Manuelita: love in revolutionary times – Manuelita by Tamsin Clarke at the Rosemary Branch Theatre

I love Manchester but I started to get a bit bored after finishing my exams, and was thinking about going away for a couple of days. As I wandered on the internet, I came across an article on Sounds and Colours that gave me the perfect excuse to go to London for the weekend.

The article was advertising Manuelita, a play about the woman who fought for the independence of the South American colonies with General Simón Bolívar. It was described as a funny and energetic feminist play, depicting the life of Manuela Sáenz, who was expunged from history books despite her key role in the life of Bolívar and the fight for independence. Anglo-Venezuelan actress Tamsin Clarke‘s creation and interpretation of this piece was accompanied by Colombian guitar player Camilo Menjura. The Rosemary Branch Pub in Islington was hosting the play in its tiny and charmingly shabby theatre, contributing to the confidential and intimate tone of the show.

After watching the play, I came up with the idea of writing several posts about prominent Latin American women, from historical figures to artists. This is thus the first of a series titled The Feminine Face of Latin America/America Latina con Cara de Mujer, which I will write both in English and Spanish, although this one will only be in EnglishNext post will be about La Malinche, who played a crucial role in the conquest of Mexico and whose character is still present in Mexican and Chicano symbolism.

Manuela Sáenz was a controversial character, the target of many gossips and slander. First, she was a bastarda, the illegitimate child of a Spanish nobleman and an Ecuadorian criolla. She was also a woman, and was expected to become a submissive wife, something she was certainly not. When she found out that her pathetic (in her own words!) English husband had been cheating on her, she left him, although divorce was very much frowned upon in early 19th century Ecuadorian society. She was accused of being rude, manipulative, subversive, a lesbian, and a prostitute. The most outrageous stories were told about her by the sly ladies of the high society of Quito. But as she cheerfully asks the audience: after all, who wants to hear about the madona when you can hear about the whore?

When Simón Bolívar visited her town in 1822, she made sure he noticed her. They then started a relationship which lasted until his death in 1830. As a half-criollan, Manuelita was very much in favour of the liberation of the colonies from Spanish rule despite her father being a Spanish hidalgo. In this again, she was subversive. Meeting Bolivar gave her the opportunity to actively participate in the revolution that was taking place at the time. However, being Bolívar’s lover, or rather having Bolívar as a lover, was not always easy. As a member of the revolutionary army, she was the only woman in a male battalion, and Bolívar was often away. Their relationship was turbulent yet passionate, punctuated by bouts of jealousy. It was love in revolutionary times, and Manuelita demonstrated her love for the libertador and his ideals when she saved him from being assassinated by enemies. They were life companions, lovers, and comrades in arms. Unfortunately, when he died, she was forgotten. She finished her life poor and alone, without getting any of the glory Bolívar received as the liberator of the Americas.

Tamsin Clarke, however, brings her back to life, in a brilliant act. As she jumps around the stage, dances, sings, and laughs, Manuelita comes alive. The play was not only a colourful one-woman show, it was also a dialogue with the music and the audience. She does not hesitate in taking a man to the stage to play her English husband, or sitting on a spectator’s lap. She plays Manuelita, but sometimes also embodies Bolívar, the gossiping ladies, or the assassins. She also closely interacts with Camilo Menjura, who brilliantly plays the guitar and sings along with her, and even comforts her when she finds out Bolívar has died. The only criticism I have was that the play was rather short – only an hour, and it left me begging for more. However, it has encouraged me to find more about Manuela Saenz, something Tamsin Clarke perhaps intended by keeping the play rather short.

Watch the trailer hereManuelita will be on tour in the UK in 2015/2016, don’t miss it!

