to choose which to accept and act on. For this, it needs its own cogent idea of culture.

A genuine cultural policy vision has certainly existed on the conservative side of Australian politics in the past. It was Prime Minister Alfred Deakin who established the Commonwealth Literary Fund in 1908, Sir Robert Menzies who started the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust in 1954, and Harold Holt – son of a Tivoli theatre manager and husband of a fashion designer – who signed the charter for the Australia Council in 1967.




Read more:
Coronavirus: Australian arts need a stimulus package. Here is what it should look like


Conservative leaders used to get the arts

After Holt was presumed drowned, the contest to replace him lay between Paul Hasluck, a publisher and poet, and John Gorton, founder of the Australian Film School and the Australian Film Development Corporation. If it was Gough Whitlam who brought culture into the Cabinet, it was the Liberal Senator Tony Staley, one of the better arts ministers we have had, who took it to the next level of policy consideration and kept it there.

Of the state premiers, Sir Thomas Playford oversaw the first Adelaide Festival of the Arts in 1960, Sir Rupert Hamer wrote the Historic Buildings Act into law in 1974 (and saved the Regent Theatre), Joh Bjelke-Petersen founded the Queensland Performing Arts Complex and Jeff Kennett made Melbourne a cultural powerhouse in the early 1990s. Steven Marshall’s Arts Plan is a good example of conservative cultural policy-making today.

Culture wars

It is absolutely not true, therefore, that a proper appreciation of arts and culture is to be found only on the Australian political Left. But it begs the question what on earth has happened to create this perception? Why has a deep-rooted and persuasive cultural policy vision by and large vanished from Coalition beliefs and values?

Its absence is good neither for the government, the sector, nor the country. Bipartisan cooperation on matters of national interest – and the fate of Australian culture is surely one of these – is not a matter of pat verbal agreement.

Politics is not a game of ideological Snap. It arises when different parties advance their own interpretations of particular domains, and these are then incorporated into what the sociologist Norbert Elias calls “the social fund of knowledge”. When no such interpretations are advanced, the process of arriving at beneficial policy outcomes breaks down.

Sydney Chamber Opera will host an online season of Breaking Glass this weekend.
Photo: Daniel Boud

It’s not only the hole in the emotional heart of Coalition politicians the cultural sector should be concerned with right now, it is the hole in their corporate memory. However confidently the sector puts forward its numbers to government, the context for turning them into coherent industrial strategy is missing in (in)action.

It doesn’t have be that way. The right way to interpret abstract economic data is via a meaningful connection to history. Looking at the list of MPs who voted against extending the JobKeeper legislation to the arts there are many who would know exactly how disastrously the sector will fare as a result, not least Paul Fletcher, the minister in charge of it.

The way forward for Australian cultural policy lies in the minds of our politicians, not the attitudes of the sector. This does not mean Coalition ministers and their advisers should accept ideas and arguments they do not like or agree with. It means they must come up with ones of their own.The Conversation

Julian Meyrick, Professor of Creative Arts, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

Great time to try: learning to draw

Ari Chand, University of Newcastle

The article was originally published on The Conversation.

Being in isolation might be a great time to try something new. In this series, we get the basics on hobbies and activities to start while you’re spending more time at home.


What can take you somewhere untouched by the clanging outside world? What can help you synthesise your thoughts right now?

Drawing, and our fascination with it, can stimulate your imagination, mindfulness, focus and introspection. Drawing can allow you to enter the flow state: that is, the optimal experience of being so invested in an activity, time passes you by. Drawing can make you feel good.

Draw your attention to familiar objects.
Emm & Enn/Unsplash, CC BY

An act of looking outward and inward simultaneously, drawing can capture thought and insight in a moment.

Since time immemorial, drawing has been a way for humans to process their world – even just a room – and the times they live in (hello COVID-19). It’s our first language.

Renowned artist David Hockney has called for everyone to find something to draw in lockdown: “Question everything and do not think about photography”. Here are your first lessons in learning to draw at home:

1. Stop worrying about mastery

He never finished any of the works he began because, so sublime was his idea of art, he saw faults even in the things that to others seemed miracles.

You don’t have to be an expert, just realise you’ll always see flaws in your drawing. Anyone, of any age can draw, whether you are aged 3 at home with crayons visuo-spatialising objects around them, or 96 in an aged care facility.

It’s an activity we can do together. If you remove the fear of the blank white page and the internal voice screaming, “But, I can’t draw!”

Dobell Drawing Judge: Drawing Basics with Ben and Livvy Quilty.

Sketch inhibition can be debilitating. But hey, no one has to even see it! Your drawing is yours, unless you post it. Even the most accomplished and beautiful drawings we see today started out with someone doing some rough sketches while they learnt what works.

2. Honour the importance of drawing

Drawing is ancient, yet remains a key 21st century skill, helping to improve visual reasoning, memory, idea generation, lateral thinking and inference. Spontaneous drawing – or doodling – may relieve feelings of stress.

