Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A Poem For Erdoğan

A poem for Erdogan
The Spectator, a weekly UK news magazine, has launched a "President Erdoğan Insulting Poetry Competition", with a £1,000 prize for the most offensive poem written about President Erdoğan of Turkey. According to the rules, drawn up by Douglas Murray, "all entries must be (a) wholly defamatory and (b) utterly obscene."

The competition, announced in the magazine's current issue (dated 23rd April), was inspired by recent attempts to prosecute German comedian Jan Boehmermann, who recited a poem mocking Erdoğan on 31st March. The deadline for entries is 23rd June, timed to coincide with the UK's referendum on its membership of the European Union.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016


Shunga: Sex & Pleasure In Japanese Art
Kinoe No Komatsu
Sode No Maki
Shunga: Sex & Pleasure In Japanese Art opened in 2013 at the British Museum in London, and was the world's largest exhibition of shunga works. The 500-page exhibition catalogue, edited by Timothy Clark, C Andrew Gerstle, Aki Ishigami, and Akiko Yano, is the most comprehensive book on shunga. ('Shunga' literally translates as 'Spring pictures', a euphemistic description for this genre of erotic and pornographic Japanese illustrations produced throughout the Edo period.)

The catalogue begins with a detailed introduction by Timothy Clark and C Andrew Gerstle, who compare the fantasies depicted in shunga to the "pornotopia" described by Steven Marcus in The Other Victorians. Edo Japan and Victorian Britain were both seemingly conservative societies, though they were also prolific producers of pornography. (Even in contemporary Japan, there is a separation between public reserve and private consumption of sometimes extreme imagery.)

Shunga was produced as emaki (scrolls) and illustrated books, and even as shikake-e (early examples of paper engineering), though it was most often associated with ukiyo-e (woodblock prints, known as 'images of the floating world'). An essay by Ishigami Aki demonstrates that shunga was influenced by the Chinese 'chunhua' genre of sex-education manuals. (Thus, like origami and bonsai, shunga is another apparently Japanese tradition that actually originated in China.)

Katsushika Hokusai, whose Great Wave is the most celebrated ukiyo-e print, also produced "perhaps the most famous of all shunga images", Kinoe No Komatsu (1814). (This illustration of a woman being pleasured by an octopus was also included in the Barbican's Seduced exhibition.)

In the introduction, Kitagawa Utamaro is described as "arguably the greatest shunga artist of all," and an essay by Kobayashi Tadashi cites Utamaro and Torii Kiyonaga as "two artists who were the most remarkable in the whole history of shunga". Tadashi writes that Utamaro's Utamakura (1788) and Kiyonaga's Sode No Maki (1785) "vie for the title of greatest shunga masterpiece" though Kiyonaga's work "should surely be placed at the summit of achievement among all Japanese shunga."

Jennifer Preston discusses the censorship of shunga in the Edo period. Nishikawa Sukenobu's Fufu Narabi No Oka (1714) was the first shunga to be suppressed: "the courtly references in the work, such as details of the imperial palace, came to the attention of the authorities and Sukenobu was severely punished." Sukenobu's Hyakunin Joro Shinasadame (1723) was also banned. Later, the illustrated book Ehon Taikoki and Utamaro's Taiko Gosai Rakuto Yukan No Zu were both banned in 1804. Novelists Santo Kyoden and Tamenaga Shunsui were manacled for fifty days (in 1791 and 1842 respectively).

Censorship of shunga began again in the twentieth century. Ishigami Aki recounts the 1960 obscenity charges against Hayashi Yoshikazu's book Ehon Kenkyu, Kunisada (a historical study of shunga). Yoshikazu was convicted after a thirteen-year trial, though when he updated the book in 1989, as Edo Makura-eshi Shusei, it was published uncensored.

The catalogue features more than 400 illustrations, with some fold-out pages. It also includes biographies of shunga artists, with names and titles printed in Japanese kanji, and an extensive bibliography. Timon Screech, author of the first academic study of shunga (Sex & The Floating World, 1999), also contributes an essay to the catalogue. Richard Lane's Images From The Floating World (1978), the classic study of ukiyo-e prints, includes several examples of shunga.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Inside Obama's White House

Inside Obama's White House, a series of four hour-long documentaries examining the Barack Obama presidency, was broadcast on BBC2 recently. It began with Obama's economic stimulus and his bailouts of the banking and automotive industries following the global economic crisis.