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Feriado, una película de Diego Araujo / Feriado, a film by Diego Araujo

This text was adapted from a piece I wrote for my Spanish class portfolio at university. It is quite lengthy but I tried to pick the most important parts. It was originally written in Spanish, but I have (freely) translated it into English. Scroll down for the English version. Trailer in Spanish with English subtitles 

Este texto es una versión corta de un ensayo que escribí para mi clase de español en la universidad. Es bastante largo, pero intenté presentar aquí solo las partes más importantes. Lo traduje al inglés, y la traducción está después de la versión en español. Trailer aquí 

Hace varias semana pasé un fin de semana entero viendo películas en el Cornerhouse. El motivo fue el Viva Festival, que cada año presenta varias películas del mundo hispano. En los años anteriores duraba casi dos semanas, pero como este año el Cornerhouse se mueve a otro sitio (HOME en Whitworth Street), solo duró cuatro días. A mi me encanta el Viva Festival, porque presenta una selección de películas españolas y latinoamericanas de muy alta calidad cinematográfica, que no se estrenan en cinemas convencionales. Este año mostraron 5 películas, de las cuales vi solo cuatro: Os Fenómenos (España, Alfonso Zarauza), Feriado (Ecuador, Diego Araujo), Ruido Rosa (Colombia, Roberto Flores), y María y el Araña (Argentina, María Victoria Menis ). De esta fantástica selección, que consta de unas de las mejores películas que se estrenaron recientemente, una en particular sobresale. Feriado, el primer largo metraje del director ecuatoriano Diego Araujo me llamó la atención por varios motivos. Voy a destacar varios temas y aspectos de la película que me interesaron. Revelo algunos elementos de la trama que no se encuentran en el trailer, pero no cuento el final de la historia, para los que no la han visto aún.

Feriado se desarrolla en 1999 en Ecuador, con telón de fondo el dicho ‘feriado bancario’ durante cual se derrumbó el sistema bancario del país entero después de su (neo)liberalización por el gobierno de Sixto Durán Ballén y Alberto Dahik: se congelaron fondos de pensiones y de ahorros, y cuentas bancarias, y miles de personas se hallaron arruinadas. Es en este contexto de malestar generalizado que está ambientada la historia de Juan Pablo – “Juampi”, interpretado por Juan Manuel Arregui, un joven ecuatoriano de 16 años de clase media alta. Va a pasar el feriado, o las vacaciones, en la hacienda de su tío, quien es el director de uno de los bancos principales de Ecuador, con primos de su misma edad. A lo largo de la película se nota la intranquilidad de cada uno de los personajes. Se entiende que la familia está dividida por asuntos supuestamente relacionados con la practicas poco éticas del tío banquero. Juan Pablo se siente desconectado a este amenazante mundo de mentiras, fraude, y violencia moral y física. Con sus 16 años, todavía es un niño, enfrentado a un mundo que no le entiende y que choca con su inocencia. Durante la fiesta organizada por el tío pilla a dos hombres robando los tapacubos de los coches y es testigo del castigo corporal que infligen al que encuentran, y eso le traumatiza. Al huir de la escena, encuentra por coincidencia al otro ladrón y le ayuda a escapar. La amistad que nace entre los dos jóvenes después del encuentro va a cambiarle la vida a Juan Pablo. Al encontrarse con Juano (interpretado por Diego Andrés Paredes), un joven mecánico de origen modesto, Juan Pablo se enfrenta con un mundo muy diferente al que está acostumbrado, y ahí empieza para él un proceso de descubrimiento personal y de cuestionamiento identitario. A medidas de que se van conociendo los dos chicos, Juan Pablo descubre un universo diferente al suyo, pero también descubre su atracción hacia Juano.

