Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Post hiatus

Posts may be a bit spotty over the next couple of weeks. I am off to the hospital to assist my wife in whatever way I can during the birth of our second child...
"We had soared beneath these mountains
Unresting ages; nor had thunder,
Nor yon volcano's flaming fountains,
Nor any power above or under
Ever made us mute with wonder..."
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound: A Lyrical Drama in Four Acts.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Painting post: Stomach Clock

I finished this one up over the weekend...
Title: 'Stomach Clock'

Size: 36" X 48"

Medium: Oil on canvas

The painting was a result of studying the photograph of a boy snapped by a Bulgarian photographer Dechobek.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Musings on the 'other 90%'

It was with glee that I initially read about an exhibition that opened this month at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. The exhibition titled "Design for the other 90%" highlights the trend among enterprising designers to create affordable and socially responsible objects for 90% of the world’s population that may not have the creature comforts that the rest of us are used to... This is certainly commendable that these entrepreneurs are out there thinking about the 'other 90%'. On reflecting a little more on the term 'other 90%' it struck me as being excessively paternalistic and smacked of a little bit of condescension by the smug 10%.

My nascent thoughts were further solidified when I ran into the following story by Binyavanga Wainaina (editor of Kwani? - an African literary magazine...) this morning when his essay in the June issue of Harpers caught my eye. I have reproduced a part of the essay here. Read it till the very end... It makes you think.

"I once won a windup radio. I was living in South Africa, and had entered a radio competition coming up with some witty slogan. I received the radio gratefully. I was happy to discover that my radio was perfect. The winding up did not require much muscle power. The radio lasted for ages. It looked retro and retro was starting to look rather good to me. This was the early 90s. I was very broke at the time. My new possession offered me a way to imagine myself: a suffering saint, a frugal writer with his frugal radio. Frugal, not impoverished. Certainly not a failure. My radio lent nobility to being broke.

It also lent nobility to ingenuity. It was invented by Trevor Baylis, a kindly English swimming pool salesman who had seen a program about AIDS in Africa on the TV. Radio was the best way to educate people about the disease, he learned, but electricity was unreliable and batteries were expensive. "There was a need for an educational tool that did not rely on electricity... [and] Trevor picked up on the word 'need.'" His windup radio was the perfect invention for its stated purpose, and it received several awards from the BBC, including Best Product Design. It also won Baylis an Order of the British Empire. He was all over South African television and radio.

I don't know what became of it. I lost track of the thing about the time I moved. I had made a small killing in some dodgy marketing deal, so I bought new clothes, packed up, and moved to Cape Town. You didn't hear anything about the windup radio after a while, and I didn't know anyone else who had one.

But Baylis's Freeplay Radios still exist. You will find them among new age fisher folk in Oregon; neo blue-collar sculptors working out of lofts in postindustrial cities; back to earthers in Alberta; Social Forum activists and neo Grizzly Adams types everywhere. Angst ridden victims, all. But the enthusiasts of the windup radio suffer not from poverty or lack of information but from wealth, vague guilt, and too much information.
They are the only people who can find nobility in a product that communicates to its intended owner: you are fucked."

Picture above: Ceramic Water Filter, Cambodia Designers: Dr. Fernando Mazariegos, Ron Rivera (Potters for Peace), and International Development Enterprises (IDE) Cambodia Manufacturer: Local private factory set up by IDE Cambodia, 2006 Ceramic clay, plastic container, colloidal silver paint Dimensions: 3.5’ h x 2’ w x 2’ d. Image ripped from the museum website.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sir Charles Bell, Sylvester Stallone and Mona Lisa – what is the connection…

Nerves are really bundles of cables (actually nerve cells) that run from our brains to various parts of our body that enable us to perceive, feel and interact with all the stimuli that confront our bodies over our waking and sleeping lives. There are nerves that sense (sensory) and nerves that help us move (motor). The most important among these nerves are the ones that emerge from our brains (also called cranial nerves) as opposed to ones that emerge from our spine. The cranial nerves (about 12 in number) control everything from smell, vision, hearing, tasting to our digestion.. Two hundred years back, very little of this was known and it was left to individual motivated anatomists and surgeons to discover during their treatment of illnesses to reach conclusions about various nerves and the tasks that they perform inside our bodies.

