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A Reel-to-Reel Recorder Animates Wildlife Automata Using Carl Sagan’s Warning of Climate Disasters
A new advertisement for the United Nations Global Compact, the largest corporate sustainability program in the world, recalls the nearly 40-year-old speeches of the prescient American scientist and cosmologist Carl Sagan. Famously testifying to Congress in 1985 to alert of the dangers of a warming environment, Sagan was an unflinching advocate for transitioning the world away from fossil fuels and protecting the planet for generations to come.
In “Carl Sagan’s Message,” the Brazilian production company Boiler Filmes and ad agency AlmapBBDO bring the scientist’s words back to life alongside a menagerie of wildlife automata. As a reel-to-reel audio recorder plays his speeches, a kangaroo, elephant, moose, and more—all of which were created by artist Pablo Lavezzari—begin to wiggle. Each is part of a larger installation, a fitting metaphor for the connection of all living beings.
Throughout the nearly two-minute ad, Sagan warns, “We’re doing something immensely stupid…The abundance of greenhouse gases is increasing. One degree of temperature change is enough to produce widespread suffering and famine worldwide.” Unfortunately in 2023, the planet has already surpassed one degree, and we now face the immense task of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celcius. “40 years ago it was urgent,” the ad reads. “Now it’s an emergency.”
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‘Then Comes The Body’ Follows the Nigerian Ballet Academy That Stepped into the Global Spotlight
In June 2020, a clip of the then-11-year-old Anthony Mmesoma Madu dancing in a rain-soaked courtyard made the internet rounds. The video shows the young student gracefully performing on wet concrete, presumably demonstrating what he’s learned from Leap of Dance Academy. Located in Ajangbadi, Ojo, a suburb of Lagos, Nigeria, the ballet school garnered global attention after that viral moment, including from prestigious organizations like the American Ballet Theater and New York City Ballet, celebrities like Viola Davis, and the broader public.
A new documentary titled “Then Comes The Body,” directed by Jacob Krupnick of Wild Combination, pulls back the curtains on the genesis of the academy and follows its students, sharing their stories as individual artists and what it means to be part of a community with grand ambitions.
Established in 2017, Leap of Dance is the creation of Daniel Ajala, who began running the school out of his home as a way to offer free instruction to those who might want to pursue ballet as a profession. “I wanted, more than anything, to give that opportunity to those younger than myself so they wouldn’t miss their chance like I did,” Ajala said in an interview, noting that, since ballet isn’t widely practiced in Nigeria, he learned from YouTube. “It was too bad that I was as old as I was when I realized I wanted to dance.”
Krupnick first found out about the school and Ajala when much of the world did: with that first video of Madu. “Dance and movement are central to a lot of my films, and I always have an eye out for stories and collaborators that make me curious,” Krupnick says. “I’m a White filmmaker, and a theme that I’ve explored in my work is how it feels for non-White people to enter spaces where they haven’t historically felt welcome.”
After getting in touch with Ajala and learning more about his story, Krupnick traveled to Ajangbadi, where he spent time with the students in their neighborhood and learned more about their practices and dreams. This became the origin of the short film, which was created in partnership with Lagos-based producer Damilola Aleje. Showing the dancers atop yellow vans, moving in the streets, and teaching each other, the documentary offers insight into the immense impact of a single school. Leap of Dance, as the trailer shares, has already helped secure scholarships and performance opportunities for many involved, including Precious Duru and Olamide Olawale who, along with Ajala, narrate the film.
Premiering this June at Tribeca Film Festival, “Then Comes The Body” is an encouraging look at the power of expression and community and asserts that, as Ajala says, “ballet is here to stay.” (via Kottke)
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In Killian Lassablière’s Short Film ‘Kukeri,’ a Centuries-Old Bulgarian Tradition Wards Off Evil Spirits
“Evil is when we don’t want to be together… This is what we do: we banish it so that we can all be together, all equal,” says one of the subjects of Killian Lassablière’s short documentary “Kukeri,” a movingly atmospheric portrait of a centuries-old Bulgarian ritual. Part of The New Yorker Documentary series, the film highlights the cultural practice from the perspective of its participants, known as Kukers, who describe the roots of faith, community, and family that draw them together each spring to ward off evil spirits.
During the annual event, dancers don elaborate animal skin garments, intimidating masks, and huge bells around their waists to appear spectral and huge. For those who participate, it is a calling with mysterious, spiritual ties. “It was innate for me, and it kept growing over the years,” one narrator says. “No one can say why they dressed up as a Kuker for the first time. It has been passed down from generation to generation.” Lassablière focuses on the custom’s ancestral and future appeal, as children dance with their parents and look forward to being able to dance with the big bells.
See the entire film on The New Yorker’s YouTube channel, and find more work by Lassablière on his website. You might also enjoy photographer Charles Freger’s portraits of Kukers and practitioners of similar Eastern European traditions.