Uno de los temas principales de Feriado, a mi parecer, es lo de “contraste”. Primero, hay un contraste tremendo entre el universo de Juan Pablo y el de Juano: uno es de clase media alta, de “origen” europeo, educado en una escuela privada, y el otro es de clase popular, de “origen” indígena, y trabaja de mecánico en un pueblo. Cuando Juan Pablo se enfrenta con esas diferencias, empieza a descubrirse a él mismo, a explorar lo que constituye su identidad propia, lo que percibe, y lo que empieza a ser capaz de entender y expresar. Juan Pablo se encuentra entre dos mundos contrarios y tiene que dar el salto y elegir de qué lado está. Emprende este proceso de descubrimiento y auto-definición también con respecto a su sexualidad, ya que siente cierta atracción sexual hacia Juano, algo que está aprendiendo a aceptar y expresar. Siente que es diferente a los demás pero aún no sabe si es algo que debe considerar como positivo o negativo. En una escena que me encantó, está  tumbado bocarriba en el techo de su casa, mirando la calle al revés, y dice: ‘Me encanta verle a la ciudad así…. bocarriba. A veces le veo, le veo… le veo tanto que ya no sé, si soy yo él que está al revés o es la ciudad.’ A medidas que se desarrolla la película, Juan Pablo evoluciona, crece, aprende a conocerse a si mismo, y a negociar las contradicciones de su propio entorno e identidad. Juan Pablo es consciente del carácter subversivo de su relación con Juano, que desafía los límites de la divisiones de clase social y de género, y las relaciones étnicas, y construye su identidad probando hasta qué punto puede cuestionar estos límites.

El feriado de Juan Pablo, tanto como el feriado bancario nacional es una etapa crucial cada uno en su manera, en la historia personal del protagonista y en la historia nacional ecuatoriana. Así se puede relacionar el entorno global con la historia personal del chico: en este momento crítico se revela la corrupción que plaga el país, y de eso resulta una tensión omnipresente y un cuestionamiento de los fundamentos de la sociedad ecuatoriana. Además, la razón por la cual Juano y su primo están robando tapacubos durante la fiesta es la responsabilidad del tío banquero de Juan Pablo en el colapso bancario, ya que la tía de Juano, Mama Rosa, perdió todo sus ahorros por la crisis. Sin este acontecimiento Juan Pablo y Juano nunca se hubieran encontrado.

El último tema que quisiera destacar es la representación y critica de la sociedad ecuatoriana en la película. Tras la historia de Juan Pablo, Araujo pone de manifiesto varios aspectos subyacentes en la sociedad ecuatoriana: divisiones étnicas y racismo, homofobia, desigualdad social y económica, el peso de la religión, y la intolerancia latente, además de la corrupción y del disfuncionamiento del sistema. Lo que separa Juan Pablo de Juano es una gran brecha social y étnica, en una sociedad todavía marcada por el eurocentrismo característico de las sociedades Latinoamericanas, idea que el sociólogo y humanista peruano Aníbal Quijano desarrolla en varios estudios y obras académicas. De la misma manera, se nota la separación social entre los de origen europeos y los mestizos ya que corresponde a las disparidades económicas. En la fiesta del tío banquero aparece un elite europea adinerada, y en las fiestas de Juano y sus amigos solo aparece gente mestiza de clase popular: los dos mundos no se mezclan. Cuando Juan Pablo ‘desaparece’ en varias ocasiones, los primos suponen que tiene un relación con su amiga “La Flaca”, ya que la posibilidad de que él tuviera otra relación, además con otro chico es impensable. Choca la realidad social y moral del país con el idealismo de Juan Pablo, quien lucha para afirmarse en un mundo ‘al revés’, donde la gente pobre lo pierde todo en una crisis provocada por la elite dominante, y donde un joven tan maravilloso como él llega a sentirse alienado.

El genio de Araujo radica en el hecho de que logre abordar temas muy serios con una película muy suave, poética y sensata. De hecho, Feriado es la película más sensible y bella que he visto en muchísimo tiempo: me emocionaron mucho el personaje y la historia de Juan Pablo. El final de la película, tan emocionante y doloroso, es la culminación de esta obra maestra que sin duda no deja a nadie indiferente.

