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Letter from Cuba

July 2, 2015 | by

Will Americans “ruin” Havana?

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All photographs by Shona Sanzgiri.

Ten minutes after I’ve entered Havana’s Almacenes de San José, an indoor marketplace on the southern end of Old Havana offering kitschy souvenirs and erotic art, my expression has hardened. A dozen women, seated on stools, shout “hola!” from every direction, hoping to draw my attention to one of their many wares: Che Guevara ashtrays, wooden ocarinas, Havana Club T-shirts, leather engravings of Hatuey, the Taíno chief who was burned at the stake for resisting the Spanish.

I stop and look at a miniature sculpture of Hatuey. Even though he’s roughly nine inches tall in this rendition, he is heroically muscular, with proud, high cheekbones and defiant eyes. This is a familiar, orientalist interpretation of Native Americans, one that perpetuates the myth of the “noble savage.” Or—given the physicality of their real lives—maybe the Taínos were truly ripped. Read More »

Text Messages

June 24, 2015 | by

Untitled (The Deepest Seas)

Ken Grimes, Untitled (The Deepest Seas)

Like Richard Sharpe Shaver, a midcentury sci-fi writer who believed that an ancient civilization had embossed its complex history into “rock books,” Ken Grimes is convinced that humankind has defined communication too narrowly. A self-styled “visionary artist,” Grimes paints chiefly in acrylic on Masonite boards, and his subject is extraterrestrials: their existence, the deceptions surrounding that existence, and the cosmic synchronicities that reveal their presences. He looks for hidden messages from aliens in astronomy texts. “These are professional writers who have editors and proofreaders,” he told Wired, noting that the mistakes of such writers still tend to follow patterns. “They’re experiencing alien spirituality. It’s right in their face and they can’t even see it.” Grimes is schizophrenic. Read More »

The Brief and Bitter Encounters of Ambrose Bierce

June 23, 2015 | by

See more of Jason’s work in our new Summer issue.

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When I was a kid, I came across Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary and found it to be a revelation of cynicism—even somehow liberating in its bleak honesty.

Bierce’s writing has fallen out of fashion over the past century. His specialty was the dispensation of devastating aphoristic truths. If I had to name a single literary antecedent, it might be Blaise Pascal. While Pascal was content to note the pain and weakness of humankind, though, Bierce injected his epigrams with a dose of fanciful weirdness. Take this one, for example, which almost reads like stage directions for a vaudeville routine:

Meeting Merit on a street-crossing, Success stood still. Merit stepped off into the mud and went round him, bowing his apologies, which Success had the grace to accept.

Most of Bierce’s works are so direct and evocative that illustrations might only cloud their effect. But these unusual exchanges between virtues personified—many of which are collected in A Cynic Looks at Life (1912)—cried out to me as mini-comics. I hope this form brings out their idiosyncrasies. Read More »

Gluey and Scissory

June 18, 2015 | by

Ashbery_Bingo Beethoven_2014_collage on vintage Bingo board_8.25x7.5in_300dpi

John Ashbery, Bingo Beethoven, 2014, collage on vintage bingo board, 8 1/4" x 7 1/2". Photo courtesy Tibor de Nagy

Our Spring 2009 issue featured eleven collages by John Ashbery, who’s been working in the medium since he was an undergrad at Harvard—roughly the same time he began to write poetry. “One thing he obviously values in collage is its implied anyone-can-do-it modesty, its lack of high-artiness, its resistance to monumentality,” the New York Times says of his art:

His own collages have this character. They’re light and slight. They feel more like keepsakes than like art objects, souvenirs of a life and career that gain interest primarily—some might say entirely—within the context of that life and career.

Read More »

The Treasure Maps of Pamela Singh

June 16, 2015 | by

Pamela Singh, Treasure Maps 009, 2014.

Long before Kim Kardashian’s Selfish—before the selfie was technologically feasible, let alone a generation’s preferred form of self-expression—Pamela Singh was taking pictures of herself. Her innovative, curiously intimate efforts at self-portraiture are the subject of “The Treasure Maps of Pamela Singh,” showing at sepia EYE through June 30.

Singh boasts an unconventional CV—born in New Delhi, she was crowned Miss India in 1982. In the UK, she was enmeshed in scandal in the late eighties, when, supposedly, she worked as an escort whose high-profile clients included two newspaper editors and the sports minister; she was married, briefly, to a convicted arms dealer. Again, in these post-Kardashian years, when sex tapes can mint a reputation and Instagram is probably the most interesting medium in art, none of this is surprising, much less damning—but at the time it was too salacious for the public appetite. SHE WAS THE ESCORT GIRL WHOSE AFFAIRS WITH ESTABLISHMENT FIGURES SHOCKED BRITAIN, reads a typically down-the-nose Daily Mail headline from 2010. “Today, Pamella Bordes chats up men on the internet.” Don’t we all?Read More »

Charlie, Charlie, Are You There?

June 9, 2015 | by

The Prince of Darkness, Dagol, devouring human limbs.

I like to root for the underdog, so I’m always comforted to find Satanism in the news. There are, after all, some two billion Christians in the world, and only about a hundred thousand Satanists; if the eternal war between good and evil is a numbers game, then it would seem the good guys have this one in the bag. And yet Satanism persists—pure evil’s got moxie.

The latest coup from the dark arts is Charlie Charlie Challenge, a Ouija Board-ish pursuit in which players—who tend to be, let’s face it, kids and teens—cross two pencils over a piece of paper and attempt to summon a Mexican demon. According to no less reliable a source than the Daily Mail, four Colombian high school students were hospitalized for “hysteria” after playing the game, which set off an international pandemic of DIY voodoo: Read More »