Thursday, January 31, 2013

Study Rebuts Hypothesis That Comet Attacks Ended 9,000-Year-Old Clovis Culture

Arrow head

Rebutting a speculative hypothesis that comet explosions changed Earth's climate sufficiently to end the Clovis culture in North America about 13,000 years ago, Sandia lead author Mark Boslough and researchers from 14 academic institutions assert that other explanations must be found for the apparent disappearance.

"There's no plausible mechanism to get airbursts over an entire continent," said Boslough, a physicist. "For this and other reasons, we conclude that the impact hypothesis is, unfortunately, bogus."

In a December 2012 American Geophysical Union monograph, first available in January, the researchers point out that no appropriately sized impact craters from that time period have been discovered, nor have any unambiguously "shocked" materials been found.

In addition, proposed fragmentation and explosion mechanisms "do not conserve energy or momentum," a basic law of physics that must be satisfied for impact-caused climate change to have validity, the authors write.

Also absent are physics-based models that support the impact hypothesis. Models that do exist, write the authors, contradict the asteroid-impact hypothesizers.

The authors also charge that "several independent researchers have been unable to reproduce reported results" and that samples presented in support of the asteroid impact hypothesis were later discovered by carbon dating to be contaminated with modern material.

The Boslough trail
Boslough has a decades-long history of successfully interpreting the effects of comet and asteroid collisions.
His credibility was on the line on in July 1994 when Eos, the widely read newsletter of the American Geophysical Union, ran a front-page prediction by a Sandia National Laboratories team, led by Boslough, that under certain conditions plumes from the collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with the planet Jupiter would be visible from Earth.

The Sandia team -- Boslough, Dave Crawford, Allen Robinson and Tim Trucano -- were alone among the world's scientists in offering that possibility.

"It was a gamble and could have been embarrassing if we were wrong," said Boslough. "But I had been watching while Shoemaker-Levy 9 made its way across the heavens and realized it would be close enough to the horizon of Jupiter that the plumes would show." His reasoning was backed by simulations from the world's first massively parallel processing supercomputer, Sandia's Intel Paragon.

On the one hand, it was a chance to check the new Paragon's logic against real events, a shakedown run for the defense-oriented machine. On the other, it was a hold-your-breath prediction, a kind of Babe Ruth moment when the Babe is reputed to have pointed to the spot in the center field bleachers he intended to hit the next ball. No other scientists were willing to point the same way, partly due to previous failures in predicting the behavior of comets Kohoutek and Halley, and partly because most astronomers believed the plumes would be hidden behind Jupiter's bulk.

That the plumes indeed proved visible started Boslough on his own trajectory as a media touchstone for things asteroidal and meteoritic.

It didn't hurt that, when he stands before television cameras to discuss celestial impacts, his earnest manner, expressive gestures and extraterrestrial subject matter make him seem a combination of Carl Sagan and Luke Skywalker, or perhaps Tom Sawyer and Indiana Jones.

Standing in jeans, work shirt and hiking boots for the Discovery Channel at the site in Siberia where a mysterious explosion occurred 105 years ago, or discussing it at Sandia with his supercomputer simulations in bold colors on a big screen behind him, the rangy, 6-foot-3 Sandia researcher vividly and accurately explained why the mysterious explosion at Tunguska that decimated hundreds of square miles of trees and whose ejected debris was seen as far away as London most probably was caused neither by flying saucers drunkenly ramming a hillside (a proposed hypothesis) nor by an asteroid striking the Earth's surface, but rather by the fireball of an asteroid airburst -- an asteroid exploding high above ground, like a nuclear bomb, compressed to implosion as it plunged deeper into Earth's thickening, increasingly resistive atmosphere. The governing physics, he said, was precisely the same as for the airburst on Jupiter.

Among later triumphs, Boslough was the Sandia component of a National Geographic team flown to the Libyan Desert to make sense of strange yellow-green glass worn as jewelry by pharaohs in days past. Boslough's take: It was the result of heat on desert sands from a hypervelocity impact caused by an even bigger asteroid burst.

In the present case
In the Clovis case, Boslough felt that his ideas were taken further than he could accept when other researchers claimed that the purported demise of Clovis civilization in North America was the result of climate change produced by a cluster of comet fragments striking Earth.

In a widely reported press conference announcing the Clovis comet hypothesis in 2007, proponents showed a National Geographic animation based on one of Boslough's simulations as inspiration for their idea.
Indiana Jones-style, Boslough responded. Confronted by apparently hard asteroid evidence, as well as a Nova documentary and an article in the journal Science, all purportedly showing his error in rebutting the comet hypothesis, Boslough ordered carbon dating of the major evidence provided by the opposition: nanodiamond-bearing carbon spherules associated with the shock of an asteroid's impact. The tests found the alleged 13,000-year-old carbon to be of very recent formation.

While this raised red flags to those already critical of the impact hypothesis, "I never said the samples were salted," Boslough said carefully. "I said they were contaminated."

That find, along with irregularities reported in the background of one member of the opposing team, was enough for Nova to remove the entire episode from its list of science shows available for streaming, Boslough said.