English Version 

A few weeks ago I spent a whole weekend at the Cornerhouse, for the Viva Festival. For those who haven’t heard of it, this yearly festival presents Spanish and Latin American films. It usually lasts a couple of weeks, but as the Cornerhouse was being moved to the new HOME buildings (just off Whitworth Street), it only lasted four days this time. I love the Viva Festival because it shows films of very high cinematographic quality, that you wouldn’t otherwise hear of. This year they showed five films, but I only saw four of them: Os Fenómenos (Spain, Alfonso Zarauza – I could not find a trailer with English subtitles), Feriado (Ecuador, Diego Araujo), Ruido Rosa (Colombia, Roberto Flores), and María y el Araña (Argentina, María Victoria Menis ). From this fantastic selection of some of the very best films in Spanish that recently came out, one of them really called my attention: Diego Araujo’s Feriado, the director’s first full-length feature film. As in the Spanish version of this post, I am going to highlight a few aspects of the film that I found particularly interesting. I reveal part of the plot that isn’t obvious in the trailer, but I don’t tell the end of the story, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.

Feriado is set in March 1999 in Ecuador, with the “feriado bancario”, the “bank holiday” as a background. What is called the “bank holiday” in Ecuador is the time when the country’s banking system completely collapsed, following its (neo)liberalisation by Sixto Durán Ballén and Alberto Dahik’s government. Pension funds, savings, and current accounts were frozen, and thousands of people went bankrupt. It is in this atmosphere of general malaise that Juan Pablo’s (Juan Manuel Arregui) story is set. Juan Pablo, or “Juampi” is a 16 year old teenager from an upper-middle class family, who visits his cousins in their countryside house for the holidays. His uncle happens to manage one of Ecuador’s biggest banks. Along the film, the nervousness of all the characters is noticeable, and it is implied that the family is divided because of the uncle’s unethical banking practices. Juan Pablo seems to feel disconnected from this threating world of lies, manipulation, and physical and moral violence. As a 16-year-old, he is still very young to face this world that does not understand him and clashes with his candidness. During a party organised by his uncle, he catches two men stealing wheel covers from the guests’ cars, and witnesses the violent punishment inflicted to one of the thieves, a sight that traumatizes him. As he flees the scene, he runs into the other thief and helps him escape. The friendship that develops between the two boys after this event changes Juan Pablo’s life. Upon meeting Juano (Diego Andrés Paredes), a young mechanic of modest background, Juan Pablo discovers a very different world from his, and there starts for him a process of self-discovery and questioning of his own identity. As the two of them start to get to know each other, Juan Pablo starts to be attracted to Juano.

One of Feriado’s main themes, in my opinion, is that of contrast. First, there is a huge contrast between Juan Pablo’s universe and Juano’s: on is middle class, of European descent, and goes to private school, while the other is of working class and mestizo background, and works as a mechanic in a rural area. As Juan Pablo faces these differences, he starts discovering himself, exploring what constitutes his own identity, what he perceives and starts to be able to understand and express. Juan Pablo finds himself in between two contrary worlds: he has to take the plunge and choose a side. This whole process of self-discovery and self-definition also has to do with his sexual orientation, as he feels attracted to Juano. This is something he is learning to accept and express. He feels different, but cannot tell whether it is a positive thing. In a scene I particularly liked, he lies on the roof of his house, looking at the street upside down, and says: ‘I love seeing the city like this… lying on my back. Sometimes I watch it, I watch it… I watch it for so long that I don’t know anymore, whether I am the one who’s upside down, or the city.’ As the plot unfolds, Juan Pablo evolves, grows up, learns to know himself and deal with his own contradictions and those of his environment. Juan Pablo is conscious of the subversive nature of this relationship with Juano, which challenges the social, gender, and ethnic cleavages. He seems to be building his identity upon teasing these limits.

