Wednesday, July 16, 2014

One day in Budapest

(The eleventh instalment of the Backpacking with a Suitcase series, in which I document my travels across Europe in July 2012. Click on the pictures to enlarge.)



The bus reached Budapest past 8pm, but the day was still bright. One of the great things about Europe in the summer. Here, too, I faced a language barrier - even more so than Prague - and hardly anyone spoke English. I finally asked a group of (what appeared to be) students for directions to the nearest metro station. The guards who checked my ticket didn't speak English either, and their only response to my inquiries about validating the ticket was "super!" (su-pair) I took their word for it.

The directions on my hostel (Paprika) booking were indeed "super", and I found it with ease, with only one stop at a stately-looking McDonald's to buy dinner (sigh - it was getting late and I wasn't sure where I'd venture alone to find food, so I took my chance). The hostel was very different from any of the others I stayed at - they strive to be more informal and friendly, while not compromising on quality. It's situated in a huge, old residential building in which it occupies an "apartment" (?), so it's small - you enter through the kitchen and the living room is full of people (when they're not out partying or pub crawling together) who all seem to know each other like one big family. A bit too intimate for me, especially because I was alone, to be in a room full of people I didn't know - but that said, I interacted with and got to know some really nice people and would have probably got used to it if I had stayed longer. I was only in Budapest for one night because I got the cheapest flight back to London from there. (Definitely worth another visit.) 

What do you do if you're in a city only for a few hours? Take a three-hour walking tour, of course. I hadn't planned on this, but my Taiwanese roommates were going for one and I joined them, which turned out to be a great decision. On my own, I probably would have ended up seeing less than half the places, getting lost a lot, and missing out on little nuggets of interesting information about Hungary that our guides were very generous with. Moreover, the tour was "free" (with a request for donations).


The meeting point

Budapest unified to become a single city on 17 November 1873, occupying both banks of the river Danube: Buda and Pest. A number of bridges, the Chain Bridge being the largest and most beautiful, link Buda and Pest. Pest is pronounced "pesht".


Looking out on Pest from Buda - and the Chain Bridge

Occasionally, during the tour, we'd sit down and have a mini history or Hungarian lesson (one of the toughest languages to learn, apparently, because it has no relation to any other language); occasionally, we'd rub a statue for good luck. After exploring Pest, we walked across the Chain Bridge and up to Buda Castle, which looks like something out of a fairytale. 


Buda Castle

The tour culminated at the castle, after we'd witnessed the changing of the guard and taken a group photo. Everyone then parted ways and I decided to explore by myself for the next few hours, before heading back to the hostel for my luggage.

Ice creams in Budapest are the BEST - cheap and with cookies or huge chocolate chunks embedded in them. I sat by the Fisherman's Bastion to enjoy one, and also got treated to some beautiful Hungarian music. Also spied a busker who "played" (or pretended to) what seemed to be a wooden dish and spoon without any strings - making funny "music" with his mouth. I left some change in his case. It wore glasses.



I walked back through very quaint streets; I got lost but all I needed to do was follow the Danube. 



The Parliament building was modelled on Westminster Abbey.



I next visited the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe. I've never been to one before, it was absolutely beautiful.

Dohány Street Synagogue

I got lost on the way to the famed Opera House.

The Opera House

I made a friend at the airport. She had daughters my age; we had the best time all the way to London talking about my dissertation and her job and finding "cheap" postcards at Budapest airport and laughing at the lifeguard illustrations on the plane safety manual.

I kept leaning over the guy in the window seat to get a glimpse of the night view during the take-off. He was reading A Midsummer Night's Dream and probably regretting his chosen seat. The view was stunning.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Humans of Vienna

(The tenth instalment of the Backpacking with a Suitcase series, in which I document my travels across Europe in July 2012. Click on the pictures to enlarge.)

