Books, arts and culture

  • The faces of terror

    “Path of Blood” shows an uncomfortable humanity behind inhumane acts

    by B.F.

    THE rise of al-Qaeda, and America’s resulting “war on terror”, has been well documented on film. Less known are the domestic efforts of Arab countries to stem jihadism. “Path of Blood”, a documentary released on July 13th in Britain and America, is made up largely of footage gathered by Saudi Arabian security forces from al-Qaeda cells. It depicts a grisly cat-and-mouse game between 2003 and 2009. Much of the footage was shot by the terrorists themselves, and it reveals the unsettling humanity of those who take other’s lives.

  • Back in the kitchen

    Why art exhibitions are returning to domestic settings

    by A.C. | CAMBRIDGE

    IN THE dining room at Kettle’s Yard, a lemon sits on a pewter dish. Replaced every week, it directs viewers’ eyes to the adjacent wall, where the yellow spot in a painting by Joan Miró gleams a little brighter. Illuminated by an everyday object, “Tic Tic” is one of the many artworks in Kettle’s Yard which proves that intimate and domestic spaces are the best places to appreciate art.

    The Cambridge home of the late Jim Ede—a former curator at the Tate—and his wife Helen, Kettle’s Yard is filled with work by the likes of Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo and Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi and Elisabeth Vellacott.

  • Curation reinvented

    Harald Szeemann and the art of exhibition-making

    by J.U-S. | BERN

    ON THE floor is a black, 1960s-style telephone. “If this telephone rings, you may answer it,” a note reads. “Walter De Maria is on the line and would like to talk to you.” This appealingly quirky piece of art, selected for exhibition in 1969 by Harald Szeemann, does not seem especially odd by today’s standards. That is because current contemporary art shows owe so much to the Swiss curator, who died in 2005.

    The landmark exhibitions of the previous 100 years—the first Impressionists collection in 1874 or the Armory Show in 1913, where Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” shocked America—are remembered primarily for their content.

  • Mind the Wind Gap

    “Sharp Objects” cuts deeply

    by K.S.C.

    A SMALL American town. A pair of brutal murders. A reporter, dogged by a host of demons, returning home to investigate. These are the basic elements of “Sharp Objects”, an eight-part HBO miniseries based on the debut novel by Gillian Flynn, best known as the author of “Gone Girl”. The result in this case, however, is more than the sum of its well-worn parts.

    Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) has not been much missed in Wind Gap, Missouri, nor is she welcomed now. Camille’s peers have children of their own. Local police consider her a scavenging journalist bent on stirring up trouble.

  • Raise it up

    Florence and the Machine’s new feminist sensibility

    by K.Y.W.

    FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE, a British indie band, marked the release of their new album on June 29th with a live televised performance from Central Park in New York. Backed by a six-piece band that included a harpist, Florence Welch sang a selection of singles from “High as Hope” before security guards hoisted her above the crowd for the encore of “Shake It Out”, a hit from 2011. As fans grabbed at Ms Welch’s billowing robe in the humid morning air, the scene looked more like a Renaissance painting than a promotional event.

    Over the past decade, Ms Welch has made her name both as a hitmaker and as a kind of strong-willed sprite.

  • Drawn this way

    Jamie Hewlett and the aesthetics of pop culture

    by D.B.

    IN 1988 a publication launched in London that was not quite a comic, not quite a style magazine, not quite an art periodical and not quite a music paper, but a curious hybrid of all these things. Deadline was neither the first nor the last such bold experiment. It was, however, one of the few to flourish. Its success was largely based on one thing: the art of Jamie Hewlett, then aged 20, and already an accomplished and invigorating graphic artist. A book recently republished by Taschen, collecting more than 400 of his artworks, underlines his influence.

    “Tank Girl”, co-created and illustrated by Mr Hewlett, was the new magazine’s first cover star.

  • The bongo and the baton

    A global salsa star tries to conquer his native Colombia

    by M.P. | BOGOTÁ

    ON A chilly evening in an empty theatre in Bogotá an unusual assortment of musicians prepares for a concert. Violinists, cellists and flautists from Colombia’s National Symphony Orchestra join players of maracas and timbales. The rhythms are those of salsa. The song, “Banano de Urabá”, tells of a slaughter of banana pickers in 1928. The voice belongs to Yuri Buenaventura, a diminutive salsero. He is the first to collaborate with the orchestra, in a concert on July 4th and in an album to be released this year.

    This is Mr Buenaventura’s latest attempt to conquer his home country, where he is less famous than salseros with more conventional approaches.

  • Billie Jean is not my Louvre

    The King of Pop, the artist’s muse

    by B.F.

