Required Reading

Elias Rodriques reviews James Smethurst’s new book about the Black Arts Movement in the US South:

As James Smethurst chronicles in Behold the Land: The Black Arts Movement in the South, the Free Southern Theater was just one of a number of institutions that sought to marry art with local Black Power politics in the South. In a sweeping history of arts institutions from the 1930s to the ’80s, the book tells the story of how the turn to Black Power politics in the ’60s produced a corollary Black Arts Movement that was especially long-lasting in the South. The Black Power and Black Arts movements, in Smethurst’s account, were “so twinned and joined at the hip that it is impossible, really, to tell where one begins and the other ends.” While Black Power generally aimed to develop Black autonomy rather than gain inclusion in American society, the Black Arts Movement sought to produce a culture that valued Black people and used cultural forms like theater to encourage their entry into Black Power politics.

How the Free Southern Theater and other Southern Black Arts Movement institutions were funded is central to Smethurst’s story. As he notes, among the enduring successes of the Black Power movement in the South were its electoral victories, which allowed politicians like Maynard Jackson, the first Black mayor of Atlanta, to allocate funding to Black arts institutions. “The movement in the South,” Smethurst writes, “saw some of the most intense publicly supported institutionalization of African American art and culture of anywhere in the country.” Financing these institutions enabled them to outlast not only the Black Arts Movement’s greatest period of success in Northern cities like New York but also the early stages of post-civil-rights Southern conservatism. Their longevity ensured that these institutions continued to provide essential services and arts instruction to Black communities. In his careful attention to this history, Smethurst reminds readers that building solid institutions can provide a means of outlasting the backlash that inevitably follows radical progress.

Senegal is creating a new African architecture, according to the Guardian‘s Oliver Wainwright:

Many such projects feature in the Atlantic coast volume of Sub-Saharan Africa, an immense new architectural guide that brings together a staggering collection of more than 850 buildings from 49 countries within 3,400 pages. Seven years in the making, the publication provides an illuminating cross-section of the continent, from the glittering skyscrapers of oil-rich Luanda in Angola to the mud mosques of Mali and the art deco buildings of Burundi. It boasts more than 350 authors, half with African roots (it’s also available in individual volumes, allowing you to spread out the load of the full 8kg set).

Philipp Meuser and Adil Dalbai, co-editors of the guide, write of how, on the one hand, “glossy magazines featuring Africa normally show safari lodges with pseudo-ethnic architecture, or fancy resorts located on expanses of long sandy beaches” or, on the other, “reports on over-population and lack of education and healthcare”. But there is hardly any reporting on everyday architecture, offering a “real” picture of African cities. While by no means comprehensive, the guide aims to fill part of that void, combining descriptions of historic, vernacular and contemporary buildings, considering them against the background of race, gender and power, be it colonial, neocolonial or local.

A fascinating story by Kriston Capps for the New York Times about sculptor John Powers and how a table saw accident that cut off his fingers has been inspiring his art:

In the months since the accident, the artist gradually returned to his practice. The first piece that he built was a most-miniature coffin for his recovered thumb, which he buried in his yard in a ceremony attended by friends. “Under My Thumb” played. A gallows humor has guided Powers’s recovery. A tiny grave marks the spot.

Writing for the LA Review of Books, Peggy Shinner reflects on the “you are beautiful” stickers she is spotting in Chicago:

The other, across the street — bigger, the outsize letters affixed to a chain-link fence enclosing the Swedish Museum’s parking lot — is in cahoots. 

you are beautiful.

It’s inescapable.

That’s how I feel, stopped at the light, catching sight of first one and then the other. Hemmed in by these converging signs, this suspicious sentiment. Or maybe the suspicion is all mine. What is this public treacle? I balk at being forced to feel good by signs put up by feel-good public artists. It’s coercion with a smile.

When I mentioned the you are beautiful signage to my friend M. — who’d seen it as well, in another part of the city, this time against the backdrop of Lake Michigan — she said it felt like a prayer.

Why are so many movies muting their palettes to make them more gray? Writing for Vox, Emily VanDerWerff writes:

The word that describes the look of that second picture is “desaturated.” Colors have been pulled way back, giving everything a slightly washed-out appearance, like in an old photograph. Desaturation is not in and of itself bad. It’s a tool that can be used poorly or used well. But why is it everywhere now?

There’s no one answer to that question, but here are my five best guesses as to what I think might be behind the endless desaturation of Hollywood.

16 major US universities have been accused of illegally colluding to limit financial aid to students:

Five US college graduates have sued 16 major US universities including Yale, Columbia and the University of Chicago, accusing them of colluding to limit financial aid to undergraduate students in violation of antitrust laws.

The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status, saying the collusion has limited price competition and caused 170,000 financial aid recipients to be overcharged hundreds of millions of dollars over two decades.

Also, US colleges lost 465,000 students this fall, according to the Washington Post:

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center on Thursday said undergraduate enrollment in fall 2021 dropped 3.1 percent, or by 465,300 students, compared with a year earlier. The drop is similar to that of the previous fall, and contributes to a 6.6 percent decline in undergraduate enrollment since 2019.

That means more than 1 million students have gone missing from higher education in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Clearinghouse.

Academics will relate:

given recent chatter about the academic job market (and the AHA, which I almost forgot still existed, lol), it seems worth sharing these two paragraphs from my book’s acknowledgments

— Terence Renaud (@terry_renaud) January 10, 2022

Two LA police officers decided to play Pokemon Go rather than respond to a robbery in progress. The report is pretty wild:

Two LAPD officers were fired for ignoring a call regarding a robbery in progress because they were playing Pokemon Go and had spotted a Snorlax.

— Jake White (@unioncounsel) January 10, 2022

Pretty amazing if you think about it:

The main characters in the first season of Golden Girls are younger than in the current Sex and The City (53/54 in GG and 54/55 in And Just Like That!)

Amazing how different our view of women at that age is now.

— Flora Gill (@FloraEGill) January 4, 2022

Not bad, right?

Was asked by a friend of the program to mash up the image on the top. How’d we do? (Perseus and Andromeda, by Charles André van Loo, 1740)

— ArtButMakeItSports (@ArtButSports) January 6, 2022

How one Indian town is preserving a 500-year-old papermaking industry:

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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