Drawing can be incorporated into education in many ways, including visual mapping, reflective thinking, or presenting ideas. Drawing an effective tool in developing an aesthetic navigation of the world. Remote learning might be a way to explore and enhance visual communication skills.




Read more:
Why is teaching kids to draw not a more important part of the curriculum?


Young children step through skill attainment naturally and predictably, from scribbling to shapes to realism and beyond, but this drive is generally discouraged as we grow older.

Perhaps our obsession with photography has stopped us drawing, as it did in its inception.

3. Practice makes perfect … or progress

Vincent van Gogh trained hard to develop his skills:

Now hardly a day passes that I do not make something. As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward.

You can’t become a good athlete without practice. Nor can I become a good drawer without the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell notes as critical to performance in his book Outliers: The Story of Success.

Though Gladwell’s 10,000 figure has its critics, there is no doubt learning takes time and practice done without the pressure to make everything look photo-realistic.

4. Observe and allow infinite possibilities

Drawing is the perfect way to challenge yourself at a time where you only have objects and family members around you.

Observation is key. We often overlook the objects we see daily. The power of the familiar means even an old Luxo lamp can become the symbol of PIXAR – originally drawn with pastel on paper as an idea, then used for the opening sequence of Luxo Jr (1986).

There are things you haven’t discovered in your home – or that you could see anew from a different angle or viewpoint.

Drawing asks you to focus on the minutiae.

Drawing as Thinking.

5. Handy resources

The arts community has rallied, providing a huge selection of resources for aspiring sketch artists in isolation: The Conversation

Penguin
Inktober prompts from last year.
Inktober.com

Ari Chand, Lecturer in Visual Communication Design and Creative Industries, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

How to read Shakespeare for pleasure

Martin’s Droeshout portrait of William Shakespeare (1623)
Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Emma Smith, University of Oxford

In recent years the orthodoxy that Shakespeare can only be truly appreciated on stage has become widespread. But, as with many of our habits and assumptions, lockdown gives us a chance to think differently. Now could be the time to dust off the old collected works, and read some Shakespeare, just as people have been doing for more than 400 years.

Many people have said they find reading Shakespeare a bit daunting, so here are five tips for how to make it simpler and more pleasurable.

1. Ignore the footnotes

If your edition has footnotes, pay no attention to them. They distract you from your reading and de-skill you, so that you begin to check everything even when you actually know what it means.

It’s useful to remember that nobody ever understood all this stuff – have a look at Macbeth’s knotty “If it were done when ‘tis done” speech in Act 1 Scene 7 for an example (and nobody ever spoke in these long, fancy speeches either – Macbeth’s speech is again a case in point). Footnotes are just the editor’s attempt to deny this.

Shakespeare plays hand bound by Virginia Woolf in her bedroom at Monk’s House, Rodmell, Sussex, UK.
Ian Alexanber/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-NC-SA

Try to keep going and get the gist – and remember, when Shakespeare uses very long or esoteric words, or highly involved sentences, it’s often a deliberate sign that the character is trying to deceive himself or others (the psychotic jealousy of Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, for instance, expresses itself in unusual vocabulary and contorted syntax).

2. Pay attention to the shape of the lines

The layout of speeches on the page is like a kind of musical notation or choreography. Long speeches slow things down – and, if all the speeches end at the end of a complete line, that gives proceedings a stately, hierarchical feel – as if the characters are all giving speeches rather than interacting.

Short speeches quicken the pace and enmesh characters in relationships, particularly when they start to share lines (you can see this when one line is indented so it completes the half line above), a sign of real intimacy in Shakespeare’s soundscape.

Blank verse, the unrhymed ten-beat iambic pentamenter structure of the Shakespearean line, varies across his career. Early plays – the histories and comedies – tend to end each line with a piece of punctuation, so that the shape of the verse is audible. John of Gaunt’s famous speech from Richard II is a good example.

This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars.

Later plays – the tragedies and the romances – tend towards a more flexible form of blank verse, with the sense of the phrase often running over the line break. What tends to be significant is contrast, between and within the speech rhythms of scenes or characters (have a look at Henry IV Part 1 and you’ll see what I mean).

3. Read small sections

Shakespeare’s plays aren’t novels and – let’s face it – we’re not usually in much doubt about how things will work out. Reading for the plot, or reading from start to finish, isn’t necessarily the way to get the most out of the experience. Theatre performances are linear and in real time, but reading allows you the freedom to pace yourself, to flick back and forwards, to give some passages more attention and some less.

Shakespeare’s first readers probably did exactly this, zeroing in on the bits they liked best, or reading selectively for the passages that caught their eye or that they remembered from performance, and we should do the same. Look up where a famous quotation comes: “All the world’s a stage”, “To be or not to be”, “I was adored once too” – and read either side of that. Read the ending, look at one long speech or at a piece of dialogue – cherry pick.

One great liberation of reading Shakespeare for fun is just that: skip the bits that don’t work, or move on to another play. Nobody is going to set you an exam.

4. Think like a director

On the other hand, thinking about how these plays might work on stage can be engaging and creative for some readers. Shakespeare’s plays tended to have minimal stage directions, so most indications of action in modern editions of the plays have been added in by editors.