Juan Pablo’s “feriado”, or holiday, as well as the national “feriado bancario”, are in their own way crucial steps in the main character’s individual story and Ecuador’s national history. In this way the boy’s story can be linked to the larger context: it is at this very moment that the corruption that plagued the country is revealed, and the consequence of this is an omnipresent tension and deep questioning of the founding principles of Ecuadorian society. Moreover, the reason why Juano and his cousin are stealing wheel covers during the party is because of the involvement of Juan Pablo’s uncle in the collapse of the banking system, which made Juano’s aunt lose her savings. Without this particular event Juan Pablo and Juano would have never met.

The last theme I want to bring up is the representation and critique of the Ecuadorian society that is made in the film. Through Juan Pablo’s story, Araujo highlights several underlying aspects of society: ethnic cleavages and racism, homophobia, social and economic inequalities, the influence of religion, and latent intolerance, as well as corruption in a dysfunctional system. What separates Juan Pablo and Juano is a big social and ethnic gap, in a society still influenced by eurocentrism (for more on this read post-colonial scholar Aníbal Quijano). In the same way, we can notice the social and economic cleavage between those of European descent and the mestizos. In the uncle’s party, the guests are from the wealthy elite of European descent, while in Juano’s parties everyone is mestizo and less wealthy: the two worlds do not seem to mingle. When Juan Pablo disappear several times, his cousins assume that he is secretly seeing his girl friend “La Flaca”, since it is inconceivable that he might have a relationship with another guy. The social and moral reality of the country clashes with Juan Pablo’s idealism. He fights to assert himself in a world that is “upside down”, where poor people lose everything in crisis provoked by the elite, and where such a wonderful young man ends up feeling alienated.

The fact that Araujo manages to introduce such heavy themes in such a gentle, poetic and sensible film is a mark of his genius. In fact, Feriado is the most sensitive and beautiful film I have seen in a very long time; the main character and his story really moved me. The very touching and almost painful end to this film is the culmination of this true masterpiece, which will undoubtedly leave no one indifferent.

Banana Hill presents Quantic at Soup Kitchen

A lot of the music I like come from the soundtrack of films I like, which has led me to discovering all sorts of songs, and my Spotify playlist to being very random. From Shantel, whom I first heard of in Fatih Akin’s Soul Kitchen, to Lila Downs, first heard in Frida, my fondness for eclectic films is reflected through my taste in music. When I went to see Jon Favreau’s Chef back in June, the only thing that distracted me from the amazing food in this feel-good film was the music, and after some research on Spotify I came across Quantic, aka Will Holland, a British musician established in Colombia. Not only did I love Mi Swing es Tropical, featured in the film, but also pretty much every song that came up in the playlist. With a mix of Latino sounds, Klezmer themes, soul, and funk, Quantic’s music is literally everything I like, all in one. He also did some excellent collabs with artists like the beautiful Alice Russell, and Colombian singer Nidia Gongora.

I had been keeping an eye out for the possibility of him coming on tour to the UK/Europe for quite some time, but as I was starting to lose hope, ta-dah!, he was coming to Soup Kitchen for a gig in February. Now, the tricky part was convincing my friends to come along, as they were all busy/had never heard of him (they all missed out big time, too bad!). I ended up going with my usual partner in crime Mike, and his friend. And so the three of us found ourselves in the nearly empty basement of SK at half 11. Blame it on me, I was so keen that we went a bit too early, but at least we didn’t queue! Quantic wasn’t on until 12, but by that time the place was rammed with a very hipster crowd, and the atmosphere became a bit merrier. After three hours of frantic dancing (sums up pretty well my dance moves, which are… errm… interesting), I felt like I had run a marathon but could have easily gone on for another few hours, it was just too good. Needless to say I was really pleased when some of my favourite tracks came up: Cumbia Sobre el Mar, Somebodys Gonna Love You, Transatlantic, Sol Clap, among others.

