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Latest Art News

President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities members resign en masse in protest

Donald Trump at a rally in Nashville on 15 March 2017 (Image: Rex Features via AP Images)
With the aim of speaking truth to power the 16 remaining members of the Presidents Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned today en masse in protest to President Donald Trumps comments about the Charlottesville riots. Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville, they write in a resignation letter sent to the White House. The false equivalencies you push cannot stand. The Administrations refusal to quickly and unequivocally condemn the cancer of hatred only further emboldens those who wish America ill. We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions."

The signers include the painter Chuck Close, the actor Kal Penn, the author Jhumpa Lahiri, the architect Thom Mayne, and the former head of cultural affairs for New Mexico, Jill Udall. A number of committee members had quit after the presidential election last fall, and those remaining were all holdovers from the Obama administration, who had agreed to remain on the committee until Trump named their replacements. Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions, the letter states. We took a patriotic oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too."

Created in 1982 under President Reagan, the committee helps advise the White House on cultural issues and works directly with the government's three primary agenciesthe National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Institute of Museum and Library Services. "Art is about inclusion. The Humanities include a vibrant free press. You have attacked both," the letter states. "We know the importance of open and free dialogue through our  work in the cultural diplomacy realm, most recently with the first-ever US Government arts and culture delegation to Cuba, a country without the same First Amendment protections  we enjoy here. Your words and actions push us all further away from the freedoms we are guaranteed."

First Lady Melania Trump serves as the honorary chair and governmental members who are expected to remain according to the Washington Post, include the secretaries of Education, Treasury, State and Interior; Carla Hayden, the head of the Library of Congress; Timothy Horne, the acting administrator of the General Services Administration; philanthropist and businessman David Rubenstein, who is chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; and David Skorton, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution

The arts committee's resignation comes of the heels of the disbanding of the President's two business advisory groups, Strategy & Policy Forum and Manufacturing Council, after several members of each also resigned in protest.

The full letter can be read by clicking here.

An eggs-eptional Artangel project by Andy and Peter Holden

Peter Holden (courtesy Artangel)

Artangel is keeping it in the family for its next public art project. Natural Selectiona collaboration between the UK artist Andy Holden and his father, the ornithologist Peter Holdenis due to go on show in the former Newington Library, Elephant & Castle in south London, next month (10 September-5 November).  The work is the culmination of collaborations with my dad over about seven years, which started as a performance and gradually grew into this body of jointly authored work, Andy tells us.  The show is dependent on my fathers knowledge. Upstairs is a Natural History of Nest Building, which looks at how birds make nests, and questions of what is innate and what is learnt in the process of making. A three-screen video shows father and son inspecting various nesting sites. Downstairs in the basement is a Social History of Egg Collecting, which is a historical account of egg-collecting in Britain, charting how it began as scientific pursuit and ended up as a criminalised activity in the space of 100 years, Holden Jr. adds. An animated crow outlines the narrative by the way.

Zhao Bandi’s party crashed by censorship at the Ullens Center in Beijing

Zhao Bandi's Night View includes the words China Dream, president Xi Jinping’s signature propaganda slogan
The whimsical Beijing-based artist Zhao Bandis solo show China Party (until October 22) opened earlier this month at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in the Chinese capital with works spanning his three decade career. However, amidst Zhaos paintings, performances and cheeky panda posters, two 2015 paintings Scenery with Cameras and Night View bore the curious caveat (reproduction).

On 21 July, the UCCA's director Philip Tinari posted on Twitter: While we're on the topic of the Beijing Culture Bureau (Bieber), see these #ZhaoBandi paintings they banned for import for our upcoming show, along with the original images depicting surveillance cameras and a neon sign saying China Dream. Part of the Uli Sigg collection, the works were not authorised to re-enter the mainland.

Surveillance is a popular subject matter for Chinese artists, from dissident Ai Weiwei to establishment yet incisively observant artists like Xu Bing and Song Dong. The China Dreampresident Xi Jinpings signature propaganda slogan for the first few years of his administrationremains as unavoidable yet unmentionable as Beijings smog.

