- As we discuss the return of looted artifacts in Western museums, the situation of Afghanistan and its stolen riches offers a good case study to understand the issues. Matthieu Aikins, for the New York Times Magazine, writes:
The Ghazni marbles are not the only artifacts from the Afghan government collection that have turned up abroad; Buddhist items from Afghanistan are also highly sought after. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there is a room dedicated to the art of Gandhara, the ancient region that straddled present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. One bust is particularly striking, characteristic of Gandhara’s unique blend of Classical and Buddhist influences: a terra-cotta Buddha depicted as a Grecian-looking youth, his hair a mass of finely worked curls. Most unusual, his eyes are made of garnet stones; an amber light shifts in their depths. “Afghanistan, probably Hadda,” reads the inscription. On the Met’s website, you can find a little more information on its provenance: The statue was purchased by the museum in 1986, from the London dealer Spink & Son. (The auction house, which has since changed ownership and no longer deals in ancient art, said it had no records of the object, but no reason to believe that the previous owners hadn’t complied with the law.)
- Liat Kaplan started the “Your Fave Is Problematic” Tumblr blog years ago, and she shares her thoughts on what she was trying to accomplish:
The blog started, as so many anonymous online projects do, as vengeful public shaming masquerading as social criticism. I was fine-tuning my moral compass and coming into my own as a feminist. So when I noticed classmates making sexist jokes on Facebook, including some about me, I started taking screenshots to post on a Tumblr called Calling Out Sexists. My policy was that I would take down a post only if its author publicly apologized.
A group of students brought the blog to the attention of our school’s administrators, who threatened to take legal action if I continued to write about them. Meanwhile, other Tumblr users had begun submitting screenshots featuring statements from minor celebrities. With graduation hanging in the balance, I shifted my focus away from my peers and toward public figures. I rebranded. Money and fame had protected them since time immemorial. What harm could my little blog do?
- Should the colonization of Mars be our priority? Shannon Stirone writes:
The influence Musk is having on a generation of people could not be more different. Musk has used the medium of dreaming and exploration to wrap up a package of entitlement, greed, and ego. He has no longing for scientific discovery, no desire to understand what makes Earth so different from Mars, how we all fit together and relate. Musk is no explorer; he is a flag planter. He seems to have missed one of the other lines from Pale Blue Dot: “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”
Sagan did believe in sending humans to Mars to first explore and eventually live there, to ensure humanity’s very long-term survival, but he also said this: “What shall we do with Mars? There are so many examples of human misuse of the Earth that even phrasing the question chills me. If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars then belongs to the Martians, even if [they] are only microbes.”
- Lorraine O’Grady is having a moment (and a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum) and you can read a profile of her in New York Magazine by Jillian Steinhauer:
Within a few years, she started hanging out at Just Above Midtown, a nonprofit gallery devoted to avant-garde African American art that Linda Goode Bryant had opened in 1974. O’Grady found her way in by volunteering there, which she now calls a “bougie thing to do — ‘Oh, I’ll lick stamps! I’ll lick envelopes if you want!’ ” She got to know Black artists for the first time in her life, people like David Hammons, Senga Nengudi, Maren Hassinger, and Dawoud Bey. It was a community of support and possibility. “The condition of my life until I came to New York and joined Just Above Midtown was that no matter where I went, I was always going to be the only Black person in the room,” O’Grady said.
Still, even among the JAM artists, she didn’t feel entirely seen; her life experience wasn’t considered a “typical” Black American narrative. Her family didn’t come from the South and hadn’t experienced American slavery; she’d grown up more class than race conscious. O’Grady has said that before she entered the art world, she considered herself “post-Black.” Coming face-to-face with racial discrimination, she embraced her Blackness — but she still identified, and continues to, as a Caribbean American, rather than as African American. “It was difficult, even in the New York art world, to mention a connection to the Caribbean without feeling as if I were somehow claiming superiority,” she told an interviewer for her Brooklyn Museum catalogue. “But what if those are the problems you are dealing with?”