"Just because a culture changed from Clovis to Folsom spear points didn't mean their civilization collapsed," he said. "They probably just used another technology. It's like saying the phonograph culture collapsed and was replaced by the iPod culture."

One for Instagram?

Alessandra Ambrosio masters the art of taking a self portrait as she enjoys down time from swimwear shoot.

As a member of one of the world's most beautiful cliques she's used to having her picture taken.
And selected to take part in Victoria's Secret latest swimwear campaign Alessandra Ambrosio is currently lapping up the sunshine in St. Barts.
Taking a break from the ongoing shoot, Ambrosio, 31, turned photographer on Wednesday as she attempted to take a few self portraits.
Model turned photographer: Alessandra Ambrosio posed up for a self portrait on Wednesday in St. Barts Model turned photographer: Alessandra Ambrosio posed up for a self portrait on Wednesday in St. Barts Say cheese! Ambrosio beamed she held her mobile phone towards her to take a picture Say cheese! Ambrosio beamed she held her mobile phone towards her to take a picture Getting a shot of her surroundings: The 33-year-old avid Instagram user also captured an image of her picturesque view Getting a shot of her surroundings: The avid Instagram user, 31, captured an image of her picturesque view
Standing shin-deep in the water, Alessandra held her phone up with both hands as she tried to find a perfect angle.
Once in the ideal position, Ambrosio flashed her pearly whites and captured her image.
Done taking selfies, the avid Instagram user then turned the focus of the lens to her picturesque surroundings. Now to upload: Alessandra took a seat on her sun lounger as she played with her phone Now to upload: Alessandra took a seat on her sun lounger as she played with her phone Staying connected: Alessandra made she kept up to date with activity on various social media sites Staying connected: Alessandra made sure she kept up to date with activity on various social media sites
Taking it easy: The mother-of-two is currently in the Caribbean as a part of Victoria's Secrets latest campaign Taking it easy: The mother-of-two is currently in the Caribbean as a part of Victoria's Secrets latest campaign
Absolutely gorgeous: Alessandra showcased her perfectly sun-kissed skin Absolutely gorgeous: Alessandra showcased her perfectly sun-kissed skin Absolutely gorgeous: Alessandra showcased her perfectly sun-kissed skin
Sitting back and relaxing on her day off, the model was seen checking her mobile for updates.
The mother-of-two shielded her eyes from the Caribbean sunshine with a pair of large light grey rimmed sunglasses.
Up to date on the happenings in the world of social media, Alessandra laid back on her lounger as she topped up her tan. Beautiful: Alessandra slipped her svelte frame into a multicoloured striped two-piece Beautiful: Alessandra slipped her svelte frame into a multicoloured striped two-piece Beach babe: The Brazilian beauty accessorised with a pair of grey rimmed shades and several bracelets Beach babe: The Brazilian beauty accessorised with a pair of grey rimmed shades and several bracelets
Stunning: Alessandra allowed her straight brunette hair to fall at her shoulders Stunning: Alessandra allowed her straight brunette hair to fall at her shoulders Stunning: Alessandra allowed her straight brunette hair to fall at her shoulders Stunning: Alessandra allowed her straight brunette hair to fall at her shoulders
Enjoying her day off: Ambrosio features in the new swimwear campaign along with Candice Swanepoel and Gracie Cavalho Day off: Ambrosio features in the new swimwear campaign alongside Candice Swanepoel and Gracie Cavalho
Thoroughly enjoying her time on the island, the brown-eyed beauty has been keeping her Twitter followers up to date with regular posts.
Happy to be back on the volcanic island, which is fully encircled by shallow reefs, she tweeted: 'Uhmmmm back to island life!!! (at Saint Barthelemy)'
And in another message, complete with several hashtags, Alessandra wrote: 'Sunny #stbarts #summertime love this island'.
Life is good: Alessandra has been keeping her Twitter followers up to date with her movements Life is good: Alessandra has been keeping her Twitter followers up to date with her movements
Lapping up the sunshine: From the looks of Ambrosio's Twitter timeline she has not complaints about the weather Loving the sunshine: From the looks of Ambrosio's Twitter timeline she has no complaints about the weather
Cooling off: The 33-year-old splashed some water on her washboard abs Cooling off: The 31-year-old splashed some water on her washboard abs
Still on duty: Depsite being away from the set Alessandra cut a picture perfect figure Still on duty: Depsite being away from the set Alessandra cut a picture perfect figure
Flaunting her svelte frame, Ambrosio sported a multicoloured striped bikini which was made up of a bandeau top and matching briefs.
Allowing her brunette hair to fall at her shoulders, the Brazilian stunner accessorised with various handmade bracelets and a gold necklace.
Taking to the water, Alessandra was joined by an adorable cinnamon fur coloured pooch.
Testing the waters: The beauty has been engaged to businessman Jamie Mazur since 2008 Testing the waters: The beauty has been engaged to businessman Jamie Mazur since 2008
Having the time of her life: The model regularly spends weeks away in hot climates for work Having the time of her life: The model regularly spends weeks away in hot climates for work
Lovely: Ambrosio appeared to be in deep thought as she enjoyed a stroll on the quiet beach Lovely: Ambrosio appeared to be in deep thought as she enjoyed a stroll on the quiet beach
Toned and taut: In 2008, Alessandra made headlines when she returned to the catwalk just three months after giving birth to her first child, Anja Louise Ambrosio Mazur Toned and taut: In 2008, Alessandra made headlines when she returned to the catwalk just three months after giving birth to her first child, Anja Louise Ambrosio Mazur Toned and taut: In 2008, Alessandra made headlines when she returned to the catwalk just three months after giving birth to her first child,  Anja Louise Ambrosio Mazur

