Panama Papers and the end of the Age of Secrets: A tribute to John Doe

It came in, unconvincingly, as a breaking news ticker on my phone. Little did I know then, that my finger tap in response to that ticker blurb would open up a flood of information about the largest information-secrets leak in the history of humankind. Listening in, as the dull April day trudged on, I heard voices across the internet, from lands near and afar, unified in expressing their outrage, anger, bitterness even, at the uncovered audacity and the disrobed blatant abuse of power, position, money, political machinery, of naked deceit, betrayal and subterfuge – over the four and a half recent decades. That it was an unsightly sight, would be a gross understatement. From ‘John Doe’ to ‘Panama’ to ‘Süddeutsche Zeitung’ to ‘Mossack Fonseca’ and the ‘ICIJ’, the obscure and the unfamiliar became part of the lexicon of outrage. Read More…

Damon Gameau: That Sugar Film (2014)

What you eat and drink is what you are, and what you become. In the broader tradition of diet/food/health awareness documentaries like Morgan Spurlock’s ‘Super Size Me‘ (2004,) Australian actor-director Damon Gameau, in ‘That Sugar Film‘ (2014,) inflicts a food and drink experiment on himself – of consuming the Australian ‘average’ of about 40 teaspoons of sugar a day for two months. What unfolds is a quirky, and at times, humourous look at the far reaching damage caused by the hidden sugars in our everyday, supposedly ‘healthy’ store brought food and drink. Read More…

Hans Ruedi Giger: Biomechanical fantasy as spectacle

The ‘dark legacy’ of Swiss artist-designer Hans R. Giger is undeniably far-reaching and indelibly memorable. A graduate of the (then called) School of Applied Arts, Zurich, Giger came into prominence with an airbrush and free-hand painting style which found their way into the pages of his first published work – Necronomicon (1977). His fantasyscapes were dystopic, drained off luminescent colour, bereft of the life giving rays of the sun, and with his thematic obsession with the biomechanical universe – coupling industrial machine to organic animal-human, he manages to marry the distant future and the distant past with an inimitable, unforgiving bleakness. Read More…

John Rawls: Justice and Modern Political Philosophy

John Rawls was the only American philosopher of the last century who made a considerable impact on modern debates on ideas of justice and the nature of the welfare state, constitutional, individual liberties, permissible inequalities and political duty/obligation. My first, and I should say only, encounter with Rawls was through the pages of his magnum opus ‘A Theory of Justice‘ (1971/1999) where he posits his principles by which a just society could be given direction – that there must be basic liberties (of faith, association, speech etc.) and that the perceived and palpable inequalities that inevitably arise from liberty are so organised to bring maximum benefit to the worst off, and that includes vital equality of opportunity. As a political philosopher, Rawls was certainly influenced by the earlier social contract theories of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in which citizens willingly give up some of their liberties in return for state protection and order. Rawls states his ‘priority rule’ thus: “a less extensive liberty must strengthen the total system of liberty shared by all.” Another ‘priority rule’ is that equal opportunity is more vital than heading towards a certain totality-of-society outcome, or what a (paternalistic) government may believe is for the good of the citizens of a nation. Read More…

Johan Huizinga Research Fellowship 2016 at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Johan Huizinga Fonds / Rijksmuseum Fonds is offering the Johan Huizinga Research Fellowship 2016 for art and historical research in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Applicants of all nationalities are eligible to apply for this fellowship. The Johan Huizinga Postgraduate Fellowship is open to recent graduates (at the Master’s level), as well as doctoral and post-doctoral candidates.

As a national institute, the Rijksmuseum offers a representative overview of Dutch art and history from the middle ages onwards, and of major aspects of European and Asian art. The Rijksmuseum keeps, manages, conserves, restores, researches, prepares, collects, publishes and presents artistic and historical objects, both on its own premises and elsewhere. The focus of research should relate to the Rijksmuseum’s collection, and may encompass any of its varied holdings, including Netherlandish paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, prints, drawings, photography and historical artefacts. Read More…

Extinction is forever: The last of the orcas of Prince William Sound

Extinction is forever. Every time I mull over this thought, it brings into focus for me, more than ever, of our responsibilities as a species, of the succinct realization of our inter-relatedness and common fate with all other life forms inhabiting our shared ecosystem. My interest in orcas (Orcinus orca) go back a long time, lapping up accounts of their inherently amiable, extremely social disposition, swimming the oceans in tightly knit mother-centred families and extended families or pods, as they are called. Never had the good fortune of encountering one in person, but the closest I got was through the writings of marine biologist Eva Saulitis who spent long years intimately observing and comprehending the lives of a tiny, threatened orca population in the waters of a scenic inlet known as Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska, Alaska, USA. Among other marine life forms in Prince Wiliam Sound, Saulitis spent the most time studying a genetically distinct orca ecotype known as the AT1 or ‘Chugach’ transients (transients being mammal eaters.) Read More…

Majid Majidi: آواز گنجشک‌ها (The Song of Sparrows) | 2008

In a ‘cinemascape’ of lyricism and allegory, Majid Majidi inhabits a space that is uniquely his own, where, with a flourish of quiet sentimentality and poetic poise, he unfurls for us a spiritual fable of a righteous man placed in the pastoral rural and the materialistic urban. Majidi is a relatively later figure in Iranian cinema, but to my mind, certainly not a lesser figure. In a telling moment in آواز گنجشک‌ها (The Song of Sparrows,) the protagonist Karim (played convincingly by the inimitable Reza Naji) breaks into a nostalgia soaked song that brings smiles to the saddened young boys surrounding him – “Our flowers have withered, our eyes are crying, I remember the good old days….The world is a lie, the world is a dream ….I’ve passed my youth in pain in this world.” The pastoral rural marked by close family ties, community living, and proximity to the ‘living world’ lies in stark contrast to the transactional, corrupting and materialistic core of the urban, and in straddling these seemingly incompatible universes, Karim has to be committed to his essential righteousness, to his faith. Read More…

Käthe Kollwitz: Etching and cutting the Human Condition

My recall of a Kollwitz woodcut is from many years ago, titled ‘Die Mütter’ (The Mothers) – a huddled heap of bereaved and bereft humanity, seeking to console and comfort each other, with futility, for they appear to be calcified by a known or unknown terror. That woodcut remained etched in my consciousness for a long time, tucked away in some obscure drawer, but always there, always gnawing. The work of 19th C / early 20th C German artist Käthe Kollwitz, is not one of tentative, delighting probing but of cathartic, universal anguish. Unleashing a visceral chronicle of human suffering and struggle – through depicting injustice, poverty, and the terrible price of mindless man made conflicts, her work achieves an emotional tenor and intensity that resonates beyond her immediate circumstances in Germany of the early 20th C. Read More…

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