Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Slum Tour Anyone?

I don't know how I feel about this. Dharavi is one of the largest slums in the world (and let me just thank my friend Joe for pointing me in the direction of the above link). The website looks fantastic (not the look look but the words on the website), where it does seem all PC and progressive...more progressive than PC. Like the term PC which people use pejoratively, the website is saying the word slum doesn't have to be pejorative but just descriptive. It's a slum that has a $665 USD income a year. People are productive and involved in all sorts of livelihoods.

I think I know why this feels strange to me....I hesitate to take photos in the villages where I am a visitor since it feels invasive and disrespectful. The villages in which I work, I have only just stopped asking if I can take photos since the people I work with had started rolling their eyes at me and said, look madam, every time you come here you ask us, and every time we tell you it's ok. Stop asking and we will let you know when it is not ok. So, labeling something a slum tour reeks of disaster tourism for me BUT but but but, this is being done with the permission of the residents and it goes into that debate about images and how aid agencies like showing people as victims and not people and it seems that this tour group is not doing that...80% of the revenue goes to NGOs in the area and they are creating awareness.

I don't know. What do you guys think?

Facebook, evil eyes and other random sentences stitched together.

OK, for those that read my blog, you know that I think FaceBook is evil however I joined and I am semi active on it, I would say. Though that is relative since I know people who spends hours on it and have mobile phone connections to it and stuff so relative to that, I am barely on FaceBook. Weeks go by and I don’t go on and then there are my active weeks where I will check it out three times a week. Anyhow, today, I found this group through my friend Angad’s page (the one I met in Bombay who calls me Jungle Queen) and it is called, Anthropology+ Good Looks= A Deadly Combination. The blurb for the group is as follows: Sexy Anthropologists all over the world must unite in global awareness of our dashingly good looks and witty, unparalleled brilliance.

What can I say, I love it. One of the officers of this group (and I would just cut and paste the entire group here but I don’t want to be messing around with people’s privacy) says, “sexy is her name, evolution is her game”.

How could I not be in love with this group?

There were other groups before, like, I secretly want to punch slow walking people in the back of the head, or Lovers of Third World Shit Holes, and Drunk Dialing Appreciation Society etc and all funny, but really, it takes anthropologists to do it for me.

I still think FaceBook is evil.

Must comment on two comments I got: Lurker person, thanks for the postcard, I did so love it and I really wish I could have read it properly but really it’s al blotted out with the rain but it has a place of pride on my fridge, just below the other anonymous postcard I got that was covered in poetry. You are a star, send me more, the rainy season is almost over so it might make it in one legible piece.

Mr. nick naeem who wrote a comment along the lines of my blossoming into my own woman after my strict upbringing hijab wearing oppressed days…I hate to do this to you and disappoint all those people who saw me growing up, but I really do not even once recall growing up oppressed or strict or repressed in anyway. Your concern and backhand compliment is really very sweet but I think I grew up because of the way I am because of my parents and the environment I grew up in. I ain’t no rebel. I’m just me and like you, my parents are also very, very proud of me. Thanks for reading and the very lovely comment. And I shy away from these conversations since people see everything in black and white but my decision to stop wearing hijab was because my mom said to me, Look, it’s obviously not working for you…what are you afraid of? Take it off, try it out, you can come back to it if you decide to and you may not so live your life. I was never once told I HAD to wear hijab. It has always been a personal choice in my household (like everything) and I am super lucky to have grown up with the family I have. I look at other South Asian (and not just South Asian but any race) kids and their relationships to their families, and there is nothing that I would change in mine. I love it and love how it grows, changes, new people coming in and out and I think of what my dad used to say to us growing up (which obviously as a 12 year old was harder to understand since as much as I love my family, going to the mall with everyone in tow when I wanted to go with my friends was uncool), my dad would say: at the end of the day, it’s your family who is there for you. Time and time again, that has been proven to me. I now feel like I need to shoo away all the evil eye with my proclamations about my family and how kick ass we are. Will call my mom and ask her to do it. If Iqbal Khaldun had told me about how to get rid of the evil eye with chickens, I would do it here in Ampara. My sister has been privy to some egg charm…will ask her to test it out.

The flooding in Ampara seems to have stopped and I am gearing up for the next hectic 6 weeks and my bday extravaganza (relaxed day on the beach) coming up in Feb. I will be 30. YAY! And I decided that it will be in Sri Lanka, bombs or no bombs. Anyone want to come?

Still love my job and I have photos but dial up and no patience. And no time at work but soon.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Art in Baghdad

Good stuff....Check out the article. I like. I must write more soon. I keep thinking about it. Got lots to say on a random postcard I got but it was all rainy so I can't read it properly, all the bombs in Colombo and the cease fire being called off, along with my birthday celebrations since I just can't take the responsibility of having people over and not knowing where they are at all times since I am anal retentive about security and people but I think I will be in Portugal instead and that might be an option if people love me that much to fly there instead, flooding in Ampara and how good it is to be back, elections in the US and how exciting that is, and just for Clem, I am watching Planet Earth!!! Mick got it for me as a Christmas present and I am thrilled but I miss my flatmate loads....