Most directors begin work on the play by throwing all these instructions away and working them out afresh by asking questions about what’s happening and why. Stage directions – whether original or editorial – are rarely descriptive, so adding in your chosen adverbs or adjectives to flesh out what’s happening on your paper stage can help clarify your interpretations of character and action.

One good tip is to try to remember characters who are not speaking. What’s happening on the faces of the other characters while Katherine delivers her long, controversial speech of apparent wifely subjugation at the end of The Taming of the Shrew?

5. Don’t worry

The biggest obstacle to enjoying Shakespeare is that niggling sense that understanding the works is a kind of literary IQ test. But understanding Shakespeare means accepting his open-endedness and ambiguity. It’s not that there’s a right meaning hidden away as a reward for intelligence or tenacity – these plays prompt questions rather than supplying answers.

Would Macbeth have killed the king without the witches’ prophecy? Exactly – that’s the question the play wants us to debate, and it gives us evidence to argue on both sides. Was it right for the conspirators to assassinate Julius Caesar? Good question, the play says: I’ve been wondering that myself.

Returning to Shakespeare outside the dutiful contexts of the classroom and the theatre can liberate something you might not immediately associate with his works: pleasure.The Conversation

Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Continue reading “”

How Elephant Poop Becomes Fancy Paper in Sri Lanka by ZINARA RATHNAYAKE from Atlas Obscura

GROWN-UP ELEPHANTS CAN EAT MORE than 300 pounds of food—mostly grass, twigs, foliage, and tree bark—in a single day. In the same period, they may defecate 16 to 18 times, producing over 200 pounds of dung. In Randeniya, a small village in the lower wetlands of Sri Lanka, elephant poop is a renewable resource. The sun-dried, deep-brown dung piles up like haystacks in a painting by Claude Monet.

image.jpg

Visitors could be forgiven for thinking that the poop is useless. But at Eco Maximus, a manufacturer in Randeniya, it takes on a second life. More than 20 years ago, a man named Thusita Ranasinghe saw some dung and had an idea. “He thought he could make paper from it,” says the company’s brand designer, Susantha Karunarathne, with a smile. At his office inside the company factory, Karunarathne wears a green t-shirt which says #elephantdungpaper and shows off some of his recent journal designs.

image-1.jpg

On a table nearby, several women carefully design covers for multi-sized notebooks. On another, the finished product is packed and ready to be shipped. Today, Maximus creates a range of stationery and souvenirs, which are sold in the local market and in 30 other countries around the globe.

image-2.jpg

Eco Maximus was an early producer of elephant dung paper and the first in Sri Lanka, and refining the manufacturing process involved a lot of trial and error. Elephant dung is brought in by nearby rescue centres, Karunarathne says during a tour of the factory. Fresh elephant dung, semi-solid and green in colour, smell. But after it dries under the hot tropical sun, the smell disappears. Collectors gather the deep-brown, fibre-rich piles in a piping-hot steam boiler. “We boil for one hour, to ensure that the dung is germ-free,” says Vibhatha Wijeratne, the factory manager, wearing a pair of yellow gloves as he shows me a pile of boiled dung.
image-4.jpg

 

In one corner of the factory, bundles of paper with crumpled edges are stacked upon each other. There are different colours—earthy tones, blues, tropical greens, and deep reds. Thousands of years ago, much of the writing in Sri Lanka was inscribed on stones. Later, the islanders wrote on leaves, such as the fronds of the palmyra palm, locally known as the tal. “Palmyrah leaves were boiled and sun-dried for writing, which was called pus kola (old leaves),” says bright-eyed Randika Jayasinghe, who teaches biosystems technology at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.

More: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/elephant-dung-specialty-paper-sri-lanka?utm_source=Atlas+Obscura+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=a5324e7441-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_11_12_LocationUnknown&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f36db9c480-a5324e7441-70925981&mc_cid=a5324e7441&mc_eid=4ff4cb9644

Banksy’s Working From Home and Says His Wife Hates It — TwistedSifter

Banksy, whose only official social media outlet is Instagram, recently revealed that he’s in isolation like the rest of us. In true Banksy-fashion, he communicated this through his art and dry sense of humour, simply adding: “My wife hates it when I work from home.” [via Banksy on Instagram] …

via Banksy’s Working From Home and Says His Wife Hates It — TwistedSifter

When Dutch Master Rembrandt Made Mughal Miniatures from Artistory

 

untitled-collage-2

 

Because he was one of the greatest geniuses in the history of art, naturally many other aspects of Rembrandt’s life leading up to his burial in an unmarked grave have somewhat remain undiscussed.  In the 1650s, with tragedies of his personal life behind him, Rembrandt started to acquire art from all over the world. This rare collection of Old Masters Paintings, prints, and antiquities included busts of the Roman Emperors, suits of Japanese armour among many objects from Asia, as well as we as collections of natural history and minerals. This collection of ‘drawings and prints from the master of the world,’ once bailed him out of bankruptcy in 1656 but eventually was not worth enough leading Rembrandt to sell his house and printing press. What has often remained undiscussed is, however, despite his descent into extreme poverty, this collection presented him as a connoisseur in cross-culture art exchange in the world and also allowed him to indulge in the arts of the other side of the worlds without moving an inch.  