The bus made a stop in Brno, Czech Republic, on its way to Vienna. I got off at the station to buy something to eat, spending the last of my Czech Koruna, which I'd kept aside as souvenirs. Back on the bus, a young man sat next to me in lieu of the older gentleman I had started the journey with. He read Memoirs of a Geisha in German, and watched a Harry Potter movie, and I suspect he may have been fun to talk to if he had taken his headphones off for a few seconds. I stared out the window and took shaky videos of the dazzling sunflower fields and gave him a life-story. Do you ever do that? Give strangers a story, imagine what their life must be like, where they've been, where they're going?

**

Hütteldorf

The hostel was in Hütteldorf, slightly far out from the city centre (the last stop on the U-Bahn) but a really lovely suburban area. I got lost, despite the clear directions, because that's what I do, but a kindly man helped me out. I huffed and puffed on the uphill(ish) climb, and wasn't disappointed; the room, to be shared with five others, was charming, and this hostel served the best, hugest breakfast spread as far as hostels go. My Russian roommate was easy to befriend once we started talking. She was in Vienna for an opera master class for two weeks. She braided her hair in a zillion braids as I watched from the corner of my eye, which turned into the most gorgeous curls the next morning. She told me I ate like a bird, and we talked about fellow travellers, careers and asthma.

My interaction with the other roommates was even more fleeting: a Chinese girl who was a student in Gent and let me borrow her laptop to copy my photos onto a disk, all the while chatting pleasantly; an American mother-daughter duo that didn't speak to me once till I gave away my bottle of (accidentally bought) sparkling water (the most pointless drink in the world?) to the mom, who then asked me about my trip and told me about theirs. And then we all went our separate ways. Maybe our paths will cross again - you never know with travellers.

**

Schönbrunn

Just a couple of U-Bahn stops from Hütteldorf is the Schönbrunn Palace, where I was due to attend a (kiddie version, because it's cheaper, of a) marionette theatre performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte). I was sleepy from the journey, had the worst seat imaginable - last row corner - and hungry (to quell this, I had taken the liberty of ordering a "waffle" at the cafe which turned out to be one of these forlorn things). A family of four sat in the vicinity, the dad and kids in the row in front of me and the very anxious-fidgety mother next to me. They were beautiful, and the parents spoke English to their kids, but they also (all) knew German perfectly, and I spent far too much time wondering how that worked. At one point the mum asked me something, and her daughter exclaimed "She speaks English!" in wonderment. I understood less of the performance than I'd thought, though it was stunning. I also dozed a little. Then I took a solitary walk through Schönbrunn's magnificent gardens.

**

Starvation is not fun. The fact that pretty much everything is closed on weekends, combined with my woeful (on that occasion) map-reading skills, meant that I couldn't find any food near the hostel. I was starting to think I'd have to take the train back towards the city centre when I saw two boys walking up the road, eating takeout noodles. I made a beeline for them. "HI, where'd you get THOSE?" "At the station!" The station? How had I missed food at the station? Back I went, passing a lady with a giant pizza slice on the way and sure enough, there it was. I started to order my noodles in German, but got caught out. "Are you Indian?" (sigh) "Yep." He was more chatty the next day when I returned for one of the huge pizza slices, speaking to me in Hindi (!), telling me he was from Afghanistan, but had learned Hindi from watching Bollywood movies and from Indian colleagues when he worked in Dubai. And now here he was, working in Vienna and speaking perfect German. Some people make you feel like you haven't lived at all.

On both evenings, I took my dinner to a nearby park, perched on the bench, and enjoyed the traquility, feeling almost free of the constraints of time itself. Almost.

The park bench and the pizza 
**

Then there was the boy who laughed.

It was raining on Sunday morning, and I was sitting on a couch in the hostel surrounded by a few strangers. He came up to us and said hi, and no one responded except me. He sat down and stared into the distance, and occasionally he would laugh. He didn't talk to anyone - or no one talked to him.

When it stopped raining, I walked to Hütteldorf station and saw him coming up the escalator while I waited for the U-Bahn. I didn't much feel like chatting, but he'd seen me and there was nowhere to go. So I replied to his smile with one of my own, and he tried to make conversation in broken English. He was from Slovakia, and he said he spoke better German than English.

