American Collections blog

48 posts categorized "Latin America"

06 August 2021

Two Conflicting Pioneers and their Precursors in the Amazon

This blog by Pola Oloixarac is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting recent research across the British Library's Americas collections by scholars and creatives associated with the Eccles Centre, including those supported by the Centre's Awards.

Travel has changed a lot since the early naturalists voyaged through the Amazonia, and it continues to change today thanks to Covid restrictions. While I’ve been unable to foray in person into the archives of the British Library as I was hoping - summer, London, arcane tomes - I’ve had the luck of encountering the mighty digital explorer, Dr Aleksandra Kaye. Dr Kaye knows her way around the British Library’s vast digital  archives and like any sensible 19th century naturalist seeking help from a guide, I secured her expertise in unearthing their intricate holdings.
 
In the first written accounts of the Amazon, the anthropological gaze is under-developed. Though entranced by the power of landscape, the earliest naturalists typically didn’t consider the human culture they encountered. The richness of the human Amazonian world typically escape their notice. Indeed, where Amazonian people are referenced, early accounts by European naturalists are explicitly racist. One explorer, however, who did take some account of indigenous people was the French painter Hercules Florence, although how he saw them was problematic. He travelled to the Amazon from 1825 to 1829 and ended up spending his life in Brazil.

What excited Florence was undiscovered places and he was uninterested in indigenous village life. He remarked in his diary that the jungle is repetitive and that, "to see a Brazilian village, is to see them all"1. He became obsessed with capturing the unchartered territory and capturing it through sound and image with pioneering technology. Florence experimented making photographs in Brazil in 1833 and wanted to record the sounds of what surrounded him. This led him to devise a method to record wild bird song in the Amazon. While looking for a way to record sound, he stumbled into photography. Indeed, while trying to publicise his experiments in sound recording he managed to devise the first printing machine in Sao Paulo.

In the first page of his diary he mentions the expedition slaves, noting that all humans become the same bundle of flesh under the severity of the Amazonian environment. When the expedition’s commander, Gregory Langsdorff (Fig. 1, below) succumbs to yellow fever, Florence notes that illness made no distinction about social class in the context of the Amazon.

A  slightly side-on black and white image of G.H. Langsdorff.
Fig. 1: G. H. von Langsdorff, Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World… London: printed for Henry Colburn, 1813. British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 38483]. Image courtesy University of Alberta, due to Covid restrictions.

Langsdorff claimed to be the first to attempt the fluvial crossing of Brazil, from Pantanal to Belum. Until now it was believed that the first trip was in 1825 but Dr Kaye’s research has revealed a precursor: there was a previous trip funded by the Imperial Russian court and led by Adam Johan Krussertern in which Langsdorff took part. Before his trip with Florence in 1825, Langsdorff had added himself hastily and at his own expense to the Krussertern expedition as a second naturalist (the first was Wilhm Gottlieb Tilesius). Langsdorff, therefore, went into the Amazon at least two times, around 1803-1807.  These earlier expeditions could explain why the subsequent Langsdorff trip a few decades later was hardly noticed by the very Russians who funded it, considering it, perhaps, redundant. Indeed, the reports of the Langsdorff investigation languished in St Petersburg for over a century largely undiscovered.

Langsdorff’s story is a reminder of how much these exploratory naturalist expeditions had in common with modern filmmaking. Langsdorff had, in effect, been to the Amazon first as a location scout (1803-1807), but his vision of the Amazon and the legacy of his expedition could not exist without artists to document the trip. For his 1825-1829 expedition - the one that would make him famous - Langsdorff only wanted the very best artists. He hired Johan Moritz Rugendas, but their relationship faltered when the Prussian commander sought to take ownership of the artist’s original works. Rugendas, however, was aware of his own worth as an artist and would not bow to Langsdorff. The Brazilian diaries of both Rugendas and Langsdorff paint the latter in a negative light: Langsdorff was controlling and wanted Rugendas to assign him copyright, but the artist resisted and ultimately deserted the expedition. 

This is how Hercules Florence joined the trip as a second painter to first painter André Taunay. Traveling with Langsdorff, Hercules Florence experimented with photography (he called it “painting with light”). He claimed to be its first inventor, documenting his attempts using silver nitrate and natural acids like urea. Despite these claims, however, Dr Kaye found that Alexander Agassiz, also claimed to be the first to use photography through carbon printing for general illustrations of natural history. In 1871 Agassiz made this claim in the pages of the Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College (British Library shelfmark Ac.1736/26), where his father, Louis Agassiz, was an acclaimed professor. Agassiz argues that photography is likely to overtake lithography as a mode of illustrating natural history and includes two photographs with his work. His view that the new printing technology would withstand the test of time is born out by the archive; and 150 years later, we can look at these photographs at the British Library.

Sea urchin 1
Fig. 2: Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College. 1871. British Library shelfmark: Ac.1726/36.

Did Agassiz know of Florence’s efforts to make pictures by “painting with light”? Or was Florence unknown to his contemporaries, even those working as naturalists in Brazil? These questions beg answers. For now, we can only reflect on the fact that the London edition of the early Langsdorff travels (before his trip with Florence) is much more richly illustrated and complete than the American version. In the UK edition we find a lithograph of a Brazilian house (Fig. 3, below) and a musical score called “Brazilian Air” (Fig. 4, below). Both are accessible digitally, which makes comparing them possible. The US edition from 1817 has been digitized by the British Library and is in the public domain - the UK edition from 1813 is only available digitally inside the library, but the University of Alberta digitized their copy and made it publicly available. The London edition was published in two separate volumes, while the US edition has less images, is more cramped and in smaller format and is published as a single book. As a consequence the US edition would have been cheaper to produce and therefore more accessible to bigger audiences.

Two women crouching and engaged in domestic tasks.
Fig. 3: G. H. von Langsdorff, Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World… London: printed for Henry Colburn, 1813. British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 38483]. Image courtesy University of Alberta due to Covid restrictions.
A page of musical notation and lyrics.
Fig. 4: G. H. von Langsdorff, Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World… London: printed for Henry Colburn, 1813. British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 38483]. Image courtesy University of Alberta, due to Covid restrictions.