Four Orientals seated under a tree, Rembrandt, circa 1656-1661. Photo credit: British Museum.

The inventory list from the sale of his collection survived and as it turns out, there were many items in the inventory that were stated as East Indian or Indian. They included East Indian, cup, boxes, basket, and fans as well as sixty Indian hand weapons, including arrow, shafts, javelin, and bows, and a pair of costume for an Indian man and woman. One of the items, listed in this inventory as item 203 was described as ‘a book of curious drawing in miniature as well as woodcuts and engraving on copper and various costume,’ Examples of miniatures painting found in Mughal Era can be seen below.

abulfazlpresentingakbarnama

It has been debated, but never specifically proved, that these curious items could have been the miniature paintings from the Mughal court in India that inspired this great master to produce a collection of 23 etchings that were unlike anything he had done before. Drawn in the last years of his life and on expensive Japanese paper, they were copies of the speculated Mughal miniature collection he had but nonetheless stands out for its detailing and richness. As said, there are no specific records of Mughal Miniatures sourced from India in Rembrandt’s inventory but to put the history of Dutch occupation in India in perspective it hardly comes as a surprise. It, in fact, comes at the intersection of the vast trade practices of Dutch East India Company or Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie VOC as it was called and the importance of art practices in India during the Mughal era. 

More: https://artistorysite.wordpress.com/2018/03/09/when-rembrandt-made-mughal-miniatures/

 

 

 

How Elephant Poop Becomes Fancy Paper in Sri Lanka

An elephant can defecate 16 times in one day—and its 200 pounds of dung can double as paper pulp.

BY ZINARA RATHNAYAKE for Atlas Obscura

GROWN-UP ELEPHANTS CAN EAT MORE than 300 pounds of food—mostly grass, twigs, foliage, and tree bark—in a single day. In the same period, they may defecate 16 to 18 times, producing over 200 pounds of dung. In Randeniya, a small village in the lower wetlands of Sri Lanka, elephant poop is a renewable resource. The sun-dried, deep-brown dung piles up like haystacks in a painting by Claude Monet.

Visitors could be forgiven for thinking that the poop is useless. But at Eco Maximus, a manufacturer in Randeniya, it takes on a second life. More than 20 years ago, a man named Thusita Ranasinghe saw some dung and had an idea. “He thought he could make paper from it,” says the company’s brand designer, Susantha Karunarathne, with a smile. At his office inside the company factory, Karunarathne wears a green t-shirt which says #elephantdungpaper and shows off some of his recent journal designs.

On a table nearby, a several women carefully design covers for multi-sized notebooks. On another, the finished product is packed and ready to be shipped. Today, Maximus creates a range of stationery and souvenirs, which are sold in the local market and in 30 other countries around the globe.

Eco Maximus was an early producer of elephant dung paper, and the first in Sri Lanka, and refining the manufacturing process involved a lot of trial and error. Elephant dung is brought in by nearby rescue centers, Karunarathne says during a tour of the factory. Fresh elephant dung, semi-solid and green in color, smells. But after it dries under the hot tropical sun, the smell disappears. Collectors gather the deep-brown, fiber-rich piles in a piping-hot steam boiler. “We boil for one hour, to ensure that the dung is germ-free,” says Vibhatha Wijeratne, the factory manager, wearing a pair of yellow gloves as he shows me a pile of boiled dung.

In one corner of the factory, bundles of paper with crumpled edges are stacked upon each other. There are different colors—earthy tones, blues, tropical greens, and deep reds. Thousands of years ago, much of the writing in Sri Lanka was inscribed on stones. Later, the islanders wrote on leaves, such as the fronds of the palmyrah palm, locally known as the tal. “Palmyrah leaves were boiled and sun-dried for writing, which was called pus kola (old leaves),” says bright-eyed Randika Jayasinghe, who teaches biosystems technology at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.

Conventional papermaking began after Sri Lanka was colonized by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and then the British, who referred to the island as Ceylon. Most paper uses wood pulp as the main material, which is fibrous and rich in lignin and cellulose. “It is prepared by chemically and mechanically separating fibers from wood,” Jayasinghe says. “These chemicals are then released as wastewater.” The problem is that nearly 4 billion trees are cut down every year to manufacture paper. Some are farmed, but others are logged from managed and old-growth forests. “Since paper is biodegradable, we consider it to be eco-friendly compared to plastics,” Jayasinghe says. But it comes at a significant environmental cost.

More: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/elephant-dung-specialty-paper-sri-lanka?utm_source=Atlas+Obscura+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=a5324e7441-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_11_12_LocationUnknown&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f36db9c480-a5324e7441-70925981&mc_cid=a5324e7441&mc_eid=4ff4cb9644

Kaiku turns fruit and vegetable waste into natural pigments by India Block from dezeen

Imperial graduate Nicole Stjernsward has invented Kaiku, a system that turns plants into powdered paint pigments using vaporisation technology.

