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3 posts from December 2020

18 December 2020

Cooking a Christmas Meal in the Caribbean Collections

Given there is no canteen Christmas lunch on offer this year, I thought I would ‘cook up’ a Caribbean Christmas meal out of the collections.

Colourful painting of a street scene with a man dressed in costume with a feathered headpiece.
Jackie Ranston, Belisario: Sketches of Character: A historical biography of a Jamaican artist. Kingston, Jamaica: The Mill Press, 2008. Shelfmark: LD.31.b.1989

“Koo-Koo, Koo-Koo” an attendant chorus repeated, imitating the ‘rumbling sound of the bowels, when in a hungry state.’1  This was the origin of the ‘Koo-Koo’ chant according to Isaac Medes Belisario, the Jamaican Jewish painter, engraver and lithographer.  The calling of Koo-Koos would sound the streets of Kingston during Junkanoo – the carnivalesque celebration that occurs around Christmas time in parts of the English-Speaking Caribbean.  Rooted in the era of slavery, Junkanoo festivities were performed during the planter-sanctioned Christmas holiday, which overlapped with the main annual break in the plantation cycle.  While the concept of Christmas was a colonial imposition in the Caribbean, the short break that this Christian holiday instigated became an opportunity for the creation of independent, creolized, defiant and delicious traditions.  From the rumbling stomach of Junkanoo to the ceremonial soaking of fruit in rum, Christmas through the mouth of the Caribbean collections is a varied and delectable affair.

The Main Event

Deviating from the oft-dry Turkey, the centrepiece of a Caribbean Christmas meal might be a ‘Christmas Goat’ or a pig.  As contributors to the community-published cookbook, Captain Blackbeard’s Beef Creole explain, Christmas in St. Lucia is a big celebration, where pigs are fattened up to be eaten on Christmas day and there are lots of dances and parties that ‘carry on through Christmas and New Year’.

Text from a book which describes Christmas in St Lucia.
Captain Blackbeard’s Beef Creole and other Caribbean recipes. London: Peckham Publishing Project,  1981. Shelfmark: X.629/17620

Much more efficient to rear than cows and easier to farm on smallholdings, the goat has consistently been one of the most consumed meats in Jamaica since the nineteenth century. Goat was ‘also the most commonly eaten mammal in India, after the sheep,’ which made it appealing to Jamaica’s East Indian community.The curry goat, a classic of Jamaican cuisine, is a product of East Indian and African creolization in Jamaica.

Text from a book which describes the Christmas Goat.
Captain Blackbeard’s Beef Creole and other Caribbean recipes. London: Peckham Publishing Project,  1981. Shelfmark: X.629/17620

 

Trimmings

As Carly Lewis-Oduntan writes in her article, ‘When Christmas Dinner Comes with a Side of Rice and Peas,’ a British and Caribbean Christmas food fusion might encompass roast turkey accompanied with rice and peas.  Derived from Akan cuisine, variations of rice and bean dishes have been a staple of Caribbean diets for centuries.  During the era of slavery, enslaved peoples in the English-Speaking Caribbean subsisted on their provision ground harvests (small plots of land where anything from yams to beans were grown), which have profoundly shaped the ingredients, processes and tastes that remain central to Caribbean cuisine.  Ripening just in time for Christmas, the perennial Gungo pea is an ‘essential part of the Christmas Day menu’, replacing the often-used kidney bean in rice and peas.

Sketches of different shaped beans.
B. W. Higman, Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2008. Shelfmark YC.2009.b.918.

 

Front-cover with a palm tree on an island amongst a background of blue.
P. De Brissiere, Caribbean Cooking: A Selection of West-Indian Recipes. London: The New Europe Publishing Co. Ltd, 1946. Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.5048
Recipes for Savoury Carrot Mould, Peas and Rice, Indian Cabbage and Bean Pie.
P. De Brissiere, Caribbean Cooking: A Selection of West-Indian Recipes. London: The New Europe Publishing Co. Ltd, 1946. Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.5048

 

The Proof is in the Pudding

The Caribbean Christmas cake or pudding is the product of months (or even years) of rum soaking.  Atop of kitchen cupboards you might spot dried fruit soaking in deep amber jars of rum, in preparation for baking the spiced, boozy and dense Christmas cake.  From the sugar grown and harvested on plantations, to the by-product of sugar (rum is made from molasses which is produced when sugarcane is refined) and regionally grown spices like nutmeg, Christmas pudding is an example of the region’s history melding together.

