Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power

I went to an art exhibition with Harry. I was very excited to see Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at Tate Modern in London.

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It features artworks made between 1963 and 1983. I was born near the beginning of this period and was a young adult by the end, so it spans all of my early life. It is recognisable as the era of the Civil Rights Movement, which prominently included the call for Black Power as one of its distinctive features, along with second-wave feminism, socialism and related movements which take an interest in the rights of the oppressed.

The art and artists in this exhibition are mainly African-American. I’m British and of course I was a child during the earlier part of this period so there was a limit to how much Black Power protest art I could be exposed to. But as a teenager I listened to hip hop, which led me to hard core rap in the early 90s and that’s where I learned about Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Dr Martin Luther King, Rodney King, Bobby Seale and all these people.

This was where the exhibition really made an impression on me, because I knew some of these names, rap music taught them to me like a history lesson. I knew Bobby Seale’s name in connection with the Black Panthers (in fact, he was a co-founder). I knew he was important. But then I was confronted with this larger-than-life-size artwork by David Hammons. It is Injustice Case, 1970. It is a body print and screen print on paper. What it shows, shockingly, is that Seale’s trial (for conspiracy to incite violence) had him bound and gagged in the courtroom. I was in shock. It’s as though Bobby Seale suddenly came to life and was right there in front of me, tied to a chair. I didn’t know that happened.

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There were also several preserved copies of The Black Panther newspaper, the official newspaper of Black Power movement, which reported on important events as well as rallying readers. The newspaper featured many posters which were examples of cutting-edge 60s and 70s design by in-house BP artist Emory Davis. I love protest art, it’s full of fire and passion.

A couple more things in this exhibition that I particularly want to remember. This painting is called The First One Hundred Years and it’s by Archibald Motley (1963-72).

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It is Motley’s snapshot of the first one hundred years after the Civil War. What can you see? I spotted a hanged man, a Confederate flag, a red devil, a trumpet, a white bird, a Klansman, a wolf, crucifixion, a flaming cross, a sign that says ‘Whites Only’, and also faces – that looks like Dr Martin Luther King in the middle and Abraham Lincoln on the right. You might have noticed from the dates of this painting that it took nearly 10 years to complete. It is very unlike all of Motley’s previous work and when it was finished, he never painted anything else again.

The last painting that I want to mention is Liberation Soldiers by Wadsworth Jarrell (1972). You really need to go and visit this in person because it is huge and the colours are electrifying, I was mesmerised.

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It is a portrait of five Black Panthers and features two Jarrell hallmarks. Firstly, the colours, what Jarrell himself called the “loud lime, pimp yellows, hot pinks, high-key color clothing” of fashionable African-American men of that time. Secondly, if you look at the men’s skin and hair and other areas of the painting, you will observe that things are composed by repetitions of the letter B. Every B is different to its neighbour, sometimes dramatically. Jarrell has used a technique that I now know to be chiaroscuro to contrast light and shadow to give the heads and hands their three-dimensional shapes. I find it so fascinating that these abstract B shapes, in such violent shades of orange, red, purple and yellow, can trick your brain into seeing a human face.

It took Harry and me a long time to go around this exhibition because nearly everything in it is that good and will make you stop, stare and soak up new information.

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power is on at Tate Modern in London until 22 October.

Protest music of the time. I was just reading about this track by Black nationalist Amiri Baraka and the review said it was the centrepiece of his seminal 1972 album It’s Nation Time. It occurred to me that that was the second time I’d encountered the phrase Nation Time in as many days. I quickly realised where I’d heard it before – it must have been a phrase used on radio station K-JAH West when I was playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. And so we come full circle back to video games and popular entertainment which is apparently where I get my important facts. Anyway, there’s an intelligent review of Baraka’s masterpiece here.

Amiri Baraka: Who Will Survive America? (1972)

Did you break up with that boy?

Hello, dear readers. I’ve been having a frightfully busy time with work and travel, which is why I haven’t blogged in two weeks or played any video games. I thought about doing some gaming now because I have a night off for the first time in ages, but it was that or talk to you.