Avocados, pomegranates, beetroots, lemons and onions are just some of the fruits and vegetables that can be placed into Kaiku and turned into the raw material for paints, inks and dyes.

kaiku-nicole-stjernsward-imperial-college-graduate-project-2019-food-waste-vegeatable-skin-pigment_dezeen_2364_col_11.jpg

Skins and peels are boiled in water to produce a dye, which is transferred to a reservoir in the Kaiku system. Along with hot, pressurised air, this dye is forced through an atomising nozzle into a glass vacuum cleaner.

The fine mist produced is hot enough that it vaporises almost instantly, and the dry particles are pulled through the chamber and into the collection reservoir.

kaiku-nicole-stjernsward-imperial-college-graduate-project-2019-food-waste-vegeatable-skin-pigment_dezeen_2364_col_9

Stjernsward designed Kaiku to offer a natural alternative to using artificial pigments that can often be toxic.

“By transitioning to natural based pigments, it will be easier for us to recycle products and make them more circular,” Stjernsward, who studied at Imperial College London, told Dezeen.

“Since many synthetic pigments today are toxic or made of ambiguous materials, colour is typically considered a ‘contamination’ in the Circular Economy principles,” she added. “I hope to change this paradigm.”

kaiku-nicole-stjernsward-imperial-college-graduate-project-2019-food-waste-vegeatable-skin-pigment_dezeen_2364_col_2.jpgThese methods have fallen out of fashion with industrialisation and the introduction of cheaper pigments derived from petrochemicals. But the effect on people and the environment can be disastrous.

kaiku-nicole-stjernsward-imperial-college-graduate-project-2019-food-waste-vegeatable-skin-pigment_dezeen_2364_col_7.jpg

Paints can release petrochemicals into the air long after they have dried, causing respiratory problems and harming the ozone layer. Industrial effluent containing synthetic dyes leaches into the water system, poisoning aquatic life and posing a major health hazard to humans.

kaiku-nicole-stjernsward-imperial-college-graduate-project-2019-food-waste-vegeatable-skin-pigment_dezeen_2364_col_14.jpg

 

More: https://www.dezeen.com/2019/09/02/kaiku-nicole-stjernsward-design-food-waste-pigment/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily%20Dezeen&utm_content=Daily%20Dezeen+CID_fd110dc5ccf22c0c78ccb76480b07dd0&utm_source=Dezeen%20Mail&utm_term=Kaiku%20turns%20fruit%20and%20vegetable%20waste%20into%20natural%20pigments

 

 

‘This Land Is Meant Only for Saffron. Without It, It Means Nothing.’

saffron_lead.0

There are many local legends about how saffron came to Kashmir. One goes back to the 12th century and says that Sufi saints Khawaja Masood Wali and Sheikh Sharif-u-din Wali presented a local chieftain with a saffron bulb after he cured them of illness while they were travelling. Another claims that the Persians brought it in 500 B.C., as a means to further trade and market. A third dates the spice back to the Hindu Tantric kings when it was mixed into hot water to create potions that incited feelings of romantic love.

saffron 3

While the myths arouse discord, there’s one item of consensus: Kashmiri saffron is the sweetest, most precious spice in the world. Its strands are thicker and more fragrant than its counterpart from Iran, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the world’s saffron production. For Kashmiri farmers, crop sells for as much as 250,000 INR or $3,400 USD a kilogram, or $1,550 a pound, in what was once booming industry. Most of Kashmir’s saffron is grown in Pampore, south of the state’s summer capital, Srinagar. Thirty years ago, it would take Fehmida Mir’s family six to seven months to pick and then package their crop; she recounts memories of winters filled with the spice’s fragrance and palms golden from working with it. As recently as a decade ago, Mir would be able to harvest 200 kilograms of saffron, half of the 400 kilos her parents would get in the 1990s. Three years ago, her crop dropped to 20 kilograms; in 2016, it dropped to 15. Last year, the crop weighed less than 7 kilograms; this year’s production has been the same. In all of Pampore, farmers have suffered similar fates, unable to account for their production for the last two years, as it was so little.

Saffron 2

In other words, saffron production in Kashmir is at one of the lowest recorded in history. “When I was a young girl, there would be no place to sit after harvest,” says Mir, whose family has owned land for three generations. “On the day we picked the flowers, we would all come around and sing to the fields. It was the most special day of the year. We would take months to finish processing the crop: my parents, my whole family, my brothers and sisters,” she says. “Now within a month, we are done.”

saffron 6

As the farmers have begun to say, “the red-gold is turning to grey.” Due to ongoing regional violence, droughts, and the still-unfolding effects of climate change on the land, Kashmiri saffron has slowly begun to disappear. “I tried to grow apples here on this land a decade ago,” Mir says. “But they didn’t fruit! This land is meant only for saffron. Without it, it means nothing.”