It was an excellent night, and if I could I’d go back tomorrow. Although the basement of SK was really full and got horrendously warm, which was not helped by the fact that the cloakroom was closed, I truly enjoyed it. The atmosphere was excellent, the music was outstanding, and we had an awful lot of fun. Check out Quantic’s Soundcloud and let me know what you think!

Winter Sleep at the Cornerhouse

When Nuri Bilge Ceylan gave his acceptance speech for receiving the Palme d’Or for this film, he dedicated it to the “young people of Turkey, many of whom have lost their lives in the past year”[1], an oblique reference to the recent protests and mining disasters. The director of this 197 minute-long opus has also said in an interview that the central character of Aydın is “a typical Turkish intellectual”[2]. These two facts together tell us much about how this film is commenting on Turkish society.

One could easily dismiss it as typical art house cinema. Its sheer length will no doubt put many off. It lacks ‘action’ in the sense that we have become accustomed to expecting from films. By the end, we might feel as though nothing has happened – but we should be mistaken to think so. For over three hours, and many, many scenes of just dialogue, we creep deeper into the trapped and stultified lives of Aydın, an ex-actor turned hotel owner in the harsh landscape of Cappadocia, his divorced sister Necla and wife Nihal. The conversations of these characters simply are the drama: wandering and meandering, they are undoubtedly long, and that is their strength: pleasantries and everyday affectations come one moment, then a series of implied insults, a smirk, a sigh, a forced smile, silence, and then back to pleasant chatter. By these circuitous scenes of dialogue we learn more about the self-importance of Aydın – his pontificating articles in the local newspaper, his disdain for his pauper of an Imam and tenant Hamdi, his tiresome sense of being a self-made man and lordly ruler of his small kingdom. Necla, his sister, brims with a passive aggression towards Nihal and Aydın that has clearing being steeping for many years; one senses that her keen words of criticism have been carefully rehearsed in her mind. Yet it is Nihal’s contempt for Aydın that is most striking. Her fair face shows us a woman withering away, fraught with spite, yet succeeding to distract herself with philanthropy – until Aydın learns of it, cuts it down with a few patronising remarks and takes it from her.

The powerful social critique expressed in the film reaches its peak when Nihal decides to donate a very large sum of money to her husband’s tenants. Does she do it to solely alleviate her conscience or in a genuine attempt to improve the family’s situation? Whatever the reason, her gesture is seen by Ismail, the imam’s brother, as utterly insulting and humiliating. Although she seems to seek to abolish the existing economical hierarchy that defines the relationship between the tenants and her husband and herself, she only reaffirms the pervasive social hierarchy that exists between the two families. Expecting gratitude, or acquiescence, she is confronted to Ismail’s pride and hostility. She then perhaps realises how degrading her initiative is, giving charity to the very same people disgraced by her husband. The hierarchy is equally maintained by the fact that Aydın insists on charging the tenants for the rent. If he is as wealthy as he gives to understand, why does he not simply allow them to live in the house for free? Or would that, again, be an act of unwanted charity?

The notions of morals and conscience are underlying in all the conversations between the characters, who use them to undermine each other’s actions and thoughts. Although Aydın believes he is a man of good conscience, his sister Necla makes a point out of showing him it is nothing but an illusion, a way for him to keep on living his deluded life. Nihal violently puts him in front of his contradictions: all those morals he constantly talks about, isn’t he the very person who lacks them the most? With their self-righteousness, the three of them seek to justify their own acts, words, and thoughts, in order to disguise their deep uneasiness towards each other and towards the members of the community around them.

The study of these faces showing and hiding back their emotions, as they are lit by flickering log fires in the cavernous rooms of the hotel, are fascinating enough to keep one’s attention throughout these conversations. And yet, in between these scenes, there are also some astonishing shots of the barren countryside as it slowly slips on a spotless blanket of snow. The wisps of fog clinging and passing through the fingers of grass in the first shot alone could not fail to catch one’s eye. The frozen beauty of snowy Cappadocia adds aesthetical substance to the powerful psychological drama taking place.

