Archive for June, 2009
As of last Saturday night, I’m the proud owner of a t-shirt emblazoned with artwork by artist/activist Pahole Sookkasikon. Pahole’s solo show, Only For Pretend, opened at My Trick Pony in San Francisco last weekend, a smart little gallery space that also is a purveyor of custom t-shirts based on designs by the artists featured at the shop.
Pahole’s show is made up of several of his beautiful, impressionistic pen-and-ink drawings on paper. Delicate and dreamlike, the images flow gracefully across the page, with faces and shapes emerging amidst the swirling lines.
In addition to exhibiting the original artwork, My Trick Pony has also made up graphics of Pahole’s drawings for transfer onto nice, non-sweatshop t-shirts from American Apparel in a variety of colors and styles.
The shop’s adaptations of Pahole’s black-and-white drawings are available in several colors, including many metallic options.
Pahole’s pictures take beautifully to the to the t-shirt medium, with their lacy imagery gaining an added layer of feathery abstraction when rendered in metallic glitter.
Gallery proprietor Matteo is masterful on the hot-press, with a keen eye for the proper placement of the picture on each individual shirt.
At the show’s reception he whipped through the creation of several dozen shirts in the space of a couple hours, expertly applying Pahole’s ethereal drawings onto each garment.
Pahole’s exhibit continues through June. Stop by for your own custom t-shirt; visit My Trick Pony’s website for more information.
Pahole has also been tirelessly advocating for the Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Buddhist Temple in Berkeley in its struggle for religious and cultural self-determination. For more than a year the Temple has been in conflict with some of its immediate neighbors who object to the smell, congestion, and lack of parking during the Wat’s Sunday food sharing, which has been taking place since 1994.
Part of the Buddhist tradition of merit-making, the food sharing raises operating funds for the Temple and supports the monks in residence. The Temple has made numerous concessions to the neighbors’ demands, including reducing by half the hours of the food offerings, providing alternate parking spaces for visitors, and increasing trash pickup on Sundays.
Neighbors claim that the Temple is running an unlicensed restaurant on its grounds, but the Temple maintains that the food offerings are an important part of its religious traditions. As outlined in a recent Wall Street Journal article:
Abbot Tahn Manas, who has lived at the temple for 22 years, says the event is critical to the Buddhist religious practice of “earning merit.” Monks are forbidden by their religion from earning money or accumulating earthly goods on their own. Providing for monks and temples is the religious duty of Buddhists of the Theravada school; it helps them build goodwill for later in life or for the next life. In Thailand, they earn merit by giving money to monks in the street. Berkeley Buddhists earn merit by volunteering at brunch, thereby serving the temple.
“Our Sunday activity is pretty much like Christians going to church every Sunday,” says Abbot Manas. “Without it, it would be very difficult for us to continue merit making.”
There’s also more than a bit of cultural insensitivity in the neighbors’ complaints, including the accusation that the glorious scent of Thai food is intrusive and offensive. As Veena Dubal notes in Asian Week,
“It smells like coconut milk!” Dubal said. “When I heard those remarks, I felt a tinge of pain. That kind of … xenophobic rhetoric has no space in this diverse community.”
About 20 neighbors continue to pursue their actions against the Temple; in contrast, more than 2000 people have signed a petition in support of the Temple and its facebook group has more than 1400 members.
The Temple hopes to build a new sanctuary on its site, for which it recently has received approval from the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB). However, the Temple faces an appeals hearing before the Berkeley City Council meeting in July 2009, during which the Council can approve or deny the ZAB ruling. The exact time and date for the hearing will be posted on the Save The Thai Temple website as soon as that information is known.
When I first read the description of Pilipino director Brillante Mendoza’s new film Kinatay (Butchered) I thought, “That sounds kind of wack.” Shot on HD video with a budget of $100,000, it’s a down-and-dirty, graphic representation of the rape, murder and dismemberment of a prostitute in the Philippines through the eyes of an idealistic, greenhorn cop. The controversial film just won the Best Director award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where the announcement of the award was greeted by boos and gasps of shock. Roger Ebert calls it “the worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival,” and extensively details his disdain for the picture in his blog.
But after I read a few interviews with Mendoza about the film, I started to change my opinion of it (though still sight-unseen; the film will probably receive pretty limited distribution in the U.S., if at all). Mendoza claims that the movie is based on a true-life event and that it reflects the rampant police corruption and unchecked military violence in the Philippines. “This is not just entertainment, these kinds of stories are real,” Mendoza said after winning his award at Cannes.