I spoke to my mom on the phone yesterday and we had a nice chat. She said ‘did you break up with that boy you were seeing?’ She was referring to Harry, as he was the clear winner of that epic period of romance which happened a few months ago and is referred to here on TLYW as Starry Skies.

‘No!’ I replied, in surprise. ‘Why would I break up with him? He’s lovely and we have a very good quality relationship.’

‘You stopped blogging about him’, said Mom. ‘Well because things are taking off, that’s why, and I wanted to keep it more private’, I said. ‘We are getting to know each other and are probably going to start living together. He is an absolutely delightful boy from a nice family and is kind to his grandmother.’

‘Oh, that’s very good’, she said. ‘That’s so important.’

She is right, it is. That’s why he is special. Added to which he has the brain of a mathematician and the body of a model, is a fantastic cook, loves cleaning and loves me. He is irresistible. He is so cute that he lights the place up like a Christmas tree, it’s like Christmas around here all the time. I couldn’t ask for more, could I.

Harry and I were talking the other day, we were standing in the hall where he was kindly tolerating my smoking out of the window. ‘I think I’ve done very well and that I am lucky to have you’, I said to him. ‘If I ever show signs of forgetting, remind me that I said that’.

So that’s where we’re up to. We are having a Relationship and are going to live together. It’s a big step for me as I’ve been single for 7 years, pretty happily. I am out of practice and a bit nervous. It occurred to me the other day that the last time I entered a new relationship, in the sense of committing to an actual partnership, was 2005. I was 39 then, I’m 51 now. My partner back in 2005 was 29, and my partner now is 24, so there’s that. God damn. I feel young. I also feel a bit like Stephen Fry because I am that fat. I also feel a bit like Calvin Klein because I am that glamorous.

Harry bravely gives his heart to me even though he believes that I will one day tire of him. This just makes me love him more, but he is wrong. I will not tire of him. If he wants a serious relationship, then we will see how serious he wants to get. I wonder what type of wedding he would like to have. Maybe I will get that beach wedding in the Bahamas I’ve always wanted. Not while there’s a hurricane there, obviously. Maybe wait for the weather to calm down.

Shall we have a tune? I think we should. Let’s have some vintage Christina Aguilera. I’ve been using Shazam recently. Enough said.

Christina Aguilera: Back In The Day (2006)

 

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Rockstar Games (2004/15), Xbox 360. A third-person, open-world action-adventure game set in 1990s San Andreas, a fictional US state based on California and Nevada. I am playing single player.

Welcome to Month 9 of the TLYW Year of Console Gaming, which thunders through history like a juggernaut, or, more accurately, like 14 juggernauts, carefully arranged in order of the precise moment of history that they are attempting to blow up.

Having left the Batman of the 1940s behind, we unhesitatingly leap forward 50 years this month, entering the 1990s and things that happened within living memory. This month’s game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was originally released in 2004, only about 10 years after the period in which it is set. It was then remastered for the Xbox 360 in 2015 and in fact this monumental game is the reason why I even own an Xbox in the first place and why I eventually set out on this year-long quest to become better at console gaming.

GTA: San Andreas follows the adventures of CJ, a member of one of two rival gangs based on the Crips and the Bloods, in a city based on Los Angeles. The game features gang warfare, police brutality and events inspired by the 1992 LA riots that followed the beating of Rodney King. This game might be the centrepiece of the Year of the Console. This will be my second or third attempt at carving out time to play it, over the course of two years, and nothing will stop me this time. I will give it as much time this month as I can make available.

Upon its release in 2004, San Andreas won a string of awards, including Game of the Year, Best Soundtrack, Best Action Game (VGX), Ultimate Game of the Year (Golden Joystick), Best Action Adventure Game, Funniest Game and Best Voice Acting (GameSpot). It has an IGN rating of 9.9. The Best Soundtrack award is for San Andreas’s incredible radio stations, which you listen to while driving stolen cars around Los Santos at 200mph and mowing down rival gang members and the police. There are 11 fully-functional radio stations, 20 DJs, the largest track listing of licensed music ever featured in an action game, hilarious spoof commercials and the genres span rap (of course, it’s LA circa 1992), reggae, rock, pop and country. The radio stations are in themselves a reason for playing. Here’s my favourite, reggae station K-JAH West. So many TLYW favourites on this station.

