Arts and Identity

Should ‘the arts’ be used as a way of constructing - or reconstructing - a sense of who we are as individuals, as society, or as a nation? To what extent does this sort of thinking undermine any notion of universalism in the arts, or does the shift mean we must reconstitute an idea of what universalism means?

The arts have long been used as a way of exploring self-understanding, but as the idea of making clear critical judgments about artworks comes under fire, does the current focus on respecting cultural differences reflect a deeper lack of critical authority? And to what extent does it ‘dumb down’ people’s ability to appreciate and enjoy culture more generally?

Friday 26 June 2009

Ukrainian in New York

One more year, by Sana Kraskikov (Canongate)

Krasikov’s women do not quite fit into their new surroundings; they stay within their communities, regarding the Americans they encounter with a certain mild derision.

Friday 5 June 2009

Jazz and the myth of authenticity

Really the Blues, by Mezz Mezzrow

The counterculture never did have any time for aspiration. Jazz, for some, may have been a form of cultural slumming, but for many blacks, working at monotonous, low-paid jobs and paying high rents to live in overcrowded apartment buildings, the music and its performers offered a glimpse of a better life that was demonstrably within the grasp of black Americans. Music was one arena in which blacks could be seen to excel.

Friday 17 April 2009

Local art for general people

Whitechapel Gallery Expansion & Opening Exhibitions

Due to its location within a notable area of Jewish immigration the library was once known as the ‘University of the Ghetto’. With a newer immigrant community today facing its own challenges - arguably both from within and without its ranks - the symbolism of a combined library and Gallery would be highly potent.

Friday 3 April 2009

Maggots feeding on the body of art

Reflections on modern art, morality and the state of contemporary culture

A traditionalist, nationalist perspective argues that modern art has steadily been eroding traditional British values, whilst today’s cultural institutions are a love-in for the liberal elite.

Friday 27 March 2009

Lyrical prose and physical theatre

The 14th Tale, Arcola Theatre, London

Inua Ellams recounts his childhood and adolescence, all the while exuberantly trying to establish a significant space for himself both in the line of people who came before him, and in the cities in which he grows up, moving from Nigeria to the United Kingdom.

Oddly British precision

Over There, Royal Court, London

Karl and Franz are at once two brothers, embodiments of East and West Germany, and at times almost pure ciphers for Capitalist and Socialist ideology. What is exciting is that these positions are not fixed. There is a sense that both figures on stage continually exist on all three levels, forcing the audience to keep re-reading their relationship with what is being said and done.

Friday 20 March 2009

Not so safe distance

THE NEIGHBOUR, by Ashok Sukumaran, P3, London

Sukumaran’s mechanical pas de deux is a mesmerising work that invites a lot of thought and reminds us of so many open-ended questions that have been left in the wake of Modernism’s failure.

Don’t play the fucking Abulkasem!

Invasion!, Soho Theatre, London

The fact that we switch so easily between liking and disliking the character is a lesson in the arbitrariness of sympathy, but also, and perhaps most importantly, in how uninformed our interpretations of reality must be when we are unable to see and hear things for ourselves, without linguistic and cultural mediations.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Indomitably and restlessly guilty

This Isn't Romance, Soho Theatre, London

Obscenity fits the kind of heightened, violent and heated atmosphere of the text much better than sexiness would have. This makes it all the more regrettable that in spite of all the boldness and explicitness of the rest of the evening, either the writer or the director chose to censor the only sexual act that would have been worth seeing staged

Friday 13 March 2009

Palladio the genius

Andrea Palladio: His life and legacy, Royal Academy of Arts, London

Understanding the work of the architect’s architect when there are no substansive differences between traditionalists and modernists today.

Mixology of masculinity

Dance: Mission Possible – Lads and Dads Move!, The Place, London

There are flashes of real wit and invention in the choreography; not least in the charmingly performed duet between Carl Harrison and a tent.

Friday 6 March 2009

I’m not an Arab - get me out of here!

Uncultured Wars, Arabs, Muslims and the Poverty of Liberal Thought, by Steven Salaita (Zed Books)

Salaita gives an analysis in terms of institutionalised racism, showing how it fosters domestic legitimacy for aggressive interference in the Middle East whilst underpinning the stranglehold of ‘white liberals’ on what it means to be progressive, mainstream and American. Underneath, this is a humanist argument with Enlightenment roots, though one with an interesting twist.

Friday 27 February 2009

Geregtigheid in a Rainbow Nation

Magenta, by Denis Beckett (University of Natal Press)

Beckett’s characters speak Seffricanese, the language of Josi or Joburg as the locals call their city – an exuberant mix of English peppered with popular phrases and slang words from Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho.

Friday 20 February 2009

A thirst for the ‘other’

Indian Highway, Serpentine Gallery, London

Amar Kanwar’s video installation ‘The Lightning Testimonies’ inhabits its own room, and thus somewhat shifts the viewer away from the hectoring curatorial excess of the exhibition as a whole.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Shades of British

Shades, Royal Court, London

Modern Britons have, for the most part, done a good job of cutting family ties. Sabrina is a prime example of a modern, single woman for whom her close friends are her family.  What Shades offers is a rare insight into the lives of those living in Britain for whom family is more important than love.

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