- Shaka King is profiled in the New Yorker and offers this insight into Hollywood:
But let’s also look at Hollywood math, and how Hollywood makes movies. I remember one time, one executive, the first weekend we met was the weekend of “BlacKkKlansman” ’s opening, and he told us that it was going to bomb, and we told him it was gonna be a success. We saw the way people were talking about it, the culture, everything. And he was, like, “We crunched the numbers, and it’s gonna bomb.” And you and I both know that movie was a tremendous success. Later, when he lowballed us, I reminded him that he predicted that “BlacKkKlansman” was going to bomb because of the algorithm. And that he was using the same algorithm to determine that our movie was not going to make enough money at the box office to give us the money requested. That proved to me that even the math in Hollywood is racist.
- I’m here for Elias Muhanna’s reivew of Cemil Aydin’s The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History. He does the typical thing of shooting down Aydin’s ideas but I actually think the book has a point, as it was during the modern era when the notion of the “Muslim World” emerged, perhaps even in opposition or informed by the “Christian West.” That was a particularly terrible development for minorities in the region. Anyway, I think the review is worth a read:
Between the 1820s and 1880s, according to Aydin, something changed. A new ‘consciousness of racial and geopolitical unity and difference’ began to challenge the imperial consensus. Before the 1800s, he suggests, it would have been natural for a French colonial official to regard Muslim subjects within the French Empire as importantly different from the Muslim subjects of the Ottoman Empire: the fact that they shared a faith wouldn’t have led him to assume they belonged to a single racial group or political community. But during the second half of the 19th century, a new political order began to obscure the differences between Muslims from as far apart as Montenegro and Malaysia, India and Egypt, and the idea of a unified global Islam started to coalesce. In the first half of the century, ‘there were no hegemonic and monolithic narratives of Islam versus the West’; by the 1880s, they were everywhere.
- Stockton, California, tried its hand at basic universal income and it’s got some interesting results:
Using donated funds, the industrial city on the edge of the Bay Area tech economy launched a small demonstration program, sending payments of $500 a month to 125 randomly selected individuals living in neighborhoods with average incomes lower than the city median of $46,000 a year. The recipients were allowed to spend the money however they saw fit, and they were not obligated to complete any drug tests, interviews, means or asset tests, or work requirements. They just got the money, no strings attached.
… An exclusive new analysis of data from the demonstration project shows that a lack of resources is its own miserable trap. The best way to get people out of poverty is just to get them out of poverty; the best way to offer families more resources is just to offer them more resources.
- Sometimes you can’t tell the difference between North Korean state television and Fox “News”:
- A fascinating report from Smith College (Northampton, MA) and how the intersection of race, class, and power created a system that victimized a lot of people and left some people untouched:
Less attention was paid three months later when a law firm hired by Smith College to investigate the episode found no persuasive evidence of bias. Ms. Kanoute was determined to have eaten in a deserted dorm that had been closed for the summer; the janitor had been encouraged to notify security if he saw unauthorized people there. The officer, like all campus police, was unarmed.
Smith College officials emphasized “reconciliation and healing” after the incident. In the months to come they announced a raft of anti-bias training for all staff, a revamped and more sensitive campus police force and the creation of dormitories — as demanded by Ms. Kanoute and her A.C.L.U. lawyer — set aside for Black students and other students of color.
But they did not offer any public apology or amends to the workers whose lives were gravely disrupted by the student’s accusation.
- One thing that was accomplished by the Black Lives Matter protests was a decline in killings by US police:
The study, posted in February as an online preprint item on the Social Science Research Network, is the first of its kind to measure a possible correlation between BLM and police homicide numbers. It found that municipalities where BLM protests have been held experienced as much as a 20 percent decrease in killings by police, resulting in an estimated 300 fewer deaths nationwide in 2014–2019. The occurrence of local protests increased the likelihood of police departments adopting body-worn cameras and community-policing initiatives, the study also found. Many cities with larger and more frequent BLM protests experienced greater declines in police homicides.
… The difference was significant in this study: it found police killings fell by 16.8 percent on average in municipalities that had BLM protests, compared with those that did not. When Campbell compared municipalities that already had similar trends in police homicides before BLM began, the estimate rose to 21.1 percent. The specific mechanisms that might be involved in such a decline remain unclear. BLM protests may have this effect because they push police departments to adopt reforms such as body cams or community policing, as the study found. Another reason may be that the protests affect police morale, causing officers to adopt a less aggressive patrolling posture that reduces police-civilian interactions in general. And not all cities experienced declines amid the protests. Police homicides increased in Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco and St. Louis during the five-year period Campbell studied.
Required Reading is published every Saturday, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.