The Affordable Care Act, the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the consequences of the Arab Spring were also covered. The final episode dealt with major social issues such as gun control and race relations (the latter of which is the subject of Michael Eric Dyson's new book, The Black Presidency).

Obama's economic negotiations with the Republicans and his Afghan policy were not included, perhaps because they have been previously documented elsewhere (in two books by Bob Woodward). Similarly, his relations with Vladimir Putin were not discussed, though they were the subject of an earlier series by the same production company (Putin, Russia & The West).

The programmes were remarkable for their level of access to almost all of the key White House and Senate figures (with the exception of Vice President Joe Biden). Excerpts from two recent interview sessions with Obama himself were included throughout.

The four episodes are: 100 Days (broadast on 15th March), Obamacare (22nd March), Don't Screw It Up! (29th March; a milder form of Obama's foreign policy "don't do stupid shit"), and The Arc Of History (5th April). The episodes were directed by Paul Mitchell, Sarah Wallis, Delphine Jaudeau, and Mick Gold.

Thursday, 21 April 2016


Arish: Palm-Leaf Architecture, by Sandra Piesik, is "the first comprehensive publication dedicated to recording the special place of date palm-leaf architecture in the UAE's cultural heritage." 'Arish' traditionally refers to summer houses constructed from palm leaves, though Piesik adopts it as an umbrella term for all palm-leaf buildings.

Piesik's account of historical palm-leaf architecture is limited to a collection of black-and-white photographs from the middle of the twentieth century. The book then highlights examples of palm-leaf buildings from each area of the United Arab Emirates, including 'mogassas' (summer houses), 'cayady' (winter houses), 'barasti' (with flat roofs), 'khaimah' (with pitched roofs), and 'kada' (with stone walls). These regional chapters have colour photographs and additional historical context.

Arish is one of several recent books on architectural materials. Others include Glass In Architecture (by Michael Wigginton), Brick (by James WP Campbell), Architecture In Wood (by Will Pryce), Concrete (by William Hall), and Corrugated Iron (by Simon Holloway and Adam Mornement).


Mother-Of-Pearl: Antiques & Collectibles was written by Michael Meyer, Dawn Meyer, and Patricia Martin. Its main appeal is its photographs of more than 5,000 mother-of-pearl objects. It's the first extensive survey of mother-of-pearl, as the dust jacket explains: "For the first time in the English language, a thorough, well-researched book has been written on the history, collection, and craft of carved mother-of-pearl."

The book begins with a brief history of mother-of-pearl production. It covers most regions of the world, though each country is summarised in only a few paragraphs. Unfortunately, the items illustrated are all from the authors' collections: "The scope of this book is confined to material we have personally accumulated over the past ten years. It does not encompass museum collections or other private collections."

Most of the pieces are trinkets and accessories. A lengthy chapter on mother-of-pearl carvings is of more interest, as are related chapters on decorative arts and religious ornaments. One of the most notable examples is a model of the al-Aqsa mosque presented to King Hussein of Jordan.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Pietre Dure

Pietre Dure
Pietre Dure & The Art Of Florentine Inlay is one of several books on pietre dure by Annamaria Giusti, who is arguably the world's leading authority on the subject. (She has also written Pietre Dure: Hardstone In Furniture & Decorations, and she co-wrote the Art Of The Royal Court exhibition catalogue.)

Pietre dure is a form of polychrome inlay, similar to intarsia or marquetry though utilising gemstones rather than wood. (The Penguin Dictionary Of Decorative Arts has a useful entry on the subject.) The technique is also related to mosaics, and Giusti discusses the Cosmatesque geometric mosaic style.

The book's main focus is on the Italian Renaissance revival of pietre dure, and its subsequent popularity among European royalty. Giusti is chief curator of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, which established Florence as the centre of pietre dure production: "Florentine commesso work achieved a notable refinement in the well-established techniques of inlay, and the opus sectile of the Roman era."

This is a superb introduction to the art of pietre dure, and it's one of the few English-language books on the subject. Its glossy, colour illustrations of inlaid tabletops and cabinets are lavishly reproduced, with many stunning full-page, full-bleed photographs.