Grand Theft Auto San Andreas: K-JAH West ft. various artists (2004)

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Tribute video commemorating the game’s 10th anniversary, this is what I am in for all this month. Excitedly awaited.

 

Year of the Console, August Review. Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Welcome back to the TLYW Year of Console Gaming. I cannot believe we have already reached the end of August, Month 8 of our specially extended 14-month year. The game of the month has been Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) on the Xbox 360. Even though my gaming time was limited by work and business travel, Asylum proved to be easy to learn, engaging and much more enjoyable gameplay than I expected. I managed to complete about 8% of the game on my own at the start of the month, then Harry stepped in to help last night and pushed it forward a bit more before we ran out of time. Super helpful. I am glad he wants to be supportive of my gaming. I really had no idea that the Year of Console Gaming was going to feature real-life falling in love around Month 8. Didn’t see that coming.

As you know, we are following a dramatic historical trajectory throughout the year. August was the month in which we ended the first half of the 20th century; Batman’s story and aesthetics derive from the 1940s. At the start of the game, Batman spawns on a relatively small geographical area, being an asylum for the criminally insane and its grounds. The asylum belongs to the fictional Arkham City. It has been taken over by The Joker, and other familiar characters such as The Riddler and Commissioner Gordon make an appearance.

Once again, we have both screenshots and real gameplay.

Here I am in character as Batman, beating up some thugs in a corridor. Harry picked out this clip.

Batman swoops, grapples and soars around the room, gliding down to drop-kick bad guys. This was as much fun as the horse in Red Dead Redemption back in June.

Batman gets involved in an exciting boss fight.

Screenshots

Batman: Arkham Asylum. Rocksteady Studios (2009), Xbox 360. A third-person action-adventure game concerning Batman and a familiar cast of characters. 

Plot and setting: Batman run, swoops and glides around a dark and spooky hospital/high-security prison which has been taken over by The Joker and his gang of criminal buddies. Batman must rescue personnel, take out bad guys and solve puzzles and problems.

General remarks: As readers may remember, I really didn’t like God of War 3 back in March because I am not used to platform gaming and I found it linear and constraining. There was too much puzzle-solving while being trapped in one room or even one spot. I was afraid of having the same problem with Batman: Arkham Asylum, but even though there are puzzle-solving elements and more than a few platforms, I needn’t have worried. Asylum gives you the feeling of considerable freedom as you jump and glide around large buildings.

Thumbs up: Excellent graphics considering it was 2009. The physical mechanics of Batman’s movements are incredibly satisfying and he can fly, swoop and glide long distance with ease and grace.

Thumbs down: There isn’t much to criticise, this is a light-hearted and fun game. I suppose if I wanted to find fault, I could complain that it felt a bit shallow. This is family entertainment, based on a comic book character, in the form of a very sleek platform game, it was never going to have the same adult moral dilemmas and open-world, sandbox complexity of Skyrim or whatever.

Return to?  I might return to the Asylum, in the futureIt didn’t feel like the kind of game you would commit to for months or years but it did offer accessible and light-hearted Batman fun, just right for a bit of casual gaming here and there.

It’s almost September and time for a new Game of the Month! Coming this Friday.

Real Food Market at King’s Cross, London

I was passing through King’s Cross between business meetings, and happened across the Real Food Market.

Bread, cheese and cheesy bread formed the basis of a couple of delicious meals with Harry. I was completely enchanted by the doughnuts and bought several, which I then realised I could not sanely eat, as I am already the size of Mariah Carey and I am supposed to be trying to look attractive for my new boyfriend, albeit not in a spangly leotard, so I took them downstairs to my neighbours.