Recipe for Jamaican Christmas pudding
Captain Blackbeard’s Beef Creole and other Caribbean recipes. London: Peckham Publishing Project,  1981. Shelfmark: X.629/17620
Recipe continued with an illustration of a small bottle of liquor and nutmegs.
Captain Blackbeard’s Beef Creole and other Caribbean recipes. London: Peckham Publishing Project,  1981. Shelfmark: X.629/17620

 

A drink with that?

Colourful illustration of a sorrel flower
Floella Benjamin, Exploring Caribbean Food in Britain. London: Mantra Publishing, 1988. Shelfmark: YK.1989.b.1722
A drink recipe using sorrel and rum.
Teresa E. Cleary, Jamaica Run-dung: Over 100 Recipes. Kingston: Brainbuster Publications, 1973. Shelfmark: YA.1989.a.11640

 

How about a deep red glass of tart, sweet and cool sorrel drink, made from an infusion of fresh or dried sorrel.  The Jamaican name for hibiscus, B. W. Higman cites sorrel as arriving during in the eighteenth century, from Africa. Planted in August, the sorrel plant is harvested in December and January, hence, its Christmas association.  The refreshing drink is made by steeping sorrel in water for two days with ginger, cloves, orange peel, rum or wine.  These classic Christmas flavours encompass Britain’s colonial history and the far-reaching impact of the Spice Trade.

Drawing of a yellow hibiscus flower.
Marjorie Humphreys, Cerasee & Other Jamaican Flowering Plants. Kingston, Jamaica: The Mill Press, 1999. Shelfmark: YA.2003.a.26672

 

I hope this has whet your appetite for a Merry Christmas and has maybe even inspired you to test out one of these recipes – please get in touch if you do!

In 2021, we will be launching an exciting project that seeks to re-interpret, locate and co-create more sources on the history of Caribbean food, spanning from colonial materials, to post-independence and contemporary sources. We will need your input and participation … so watch this space and have a relaxing winter break.

Naomi Oppenheim, community engagement and Caribbean Collections intern at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library and CDP student researching Caribbean publishing and activism.  @naomioppenheim

Endnotes

1. Jackie Ranston, Belisario: Sketches of Character: A historical biography of a Jamaican artist (Kingston: The Mill Press, 2008), p.250.
2. B. W. Higman, Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2008), p.387-9.

Works Cited

* B. W. Higman, Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2008), BL Shelfmark YC.2009.b.918
* Carly Lewis-Oduntan, ‘When Christmas Dinner Comes with a Side of Rice and Peas’, VICE, 14 December 2018
* Floella Benjamin, Exploring Caribbean Food in Britain (London: Mantra Publishing, 1988) BL Shelfmark YK.1989.b.1722
* Jackie Ranston, Belisario: Sketches of Character: A historical biography of a Jamaican artist (Kingston: The Mill Press, 2008). BL Shelfmark LD.31.b.1989
* Marjorie Humphreys, Cerasee & Other Jamacian Flowering Plants (Kingston: The Mill Press, 1999)
* P. De Brissiere, Caribbean Cooking: A Selection of West-Indian Recipes, BL shelfmark YD.2005.a.5048
* Teresa E. Cleary, Jamaica run-dung: over 100 recipes (Kingston: Brainbuster Publications, 1973) BL Shelfmark YA.1989.a.11640
* ‘14th Day of Christmas – Gungo Peas & Christmas’, Jamaica Information Service

Further Reading

* B. W. Higman, ‘Cookbooks and Caribbean Cultural Identity: An English-Language Hors D’Oeurve’, New West Indian Guide, 72 (1998).
* Catherine Hall, ‘Whose Memories? Edward Long and the Work of Re-Remembering’ in K. Donington, R. Hanley, & J. Moody (Eds.), Britain's History and Memory of Transatlantic Slavery: Local Nuances of a 'National Sin'’ (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016), pp. 129-149.
* Chanté Joseph, ‘Confronting the Colonial Past of Jamaica’s Hard Dough Bread’, VICE, 25 April 2019
* Colleen Taylor Sen, Curry: A Global History (London: Reaktion, 2009) BL Shelmark YK.2010.a.31951
* Edward Long, A History of Jamaica (London: T. Lowndes, 1774), 981.f.19-21. [Version available online]
* Malini Roy, ‘Reopening and reinterpretation – our Front Hall Busts’, Living Knowledge Blog, 28 August 2020
* Naomi Oppenheim, ‘A Belated Happy Junkanoo: the Caribbean Christmas’, American Collections blog, 7 January 2019
* Riaz Phillips, Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK (London: Tezeta Press, 2017) YKL.2017.b.4909

