A Hub For Art and Pop Culture in Dubai

Alserkal Avenue is a massive Dubai art hub housed in a complex of 91 warehouses that were once the site of a marble factory. This center of creativity is home to galleries and workshops where artists are given the tools they need to create as well as perks like an artisan cafe, a vinyl record shop and a sneaker store. Vilma Jurkute, the director of Alserkal Avenue, gives architects and photographers Anna Devis and Daniel Rueda a tour of this carefully curated community founded by businessman and patron of the arts Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal.

How LGBTQ People are Resisting Bolsonaro’s Brazil Through Art

Graffiti commemorating Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco who was shot dead in an apparent assassination. Emanoelle Lima/photo by Catherine McNamara, Author provided

Graffiti commemorating Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco who was shot dead in an apparent assassination. Emanoelle Lima/photo by Catherine McNamara, Author provided

Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in October 2018 and took office in January 2019. Since then, the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights has chosen to remove the legal protection status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) people. Some politicians are now pushing for a ban on talking about gender diversity and sexual orientation in schools.

Bathroom laws pertaining to which toilet facilities trans people are allowed to use and bills defining what constitutes a family, same sex marriage and laws enabling trans people to change their legal name are also seen to be under threat.

Brazil has a reputation as one of the most violent countries in the world and is known as the LGBT “murder capital” – 167 trans people were reported murdered between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018 alone. In the lead up to and since Bolsonaro’s election, LGBT hate crime has increased.

No wonder that many Brazilian LGBTQ people are worried that they are becoming isolated from the rest of the world. Marielle Franco – a young politician who took a strong stance against police violence – was murdered in Rio de Janeiro in March 2018.

She was a bisexual black woman who grew up in the Maré favela and pushed for social justice for marginalised people in the city. She was reportedly targeted by professional killers.

In Brazil, military police patrol the streets and are independent from the municipal police who carry out investigations. In March 2019, a year after her murder, it was reported that two ex-military police had been arrested for the killing.

Theusa Passareli – a 21-year-old art student who identified as genderqueer or non-binary – was murdered in April 2018, killed on their way home from a party.

Their work was incomplete in Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janiero’s design studio when I visited in November 2018 and will stay to commemorate their memory, as the university and the trans community mourn the murder of another young person.

Resin on glass by Theusa Passareli. Catherine McNamara, Author provided

Resin on glass by Theusa Passareli. Catherine McNamara, Author provided

A safe place to protest

I was in Rio for a short residency with the TransArte festival – a three day art show that explores gender identity and sexuality. The festival brings together trans people and allies to exchange ideas, make and share work, and celebrate the strengths of the LGBT community in Brazil within a place of safety.

It’s not easy to protest when faced with violence, nor is it easy to enjoy culture – particularly for people living in poverty where basic needs are difficult to meet. Trans artists have said that being trans is a barrier to participating in the arts, but “safe spaces” such as the TransArte festival allow protest art to flourish and create opportunities for LGBTQ people to express themselves.

Trans and LGB artists, activists and educators from Rio de Janeiro and London. TransArte Festival Team, Author provided

Trans and LGB artists, activists and educators from Rio de Janeiro and London. TransArte Festival Team, Author provided

Trans and LGB artists, activists and educators from Rio de Janeiro and London. TransArte Festival Team, Author provided

A theatre company led by trans people created Come As You Are – a series of autobiographical stories with physical theatre and improvisation. The stories were about family – supportive and loving family as a source of strength, and familial rejection as a result of being trans.

They explored life as trans men and women in a culture of toxic masculinity, normativity and police brutality. A photography exhibition of several artists included Bernardo de Castro Gomes, whose work also explored his identity as a black trans man facing intimidation, harassment and violence.

Queer drag artists such as Le Circo de la Drag spoke about their political performance – using their bodies to resist toxic masculinity and defy the threats of violence they often receive.

Le Circo de la drag pay tribute to Marielle Franco and Theusa Passareli. Marianna Cartaxo, Author provided

Le Circo de la drag pay tribute to Marielle Franco and Theusa Passareli. Marianna Cartaxo, Author provided

The show Monster, Whore, Bitch – Waldirene’s Dreams, directed by Dandara Vital, compiled the everyday experiences of Brazilian trans people interwoven with a re-telling of the story of Waldirene – the first trans woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Brazil in December 1971, at the height of the military dictatorship.

Resistance is clearly flourishing in Brazil against the odds and not only within festivals like TransArte. A Portuguese translation of Jo Clifford’splay The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven was due to open in Londrina, a city in southern Brazil, but the venue cancelled at the very last moment.

The lead, a trans woman called Renata Carvalho, received death threats. The company moved to a semi-derelict space where they performed by torchlight instead, despite injunctions from both Pentecostal and Catholic groups to stop the production.

My own experiences working with the TransArte festival team in Rio have shown me the value of safe places free from judgement and hostility. The people we worked with told us that being there in solidarity with the trans communities of Rio felt like a powerful action in itself, resisting the culture of violence that thrives in Bolsonaro’s Brazil.

CATHERINE MCNAMARA is Head of School (Art, Design and Performance) at the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION.

Turmoil, Pain, and Beauty: Colombia’s Blossoming Art Scene

The Museum of Antioquia, in Medellin. Jonathan Robinson.

The Museum of Antioquia, in Medellin. Jonathan Robinson.