Heading indoors, as Alessandra wrapped her day on the beach she clutched onto a copy of E. L. James' Fifty Shades Darker.
Covering up her bikini body, Ambrosio threw a white and neon yellow jersey dress over her two-piece as she returned to her accommodation.
Other models taking part in this year's campaign include Candice Swanepoel and São Paulo beauty Gracie Cavalho.

Who is your friend: As Alessandra sat in the water she was joined by a heavily furred pooch Who is your friend: As Alessandra sat in the water she was joined by a heavily furred pooch
New companion: Alessandra stroked the dog as it came to say hello to her New companion: Alessandra stroked the dog as it came to say hello to her
Home time: Alessandra left the beach with a copy of E. L. James' Fifty Shades Darker Home time: Alessandra left the beach with a copy of E. L. James' Fifty Shades Darker

Art into life

As painter Amrita Sher-Gil steps into her centenary, it’s time to revisit her legacy
Photo: KNMA—‘Picture courtesy: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Saket’
Photo: KNMA—‘Picture courtesy: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Saket’  

In a remarkable coincidence, Amrita Sher-Gil’s brief life began the year Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1913, and ended the year he died, in 1941. Wedged between these two historic moments—these three decades also saw the flourishing of a high modernist style in what is now known as the Bengal School of Art—Sher-Gil remains one of the most discussed painters in modern India. In her lifetime, she sold next to nothing, but posthumously she became one of the most expensive Indian artists.
Although never quite mentioned in the same breath with the masters of the Bengal School, her work, which drew inspiration from Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin among others, had strong resonances with the paintings of the two Tagores, Rabindranath and Abanindranath, the pioneers of the Bengal School. 
Sher-Gil’s brooding portraits of women bear uncanny resemblances to those by Rabindranath, and her exquisite use of the chiaroscuro, together with the boldness with which she appropriated colours, brings to mind the nuanced style of the other Tagore. But her art, now on display in the Capital, has an ever-present quality of “yet-ness” to it, of a world teeming with possibilities which were interrupted before they could mature into something rich and strange. 
Her life, on the other hand, in spite of its brevity, had an incredible richness to it. Born to a Punjabi Sikh aristocrat father and Hungarian Jewish opera-singer mother, Sher-Gil was fated to draw attention to her origins. Her exotic beauty, noble lineage, intense relationship with her father and series of affairs became the subject of much gossip, and eventually impossible to separate from her artistic persona. The art of Amrita Sher-Gil is still experienced through this prism of biography and anecdotage, without enough attention being paid to the art-historical milieu that nourished her imagination. Like Frida Kahlo, with whom she is often compared, Sher-Gil perhaps attracts more curiosity because of her troubled life and painful death than as the harbinger of a distinctive approach in painting.
It is perhaps more proper to think of Sher-Gil as a phenomenon than a genius. With the characteristic restiveness of the young, she wanted to push the limits of her circumscribed world. Having lived a full and anarchic life in Europe, she took the bold and uncompromising step of moving back to India, arguing long and hard with her reluctant father to support her and her younger sister Indira (mother of artist Vivan Sundaram) in this adventure. “I wish to return primarily in the interest of my artistic development. I now need new sources of inspiration,” she wrote in a letter to her father, insisting that their long stay in Europe had helped her “discover” India. In the same letter, she writes movingly about the effect the art of Ajanta had had on her. These unforgettable cave paintings seeped into her sensibility in a way modern European art never did. But interwoven with her practical reasoning in the letter—she must go to India for the sake of her growth as an artist—is her devil-may-care attitude, roundly dismissive of her father’s apprehension of losing face because of the projected move back to India.
Strangely, this fieriness does not come across as a defining character of her art. On the contrary, Sher-Gil’s work is marked by an aura of coolness, even when it most wants to lose itself in “a medley of hot colours”, to use her words. The relationship between her life and art was far more complicated than what a simple biographical reading of her career would allow.
The Self in Making: Amrita Sher-Gil is on till 30 November, 10.30am-6.30pm (Mondays closed), at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, 145, DLF The South Court mall, Saket.

