Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Dream is a Wish your Heart makes

Two posts in one day!

For those of you who have NOT seen these yet...mostly for you Disney is a marketing scheme Disney concocted with the beyond brilliant photographer Annie Leibovitz, starting in 2007. It's called the Disney Dream series and it depicts famous actors/actresses, musicians, and sports stars as some of Disney's most famous characters. They also have a shot featuring Captain Jack Sparrow.

"Where every Cinderella story comes true." Scarlett Johansson as Cinderella.

"Where imagination saves the day." David Beckham as Prince Phillip from Sleeping Beauty.

"Where you are the fairest of them all." Rachel Weisz as Snow White.

"Where magic speaks, even when you're not the fairest of them all." Olivia Wilde as the Evil Queen and Alec Baldwin as the Magic Mirror from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

"Where you never have to grow up." Giselle Bündchen as Wendy, Mikhail Baryshnikov as Peter Pan, and Tina Fey as Tinkerbelle from Peter Pan.

"Where the magic begins." Julie Andrews as the Blue Fairy from Pinnocchio and Abigail Breslin as a Disney fairy.

"Where you are always king of the court." Roger Federer as King Arthur from The Sword in the Stone.

"Where Wonderland is your destiny." Beyonce as Alice, Lyle Lovett as the March Hare, and Oliver Platt as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.

Julianne Moore as Ariel from The Little Mermaid. (And I believe that's Michael Phelps in the front there...)

"Where Memories take hold and never let go." Queen Latifah as Ursula from The Little Mermaid.

"Where a moment of beauty lasts forever." Penelope Cruz as Belle and Jeff Brides as the transformed Prince from Beauty and the Beast.

"Where a whole new world awaits." Jennifer Lopez as Jasmine and Marc Anthony as Aladdin.

"Where Dreams run free." Jessica Biel as Pocahontas.

Basically epic.

"I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse." - Walt Disney

Great Cause: Exotic Feline Rescue Center

This post is not about art. I still really hope that you will read it.

Ever since arriving in Bloomington, I had heard about this alleged sanctuary for large cats. When I say large cats, I mean lions, tigers, and cougars (Oh my!). White tigers have been my favorite animal since middle school when I got to do a paper on their genetics for a biology class. For this reason, I was really jazzed about going. And yet, for 11 months I did not, for whatever reason.

Finally, on a rather spur-of-the-moment split decision, I rounded up my brother and my friend Alice and we went. It was about an hour drive West from Bloomington, but there are two national parks AND a Wendy's on the way, so you could certainly make a day of the experience.

And oh, was it an experience.


Truth be told, I did NOT know what to expect when we turned onto the gravel drive leading up to the Exotic Feline Rescue Center. "Off roading" in a sedan is always exciting and we parked on the side of the road. We walked up to a humble little ticket booth that doubled as their gift shop and paid $10 for the tour.

Turned around to start the tour and came face-to-face with a leopard. With three leopards. Within five feet of us. I think all three of us jumped. It was incredible. Yes, you can sometimes get that close to wild cats at zoos, usually through glass, but all there was here was a chain link (albeit strong chain link) fence. Unlike at zoos, these cats will actually get right up against the fence you are walking next to...and not in a malicious way, but in a way that suggests they a genuinely comfortable and happy here (though do NOT try to touch them - They are predators, they are dangerous). Hearing a lion roar (it was lunch time) and a cougar scream (it literally sounds like screaming) was an unparalleled experience.

The Exotic Feline Rescue Center, founded in 1991, is a 108 acre, 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to "provide permanent homes for exotic felines that have been abused, abandoned, or for some reason have nowhere to live out there lives, while educating the public about these beautiful cats." Unfortunately, a great deal of these incredible creatures were rescued from very dire circumstances, making the blessed work of the EFRC all the more apparent. Though you only see roughly 100 cats on the tour, the EFRC is the home for over 230 cats of 9 different species. Half of these cats are tigers.

For the last five years, they have taken in an average of 2 cats a month (from around 24 states). They do not buy, sell, or breed these cats. They provide them with a home for life, with stable social groups, with natural living environments and the best veterinary care available. In their 20 years of operation, a cat has only gotten out once - And that was due to a storm that caused a tree to fall, which the cat climbed out.