    THE National Portrait Gallery in London has struggled of late. The number of visitors fell by a third last year compared with 2016, and cost-cutting has led to voluntary redundancies. Nicholas Cullinan joined the institution as director in 2015 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and he committed to attracting a younger and more diverse crowd—vital if the gallery is to remain competitive in an era when museums increasingly resemble Instagram fodder. “Michael Jackson: On The Wall” is the clearest attempt at reaching this new audience to date.

    Nearly a decade after Jackson’s death, the world is still captivated by the musician.

  • Twisted behaviour

    “Bikram” investigates allegations of abuse against a megastar yogi

    by C.B.

    WHEN Bikram Choudhury arrived in California in 1973, he brought with him a new brand of yoga. Instead of a light series of stretches, he preached transformation through suffering. Wearing little more than black speedos and a Rolex, he would guide his starry clientele through 26 high-intensity poses in a room the temperature of Calcutta in the summer. As word spread, more people yearned to proselytise the Bikram method. His teacher-training courses would subject 400 students at a time to gruelling regimes. At one session some students grew so delirious from the heat and the strain they were incontinent on their mats.

  • It’s (probably not) coming home

    “Three Lions” perfectly captures the masochism of supporting England

    by J.T.

    “IT’S COMING home, it’s coming home, it’s coming…” With a round-of-16 match against Colombia looming, even the gloomiest English football fan could be forgiven for believing the chant echoing around the country. Somehow, after two wins against lowly Tunisia and Panama, an insipid loss to a Belgian second team, an unusually generous draw and Spain’s unlikely exit, the Three Lions find themselves as the strongest team left in their half of the knockout bracket. FiveThirtyEight, a sports statistics website, reckons that this talented but largely unproven England team would be slight favourites against any country they could meet before the final.

  • How many more years

    In Chicago, the sound of the blues is fading

    by J.D. | CHICAGO

    FOR A century Maxwell Street was the “gateway neighbourhood” of Chicago. Irish and German immigrants arrived in 1848 to build railroads; Italians, Greeks, Russians, Bohemians and Mexicans moved in shortly after. By the late 19th century Eastern European Jewish migrants had established a ghetto street bazaar, famed as the largest open-air market in America. Blues musicians who escaped the segregated South in the 1930s came to Maxwell Street for the market’s large audience. So large and loud, in fact, that they needed amplifiers and electrical instruments to cut through the din of hawkers. “Chicago blues” was born.

  • Improbable heroes

    The Burmese army invades the big screen

    by M.C. | YANGON

    AFTER FIVE decades of military rule, the Burmese have grown accustomed to propaganda. Every year on Armed Forces Day state television broadcasts features trumpeting the army’s achievements. “Our Beloved”, a film about ordinary Burmese soldiers, is different. It was not put together by the psychological warfare and public-relations department of the Ministry of Defence, but by two private production companies. It is an attempt at sophisticated patriotic storytelling. It fails, but in telling ways.

    The film follows a battalion of soldiers sent on a mission to free innocent civilians from an ethnic warlord.

  • Not signing off yet

    How is college radio faring in the streaming era?


    IN THE 1980s and 1990s college radio stations were champions of independent music. Listeners bored with the predictable offerings of mainstream stations could turn to college radio for a wide range of genres curated into specialty shows. The DJs, though housed in the nooks, crannies and spare rooms of American campus buildings, were knowledgeable and immersed in their local music scenes. They often booked and promoted shows: it was how bands such as R.E.M. and Nirvana were discovered.

    The music industry is still peppered with former college radio DJs and volunteers, but many believe this generation will be the last to come through the system.

  • Tales from a complicated place

    “Shatila Stories” is one novel, penned by nine refugees

    by A.C.

    LAST YEAR the number of people fleeing war or persecution rose to a record 68.5m worldwide. More than 6m were Syrians who escaped their country’s civil war, arriving at the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut in their thousands. Forced to make life anew, they live cheek by jowl with Palestinian families who have eked out a living there since the camp’s creation in 1949. Conditions are cramped and appalling: the number of residents has swelled to 40,000 from 20,000 in 2011.

    Yet out of this difficult, heart-rending situation, a new kind of literature has emerged.

  • Iconography, updated

    Theaster Gates and the art of the Black Madonna

    by J.U-S. | BASEL

    THREE young black women—one with a perfect Afro, the others all mid-century glamour in their bathing caps—lark about at the steps of a swimming pool, preparing to emerge from the water. A passing photographer may have caught the joyful moment by chance; it could also be a still from a fashion shoot. It’s an arresting picture since, in reworking the monochrome image, Theaster Gates has turned the water an orangey-red. Equally intriguing is the title: “The Madonnas” (2018). What is the connection between these bathers and depictions of Mary, most often with the infant Jesus, so familiar from Catholic churches and Old Masters collections?

About Prospero

An enchanting mix of literary insight and cultural commentary, in the spirit of the hero of “The Tempest”


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