 

16 December 2020

The American newsroom as seen in cartoons: 1930-1960. By Dr Will Mari

In the mid-century United States, the newsroom was at the heart of journalism’s professional world, the place where reporters and editors produced and published stories that shaped their society, and their own. In their numerous depictions on stage and screen, newsrooms have been romanticized and idealized, but they were very human places, complete with the failures and foibles of the cultures they were embedded in.

They could be macho, sexist and racist places, where white men dominated. They could be places where publishers and owners demurred too much to corporate or political interests.

But they were also spaces where true stories—however imperfect—were told to people in power, and, gradually, were becoming more open to women and people of color by the 1960s.

Cartoonists and other artists, working in newsrooms, captured and caricatured their working lives, including their colleagues, in these places. What follows is a small sample of the images I have gathered in my research for my new book on the history of the American newsroom from the 1920s through the end of the 1950s, to be published with the University of Missouri Press early next summer. I’ll describe what’s happening in each image and provide further context.

Note: several of the images below come from a trade publication, Editor & Publisher (the equivalent in the UK would be the Press Gazette), which can be found in the British Library’s holdings at the following shelfmarks: Document Supply 3661.077000 or the General Reference Collection, PP.1423.lgt.

The British Library holds an extensive collection of historical and current newspapers and magazines published in the United States. All of them can be accessed via the Explore catalogue. An Eccles Centre guide to the Library's printed and microfilm holdings is available here (https://blogs.bl.uk/files/british-library-newspapers-us-canadian-holdings.pdf). The guide lists the newspapers by title and provides an index to available holdings by state and town. In addition to these printed and microfilm materials, the Library subscribes to several online databases containing full text searchable newspapers and magazines. The blog post Americas Digital Newspapers Resources, provides more information on digital newspaper databases, many of which are available remotely once you obtain a British Library reader pass.  

 

Image of cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on April 18, 1936
The other fellow’s job. Cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on April 18, 1936. Caption to the cartoon reads: “Specially drawn for Editor & Publisher by Louis A. Paige. Utica (N.Y.) Observer-Dispatch”. Image used with permission from Editor & Publisher, copyright ©Editor & Publisher

 

In this first image from Editor & Publisher and published on April 18, 1936, Louis Paige, a cartoonist at the Utica, New York, Observer-Dispatch, shows a columnist typing away behind an office partition in a newsroom, with a younger reporter working out in what is implied to be the open newsroom. The older columnist says, “Gosh -- I wish I were in that reporter's shoes -- up and around hustling news, meeting people, seeing things, etc. --.”

The second part of the cartoon shows the unnamed younger reporter looking into the office, on the columnist, and saying, wistfully, “Gee -- That's how I'd like it some-day -- sit in your own office, sway the nation with editorials, etc.”

While more touching than tongue-in-check, this scene gently teases news workers for envying each other’s jobs. For many rank-and-file reporters, working as a columnist seemed like a pretty easy gig. After all, columnists could stay inside and work at a more leisurely pace, but columnists, for their part, missed the carefree semi-independence of their younger days as reporters.

 

Image of cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on March 27, 1948
The Fourth Estate, by Trent. Cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on March 27, 1948. Image used with permission from Editor & Publisher, copyright ©Editor & Publisher

 

In this image, a group of reporters are playing a game of cards in a “press room” located in a city building. A flummoxed functionary is seen opening the door on them, and one reporter turns and says, “Bring the Mayor’s statement down later, neatly typed!

This cartoon, published in Editor & Publisher on March 27, 1948, shows how reporters spent their time between assignments, or even on assignments, and what they thought of local government officials.

