Understanding other cultures (and sculptures)

collections, Connections, Egyptian, Philosophy, Relationships, Soul searching
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‘Defender’ 2017 Only Human Collection

This was the first piece the sculptor made in ‘The Only Human’ collection and I am writing about it last as we round-up this collection of work. At the moment a few of this collection are on display in London, until the end of August. (link)

If you have spent time within a different culture then you’ll know how sometimes somethings can seem baffling, unusual and can challenge your way of thinking. Alternatively there are experiences which can be preferable or that you may want to adopt. Either way a new or different culture can open us up to a new ways of seeing.

When I was younger I remember my Father, who is a teacher, doing a school assembly on the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant , it cleverly demonstrates how a person can have one way of seeing something very differently to another and it affecting their interpretation of that idea. Culture can be very much like that.

I was fortunate to spend time in Japan at the age of 18 which opened my eyes to sights, sounds, smells and tastes that were totally new to me. My first image of a lady walking a cat on a lead, wearing what looked like a surgical mask over her face was definitely a diary entry. Green tea that tasted bitter, bland tofu and miso fish was a first meal that made me wonder if I would survive my 6 months there, such a lover of food am I. This was also back in the days before we had any of these food flavours and products available in the UK. Now matcha lattes and ramen bowls are all on trend. My eldest even requested sushi for one of his school lunches! Japanese food in lots of small little bowls and chop sticks whilst siting on the floor was certainly something I fell in love with, along with the house design and contemplation of nature and tranquility.

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‘Madame Butterfly’ Calligraphy collection

On Saturday evening we went to see the Opera, Madame Butterfly, a Christmas gift from my parents.  My husband had already seen it before in Cairo which had inspired him to make the sculpture above, titled after the opera and a very different style and material to ‘Defender’. The Alhambra opera used shadows in the performance at at the weekend to depict some of the scenes. So I loved the connection between the set design and this piece.

The Japanese culture could be summed up in two words, honour and respect and this is very much what fuels the tragic ending of the opera. Japanese design and living is about capturing the beauty then discarding the rest.  ‘Madame Butterfly’, the sculpture from the Calligraphy collection (also a Japanese art form) nods to this etiquette in that it is displaying only what is essential in exploring outline rather than playing with form.

In contrast to ‘Madame Butterfly’, ‘Defender’ is all mass and form. It is interesting how seeing something from a different angle can influence how we look at something. Writer, Cherry Smyth when first viewing this piece describes; “In ‘Defender’ (2016) the buffed, open arms of the upright, stocky animal –human hybrid end in what could be black hooves. It tilts its head as if ready to take on anything that comes, and its stolid black and yellow torso is built to impress. For Shendi, the figure represents the ‘defender we all need from time to time.’ It could also suggest the super-ripped gym bodies we increasingly seek, that render the limbs less agile and flexible for the sake of a pose of durability.”

The sculptor didn’t make ‘Defender’ with Egypt in mind, but it was a consideration for placing in an outdoor area in Cairo at one point. The idea of needing a defender is fitting for Egypt and the contrast between these two sculptures is very much like the Japanese and Egyptian culture.

My next big culture experience was at 21 in Egypt, I cried at the airport in Cairo not wanting to leave at the end of my travels. This was way before I was to meet my own Egyptian Sculptor. Funny how fate intervenes. My heart planted a root unbeknown to me. But travelling for a few weeks through a country is not the same as being immersed in one. Although I have since been back several times and am now married to an Egyptian. Egypt is a complex one and certainly less ordered, neat and tidy than the Japanese. It’s almost antithetical in every way.

CLASH is an Egyptian film set in Cairo during the 2013 protests. It portrays the claustrophobic intimacy of a police vehicle where the viewer witnesses the intense heat, no water and over crowded conditions of the van. In many ways it parallels the country as a whole. The individuals in the van display kindness and anger within seconds. Emotions flare up in all directions and we see the injustice, senseless behaviour that is a country at war with itself as so are the people it is made up of. Perhaps, ‘Defender’ is for those moments like in the van, breaking down barriers, pushing past the intensity of the stiffling experience and the personalities which almost smother each other.