Sir Charles Bell (above), born in 1774 was such a person. He died last month a hundred and sixty five years ago. He was a surgeon, neuro-anatomist, and artist all rolled into one. Bought up by his mother in rural England (his father died young), he was taught to appreciate the visual arts at a very young age. He enrolled for medical school and was so good at human anatomy that at 25 he wrote a dissection book ‘A System of Dissection’ that went to press almost immediately. As soon as he completed medical school, he decided to open up a school to teach anatomy only to be disbarred from affiliation to his alma mater because they feared that he was competition. By and by he went onto publish 'Essays on the Anatomy of Expression in Painting' and 'A New Idea of the Anatomy of the Brain and Nervous System'. His surgical experience was bought to the fore during the Battle of Waterloo where he got to treat a huge number of facial gunshot wounds and their effects on the human face. This led him to study the nerves that effect the human facial expressions and musculature. This also led him to prove that cranial nerve number seven was responsible for controlling the expression on a human face. I think this insight was gleaned from his study of art, but I am sure that medical historians would attribute it to his medical training. All of the grimaces, laughter and the expressions that we see in everyday life is really controlled by this single nerve... Society decided to honor him by naming a motor disease after him called 'Bells Palsy'. This is a degeneration of the abovementioned seventh cranial nerve that causes motor problems with any one side of the human face. Charles Bell was later knighted and went onto carry on a distinguished career in the arts and medicine until he died in 1842.

The one person that I can think of who expresses this syndrome is Sylvester Stallone. The macho looking expression stems from his inability to correctly articulate some portions on the left side of his face in response to his perception of emotions.

C'mon, what is a story without a punchline…

Some speculate that the curious and enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa might be the result of Bell’s palsy. A very careful examination reveals an asymmetric smile (very subtle but noticeable) very consistent with symptoms associated with unilateral (single sided) motor nerve lesions commonly associated with Bell Palsy.

Mona Lisa is in good company. Among others John McCain, Andrew Lloyd Weber and John Travolta live with this condition…

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Painting Post: Pilgrim

I completed this over the weekend...

Title: 'Pilgrim'

Size: 3 feet wide X 4 feet high

Medium: Oil on canvas

This was inspired and based on a photograph of an Indian boy in Haridwar, India by the famed photographer Steve McCurry... (famous for this photo)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Painting Post: Headload Worker from India

Title: 'Coolie'

Size: 3 feet wide X 4 feet high

Medium: Oil on canvas

I completed this over the last three weeks...

Some context:
Headloading is a form of transport of goods and services that primarily involve a human being as the load bearer. The good or service to be transported is bundled and carried over the person’s head and is balanced by the individual while walking from one point to the other.
The weight of a typical head load carried by men and women around parts of India, Ghana and Lesotho is about 30 kilos. The average distance walked by some of these individuals is around 20 kilometers. Materials carried by the men and women range from water (primarily by women), bricks (men at construction sites) and vegetables (sold by men and women).

A short excerpt from a research article is useful (link posted below):

'The most striking feature that emerged from the research is the extraordinary amount of time and energy that the women expend to collect and transport water from the source to the home. Secondly, the primary means of transporting water is headloading. In addition, many villages continually face an acute shortage of potable water. Lack of access to safe drinking water, the effects of headloading on women's health, lack of access to adequate transport facilities and the burden of women's household responsibilities all have a detrimental effect on women's income earning abilities. The general welfare of the family suffers as a result'

Headloading is a particular issue for transporting water and other resources. The consequences of this are:
• It limits the amount of water women can transport at one time
• They are forced to make several daily trips to the water source
• They lose valuable time and energy in collecting water
• Household duties and children are neglected
• Women suffer chronic backache, foot pains and fatigue
• Skin and other types of diseases caused by lack of sanitation
• Young girls growth and development stunted

It should also be remembered that when the water levels are low, women spend much time and energy pulling the water up from the well. They may also have to wait in a queue at a standpost. The women expressed that they would like pipelines carrying water to their homes...


EVERYBODY LOVES A GOOD DROUGHT: Stories from India's Poorest Districts. By P. Sainath. New Delhi: Penguin Books. 1996. xiii, 470 pp. (B&W photos. ) Rs. 295, paper. ISBN 0-14-025984-8.

Travels with Sainath, Being an Indian Diary, First of Three Parts: Why Indian Farmers Kill Themselves; Why Lange's Photographs are Phony. By ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Wikipedia article on Palagummi Sainath

Non-Motorised Transport and its socio-economic impact on poor households in Africa Cost-benefit analysis of bicycle ownership in Uganda

India: Women, water, and transport in arid areas (IFRTD)