Anything can be used to make art

IN 1919 Kurt Schwitters, a German artist, snipped the letterhead of a local bank as part of his first collage. "Merz", sliced out of "Kommerz- und Privatbank", became his trademark, shorthand for the idea that anything—including rubbish—could be used to make a work of art. This radical concept has come to be seen as the foundation of much pop and conceptual art, evident in the work of artists such as Richard Hamilton and Damien Hirst.
“En Morn” 1947 Source: Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne “Untitled (Quality Street)” 1943 Source: Sprengel Museum, Hannover/ DACS 2012
“Untitled (Opening Blossom)” 1942-45 Source: Sprengel Museum, Hannover/ DACS 2012 Conceived in Schwitters's hometown of Hanover, "Merz" became more central to his work in 1937, when he was forced to flee the Nazi regime via Norway into exile in England. Wherever he was, whether on an icebreaker in the North Sea, an internment camp on the Isle of Man, in London or the Lake District, he made art with whatever materials were at hand. "Everything an artist spits out is art," he declared in 1933.
His British work in exile, spanning his last eight years, demonstrates his creative vitality until the end. It also underpins what Penelope Curtis, Tate Britain's director, calls his "living influence" on British artists. This communion between artists over time is at the heart of "Schwitters in Britain", a show of the artist's late works now on at Tate Britain in London. The exhibition juxtaposes 180 of Schwitters's pieces with those of his contemporaries from the 1940s, and includes newly commissioned works by Adam Chodzko and Laure Prouvost.

Schwitters's versatility is impressive. The works on display include hand-held sculptures, collages, paintings (some startlingly good portraits and landscapes), drawings and fragments of the "Merz Barn", a stone building in the English countryside that he was turning into a sculptural installation at the time of his death in 1948. An audio clip features Schwitters performing his poem "Ursonate". Most of these pieces have not been seen in Britain since the Tate hosted the Museum of Modern Art's first big retrospective of the artist in 1985.
Loosely identified with the European Dada movement, Schwitters shared ideas and friendship with the modernist avant-garde that included Max Ernst, Hans Arp and Marcel Duchamp. Branded a "degenerate" artist by the Nazis, he was forced to abandon his "Merzbau", a painstakingly assembled architectural interior in Hanover, later destroyed by a bomb. Although Schwitters resisted interpretations of his collages, it is hard not to perceive a certain wistfulness in a piece that combines steamship schedules and the label "Made in Britain".

In exile his work exploded in many directions. A vibrant example is "Glass Flower" of 1940, an abstract collage of curves with a central bloom made of glass and wood. The curators hang it beside the 1937 "Mz Oslo Fjord", whose echoing contours make it a painted doppelgänger of the sea-swept glass assemblage. Nature was a source of both material and inspiration for Schwitters, says Emma Chambers, one of the exhibit's curators. In the 1946 collage "15 pine trees" he layers corrugated cardboard in vertical stripes that form a slice of forest. A series incorporating snippets of Old Master paintings is endlessly fascinating; there is humour, too, as in a modified portrait with the title "This was before H.R.H. The Late Duke of Clarence and Avondale. Now it is a Merz picture. Sorry!"

Most striking for many will be the portraits Schwitters painted while incarcerated for 16 months as an "enemy alien" at the Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man. These loose, confident paintings brim with intimacy and life, like others he made in Cumbria in his final years. Long derided as bread-and-butter work, unworthy of any self-respecting modernist, these affecting landscapes, still lifes and portraits are an important part of Schwitters's oeuvre, says Ms Curtis. The show aims to give equal weight to the abstract and figural work of this great artist, she says. "Both were ways he looked."

Kelvin Okafor's drawings may look like photographs but are they art?

The 27-year-old's meticulous depictions of celebrities stand out in a culture that values video, performance, anything but drawing Kelvin Okafor's portrait of Tinie Tempah.Kelvin Okafor's portrait of Tinie Tempah.

Kelvin Okafor is a miraculous artist. If Leonardo da Vinci was alive today and he saw what Okafor has achieved with pencil, paper and a bit of charcoal, he would recognise a talent well worthy of his respect – a brother in art. So would the Dutch painter Jan Vermeer, or the Baroque genius Caravaggio.

All these great artists thought their job was to recreate, with a steady hand and a keen eye, the wonder of life. Okafor brings that craftsmanlike aspiration into the modern world. His drawings are based on photographs of celebrities – the same kinds of photograph we all see everyday. But instead of turning the page or clicking to another site after a second or two, this artist looks. He looks hard. It is an act of love and imagination to look as hard as that. The drawing skills with which he renders what he sees are truly sublime – it is amazing such skills even exist in a culture that places so little value on them. Art schools today encourage their students to think about video, performance, concept, anything but pure meticulous drawing. The fact that Okafor has got through that anti-graphic net shows that, in some people, a profound talent for visual depiction is innate, and will always burst out.

Okafor is 27 and lives in Tottenham, north London where he grew up. He went to Middlesex University. But his drawings are self-evidently a personal fascination: something he has to do. The soft, subtle accuracy of his style can mimic the contours of a photograph. But is that art? Personally I think pictures as skilful as these have an absolute claim to be art whereas most of the art that gets shortlisted for the Turner prize (and I say this as a former judge) has only a relative claim to be art, which future generations may or may not agree with.
Kelvin Okafor's portrait of Amy Winehouse Kelvin Okafor's portrait of Amy Winehouse.

Perfect drawing has counted as art for at least 40,000 years. In the exhibition Ice Age Art, which opens soon at the British Musuem, there are hypnotically accurate images of bison, lions and horses drawn on to pieces of ivory long before human beings could read or write. Ice-age artists drew the most visible and imposing things in their world, the great herds of mammals that roamed a frozen Europe. Today, what hits our eyes and haunts our minds is not nature but culture, the images of celebrity that fill our screens. It is natural for an artist to draw those.