Another interesting item with connections to Brazil uncovered by Dr Kaye is a 1916 book of short stories by Edith Wharton, the American author, called Xingú, and Other Stories (London; New York printed: Macmillan, 1916; British Library shelfmark NN.4057). The “Xingú” text portrays a dialogue between elite ladies who cannot fathom what is meant by Xingú. They think Xingú is something mysterious or rude, which creates quite a lot of drama among them. Eventually they discover it’s a Brazilian River. The text keeps you wondering, what would The Age of Innocence (Mrs. Wharton’s vivid masterpiece) be like, if set in the Império do Brasil? A crossover of the directors Martin Scorsese and Joaquim Machado de Assis, with vast corridors of palms, would surely depict a young emperor obsessed with becoming a masterful photographer, like Dom Pedro II of Brazil once was. He would have been especially pleased about finding the British Library's digital versions of his photographs available today.

Pola Oloixarac is the author of the novels Savage Theories, Dark Constellations and Mona. She’s the recipient of the 2021 Eccles Centre and Hay Festival Writer's Award.

1. Hercule Florence Diary: http://etnolinguistica.wdfiles.com/local--files/biblio:kossoy-1977-florence/kossoy_1977_hercules_florence.pdf

13 July 2021

Hazel Daniels: Pepperpot Philosophising

This is the ninth and final blog coming out of the Eccles Centres’ Caribbean Foodways oral history project. Identifying connections between participants’ stories and collection items, each blog explores one of the nine oral history interviews that will be deposited in the Sound Archive.

*** Please note that certain browsers do not support the audio clips - read and listen on Chrome or Internet Explorer to ensure that the clips play in full ***

This blog is about Hazel Daniels who was born in Guyana in 1946. Training and practicing as a radiographer in Georgetown, she then married Omar Daniels in 1973 and moved to the UK in 1975, where they have lived ever since, raising their three children. An enthusiastic home cook, Hazel likes to experiment with different cuisines and flavours in the kitchen, but is guided by her Guyanese roots. This blog focuses on Hazel’s descriptions of Guyanese ingredients and dishes alongside her philosophy of food and health, but you will soon be able to listen to her full interview via the British Library’s Listening and Viewing Service.

Black and white photo of hazel in a white headress
Wedding photo of Hazel, photograph courtesy of Hazel Daniels

Pepperpot

‘if you want to take something forward, into the future, I think it has to be pepperpot’

Pepperpot

Pot with stew on a stove
Pepperpot cooked by Hazel, courtesy of Hazel Daniels

All the participants of Guyanese heritage that I have interviewed for the Caribbean Foodways oral history project spoke about pepperpot. A dish with First Nations origins, pepperpot is history in a bowl. Paying tribute to the First Nations people of Guyana, ‘the people who were there hundreds and hundreds of years … before the colonies,’ Hazel explains the intriguing process of making this historic meal. The key ingredient is cassareep, which is made from boiling cassava for hours, until the pristine white flesh of the root becomes a ‘dark substance.’ The seemingly magical ‘preservative quality’ of the cassareep means that this rich stew, which is made from combining meat, fish or vegetables with the dark sauce, does not need to be refrigerated and it sits on the back of the stove, being eaten day in and day out until the pepperpot is gone!

Also commenting on the importance of the cassava to 'Guinan natives', Rev. J. G. Wood's exploratory index to Charles Waterton's, Wanderings in South America (1882) described how boiled cassava was then 'flavoured with red-pepper' to become the 'well-known cassareep' and that 'when the palate has become accustomed to the inordinate amount of red pepper, is not only nourishing but appetizing.'1 Moreover, 'the pot is never cleaned, so that, as it is very thick, very soft, and very porous, it absorbs the juices.'2 Alongside Hazel's interview and recipes, Wood's glossary evokes the continuity of cassareep in Guyana's foodways.  

Front cover with drawings
Tom Brown's School Days, Wanderings in South America, Old Christmas and Bracebridge Hall (London: Macmillan & Co, 1882) British Library Shelfmark 12350.m.12.
 
Text and illustrations about cassava and cassareep
Rev J. G. Wood, 'Explanation Index' in Wanderings in South America, The North-West of the United States, and the Antilles, in the Years 1812, 1816, 1820, and 1824 (London: Macmillan & Co, 1882) British Library Shelfmark 12350.m.12.
 

In Olive Senior’s introduction to Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean, the poet states that: ‘One thing that unites us in the Caribbean is food, especially the melange: we all love pepperpot by any name - calalu or sancocho or ‘Saturday soup.”’3 Like many Caribbean dishes, pepperpot embodies cultures of creolisation and adaptability that reflect the region more broadly. Hence, there are numerous versions of pepperpot. ‘Pepperpot a la Jamaican’ that is featured below, does not include cassareep. The article sarcastically claims that ‘We are told that our pepperpot is but a poor imitation of the real thing which originated in British Guiana’. Likewise, the version described in recent Netflix series, High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America (based on food historian, Jessica B. Harris’s book), seems closer to a take on oxtail stew. ‘The most popular dish in Philadelphia in the eighteenth and nineteenth century,’ chef and artist, Omar Tate, explains that pepperpot was sold by free women of colour who made a living as street vendors.4

Black and white page from a magazine
Pepperpot. Annual Jamaican potpourri (1951) British Library Shelfmark P.803/423.

Caribbean Guyanese Food is...

a language that we can virtually all communicate with, even without speaking’

Attuned to the variance and connectivity that encompasses the Caribbean region, Hazel compares Guyana’s ‘racing rivers’ to the island nations of the region that have ‘beautiful beaches and blue water.’ Whilst highlighting the distinctiveness of Guyana as a mainland country, located on the South American continent, she believes that the ‘roots are virtually the same … we understand each other, we eat each other’s food.’ This understanding is the outcome of the region’s history, where all these societies have been profoundly shaped by the African diaspora.

Sketch of a waterfall
James Rodway [Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana], Handbook of British Guiana (Georgetown: published by the Committee [Printed by John Andrew & Son: Boston, USA]), 1893. British Library Shelfmark 10480.d.27.