Besides the usual tour, EFRC will do special events to raise money for their sanctuary. The most popular, bringing in about 300 people each year, is the Pumpkin Party, the day after Halloween. Visitors bring in their pumpkins for the staff fill with meat and then they give the pumpkins to the cats to play with. The pictures look hilarious! There are also Adults only nights where for $50, you can see almost ALL of the cats on the grounds, tour the veterinary facilities, and you get hors d'oeuvres, desserts, and drinks of the bar. You can also stay overnight at a little cabin on the grounds.

Hello, Mr. Super Large Lion, right there within a few feet.
On our tour, we got to meet...

- Coo, a very sleepy male puma/cougar/mountain lion/catamount.
- Tobette, their newest Canadian Lynx, who was a little shy and still nervous about her new home.
- Autumn, a female cougar that would be a lap kitten if she could. She PURRED and stayed very close to the fence for visitors.
- Raja, a more fiesty male tiger that growled at me when I took his picture. He will spray you if he's standing up, so step away!
- Nala, a sweet, sweet, sweet tigress that "chuffed" (a tiger greeting) and nuzzled the fence as we were nearby.
- India (pictured above), a white tigress that has unfortunately gone blind. Because white fur in tigers in a genetic mutation, inbreeding is the only way to continue the coloration. This causes a lot of health issues for white tigers.
- King, a HUGE male lion that was rescued at 14 months because he had gotten too big for his owner to keep feeding. The owner had made an appointment to have King shot and then stuffed, but thankfully his sister intervened. King and the lioness Jasmine had a daughter, Lauren, and all three live in a sanctuary together, as a family.
- Sahib (pictured below), the golden tiger (GORGEOUS). Only 35 golden tigers reportedly exist in the US today.
- Kisa (lioness) and Max (tiger), fast friends that live together. Kisa has some developmental issues from having been fed cat food before she was rescued (large cats like this need actual meat...anything else isn't enough). She may be facing you, but her eyes will not focus on you.
- Cleo, a little cerval female that lives with a bobcat who was out for the day. Apparently that was the first day the staff had seen her outside on her own when the bobcat was not there.
- Romulus, a male tiger...He does NOT like men. So gentlemen, stay back. Only female staff feed/take care of him.
- Jafar, another would-be lap kitty...though he is also one of three at the center that has actually killed a person.

And so many others!

Happy kitteh.

There are only a few facilities like this in U.S., and like so many non-profit organizations, they rely almost entirely on funds gathered from their tour visits and donations. Many of their staff are actually volunteers. Our tour guide drives an hour from Indy every weekend to give tours and help out. He had been volunteering with them since 2007. It's kind of like once you've been here, you will not be able to get it out of your head. I can attest to that!

The EFRC feeds their cats 3,500 pounds of meat every single day. It was interesting to hear that they will actually work with the local Amish communities in this way...if a cow or horse on an Amish farm dies, the EFRC will go get it, free of charge, helping the farmers clean up and simultaneously getting free food for their cats. They'll even pick up dead deer they find on the side of the road - One deer will feed 9 (I believe) of their cougars for a day!

Ivomec, the medicine given to the cats monthly to combat parasites like heartworms costs $3,000 per year. The average cost of a permanent enclosure for a lion or tiger is $25,000. They have a Wish List for ladders, ply wood, telephone poles, building supplies, cement, gravel, lumber, cedar bedding chips, scaffolding, horsefly traps and boomer balls.


So no, this is not a post about art. But it is a post about something I think anyone that has an opportunity should investigate. On minimal, the EFRC is working constantly to ensure large cats like Sahib and India and King have a good, safe and happy home to live out their lives. They survive almost entirely on visits at only $10 a tour, donations, and special events. It was an amazing thing to do for just an afternoon so far away from typical weekend festivities.

So, I encourage you to visit. I encourage you to donate, if you can. I encourage you to think about it...I did not realize that people would give a leopard to their wife for Christmas (Navi) or that someone would keep a cougar, declaw her, and feed her cat food like a house cat (Achia). I did not think someone would think it was a good idea to keep tigers in a tattoo parlor (Pearl and Storm) or that people would keep a lion tied to their tool shed and beat her (Rappie). This taps into a much larger problem of people abusing animals which is just NOT okay. We should defend them and support those people whose life mission is to do the same.