saffron 5

Kashmir is a Muslim-majority belt in the north of the Indian subcontinent, and the most militarized region in the world. Kashmir today consists of a region that lies on both sides of the border between India and Pakistan. Indian-administered Kashmir is the territory within the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India, and Pakistan-administered Kashmir consists of a region also called Azad Kashmir along with the more remote Gilgit-Baltistan. Kashmir became the subject of war between the two nations when the Indian subcontinent gained independence in August 1947, and at the same time was split into two. Since 1990, Indian-administered Kashmir has been fully occupied by the Indian armed forces to quell pro-independence insurgencies. In the ’90s, Kashmir saw a spell of intense communal violence following the occupation, leading to the departure of Hindu Kashmiris from the region and giving rise to a period of civil conflict and oppression that continues today.

saffron 8

More than 47,000 people have died in the conflict since 1989, excluding those termed as disappeared. In mid-June 2018, the state government dissolved. According to local news organizations, by October 2018, more than 300 people — including army personnel, militants, and civilians — died in the valley just that year, of which 139 have been in South Kashmir, where Pampore is located. An estimated 500,000 Indian troops remain deployed in Kashmir. In the region, the war has inevitably become a war on the land, directly impacting the region’s agriculture, which constitutes more than 80 percent of its livelihood and economy.

saffron 9

Pampore, only 30 minutes away from Srinagar, the summer capital of the state, advertises itself as “Saffron Town.” “Children’s shoes and saffron available here,” says a young shop owner named Tariq Shah as I ask him where to get tea. “Or go there vegetarian restaurant, but with saffron,” he adds, pointing to a small shack in which rice cookers steam by the dozen.

saffron 10

The process for farming the crop begins in April when the soil is ploughed twice to allow moisture to seep in. The corms for the saffron — which cost 50,000 rupees per kanal, or 1/8 of an acre — are sown in August or September, and the soil is pulverized and allowed to breathe. Following this, apart from minor tending, nothing much can be done, except to wait. In mid-October, the plants begin to sprout by themselves from the soil, and for a month they are picked, dried, and sorted.

saffron 11

“The saffron flower has three parts,” says Raqib Mushtaq Mir, a saffron merchant. “There are the flower petals — that goes in for medicine, then there are the yellow strands, which aren’t much use. The red strands, right in the middle, are pure saffron, which is what we’re looking for.” A single flower produces just three red strands; one gram of saffron is made from around 350 strands. For a kilogram of the spice, more than 150,000 flowers are sifted and scanned, and the rarity of the red strand can lead to shortcuts from less scrupulous merchants. “Often, in the market,” Mushtaq Mir says, “the yellow is coloured with red and mixed into the bunch.”

saffron 12

In the Indian subcontinent, saffron has many names: zafran in Urdu (from Persian), kesar in Hindi, Kong Posh in Kashmiri, and kungumapoo in Tamil. It was popularized by the Mughals — the Turkic kings from Central Asia that made the subcontinent their home in the 16th century, who took saffron wherever they established the court and introduced it into their cuisine. Under the Mughals, saffron, as colour and scent, became commonplace in the royal kitchens. It became prominent in biryani, in which golden-colored rice stacked with meat became a favourite meal. It was used in stews made with lamb; in bread like sheermal, a sweet, thick flatbread dipped in saffron water that is today eaten in Lucknow, an ex-Mughal capital in India’s North; in fruit sherbets as a cure from tiredness; and in phirni, a rice pudding made with spices and eaten all over Delhi, Lucknow, and other parts of India and Pakistan where the Mughals had established rule.

saffron 7

“Delhi’s cooking is residual from the whims of kings,” says Sadaf Hussain, a consultant chef to Delhi’s Café Lota, who infuses mango with the spice to make one of the restaurant’s most popular summer desserts. “In Kashmir, they have always approached it as a cash crop, and used it in careful measure.”

According to Feroz Ahmad, a Waza Kashmiri chef based in Srinagar, saffron’s presence dates back to Kashmir in as early as the fifth century. Kashmiris infuse the milk with saffron to breakfast during Ramadan; use it in modur pulao, a sweet rice dish made with dry fruits in times of celebration, and sprinkle it on top of yoghurt. The spice is used as a novelty, never in excess or in everyday cooking. Its high value lends it exclusivity even in the region where it is grown.

During weddings and funerals, Kashmiris eat Wazwan — a traditional meal cooked by trained chefs that comprises more than 30 dishes. Here, as a token of speciality, saffron is infused into the broths. “Saffron is the face of Wazwan,” Ahmad says. “The colour that it induces in different dishes is very important to the meal.” It also appears in rogan josh, a fiery lamb dish made with Kashmiri chiles, and lahabi kebab, pounded, spiced koftes cooked in a bright red gravy. “It is crucial for Wazwan,” Ahmad says.

While a glimpse of Kashmiri saffron can be seen in its cuisine, its most important presence is, for Kashmiris, in kehwa — a slow-brewed green tea, infused with saffron and spices like cinnamon and cardamom, garnished with almonds, and sweetened with sugar or honey. Kehwa is consumed through the valley; deep golden, it is an ode to local saffron, its colour and the fragrance it brings.

