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Afghan artists destroy their work fearing Taliban retribution

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cnn– Residents of Kabul can read the writing on the wall. “Don’t trust the propaganda of the enemy” says one freshly painted sign.
The message replaced a mural of US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar shaking hands, marking the signing of the 2020 agreement to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan — one of dozens of vibrant public artworks that have been erased since the Taliban took power in August.
While some of the murals were overt in their demands for equal rights for women and an end to corruption, other pieces were meant to provoke thought, inspire hope, and spread joy to passersby. Today, they’re obscured by thick layers of paint, as well as Taliban slogans and flags.
The move has been received as a warning shot to the country’s arts and culture scene. “The biggest fear for me, and most of the artists I work with… is not being able to express ourselves, to criticize the power,” said curator Omaid Sharifi over WhatsApp. He is the co-founder of ArtLords, a grassroots arts initiative that has transformed protective blast walls into sites of creative expression for nearly a decade.
“The fear is that this society will become just black and white… (and) that we will not have the beautiful diversity and beautiful colors in this country anymore.”
This is not the first time the Taliban has taken a stand against the arts in Afghanistan. When the Taliban was last in power, from 1996 to 2001, the regime defaced public paintings and destroyed cultural heritage sites around the country. In 1996, members machine-gunned an iconic fountain in the city of Herat, in western Afghanistan; while in 2001, they blew up two colossal statues of the Buddha that had looked over the Bamiyan Valley for 1500 years. Most forms of music were banned, and television was declared un-Islamic.
The hardline group insists their rule will be different this time around. But many artists are skeptical.
Watching the Taliban destroy nearly 100 of the murals he and the ArtLords team produced, Sharifi does not see room for artists to thrive under a Taliban regime. He, along with many of his colleagues, have either fled Kabul or are living in hiding.
Some artists, he added, have made the difficult decision to destroy their own work out of fear of retribution. “The feeling of destroying a piece of art is not very far from losing a child… because it is your own creation. It is something you have memories with… something you’ve dreamt about,” he explained. “Suddenly you are putting fire to it — to all your dreams your aspirations to all your hopes.
“No one should go through this. And we don’t deserve, as artists in Afghanistan, to go through this.”
One artist and gallery owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said that having to destroy his own work is a “wound that will not be healed.” He is also concerned for his livelihood, telling CNN that shutting down the gallery has threatened his income.
“I thought that through my art I might be able to solve my family’s financial problems,” he said. “We spent our youth serving, hoping we may have a better tomorrow, but [it’s] such a pity what type of people decide our future in this country.”
One female artist, who also shared her story on the condition of anonymity, felt the stakes were higher because of her gender. She told CNN that ever since the center where she took art classes was shut down, she no longer has a space to practice her art. She explains it is easier for her male classmates to resume their art than it is for women like herself.
“The boys, they can go to a teacher’s home, and they can continue their work from there. They can gather informally…But for girls, it’s not possible to do that,” she said. For women, she added, meeting at a place that is not a formal center for learning is uncommon. “We are so fearful of what might happen, that we don’t even want to try it”.
She also feels repressed due to her subject matter. Specializing in female portraits, she fears that if her work is viewed by the Taliban, she will face retribution. “Women’s faces are not meant to be uncovered. It is wrong according to the Taliban.”
She wants to continue her practice but says the studio that was once a safe space for her creative expression is now a stationery store. She hopes her drawings can be viewed by the world, but for now she must find a way to continue to make art in Afghanistan.

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The Great British Bake Off crowns its 2021 winner

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bbc– Spoiler alert! If you do not want to know the result of the Great British Bake Off final, please look away now…

Giuseppe celebrated victory on Tuesday after what judges on the Channel 4 show described as the closest finale yet.

The 45-year-old Bristol resident pipped this year’s fellow finalists Chigs and Crystelle, who all had to make food for a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

“There are no words, I am speechless for once,” said the show’s first Italian winner.

In the final episode, he made dough filled with chocolate and hazelnuts, shaped in the form of a giant mushroom. He also produced mango and passion fruit panna cottas, orange and fig heart-shaped muffins, and asparagus and pea-filled choux pastries shaped like a caterpillar.

Series 12 of the show saw a dozen bakers initially enter the Bake Off bubble at the start of the competition in September, before judges Paul Hollywood and Dame Prue Leith turned the heat up on them with a series of knock-out challenges over 10 episodes.

They set the final three bakers three tasks: to make carrot cake, produce Belgian buns and recreate a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, while showing four different baking disciplines.

The victorious Giuseppe dedicated his win to his parents. “All I can think of is the reaction from my mum and dad,” he continued.

“The fact is that everything I have done to deserve this comes from his [my dad’s] heritage, it’s the best thank you note I can possibly send him.

“He is going through a very bad time health-wise, so I think this is going to be a great boost.

“I don’t say often or lightly that I am proud of what I do, but in this case I am really proud of what I have done. It’s unbelievable!”