Experimenting in the Kitchen

Playing with English Food

Hazel moved to England in 1975 to join her husband, Omar Daniels, who was studying psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital in London. Having trained as a radiographer in Guyana, she started working at King’s College Hospital. Upon moving to England, Hazel noticed that ‘the food was different,’ it lacked ‘that extra bit’ from the food she had grown up with – the wonders of fresh thyme, juicy tomatoes, papayas and garlic that smelt ‘to high heaven.’ Inviting her new colleagues round for dinner, Hazel would ‘try to create’ classic English dishes with ‘a little twist’ by adding a stick of cinnamon, sweet peppers or pomegranate molasses (that she likens to cassareep), which seemed revolutionary to her dinner guests who were bowled over by her food.

Cooking and Freedom

This playful approach to cooking, which contrasted with Hazel’s serious and accurate line of work as a radiographer, offered a feeling a freedom. Describing herself as a maverick in the kitchen, Hazel speaks about being ‘free to try new things’ without the constraints of a cookbook or scales. Always inspired by other cuisines, Hazel’s food has been influenced by the aromas and textures of Egypt, where Omar received a scholarship to study medicine (and her paternal grandfather had fought for the British army). Talking me through her favourite meals, she describes cooking melting lamb and rice with almonds and fruits, a dish that is traditionally eaten for Iftar, when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan. From roast beef and tagines to plant-based stews, Hazel’s repertoire captures her open spirit and tastebuds that are always trying to create not only tasty, but beautiful looking dishes.

Multi-coloured book cover
Rosamund Grant, Caribbean and African Cookery (London: Virago, 1989) British Library Shelfmark YK.1989.a.5313
 
Page from cookbook recipe for Fish Creole
Rosamund Grant, Caribbean and African Cookery (London: Virago, 1989) British Library Shelfmark YK.1989.a.5313

Finding Rosamund 

Whilst not one for using recipes, Hazel’s ‘Fish Creole with Herb Dressing’ features in Rosamund Grant’s landmark cookbook, Caribbean and African Cookery. Published in 1989, with a foreword by Maya Angelou, it was one of the first Black-British authored cookbooks about Caribbean food. An old friend of Grant’s, the two attended primary school together in Georgetown. Meeting up at her legendary North London restaurant, Bambaya, Hazel reminisces about the joys of eating at a restaurant that served ‘all the food that we remembered.’ As Grant explains in her own oral history with the British Library, ‘Europeans tend to see Caribbean food in a particular way,’ for example, it is stereotyped as ‘spicy’ or ‘exotic.’5 In defiant response to this, Grant stated ‘I will define who I am and I will define … what I’m cooking.’6 Much like her schoolfriend, Hazel has forged her own personal and culinary path.

Food Philosophy

‘food is so much more than sustenance’

Food and Health

Given her lengthy career in healthcare, it is, perhaps, unsurprising that Hazel's food philosophy is embedded in a belief that food is a ‘preventative medicine.’ Throughout the interview, she often highlights the mineral and vitamin qualities of certain ingredients, such as getting magnesium from avocados, nuts and raisins. Much like this page in the health section of a West Indian cookery book, Hazel has wide-ranging knowledge of food’s nutritional value, which was partly shaped by her parent’s emphasis on maintaining a balanced diet and eating well.

Chart of ingredients and nutritional value
E. Phyllis Clark, West Indian Cookery (Edinburgh: Published for the Government of Trinidad and Tobago by Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1946) British Library Shelfmark 7948.a.66.

Food, Happiness and Identity

As Hazel sets out in her philosophy, ‘culture and food are integral to the sense of identity … of every human being.’ Food has shaped Hazel’s life profoundly and that of her children, to whom she has passed down an adaptable Guyanese culinary heritage that lives on through the spices that they rub, coat or add to food. As the last blog in the Caribbean Foodway series, I think that Hazel’s food philosophy is the perfect note to end on, as it encompasses the centrality of food in the politics of health, community, history and identity formation. In the words of the remarkable Hazel Daniels … ‘it’s what defines us all and brings us all together’!

I will leave you all with Hazel’s recipe for a classic Guyanese pepperpot, which she has generously shared. The Caribbean Foodways series may be over for now, but I invite you all to continue your exploration of Caribbean cooking by trying out the recipes shared in these blogs by our wonderful participants. Whether it is Ranette Prime’s Trini Phoulourie, or Ann Husband’s Green Banana Salad, tweet us with photographs of what you’ve cooked @BL_EcclesCentre!

Recipe
Hazel’s Pepper-pot Recipe, courtesy of Hazel Daniels

Thank you Hazel Daniels for sharing your memories and thoughts with me.

Naomi Oppenheim is the project lead on Caribbean Foodways in her role as the Caribbean Collections and Community Engagement Intern at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library @naomioppenheim

Read the previous blog in the Caribbean Foodways series – Rod Westmaas: A Hotchpotch of History and Hospitality

Further reading / references

  • Phyllis Clark, West Indian Cookery (Edinburgh: Published for the Government of Trinidad and Tobago by Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1946) British Library Shelfmark 7948.a.66.
  • Hazel Daniels interviewed by Naomi Oppenheim, Caribbean Foodways Interview, April 2021 (uncatalogued)
  • High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America, directed by Roger Ross Williams (2021)
  • James Rodway [Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana], Handbook of British Guiana (Georgetown: published by the Committee [Printed by John Andrew & Son: Boston, USA]), 1893. British Library Shelfmark 10480.d.27.
  • Jessica B. Harris, High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to the America (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011) British Library Shelfmark DRT ELD.DS.70649
  • Annual Jamaican potpourri, 1951 – 1969 Reprint (Nendeln, Kraus Reprint, 1970) British Library Shelfmark P.803/423.
  • Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean (Leeds: Peekash Press, 2014) British Library Shelfmark YKL.2015.a.1788
  • Rosamund Grant, Caribbean and African Cookery (London: Virago, 1989) British Library Shelfmark YK.1989.a.5313
  • Rosamund Grant, ‘Not just Caribbean Stew’, Oral history curator’s choice (2000-2002) C821/35
  • Rev J. G. Wood, 'Explanation Index' in Wanderings in South America, The North-West of the United States, and the Antilles, in the Years 1812, 1816, 1820, and 1824 by Charles Waterton (London: Macmillan & Co, 1882) British Library Shelfmark 12350.m.12.
  1. Rev J. G. Wood, 'Explanation Index' in Wanderings in South America, The North-West of the United States, and the Antilles, in the Years 1812, 1816, 1820, and 1824 by Charles Waterton (London: Macmillan & Co, 1882), pp.50-51
  2.  Ibid, p.51. 
  3. Olive Senior, ‘Preface’, in Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean (Leeds: Peekash Press, 2014), pp.11-16 (p.11).
  4. High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America, directed by Roger Ross Williams (2021).
  5. Rosamund Grant, ‘Not just Caribbean Stew’, Oral history curator’s choice (2000-2002) C821/35.
  6. Ibid.

