Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Sunday morning with Gauguin
December 16, 2010

On a bright Sunday morning Gem and I wandered down to the south bank via Starbucks at St Paul’s, where the cathedral bells were ringing out their pre-Christmas message loud and clear!

As we crossed over the Millennium Bridge I got my first sight of the, under construction, Shard building which, when it is finished, will be the tallest in London and command tremendous views across the city.

We had pre-booked tickets at the Tate Modern for ‘Gauguin: Maker of Myth’, a major exhibition of paintings, sculptures and drawings which explores the myths Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) addressed in his work as well as those he created around himself as a rebel artist.    

I have always been drawn to Gauguin’s vibrant use of colour and his well documented bohemian lifestyle. This first major retrospective, in Britain, for over 50 years contains over 150 pieces (including letters and journals) pulled together from the world’s major galleries to provide a compelling narrative of the artist’s life and work.

The exhibition begins with a room full of self portraits which demonstrate Gauguin’s astute awareness, from a very early stage, that by continually developing and publicising his rebel artist persona in this way people would be drawn to his work.

Thinking about it isn’t that an approach more recently adopted, to great effect, by David Bowie as a 70’s glam- rock musician and Madonna throughout her career?    

Elsewhere in the exhibition is the controversial ‘Christ in the Garden of Olives’, in which Gauguin uses his own facial features to depict a Christ figure with bright orange hair (Bowie comes to mind again!)

Gauguin’s exploration of cultural myths is demonstrated by his use of rustic Breton stereotypes, in the pastoral scenes created during his time at Pont Aven, and later through his better known Tahitian scenes which depict the island as some kind of earthly paradise.

Although his paintings from Tahiti may have promoted outsiders’ perceptions, and the artist’s own dreams of virgin lands and paradise gained, his diary entries were honest enough to admit it did not really exist and was more a case of paradise and innocence lost.

In his 1897, oil on canvas, work entitled ‘Nevermore O Taiti’, which is being used by Tate Modern to promote the exhibition, Gauguin actually concedes this point in pictorial form.    

The exhibition, which I would highly recommend, doesn’t have much longer to run and closes on January 16th before moving on to the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Following our culture fix there was just time for a bit more artistic reflection, over yet another coffee, in the Globe Theatre café bar before heading back on the early afternoon train to the Shire.

December 8, 2010

Imagine…… it was 30 years ago today that John Lennon was gunned down, outside the Dakota building in the Manhattan district of New York, by  deranged ‘fan’ Mark Chapman.  

As a 27-year-old teacher at Bosworth Wood School in Chelmsley Wood – a large housing development adjacent to the Birmingham bound M6 – I vividly  remember climbing into my Ford Cortina on the morning of December 8th 1980, switching on the radio and being stunned by the breaking news of Lennon’s murder.

For others it might be Buddy Holly or Elvis but for me and millions more of my generation that really was ‘the day the music died!’    

I had grown up with John Lennon and the Beatles, buying my first pieces of vinyl in 1963 as ten-year old at Spring Street Junior School, and had watched and listened as the ‘mop heads’ from Liverpool  had grown and developed into the most influential quartet in popular music history.

John Lennon, iconic singer/songwriter, poet, artist and political activist, will be remembered by many today. If he were still with us he would be 70 years old and, I dare say, as revolutionary and opinionated as ever.       

It’s interesting to imagine what a septuagenarian Lennon, peering through his trade mark spectacles, might have made of some of this week’s news stories.  

I’m pretty sure I know where he would have stood on the Julian Asssange Wikileaks affair, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, and what his views might have been on the proposed increase in university fees,  but how about Susan Philipsz winning the 2010 Turner Prize for her ‘sound installation’ and then whatever would he have made of the X-Factor finalists?

Brochettes, beer and fond farewells
December 3, 2010

And so the end is near and yesterday evening I hosted a brochettes and beer evening at KMC. There were a dozen of us present; head teachers, teachers, moto drivers, members of the Nyakarambi business community and of course VSO colleagues.  

The invited people, I had worked particularly closely with or got to know well socially over the last three months. John and Mark kindly shared the cost of the evening with me and a great time was had by all. The Primus and Fanta flowed and there was a lively atmosphere as we all tucked in.

Given the short-term nature of my placement I was completely taken by surprise when the guests started to make a series of heart warming speeches of gratitude and Flora, the head of Nyabitare School, presented me with a lovely piece of imigongo art work and a traditionally crafted basket to take home for Chris.