It’s hard to sum up Egypt in two words and that really says it all. It is a multitude of attacks on all the senses. Yet the exotic history, heat, passion and flare all give it a romanticism that entices you in. There is a saying once you have tasted the waters of the Nile you have to go back. Maybe, that is for the ‘foreigner’ but for the Egyptian, the corruption and disorder and preference for the outsider make it a very different reality.

Just like with these art works I could not choose which culture I prefer over the other. They both appeal to different sides of me. Perhaps two parts that reside in all of us. We can often choose to dig in our heels and defend what we first think to be our opinion about things. It’s often a good idea to check our thinking and question why we have that point of view.

Only then can we understand others but, not only that, we can understand ourselves.

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‘Defender’ side angle

 

 

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Practicality and the art of tidying

Colour, Connections, Exhibitions, Galleries, Philosophy, Relationships, Soul searching

I have been itching, quite literally, as my eczema has been so bad but an investment in a pair of marigolds seems to be helping with the problem. Suggested by my husband, no problems only solutions. However, that was not my point. I have been desperate to carry on with my sorting and de-cluttering since the boys went back to school on Tuesday. I have been at the shop though, as ever practical, my husband ordered a storage unit for the side of the studio to put in work which is not in exhibition but finished so to create more space in the studio for creating. He has been impatiently wanting this solution for a while.

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He booked out a whole day to wait for the delivery, only to be told they couldn’t make it as they needed a special machine. They said they could bring it at 6pm so my husband waited until 7.30pm and it still didn’t arrive. 8am the following morning we received a call saying they were outside the studio. We both wonder why we are so excited about storage and tidying at the moment.

Today, the sculptor was up early (3.30am) again London bound as we have excitedly sold ‘Madame Butterfly’. Then he and his right hand man are heading on to deliver the remainder of the calligraphy collection to the Hannah Pescher sculpture gardens.

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Some of the calligraphy collection heading to Hannah Pescher

So I have been in the shop all week unable to carry on my house de-clutter project. However, since my last post which resonated with many people a dear friend pointed me in the direction of the KonMari method. So, I have had time this week to do a little research. The method has been created by a Japanese lady Marie Kondo.

Japan and all things Japanese are in my blood, it feels or has definitely have influenced the shaping of me in someway. When I was 18 I went to a small village to live and work in a Leonard Cheshire home. At that time I had only ever been to France and Holland, so the culture shock was huge but I embraced and enjoyed the deep and spiritual meaning which seeped into every aspect of the lifestyle and way of being.

This sculpture, ‘Madame Butterfly’ is the outline of a woman wearing a Kimono. A geisha girl. The opera is very much about the meeting of east and west and there is such contrast between the attitudes and styles of the western world and the eastern traditions. As in the simplicity I desire for the home, this style of the theme of work by husband is about stripping back the outline to the simplest form.

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Looking into Marie Kondo’s style and her art of tidying was a great reminder of the Japanese art of being and living. Something I have not been doing and not obviously picked up from my time in Japan as I looked last night at the disaster and disorganisation of my domain. So, eager to implement it, I ‘KonMari’ -ed my wardrobe which is where she suggests to start. With clothing. This seems where I have been going wrong. Starting with all my Japanese memorabilia, letters and souvenir boxes was too hard. I need to learn how to sense whether an item ‘Spark’s Joy’ or not. According to her, by the time I have worked through clothes, books, documents and miscellaneous only then can I tackle those things that have meaning.

In just two hours I folded my huge pile of clothes, origami style and feel instantly inspired. Today wearing a skirt I have never worn before, so much so that the boys were shocked this morning and wondered if I was taking them to school with it on. A skirt which I bought in Egypt when I was staying with my sister-in-law for an extended period of time during maternity leave. So immediately the item has a memory, a story attached to the item of clothing and in this case it spark’s joy. Although, I did have to negotiate the steps up to school a little bit unused to the length of dress.

In today’s busy, constant buying and consumer driven world we all seem to have a deep desire to get back to a more basic way of life. Once we have detached from the past we can focus on the here and now and have no fear of the future- this is the theory. Can we put it into practice?

As the sculptor parts with another sculpture to someone who has purchased it as an item which will hopefully spark joy for them, I wonder what to do with my treasured kimono? Defiantly not something practical to be wearing on the school run.

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Kimono Section of ‘Madame Butterfly’