Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Painting post of a tangata whenua:

Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher referred to them variously as ‘savages’, ‘aboriginal’ and ‘primitives’. A prevailing Hobbesian view tended to believe that the early colonizers of new worlds had a duty to civilize and modernize the indigenes or the local populace that they encountered. This story of conquest, subjugation and partial recognition has been repeated multiple times around the world. The story rings true from the Tuaregs of West Africa to the Inuit of North America to the Ādivāsīs of India to the Chukchi of the Arctic (among others).
This painting that I completed of an unknown indigenous person represents just that - the product of an environment that partly recognizes them, yet keeps on the fringes in settlements and reservations designed so that the ‘indigenous’ cause minimal disruptions to our daily lives.

Title: ‘Tangata whenua’
Size: 4 feet high X 3 feet wide
Medium: Oil on canvas

Tangata whenua is a Māori word for original people belonging to a place, local people, hosts

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Posts on Art and Perception (A&P):
My previous posts on A&P are here and here. Both were really digressions on strong symbology that we are confronted with in our daily lives...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sign of the times...?
If a 250 pound off-duty male police officer savagely beats up a frail female bartender publicly for not serving him because he was too drunk, we can only imagine what a person like that would do to people behind closed doors... I was shocked on reading this...
Dr. Kinga Araya - Performance artist:

Oftentimes art tries to send a message through shocking people visually. Performance art is one that is august in this category. Dr. Kinga Araya - a Polish born artist currently doing a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia opened her new exhibition titled Paroxysms, at Art-Image in La Maison de la culture de Gatineau as part of the National Arts Centre's wide-ranging Quebec Scene festival.
The photographs are a little painful to watch (and to make I suppose)..

She seems to have photographed herself in strange positions in her apartment, hanging from a door, worming her way inside a kitchen cabinet and other like impressions..
The images are powerful and at the same time open to interpretations of abuse, discomfort in domestic roles or even the feeling of being left alone in a foreign country. You could view more of them and a collection of her other photographs here...

I have lifted one of the images from her website (the images actually come in diptychs with her and without her...)

I think her photographs are very interesting and she has quite an expansive repertoire...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Space exploration - Off topic - but exciting:

Having worked as a scientist at the Indian Space Research Organization for about four years, I know a little bit about the difficulty when it comes to launching satellites into space (let alone get a rocket to fly properly). It is with a mixture of trepidation and awe that I now follow the adventures of a rocket launching company SpaceX (a small one founded by the previous owner of Internet startup Paypal) in putting their rockets into space. Yesterday one of their rockets lifted off from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean’s Marshall Islands and fell a bit short of its mission when the launch had to be aborted about 186 miles above the earth...

"The second test launch of Falcon 1 took place today at 6:10 pm California time. The launch was not perfect, but certainly pretty good. Given that the primary objectives were demonstrating responsive launch and gathering test data in advance of our first operational satellite launch later this year, the outcome was great. Operationally responsive (ie fast) launch has become an increasingly important national security objective, so demonstrating rapid loading of propellants and launch in less than an hour, as well as a rapid recycle following the first engine ignition are major accomplishments."

It is nevertheless a story of great courage and foresight that the founders of this company display everyday. Read more about their travails and future travels here. I am sure our children will live in a world where spaceflight will be akin to taking a transatlantic flight, but I hope fledging steps like the ones above will be remembered…

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Painting post:

Title: 'Odi Profanum Vulgus'
Size: 4 feet high X 3 feet wide
Medium: Oil on canvas

This painting is a comment on the process of ivory tower based decision making in vogue in our country... I completed this last night.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Chuck Close interview:
Chuck Close, one of my favorite living artists talked to Charlie Rose on PBS a couple of nights back and I had to post the link to the video. It is fascinating and it teaches a lot - not just about painting, but his overall philosophy itself. Highly recommended and a classic...
Link to the video here (if for some reason you do not get it there, it is on Charlie Roses' website).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Keys to detecting autism - important research areas:

Consider the following statistics from the Autism Society of America about the prevalence of autism in our society:

-Occurs once in 150 births
-Affects 1 to 1.5 million Americans
-During the 1990's U.S. population increase by 13% where cases of autism increased by 172%
-$90 billion annual cost
-90% of costs are in adult services
-Cost of lifelong care can be reduced by 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention
-In 10 years, the annual cost will be $200-400 billion

I had been working on a ‘autism research list’ sometime back using resources on the internet and have summarized here research areas that require a high degree of innovation (and which bear chances for failure) here. Bear in mind that some of these are of such importance that it would warrant repeated attempts to achieve goals of treating autism effectively.