20 May 2021

Sandra Agard: An Ode to Ridley Road

This is the fourth in a series of blogs coming out of the Eccles Centres’ Caribbean Foodways oral history project. Identifying connections between participants’ stories and collection items, each blog explores one of the nine oral history interviews that will be deposited in the Sound Archive.

*** Please note that certain browsers do not support the audio clips - read and listen on Chrome or Internet Explorer to ensure that the clips play in full ***

This blog is about Sandra Agard, a storyteller and author who is currently based at the British Library. Sandra’s parents travelled from Guyana (British Guiana at the time) in the early 1950s and infused their London home with the flavours of Guyana. A life-long Hackney resident, this blog focuses on memories of her parents’ cooking and trips to Ridley Road market but you will soon be able to listen to her full interview via the British Library’s Listening and Viewing Service.

Delicious, magical, sumptuous … it’s about stories, journey, tradition … a melting pot of so many influences coming together to make the Caribbean, and that’s what Caribbean food is, it’s history, it’s us, it’s me

Caribbean food is

Capturing the magic of Caribbean food, Sandra connects her own life to that of her parents, and the wider history of Guyana and the Caribbean, through recollections of freshly baked bread, chow mein and Guinness punch with hot milk. Dishes like chow mein speak to what Sandra calls Guyana’s ‘melting pot’ history. Those fried noodles stretch back to the period of indentureship, when Chinese labourers transported ingredients, tastes and cooking techniques, as they arrived on ships from Hong Kong, to supplement labour shortages following the abolition of slavery.1

Legacy

Sandra’s sumptuous memories of delicious and comforting meals speak to nourishment as a form of community building. Throughout the interview, Sandra spoke tenderly about her parents, Evelyn and Cecil Agard. She thanks them for instilling the family with a strong sense of Caribbean identity. From Cecil’s Black Cake – which he laboriously made at Christmas time – to Evelyn’s curries, duffs and roti, interspersed with parties and trips to Speakers’ Corner, the family was raised on a diet of Guyanese delicacies, culture and politics. Families like the Agards are revealing of a bigger story about food, migration and identity. A storyteller herself, Sandra avows the importance of maintaining stories and legacies because these ‘mothers and fathers, grandparents, they sacrificed too much to become invisible’. Her memories of Ridley Road market are just one part of this legacy, and they echo Hackney’s working-class and multicultural heritage.

Memories of Ridley Road

Ridley Road Market, as a child, it was the boom

Red, white and green painted flyer with text
Save Ridley Road sign on Colvestone Crescent, collect by the author

Sandra remembers when Ridley Road Market was so busy that ‘you couldn’t move … it was just chock-a-block’. She would go on Saturday mornings with her mother, Evelyn, who was constantly bumping into friends, stallholders and fellow nurses – you could not go ‘two seconds without meeting somebody and standing up for years and talking and talking’. These memories capture the community spirit of one of London’s oldest markets. Whilst official records of Ridley Road date back to 1926, Freddie Sherrif – who was once the market governor – explains that this date refers to the time when stallholders asked the council to regulate it and that the market long predates this. Recorded for the Millennium Memory Bank, Sherrif traces the history of the market, from his grandfather who fought against Oswald Mosley (founder and leader of the British Union of Fascists, 1932-40) to the changing demographics of the surrounding area in the post-war period.

‘that’s why this market’s survived, basically we’ve got a catchment of customers that come from cultures that are market-based … we realise that and we’re very grateful. Where other markets, great markets within London have failed … Ridley Road’s still thriving because of that one reason … The whole world meets here and there’s never any trouble … no more than you would in Harrods’

Freddie Sherrif interviewed by Matthew Linfoot - Millennium Memory Bank BL Shelfmark C900/05075

Both of these interviews – with Sandra and Sherrif – depict the market as a hub of trade, nourishment and comradeship, with its comparative success and longevity resulting from the rich composition of Hackney’s population.

Page from the book
Great Domesday Book, 1086. National Archives Shelfmark E 31/2/2

Markets have existed for millennia, to provide goods and services to the surrounding locality and as a space for farmers and artisans to sell their wares. Commissioned by William the Conqueror, in 1085, the Great Domesday Book (1086) recorded details of 13,418 settlements in England – including 50 market towns. From the 12th century, the number of market towns in England increased rapidly; between 1200 and 1349 thousands of new weekly markets were licensed by the Crown.2 These markets are a part of our national heritage, that speak to the everyday histories of food, trade and of family life. Even as the prevalence of street markets decline (in the UK), they continue to be an important part of daily life for many people and cultures across the world. In fact, ‘The Market’ was one of the topics included in Going to Britain?, a guide for prospective Commonwealth voyagers from the Caribbean. Published by the BBC in 1959, the pamphlet was authored by a combination of Caribbean men who were already living in London (including Samuel Selvon, the Trinidadian novelist), political figures and civil servants. It covered several topics, such as the journey, housing and work, in a sometimes humorous but generally stern and condescending tone.  

Front cover, black and white photo and page of text
BBC Caribbean Service, Going to Britain? (London: British Broadcasting Corp., 1959) British Library Shelfmark Andrew Salkey Archive Dep 10310. Box 17. Available to view online

Nurses shopping in the market

A.G. Bennett’s section on shopping warned future settlers that ‘Fruit dealers hate buyers handling and squeezing things on display.’ This reminds me of Sandra’s anecdote about nurses shopping for provisions – ‘plantains, sweet potatoes and yams’ – on Ridley Road after they had come off the night shift. When the shopkeeper told the nurses off for touching the produce, Sandra thought ‘how dare he?!’ These feelings of anger prompted her to tell ‘him what’s for’ and demand that he show these women, nurses, mothers and customers more respect. These were women that had been recruited by the newly-formed NHS to come to Britain and train as nurses in order to meet the health needs of post-war Britain.3 Sandra remembers that everyone else started to join in, which ‘was just so brilliant’ – it was part of a process of ‘finding their own voice and standing up for themselves’. This is why recording and archiving stories like Sandra’s is so important, because it speaks back to the archive and, in this case, to the politics of assimilation that publications like Going to Britain epitomised.

