of late i’ve been doing a lot more reading-watching, all of which was made possible by my new-found and much-loved job at onehunga community library. here are some of my favourites:
black like me ~ set in the 50s, this is the journal of john griffin, a white man who turns his skin temporarilly black so that he can travel in the southern states of the US as a “negro”. with a very engaging writing style, he brings home the horror of what it meant to be a black person in a white dominated world. interestingly, he also documents the irony of how he feels almost completely alienated from his ‘white’ self while in his black skin, while not addressing the questions that raises. a fascinating read, and one that raises questions not just about race issues, but even about our own identities and how that is linked to the visual images we have of ourselves and our world. the title is taken from a langston hughes poem.
embroideries ~ from marjane satrapi, author of persepolis, this graphic novel is a lot more personal, reducing the volume of the politics from the loud protests of persepolis to a low background (but definitely there) hum. a quieter tale/tell all around, it is ‘women talking’, in an iranian context. while i loved persepolis 1 and 2, i must say i like this better somehow, maybe because there are more perspectives available, only one of which is (obviously) the author’s. the artwork is also much less dramatic, and seems more focused on facial expressions than the icon-ish images (i loved) in persepolis. the (general) direction of the discussion: bastard men.
ten canoes ~ if you do watch this, be prepared for a pace of story telling that is more ‘grandfather around the fire’ than ‘bourne identity’. it is a story within a story, set in australia before white people came. i loved the story telling style in this- unhurried, but not lazy or uncertain. it also subtly seems to defy our (science inflicted?) need to differentiate real from not real, while at the same time illustrating the dangers of acting on an incomplete understanding of the facts. this is also the first time i have seen on-screen nudity without any sexual undertones.
the cave of the yellow dog ~ set in mongolia, this is another quiet story, about a little girl who finds a dog and wants to keep it, but who is not allowed to. shot in documentary style, the camera is quite unobtrusive, and manages to pull the whole story through without any obvious acting. while i have an affection for visuals of the mongolian landscape, this movie uses the landscape without it degenerating into a tourism department advert. all of it seems ‘authentic’ somehow, though honestly, i have little basis for comparison. but authentic or not, this is a well told story, again in no blockbuster style, but with a lot of warmth and some quiet humour.
protest graffiti mexico: oaxaca~ this book is a collection of the graffiti on the walls that accompanied the protests in oxaca, mexico, against the government of ulises ruiz ortiz. the protests started from the regular ritual of teacher’s protests, but grew into something bigger. there is no deliberate distinction drawn between ‘art’ graffiti and ‘tagging’, and seems to function as a record of how people felt/feel. a lot of the work was done by street artist group arte jaguar. there are timelines and essays to give the context of the protests, though the images are (mostly) left open to interpretation.
i guess one of the things that ties all of these together for me is, to steal a title, the ‘ways of seeing’ each of these represent. at a time when the capitalists, the socialists and the religious are constantly telling us how we are all ‘essentially the same’, it is fascinating to see so many different perspectives, from so many different points in time. i cannot but cheer for wade davis’ eloquent plea for a ‘cultural diversity’ that is as important as an ecological one. interestingly, ‘authenticity’ and ‘identity’ are also a questions that have dogged all of these works.
i’ll leave you to draw your own connections though!