Books, arts and culture

  • Paving the way

    The tiny, global cities of Bodys Isek Kingelez

    by S.H. | NEW YORK

    “A NATION that can’t make models is a nation that doesn’t understand things, a nation that doesn’t live,” said Bodys Isek Kingelez. The figurative meaning of the Congolese artist’s words resonates: poor planning has led to instability, financial ruin and crises of all kinds in countries around the world. But for Kingelez “models” were also literal. He made his statement while slicing and gluing strips of plastic to make a small skyscraper for one of his fantastical cityscapes.

    Kingelez built miniature utopias out of toothpicks, cardboard, bottle caps, cigarette cartons, Coke cans and even razor blades.

  • Keeping it surreal

    “Who is America?” contains genuine insight, despite itself

    by L.M.

    HERE is a thought experiment for an idle Tuesday. Which of the following is more likely to test the boundaries of credulity: that a handful of Republican congressmen, former congressmen and sundry right-wingers would think that arming three-year-olds is, actually, now you mention it, quite a good way to deal with school shootings? Or that the President of the United States of America would stand next to the leader of an openly hostile foreign power and tell the world’s press that he believes the word of his counterpart more than he trusts the assessment of his intelligence community?

  • Buffo

    Imagining the “Trump in Europe” opera

    by E.B.

    AFTER decades of tense relations with China, Richard Nixon in 1972 undertook a pathbreaking visit to the communist country. So historic was the American president’s trip that John Adams was inspired to write an opera about it. The composer was on to something: summits, with their high stakes and larger-than-life personalities, are natural operatic fodder and despite being a modernist work, “Nixon in China” has established itself in the operatic repertoire. A recent diplomatic trip undertaken by the incumbent American president would, in fact, make for even more compelling musical drama. Prospero has endeavoured to imagine such a work, which might be entitled “Trump in Europe”.

  • 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.

About Prospero

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


Culture video


Products and events

Take our weekly news quiz to stay on top of the headlines

Visit The Economist e-store and you’ll find a range of carefully selected products for business and pleasure, Economist books and diaries, and much more