It was originally published in Italian, as L'arte Delle Pietre Dure (2005). It was then translated into French, as La Marqueterie De Pierres Dures, before its English translation was published the following year. The title of the American edition is Pietre Dure: The Art Of Semiprecious Stonework.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Neo Magazin Royale

Neo Magazin Royale
The Turkish government has registered a formal complaint against German comedian Jan Boehmermann, accusing him of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. On his late-night satirical programme Neo Magazin Royale, broadcast on 31st March by ZDF Neo, Boehmermann recited a poem (with Turkish subtitles) mocking Erdoğan, as a demonstration of the limits of freedom of expression.

Boehmermann's poem was gratuitously offensive, though it was clearly intended to be comical rather than libellous. Boehmermann read it in response to the controversy surrounding the song Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdoğan, broadcast by NDR on 17th March. The song, from the comedy show Extra 3, also criticised Erdoğan, and the German ambassador to Turkey was summoned by the Turkish government to apologise for it.

The video of Boehmermann's poem has been removed from ZDF's website, and the broadcaster has also identified and deleted all copies of it from YouTube. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, telephoned Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu to apologise, and German prosecutors are investigating Boehmermann for the crime of insulting a foreign leader.

Ironically, Erdoğan himself was imprisoned in 1999 for reciting a poem. In a 1997 speech, he had quoted lines from a poem by Ziya Gokalp: "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the believers our soldiers." He was sentenced to ten months in jail as a result.

Erdoğan is notoriously intolerant of criticism and satire. He filed lawsuits against cartoonists from Cumhuriyet in 2004 and Penguen in 2005, against Cumhuriyet again in 2014, and against Penguen again last year. Artist Matthew Dickinson was charged with insulting Erdoğan in 2006, and charged again soon afterwards. Last year, Nokta magazine was shut down due to a Photoshopped image of Erdoğan. (In 2008, Cumhuriyet was charged with defamation due to two caricatures of Erdoğan's predecessor, Abdullah Gul.)


Friday, 8 April 2016

Marie Claire

Marie Claire
Royal Gazette
Thai police have confirmed an order banning the distribution of a back issue of Marie Claire magazine. The order was issued on 8th March, though it was published in the Royal Gazette today.

In November 2015, Marie Claire's French edition printed a four-page article by Emmanuel Mortagne about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. The magazine has been banned on grounds of lèse-majesté, and police are authorised to confiscate or destroy any copies already in the country.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Referendum Act

A referendum will be held on 7th August, giving Thais the chance to accept or reject the military's proposed new constitution. The final draft of the charter was published by the Constitution Drafting Committee last week, and an earlier draft was released in February.

The vote will take place in line with the 2016 Referendum Act, which will take effect on 22nd April. Commentators and former politicians have criticised the Act's restrictive conditions and harsh penalties, though its terms are actually similar to those of the 2007 Referendum Act.

The 2016 Act states that "anyone who publishes text, images or sound... that is either untruthful, harsh, offensive, rude, inciting or threatening, with the intention that voters will either not exercise their right to vote, or vote in a certain way" will face up to ten years in jail (article 61). The 2007 Act also stipulated a ten-year maximum sentence for those who "deceive, coerce, threaten, or influence eligible voters not to exercise their voting rights, to vote one way or another" (article 10).

The main difference is not the wordings of the two laws, but the political circumstances of the votes. Although the 2007 referendum was held during a military coup, the country was not under martial law or its equivalent. (Martial law had been lifted in most provinces on 26th January 2007.) This time, however, martial law was replaced by article 44 of the interim constitution, which outlaws any criticism of the junta's activities.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

A Life Of Picasso
The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932

A Life Of Picasso
John Richardson's multi-volume biography of Picasso is not only the definitive work on Picasso, it's perhaps the most comprehensive biography of any artist. In 2013, the Financial Times called it "the greatest, most compelling biography of an artist ever written". Three volumes have been published so far: The Early Years, 1881-1906; The Cubist Rebel, 1907-1916; and The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932.

Volume III, which is the first volume to include colour illustrations, begins shortly before Picasso's first marriage (to ballerina Olga Khokhova) and his Neo-Classical period. Khokhova is the (presumed) subject of La Danse (1925), "one of Picasso's most profound and mysterious paintings." Indeed, Picasso regarded this as one of his masterpieces: while his mural Guernica is more famous, he "attached more importance to Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and La Danse".

