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Newsletter. Issue 17. August 14 , 2010

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Art world likes where he (Brendan Fernandes ) is coming from
August 01, 2010 | Murray Whyte

Artist Brendan Fernandes shown with part of his Until We Fearless exhibit in Hamilton, Ontario. TORONTO STAR/AARON HARRIS

HAMILTON - If you were to cobble together a short-form version of Brendan Fernandes’ recent art-driven itinerary, it would go something like this: South Africa, Korea, Toronto, Montreal, Denmark, Pittsburgh, New York, Hamilton, Algonquin Park, New York, Prague, New York again, who knows?

“My business card says ‘nomadic artist,’ ” he says with a chuckle of mild exasperation. New York is supposed to be home, but “my friends say I don’t really even live there. I just visit from time to time.”

Between exhibitions, residencies and projects around the world (and that much-deserved family vacation in Algonquin), it’s been quite a year as Fernandes, just 30, becomes a brand-name on the Canadian and international art scenes.

And this November presents the tantalizing possibility for a capper: In Montreal, the $75,000 annual Sobey Prize for contemporary art will be presented to one of five finalists, Fernandes among them. But not to get ahead of himself. “It’s a real honour, absolutely,” he says, quieting a bit. (His nomination raised several eyebrows - Fernandes’ included - among a community expecting an older, more established nominee. “I was surprised, totally,” he shrugs. “The Sobey’s a big deal, internationally.”)

But there are miles to travel between now and then. Today, Fernandes is in Hamilton, documenting his first major solo museum show at the public art gallery here, which opened in June. A synthetic tribal-seeming beat thuds with quiet urgency throughout; in a room off to the side, plastic deer decoys sport equally faux-plastic replicas of Masai masks, posed stiltedly amid pale silhouettes of African spears that line the walls.

Nearby, the main space is anchored by a rough structure of lumber and corrugated plastic (“I call it The Shack,” Fernandes says, smiling), which houses four video monitors, each with their own crisply-sterile digital rendering of an African mask.

The monitors pulse as the masks shift from black to white, some features added, others fading. It’s ominous but oddly artificial - a sanitized, simulated dread conjured by computer algorithms instead of adrenalin.

Which, for Fernandes, is part of the point. “Africa always gets discussed as this monolith, but it’s a complex, diverse place,” he says. “Objects, like masks, are exoticized in this generalized way - just like the fears created around it.”

He would know. Born in Nairobi, Fernandes’ family was of Indian descent, having settled in Kenya four generations before. In short, they were African, but the British colonial establishment identified them not only as Indian, but Goan - a southern region of India (and former Portuguese colony) to which none of them had ever been, but were labelled with all the same. “It was the British colonial idea of divide and conquer,” he said. “There were Goan schools, Goan churches.”

When Fernandes was 9, his family decamped from Nairobi - “there was a sense it was just too dangerous,” he recalled - arriving in Newmarket in the early ‘90s. Here, Fernandes began to develop a sense of his hybrid identity more acutely.

“When people see me, they say, ‘well, you’re Indian.’ But I don’t have a close connection with that at all. What’s more, we’re Goan Indians, so we’re Portuguese heritage, too. But I have no connection to that at all. I’m Kenyan, but also Canadian - I’ve lived most of my life here. But what does that mean?

“Cultural identity is something that’s constantly in flux and in transition, I think. There’s this constant question of where I’m from.”

Fernandes’ particular hybridity offers a fresh take on the old standard of identity politics in contemporary art, and it caught the eye of Philip Monk, the director of the Art Gallery at York University. Monk was on the jury for the Sobey this year, and chose all the candidates on Ontario’s long list. “It’s refreshing to see some of the themes Brendan is working with,” Monk said. “He has such a unique look at identity. He very quickly developed a focused body of work. For such a young artist, it’s really something.”

For Fernandes, the general dislocations of his experience raise questions about identity in an increasingly false, fractured, homogenizing world.

Love Kill, a series of three simple, animated line drawings in Hamilton, show three African predators - a jackal, a lion and a cheetah - their teeth locked on their prey, moments before death. On headphones, Fernandes sings, a cappella, three drippy love songs from the ‘80s (“The technician I was working with asked me, ‘Is there something you want to tell me?’” he chuckled).

But the piece underscores the portrayal of the false-exotic Fernandes feels so intensely. “It’s like melodrama - every documentary you see of Africa has to show the kill. And when you’re on safari, you have to see the kill,” he says. “Tourists want to have that experience, of wild and untamed Africa, while they stay in pseudo-huts with hot tubs and 500-thread-count linen sheets. There’s this false authenticity.”

It’s something Fernandes knows well, his father having worked in the safari industry as an accountant before coming to Canada. “When we came to Newmarket, I was always trying to negotiate a sense of memory, a sense of nostalgia, and it came to me through those kinds of documentary films,” he says. “It’s strange, too, because I didn’t live that experience every day, but that’s what I’m nostalgic about.”