Italian job

Giuseppe’s achievement arrives in the same year that his compatriots won Euro 2020 and Eurovision. “I feel it’s been a great year for Italy,” he noted on the show.

“I truly can’t believe it or take it in, this has made me so incredibly happy to be a Britalian. Dell’Anno is my surname which translates in English to ‘of the year’ – and I feel this has certainly been my year.”

Hollywood said he had “done an incredible job”.

“The first time I walked into the tent and in the first signature I saw his mini rolls, I thought that looks like our winner, you could see the heart and soul going into his baking,” declared the judge.

Fellow judge, the recently-honoured Dame Prue added: “He is such a classic beautiful baker and he represents a long tradition of classic Italian baking. He has done it brilliantly all the way through.

“I am going home to make much more Italian cakes because they really are good.”

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Provocative art exhibition opens in Italy amid Chinese embassy protests

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cnn– At a museum in Brescia, northern Italy, Shanghai-born artist Badiucao is making final adjustments to an exhibition that has enraged Chinese officials.
Images of President Xi Jinping and Winnie the Pooh — a tongue-in-cheek comparison now widely censored on Chinese social media — hang alongside a tribute to Wuhan whistleblower Li Wenliang and a depiction of riot police pursuing a protestor. Mock posters for the forthcoming Winter Olympics show a snowboarder sliding across a CCTV camera and a biathlete pointing a rifle towards a blindfolded Uighur prisoner.
Badiucao’s provocative new works will be unveiled to the public on Saturday, despite protests from Chinese diplomats. In a letter to Brescia’s mayor, the country’s embassy in Rome said the artworks are “full of anti-Chinese lies,” and that they “distort the facts, spread false information, mislead the understanding of the Italian people and seriously injure the feelings of the Chinese people,” according to local newspaper Giornale di Brescia.
For the dissident artist, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Australia since 2009, the spat comes as little surprise.
“It’s almost impossible (to) avoid offending the Chinese government these days,” he says, showing CNN around the exhibition ahead of its opening. “Anything could be sensitive; anything could be problematic.”
Since the embassy lodged its complaint last month, museum officials and local politicians have framed the show — titled “La Cina (non) è Vicina,” or “China is (not) near” — as a symbol of free speech.
“I have to say, I had to read the letter twice because it surprised me,” Brescia’s deputy mayor, Laura Castelletti, recounts, calling it “an intrusion on a city’s artistic, cultural decision.” The request to cancel the show, she adds, has only “attracted more attention.”
The Brescia Museum Foundation’s president, Francesca Bazoli, meanwhile says that going ahead with the exhibition “was a matter of freedom of artistic expression.”
The Chinese embassy in Rome has not responded to CNN’s repeated requests for comment.

Ongoing censorship

A thorn in the Chinese Communist Party’s side for more than a decade, Badiucao has established a reputation for poking fun at politicians and prodding at sensitive topics, from the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre to the treatment of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.
Last month, outspoken basketball star Enes Kanter — who has called out the Chinese government for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet — was pictured wearing several pairs of custom sneakers designed by the artist. The shoes, controversially worn on court during various NBA games, carried messages including “Free Tibet” and “Made with Slave Labor.”
The once-anonymous Badiucao came to prominence in 2011, when he began posting cartoons about China’s handling of Wenzhou high-speed train crash to the microblogging site Sina Weibo. The images were repeatedly censored, and even though he is now an Australian citizen, the country’s authorities have clamped down on his work ever since.
In 2018, a planned exhibition of his art in Hong Kong was canceled due to “safety concerns.” Organizers attributed the decision to “threats made by the Chinese authorities,” and the artist later revealed that members of his family in China had been contacted by officials ahead of the show. Admitting that his cover “had been compromised,” he unveiled his identity in 2019 after years of anonymity,
Badiucao says he is regularly harassed — and occasionally threatened — online, where he posts a regular stream of searing cartoons to Twitter and Instagram. “It’s like a battleground and that’s how you can use visual language and internet memes and that’s how you can dissolve the authority of censorship,” he says.
Given the political and commercial pressures facing his collaborators, the decision to proceed with the show makes Brescia “a role model for the rest of the world,” he adds.
“As an artist I have experienced censorship so many times, for so many years and in so many places — not just in China or Hong Kong, but also in Australia and in many other countries,” he says. “I rarely have an opportunity like this, to show (my work at an exhibition), because all the galleries, curators and museums worry that if they showcase my art … then they’re jeopardizing their Chinese market.
“China is very good at using its capital and money to control, manipulate and silence people’s criticism — and this is how it’s reflected in our world, the art market.”

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‘A trippy tale of hallucinogens and human sacrifice’: Peru: A Journey in Time – Review | Art

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j99news– Llike a llama chewing his dribble, Peru begins calmly: there is an exhibition of pots. You may be forgiven for feeling a little overwhelmed. But the calm, steady pace and cool layout of this exhibit provide essential grounding as you try to get your head around 2,000 years of ritual warfare, human sacrifice, and first-class hallucinogens.

This is not really an exhibition about Peru, the modern country, but the civilizations of the Andes that long preceded its existence. It traces the cultures of this mountain region from antiquity up to 1534, when Francisco Pizarro and a group of Spanish conquistadors defeated the Inca Empire. The ancient Peruvian people, from the Chavín culture, dating back to around 800 BC. through the great art of Nasca and Moche art to the emergence of the Incas, is presented clearly. Once you get used to all the clay and the incredibly preserved textiles, you are in a lost world of addictive acting and mystery.

Lots of people have lost their heads over ancient Peru. I first read about the Nasca Lines, giant ground drawings up to 2 km across the desert plain between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean when I was a child. Unfortunately, my source was Erich Von Däniken’s book Freight Wagons? who claimed they were UFO landing strips. So the Nasca got alien help? No. However, they used a lot of drugs.

A gripping exhibition of Nasca art at the heart of this show proves that these giant images of animals are far from a random cosmic mystery, the pinnacle of an amazing visual culture. One of the most beautiful geoglyphs portrays a stylized hummingbird with thin elongated shafts representing feathers: In front of a drone video of it is a 2,000-year-old textile embroidered with the same hummingbird designs. You could not have clearer evidence that the Nasca lines are rooted in human culture, not extraterrestrial activity.

When the Nasca people made their enormous art, the Roman Empire rose and fell. But there was no connection between people in America and Europe, Asia or Africa. The civilizations we meet here rose and fell to their own beat. There are clay pipes here made by Nasca – but they were not for entertainment. A painted vase depicts a shaman in a monstrous mask and a snake-like headdress – or does he have real snakes on his head? – holds his forehead pipes among an assembly of fellow musicians while he goes into a trance and communicates with animal spirits. Next to him is a San Pedro cactus whose hallucinogenic flesh he has ingested to open the doors of perception.

Maybe Nasca went out into the desert high on cacti to draw their totem animals. Even the rock, they had an amazing eye for nature. Killer whales, monkeys, snakes and cats are depicted with sharp, strong lines and colors. A vase takes the form of a tall, wavy corn stalk, the agricultural crop that sustained civilization in the Andes.

What does the word “civilization” mean? Technically just a society with cities, agriculture and an organized culture. But we fill it with moral values. The civilizations of pre-colonial America combined urban ambition with beliefs where human blood was essential to keep the universe in balance. The reality of human sacrifices hits you in front of one of the most incredible artifacts here, an embroidered cloth to wrap a dead body in, made by Nasca around the time of Christ. It is covered with happy dancing figures in animal masks, each of which dangles a severed head in the hair.

Nasca shared these sacrificial beliefs with the Moche culture, which flourished in northern Peru from about 100 to 800 AD. Warriors participated in ritualized battles – but the aftermath was not friendly. Moche sculptures portray the defeated, bound to await sacrifice. Their faces are studied with tragic precision. A bound prisoner on a model boat retains his dignity as the threatening god of death rowes him to the place of sacrifice. He throws his body back as in acceptance.

This exhibition takes you outside of yourself, if you let it, into a world of predatory gods and magical music. The most amazing object is a giant clay drum, from the Nasca civilization, painted with images of ritual war and sacrifice. Defeated, gnawing gods hold the heads of the defeated. Monkey-like zombies hang in the trees. Trophy heads are transformed into the spirits of ancestors. The scene is held together by twisting shapes that are half snake, half cactus. It’s like a manic masterpiece of street art.

Even when they were not consuming psychedelic cacti, these ancient people regularly chewed coca leaves. Imagery on pots shows how lime was mixed with coca to amplify its effect by specialized coca officials – whose bureaucratic job title shows how complex these societies were.

The last native rulers of the Andes, the Incas, built a network of roads with runners stationed at intervals to carry messages and gifts: a clay model of a muscular leg celebrating their running power. The Incas took power late, as it turned out, in the history of pre-colonial America. Originating around Cusco, their capital, from the early 15th century they conquered a large area that spread to modern-day Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia and Chile, as well as Peru. The exhibition shows how they used elaborate knotted strings to record crucial information. And a ceramic model of a hoe documents their agricultural revolution, where they terraced the Andes to grow corn at ever-higher altitudes.

They also had coca. An embroidered incapose still has fragments of centuries-old coca leaves inside. They also refined the art of sacrificing people. Selected children were taken to high mountain reserves to be killed. They were buried with small doll-like figures. The doll-sized clothes from the graves of these victims are in sight.

What would have happened in the Andes now? A film by the legendary Inca city Machu Picchu dwells on astonishing details in its architecture and technique. Even the conquistadors admitted that the cities they saw competed with those of Europe. If the Spaniards had never arrived, it is entirely possible to imagine the Inca Empire advancing technologically and moving towards a different version of a modern world.

In fact, this show downplays the Incas because it wants us to discover the people who came before them. What amazes in the art of Nasca and Moche is a combination of factual probability with amazing and shocking content, dry clay and wet veil. Peru is a lime-sharp cocktail of the real and visionary.

 

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