Article 'Black Angels' with text and photographs
'Black Angels: Coloured doctors and nurses are saving Britain's hospital services from breakdown', Flamingo, October 1961 British Library Shelfmark P.P.5109.bq.

How the market's changed 

Nostalgic for the market’s ‘vibrant’ and ‘electric’ feel, Sandra explains that there is now ‘something missing’, which has only been intensified by the global pandemic. Acutely aware of the forces that have intensified the market’s decline, she comments on the fact that Ridley Road is ‘prized land’, as much of Hackney is now. Listing some of Hackney’s diminished or lost markets, like the Waste along Kingsland Road and Roman Road Market, in comparison to thriving Broadway Market, Sandra provides a window onto the fast-changing gentrified landscape of Hackney, through the lifecycle of the market. Much like the Save Ridley Road campaign – for which you will see beautifully painted and printed signs on display in the surrounding area – Sandra proclaims ‘We need our markets’!

Photograph of a red, white and green sign surrounded by leaves
Save Ridley Road sign on Colvestone Crescent, Dalston, taken by the author

Thank you Sandra Agard for sharing your memories and thoughts with me.

Naomi Oppenheim is the project lead on Caribbean Foodways in her role as the Caribbean Collections and Community Engagement Intern at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library @naomioppenheim

Read the next blog in the Caribbean Foodways series - Ranette Prime: food and identity in Britain

Read the previous blog in the Caribbean Foodways series - Charlie Phillips: The Story Behind Smokey Joe's Diner

References / further reading

  • 'Great Domesday Book', Anglo-Saxons Collection Items, British Library 
  • BBC Caribbean Service, Going to Britain? (London: British Broadcasting Corp., 1959) British Library Shelfmark Andrew Salkey Archive Dep 10310. Box 17
  • ‘Black and white photos of pre-gentrification Hackney’, Huck, 12 February 2020
  • Flamingo, October 1961, British Library Shelfmark P.P.5109.bq.   
  • Freddie Sherrif interviewed by Matthew Linfoot - Millennium Memory Bank British Library Shelfmark C900/05075
  • Future Hackney
  • H. Britnell, ‘The Proliferation of Markets in England, 1200-1349’, The Economic History Review, 34 (1981). 209-221
  • Linda McDowell, 'How Caribbean migrants helped to rebuild Britain', Windrush Stories, 4 October 2018
  • 'Local storytelling collective to stage public exhibition celebrating Ridley Road', Hackney Citizen, 13 October 2020
  • William Lobscheid, Chinese Emigration to the West Indies. A trip through British Guiana undertaken for the purpose of ascertaining the condition of the Chinese who have emigrated under Government contract. With supplementary papers relating to contract labor and the slave trade (Demerara: Royal Gazette Office, 1866) British Library Shelfmark Digital Store 8155.ee.9.(6.)
  • P. Lee, Chinese Cookery. A hundred practical recipes with decorations by Chiang Yee (London: Faber & Faber, 1943) British Library Shelfmark 7946.df.32.
  • Sandra Agard interviewed by Naomi Oppenheim, Caribbean Foodways, March 2021 (uncatalogued)
  • Save Ridley Road
  1. William Lobscheid, Chinese Emigration to the West Indies (Demerara: Royal Gazette Office, 1866)
  2. R. H. Britnell, ‘The Proliferation of Markets in England, 1200-1349’, Economic History Review, 34 (1981). 209-221
  3. Linda McDowell, 'How Caribbean migrants helped to rebuild Britain', Windrush Stories, 4 October 2018

08 March 2021

Sor Juana's reply: a 17th century feminist manifesto

For International Women's Day 2021, we have a guest post from our European Studies colleague, Barry Taylor, which celebrates the 17th century Mexican poet, dramatist and scholar, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.
 
Painting of Sor Juana sat at desk with book and writing quill by Andrés de Islas (1772). Image in public domain
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1772)

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was born near Mexico City, the most glorious city in the Americas, in 1651. (Paula Findlen points out that whereas the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher wrote about the pyramids of the Egyptians, Sor Juana could see Aztec pyramids out of the window.) She was a swotty girl who seems to have had no objection to entering a nunnery, a traditional home for intellectual women in the Middle Ages and early modern period. She was famed for her highly wrought and learned poetry and drama in the style of Góngora, and wrote successfully for the court on festival themes and the cloister on religious themes (including hymns in Nahuatl) until 1693.  She was commissioned to write the text for a Triumphal Arch erected for the entry of Viceroy Marqués de la Laguna in 1680. 

Her downfall was caused by her involvement in a pamphlet war.  In 1650 Fr António Vieira SJ wrote a Sermón del mandato.  Sor Juana criticised his biblical scholarship in 1690 in the Carta atenagórica alias Crisis sobre un sermón … (Letter of Athena alias Criticism of a Sermon …).  It was printed without her permission and the elogious title wasn’t hers as it was applied by the man who published it. In 1691 Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz, Bishop of Puebla, under a female pseudonym, brought out the Letter of Sor Filotea de la Cruz. Sor Filotea was in favour of women’s education at a high level, but thought that to use it in public life was a form of sinful pride.  ‘She’ is in favour of Christian letters but not pagan.

Sor Juana wrote in 1691 the Respuesta de la poetisa a la muy ilustre Sor Filotea de la Cruz.  The reply is about six times the length of the first letter. She includes some striking personal touches: as at the age of 6 or 7 she asked her mother to send her to the new university dressed as a boy (‘mudándome el traje’) but mother said no. Looking back, Sor Juana saw this was the right decision. The child started to work through her grandfather’s library.  She measured her learning by reference to her hair.  She cut her hair, and set herself the target of mastering a certain subject by the time her hair grew back.  But ‘my hair grew fast and my understanding was slow’.  In the convent she was told not to study in books, so she studied things. She says cryptically: ‘if Aristotle had cooked, he would have written much more’. (I assume she’s thinking of Aristotle the scientist, and observer of nature: see Leroy.)

