“Family is intrinsic to my creativity,” says Ismail Zaidy about his photographic practice that’s grounded in color, emotion, and various aspects of Moroccan culture. In many of his conceptual images, Zaidy’s brother and sister serve as models positioned among swathes of pastel fabrics or balancing between taught ropes. Shot against the sandy backdrops of windswept deserts, each photograph amplifies movement and an interplay between light and shadow.
Pairing with the abstract and minimal aesthetic, Zaidy uses simple editing tools and only the camera on a Samsung Galaxy S5. He draws on his passion for color through silks, cotton, and other textiles that evoke the imagery of his upbringing. “When I was a kid, I used to live in a modest area in Marrakech where I was watching the way the women would wear their fabrics, hike and djellaba out on the streets. These women are still a huge inspiration for me today,” he says.
Although the involvement of Zaidy’s siblings began out of necessity when others weren’t available, they continue to offer direction and insight into the concepts, which the 23-year-old photographer explains:
I’m trying to shine a light on certain subjects. A lack of communication, distance between siblings and their parents, and family estrangement are problems that affect many but are rarely talked about. I am trying to treat this issue throughout my work in a poetic way, showing that family is one of the most valuable gifts in our lives.
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Arresting Sculptural Reliefs by Artist Anne Samat Layer Everyday Objects with Meticulously Woven Threads
In her fiber-based reliefs, Malaysian artist Anne Samat disrupts classic woven patterns with unusual objects: toy soldiers, rakes, and plastic swords are intertwined in the multi-color threads that fan outward and billow down onto the floor. Comprised of a trio of wall hangings and a free-standing sculpture, “Follow Your Heart Wholeheartedly” meticulously juxtaposes beadwork and traditional South Asian weaving techniques with common items, a project that questions the boundaries of craft and art.
Each section is incredibly complex and infused with references to Samat’s family, identity, and experiences with loss. The largest work, for example, features five sections, with the innermost piece paying homage to her late brother who recently died after a long illness. Flanking the central portion are two stately pillars with pink and blue details that represent her mother and father. The outermost layers that sprawl from floor to ceiling evoke the artist herself and her sister, who are the only two living members of her family. Even the title is derived from advice Samat received from her father before he died.
“Follow Your Heart Wholeheartedly” is on view through February 7, 2021, as part of the Asia Society Triennial.
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To prepare for a recent portrait, Shannon LaNier pulled a black coat over his head and wrapped a thick, layered collar around his neck, a costume to match what Thomas Jefferson wore in an iconic 18th-century painting. The Houston news anchor was participating in an ongoing series by British photographer Drew Gardner that recreates photographs, paintings, and other images of historical figures by styling their descendants in similar garb. LaNier’s photograph is particularly significant, though, because he’s the sixth-great grandson of Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, who the third U.S. president enslaved and forced to bear his children, a story that’s long been left out of historical narratives.
Titled The Descendants, the project is a visual excavation of Western history that questions what remains after generations pass. The relatives of historically significant people are, for the most part, out of the spotlight, but as the photographer notes, their ancestors’ “DNA is walking down the street.”
The project began about 15 years ago when Gardner’s mother mentioned that he resembled his grandfather. Although the current project has diverged from simple likeness—the photographer notes that similar features are not a requirement when searching for descendants—he hopes to inspire questions about people’s legacies. “I am not saying they look like their forebears,” he notes. “I’m encouraging a debate. I want to provoke a conversation that makes people curious about history.” Since its inception, he’s photographed relatives of Frederick Douglass, Lisa del Giocondo, Berthe Morisot, and Napoleon.
Gardner’s criteria for choosing subjects is strict: the historical figure must be widely known to the public and have made a significant impact that goes beyond simple celebrity. The next step involves tracking down paintings, photographs, and other realistic representations of the person, which eliminates a considerable number of prospects—originally, Gardner hoped to recreate an image of Pocahontas but soon realized that only a woodcut existed. The photographer then searches for living family members, sometimes working through more than a dozen generations to find someone within 15 years of age of the forebear. Often with the help of museums and other institutions dedicated to historical preservation, he contacts the relative to ask if they’ll pose for a portrait.
To maintain the integrity of the original image, the costumes and props are vintage, when possible. Some elements, though, like the massive, rusted chains forming the backdrop of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s portrait from 1857, don’t exist anymore. When the authentic items aren’t available, Gardner recreates them in physical or digital form.
For LaNier’s portrait, though, the situation was different. While he is dressed similarly to Jefferson, he diverges because he chose to forgo the wig his sixth-great grandfather wore. “I didn’t want to become Jefferson,” he told Smithsonian Magazine. The result is a striking set of portraits that explore historical truths. “Jefferson may have been a founding father, but I am an image of what his family has now become,” LaNier says in an interview about the experience. “You look at my family and you see every color in there, as you will see from many family’s that have come from slavery.”