Toward the end, where the film swells to a dénouement, we are tempted to be enticed by the rakish smile of Aydın as he stares straight at us, his grey hear whirling in the wind, and as we hear his voice reading out his letter to his wife to ask for her forgiveness. Yet the following sight of Nihal, staring lifelessly onto the floor, without even the energy to cry any longer, reminds us of Necla’s words to him:

“Butün meselen ne senin, biliyor musun? Sen, acı çekmemek için, kendini kandırmayı tercih ediyorsun.”

“You know what your problem is? In order not to suffer, you prefer to fool yourself.”

The word ‘Aydın’ means ‘intellectual’ in Turkish. Together with the remarks mentioned at the beginning by Ceylan, we can see that this is all that is left of the bourgeoisie in Turkey: feeling increasingly alienated from the religious and impoverished masses, they distract themselves by being charitable to avoid waking from their deep slumber, to avoid seeing the republic of their long-misplaced ideals, a republic in decline.

You can see Winter Sleep at the Cornerhouse on Oxford Street until the 30th of November, in Turkish with English subtitles.

This is an article co-written with Mehmet Çiftçi.

[1] http://www.vulture.com/2014/05/17-things-to-know-about-cannes-winner-nuri-bilge-ceylan.html

[2] http://www.screendaily.com/festivals/cannes/nuri-bilge-ceylan-winter-sleep/5072348.article

The picture is from The Playlist.

#Şiirsokakta – Poetry on the streets of Istanbul

Saying that Istanbul is a city full of surprises is a terribly ordinary statement, and euphemism at its finest. Whoever has been to this marvelous metropolis would agree with me. Şiir sokakta, literally « poetry on the street », is one of those surprises. As I was strolling around the Cihangir area looking for The Museum of Innocence (more to come about that in a future article), I saw that the facade of some houses were covered with quotations and poems. My knowledge of the Turkish language being rather limited, I struggled to understand them, but nonetheless took pictures of them to try and translate them later with the help of a dictionary. It turned that they were quite complex, and I had to ask my Turkish friends for extra help.

While most of these poems were about love, beauty or life, some of them had a political dimension.

I would like to introduce you to my favorite ones, that were all located on a beautiful blue and pink building on the way between Tophane and the Galata Tower.

The first one that caught my attention, and that happens to be my favorite was written by Özdemir Asaf, as I found out upon investigating. The translation goes as follows : ‘She (he) said wait I will come back and then she (he) was gone/I did not wait/she (he) did not come back/it was something like death/but nobody died’.

The second one is only a sentence : ‘It was the happiest time of my life, but I did not know.’ It appears to be the first sentence of Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence, which narrates the tragic love story of Kemal and Füsun, in mid-1970s Istanbul. Although I have visited the museum itself, I am still reading the book, so more to come about it in the future.

I could not establish the origin of this particular one. If someone knows who wrote it please let me know ! The translation is : ‘It seems that as beautiful this city is, as blue the sea is ‘.

Another one, written by Metin Altıok, is, I think, rather mysterious : ‘It is as if me and mine / in front and behind / in the corridor of me.’ If you have an alternative translation please let me know, because as you can see this one is rather clumsy. This is only part of a stanza in the poem ‘Kendinin Avcısı’, which you can find here.

Finally, this one, written by the popular poet Edip Cansever proved to be extremely hard to translate. Instead of providing an approximative translation, I would rather simply share the picture with you, until I manage to find a good one. Same, if you do have one, please let me know, and you will be rewarded with my eternal gratitude (or a coffee !). It’s been brought to my attention by a friend of mine that this quote is a part of a very long poem titled ‘Sera Oteli’, which you can find here.

If you type #siirsokakta into Twitter or Instagram, you will be able to find an extened collection of poetical graffitis in Turkish. I find this initiative very intriguing. Taking poetry to the streets is something that I greatly praise, as being yet another way of sharing the beauty that words can create.