This was borne out by an email blast I received on the same day that Kinatay won at Cannes. On May 19 Pilipino American Melissa Roxas, a poet and human rights activist from BAYAN-USA, a non-government organization (NGO), was kidnapped along with two co-workers while doing volunteer health work in the Tarlac Province in the Philippines. The email I received stated that BAYAN-USA was mounting a campaign to demand the Pilipino government aid in searching for and surfacing her. Thankfully, Roxas surfaced after a week of captivity, although her compatriots are still missing. What’s interesting in light of the accolades that Kinatay received is that Roxas and BAYAN-USA have claimed that she was abducted and tortured by the Pilipino police and military and that this event is the latest in a series of abuses against political activists by government agencies in the Philippines. The New York Times notes:
“According to the human rights group Karapatan, more than 200 Filipino activists have been kidnapped and never heard from since 2001, the year President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power. Others have turned up dead or showing signs of torture.”
If the claims by Roxas, Karapatan, and BAYAN-USA are true, then Mendoza’s film takes on an added significance. Most of the film’s detractors criticized it for its graphic, unvarnished depiction of violence and brutality, with Ebert in particular scorning its rough-hewn soundtrack and cinematography. What Ebert might not understand is that Mendoza is making a conscious decision not to sanitize the film’s violent events. Movie violence is nothing new, but it’s usually presented with a patina of glamour and unreality, an aestheticization that distances the viewer and sanctions the viewing of the violence, making it an acceptable form of entertainment.
By denying his film the glossy sheen of conventional filmic violence, Mendoza forces viewers out of their complacent moviewatching habits, taking them out of their comfort zone and making them realize that, as in the case of Melissa Roxas and many others around the globe, violence is not a form of entertainment but a dire part of everyday life. In this case, Mendoza is working toward the same goal as Roxas—to expose and eradicate the corruption and human-rights abuses of the power structure in the Philippines.
UPDATE: Here’s the transcript of Melissa Roxas’ June 28 press conference in which she describes her ordeal.
I don’t know if I need to add too much to this. It’s an image and a moment that should never be forgotten.
Tank man, June 5, 1989, Tiananmen Square, Beijing
Just a quick shoutout to a couple well-placed guerilla art pieces spied around town here in San Francisco in the past week or so. In anticipation of the May 27 Chevron shareholders meeting in San Francisco last week, some enterprising artist/activists last week bombed the city with printouts of the downloadable subvertisements from truecostofchevron’s ChevWrong Inhumane Energy ads. The poster brigade, which plastered the city with hundreds of the alternate ads, decided to take matters into their own hands after CBS Outdoor refused to sell billboard space to truecostofchevron, claiming that it didn’t accept “negative” advertising. The Inhumane Energy series cleverly skewers Chevron’s current greenwashing ad campaign that speciously utilizes earth-friendly taglines such as “I will leave the car at home more,” “I will finally get a programmable thermostat,” and “I will replace 3 light bulbs with CFLs.” As if.
Truecostofchevron’s slick little numbers nimbly mimic Chevron’s fakey feel-good sentiments with lines including, “I will not breathe when outside,” “I will try not to get cancer,” and “I will not complain about my asthma,” coupled with facts and statistics about Chevron’s environmentally unsound activities in Nigeria, the U.S., Burma, Ecuador, Iraq and other sites worldwide. As with any good detournement, the series simultaneously critiques, neutralizes and repurposes its source material, in this case simulating Chevron’s high-powered happy-smiley corporate propaganda in order to expose and deride the oil giant’s own hypocrisy.
I’ve also been appreciating the rawer but no less effective commentary on the link between big oil and the destruction of the planet that’s cropped up on the eastbound approach to the Bay Bridge. Stenciled onto a couple pillars on the Bridge’s lower deck is a simple image of a tank’s silhouette spouting a single a drop of blood. Direct, visual and to the point, the graphic needs no embellishment to gets its message across, even to the distracted driver speeding along the freeway. And though it may be ephemeral, its placement in the line of sight of thousands of drivers a day brings its message to where it’s most needed and where it can’t be ignored. Which is the most that anyone can hope for in combating the baldfaced corporate misinformation that bombards us every day.