Over the next 1 - 3 years:
1. Development of biomarkers (e.g. blood tests that produce a gene expression assay of specific marker molecules that could tell us if the individual shows a proclivity to show autistic traits later in her/his life) to provide the biological characterization of autism
2. Develop repeated randomized and controlled studies that document the efficiencies gained out of pharmacological, behavioral and other treatments that target symptoms associated with autism (what works and what does not)

Over the next 4 - 6 years:
1. Studies investigating the benefit of specific treatments and factors that will help explain why certain treatments work for some individuals with autism and not for others.
2. Identification of genes most susceptible to characteristics of autism including the development of animal models of autism (After specific genes are determined that conclusively tell us the individuals susceptibility to autism, researchers can then study the expression of these genes to determine how these genes work at various levels to “turn on” symptoms of autism)
3. Community based studies to identify environmental factors (e.g. viruses, medications, lifestyle factors, environmental chemicals) that contribute to the development of autism and their associated developmental windows identified. This should include studies of the specific mechanisms by which environmental factors work to contribute to specific neurodevelopment difficulties

Long term (7 - 10 years)
1. Development of criteria and methods to improve the number of young children with autism that develop meaningful, functional speech by the time of entry into elementary school.
2. Genetic and non-genetic causes of autism and their interactions identified (genes that increase vulnerability to autism will need to be identified, and environmental factors will need to be determined, along with findings that indicate the increased risk and mechanisms of each of these identified determinants.)
3. Molecular neurobiology and neurochemistry research that will help inform scientists about brain molecules that may be appropriate targets for drug therapies (this will include multi disciplinary research into involving other research areas like targeted drug delivery and disrupted neuron network identification using techniques like diffusion tensor imaging).

Of most importance, if there was some magic bullet by which we could detect signs of impending autism in our children (specifically in the one to three year olds), it would mean a whole lot to compensating for the disabilities that are manifested later in life. This can be very effectively done by taking advantage of the growing brain’s plasticity. It is very well known that neurological insults suffered during very early years can virtually be erased if the insult occurs during early formative years of age one to three. Researchers like David Amaral Ph.D at the U.C. Davis's Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopment Disorders Institute are doing precisely some of these things. Dr. Amaral seems to think that not all individuals who have autism are 'doomed at birth' (as is commonly believed), in fact he believes that certain hidden vulnerabilities (like an abnormal gene) could trigger the disorder due to specific environmental occurrences that the child must have been subjected to earlier.

Read about some of his research here and here and here.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Post on Art and Perception:
I got some very interesting feedback on my recent contribution to Art and Perception..
Here is a link...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Painting post: Exploitation in Rwanda

Statistics are sobering but none caught my attention more so than when I ran into a website called the Sisters of Rwanda here (http://sistersofrwanda.org/). This is an NGO run out of Rwanda by Jared N Miller (a partner in The Incubator Group, a private equity firm out of Nashville) and Joseph Ayienga (Pastor from Kenya).
The NGO is actively involved in helping prostitutes (former and current) on the streets of Kigali, Rwanda lead better lives by teaching them about better opportunities and slowly but surely convincing them to stay off the streets.

The numbers that caught my eye were the results of this group interviewing random samplings of women in and around Kigali. Some averages taken from interviewing groups of 50 women were as follows: (from their website)

-5 Men per day
-7 Days per week
-3 Weeks off per year
-A condom was used less than half of the time
-If a man pays 5,000 RWF ($9.00 USD) he doesn’t have to use a condom. If a man pays 1,000 RWF – 3,000 RWF ($1.80 USD - $5.40 USD), the girl has some bargaining power and can get them to use one about half the time. The more the man pays, the less likely he is to use a condom.

They had images of women on their site that bespoke a kind of suffering that I could hardly imagine and I decided to paint one of them. This is what I have created and I decided to call it "5 Men a day 7 days a week 49 weeks a year". The painting is 3 feet wide and 4 feet high.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ancient Art principles: Redux

I was recently reading a book by neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran where he argues that Chola bronzes from ancient India were mocked at by the Victorian Englishmen as artistically primitive and unrealistic. They were unrealistic in the sense that the waist was too narrow, hips too wide and their breasts too large. They in fact decided that art like this was not art at all and labeled it primitive art. Professor Ramachandran goes on to say that some of the Victorians labeled the art thus based on prevailing standards of Western art (some of which was rooted in realism and stemmed from classical Greek and Renaissance art).

Today most people will readily tell you that most expressions of art is not really about realism and is not about creating a replica about what is out there in the world - rather it is a figurative way of communicating message(s) in an appropriate way to the viewer. He makes the assertion (a bit specious in my view) that the ancient Cholas really knew about this dictum long ago and that was the reason why they did not create ‘realistic’ statues but accentuated the hips and breasts of the goddesses such that they could abstractly communicate beauty of the female form (one among the many such subjects they tackled) to the common people.

On a related note, a finding by scientists at Harvard and Princeton shows that intricate decorative tile-work found in medieval architecture across the Islamic world appears to exhibit advanced decagonal quasicrystal geometry (mathematical concepts discovered by mathematicians and physicists just 30 years back). (Reported in the current issue of the journal Science)
“In their journal report, Mr. Lu and Dr. Steinhardt concluded that by the 15th century, Islamic designers and artisans had developed techniques to construct nearly perfect quasi-crystalline Penrose patterns, five centuries before discovery in the West. Some of the most complex patterns, called “girih” in Persian, consist of sets of contiguous polygons fitted together with little distortion and no gaps. Running through each polygon (a decagon, pentagon, diamond, bowtie or hexagon) is a decorative line. Mr. Lu found that the interlocking tiles were arranged in predictable ways to create a pattern that never repeats — that is, quasi crystals.” - excerpt from the New York Times (02/27)

This has oftentimes led me to wonder how many of our prevailing art movements could have roots in techniques practiced by our ancient ancestors. Have you come across any examples of this kind?
PS: The picture above is of Parvati, consort of Lord Shiva, circa 1000 AD, Tamil Nadu, India