If you are going to get a pet, adopt from a shelter. If you want to see a lion or a tiger close up without the zoo glass, visit the EFRC. It is worth the trip.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Medieval, fairy-tale castle

Fall term of my junior year in undergrad, I studied abroad in Spain. That semester changed my life. It's why I love Spain so much, it's why I love the Spanish language, it's why I became an art historian, and it's the basis for my Master's Thesis!

Segovia was the first day-trip we took outside of Madrid. Besides seeing the Roman Aquaduct (A UNESCO World Heritage site dating back between the latter half of the 1st Century AD and beginning of the 2nd Century AD) and the cathedral (dating from 1525-1577), we got to visit the beautiful, stately, fairy-tale castle...El Alcázar.

El Alcázar - Segovia, Spain
It looks rather like the bow of a ship, doesn't it?

The Segovia Alcázar has been a fortress, a royal palace, a military academy, a state prison, and now serves as a museum. The Spanish "alcázar," derived from the Arabic word "al-qasr," is a Spanish palace or fortress originally built by the Moors. This is actually not the only Alcázar in Spain. Sevilla (Seville) also has a famous Alcázar. So does Madrid, Toledo, and Córdoba.

The Alcázar was originally built by the Moors, or Arabs. The oldest documentation of this site dates back to 1122, a short time after the city was recaptured by the Christian Alfonso VI of Castile. It was officially referred to as an "alcázar" by 1155. Unfortunately, no architectural remains before the late 12th, early 13th century (under ruler Alfonso VIII) exist today, though documents suggest there used to be a large, wooden, stockade fence. It's thought that the original structure could have been made of wood.

In 1258 under Alfonso X, parts of the castle had to be rebuilt due to a cave-in and the Hall of Kings was built to house Parliament. The largest contributor to the Alcázar's continued construction was Alfonso X's son, Juan II. The tower pictured above is known as the tower of Juan II, in his honor.

The Alcázar is also exceptionally important in the rise of Queen Isabella of Castile (married King Ferdinand II of Aragon, sent Columbus to discover the Americas, expelled the Moors and Jews from Spain). Here, she was crowned the Queen of Castile and Léon on December 13th, 1474 and this was also where she married Ferdinand II.

King Felipe II also married his queen, Anna of Austria, at the Alcázar. In 1587, the main garden and School of Honor were completed. Though the royal court eventually shifted to Madrid and the Alcázar was made a state prison for two centuries, the edifice was reborn as Royal Artillery School in 1762.
This is me with my friends Liz and Rachel atop the Alcázar looking out to the cathedral in 2007.

On March 6, 1862, a fire badly damaged the roof and framework of the structure. It didn't start being fully restored till 20 years later. In 1896, Alfonso XIII handed the building over to the Ministry of War as a military college. Today, it's one of Spain's most visited landmarks.

It's super nice inside too. But you know, Kings and Queens did live here. Here's a short video to show you the Throne Room. The ceiling is what really gets me...the detail! The hyper-detailed, lattice-like ceiling decoration looks very arabic, in my opinion.

I do not know about ya'll, but before actually visiting Spain, I had no idea what to expect from the terrain. Truth be told, most of it is plains-like, if not desert-like. But there's something about it...kind of like a romantic medieval story setting. And you can see forever! This is what surrounds the Alcázar.
Though the Alcázar was built by the Moors, its believed to have been built upon old Roman fortifications. This suggestion is supported by the nearby presence of the Roman aqueduct that Segovia is famous for. Granite blocks similar to those in the aqueduct have been discovered during excavations on the castle.

At the base of the castle, nestled down by the sweetest little dueling rivers, Eresma and Clamores (that meet near this spot), is this old, hidden look-out post. I couldn't tell you who built it or when...but it's OLD.
PS - All of these pictures were taken by yours truly. YAY :)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Cool has become formulaic."

Another fashion post has been a long time coming! If you'll recall, my last two fashion posts focused on African designers Serge Mouangue (combining African & Japanese aesthetics) and Nkhensani Nkosi & Stoned Cherrie (a modern South African women's line). I can contain my love for this next genre no longer...Indian fashion! I don't think there is anything so lovely!

My images focus on the bridal fashion for this particular designer. They're more traditional, but this highly versatile designer's works go from the most seemingly traditional to the exceptionally contemporary. Plus, I wanted to touch back on the Bridal theme I started in late June. :)

Ritu Kumar - Indian Fashion Brand

Yes, these are wedding garments. (I'll take one, please!)