“People want things to look like saffron; it is not just an ingredient, it is also a concept in Indian cuisine,” Hussain says. “Often, to replicate the golden-orange hue, people will use turmeric and water. But real saffron is a red-gold. There’s nothing else like it.”

“I’d like to use it, of course,” says Ghulam Ahmad Sofi, a renowned baker in Pampore who bakes some of Kashmir’s best bread. “But who would account for its cost? I can’t use a fake, either: These are the saffron people, and they know what it looks like, what it smells like.

“It’s not food, it’s a feeling,” he adds. “It’s no surprise to me that it’s more expensive in weight than gold.”


While saffron has an overarching emotional presence in Kashmir and the rest of the Indian subcontinent, its struggles are mostly ecological: drought and lack of irrigation. In previous years, farmers could count on the winter snow seeping into the soil through spring and summer, keeping it moist despite the region’s strong sun. But climate change in the valley has led to scarce rainfall and snowfall, leading the soil to become dry and unsuited for the crop.

In 1997, more than 5,700 hectares of land were cultivated for saffron, according to the Jammu and Kashmir Agriculture Department, producing just under 16 metric tonnes. Due to a severe drought, the early 2000s saw a dip in saffron production, falling to as low as 0.3 metric tonnes in 2001. The next 13 years would see an average of 8.71 metric tonnes yield, even despite flooding in 2012 that brought with it great damage, washing nutrients away from the land.

“One saffron bulb can keep producing flowers for 15 days if it is healthy,” says Hilal Ahmad Magray, a farmer based in Lethipora, seven kilometres away from Pampore. But “the floods damaged the quality of the crop, and the drought damaged the quality of the soil. Saffron requires a very precise constituency (called karewa), a moist soil rich in humus content. Now a lot of bulbs that erupt are unfit for producing flowers, or diseased.”

In 2015, the crop totalled 9.6 metric tons of saffron, from 3,674 hectares of land. In 2016 and 2017, while the exact numbers haven’t been calculated, farmers and scholars both tell me that the output fell to less than 10 percent of 2015’s numbers.

Magray, who’s in his 30s, is one of the region’s few farmers to take complete control of his father’s lands. “Saffron is always organic,” he says. “Saffron cannot be extracted from the soil on whim. When saffron is pure, it is saffron. When it is impure — it is something else.” Under his brand, Zamindar Saffron, he sells the harvest from his land, in addition to lentils, walnuts, chiles, and jams. Like some others, Magray has realized that exclusively trading in saffron is not a lucrative business and that the spice can be used as an anchor to deal in other products.

In 2010, the central government set up the National Saffron Mission to revive saffron production in Kashmir. The objective behind the mission, with a budget of 4.1 billion rupees (or $57 million USD), was to reconcile Kashmiri farmers with the changing nature of their job. The goals were manifold: to provide irrigation facilities in the form of sprinklers and taps, to increase the quality of the seed sown for the crop, to conduct research to further productivity, and to educate farmers about new methods.

To combat the changing environment, 108 borewells — made by drilling inside the ground to store rainwater — were built. But only eight out of the envisioned 128 sprinklers were set up, and most are not in use: Advocates say local farmers, who have long relied on age-old techniques, have not been adequately educated about the changing conditions, or the methods for the betterment of their crop. “God built these lands, so water must come from [them], too,” says Noor Mohammad, a farmer based in Lethipora. Mohammad’s skepticism toward the borewell project is a common one: Many farmers believe in the religious sanctity of their lands, seeing the newer technologies as an unwelcome force. “This land is sacred,” he says. “These pipes are an intrusion to the divine.”

“An important thing to know is that the saffron farming industry is not one that is accustomed to poverty,” Magray says. “The farmers believe that the land has always given, and so it will.”

Because of its low yield, land once used to grow saffron has become less valuable. Villagers and farmers both have begun to abandon their lands, an act that cannot be detached from the Indian military’s control of one of the subcontinent’s most fertile spaces: surveillance, encounter killings, and oppressive force by the armed forces on Kashmiris have become usual occurrences. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, granted to the military in 1990, allows it to search, arrest, use force, and even fire upon those they suspect of armed rebellion, which has led to distrust of the government.

“Agriculture needs young people, needs motivation, [and] no one wants to go out to be confronted by a group of men holding guns,” says Umer Sami, an aspiring Pampore entrepreneur who wants to boost the presence of Kashmiri saffron in the online marketplace. “Young men have either begun to take up arms and stones against the struggle or just stay home. Think about it — in your 20s, you live in one of the most violent places in the world. Would you do something that ties you to its land or something that gets you out?”


Despite the violence and struggles, more than 20,000 families are associated with the saffron economy in Kashmir today. But Iranian saffron has also begun to enter India through what the farmers call “secondhand channels,” and because of its lower price, it is packaged and sold as Kashmiri saffron. Though high in novelty, the spice is in no position to compete with its Iranian counterpart.

“The flavour of the saffron is distinct,” says Mahbir Thukral, the U.K.-based head of Mahbir Premium Indian Saffron, a startup that sells the spice abroad. “While everyone is aware of its beauty, little is being done to further the ingenuity of the spice.”