 

Image of cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on April 21, 1934
The paths of glory. Cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on April 21, 1934. Cartoon by Denys Wortman of the New York World-Telegram. Image used with permission from Editor & Publisher, copyright ©Editor & Publisher

 

In this image, a cartoon by Denys Wortman, of the New York World-Telegram, a brash young reporter is complaining to a coworker about his editor. He says, leaning casually against a table, “I went and won the Pulitzer Prize, Jack, and the managing editor hasn’t spoken to me for a month because he’s afraid I’ll ask for a raise.” Published on April 21, 1934, in Editor & Publisher, it spoofs the constant clamoring for raises that American editors faced, but also the harsh reality of the Great Depression, where winning a major journalistic award was not enough to guarantee a pay bump.

 

Image of cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on February 18, 1956
The Fourth Estate, by Trent. Cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on February 18, 1956. Image used with permission from Editor & Publisher, copyright ©Editor & Publisher

 

In this cartoon from Feb. 18, 1956, and published in Editor & Publisher, a couple of reporters in a “radio car”—a car equipped with an expensive, two-way radio system for calling stories into the newsroom, or receiving instructions from editors—is shown on a busy city street. Both reporters appear grumpy, and one is saying into a microphone, not visible, but probably on the dashboard, “Calling City Desk, calling City Desk … where are we?.”

 

Image of cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on September 18, 1953
The Fourth Estate, by Trent. Cartoon stripe from the newspaper Editor & Publisher published on September 18, 1953. Image used with permission from Editor & Publisher, copyright ©Editor & Publisher

 

In this cartoon, a reporter with a radio strapped to his back with a long antennae, is busy cornering interview subjects in a hallway in a city hall building, and is saying into a receiver, “Hi, Betty, this is Al; give me the Desk.” The image, published in Editor & Publisher on Sept. 19, 1953, both pokes fun at the new portable technologies possible in the postwar world, but also takes, perhaps, a subtle pride in how they’re changing journalism.

 

Image of cartoon stripe from the newspaper The Guild Reporter published on September 26, 1952
Grin and bear it, by Lichty. Cartoon stripe from the newspaper The Guild Reporter published on September 26, 1952. Image used with permission from The Guild Reporter, and the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America. Copyright ©The Guild Reporter ©NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America

 

This final image, published on Sept. 26, 1952, in The Guild Reporter, a publication of the American Newspaper Guild (ANG), shows a labor negotiator being tossed forcibility through a glass window, in a door. A receptionist and two male editors look on. One says, “Looks like the union and management have agreed on one thing, at least…they’ve thrown out the mediator…”. The cartoonist, George Lichty, drew the image for the Chicago Sun-Times Syndicate. While it exaggerates, of course, it does show how the unionization efforts of the ANG had helped journalism, at least partially, become a more white-collar occupation.

Guest post by Dr. Will Mari, Assistant Professor of Media Law and Media History, Louisiana State University.

 

 

 

08 December 2020

Art in a pandemic: exploring manifestation of art and design

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly given us the difficult task of witnessing one of the most unmerciful global challenges since the world wars.

As it happens during times of crises, artists start producing objects, or creating digital content, which reflect part of the daily struggle for life. Their creation can be seen as a process that transforms art in ephemera and ephemera in arts, and the boundaries between what is art and what is not are often impalpable and undefinable. How do we see these objects now, through the lens of time, and while enduring another lockdown? 

The descent of the lockdown on our bodies and souls has forced us into living in a dystopian society, as well as a forced daily exploration of digital content and images or, at least, that is what has happened to me.

Last spring, during one of my virtual exploration sessions at @CovidArtMuseum, I was particularly attracted by artistic responses from the southern hemisphere. I met an inspirational graphic artist on Instagram, and having decided to use a couple of graphic creations, I contacted her to discuss copyright but we ended up talking about books, art inspirations and feelings of deprivation.

 

Graphic art from Guatemala: the soap dispenser

 

Soap dispenser embellished with details from Vincent Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night on the lower part. On the upper part a yellow writing in block letters reads: make art not panic
Make art not panic, by Mayte Oliva @mayteoliva –Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photo sourced by Instagram, March 2020 @CovidArtMuseum. Photo courtesy of the artist ©mayteoliva

 

An embellished soap dispenser represents the dispensation of creativity and thoughts of positivity as a remedy to panic and desperation in a moment of crisis. Behind the dispenser, a sky coloured background and an invisible sub-message that reads: wash your hands.