She unleashes a plethora of women, biblical and pagan, who had been poets. (You can see more of these in Jane Stevenson’s book.) Sor Juana agrees that St Paul had bidden women to keep silence in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34), but deduces that this means that women can study and write at home.  And when Paul says men can preach, he means only godly and learned men.  Just as not all men (e.g. Lutherans) should preach, so not all women should be forbidden. Sor Juana addresses the Church’s attitudes to poetry.  The Bible is largely written in poetry, so the objection is to pagan literature.  Sor Juana says pagan literature can be perverted but is not bad in itself. (Humanists had reconciled pagan and Christian literature 100-150 years before.) She agrees with Sor Filotea that Paul put limits on learning for men as well as women when he said (Rom 12:3) ‘non plus sapere quam oportet sapere, sed sapere ad sobrietatem’. (The Vulgate makes this a warning about knowledge, but nowadays it’s taken as a warning against pride: ‘I say to every man that is among you … not to think of himself more highly than he ought, but to think soberly AV; see Ginzburg.) The Church allows women to write, ‘but I do not have the talent to write’ (untrue, and she knew it). She points out that in the Carta she had been critical of Vieira’s biblical scholarship, not of the Bible itself, and concludes: ‘if my critics think the Carta is heretical, they they should report me to the Inquisition’. 
 
In 1693 Sor Juana ceased to write and in 1694 she sold her library to aid the poor.  She died in 1695. In the twentieth century, Américo Castro called her ‘a martyr to intelligence’; Alberto G. Salceda called the Respuesta ‘the Magna Carta of the intellectual liberty of the women of America’. 

Fama, y Obras posthumas del Fenix de Mexico, ... Sor J. I. de la Cruz, etc. [Edited by J. I. de Castorena y Ursua.] Madrid, 1700 (11450.ee.51.)
In 1700, five years after her death, tributes to Sor Juana were collected in "Fama y obras posthumas del Fénix de México dezima musa, poetisa americana, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz/ A celebration of and posthumous works by the Phoenix of Mexico and Tenth Muse, the Mexican poet, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz" BL shelfmark 11450.ee.51.

 

Barry Taylor, Curator of Romance Studies

References:

Paula Findlen (ed.),  Athanasius Kircher : The Last Man who Knew Everything  (London, 2004) YC.2006.a.4592 
 
Carlo Ginzberg, ‘ High and Low: The Theme of Forbidden Knowledge in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Past & Present, 73 (Nov 1976), 28-41. PP.5939.be

Armand Marie Leroy, The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science (London, 2014) YC.2015.a.9726 
 
Jane Stevenson, Latin Women Poets (Oxford, 2008) YC.2009.a.3621 

25 January 2021

Beyond the Exhibition: Unfinished Business – Curators' Lunchtime Session

 

Colour photograph of women holding placards
International Women's Day March Los Angeles 2017. Image © Molly Adams CCBY 2.0(1)

From bodily autonomy and the right to education, to self-expression and protest, the British Library’s exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, explores how feminist activism in the UK has its roots in the complex history of women’s rights.  

Although the physical exhibition space is currently closed due to lockdown restrictions, you can discover more about the stories, people and events that have shaped society, as well as the work that remains unfinished, through the exhibition web resource, podcast and fantastic series of online events.  

As part of this events series, on Friday 29 January curators will discuss women’s rights in Europe, the Americas and Oceania through items from their collection areas that they think deserve a spotlight.  

Looking beyond the UK focus of Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights, the curators will be in conversation about their handpicked choices that speak to the themes of the exhibition and, in many cases, challenge and disrupt pre-conceptions of women’s activism, experiences and struggles for equality. 

This free, online event will take place on Friday 29 January 2021, 12.30 – 1.30pm. To register, please visit the Library’s event page. Bookers will be sent a Zoom link in advance giving access. 

08 January 2021

25 Years of the Moby-Dick Marathon

Did you know it's the 25th anniversary of the @whalingmuseum's Moby-Dick Marathon this weekend? Dig out your favourite edition of Herman Melville's sprawling epic and join the New Bedford Whaling Museum for a live-stream of this collaborative reading beginning Saturday at 11.30am EST (16.30 GMT), and partake in the conversation on the @britishlibrary twitter feed using #mobydickmarathon.

2021 MD Marathon
Logo 25th Anniversary Moby Dick Marathon

The New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Moby-Dick Marathon is a 24-hour, cover-to-cover reading of Herman Melville’s iconic American novel. Editorial Nascimento and the British Library are proud to explore the impact and complex literary meanings of the novel while tuning in to the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Moby-Dick Marathon.

To celebrate this anniversary, we will be posting a series of Moby-Dick related blogs over the weekend. Pulling together these posts has proven to be an endeavour that is worthy of the book itself, bringing in a wide assortment of characters, thematic deviations, and book histories: basement staff who went delving through our holdings of Moby-Dick editions (during which a “missing” Poe edition was rediscovered!); language cataloguers who spent time digging into interesting translated editions with their own unique histories; publishers, academics and Moby-Dick aficionados whose lives have been irrevocably influenced by Melville’s words and ideas.

We hope that you enjoy these posts, and revel in the range of stories and resources that they introduce you to. Opening the series is a post from Pablo George-Nascimento, director of Editorial Nascimento. Pablo follows the multiple threads between the publishing company established by his great grandfather, New Bedford, whaling, Moby-Dick, and the British Library.


“What surprised me the most, as I relaunched my old family publishing house more than a century after my great grandfather (Manuel Carlos George-Nascimento - a.k.a. Don Carlos) had opened it in Santiago de Chile, was just how well known the Nascimento name still was, and not only among bibliophiles.

Don Carlos
Don Carlos, founder of Editorial Nascimento

Our presentation in the auditorium of the British Library went amazingly well, lasting nearly eight hours with interest bubbling until the end. Something special engaged the audience's attention. It was hard to know whether that was the famous authors in the Nascimento back catalogue or the story of the publisher himself, whose journey to publishing stardom was both a novel and a poem in itself. Whatever the answer, there is no doubt that having Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral and Nicanor Parra, two Nobel Prize winners and one nominee, on the list of your ‘discoveries' will never be bad for your legacy.