Richardson, a close friend of Picasso's, also wrote and presented the Channel 4 documentary Picasso: Magic, Sex, & Death (2001). He has curated several major Picasso exhibitions, including Picasso: The Mediterranean Years (2010); his essay for the Mediterranean Years exhibition catalogue is effectively a preview of the forthcoming volume IV of his Picasso biography.

Hundreds of books have been written about Picasso. Three monographs stand out as authoritative surveys of his entire oeuvre: Picasso (by Wilhelm Boeck and Jaime Sabartes; with original cover illustrations by Picasso himself), Pablo Picasso (by Carsten-Peter Warncke; originally published in two volumes), and The Ultimate Picasso (by Brigitte Leal, Christine Piot, and Marie-Laure Bernadac; reissued as Picasso: The Monograph, 1881-1973).

Sunday, 3 April 2016


In a joint police and military operation yesterday, more than 10,000 red water bowls were seized from former Pheu Thai politicians in Nan, a province in northern Thailand. 8,862 bowls were taken from one former MP, and 1,500 from another.

The bowls include a message from former prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra: "แม้สถานการณ์จะร้อน ขอให้พี่น้องได้รับความเย็นผ่านขันใบนี้" ('although the situation is hot, everyone can keep cool with water'). They were due to be distributed to Pheu Thai supporters before the Songkran water festival later this month.

In a similar case earlier this year, officials in Roi Et province banned distribution of Thaksin and Yingluck calendars. Yingluck herself is currently on trial at the Supreme Court following her impeachment in January.

Friday, 1 April 2016


Palacio do Congresso Nacional
Concrete, edited by William Hall and published by Phaidon, is a collection of large (full-page and double-page) photographs of concrete architecture. It's a visual portfolio of almost 200 buildings rather than a narrative history of concrete, though it includes an introductory essay by Leonard Korne.

Hall writes in his preface: "Many of the best and most influential buildings of the last century are constructed with concrete". The book includes plenty of stunning examples, such as Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye ("perhaps the quintessential modernist structure"), Oscar Niemeyer's Palacio do Congresso Nacional, Kisho Kurokawa's Metabolist Nakagin Kapuseru Tawa, and the 2,000-year-old Roman Pantheon.

Concrete has been maligned due to its associations with post-War Brutalist architecture, a trend first identified by Rayner Banham in his 1955 Architectural Review article The New Brutalism. In his essay, Leonard Koren argues that Brutalism was a mere blip in concrete's long history as a versatile building material.

Concrete: The Vision Of A New Architecture (by Peter Collins) was the first history of concrete architecture (though it places too much emphasis on a single architect, Auguste Perret). Several histories of other building materials have been published recently, including Glass In Architecture (by Michael Wigginton), Brick (by James WP Campbell), Architecture In Wood (by Will Pryce), and Corrugated Iron (by Simon Holloway and Adam Mornement).

"We reject the draft charter..."

The Constitutional Drafting Committee this week published the final draft of its proposed new constitution. Pheu Thai released a statement criticising the proposal: "We reject the draft charter that will regress the country... Pheu Thai Party requests that the people come out and vote to "reject" the draft charter that does not recognize the people's power and lacks democratic principles." (Similarly, when an initial draft was released in February, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said: "The draft charter is retrogressive".)

The new draft stipulates that 244 members of the Senate will be selected by a panel chosen by the NCPO, with the remaining six Senate seats reserved for the leaders of the armed services. A referendum on the charter will take place on 7th August; unlike the referendum on the previous constitution, campaigns against the charter will be illegal, with a penalty of up to ten years in jail.

Through The Lens Of Prime Minister

Through The Lens Of Prime Minister
Through The Lens Of Prime Minister
An exhibition of photographs by Dmitry Medvedev, Russian Prime Minister (and former president, when Medvedev and Vladimir Putin switched roles to avoid presidential term limits) opened on 23rd March. The exhibition, Through The Lens Of Prime Minister [sic] at Siam Paragon in Bangkok, will close on 3rd April. Around 100 photographs are included, mostly aerial shots of landscapes in Russia and elsewhere.

Medvedev visited Thailand last April, and in the exhibition booklet he writes: "I saw Thailand not only through the eyes of a Head of Government of a friendly country, but also through the eyes of a traveler." Despite the coup, Thailand and Russia have indeed remained "friendly" allies, and Medvedev's comment is presumably a reference to America distancing itself from the Thai military junta.