Art is vital for human kind. Keep creating. El arte es vital para tu humanidad. En cualquier disciplina, forma, con cualquier material, con desafíos físicos o emocionales, sin importar quien lo vea o si es solo para tus ojos. Crear es bueno para ti (Caption to the image. @mayteoliva). [Art is vital to your humanity. In any discipline, shape, with any material, with physical or emotional challenges, no matter who sees it or if it is only for your eyes. Creating is good for you].

 

Image of one of Vincent Van Gogh's most famous paintings. It depicts the view of a starry night just before the sunrise. In the lower part of the painting, on the left, there is a tree in the foreground, and in the right part of the painting, a village. The sky and the stars are painted with large brushstrokes of colour in multiple shades of blue and yellow
Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night. Saint Rémy, June 1889. Museum of Modern Art. Floor 5, 501. The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries. Photo sourced by MoMA website ©MoMA

 

The reference to Van Gogh's Starry Night is brilliant. Entirely painted from memory during the day while in isolation at the sanatorium of Saint-Rémy-de-Provance, Van Gogh reproduced the vision of the stars in the dark from outside his sanatorium room window. It represents the oneiric interpretation of the reality of the asylum experience as he perceived it, apocalyptic, terrifying and yet astonishingly creative.

“Through the iron-barred window I can make out a square of wheat in an enclosure, above which in the morning I see the sunrise in its glory” (from Vincent van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo).

 

Graphic art from Brazil and Australia: the toilet paper

Another curious object strongly associated with life during the pandemic, is the toilet paper roll. I was particularly attracted by this image with its direct message, and all that goes with it, on the unrolled paper square. This visual reprimand, created on the eve of the first lockdowns, would have resonated with people around the world and at more or less the same time.

 

Image of a white toilet paper roll on a pink background with a message on the unrolled paper square that reads: Este papel no limpia tu egoísmo / This paper doesn’t clean your selfishness
Este papel no limpia tu egoísmo /This paper doesn’t clean your selfishness, by Mayte Oliva @mayteoliva –Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photo sourced by Instagram, March 2020 @CovidArtMuseum. Photo courtesy of the artist ©mayteoliva

 

“I made this piece the day that the government in my country announced the curfew, supermarkets were crowded, and people took very selfish attitudes. I think it is important to raise awareness of this type of actions on social networks, so that more people see it as something negative and can take positive attitudes in difficult situations” (In conversation with @mayteoliva).

During the same time, a colleague in the library started a very difficult newspaper-copy hunt for a particular issue of the  Northern Territory News which wryly included an 8-page insert of toilet news-paper. Libraries around the world had started collecting this special issue, and it soon became very difficult to obtain one. It was immediately clear that this item would become a collectable item documenting a certain aspect of  consumer society; one of those objects that you could easily imagine seeing in an exhibition, perhaps entitled “Art Pandemic: incubation 2020”!

 

Image of Northern Territory newspaper and 8 page toilet paper insert
NT News, Thursday 5th March 2020 with 8 page toilet paper insert. British Library cataloguing and shelf-marking in process

 

The toilet paper Instagram colloquium with the graphic artist @mayteoliva, evolved into a much freer talk and exchange of ideas. When asked which books have recently inspired her, she promptly sent photos of covers, and her thoughts on the books incriminated.

In conversation with the artist @mayteoliva

“There is beauty in everything, and this is a great guide to find it. I find this book really inspiring, makes me want to create something, draw something, cook something, try something new and appreciate it. The other night I was making cinnamon rolls for the first time, and the process was beautiful, this book has helped me appreciate these things of everyday life and then translate my experiences into visual art” (In conversation with @mayteoliva in reference to Alan Moore, Do / Design: why beauty is key to everything).

 

Image of a hand holding a book and showing its cover. Book title reads: Do/Design: why beauty is key to everything
Alan Moore, Do / Design: why beauty is key to everything, London, Do Book Co., 2016. Shelfmark: YKL.2017.a.11507

 

“Madame & Eve, Women portraying women is an amazing compilation of women artworks in contemporary art. Here are some of my favourite artist, like Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger, but I have found many other artists who have impressed me a lot” (In conversation with @mayteoliva).

 

Image of an open book. It shows portraits of woman on both pages
Liz Rideal, Kathleen, Soriano, Madam & Eve: women portraying women, London: Laurence King Publishing, 2018. Shelfmark YC.2019.b.367.