Gabriela Mistral
Gabriela Mistral, Chile's first Nobel Laureate in literature

Don Carlos was born on a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, half way between Europe and America, He had dreamed of going to Chile since he was a young boy, to work with an uncle who had emigrated there and opened a famous bookshop in 1873: the Libreria Nascimento. His love for books was fostered by his brother, a parish priest, who had built a substantial library in the house. But the thing that stoked the young man's ambition most was his father's adventures alongside another famous whaler, Herman Melville. Throughout his life, Don Carlos often called this his greatest source of inspiration for his love of books.

CARLOS LOURENÇO JORGE (whaler portrait)
Carlos Lourenço Jorge, Don Carlos’ father, a whaler who was credited by Herman Melville at the time of publishing Moby Dick.

Of eleven siblings, nine left the Portuguese Azores for the USA from the mid-1800s onwards. All of them arrived first in New Bedford. Don Carlos’ priestly brother, Francisco Lourenço,  became the parish priest of the Azorean whalers in the city.

New Bedford & Fairhaven map
Map of New Bedford and Fairhaven. By Robert G. Ingraham. Scale of feet, 3,000[ = 101 mm]. Cartographic Items Maps 73435.(81.)

 

Don Carlos was the only one to head to South America. After adventures and disappointments, eventually, in 1917, he opened the first publishing house in Latin America, in Santiago de Chile.  He kept the book manufacturing process in house by building a printing factory. Some of the most beautiful and innovative designs worldwide came out of Nascimento.

Crepusculario limited edition
Limited edition Editorial Nascimento 1937 of Pablo Neruda's 'Crepusculario'. The British Library holds the 4th edition at shelfmark X.908/23180.

The greatest artists of the period worked at Nascimento and, during his lifetime, Don Carlos built a catalogue of more than 6,500 titles, which included the first women authors at a time when women were still unable to vote. Gabriela Mistral, Marta Brunet, Maria Luisa Bombal, Teresa Wilms Montt and Maria Monvel are but a few of them.

Montana Adentro - Marta Brunet
Marta Brunet 'Montaña Adentro', 1923 Editorial Nascimento. Shelfmark X.908/85120.

Don Carlos surpassed his wildest ambitions. When he died in 1966, Nascimento had 35 of the 37 National Literature Awards on its catalogue, and had published Neruda's Twenty Love Poems, which has been the best selling poetry book in the history of the Spanish language.

Who would have ever imagined that this young Portuguese immigrant, born of a whaling and navy family going back more than 500 years, could have become such an important figure in world publishing? His vision was such that, every month, he would pack boxes with his latest publications and post them to the world's leading libraries, including the British Museum library. These went on to have a home in the British Library following its formation in 1973.

Poemas y Antipoemas - Nicanor Parra
Nicanor Parra, 'Poemas y Antipoemas', Editorial Nascimento, 1954

Today we are proud to knit this story together again. Nascimento was reborn in Chile and now in the UK with a series of innovative projects encompassing books, art books, performing arts and digital creations. With the imminent centenary celebrations of Neruda's and Mistral's first books, from 2023 we will be hosting a series of events and publishing a number of carefully selected limited artistic editions from our original back catalogue.

We start by bringing you a celebration of the most famous book of that period: the Moby-Dick Marathon. The New Bedford Whaling Museum celebrates the 25th anniversary of this 24-hour-long annual event held in the museum. Editorial Nascimento have previously worked with the Museum to produce a simultaneous Portuguese language version of the marathon.

New Bedford Whaling Museum logo
New Bedford Whaling Museum logo

This year, in these unique circumstances, the Moby-Dick Marathon moves online, giving many thousands the chance to share this intimate occasion. In association with the British Library we bring you this unique opportunity to take part in this non-stop reading.”


Join the Americas blog again tomorrow to hear from more people about how Moby Dick has influenced them, and join in watching the livestream of the Moby-Dick Marathon.


Prodcued by the New Bedford Whaling Museum and presented by Editorial Nascimento in association with the British Library.

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

 

 

 

28 August 2020

Paradise in London: the Paraíso School of Samba and the beginnings of urban Brazilian carnival in Rio de Janeiro

One event that is certainly going to be missed this summer is the Notting Hill Carnival. To avoid mass gatherings during the Covid-19 crisis, this year’s carnival takes place online. Usually on this weekend, the streets of west London become alive with the vibrant colours and sounds of costumes, steel bands and floats. The European & Americas Collections Team celebrates this popular London event with a joint blog. 

Initially, Trinidad-born activist and West Indian Gazette founder Claudia Jones started an annual indoor Caribbean carnival in response to the racist violence and riots that swept through Britain in the summer of 1958. The first London Caribbean carnival took place in January 1959 and was televised by the BBC, subtitled ‘A people's art is the genesis of their freedom’. The British Library holds a copy of a West Indian Gazette special edition about the event:

 

Image of black, white and red illustrated cover. It shows drawings depicting Caribbean dancers. Title reads: "Caribbean Carnival Souvenir, 1960: televised by BBC television. Organised by the West India Gazette.
Caribbean Carnival Souvenir 1960: televised by BBC Television, organised by the West Indian Gazette. Cover page with West-Indian musicians and dancers [BL Andrew Salkey Archive Dept. 10310, Box 33]

 

You can find out more about these beginnings at: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/claudia-jones-caribbean-carnival-souvenir-programme-1960. In 1966 carnival finally took to the streets in Notting Hill and has stayed there ever since. For three days, music and dance now bring together two million people in celebration of Caribbean cultures. 

My own initiation to the Notting Hill Carnival has been through Brazilian influence and close involvement with the Paraíso School of Samba, the most prominent school of Brazilian samba in London. Every year since its foundation in 2001, Paraíso has taken part in the Notting Hill Carnival parade, featuring costumed percussionists, dancers, and carnival floats.  Just like in Rio!