Authenticity’s a slippery subject - the notion that something essential and true could exist at all is, at best, dubious - and Fernandes offers no treatise on its value, only questions as to its existence. In Hamilton, fake deer wear plastic masks reproduced from an iconic Masai carving - spiritual artifact recast bluntly as throwaway commodity and tourist tchotchke. In the shack, masks are stripped of even the pretense of human hands, cooly rendered with data and left to glow in the chill of binary code.

It’s a happy coincidence that, in the gallery space next to Fernandes show is a spectacular, ominous, unabashedly exotic exhibition of African masks, donated to the AGH by Toronto collectors Joey and Toby Tanenbaum. Even here, provenance can be fraught, Fernandes says, given the mask industry’s gifts for fakery.

In New York, Fernandes is working on a project for Art in General, a venerable artist-run centre, that delves into the cultural headfake commodity culture routinely pulls. Researching provenance reports from the Metropolitan Museum’s ancient African mask collection, Fernandes then cruised the junk stalls of Canal Street, collecting his own contemporary artifacts - masks mass-produced and faux-antiqued, factory style, sold alongside cheap sunglasses and other tourist-trade standards.

“It becomes like an ‘I Love NY’ sticker - they’re all sold in the same place by the same people,” he says.

That these objects are often sold by the same people for whom they’re meant to carry significance adds another layer. “A lot of them are African immigrants from places like the Sudan,” Fernandes says.

A 2008 performance piece, Foe, saw Fernandes hire a dialogue coach to teach him to speak in the accents of his forebears - Kenyan and Goan, for example. Language fascinates him, particular versions of patois hybridizing the colonial English tongue into weird cultural systems all their own (the title of the Hamilton show, “until we fearless,” is “my own patois,” he says, highlighting the unjustified terror projected on an oversimplified African circumstance.)

For all his fascination with the implications of rootlessness, Fernandes himself is unperturbed by it. “I question this idea of belonging all the time, but I’ve moved so much, I’m always able to find a belonging, so to speak. I’m actually really lucky — I feel like I belong in many places,” he says.

That said, he’s looking forward to just one. “To be in my own bed for more than a month?” he smiles. “That would be great.”


Ritual ploughing for Guruvayoorappan Temple in Brampton
Wednesday July 28 2010

The cleansing of earth, the so-called ritual of Karishanam, was held recently by devotees of Guruvayoorappan Temple of Brampton at the proposed temple construction site (Torbram&Countryside).

After various poojas the soil was ploughed by a pair of bullocks with a traditional Indian plough, and the soil was then sown with seeds. Chief priest Divakaran Nammoboothiri led the function in the presence of community leaders Dr P.K. Kutty and Bhaskara Menon. A large number of devotees also visited the site to sow the seeds from 5am till noon.


Philippines Reports Rice Glut, Hints at Corruption
Friday, July 30th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

A GLUT OF GRAINS A worker carries a sack of rice at an NFA warehouse in Quezon City on Tuesday. President Aquino said in his first State of the Nation Address that billions of pesos worth of rice have been left to rot in NFA warehouses. RAFFY LERMA

Philippine officials say huge quantities of rice imported by the previous government contributed to last year’s spike in world food prices. Some of the rice is now rotting in warehouses.

National Food Authority administrator Lito Banayo said Friday that stockpiles are twice as high as necessary and that imports for the rest of the year have been halted. He added that some rice was purchased at above market prices and suggested that corruption was to blame.

President Benigno Aquino III announced during his State of the Nation Address Monday that there will be an audit of all rice imports. On Friday, he formally ordered the creation of a Truth Commission to look into allegations of corruption under his predecessor, former president Gloria Arroyo.

Former agricultural secretary Arthur Yapn says the surplus rice was needed in 2008 when there was fear of food shortages. The Philippine purchases are blamed in part for record world food prices in 2008 and 2009, which led to riots in some countries and forced U.N. relief agencies to mount extraordinary appeals.

The Philippines is the world’s largest rice importer. Banayo said in an interview with the Associated Press that the Philippines has imported 2.48 million tons of rice this year. Of that, more than 2.2 million tons is still sitting in warehouses.


"What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,"
Digital Frontiers: Nicholas Carr and "The Distraction Machine"

See video

A controversial new book by journalist Nicholas Carr makes the bold claim that the Internet is not only changing how we think, but that it's also lessening the quality of our thought. Amid the many changes the Internet is bringing to our cultures, a new questions arises: what changes is it bringing to our minds?

No techno-phobe, Carr has built a career covering the economy, culture and technology in numerous articles and books such as "The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google." Carr's latest book is titled, "The Shallows" and it's raising eyebrows - and in some cases, voices. The reason can be found in the book's sub-heading: "What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains," and from Carr's point of view, the answer isn't reassuring.

"What the 'net does, by being such a distraction machine, is it emphasizes that skimming, rapid fire approach to collecting and processing information," Carr says. "But what it de-emphasizes is all the ways of thinking that require attentiveness, concentration."


Using Paper Beads to Improve Ugandan Lives
Photo: Charles Steinberg/beadforlife.org | 27 June 2010

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, as the old saying goes. But some women are finding a lot to like about colorful beads from Uganda made of recycled paper. The beads are sold by a nonprofit organization in the United States called BeadforLife.

BeadforLife began as a chance meeting between three American women on a trip to Uganda and a local jewelry maker. Millie Grace Akena was rolling paper beads near her home. She worked at a rock quarry. She made paper beads as a hobby. But there was no real market for them in her country.

Torkin Wakefield says she, her daughter Devin Hibbard and Ginny Jordan brought some of the beads back to the United States.

TORKIN WAKEFIELD: "Immediately people started admiring the beads. 'Oh, I like this. Where did you get this? It's so pretty.'"

The three Americans launched BeadforLife in two thousand four. Nearly seven hundred women have taken part.

The group says its beaders earn an average of more than two thousand dollars a year in the program. This is five times what they earned before. Torkin Wakefield says the women spend up to eighteen months in the program.

TORKIN WAKEFIELD: "During that time she can make regular income and she has a savings account and she begins to study and plan for launching a business, which is her business and which will sustain her once she graduates from BeadforLife. And the program includes a microfinance grant, money that she has actually made by selling us beads that she gets at one time, so that she can make a big enough step into a business that is going to be sustainable."

The beads are sold across Uganda and at the BeadforLife headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. They are also sold online and at jewelry shows called bead parties.

TORKIN WAKEFIELD: "Because they have meaning, because these are gifts that help people, folks in America and beyond, when they buy our beads they feel a sense of generosity. They feel a direct connection, like they can really participate in eradicating poverty."

Acrylic plastic is used to harden the paper. The jewelry costs between five and thirty dollars. BeadforLife reported sales in its last budget year of more than three and a half million dollars. It says for every ten dollar necklace sold, the beader gets two dollars and forty-three cents in money or materials.

It says more than ninety percent of earnings are reinvested in community development projects in Uganda. Torkin Wakefield estimates that BeadforLife has helped more than eight thousand people this way.

So what about Millie Grace Akena, the jewelry maker? Mrs. Wakefield says she has gone on to organize a small group of women who work with her, and they sell their beads to a religious group.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by June Simms. I'm Steve Ember.

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The "Malabar Princess" Catastrophe – 60 Years Later
Messages that were frozen in time
Published Date: 25 July 2010 | By Martyn McLaughlin

TRAPPED beneath the icy wastes of Mont Blanc, their sentiments and secrets have been frozen in time.

But six decades after being lost in the Air India Malabar Princess air disaster, the poignant contents of a mailbag which played a key role in a hit film has been uncovered by a group of Scottish students.

The delegation from Dundee University was on a field trip to Europe's highest mountain last month when an undergraduate chanced upon a bundle of letters which had been on board an Air India flight when it crashed into the French Alps. Now the university's conservationists are working to restore the correspondence, which includes family letters and birthday cards, before sending them on to the original authors or their relatives.

Click here to


November 3, 1950, an airplane from the Air India fleet, the "Malabar Princess," covering the Bombay-London route begins its descent to Geneva, where it passes on stop-over. Everything has gone as planned since take-off in Cairo at 2:00 a.m. The British commandant Alan Saint knows the route by heart. The vehicle is a Constellation, a four-motor propeller plane. There were 48 passengers aboard.

At 10:43 a.m., the control towers at Grenoble and Geneva receive the report, "I am vertical with Voiron, at 4700 meters altitude." Then nothing. The plane never landed.

The "Malabar Princess" hit the face of the Rochers de la Tournette (4677m) on the final arrete of the Mont Blanc. Stormy weather held back a rescue search until November 5, when the clouds broke and a Swiss plane spotted the debris littering the French face of the summit. If the plane had been just 30 meters to the West, the accident would have been avoided. There were no survivors.

The exact causes of the accident were never clarified. An approaching altitude too low? A problem with the planes' controls? The storm, the low visibility and high winds certainly played a role in this catastrophe. Sixteen years after the "Malabar Princess," the "Kanchenjunga," a plane from the same fleet of Air India, crashes in almost the exact spot.

The Crash of the "Kangchenjunga"
January 24, 1966: a Boeing 707 of the Air India fleet continues on a scheduled flight between Bombay and New York by way of Beirut, Geneva and London. There are 117 passengers aboard, including 46 sailors and Homi Bahabha, the father of the Indian nuclear program. The pilot, Captain J.T. Da Souza, is an experienced aviator.

The Boeing 707 exits the Milan radar reading to be taken in charge by Geneva. The plane is at 6200 meters when it demands authorization to change altitude. At 8:00 a.m., all contact is lost.

Rescue operations had profoundly evolved with the usage of the helicopter. After rapidly arriving on the site of the accident, the rescuers do not find one surviving passenger. The Boeing held 200 monkeys in its cargo hold, meant for usage in medical laboratories. According to the rescuers, some of the monkeys had survived and were walking about in the snow.

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