 

Embroidered poetry from Brazil

From the collection #museodoisolamento (museum of isolation), I found this incredible piece of concrete poetry. From the visual exploration of it, I immediately had multiple sensorial messages sent to my brain. I needed a few minutes to fully decode them into sensation and emotions, and to have them automatically connected to my personal consciousness which was strongly affected by the circumstances of the moment.

My first sensorial association was the light blue impressions of the fabric to the pale blue of surgical masks. In this case it was transformed in a wide canvas ready to receive a concise and concrete message behind which the essence of art is explained.

 

Image of a white canvas with light blue impressions and a phrase embroidered on it which reads: A arte existe porque a vida não basta/ Art exists because life is not enough
A arte existe porque a vida não basta/ Art exists because life is not enough, by Mayara Silva @mayara5ilva –Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil. Photo sourced by Instagram, June 2020 @CovidArtMuseum. Photo ©mayara5ilva

 

“Uma das minhas frases preferidas. É de Ferreira Gullar, poeta maranhense, ao falar sobre sua trajetória na arte durante uma entrevista. ‘Arte é uma coisa imprevisível, é descoberta, é uma invenção da vida. E quem diz que fazer poesia é um sofrimento está mentindo: é bom, mesmo quando se escreve sobre uma coisa sofrida. A poesia transfigura as coisas, mesmo quando você está no abismo. A arte existe porque a vida não basta’“(Caption to the image. @mayara5ilva)

[One of my favourite phrases. It is by Ferreira Gullar, a poet from Maranhão, when talking about his career in art during an interview. "Art is an unpredictable thing, it is discovered, it is an invention of life. And whoever says that making poetry is suffering is lying: it is good, even when writing about something suffered. Poetry transfigures things, even when you are in the abyss. Art exists because life is not enough”].

 

Emerging formats: poetry from the US

And people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still.

And listened more deeply …

(From the web, by Kitty O’Meara).

 

Image of the screenshot of the Instagram page @CovidArtMuseum showing the text of the poem by the title “And the people stayed home”, by Kitty O’Meara.  “And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. "And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. "And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed." Kitty O'Meara
And the people stayed home, by Kitty O’Meara –Photo sourced by Instagram, June 2020 @CovidArtMuseum

 

Kitty O’Meara, awarded the “poet laureate of the pandemic” by the web arena, is an Irish American teacher who wrote the poem during the days of the pandemic outbreak last March. The poem went immediately viral, and has now become an illustrated book for children. This represents an emerging format type of literary production: those produced, acclaimed, and published in a very short interval of time.

The circulation of ideas, inspirations, and artistic products have been floating around the world, not only via the powerful means of the World Wide Web, but also through the most traditional and time-sensitive channel: the postal service.  

 

Mail art: mailing hope from New York and Mexico

In May, New York-based artist and researcher Lexie Smith, founded a food-based art project, Bread on Earth, offering to send free active sourdough starters preventively dehydrated via UPS to anyone who would have made requests. Over 700 people responded to the call at the beginning. As she explains on her website: “Stay safe, and let this time remind you that bread is only a threat when in the hands of few, and power when in the hands of many”.

The project also aimed to create a ‘locations of the jars’ map. As the sourdough travelled to people around the world, the map would show the spread of this happy bread-making community, since sourdough starters can be easily shared with friends, family and neighbours. She has sent parcels all over the U.S. and Canada, Singapore, India, Bulgaria, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Paris, London, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Mexico, and Hawaii amongst other places.

 

Image of heart-shaped bread served on a chopping board
Heart shaped bread. I received this heart shaped bread from my partner who, despite the distance, made my living with the pandemic days an artistic adventure (blog post author's personal image) 

 

Mail Art has never been so vivid since its glorious time of the 60s, and it has now become so iconic that I have found it portrayed in an oil on canvas, and it looks great.

