Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year 2017

Wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year!

Hip hip hooray! Artists celebrating at Skagen by P.S. Krøyer

Photo: Hip hip hooray! Artists celebrating at Skagen (1888) oil on canvas painting by Peder Severin Krøyer, 134.5 × 165.5 cm (53 × 65.2 in), Gothenburg Museum of Art (Göteborgs konstmuseum), Sweden

The image above depicts the artists living and working in Skagen, Denmark, gathering in a garden for a celebration. The persons in the painting are (L-R) Martha Johansen, painter Viggo Johansen, Norwegian painter, writer and journalist Christian Krohg, Peder Severin Krøyer (P.S. Krøyer), Degn Brøndum (Anna Ancher's brother), Michael Ancher, Swedish painter Oscar Björck, Danish painter Thorvald Niss, teacher Helene Christensen, Danish painter Anna Ancher and Helga Ancher.

The Norwegian-Danish painter P.S. Krøyer (1851-1909) is one of the most celebrated of the Skagen Painters, a community of Danish and Nordic artists who had been working in Skagen, Denmark in the final decades of the 1800s.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ancient Archaeological Site in Palmyra, Syria

Photo: View of ancient archaeological site in Palmyra in October 2007

The Palmyra saga is at least 7500 years old. The earliest documented name Tadmor was in use from about 2000 BC. Then the present name Palmyra appeared in the first century AD in the works of Pliny the Elder, and became popular in Greco-Roman world.

Both the names are related to palm trees which were plenty in the area, at least twenty varieties of them. Some of them are still visible as the site is nested in an oasis overlooked by mountain ranges in the Syrian Desert.

Since 2011 when the Syrian Civil War began, the area became the target of many opposing forces. As a result, this UNESCO World Heritage Site experienced large scale fighting, looting of artifacts and wanton destruction.

In the early days of the civil war, the Syrian Army men took positions among and atop the archeological structures to shoot at the Syrian rebels positioned at various locations around the city. Later, as the advancing Islamic State fighters took control of the town of Tadmur in May 2015, the government transported the artifacts from the Palmyra museum to Damascus.

The Islamic State forces entered Palmyra on 21 May 2015 defeating Syrian Army, and the Syrian Air Force bombed the site on 13 June damaging some ancient structures. During their occupation, the Islamic State used the Roman Theatre at Palmyra to stage public executions continuously since 27 May 2015.

The Syrian Army, supported by airstrikes provided by the Russian air force retook Palmyra on 27 March 2016. Apart from large scale destruction by the Islamist forces, the fighting also destroyed many structures.

However, all is not lost yet, as numerous historical structures are still unaffected.

Reportedly the Islamic State is fast losing many of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq, especially as they face elimination from their strongholds such as Mosul and Raqqah. It seems they are now in another attempt to spread out and expand. Maybe, as a part of that they recaptured Palmyra from the Syrian government forces on 11 December 2016.

And now the news reports say the government forces are preparing to fight the Islamist forces occupying Palmyra - the photo that you see here is of 2007, much before the reported destruction.

A good number of ancient monuments of Palmyra were bombarded and reduced to rubbles. How many more structures will be bombed and mortared? How many more lives will be lost? Only the coming days can tell.

Interestingly, after May 2015, a lot Greco-Roman busts and other artifacts including jewelry looted from the Palmyra museum appeared for sale in international markets.

Kristen Stewart at the 82nd Academy Awards

Photo: Kristen Stewart of Twilight Saga fame at 82nd Academy Awards in Hollywood on 7 March 2010, photo by Sgt. Michael Connors, U.S. Army

American actress Kristen Stewart (born April 9, 1990), though was in several films since she started acting in 1999, received much attention and appreciation for her performance in “Panic Room” in 2002. It was followed by creditable performances in several films before she became an international craze with her performance as Bella Swan in The Twilight Saga series.

Stewart has also acted in a number of successful films other than the Twilight franchise and has won many coveted awards. Vanity Fair listed her as the highest-earning actress in the Hollywood Top Earners List of 2010. She also appeared in Forbes' List of Hollywood's Best Actors for the Buck in 2011, and Forbes also named her the highest paid actress in 2012.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Afghan Refugee Girl

Photo: Afghan refugee girl waiting for clothing and school supplies

This is a photo of an Afghan refugee girl taken on 10 April 2012 in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. She was one of the 400 refugee children who were waiting to receive clothing and school supplies being made available by international donors in association with Aschiana School in Kabul, run by one of the country’s well respected NGO.

According to the United Nations, about 35,000 internally displaced persons live in camps in Kabul as of 2015, with only tents and mud huts as their homes. Winters are very harsh, given the living conditions and standard of living in the country, though geographically being mountainous, Kabul winter is described as mild. But last year, January witnessed the harshest winter in two decades with night temperatures plummeting below 20 degrees.

Kabul occasionally is hit by heavy snowstorms that worsen the plight of the camp-dwellers, with the porous walls and roof letting in cold winds and moisture and the un-cemented mud floors getting wet.

The children are the worst sufferers, who already suffer because of lack of proper schools, healthcare, food shortages and all kinds of shortages that can be associated with depravity.

The death rate of children in these camps is the highest, much more than the figure for the country, which has one of the worst statistics in the world in this regard. With another January round the corner, it is time for the governments, NGOs and even the able among Afghan IDPs to plan and get prepared for facing the winter hardships.

Want to help Afghan children?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Skomorokhs in a Russian Village: Franz Nikolaevich Riss

Photo: Skomorokhs in a Russian Village (1857), painting by Franz Nikolaevich Riss

The painting by Francois Nicholas Riss (1804-1886), often referred to as Franz Nikolaevich Riss, depicts Skomorokhs performing in a Russian village street. It is a typical Russian village setting of the times with wooden and thatched roof houses, and the village folks of all age groups, from very young children to old men and women gathering to enjoy the show.

Born in Russia, Franz Nikolaevich Riss studied painting in Paris at Baron Antoine-Jean Gros and mainly painted portraits, including the famous portrait of Jacques Cartier, the discoverer of Canada. In 1930s he returned to Russia and settled in Saint Petersburg.

The Skomorokhs were East Slavic street performers who were active in medieval times in Russia and many other Slavic nations. Their origin is documented to the 11th century, becoming very popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. They had to face severe persecution from the orthodoxy, especially from the Russian Orthodox Church, and they had to disappear from the scene by the 18th century.

In fact, many of the folk traditions of many eastern regions from Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent have influences of these folk performers. For instance, the evolution of the Russian puppet theatre drew directly the Skomorokhs.

As their repertoire included singing, dancing, playing musical instruments and composing and choreographing for their performances, they could draw crowds of hundreds that is remarkable for the era that had no advertising and marketing for such shows. Neither was there the electronic media of today’s times nor the elaborate stage settings to attract people.

The Skomorokhs were feared as the devil’s servants by the Orthodox Church that also discouraged folk art and popular culture which were considered irreverent and repelling people from God. As the rulers were either strongly influenced by the church or rather the rulers were ruled by the church, banning their shows was easy. A case in point is the ban order issued by Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich in 1657, which was influenced by the church.

The feudalists and the clergy were dead against Skomorokhi as their art occasionally included satire, masks and mock songs that were popular among the common people. These could be used against the elite that seem to be the refrain of the church that wanted to propagate ascetic living.