Here’s a link to the official website. Recommended if you are in the neighbourhood.

http://www.realfoodfestival.co.uk/real-food-markets/kings-cross-market/

Dear old Mariah. Here she is, in fine voice in 1990. I didn’t listen to this kind of music back in the day, I wanted Biggie Smalls, Snoop and Ice Cube, but in retrospect I can appreciate what a great voice she had and that she was only about 20 or 21 at the time of this recording.

Apparently she has a new single out tomorrow.

Mariah Carey: Vision of Love (1990)

I have been travelling and there will be more food and travel news soon.

Camden Lock

A date with Harry. We went to the market at Camden Lock. It rained, because we like that in Britain, in the summer. It makes a change from the winter sleet.

Lunch. Obviously very important. I had a chicken katsu burger and sweet potato fries.

General outdoor scenes. Harry and I are falling in love and it is turning into quite a serious relationship. I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up living together or even getting married, if his parents can handle the shock of the considerable age gap.

A hipster selling moustache wax and beard butter.

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The fancy tea shop. Harry is a big tea aficionado.

The Japanese shop.

A stall selling candles. They all looked and smelled delightful but I couldn’t have any because they are paraffin and my lungs don’t get along with paraffin candles. I discovered this after I bought a huge sampler pack of miniature Yankee Candles in all different fragrances, so I sent them to my sister-in-law who I don’t particularly like.

I love the photo of this lady and her husband. It was very clear that she desperately wanted one of these candles, if not several, and spent ages looking at them, but her husband did not take the hint. Then she tried passing them to him in an attempt to get him to take an interest, but he was not having it. As you can see, he is not even looking. I felt bad for her. We had a little chat about how nice the candles were, because she needed somebody to agree that they were nice.

And that’s all the news for now, as I am super busy today. I have lots more photos to share with you, but they will have to wait for next time.

Stamppot

Food is a huge part of my life since I met Harry. We eat out. We cook at home and try out recipes. He is a good cook and is encouraging me and giving me confidence. This afternoon, I cooked and he wasn’t even there. You don’t see that happen too often outside of Xmas.

At work, I am learning about Holland so I had a go at making Stamppot, which is a Dutch dish. Stamppot roughly translates as ‘pot of mashed vegetables’. Here’s my amateurish cooking. The results were quite good and I even put some in plastic tubs in the freezer for later consumption. I felt very domesticated and quite victorious, even though I made plenty of mistakes and cooking has never been my strong point.

The essence of a stamppot recipe is this: get some root vegetables, eg potatoes, boil and mash them; get some green, leafy vegetables, eg kale, boil and stir into the mash; stir in fried onion and bacon pieces. Season and serve with pieces of smoked sausage.

Here’s my amateurish version that I did today, with extra bacon instead of sausage.

Realised that I needed to use up a bunch of interesting-looking vegetables from the farmer’s market, including these carrots. img_3928

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Chopped up a potato. Chopped up a red onion. Vaguely fried everything in butter in the saucepan for a while, with no clear idea of what I was doing, then developed a sense of purpose and transferred the onions to a frying pan. Left the carrots and potatoes in the saucepan for boiling.

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Looked around for more of the market vegetables to throw in the boiling pan. Cauliflower. Red cabbage.

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Chopped up another onion and fried with some bacon pieces and too much oil. I always use too much grease and have much to learn about frying.

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Don’t forget to boil some kale. Later realised I should have put the cabbage in with the kale, note for next time.

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Make sure everything’s cooked.

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Mash the potato (cauliflower, carrots, etc), add milk and seasoning – big spoonful of Dijon mustard gives it a kick. Stir in the leafy veg, bacon and onions. Yum.

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I loved everything about this recipe and will definitely make some different versions of it to try out various combinations of ingredients and also to get good at cooking bacon and smoked sausage, a subject of which I know little.

There will be more food posts soon. As I mentioned, it’s a big part of this romantic relationship I’m suddenly having. We are cooking and eating while getting to know each other. I’m quite fat but that’s not really Harry’s fault and is mainly because I secretly eat cake when he’s not around.