 

Paraiso School of Samba dancers at the Notting Hill Carnival 2017, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission. Image shows dancers of the Paraíso School of Samba in traditional Brazilian Carnival wear.
Paraíso School of Samba dancers at the Notting Hill Carnival 2017, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission

 

The president and founder of the Paraíso School of Samba, Henrique da Silva has since the age of eight been involved with one of Rio’s most traditional schools of samba: Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba Estação Primeira de Mangueira or simply Mangueira. This inspired him to form a samba school in London following the same principles. The main idea of Paraíso is for people to celebrate and express their cultural identity through dance and music. To quote from Paraíso’s website  ‘samba is truly the popular art of people, especially in its inclusivity where everyone has a place. Paraíso plays samba as it is played by the baterias (percussions) of Rio’s samba schools.’

Samba music and dance originate from the Northeast of Brazil, where it was developed from the musical traditions of the African slaves. The style of Samba as we know it today, developed in the first half of the 20th century in Brazil’s urbanising Southeast, mostly its then cultural centre Rio. The style emphasises the polyrhythmic sounds of multiple percussion instruments, like African drumming music, which uses call and response.  This has become the pulsing sound of Rio’s modern carnival. The main driving force behind this style of samba were and still are organized groups known as escolas de samba (samba schools).  They are devoted to playing and dancing, as well as preparing for a yearly carnival parade. In Rio, samba is now inseparable from the Carnival.  

 

Paraiso School of Samba dancer at the Notting Hill Carnival 2018, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission. Image shows a close-up portrait of a smiling dancer of the Paraíso School of Samba. The dancer wears a dress made of blue coloured gems and feathers
Paraíso School of Samba dancer at the Notting Hill Carnival 2018, © Vinko Kalčić Photography, reproduced with permission

 

My initial reaction to co-writing this blog was reluctance, as I have mostly stayed away from carnival on my visits to Brazil. Looking after the Latin American Collections, however, I felt I should give it a go and was rewarded with joyful browsing and listening on the internet for a couple of hours. I hope you’ll do the same for this year’s Notting Hill Carnival until we can take to the streets once more.

Our guide to the first decades of urban Rio carnival is Brazil’s most famous composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), a keen participant in his hometown’s carnival celebrations. During his lifetime, modern urban carnival developed and he knew its local protagonists and different musical traditions like no other person. In his own classical compositions, Villa-Lobos sought inspiration in the country’s popular cultural traditions to create a distinctive Brazilian style of music. He even composed two pieces of music on the theme of children’s experience of carnival: Carnaval das Crianças (Children’s Carnival) in 1919 and Momoprecoce (the precocious king of carnival) in 1928. The first, a work for piano describes in eight vignettes well-known carnival figures popular at the time like the diabinho (little devil) or the rei momo (king of carnival). The later work reinterprets and elaborates these themes into an orchestral work with solo piano.

Popular narratives of samba usually mark important milestones of modern urban carnival around similar dates. In 1916, Ernesto dos Santos, known as Donga, and Mauro de Almeida registered the first samba with Brazil’s National Library in Rio, while in 1928, José Gomes da Costa, known as Zé Espinguela, launched the first samba competition from the same Mangueira neighbourhood, where the famous samba school developed from existing older carnival groups.

Vanessa Rodrigues Cunha (2015) describes the different musical traditions from which samba emerges as predominant by the end of the 1920s. The music played at the time was slower, however, than the samba we know from later Brazilian carnival, which also developed different dance routines. A good way to experience the greatest musicians of the early time of urban carnival is through browsing the recent digital exhibition Native Brazilian Music: 80th anniversary: the history behind one of Brazilian music’s most iconic albums.

 

Native Brazilian Music Museu VL; Cover of the record ‘Native Brazilian Music’ by Colombia Records, Museu de Villa-Lobos as reproduced in the digital exhibition
Cover of the record ‘Native Brazilian Music’ by Colombia Records, Museu de Villa-Lobos, as reproduced in the digital exhibition

 

It tells the incredible story behind the famous recordings of Brazilian popular music organised by Villa-Lobos and Donga for the British composer Leopold Stokowski. His tour through Latin America was part of U.S. president Roosevelt’s ‘Good Neighbor policy’ and Stokowski had asked Villa-Lobos for help in finding Brazilian musicians for recordings. These took place in 1940 on board the steamship U.S.S. Uruguay in Rio’s harbour and would be released by Colombia Records in 1942. The exhibition contains some recordings, which give a good flavour of the musical style of the time. It is refreshing to hear them and you can see how they compare to the musical offerings of Notting Hill Carnival Online.

At the end of the weekend, you can sit down to listen to Villa-Lobos’ reinterpretation of the carnival theme with a recording (25 min) of his ‘Momoprecoce’ performed at the Proms in 2012 by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra with Nelson Freire at the piano and conducted by Marin Alsop. The recording includes a brief introduction to the piece by Alsop, and I could hear it over and over again. I’m sure that a weekend immersed in Caribbean carnival music will only enhance our appreciation of this wonderful ode to carnival!

Lora Afrić, Languages Cataloguing Manager & Iris Bachmann, Curator, Latin American Collections.

Bibliography:

In the absence of access to our physical collection items, Vanessa Rodgrigues Cunha’s dissertation has been an invaluable, well-written guide to information on Villa-Lobos carnival pieces and the beginnings of urban Rio carnival:

Cunha, Vanessa Rodrigues. The Symbiosis Between Villa-Lobos's Carnaval Das Crianças And Momoprecoce: A Comparative Study. Dissertation. CUNY. 2015. Accessed 28.08.2020 https://academicworks.cuny.edu/gc_etds/896/ 

Daniella Thompson’s research for ‘Stalking Stokowski’ (2000) http://daniellathompson.com/Texts/Stokowski/Stalking_Stokowski.htm underpins the digital exhibition on the record ‘Native Brazilian Music’ and gives a more detailed account of its history and the marginalization of black musicians as samba goes mainstream.

Further suggested readings at the British Library:

Goldman, Albert. Carnival in Rio (New York, 1978). f78/3978

George, Terry. Carnival in Rio: samba, samba, samba! (Hamburg, 2005). EMC.2009.a.372

Hertzman, Marc A. Making samba: a new history of race and music in Brazil. (Durham, North Carolina/London, 2013). YD.2017.a.606 

Neto, Lira. Uma história do samba. (São Paulo, 2017). YF.2017.a.22063 

 

American Collections blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs