Non-Western #2 – Versatility (2006) El Anatsui

Versatility (2006) – El Anatsui

Versatility was created with pliable aluminum strips from thousands of empty liquor bottles brought to Africa from Europe during first contact. It is a powerful piece because it represents the introduction of alcohol to the African people as well as the assimilation that followed with the advent of the “White Man’s Burden” – the quest to impart Western civilization to non-white cultures. It is designed and woven in the image of a Kente cloth robe, made by the Asante people of Ghana and the Ewe people of Ghana and Togo. Anatsui was influenced heavily by his father and brothers who wove Kente cloth for their family. I find it compelling that the men wove these robes that were used for special occasions.

The piece makes me wonder how many bottles of liquor were drunk that contributed to this piece and in what circumstance the artist acquire the labels and aluminum used. What conversations took place during the drinking of each bottle? Anatsui claims the piece hold the idea of “adaptability and the twists and turns of human existence”. I see imperialism such as had occurred in Alaska when western civilization brought alcohol here. I wonder if Africans suffer the same alcoholism Alaska Natives do. In any case, this piece and others of Anatsui’s have political and social meanings that hit you in the gut and leave lingering thoughts of historical events.

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Non-Western #1 – Kenyan Artist Richard Onyango

On one of the African art links, I chose Kenya on the map of Africa because I have a niece named Kenya. The only artist listed was Onyango and this piece, Caution to Drivers (1992),  caught my eye because it reminded me of a picture I saw on Facebook of Ballaine Road taken Monday morning of this week. The Fairbanks picture was during a freezing rain storm that caused many drivers to end up in the ditch. The Kenyan painting was the result of a fascination with industrialization and the sometimes tragic consequences of it. Just as industrialization and the bottom line can result in pollution, accidents and other tragedies, the poor planning of the school district resulted in buses in ditches or worse, in accidents.
Onyango had a diverse background; he was born in the highlands of Kenya and later moved to the developing coastal regions. His job history is as diverse as the subjects of his painting. He was a bus driver, wood carver, sign painter, fashion designer, farmer, furniture maker, and animal trainer. Onyango chooses subjects that “waver between the exaltation of imported technology and its fragility”. His subject matter also included the relationship with a young white woman named Drosie. He is credited with inverting stereotypes.

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Northwest Alaska Inupiaq Baleen Basketry

Baleen Basket with whale tail finial by Marilyn Hank Otton, 1994

Marilyn is from Point Hope Alaska and has taught her children, Harry Hank and John Hank the art of making Baleen baskets.  Marilyn was taught how to make baleen baskets by her mother and father, Eunice and Carl Hank, who were expert basket makers. 

Carl and Eunice Hank learned to weave at Point Hope but later moved to Barrow.  Carl and Eunice Hank made baskets together and their signature finial is a double seal finial.  They often attributed baskets to each other even if the other made it.

Baleen Basket with Polar Bear Finial, date unknown

Harry started weaving by helping his mother with some of her baskets, and in 1992, he began weaving on his own. He weaves two distinctive baskets: one with a wide welt which can be woven quickly and one with a very fine welt. Some of these pieces are comparable to the works of the old masters such as Andrew Owenga and Joshua Sakeagak. Harry uses round rods for weaving clockwise and will often use white baleen as trim. He occasionally carves his own finials but often uses the expertly carved finials of the St. Lawrence and King Island carvers. His finial motifs include walrus, bear, and seal heads, and occasionally whale tails.

Carl Hank – 3.5” Basket, unknown date, Carl Hank

4.5” basket with polar bear finial with baleen inset eyes and nose, unknown date

Carl was husband to Eunice, father to Marilyn and grandfather to Harry and John Hank.

Carl Hank, signature double seal finial, date unknown 

Musk Ox Finial, Carl Hank, date unknown

Triple Baleen Basket with Whale Tail Finial by John Hank

John Hank is son to Marilyn Hank Otton and brother to Harry Hank, grandson to Eunice and Carl Hank.  The basket comes apart into 3 separate pieces, and snaps back together with 3 compartments. John Hank is an Inupiaq Native of Alaska who was born in Pt. Barrow, Alaska.


All of these pieces fit my theme of Northwest Alaskan Inupiaq Art and were all created by members of the same family, the Hank family.  My reaction to these pieces is awe at how creative they are and makes me wonder who the first to make one was.  It truly is amazing how Alaska Natives used all of their resources and even found a use for baleen.  The aesthetic value of these pieces is especially high for me because this is my family.  Marilyn is my aunt, John and Harry are my cousins and Eunice and Carl were my grandparents.

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Satchmo – the Greatest!

I love the music of Louis Armstrong. Always have, starting in elementary school when the music teacher would have us watch “Hello Dolly” every year. She would spread it out over a week (because music class was about 20-30 minutes long) and I always looked forward to the scene with Louis Armstrong and Barbra Streisand singing “Hello Dolly”. I loved the scat singing, even though I didn’t know it was called that then! This work is great because it shows the influence of African Americans in music. Even though Hello Dolly was made in 1969, the period in the movie was turn-of-the-century New York, right when jazz was rising. This piece also earned Louis the #1 spot on the pop charts at the age of 63, the oldest person to ever do that! The song was created my Louis in 1964 but the movie didn’t come out until 1969 in which Louis has a part singing the song.
Louis was born in New Orleans but migrated north as there were jobs in the industrialized cities such as Chicago, where he lived for two years. He then went to New York and was part of the Harlem Renaissance. He was one of the first musicians to record scat singing and he was also a great trumpet player. His music has been in hundreds of movies and even as I was watching some YouTube videos of his music, my son would chime in. I was listening to La Vie en Rose and my son said that he heard that song on Wall-E. I played What a Wonderful World and he said, Madagascar. Bare Necessities is on Jungle Book and Talk to the Animals is on Dr. Doolittle. So even without knowing it, my son has been influenced by jazz music.
Louis also supported the civil rights movement, although sometimes it was in a quiet, financial way. When he did speak up, it was to protest President Eisenhower’s inaction in the case of desegregation in a Little Rock Arkansas school. He canceled a state-sponsored Soviet Union tour in order to make a statement against the administration and said the president “had no guts”.
Some of his accomplishments include being the first African American to host a nationally sponsored broadcast, being one of the first jazzmen to be featured in an extended trumpet solo, and being the first jazz musician to appear on the cover of Time magazine. His influence is great, not only in the music scene, but in the civil rights movement, and on the history of African Americans.,_Dolly!_(musical)

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Impressionism vs All Else

I have seen Impressionistic works in books, online and on television before but they never really appealed to me. I like the form and style of the Italian Renaissance with work such as the Sistine Chapel Ceiling by Michelangelo. Cezanne is a Post-Impressionist I most identified with because he liked form unlike Impressionists. He used color as lines such as in Bather (1885-1887). I am not sure where he painted the Bather but I think it was at his home in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. This piece has a sense of depth because he painted darker lines for the form of the person and then went back to rework the outside of these lines to give the man a silhouetted look.

I prefer a piece of work that has a story attached to it such as Peter Paul Ruben’s The Head of Medusa (1618) which invokes intrigue and further study. Impressionist’s attempts at capturing an insignificant moment in time with no meaning do not work for me. Post-Impressionists’ attempts at finding meaning is better but I still prefer the Baroque and Italian Renaissance art.

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Haydn’s Symphony #94

I chose Franz Joseph Haydn’s Surprise Symphony (1791, London) because it is exactly as the title alludes to, surprising. It is not boring and incorporates all the elements of a symphony that make it appealing to the common man. It includes the four movements, is melody-driven and homophonic in texture and is widely appealing to a lot of people. Even the comments on YouTube that accompany this video show how, even now, the appeal is there. “Hahahaha, scared me. Love this song! 8)” is one comment and “Haydn seriously had a sense of humor, it’s something good to have” is another that shows the interest in this piece.

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Vanitas – Live for the Moment!

I love the theme of Vanitas still life paintings!  Live life to the fullest every day because it will not last!  I especially like the painting by David Bailly (1584-1657) entitled Self-Portrait with Vanitas Symbols.  Bailly painted this in 1651 just six years before he passed away yet the image he paints of himself is a young man.  It is unique in that it is a Vanitas still life as well as a portrait within a portrait.  The significant items representing death are the skull, the extinguished candle, the tipped-over glass, the hour glass and the wilting flowers.  The luxuries of life are depicted in the coins, the pearls, the pipe, and the art (paintings and statues).  This painting is obviously about the artist’s life evidenced by the palatte hanging on the wall, the brush in the artist’s hand, and the paintings around the room.

Bailly was a teacher in this style and even taught his nephew, Harmen Steenwyck, another well-known artist in this style (artyfactory).  He was the son of a calligrapher and spent time working for German princes as well as painting students and professors at a university.  These Vanitas paintings were somewhat religious in nature warning about the sins of the flesh, essentially that you can’t take it with you so you need to worry about your eternal soul.  There was use of light and dark to give a sense of depth to the room.  Also, positioning of objects, starting with the largest being the man himself and then the natural movement to the painting on the wall, then the drapery (folding of clothes), then the light color of the flowers and finally to rest on the table of items.  The bubbles, I thought could be another symbol of the instance of change, just as a bubble pops, a life could be over.  I found that to be true in that the soap bubbles are symbol of ‘transience’ (WGA).

Great and unusual Vanitas-style painting that teaches us to live for the moment and do not take too much value in material things.

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