With its rich, diverse culture, picturesque landscapes and lush natural resources, Colombia should be one of the most popular tourist destinations in South America. However, the country’s image took a hit in the 1980s, with the rise of cocaine and the drug cartels that controlled it, most notably, Pablo Escobar and his Medellin cartel. In recent years the Colombian government has addressed this problem head-on, dismantling drug rings and adopting a national slogan designed to put visitors at ease: “The only risk is never wanting to leave”. A recent spike in Colombia’s art scene may also help lift the stigma that shrouds the country, adding a new dimension to a people and culture the world thought it knew, and helping Colombia develop a new identity, or perhaps, reclaim an old one.

To be fair, Colombia is still the world's top producer of cocaine, and the legal status of cocaine within the country, combined with the high demand for it outside of the country makes the drug trade a recurrent enemy of the government. To make matters worse, drugs are not the only vice thriving in Colombia. Prostitution is also legal and readily available, making Colombia a popular destination for sex tourism, like Thailand or the Netherlands. In 2012, American secret service agents made international headlines when they got into a spat with a prostitute over an unpaid bill for “services rendered” while then President Barack Obama was visiting Cartagena. While the incident was a PR nightmare for the US, it also added to Colombia’s already prevalent image as a haven for illicit activity.

There is, however, much more to Colombia than sex and dope—and there always has been. In the heart of Medellin, the very city Escobar called home, lies the Museo de Antioquia, one of Colombia’s oldest museums. The museum features the work of famed Medellin artist Fernando Botero, known for his voluminous depictions of people and animals. This “Boterismo” style won Botero international fame, with many of his paintings and sculptures being featured in museums around the world. There was even a restaurant named after him in Las Vegas. Medellin is not the only city to get swept up in the art craze. The capital city of Bogota is home to over 100 commercial art galleries, a byproduct of an economic boom that Colombia experienced as the drug wars began to subside and the country began to stabilize.

The works of Fernando Botero are prominently featured at the museum. Jonathan Robinson.

The works of Fernando Botero are prominently featured at the museum. Jonathan Robinson.

Sometimes, in the scramble to create a compelling story, media outlets may narrow or oversimplify the identities of people. Colombians are joining a long list of ethnic, gender, and religious groups who take issue with the way they are portrayed in the media and are taking it upon themselves to help the world understand that their culture may be a bit more nuanced than it has been led to believe. While the rise of Colombia's art scene may not refute the bloody images the media has shown in the past, it does add to them, creating a separate narrative for the country that exists alongside the current one. In the end, understanding Colombia may not require the world to empty its cup, but rather, to invest in a larger one.

JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

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The Rock Garden of Chandigarh

A self-taught sculptor’s secret garden.

A picturesque waterfall in the Rock Garden of Chandigarh. Image Credit: Atlas Obscura

A picturesque waterfall in the Rock Garden of Chandigarh. Image Credit: Atlas Obscura

On 25 acres in Northern India sits a dream-like rock garden - an ethereal combination of sculpture, architecture, and landscape.

The man behind the garden is Nek Chand, who was born into a Hindu farming community in the rural Punjab. Chand grew up immersed in the fairy tales his mother told him and loved to play in the nearby forests and rivers. When he grew up, Chand became the first person in his village to attend high school, but returned to continue working on his family's farm. There he built giant scarecrows out of cloth, his first sculptural project other than a piece he had created as a child from broken bangles.

Soon, however, Chand and his family were forced to flee their home due to violence surrounding the partition. They re-settled in Chandigarh where Chand began to work for the city as a construction supervisor.

Nek Chand surrounded by his sculptures. Image Credit: The Guardian

Nek Chand surrounded by his sculptures. Image Credit: The Guardian

It was at this point that Chand began work on what would eventually become the Rock Garden of Chandigarh. In 1958, six years after being displaced to Chandigarh, Chand began to create a sculpture garden in a hidden forest clearing. He worked at night and in secret, creating statues from bits of pottery, iron, bottles, bicycle frames - refuse from the villages of Chandigarh that had been destroyed to make way for a new, more modernized city. Chand saw beauty in what others passed off as garbage, and peddled these bits of glass and pottery north on his bicycle to the clearing that was slowly becoming a garden.

The project continued in secret for a little over a decade, largely because the land Chand had chosen was designated as a conservation area in 1902 and was a no-build zone. In 1975, however, Chand revealed his project to the city's chief architect. Instead of following the laws that would have called for the project’s demolition, the authorities caved to public pressure, and not only allowed Chand to keep building, but provided him with a salary and a crew of 50 workers to continue the project. The garden opened to the public a year later.

Statues of dancers in Rock Garden of Chandigarh. Image Credit: Atlas Obscura

Statues of dancers in Rock Garden of Chandigarh. Image Credit: Atlas Obscura

Now, Chand’s original 12 acres have expanded to 25, occupied by the same dream-like sculptures and waterfalls. At times the garden seems like a small village, as over 5,000 visitors a day join sculptures of queens, dancers, monkeys, elephants, schoolchildren, and more. Atlas Obscura describes how the “whole area has been created for a whole body experience of walking, touching, and enjoying the beautiful community that began as a small rock collection.” It seems the garden is as much concerned with how the people inside it occupy its space as with the art objects inside it.

The garden is also an homage to Chand’s farming community in the Punjab. Many of the paths through the garden are similar to village streets, and the fairytale-like ensemble of statues reflects Chand’s childhood imagination.

 

EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her. 

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Tuscany’s Tarot Garden

Amongst the steep Tuscan hillside is an eccentric garden, home to a variety of unusual sculptures inspired by a deck of tarot cards. The Tarot Garden is the brainchild of artist Niki De Saint Phalle, who created the 22 works of art as a safe space for healing. After being committed to an asylum in the 1950s, she found refuge in art and wanted to build an environment that made others feel the same way. Today, visitors can explore the garden, built to be a “dialogue between sculpture and nature.”