Since 1969, Ritu Kumar has established her fashion brand as one of the largest and greatest in India. She translates traditional fabrics, decorations, and craftsmanship into modern terms and unique fashion creations. According to her website, the brand is known for the quality of their fabrics and embroideries, the colors (the video below mentions treating bridal gowns in pastels instead of the typical vivid red), and "gloriously rich Indiana aesthetic."

Ritu Kumar has been retailing in India and on an international scale since the 1970's while their main production centers operate out of Gurgaon and Calcutta. This brand was the first to introduce "boutique culture" into India (hence why I thought it was important to start here :)). The brand encompasses haute couture, a fashion forward sub-brand called LABEL Ritu Kumar, a bridal collection, accessories, and fragrances.

In October of 1999, Christie's of London published Kumar's first book, an academic fashion text called Costumes and Textiles of Royal India. This book chronicles the history of fashion in India from royal patronage to present. Kumar seems to take a great interest in educating the public on Indian fashion as much as providing it for them. Her website is complete with a glossary of Indian fashion terms that is a great way to start learning!

Ritu Kumar's Couture is your more traditional Indian styles. Long, full skirts and bell sleeves, sheer, embroidered abundance of gorgeous fabric in every gown and detail that would take you years to study!

LABEL Ritu Kumar expresses contemporary, new, and western styles with Indian craftsmanship and fabrics. Mini dresses, no sleeves, very modern!

The vibrant colors, the intense attention to detail, flowing fabrics, attractive patterns... Gorgeous Indian works of fashion would make any girl feel like royalty! Contemporary Indian designers, like those from Africa, are finding new and exciting ways to retain their native fashion traditions while adapting to the modern era! I've personally seen that Indian motifs and styles are making their way into Western culture and I think they could have a really big impact on the world scale in the future!

Though none of the images I shared with you today contain denim, this was Mrs. Kumar's take on denim...Ladies, would you agree?

"When women wear denim it (the derriere) must look elegant. It's the second thing every woman looks at in the mirror, but it's the first thing she cares about. She does that half twirl, her back arched and her head craned around. If the jeans are right, the experience is transforming, like putting on a magic cloak."
- Ritu Kumar

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Zeeba Zeeba Neighba

I'll bet you really didn't expect this to be my next move.

But I like comics. And as there is an element of technical artistic proficiency involved with producing them (i.e...the pictures), I think this severely overlooked subgroup of "ART" counts. My fave, fave, favorite comic (probably of all time) is Pearls before Swine by Stephen Pastis. Its the first comic I read in the newspaper in the morning...and my Dad will save it for last because its his favorite too. We each own our own book collections of this strip too :)

Pearls before Swine began in 2002, is currently published in approximately 650 newspapers worldwide, and was awarded Best Newspaper Comic Strip by the National Cartoonists Society in 2003 and 2006. It was nominated for the Reuben Award, cartooning's highest award, in 2009, 2010, 2011.

The creator of this hilarious strip, Stephen Pastis, is a former litigator that found the world of comics far more enchanting than the tense and anxious world of law. He had been interested in comics since he was a child, but as I think many children are quickly convinced these days...that just wasn't "practical." I want everyone to take a good look at Mr. Pastis because I think he is a very important example of how you CAN do something you love and you CAN be happy and you CAN be successful simultaneously. You just have to want it, to work for it, and to fight for it.

Pearls is primarily based around two friends: Arrogant, raging, beer-drinking Rat and sweet, but slow-witted Pig. They're joined by a host of secondary characters including the intelligent, well-read Goat, the protective but delusional Guard Duck, and poor, poor Zebra who's main point in the comic is to avoid being eaten by his next door neighbors, the Crocodiles (a.k.a. The Fraternity of Zeeba Zeeba Eatas).

As tells it, this pair (Rat & Pig) "offers caustic commentary on humanity's quest for the unattainable." But it also offers so much humor, bad puns (which Dad and I LOVE) and real-world connections. You laugh, but sometimes you also find yourself thinking (while laughing) "OH, that is so TRUE."

Things I appreciate about this comic:

1) The Crocodiles. They're oh, so stupid but hilarious. And I love the way Pastis has their accent manifest in words. You try saying "ZEEBA NEIGHBA" without smiling. (Translation: Zebra Neighbor. See? Not as funny.)