Kelvin Okafor's portrait of Princess Diana. 
Kelvin Okafor's portrait of Princess Diana. 
Okafor is not alone among modern artists who have fixed their gaze on celebrity photographs. In the 19th century the Iimpressionist Edgar Degas made a painting that meticulously recreated a photograph of Princess Pauline de Metternich. In the 1960s Andy Warhol made haunting silkscreen portraits derived from magazine photographs.
The art world lauds these figures, so it should embrace Okafor. He's still very young. If you can draw like this when you are 27 what can't you do when you are 40? Here is the talent that Damien Hirst can't buy with all his millions.
Should Kelvin Okafor's drawings, so close to photographs, be considered art? Tell us what you think.

Kelvin Okafor's drawings are on display at the Watercolours + Works on Paper Fair 2013 at the Science Museum, London SW7 until 3 February.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Eid Milad-un Nabi

Eid Milad-un-Nabi, also known as the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, is a public holiday in Pakistan. Sunni Muslims observe Milad-un-Nabi on 12 Rabi-ul-Awwal (third month of the Islamic calendar) while Shia Muslims observe it on 17 Rabi-ul-Awwal, coinciding with the birthdate of their sixth Imam Jafar-al-Sadiq. Pictured above is a group of Muslims in Karachi, Pakistan, in procession for the Prophet Muhammad's birthday.

What Do People Do?
Milad-un-Nabi observances differ among people following different schools of Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh). Some scholars forbid celebrations and even challenge the holiday’s legality in light of Sharia (Islamic law). Many Muslims do not believe in celebrating birthdays or anniversaries as there is no evidence from Prophet Mohammad’s life of such observances. On the other hand, many Islamic scholars believe that this day should be celebrated festively. There is a considerable number of Muslims that observe this day with utmost religious fervor.

The day starts off with an official 31-gun salute at the federal capital and a 21-gun salute in provincial headquarters. The national flag is hoisted on all major public buildings, governmental, non-governmental facilities, mosques and even households are tastefully decorated and colorfully illuminated at night.

Seerat conferences are organized at both federal and provincial levels where religious scholars and intellectuals come and shed light on the Prophet Muhammed’s life, sayings, teachings and philosophies. Naat (poetry written in praise of the Prophet) and Koran recitation competitions are also held where prizes are distributed among people who perform outstandingly in the above stated disciplines.

Many people also donate to charity. Food and sweets are distributed among the poor and the needy. Moreover, contributions are made to support orphanages, asylums for the physically and mentally challenged, and widows.

Special prayers are offered at mosques. Religious leaders and scholars preach the Prophet Muhammed’s teachings. Stories and incidents from his life of morals, such as forgiveness, kindheartedness, bravery, wisdom, honesty, and peace lovingness, are quoted.

Eid Milad-un-Nabi congregations, rallies and processions also take place in major cities across Pakistan. These processions usually start from a central location (central mosques or locations of public prominence), pass through designated routes, and end at the starting point.

Public Life
Eid Milad-un-Nabi is a public holiday in Pakistan. All government and semi government offices, and most private offices, businesses, shopping malls, post offices and educational institutions are closed on this day.

Those wishing to travel via public transport on the day will need to contact the local transport authorities on the public transport availability. Traffic may be disrupted because of Milad-un-Nabi processions on major routes.

The first public celebrations of Milad-un-Nabi occurred in Egypt towards the end of the 11th century. It was primarily a festival of the Shia ruling class. The celebrations featured Koran recitations, animal sacrifices, public sermons and feasts.

The first public observance of Milad-un-Nabi by Sunnis took place in 12th century in Syria under the rule of Noor-un-Din Zangi. In 1910 it was given the official status as a national festival throughout the Ottoman Empire. Milad-un-Nabi is now an official holiday in many Muslim countries throughout the world.

Green colored pennants are often seen during Milad-un-Nabi processions, on shrines and mosques. Green is a color associated with the Prophet as being one of his favored colors. It is said that the Prophet chose a green colored flag to represent the Islamic republic during his life. Candles and oil lamps (Chiragan) are lit on the eve of 12 Rabi-ul-Awwal to welcome the Prophet’s arrival and to celebrate his birth.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Colours and culture