Soon, I will write properly...till then, enjoy the article...

Gallery Owner battles for art in Baghdad.

By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer Sun Jan 13, 12:57 PM ET

BAGHDAD - By all rights, the Hewar art gallery should be a casualty of war. Months go by without a single painting or sculpture being sold. The gallery's cafe — once a noisy meeting ground for Baghdad's intelligentsia — now sees just a few hardy regulars.

The owner's balance sheet shows losses of up to $400 a month — a sum considered a good monthly wage.

On the plus side: three sheep that were a gift from a friend in his native Anbar province to the west. They grazed on weeds and hedges outside the gallery in north Baghdad's Waziriyah neighborhood.

But something keeps Qassim Sabti from locking the doors for good.

It's part stubbornness, part nostalgia and a dash of belief that, just maybe, better times are ahead — the same recipe that kept a handful of other cultural guardians, such as book sellers, poets and theater troupes, from abandoning Baghdad during the years of fighting and upheaval.

Now, with violence on the wane, the city's struggling artist community looks for signs that their patrons could someday return and the discussions in the coffee houses could again be about their latest works rather than the latest troubles.

Sabti's gallery is a bellwether.

The Hewar, or Dialogue, is perhaps the best known cultural crossroads in Iraq.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the two-story building became the main salon for debates and exhibitions basking in the heady freedoms that were long bottled up by the regime.

But as the insurgency took hold in Baghdad, the gallery's fate mirrored the rest of the capital. People with some savings left for Syria or Jordan. Checkpoints and blast walls rose up in the gallery's neighborhood. Sunni and Shiite artists — bound by lifetime friendships — took pains to avoid discussing the sectarian bloodletting.

Sabti estimates at least 70 percent of Iraq's artists and intellectuals are out of Iraq.

"My gallery, like Baghdad, is under siege," said the silver-haired Sabti, a Sunni Arab married to a Shiite. He still walks with a limp from childhood polio.

But Sabti, 54, has not stopped organizing exhibitions — 29 in all since 2003. "The Iraqis kept coming but none can afford to buy art," he sighed.

Sabti arranges for financial support to artists from an association of painters he runs, and some of the artists who exhibit at Hewar have taken advances against the future sale of their work. Dozens of pieces are stored in back rooms under a layer of dust — like the rows of empty chairs in the gallery's top floor where young people occasionally take music and painting classes funded by a private U.S.-based organization.

"Security has undeniably improved, but people don't yet have the confidence to leave their homes unless it's necessary," he said while sipping a coffee on a recent January morning. "People are barely surviving on their salaries, and these are the lucky ones with jobs."

Last month, Sabti tried to drum up business for the gallery by offering art to the capital's foreign diplomats in the heavily protected Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

"We only sold five sculptures," he said, with a hint of sadness.

Then comes his resolve: "I will never close Hewar."

He even manages to keep his wicked and wry sense of humor. He looked over at one of his three children, his stocky teenage son Ahmed, and jokes that the Americans must be spraying secret growth chemicals over Baghdad. "I don't remember us being so big as kids," he quipped.

"How are you? You infidel pimp!" he shouted from the terrace of the gallery's second floor to a Christian friend whizzing past on a scooter. The friend looked up and smiled.

After several weeks roaming in and out of the gallery, the sheep from Anbar have been taken to a friend's house with a healthy patch of grass.

"One of them will be lunch next month in remembrance of Imam Hussein," he said, referring to one of Shiite Islam's most revered saints whose 7th century death is the holiest day of the Shiite calendar. "I will invite Shiite and Sunni artists to a lunch of lamb and rice."

In 2006, Sabti sold 250 of his works to a U.S art dealer — collages made of hundreds of books charred by a fire in the library of his alma mater, the Arts Academy, the day after Baghdad fell in April 2003.

The works defined his strong feelings about the chaos and lawlessness that swept Baghdad and saw the country's national museum and library looted and torched to the deep dismay and anger of many in Iraq. Sabti blames the Americans for the looting, arguing they should have done more to stop it.

Sabti now has found artistic inspiration in something else — the changed landscape of Baghdad since the invasion. "They speak of the conquerors who have laid Iraq to waste over the centuries," he said of the new project, in which he uses rags, pebbles, match sticks and glue to create street scenes on wood.

"There is little empty space in each one of them, but the rest is filled with destroyed sidewalks, rocks, concrete blocs and blast barriers, barbed wire and bits of the human flesh found on streets at bombing sites," he said of the works he began three months ago.

"They reflect what the tanks did to our streets, but they are not about the ugliness of Baghdad. Rather, they reflect the city's melancholy. We used to be very proud of Baghdad."

Sabti says only three close friends have seen the 20 works he has completed so far. He says he wants to keep the pieces under wraps until he has completed the project, but he doesn't know when that will be.

"I don't want anything to disrupt or distort the life story of the works," he said.


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