Even as China hosts ever more and bigger exhibitions, there are whispers in the art world that censorship is tightening approaching the five year anniversary of Xis ascension in November. Shanghai, for example, has experienced a recent moratorium on showing Korean artistsand sometimes Japanese by extensiondue to ongoing diplomatic tensions between China and South Korea.

UCCA at least kept the party going by finding a creative workaround, and reproducing the offending works. They joined works from Zhaos early career including Nursery Rhyme, a 1994 and 2017 sculpture of a flower made of 10 RMB notes immersed in a vase of blood, and 1990s Butterfly of a woman posing for a photograph at Tiananmen, a year after that iconic location took on a heavy new meaning.

Zhao Bandi is best-known though for his incorporation of pandas, the beloved and adorable national animal providing cover for Zhaos social commentary. China Party includes his 2005 video One Mans Olympics, in which a toy panda toting Zhao runs as a torchbearer during a performance of an imaginary opening ceremony in Bern, Switzerland. Like the China Dream, the 2008 Beijing Olympics were ubiquitous in the state media but taboo to comment upon.

Though projects like his panda fashion shows are usually more playful than provocative, Zhao has been a bellwether before. His early series of public service posters, featuring him talking to his toy panda about locally delicate issues such as environmental protection, AIDS prevention, unemployment, and the dangers of smoking, signaled a new era of openness when they were allowed to be publicly displayed on Shanghai streets and its airport in 2000.

Islamic extremist liable for €2.7m in damages for destroying Timbuktu shrines

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi is liable for €2.7m in damages for Timbuktu destruction
The International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled on 17 August, that an Islamic extremist caused 2.7m in damages when he destroyed shrines in Timbuktu, Mali, in 2012. This is the first time that the ICC has made a ruling solely on cultural destruction, setting an important precedent.

The Hague-based ICC ordered "individual, collective and symbolic reparations to be made to the community of Timbuktu. Acknowledging that the destruction of the protected buildings has caused the suffering of people throughout Mali and the international community, the ICC judge Raul Cano Pangalangan ordered that a symbolic amount of 1 be paid to the government of Mali and 1 to Unesco.

However, recognising that the Islamic extremist, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, is penniless, the ICC said that its Trust Fund for Victims (TFV)set up following the establishment of the ICC in 2002would implement the ruling and decide how the outstanding amount be paid. TFV has until 16 February 2018 to come up with a reparations implementation plan that is expected to include building memorials.

Islamic extremists used pickaxes and bulldozers to destroy nine mausoleums and the centuries-old door of the Sidi Yahya mosque, built during a golden age of Islam, after a jihadist takeover in northern Mali in 2012, according to Agence France Presse. Calling the attack a war crime, the ICC sentenced Al-Mahdi to nine years in jail last September after he pleaded guilty to intentionally directing attacks on the Unesco world heritage site. Al-Mahdi apologised for his actions and said that he regretted the damage his actions had caused.

This ruling is important because it acknowledges the cultural damage that war can cause, Nick Gestrich, an archaeology research fellow specialising in Malian history at the Frobenius-Institut in Frankfurt, tells The Art Newspaper. Beyond the physical destruction of the buildings themselves, this has been traumatic to the people of Timbuktu. There are living descendants of the holy men whose mausolea were destroyed and they will welcome the reparations in restoring their ancestors' resting places. It is a step towards restoring the dignity of those harmed in the islamist takeover.

Founded between the fifth and 12th centuries by Tuareg tribes, Timbuktu has been dubbed "the city of 333 saints" for the number of Muslim sages buried there.

The landmark ruling signals that the destruction of historic sites at Palmyra in Syria and Mosul in Iraq by Isil could also be considered as war crimes by the ICC. Indeed, Unesco's director general, Irina Bokova, described the destruction of Palmyra's tetrapylon monument as a new war crime in January.

However, according to French TV channel France24, the TVF has warned that this kind of settlement could actually incentivise cultural destruction because poor people could see this as ensuring a payout.

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