"Ich kann Deutsch," I told him, thereby squashing a great excuse to stop talking. He seemed nice enough, and now conversed in broken German, but by this point the paranoid Delhi girl in me had taken over and the laughter scared me. I began to grow colder. When I got down, he didn't follow.

Later, I told my roommate about him. "I've spoken to him too," she said. "He's very peaceful."

**

At one of the U-Bahn stations was a woman busker who sat on the steps and sang. She looked young and beautiful. She had no instruments, only a hauntingly beautiful voice. I couldn't understand the words of the song, but that didn't stop them from moving me. I stared at her (and the policeman trying to get her to leave), transfixed as the train moved away.

**

Apfelstrudel

Somewhere in the midst of checking out all the places where Before Sunrise was filmed, losing my precious notes near the Museums Quartier, desperately retracing my steps and finding the papers miraculously nestled beside a staircase, eating Frankfurters and Apfelstrudel and admiring the blue sky, I found myself staring at a golden statue in Neuer Markt. Beside it, a man created the most glorious music from his Glockenspiel (I think) and voice.

The golden statue had some sort of net over it, and as I searched for the best angle for my photo, a voice chimed in to advise me. It belonged to a Mumbaikar now living in Melbourne, and led to some pleasant chatting before we both went our ways.

**

On the U-Bahn to Friedensbrücke, I sat opposite an old hag. I don't normally use that word to describe people, nor any of the other words that I actually use for her in my head, but she was huge and spotted and looked a lot like an old Marge Dursley without any dogs, and she punched my head on her way out. I saw her humungous fist come at my temple from the corner of my eye, and she was gone before I could react. I spent the rest of my trip keeping a safe distance from old women.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Writing Updates | April - May 2014

A round up of the articles and interviews I've done for Art Radar in the last two months.

Kookoo and Ku, ‘Welcome 2014′, 2014, spray paint. Image courtesy Kookoo Ramos.

THE PHILIPPINES | Manila's mean streets: The Filipino Street Art Project

A three-part series on a very cool project documenting street art in and around Manila. Part 1 is a general introduction, part 2 is an interview with the founders, and part 3 introduces seven exciting Filipino street artists.

SENEGAL | 10 African artists to know at Dak'Art 2014

The main exhibit at Dak'Art features artists from African/diaspora working across various media, and I picked 10 of my favourites.

HONG KONG | Artist Nadim Abbas talks bunkers, cocktails and weevils - interview

Nadim Abbas told me about the art scene in Hong Kong, his year so far and what lies ahead, and his big project at Art Basel Hong Kong - the sci-fi inspired Art Bar called "Apocalypse Postponed".

BEIJING | Serenading visitor's at Lee Mingwei's first Beijing show

Lee Mingwei is a unique artist whose past exhibitions include visitors sleeping over with the artist at the museum, and handing out flowers to strangers. In "Sonic Blossom", museum visitors are asked a question and if they agree, serenaded by an opera singer.

AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND | "My Country": Indigenous Australian art in Auckland

An exhibition called "My Country" by indigenous contemporary artists - in pictures. Some very interesting work here, using media as diverse as emu feathers and text art, and making a strong political/historical comment.

TAIWAN | Taiwan's first "Art Bank" opens in Taichung

Seriously, it's an art bank. They loan you...art. How cool is that? It features only local artists, since the idea is to promote them through this initiative, and the art takes turns to be housed in big fancy buildings in Taiwan as well as diplomatic buildings internationally.

JAPAN | Yokohama Triennale announces artists for 2014 edition

The Triennale begins in August and it has some very interesting approaches, including the entire layout of the triennale being like a book - the various exhibitions are named "Chapters" and everything.

HONG KONG | Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2014: Hong Kong's Adrian Wong wins top award

This is the first time the top prize went to a sculptor (no wonder Wong was so surprised), though not the first time it went to an artist from Hong Kong.

HONG KONG | Para Site conference on performance art

This year's conference focused on performance art, and I live streamed and summarised two talks: one by Gabi Ngcobo on historical legacies and another on performance art in the museum.

RUSSIA | The V&A's Islamic art collection goes on tour in Russia

The Jameel Prize finalist exhibition heads to Kazan (a first) and Moscow as part of the UK Russia Year of Culture.