Kutch embroidery 
Kutch embroidery KUTCH: A museum brimming with history, villages resplendent with handicraft and the Rann with last rays of the setting sun… Ashish Dutta is smitten
I alighted from the train at Bhuj, the principal town of Kutch, on a wintry morning. Unlike most small towns, the railway station is just off the edge of the town and not engulfed by dusty bazaars, cheap hotels or snoopy touts. Bhuj was still lazing out of slumber when my auto rickshaw purred through clean, wide, double roads, past the large Hamirsar Lake bang in the middle of the town where, under the slanted young sun, hundreds of birds — cranes, pelicans, herons, stilts and others — had swooped in for their annual winter sojourn. Kutch is a favourite ‘vacation villa’ for winged visitors from as far as Siberia.
Bhuj is the ideal place to foray into the interior regions of Kutch. But before penetrating the hinterland, I decided to take a peek at the 4,000-odd years of history of the region at the Kutch Museum in Bhuj.
The collection started from potteries and artefacts from the late Harappan period of about 1,900 BC. There were Buddhist seals, Kshatrap inscriptions from the 1st Century, 6th and 7th Century statues too. The museum reminds Kutch as a member of that rarefied club of Indus Valley civilisation. Standing amid priceless relics, I felt the tug of uninterrupted tide of history in my veins.
Next morning, I drove out of Bhuj, through arid stretches. Trees got fewer and stunted. Small hills and rocky mounds appeared once in a while at a distance. Each hill, whatever its magnitude, was crowned with a temple whose white sikhara and fluttering flag could be spotted. At ground level, our car patiently negotiated sauntering camel carts that occupied a good part of the road.
After about three hours of drive, our vehicle veered off the road and took a short dirt track that ended abruptly — I was at a tiny Kutchi village. At that hour, most of the men folk had gone out to graze animals or to trade wares in the ‘town’. The women, in resplendent costumes and jewellery, their chore of cooking and washing over, were mostly squatted in the porch of their hut or just at the door inside the room, busy at embroidery. Kutch is inhabited by diverse communities such as Jat, Rabari, Sindhi, Muslim, Sodha and others. A village belongs to a particular community, and each community specialises in a particular art form.
Jat embroidery has closely stitched patterns, where the “stitches outlive the cloth on which they are sewn”, and the colour and motif reflect the age and marital status of the wearer. Mutwa embroidery by a Muslim community of Banni region has sparkling intricate floral and abstract designs with tiny mirrors. From the heap at the corner of the porch, I picked up a mid-sized shopping bag with bright and thickly arranged embroidery. How many days of artistic labour must have gone into its making? For once, I did not bargain.
Dhordo — my next destination is a tiny outpost of a village, 82 km from Bhuj, but centuries away. Standing isolated at the edge of the Great Rann of Kutch. Like a sentinel surveying the expansive nothingness that lay beyond, I stood on a machan and from that vantage point stared at the Rann. Later, I walked down the Rann, on wet slushy sand covered here and there with crusty white salt, as far as the eyes could see. And witnessed the sun setting, slowly, in the distant horizon. And nothing, just nothing, stood between me and the setting sun. Not a shrub punctuated the panorama. Not a slight modulation of a dune. Not even a blade of grass. Just windswept, flat-out salty sand-bed. I realised that to come here to ‘see something’ is to miss the point. For, in the last rays of a setting sun, the Rann was the physical expression of the metaphorical Zero. Nothingness. Or all-pervading?

Picture Perfect opens at Art Chowk

KARACHI: Group shows generally do not have a thread that links or strings together art pieces made in varied styles, propagating different ideas. It does not happen often that a non-solo exhibition compels art buffs to witness works by nearly a half a dozen artists and at the same time easily enables them to connect the dots, as it were. 

The artworks by five Lahore-based artists on display at an exhibition titled ‘Picture Perfect’, which commenced at the Art Chowk Gallery on Thursday, are done in more than one medium and carry assorted messages, yet tend to cross each other’s path either by virtue of latent concepts or obvious statements. What is that point where they cross paths? Memory.

Remembrance. Filial bonding.

Irfan Gul gives away his ideas by titling his artworks ‘Arid Dreams’ (drawing pen, digital print on paper). The barrenness points to a time gone by and laments that the time to come might not be drastically different. His pieces are inherently melancholic in which images merge quite indecipherably.

Saamia Vine keeps it simple and herein lies the charm of her art. She begins by putting questions at herself (oil on board) and in the process queries time’s cruelties. She does not stay there and moves on to create a haunting scene in ‘Swinging Her Way’ (oil on board) with a blurry view of a tree, a young girl and a window of sorts.

Mizna Zulfiqar expands the scope for miniature works by making the viewer look at complete stories in smaller frames. ‘A Day in the Park’ (photo transfer and watercolor on wasli) is a cogent example of that. With ‘Wallflower’ (gouache on wasli), the artist turns the symbol into a literal form of expression without losing out on its symbolic value.

Mohsin Shafi turns textual profundity into visual insightfulness. In that regard ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ and ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ (mixed media collage) merit a special mention.

Saadia Hussain intelligently uses family photographs and enhances her content with a tongue ‘n cheek play of pictures aided by interesting titles. ‘I am Going to Another Photo’ (mixed media on digital print on canson paper) initially brings a smile to the viewer’s face but then makes him mull over the picture.
The exhibition will be open till Jan 31.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Boxed lunch is arts in Japan: Artistic culture found in Character Bento (Video)

By reading above explanation about bento, I hope you now have a clear picture about bento which is quite common and popular in the daily life of Japanese people.

Recently the menu of bento has become very colorful and it currently uses a variety of ingredients. Judging from the variety of food used for bento and compared with old fashioned bento which used to prevail until 30 to 40 years ago, it is obvious that not only children but also general people in Japan are now living a very luxurious life when it comes to food.

When we were children, our parents often talked about the shortage of food which took place during and after the World War II. According to my parents, children often went to school with bento which has only a couple of ingredient such as steamed rice (white color) and a single piece of pickled plum (usually red color in Japan) that is put in the center of rice so that it looks like the national flag of Japan. It is a very humble lunch compared with the current bento in the 21st century. When Japan was seriously running out of food just after the war, even eating rice was impossible. During such severe period of time, they could not bring even a humble bento to school.

At the moment, we have plenty of food available. And they are spending their valuable time and energy for making luxurious bento. Especially bento for children who go to kindergarten and elementary school, parents always pay special attention not only to the number of ingredients but also the color coordination as well as its design so that bento will look pretty nice and attractive. Kids usually have no idea what kind of food is in the bento box until they open it at lunch time.
Recently we can find what is called “Kyaraben” or character bento . This is a new word made from the term of “character” and “bento”. Kyaraben is decorated to look like Japanese popular animation characters, characters from comic books (manga) or video game characters. One of typical Kyaraben is Hello Kitty Bento which features well known Hello Kitty loved by many kids all over the world. People who want to make this type of bento can use a kit which is designed to make this bento easily. They are sold in Japan and in the United States as well.

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Japanese Food: How to Put Together a Bento Box for Kids

Friday, January 11, 2013

Art, Propaganda and Death in Ancient Rome

A relief panel from a second-century funerary monument adorned with a scene from a butcher shop.

ROME — “If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus,” Edward Gibbon wrote in “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” 

In so declaring, the English historian was following the lead of a number of Roman and Renaissance authors, who took an equally rosy view of the state of the empire and humanity during the second century. 

At first glance, by its very title “The Age of Equilibrium, 98-180 A.D.: Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius,” the third in a series of exhibitions on art and society in ancient Rome at the Capitoline Museums, seems to be endorsing this traditional historical assessment that stretches from Pliny the Younger through Machiavelli and Gibbon into modern times. 

But a strength of this latest show, curated by Eugenio La Rocca and Claudio Parisi Presicce with Annalisa Monaco, and especially of its catalog, is that, while achievements are recognized, darker aspects are not whitewashed and the dominant role played by propaganda in public art of the era is highlighted. 

The reputation the second century won as a golden age was substantially based on the unusual stability of the political establishment during this period and on the economic prosperity that helped to nurture. 

That stability was largely the result of the abandonment of the direct hereditary principle in the imperial succession in favor of the practice of adopting suitably talented candidates. Thus Nerva adopted Trajan in 97 A.D.; Trajan’s second cousin Hadrian succeeded him in 117; Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius in 138, who adopted his son-in-law Marcus Aurelius as his own successor. 

In a return to the old system, Marcus Aurelius was succeeded in 180 by his son Commodus, whose behavior became increasingly deranged. As everyone who has seen “Gladiator” now knows, Commodus developed a penchant for taking a personal part in gladiatorial displays (yet in reality met his end not in the arena but when he was strangled in his bath). 

The first room of the show, “The Leading Actors,” introduces us to the stars of the epoch in the form of more than 40 portrait statues and busts of the emperors, their wives, daughters and favorites.
What is immediately striking in the representation of the male players is that they are so often depicted in some form of military dress. 

This introduces one of the central paradoxes of this notional age of peace and harmony. For while the Emperor Augustus, a victorious general and founder of the imperial system, was seldom represented as a warrior, the emperors of the second century relentlessly emphasized this role. 

The empire reached its greatest extent — an area of 3.5 million square kilometers, or 1.35 million square miles, with an estimated population of 55 million — during the reign of Trajan. Much of what he did to transform Rome is still visible from the Capitoline Museums or within a few minutes’ walk. The Trajan Forum was the largest and grandest of all the forums and the so-called Trajan Markets on the hillside above are well preserved. Nearby are the remains of the huge Trajan Baths on the Oppian Hill — the first to include a library, park and cultural complex — which was to serve as the model for all subsequent monumental baths. Vast infrastructure projects included a new port at Ostia, canals, quays, aqueducts and sewers. 

But these improvements were mainly financed by war booty, especially what was gained from 101 to 106 during the conquest of Dacia — a kingdom centered on present-day Romania and Moldova. 

These wars were celebrated in the spiraling friezes of Trajan’s Column on the edge of the Trajan Forum, the first column of its kind and the first depictions of an emperor on campaign. The Trajan Forum itself was adorned with multiple images of the Dacian Wars in the form of statues, reliefs and decorative elements of the victorious emperor and of defeated Dacians. 

Hadrian, who had fought in the Dacian Wars, abandoned his predecessor’s policy of expansion and concentrated on consolidating the empire’s existing borders. But despite his image as a peacemaker, he put down the Jewish revolt led by the self-declared messiah Bar Kokhba (132-135) with resolute savagery, refounding Jerusalem as a pagan military colony. Hadrian, too, left his monumental mark on Rome, most prominently in the Pantheon and his mausoleum, now Castel Sant’Angelo. 

Of all these emperors, Marcus Aurelius, thanks to his “Meditations,” has gone down in history as the ideal Roman philosopher-emperor. Yet his contemporary public image in art remained that of the warrior, as can be seen in the busts and reliefs in a subsequent section of the exhibition of “Historical Reliefs,” which continues the theme of this art as propaganda. 

The reliefs lead on to the circular hall that is now the home of the magnificent gilded bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, as the armor-clad victor over the German tribes. The victory is also celebrated on the Column of Marcus Aurelius in Piazza Colonna, which shows him leading his troops and includes scenes of the massacre of prisoners and of violence being inflicted on women and children. 

This bellicose imagery, so ubiquitous in the Trajan Forum as to turn it into a kind of Dacian War theme park, was not confined to the official depiction of emperors and their deeds, as is illustrated in a parallel section in the first room of the exhibition on “The Language of Art.” 

Tumultuous battle scenes became popular on sarcophagi during this period. There are three examples here, all revolving around the crushing of mythical and actual barbarian tribes. 

The second century saw a progressive shift away from cremation in favor of burial (and interment in sarcophagi for those who could afford it), perhaps in imitation of Hellenistic practices. As the last section of the exhibition, entitled “Tombs,” demonstrates, this is a trend that encouraged more elaborate sepulchers and also had the fortuitous effect of enriching posterity’s knowledge of various aspects of Roman everyday life. 

This section opens with the famous sarcophagus, remains and grave goods of the teenage girl Crepereia Tryphaena, unearthed close to the Tiber in 1889. She was not only buried with her own jewelry, including a precious brooch with an engraved amethyst cameo, a gold necklace with beryl pendants, pearl earrings and a gold engagement or wedding ring, but also an exquisitely fashioned ivory doll with articulated limbs. 

Crepereia’s body was placed on her side, with her head inclined toward the doll. Along with this lovely plaything were buried the doll’s miniature clothes, necklace, earrings and other jewelry as well as tiny combs, mirrors and a little jewel case, faced in ivory and bone. The doll’s minutely carved hairstyle is a meticulously realized version of one made fashionable by the Emperor Antoninus Pius’s wife Faustina Major and their daughter Faustina Minor. 

Crepereia’s family name indicates that they were freed slaves, perhaps originally from Syria or Egypt, but they had clearly risen in the ranks and were likely attached in some way to the emperor since the tomb was within the estate of an imperial villa. The luxury doll (probably made in Alexandria) and expensive jewelry also indicate the family’s prosperity. 

But as some of the subsequent sarcophagi and funerary panels show, monuments also preserved information about more humble classes. One panel here has a vivid relief of a Roman butcher shop. Another pair of reliefs gives two scenes of a deceased artisan’s life: one of him at his anvil and another in an apron behind the counter of his shop, proudly displaying for sale an array of the metal tools he had manufactured. 

The Age of Equilibrium, 98-180 A.D. Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius. Capitoline Museums, Rome. Through May 5.

Modern art sale set to raise £100million

Works by Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and Henri Matisse set to fetch £100m at Christie's auction.

Amedeo Modigliani's Jeanne Hebuterne (au chapeau), his 1919 portrait of his lover that is estimated to sell for between £16 million and £22 million at the London auction house .

A sale of paintings by some of the masters of 20th century art is expected to raise around £100 million.
Work by Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and Henri Matisse will all go on sale at Christie's auction house in London on February 6.
The highlight of the impressionist and modern art sale is Modigliani's Jeanne Hebuterne (au chapeau) - a 1919 portrait of his lover that is estimated to sell for between £16 million and £22 million.
Two works by Picasso, a 1960 female nude called Nu accroupi and Minotaure aveugle conduit par une petite fille are estimated to fetch £5 million and £3.5 million respectively.
Christie's International director and head of the impressionist and modern art evening sale Jay Vincze said: "Buyers continue to be hungry for the best and rarest works of impressionist and modern art. We have ensured that this sale focuses on significant works by the most important artists and are proud to present a rich and focused offering which spans figuration to abstraction, presenting international collectors and institutions with rare and exciting opportunities."

Art competition: Students interpret Japan’s martial arts history

Many students said they had come to know about the history of Japan by participating in the competition.

ISLAMABAD:To create awareness among students about martial arts, a painting competition was held at Rawalpindi Arts Council (RAC) on Thursday, which was organised by the Japanese embassy.

Over 109 school and college students from the twin cities participated in the exhibition, “Still Life Art Competition” by painting the Spirit of Budo, history of Japanese martial arts. Thirteen students were declared best painters in the competition.

>Many students said they had come to know about the history of Japan by participating in the competition. “It’s a great opportunity and I believe the best way to learn about Japanese culture and history is through these paintings,” said Sundas Sana from Islamabad College for Girls F-6/2, who won first prize.

“I’m very excited to receive first prize. This is a great way to learn about Japan’s martial history,’’ said Mustafa Hasan, a student of International Grammar School & College.

“The basic objective of the competition is to create awareness among the youth about the history of Japan’s martial arts and give them the opportunity to express their talent,” said Japanese embassy’s Public Affairs Counsellor Toshikazu Isomura.

Isomura said the embassy had organised an exhibition “The Spirit of Budo” last November at the National Art Gallery in which the history of martial arts was portrayed.

“We then decided to organise a competition to promote Japanese martial arts and the spirit of budo, he added.

RAC Resident Waqar Ahmed said students were categorised in four sections according to their ages.