2) In the book collections, Pastis will give himself props if he did a particularly good job drawing a chair or a vase. He wasn't a professionally trained artist and its fun to see him admire his own work. If you see a vase patterned in checkers (I'm told), this is a tribute to Charles Schulz and Charlie Brown.

3) Rat. GOSH, Rat can be mean. And insensitive. And full of himself. But dang, if he isn't funny. And if he doesn't say things sometimes we wish we could!

4) Pig. Sweet, lovable, naive Pig. He tries so hard. At everything. And its usually just not enough. But he keeps trying!

5) The style is simple and to the point, which allows you to focus on the dialogue and the dialogue is top-notch. Pastis is wickedly clever and finds a lot of funny ways to address current issues or trends. He isn't afraid to touch on the controversial, and with the charm of such cutely drawn little animals, who could really be mad? (Well, some people can. And have been. But they're perhaps uptight.)

I leave you with a slideshow of some Pearls strips (Thank you, Yahoo). Scroll using the buttons on the left. I could do this all day. (Thursday June 30ths strip made me laugh so hard, just fyi.) Enjoy!

Monday, July 4, 2011

The emblem of the land I love

Happy Independence Day, America!

"Love your country. Your country is the land where your parents sleep, where is spoken that language in which the chosen of your heart, blushing, whispered the first word of love; it is the home that God has given you that by striving to perfect yourselves therein you may prepare to ascend to him."
- Giuseppe Mazzini

Flag, 1954-55
Jasper Johns, encaustic, oil, collage on fabric on plywood

I'm sure ya'll can tell why I chose today's artist. It seemed rather appropriate for Independence Day. :)

Jasper Johns was born in Augusta, GA in 1930 (So, I have to appreciate the GA connection too!), started college at South Carolina in Columbia, but moved to New York to continue school in 1948. He served in the army during the Korean War in Sendai, Japan for two years, returning to New York in 1953. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama on February 15th, 2011. He was the first artist to receive this medal since Alexander Calder in 1977. He currently resides in Sharon, Connecticut.

White Flag, 1955
Jasper Johns, Encaustic, oil, newsprint, and charcoal on canvas

Johns is considered one of the most notable printmakers in history alongside Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, Francisco Goya, and Picasso. He is described as a Neo-Dadaist (Using modern materials, popular imagery, and absurdist contrast to comment on the condition of the modern era), though many refer to him as a Pop artist. Though he does use a lot of popular symbols typical of Pop Art, he is NOT a Pop Artist.

Flags, 1968
Jasper Johns, lithograph with stamps

The Metropolitan Museum of Art gives this description of the meaning behind Johns' many flag works:

"It has been suggested that the American flag in Johns' work is an autobiographical reference, because a military hero after whom he was named, Sergeant William Jasper, raised the flag in a brave action during the Revolutionary War. Because a flag is a flat object, it may signify flatness or the relative lack of depth in much modernist painting. The flag may of course function as an emblem of the United States and may in turn connote American art, Senator Joseph McCarthy, or the Vietnam War, depending on the date of Johns' use of the image, the date of the viewer's experience of it, or the nationality of the viewer. Or the flag may connote none of these things. Used in Johns' recent work, for example, The Seasons (Summer), an intaglio print of 1987, it seems inescapably to refer to his own art. In other words, the meaning of the flag in Johns' art suggests the extent to which the "meaning" of this subject matter may be fluid and open to continual reinterpretation."

Three Flags, 1958
Jasper Johns, encaustic on canvas

As I know I've said before, I'm not any kind of expert on contemporary arts. But I do enjoy Jasper Johns a great deal. Something about him really calls to the patriot in me and I enjoy his painterly style. The Greenville Museum of Art near my undergraduate university had quite a few Johns works and I remember walking through an all-Johns exhibition during my freshman year.

I hope this gave you a couple of ideas of his treatments of the flag motif. Contrasting colors, differing sizes, monochromatic scales. It kind of makes me think not only of the hodge-podge of people that make up the U.S., but also the different opinions, ideas, and visions that support this country as well.

Map, 1961
Jasper Johns, encaustic, oil, and collage

"And I'm proud to be an American,
where at least I know I'm free.
And I won't forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me."
- Lee Greenwood

And for a bit of FUN trivia. I'm sure everyone knows this photograph from WWII, The Kiss...

See the arrow/circled lady?

That's my great Aunt Natalya :)