MISCELLANEOUS | Art Basel Hong Kong 2014: First time galleries prepare for the fair

I asked 4 galleries from Australia and Europe what they were taking to the fair and what they hoped to achieve.



And somewhere in the midst of all these, this blog turned seven.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Writing Updates | February - March 2014

A round up of the articles and interviews I've done for Art Radar in the last two months.


News from the art world

INDIA, UK | Tate to work with Indian culture ministry on art initiatives

The Indian Ministry of Culture and UK’s Tate signed an agreement on 6 February 2014 in a bid to collaborate on projects and initiatives related to the modern and contemporary art of both countries. Read more.

AUSTRALIA | Sydney Biennale faces boycott over sponsorship controversy

The 19th Biennale of Sydney faced calls for a boycott due to links with sponsor Transfield, which runs Australian detention centres and asylum services on a for-profit basis. Read more.

CHINA | Christie's opens first Asia-based gallery in Hong Kong

Christie’s expands its reach in Asia by opening its first Asian gallery in Hong Kong, The James Christie Room, targeting the region’s rising art market and affluent collectors. Read more.

QATAR | Qatar announces new artist residence centre amid booming cultural infrastructure

The Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) announces that the former Civil Defence headquarters will soon re-open, housing the programme “Fire Station: Artists in Residence”. Read more.

AUSTRALIA | Melbourne on the global art map with Australia's newest triennial

The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) announces the new NGV Triennial that will celebrate the best of contemporary international art and design, and will put Melbourne on the global art map. Read more.



Reviews and overviews

SOUTHEAST ASIA | Southeast Asian women in the diaspora - Troubling Borders book review

Troubling Borders, a new anthology of Southeast Asian art and literature, looks at how the Diaspora’s women artists are pushing literal and figurative boundaries. Read more.

CHINA, USA | Chinese artists at Armory Focus 2014 - Alexandre Errera's watch list

Alexandre Errera, Founder and CEO of online platform Artshare.com, reveals to Art Radar his five favourite artists and artworks from the Armory Focus: China section at the Armory Show 2014 in New York. Read more.

AFRICA | 4 West African photographers to know now

Art Radar profiles four West African photographers that are challenging stereotypical representations of their countries, people and culture through art. Read more.

BANGLADESH | South Asia in focus: 5 curated shows at Dhaka Art Summit 2014

Art Radar highlights five curated shows at the 2014 edition of Dhaka Art Summit. Read more.

MALAYSIA | Contemporary Muslim calligraphy debuts in Malaysia

To celebrate its 15th anniversary, Kuala Lumpur’s Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) is displaying its private collection of contemporary Islamic calligraphy publicly for the first time. Read more.

TURKEY | Contemporary visual culture from Turkey and beyond

As part of a series of events for its 10th anniversary, Istanbul Modern presents an exhibition titled “Neighbours – Contemporary Narratives from Turkey and Beyond”, highlighting contemporary art from Turkey and its neighbours. Read more.

USA | Armory Show 2014: China steals the limelight? - media round up

The 2014 Armory fair brought Chinese contemporary art to New York and tried to address the organisational problems of previous years, but did it impress the critics? Read more.

UAE | Central Asia in focus at Art Dubai: Marker 2014

The Marker section of Art Dubai 2014 (at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, from 19 to 22 March 2014) featured art from Central Asia and the Caucasus region, curated by the art collective Slavs and Tatars. Read more.

INDIA | 6 artists contemplate freedom in "Waiting for the Wind"

“Waiting for the Wind”, at Kolkata’s Experimenter gallery from 7 March to 26 April 2014, features artists whose videos, installations and images explore issues of militarisation, violence, captivity and freedom. Read more




Features and guides: Delhi

INSERT 2014 | Re-imagining Delhi as a cultural space

INSERT2014: The Sharp Edge of the Global Contemporary, a series of events and exhibitions in New Delhi from 17 January to 28 February 2014 curated by Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective, rethinks the use of galleries and the infrastructure of the city. Read more.

Art Radar Guide | Contemporary art in Delhi

Art Radar’s city guides series continues with tips and suggestions on what to visit for contemporary art and culture in India’s capital, New Delhi. Read more.


Interviews

IRAQ | In the shadow of war: Photographer Jamal Penjweny on Iraq today

Iraqi photographer and filmmaker Jamal Penjweny speaks to Art Radar about his art projects and the everyday life in Iraq that they portray, a side of the country not often seen in the media. Read more.

INDIA | Indian artist Jayasri Burman on mythology and imagination

Indian artist Jayasri Burman talks to Art Radar about her inspiration from mythology and folk art and merging tradition and modernity in her work. Read more.



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Reclaiming the gaze - African photographers

"A photograph is a window and not the view...
                  don't photograph what you see, photograph what you feel."
                                 - Emeka Okereke, photographer


Recently, while researching for an article for Art Radar, I came across a brilliant six-part documentary series on Al Jazeera titled Artscape - The New African Photography. Each of the 25-minute films profiles a photographer from and working in Africa, their journey, experience and project(s).


For a continent that has too long and too often been represented in the global media through a lens that focuses on aspects like poverty and exoticism, more often than not by those who are visitors and who pursue an image that they have been predisposed to find, this is a refreshing look at what's going on in the African art scene. The media also often forgets that Africa comprises of 54 countries, each unique, diverse and very different from the others (I'm not sure you'd see, for example, a documentary series on "European photographers"). Nonetheless, these videos provide an insight into the fascinating projects that these six photographers undertake, as well as their relationship with their art, country, and history.

Mario Macilau is a documentary photographer. Having grown up in poverty, acquiring his first camera through unusual means and pursuing photography with diligence against all odds, he now turns his art to similar social issues: documenting poverty in Mozambique. As with most Indian cities, he describes the ever-widening gap between the ultra rich and extremely poor; as we watch, he photographs the workers at a garbage dump, his compositions finding aesthetic beauty that is a stark contrast - and hence highlights - the hardships of these workers and their situation.

Baudouin Mouanda's project "The Dream" involves women in Congo and later in Dresden being photographed in various scenarios wearing the same wedding dress. I wasn't so convinced by the concept (every woman's dream is to get married and wear a wedding dress) but it was really interesting to watch the progress and reactions, and how Mouanda staged and framed his beautiful shots. George Osodi takes us on the journey of documenting the oil devastation in the Niger delta, his earlier project which made him a known name; and then we travel with him across Nigeria as he photographs royalty and provides an insight into how politics and monarchy go hand in hand in the country.

As with many other professions, it has been doubly hard for women to pursue their passion and elbow their way through the industry. Neo Ntsoma, who became the first woman to win the CNN African Photographer of the Year award in 2004, talks about her experience as a black woman in a South Africa in which Apartheid was still prevalent. She was the first black woman to make it to photography school there. Her early career as a crime photographer earned her the CNN prize but she was more attracted to the positive image of South Africa, and in this film she, along with fellow artists, musicians, designers and DJs, recounts her struggles but also her exhilaration at being a part of the new generation that was able to break the mould and follow their dreams.

Barbara Minishi's project is slightly similar to Mouanda's: it involves a red dress that she takes with her on journeys through Kenya, meeting and photographing women who are making a difference in their society. The dress raises interesting questions throughout the film (is it Kenyan? is it colonial? can you separate the two, can you separate history and identity?) and much of the film is also a discussion on being a woman, especially in a male-dominated profession.

In one of my favourite lines in the video, Minishi and her friend discuss the idea of an independent woman: "do we call men independent? We just assume that they are." Is anyone really independent? Should they be? What does it mean? Is 'independent' meant as a compliment only as far as women are concerned?

In another powerful scene, video and performance artist Ato Malinda, wearing the red dress and with her face painted red, talks about how much freedom women are still denied, and says "I would love to be able to walk in the streets of Nairobi at night." It's amazing and tragic how much can be similar across countries and continents, how some of us are still fighting for the most basic rights.