During the evening Daniel, the moto driver who I have ridden with most of all, extended an invitation for me to visit his family at lunchtime today. He called to pick me up with Bonnet, his 16 month old daughter, perched in front of him on the bike and the three of set off on the short journey to their home.

I was introduced to Claudine, Daniel’s delightful wife, his elderly mother who lives nearby and four of his five children (three boys and two girls who range up to12 years old ) including Mujisha who is four and the spitting image of his father.

I was shown through into the back yard to meet the family cow, goats and hens whilst Claudine was serving up a huge plate of rice and beans.

The beans were fresh from the garden where Daniel tells me he also grows sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes and a range of other vegetables together with his banana plants, so the family are pretty self sufficient.    

Daniel, Claudine and I ate from a communal plate and were soon joined by Mujisha who helped himself to a few large spoonfuls of rice. I was provided with a bottle of Mützig while Daniel drank Primus.

Over the meal I learned a bit more of the family history. Daniel and Claudine were both born in neighbouring Burundi although Daniel’s father was from Rwanda. They also lived for some time across the border in Tanzania before relocating to Nyakarambi in 1994.

Daniel had previously traded in rice and flour but seven years a go he bought a bike and became a moto driver which he says provides him with a good living. He is doing well enough to be considering updating his moto, which is an Indian make, in the new-year.

There was just time for a family group photo outside the house before I took my final moto ride back home with Daniel and Bonnet.   

I have spent the afternoon packing. Late this afternoon I said my goodbyes to Claude our domestique and tonight I intend to take Msafiri up on his offer of one last special omelette on the house!

Tomorrow I set off for Kigali Airport at around 10.00 am. Msafiri informs me that the owner and driver of the vehicle will be Napoleon. I wonder if he’ll be playing Abba’s Greatest Hits in the CD player!

This will be my final posting from out of Africa and next time you here from I should hopefully be safely back in the Shire!

Co-operative Kakira – Art Imigongo
October 19, 2010

My services weren’t required in school today so having paid a cursory visit to the District Office to use their printer I decided to walk into town and pick up some MTN air time.

Tuesday is a market day and Nyakarambi becomes a cacophony of sound and a riot of colour with people thronging to and fro along the main road. The ladies in their brightly patterned skirts and head dresses, many with babies strapped to their backs, stride along balancing all manner of wares upon their heads while some ride side-saddle perched on the on the back of bicycle taxis.    

The men and boys push their bicycles up the hill laden with such diverse goods as hands of bananas, cane furniture, lengths of corrugated metal and sugar cane.  

It is the men who generally deal with the livestock, leading bleating goats tethered to lengths of rope or clutching struggling chickens by their feet. They also specialise in trading bicycle parts which take up a large area on the periphery of the market.

The sun was shining but there was a pleasant  accompanying breeze rustling through the banana plantations  on the edge of town so I took a spur of the moment decision  to extend my walk to the Co-operative Kakira – Art Imigongo centre about 2km along the road towards Rusumo.

I had read about it before I came and have passed it regularly on the moto ride to and from school but this was first real opportunity to pay a visit.

The south-eastern part of Rwanda is renowned for its Imigongo (cow-dung) ‘paintings’ with their striking geometric patterns. Their origins stretch back to the early 19th century when Kakira, the son of the King of Gisaka in Kibungo Province, invented the art as a means of brightening up the interior walls of houses to make them more attractive.

It was an art form born of mixing together the earth, fire, cow dung and certain medicinal plants.

Cow dung was used to form patterns with prominent ridges which were painted in red (from the natural clay with ochre) white (from kaolin) and black made from the sap of the aloe plant and mixed with the ash of burned banana skins and the fruits of the solanum aculeastrum plant.

Over the years the old skills were gradually disappearing with the introduction of industrial paints etc. so a women’s association was formed to maintain Kakira’s original art form. Following the genocide the women, most of them now widows, re-launched their work making around twenty pieces a month.

In recent years the association has benefitted from improved marketing and many more pieces are being created, a large number of them to order.

When I visited half a dozen ladies were sat cross-legged on on the floor of a shaded veranda, moulding  dung in their fingers and applying it, in the early stages of creating a number of new ‘pictures’. It is a multi layered process and once an order is placed it takes at least two weeks to complete.

I was tempted to buy two pop art style geometric designs which I hope Chris will be pleased to display chez Aldridge!  A little bit of earthy Rwanda in leafy Worcestershire.