Although the pandemic has changed his immediate plans for upcoming recreations, Gardner is hoping to release more pieces in 2021, which you can follow on Instagram. For those interested in a behind-the-scenes look at his process, Smithsonian Magazine has released videos of the Douglass, Jefferson, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton shoots.
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Taking eight years to complete, a new stop-motion short by Suresh Eriyat and his production company Studio Eeksaurus tells a heartrending story about family, mistakes, and forgiveness. “Tokri” features a young girl’s attempts to remedy breaking a precious heirloom by weaving and selling baskets to passersby. Chronicling her travails, the claymation winds through the busy streets of Mumbai, featuring an impressively large band of characters.
Part class commentary, “Tokri” was inspired by Eriyat’s own experience in the Indian city, after he dismissed a child who approached him while stopped at a traffic light. “As he drove off, he was hit with guilt, wondering what circumstance made the little girl sell baskets, and what if his brashness had done little but drag her situation for longer,” a statement from the studio says.
A behind-the-scenes video chronicling the creation process reveals a massive set replete with constructed shops and buses, cars, and other vehicles lining the streets. It shows animators constantly moving the dozens of clay characters who walk down the sidewalk and ride on public transit. “For the details of the ambiance, we photographed various little shops on the streets for references, as well as interiors of slum houses,” the studio said. “We tried to get every detail right, from the props inside the house to the model and make of the automobiles on the road.” The result is a lively, crowded cityscape with incredibly particular elements, like the old family photograph, patterned textiles stacked in the home, and the stray animals and refuse occupying alleyways. Expansive shots capture the magnitude of the miniature scenes.
Studio Eeksaurus is headed by both Suresh and Nilima Eriyat, the company’s executive producer. The prolific animator has created hundreds of films that have garnered him an Annecy Cristal, in addition to recognition from Clios and Cannes Lions. To dive further into the making of “Tokri,” multiple videos showing the pre-production, music, and sound processes are available on Vimeo. Find more of Eriyat and the studio’s award-winning work on Instagram. (via Short of the Week)
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Like most romances, penguins’ relationships aren’t black and white. The aquatic birds are known for their scandalous affairs, messy heartbreaks, and frequent kidnappings of each others’ chicks. To keep track of their complicated relationship statuses, caretakers at Tokyo’s Sumida Aquarium and Kyoto Aquarium have created a complex network documenting 2020’s romances.
The two flowcharts are replete with color-coded lines and symbols: Red hearts denote couples. Purple lines with question marks signify more complicated relationships with the potential of romance. A blue, broken heart indicates an ended affair. Yellow lines mean friendship, while green marks an enemy. Each penguin’s name is written underneath its photo.
In an interview with CNN Travel, Shoko Okuda, a spokeswoman for the aquariums, said the caretakers have included the dramatic birds’ flirtatious tactics, too, which includes wing flapping and shaking their necks left to right. Heartbroken birds—one female in Kyoto (shown below) ended six relationships last year alone—often refuse to eat their rice as they cope with the loss. The caretakers included have formed strong bonds with the penguins, sometimes even coming between same-species connections.
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Sydney-based artist Mechelle Bounpraseuth crafts life-sized ceramics that explore her identity as a first-generation daughter of Laotian refugees. Her small and glossy ceramic artwork, which ranges from drink cans to widely known sauces, explores her connection with her past and how branded ingredients are rooted in culinary culture and rituals.
Bounpraseuth was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, and despite many fond memories of her family and childhood, her religion discouraged her from pursuing artistic pursuits. She left the religion in her 20s and got married, realizing that her dream of becoming an artist was possible and that she didn’t have to succumb to the person her religion had wanted her to be.
Her creativity initially began from drawing and creating zines, before Bounpraseuth enrolled in a ceramics course and began crafting functional objects. Noticing her talent for the medium, her tutor encouraged her to pursue work with more artistic flair. She began to expand on her drawings of household objects by recreating them in clay and glossy bright colors.
One of Bounpraseuth’s ceramics is a Heinz Ketchup bottle, a condiment found in many family fridges and cupboards throughout the world. For the artist, the sauce represents the memory of her family eating pho together, a ritual in which they would come together and make the recipe from scratch with a dollop of ketchup. These sculptural forms are meaningful symbols to Bounpraseuth as the pho was a labor of love and would take her family all day to make.
Through the creation of these domestic objects from her past, Bounpraseuth uses her artwork as a way to reflect upon and process her childhood memories and as a way to navigate her old and new identities. These pieces illustrate how some values remain passed down from generations, like Bounparseuth’s reference to her family’s shared domesticity, while some core aspects of family, like religion, are not always.
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