"I never left Nigeria, I just lived in Europe. I'm a border being. I live in two places all the time". Emeka Okereke proves that photography is a journey, literally, as he and fellow photographers venture on an Invisible Borders road trip across West Africa. They encounter problems but it's not the destination that a photographer maketh; art and beauty can be found amidst obstacles. Okereke is an inspiring teacher, as can be seen in the progress of the young photographer Lilian Novo, who he mentors, but also in the extremely insightful and quotable things he said throughout the film and that I obsessively noted down.

"Everyone has what it takes to make themselves better but you have to understand that you have to move.                                                          
...Movement is the word."
- Emeka Okereke


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fragments

the idea of you

      power
      vulnerability

            sweet talking
            brain baring
            bittersweet

                      second chances.
                      no thirds.
                      though life may plot otherwise

                              pictures. puzzle pieces.
                              songs that torture

                                     haze. identity.
                                     silver linings
                                     are hard work.

ours is a relationship built on words
words written
           unwritten, unspoken

                           i miss you.
                           miss, as in wish you were here
                           miss, as in missing from me

                                        you break, i break
                                        silence
                                        loud
                                        the sound of a heart breaking

                                        abandoned
                                        dispensable

tell all your secrets to someone
who'll forget them tomorrow

          one, far away from someone
          two, far away from their thoughts
          three, an afterthought

                    but you are not one half of a whole
                    you are one
                                 "one person in one head"
                                                    you are whole.


      

Friday, January 31, 2014

Writing updates - Jan 2014

Here are the articles, interviews and features I wrote for Art Radar the past month:


THE PHILIPPINES | Art after the storm: Filipino artists respond to Typhoon Haiyan

A feature on how artists have responded to the devastation caused by the second deadliest typhoon in the Philippines, both philanthropically and in their art practice. I contacted many artists in the Philippines and the Diaspora for their inputs, and the way the community has come together is so inspiring. From fundraising drives and exhibitions to art as therapy and culinary arts in the most stricken areas, to a desire to address issues of death and devastation through art and challenge representations of the Philippines in mainstream media, they've done it all. And this is only the beginning.


BENIN | Sub-Saharan Africa's first contemporary art museum opens in Benin

News from the contemporary art world - Benin's Zinsou Foundation inaugurated the first museum dedicated to contemporary art in sub-Saharan Africa outside of South Africa. Good signs for the growth of art in Africa, where the art market in most regions is still virtually non-existent.


INDIA | India's largest public art project lands at Mumbai airport


“Jaya He” or Glory to India, which is a 3-km ‘art wall’ museum composed of 7000 artworks housed at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport’s Terminal 2 in Mumbai, is the biggest art collection at any airport in the world.


CHINA | Dystopia in Beijing: Cao Fei's Haze and Fog - book review


Review of an e-book of critical essays on Cao Fei’s Haze and Fog, a film commissioned by the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) in Manchester and shown at the CFCCA from 26 October to 7 December 2013.


SINGAPORE | 10 great artists at Art Stage Singapore 2014 - picture feast

My picks from artists and artworks that galleries sent us that were on display at Art Stage Singapore 2014. Includes lots of interesting and unique media and styles.


SINGAPORE | Art Stage Singapore 2014 builds bridges in Asia? - media round up

A collation of the reactions by media, critics and gallerists to gauge the response to Art Stage Singapore 2014, which introduced a new format and ended on a record sales high.


CHINA | "Beyond official culture": Philip Tinari on Chinese contemporary art - interview

Ullens Center for Contemporary Art’s Director Philip Tinari talks about the upcoming “Armory Focus: China” in New York, curating and censorship in China.


HONG KONG | Art Basel Hong Kong announces first film sector

Details from the art fair have begun to emerge. Art Basel Hong Kong 2014 will include a three-day film programme for the first time, to be curated by multimedia artist Li Zhenhua.


INDIA | Making art accessible: Neha Kirpal on India Art Fair - interview


Founder and Director of India Art Fair Neha Kirpal shares her insights into the Indian art scene and her plans for India Art Fair’s future in this interview. The art fair closed on Sunday, Feb 2, 2014.