Posts Tagged ‘international art’

While I was in Prague this summer, I read Milan Kundera’s magnificent and heartbreaking novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The story takes place in Prague in 1968, during the Prague Spring and the subsequent Soviet occupation. Tomáš, Tereza, Sabina, and Franz are the four characters through whose lives, loves, and losses the insignificance of life and the fate of the individual are examined.

What better place to lose oneself in one of Kundera’s passionate novels than in Prague, where the author attended university and the setting for most of his books. From the top of Petřín hill to the old castle grounds at Vyšehrad perched above the Vltava River, the city of Prague encapsulates a beauty, mystery, and romance reflected in the poignant and sometimes surreal writing of Milan Kundera.

{View of Prague Castle from Petřín hill}

{Petřín hill}

{View from Petřín hill with Prague castle in the distance}

{View of the Vltava, Prague castle, and Petřín hill from Vyšehrad castle}

{View from Vyšehrad castle}

Recently, while browsing through Free People’s blog, BLDG 25, I stumbled upon some posts from their Book Club series featuring Unbearable Lightness of Being pairing favorite quotes with images that evoke the sentiment of the novel. Here are some of my favorites…

“chance and chance alone has a message for us. everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. only chance can speak to us. we read its message much as gypsies read the images made by coffee grounds at the bottom of a cup.”

“while people are fairly young and the musical composition of their lives is still in its opening bars, they can go about writing it together and exchange motifs…but if they meet when they are older, their musical compositions are more or less complete, and every motif, every object, every word means something different to each of them.”

“When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.”

“…and finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present.  they are the dreamers.”

See more of Free People’s favorite quotes from the book here, here, and here.

[Images by Kelly Overvold, from amazon.com, and from blog.freepeople.com.]

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I’m in love with this great mug I bought from Anthropologie yesterday!

—released as part of the Homegrown Monogramed Mug product selection by Anthropologie in collaboration with Australian artist Samantha Robinson. Extremely delicate porcelain construction combines with a generous bulb form to compliment that extra large cup of tea or coffee. The captivating decoration suggests a baroque reinterpretation of floral and faunal designs with a hint of orientalist fantasy—executed with a contemporary edge and a bold color palette. Brilliant! But the crowning detail, in my opinion, is the throwing rings on the inside walls—my absolute favorite kind of artist’s signature. Check out more of Samantha  Robinson’s work here or stop by her shop the next time you’re in Sydney!

[Images from anthropologie.com and samantharobinson.com.au.]

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Presented as part of the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series at the Folger Shakespeare Library .

On assignment for a poetry class I took at GW this semester, I attended a poetry reading by Naomi Shihab Nye at the Folger Library. Nye is an American “poet-Anthropologist” who writes primarily about cultural differences and the human experience of culture and displacement—inspired by her own personal experience as the daughter of a Palestinian refugee and regular travel.

Before the reading, ushers handed out copies of her poem “During A War.”

“Best wishes to you & yours…

where does “yours” end? …

dark eyes who are dying now.

How easily they would have welcomed us in for coffee,

… your friends & mine.” (excerpt)

A potent image of all the welcoming people I’d met on my own travels—in Viet Nam, Peru, South Africa—came suddenly to mind and I thought of how easily and arbitrarily two governments can decide to make enemies out of friends.

Nye’s reading was done in a sort of pocket-notebook style presentation: readings of her poems were interspersed with anecdotes, histories, quotes, letters, and the work of others, allowing the audience to understand more of her inspiration and her process. She began with pointing out that she had always considered poetry to be the “GPS of the heart”—which made me think of a Charles Simic quote, that “[p]oetry is the archaeology of the self.” She elaborated towards the end of her reading by saying that she thinks it is her duty as a poet—the duty of any artist—to communicate a message of integrated humanity in order to encourage peace and happiness in the world: a sentiment I defy anyone to condemn as naïve or cliché after listening to her talk about her experience teaching children in Abu Dhabi or the letters sent between her father and Eleanor Roosevelt.

But before I give the wrong impression of Nye as purely serious and sentimental, the defining point of her poetry is the lighthearted, almost child-like joy with which she discusses her subject. The open-faced “Why?”, as opposed to a clenched fist, presented to issues of cultural discrimination, oppression, and apathy. The cheerful smile offered to acquaintances and events of daily life. She read a poem inspired by newspaper advice columns, excerpts from which included “Dear Joaquin Phoenix,/ just take a break/ and come back later” and “Dear dog behind the fence,/ you really need to calm down now.”

At the end of the reading, Ethelbert Miller of Howard University took the time to ask Nye some questions about her process and her philosophy. In an answer to one of his questions Nye shared some advice her father gave her about keeping her cool in a discussion with someone who is being disrespectful about her views or opinion. “Instead of getting angry,” she said, “take a deep breath, lean back a little, and say, ‘I think we could use a little more information here.'” The idea, I think, is that in order to find peace in others, one must first achieve peace within themselves.

“Elementary school report cards have a box next to which it says, ‘Gets along well with others,'” Nye pointed out during her discussion of a poetry workshop she held for second graders at an elementary school in the mid-west, “How do you think our country is doing?” It is certainly interesting and tragic that Americans recognize the importance of cooperation and sociability in children and yet, somewhere along the line, abandon the value of this attribute for our nation as a whole. Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry succeeds in communicating the reality of our world and hope for its improvement in exquisite and effective yet clear-cut language that leaves even the most jaded reader with an undeniable catch in his throat.

Her work is a must read for travelers everywhere!

[Images from poetryfoundation.org and barnesandnoble.com.]

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