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Cuba and the Carnivalesque Take Center Stage in Kehinde Wiley’s New Portrait Series ‘HAVANA’
Amidst his signature verdant backdrops, Kehinde Wiley (previously) situates his subjects in the center of the composition, chins tilted up with regal gazes, enveloped in the grandeur of colorful patterns. The artist is known for monumental portraits in oil that reframe European painting traditions, especially referencing court portraiture in which royal or noble families—almost exclusively white—were portrayed in extravagant dress symbolizing wealth and power. Wiley flips the narrative by positioning historically marginalized Black and Brown figures front and center.
Wiley’s latest body of work titled HAVANA, on view now at Sean Kelly in New York, continues the artist’s interest in the cultures and traditions of the African diaspora. He draws on two separate visits to Cuba, first in 2015 and again in 2022, exploring the carnivalesque phenomenon in Western culture, which manifests in numerous colorful, celebratory events around the world, such as Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Wearing layers of vivid fabric and carrying juggling sticks or instruments, Wiley captures the individuality and creative focus of each person. He says:
The performers are each different—there’s so many different points of view, so many different life experiences, but one thing that unites them all is the very sense that America dominates the economic fortune of Cuba. The relationship between America and Cuba is one that has been fraught with a fascination, a suspicion, an intrigue, and a cultural weight.
Wiley references notable artists like Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, and Alexander Calder, who around the turn of the 20th century explored similar themes. Through portraits of acrobats, dancers, and musicians, Wiley examines the political history, economic hardship, and thirst for artistic freedom in Cuba, focusing on circuses and carnivals as sites of celebration, disruption, and self-expression.
On his first visit to Cuba, Wiley stopped by the Escuela Nacional de Circo, or the National Circus School, to learn about the history of the medium in the country and its national circus, Circuba. Prior to the Cuban Revolution, the nation was home to numerous family-run companies, but today, there is only one. During his second visit, he met with members of Raices Profundas, a group regarded as one of the world’s most authentic performing ensembles in the Yoruba tradition.
Like in many parts of the world, numerous cultural histories intersect in Cuba due to the period of European colonization, which resulted in the forced migration of Indigenous populations and centuries of enslavement of African peoples. Over time, circuses and elaborate street parties became “opportunities for the formerly enslaved to engage in moments of freedom and grace that were generally forbidden,” reads an exhibition statement. “The carnival, Mardi Gras, and street processions were events in which chaos could arise, love could be expressed, and a spiritual embrace of religious traditions could be manifest.”
HAVANA continues at Sean Kelly through June 17, which includes a three-channel film featuring some of the performers. See more from the artist on his website or Instagram, and you might also want to check out Big Chief Demond Melancon’s elaborately beaded Mardi Gras costumes.
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SVA Continuing Education Offers Summer Courses, Workshops, and Artist Residencies
Ready to take your practice and creativity to new heights? SVACE has the resources and expertise to help you go to the next level. With a diverse range of more than 200 courses and ten artist residencies, you’ll find everything you need to achieve your goals and actualize your potential. Whether you’re looking to advance your career, explore new artistic avenues, or simply deepen your practice, our experienced faculty will provide the guidance and support you need to grow.
Head to sva.edu/ce to explore our offerings and register for upcoming free events.
Artist Residency Programs & Intensives
Online and on-campus courses are available in:
- Art & Activism
- Fine Arts
- Illustration and Comics
- Interior Design
- Photography and Video
- Professional Development
- Visual and Critical Studies
- Visible Futures Lab
- Visual Narrative
Free Virtual Events & Information Sessions
If you need advice or have questions, please email [email protected] to connect with one of our course advisors.
About the School of Visual Arts
School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers, and creative professionals for seven decades. With a faculty of distinguished working professionals, a dynamic curriculum, and an emphasis on critical thinking, SVA is a catalyst for innovation and social responsibility. Comprising 6,000 students at its Manhattan campus and 35,000 alumni in 100 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the college, please visit sva.edu.
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Max Naylor’s Ethereal Landscapes in Ink and Oil Paint Defy Nature’s Rules
Working in vivid washes of ink and oil paint, artist Max Naylor renders impressionistic dreamscapes that emerge from nostalgic recollections and imagined spaces. Focusing on natural textures like gilled mushrooms scaling a tree trunk or the soft ripples of water, Naylor creates what he calls a “parallel universe, a microcosm that is similar to our world but free from the shackles of reality.” The scenes often veer toward the unnatural, favoring otherworldly color palettes and unlikely lighting. “In these spaces, it can be night and day simultaneously,” he says. “You can stare up at the sky whilst noticing the plants flowering at your feet.”
The ethereal qualities of Naylor’s works echo his process, which involves letting the fluid materials dictate the contours of the compositions and allowing the landscapes to “well up from my subconscious and spill onto the surface…The works in ink are made quickly. At the same time, I’m working on larger oil paintings that take much longer. Working at these different tempos keeps things fresh and exciting for me, with the works in ink continually informing the works in oil.”
Based in Bristol, Naylor has a studio at Spike Island and currently teaches at London’s Royal Drawing School. You can find more of his landscapes on Instagram.
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Editor's Picks: Animation
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.