‘Je m’appelle Niki de Saint Phalle et je fais des sculptures monumentales’ – Exhibition at the Grand Palais

As a child I grew up in a very much culture oriented environment. Being a millennial little girl also inclined me to appreciate female artists. I was thus, by the age of 8ish, able to say that Niki de Saint Phalle was one of my favourite artists, after seeing a documentary broadcast after her death in 2002.
However, at such a young age, what fascinated me about Niki was her project for a park inspired by Gaudi’s Parque Guell, and Les Nanas, those big, colourful sculptures of figuratively powerful women, which is what she is mostly remembered for.


I then, somehow, moved on and forgot about her. However, when an exhibition dedicated to her at the Grand Palais coincided with me randomly spending a weekend in Paris, I decided to give it a chance and go.
For those who do not know her, Niki de Saint Phalle is French and American sculptor and painter born in the 1930s in an aristocratic family, and was educated in a convent. She was raped by her father as a child, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young woman. After being a model, she decided to dedicate her life to art, recognising the healing power it had on her tortured mind.
The exhibition was chronologically organised, to reflect the artist’s evolution. If at first, she represented violence through collages, under the concept of creation through destruction, she then moved on to making pieces representing an extremely deep psychological insight and reflection.

She strongly believed in woman empowerment, and conceived and represented women as protective, creative, loving, and complex. She believed that with the failure of Communism and Capitalism, what the world needed (and probably still needs) was a matriarchal society, giving a political dimension to her art. Through Les Nanas, those gigantic sculptures, she sought to represent women in and of power, women with attitude, seeking greatness, ready to take over a world ‘where everything was invented by guys’, in her own words.

What impresses most now is her reflection on love and relationships, through a series of drawings made in the late 1960s. Her drawings ‘what shall I do now that you’ve left me?’ and ‘why don’t you love me?’ depict the distress that love, and lack of reciprocity in love, can cause.
Another one titled ‘could we have loved?’ explores the unstable dimension of the concept of soulmate on which we always seek to base our love relationships: ‘had we met some other time could it have been you instead of him?’ She addresses the issue of possibility and commitment, but also of deep love and the intimacy it supposes: ‘my love what are you doing?’, ‘are you you driving your new car/are you drinking bloody mary?’

 

She also reflected on her background and her relationship with religion, and her parents.
Although she saw women as loving and protective, she also made a series of sculptures titled ‘The devouring mothers’, in which she gruesomely represented the endless (emotional?) greed of women, mothers, her mother, and the petty bourgeois routine characteristic of her family’s social background. Instead of colorful opulent women, these sculptures represent ridiculous fat ladies with greyish hair, old-fashioned purses and dresses, and pearl necklaces. The film ‘Daddy’, directed in 1973, seeks to openly address the abuse she suffered, imposed on her by her father, with crudeness, exposing the facts as they were in an attempt to show everyone what happened.

Niki de Saint Phalle used different techniques to express herself, including a very peculiar one: she would shoot on a blank canvas with a rifle, aiming at bags full of paint, which would then explode and drip. The canvas itself would be a sculpture: objects stuck to, or carved into a blank surface. With this comes again the theme of creation through destruction. According to the artist herself, she was literally shooting ‘on violence’, hers and that of her time. The shooting session were often made public and some of them were even shown on TV.  Here is a link to a video showing them.

Upon seeing this impressive exhibition I discovered that there was much more to Niki de Saint Phalle than colourful sculptures and extravagant parks. Her whole work is incredibly subtle and powerful, showing the artist’s genius and sensitivity.

If you happen to be in Paris before the 2nd of February do go see this exhibition at the Grand Palais, it is spectacular. However make sure you buy tickets online beforehands as it gets very crowded and the queue is endless.

I took all the pictures at the exhibition, the quality isn’t amazing but it gives you an idea of what you can see there, I hope you enjoy it!