Mahbir also creates artisanal products infused with the spice — like dark and milk chocolate and an award-winning orange marmalade. Recently, he launched his first savoury products: honey mustard and whole-grain mustard infused with the spice. Mahbir Premium Indian Saffron works in collaboration with a local cooperative to keep their market steady and eliminate the middlemen in the process.

“Many people only know Kashmir because of its border conflict, and domestically, they consider it a troubled state,” Mahbir says. “By working with the farmers directly, I wanted to do my bit to help them transform from an Indian business to an international one. … This is our way to show the great things Kashmir can produce, and why it’s worth making a trip there when visiting India.”

In Pampore, too, some locals like Raqib and Umer are looking to start to push saffron through the internet. “What Kashmir are we fighting for if not for the land?” says Umer, as he walks proudly through the farms. “We have to think ahead.”

Saffron requires enterprise and extensive support from the state, but also a loosening of military control and reinstallation of pride in the lands. While the first two are tangible goals that can be achieved with effort, a free, peaceful atmosphere for prosperity seems out of reach.

On my last day in Pampore, when I return to Fehmida Mir’s home for tea, her mother calls me to the kitchen as she brews kehwa in a samovar or a large copper teapot. “Look at this,” she says as she introduces three red strands of saffron into a cup of water. “Now it will turn to gold.”

As we wait for the saffron to colour the water a deep reddish golden, neighbours start streaming in to surround themselves with the fragrance of the tea. The smell of the spice is invigorating, the colour of it irreplaceable, the fuss is not misplaced.

“Before we were poor and the lands prosperous,” says Fehmida’s mother, as we wait for tea. “Now we prosper, and the lands are poor. It’s time to give up on them, I tell my daughter it is time to let them go.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” yells Fehmida from her room. “You’ve lived with them your whole life.”

“If they go, we’ve got nothing else,” says Fehmida’s mother. “If they go, I go too.”

Sharanya Deepak is a writer from New Delhi; she writes about food, gender, language and race and has written for Roads and Kingdoms, Taste, and Popular, among others. 
Vikar Syed is a multimedia journalist based in Kashmir who regularly contributes to TRT World, BBC Urdu, Hindustan Times, and several other publications. 
Fact-checker: Dawn Mobley
Editor: Erin DeJesus

Fan Ho’s touching Portrait of Hong Kong shows a lifetime of love for capturing the region Written by Tora Baker from Creative Boom

This spring, an exhibition at the Blue Lotus Gallery will showcase the last ever body of work by the celebrated and much-loved photographer and film director, Fan Ho.

HK 2

Born in Shanghai in 1931, Fan Ho delved into photography at the early age of 14 when he started taking pictures with a Kodak Brownie camera of his Father. Later, at the age of 18, his father bought him a twin lens Rolleiflex camera with which he took all his award-winning photographs.

HK 3

In 1949, Fan Ho’s parents moved to Hong Kong where the young Fan Ho continued pursuing his passion for photography, in particular for street photography. Dubbed the ‘Cartier-Bresson of the East’, Fan Ho’s works earned him close to 300 local and international photography awards and titles. His talent was also discovered by the film industry where he started out as an actor before moving into directing until his retirement at age 65.

HK 3

During his lifetime, Fan Ho taught photography and film-making at various universities worldwide. His works remain in private and public collections which, most notably, include that of M+ Museum (Hong Kong), Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Bibliothèque National de France, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Santa Barbara Museum of Art (USA) to name but a few.

HK4.jpg

In 2015, he selected around 500 old negatives from his own archive which he then cropped in his signature style. After he sadly passed away, it took another year for the project to be completed with the help of his family and Sarah Greene. In this final body of work, the artist wanted to portray Hong Kong as a city with a focus on its people.

HK5

“In 1959, when Fan Ho was 28, he wrote a book called ‘Thoughts on Street Photography’,” explains Sarah Greene. “It was a collection of essays explaining different schools of thought prevailing at that time, different approaches, explanations on how to compose a good photograph and where his own work fits into the spectrum of photography.”

HK6.jpg

In the last chapter of that book, he concluded: “My photographs with a strong pictorial aesthetic are still highly favoured among the salons. Documentary style street photography or portraits are rarely selected although they are among my favourites. Maybe one day the opportunity will present itself for me to show this body of work. In the meantime, I will just keep trying.”

HK7.jpg

“Portrait of Hong Kong shows a different type of work than what Fan Ho is famous for,” adds Sarah. “It provides a more natural record of a Hong Kong that has long be gone. A sincere wish he had cherished and expressed in his twenties has finally come to be.”

HK8.jpg

Portrait of Hong Kong by Fan Ho will take place at Blue Lotus Gallery in Hong Kong from 22 March to 28 April 2019. Discover more at bluelotus-gallery.com.

HK9

HK10.jpg

HK11HK13

HK15HK16HK17HK18HK19

More: https://www.creativeboom.com/inspiration/fan-hos-touching-portrait-of-hong-kong-shows-a-lifetime-of-love-for-capturing-the-region/