 

Image of a brown paper parcel painted on canvas. A read sticker on the parcel reads "FRAGIL" in white characters. The Mobius loop, the sign for recycling paper, is stamped in white on the left part of the parcel. On the right part of the envelope, there is a white label with three bar codes and a text that reads: besos y abrazos urgentes / urgent kisses and hugs
Envios urgentes de cuarantena / Urgent quarantine shipments, by Mariana Lagunas @marianalagunasart -Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico. Photo sourced by Instagram September 2020 @CovidArtMuseum. Photo ©marianalagunasart

 

“Por medio de mi obra exploro el concepto de optimismo, pues a mi modo de ver es un tema que contiene una dualidad entre conformismo y ambición. El optimismo llega a ser en algunos casos incluso doloroso, pues la presión por ser agradecido, así como la culpa por no serlo, se traducen en frustración. Este último es un sentimiento que se generaliza, crece y que está directamente relacionado con el fortalecimiento de las redes sociales, el microtargeting, la publicidad y los medios de comunicación masiva” (Mariana Lagunas’ website)

[Through my work I explore the concept of optimism, since in my view it is a theme that contains a duality between conformity and ambition. Optimism can be, in some cases, even painful, since the pressure to be grateful, as well as the guilt for not being grateful, translate into frustration. The latter is a sentiment that is generalizing, growing and that is directly related to the strengthening of social networks, micro-targeting, advertising and the mass media].

 

Banner Art: from Toronto and London

First exhibited at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Mark Titchener’s banner "Please believe these days will pass," have been found all around the city during the days of the first lockdown. It made London and many other UK cities the perfect hosts of this gigantic artist’s book. With this banner, Titchener visually confronted the passers-by using his typical language-based graphic statement. In those early days of desperation and fears it came as a revelation, a vector towards the mass common denominator: to believe that these days will pass for us all.

 

Photographic image of Mark Titchner's banner. The image covers the entire wall of a two-story house. It presents impressions of colour in shades of red, yellow and blue and in the centre a message written in large letters that reads: Please believe these days will pass
London Fields. A shot I took during my one form of exercise per day in the vicinity of my house on the days of the first lockdown. The banner reproduces Mark Titchner’s work "Please believe these days will pass". It was presented at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2012. 

 

The 2006 Turner Prize-nominee's work particularly fits with studies in typography and typographical characters when they are used to inspire people, communicate to the core of the community and bring art to a street-based-level. The people become part of it, deciding how to read it and which voice to give to it. No captions are provided, just the imagination and personal, or common, feelings and circumstances of passers-by. Here is a piece of art in which each of us is part of it.

[Blog post by Annalisa Ricciardi, Cataloguer, Americas and Oceania Collections]

 

Bibliography and suggested readings:

Alan Moore, Do / Design: why beauty is key to everything, London: Do Book Co., 2016. Shelfmark: YKL.2017.a.11507

Liz Rideal, Kathleen Soriano, Madam & Eve: women portraying women, London: Laurence King Publishing, 2018. Shelfmark: YC.2019.b.367.

Leo Jansen, Jans Luijten and Nienke Bakker (editors), Vincent Van Gogh. The letters: the complete illustrated and annotated edition, London: Thames & Hudson, in association with the Van Gogh Museum and the Huygens Institute, 2009 (Volume 5: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Letters to his brother Theo). Shelfmark: YC.2010.b.362 vol. 5.

Mark Titchner, Why and why not: vibrations, schizzes and knots, London: Book Works, 2004. Shelfmark: YC.2007.a.6117.

Martin Clark, Mark Beasley, Alun Rowlands, Tom Trevor, (editors), Mark Titchner, Bristol: Arnolfini, 2006. Shelfmark: YC.2011.b.820.

Richard L. Hopkins (editor), The private typecasters: preserving the craft of hot-metal type into the twenty-first century, Newtown, Pennsylvania: Bird & Pull Press, 2008. Shelfmark: RF.2017.b.103).

On the art and poetics of Ferreira Gullar, see the British Library holdings at: https://bit.ly/3qaHmXs

From the web to the publisher. Kitty O’Meara’s "And the people stayed home: https://trapublishing.com/products/and-the-people-stayed-home

 

Collect, preserve and cataloguing emerging format at the British Library:

https://www.bl.uk/projects/emerging-formats?_ga=2.68841681.1751897924.1590397461-675682078.1590397461

https://blogs.bl.uk/digital-scholarship/2019/04/collecting-emerging-formats.html

 

On the definition of Mail Art as an artistic phenomenon: https://bit.ly/2JvBW8E

Mail Art initiatives at the time of the first coronavirus pandemic wave:

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/quarantine-mail-art-initiative-usps-1902009

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/mail-art-renaissane-1850670

On Mail Art publications and items at the British Library:

https://bit.ly/3qgqK0w

https://bit.ly/3mtuUjh