DOCUMENTARY & PHOTO BY W.H.
INTRODUCTORY TEXT BY HEATHER M. SURLS
“The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.” This quote from Disney’s animated film “Mulan” aptly describes Maryam, Khadija, and Fatima Kawsary, teenage Afghan sisters living outside of their home country and still cultivating their passion for art.
This short fictional work was originally written for a course on ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is a Greek term for a literary description of a work of art. Whether in poetry, fiction, or criticism, vividly describing a particular painting or statue can serve as poignant subject matter for a writer or as a device to emphasize the writer’s own themes. In the following text, I utilize a historical, fictive voice to meditate on Yale Gallery’s Lion Relief from the Processional Way (562 B.C.). I imagine the relief from the perspective of someone who might have been present at the Babylonian Ishtar Gate, a wonder of the ancient world originally lined with fierce, gold lions.
While it wasn’t officially an Anthrow Circus travel tour, the fact that our editor, Kami Rice, and I, Anthrow Circus’s creative director, were in Italy together made it nearly so. Fitting well with Anthrow Circus’s love of investing in burgeoning writers and photographers and artists, we embarked on a photography study tour as mentors to a group of my just-graduated high school students. Given their new status as legal “adults,” the goal was to give them access to sites, history, and art while also giving them a taste of responsibility as they explored and interacted with famous Italy.
But as our group tour of Italy continued, it became clearer to me that we were those tourists. We may have thought we were special, and in some ways, we were. But simultaneously, we were also them. We weren’t always the same type of tourist, in that we played different tourist roles, but still, at some point, we were those tourists.
I turn the corner and am jolted by fluid splashes of color, original blues, greens, and oranges, not their recreated versions. Then I hear myself sigh, easing from the city into this quiet space.
When Monet designed the Water Lilies galleries in Le Musée de l’Orangerie, he specified that they should be experienced in silence. Viewers should whisper, step softly. It’s a space set apart—a cathedral built in reverence for the absence of sound.
When I see a Rothko painting, the feeling is akin to that moment between waking and sleep when one is delayed—happily—in an absence of category. A purity of breath and stillness without effort. A cessation of being. But to be transported to these realms by his art, I must see the original painting in person. Otherwise the image has no effect.
And this is the enduring strength of Rothko in the age of the smartphone.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic’s disruption, the world had seen a surge in international travel and tourism, forcing many museums and other popular tourist destinations to take crowd control measures.
For example, the Louvre renovated the Mona Lisa’s exhibition space last year and improved traffic flow to better handle the painting’s many, many visitors, who largely view the painting through a sea of cell phones and cameras, let’s be honest.
TEXT BY IRENA DRAGAŠ JANSEN
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MANUELA THAMES
As I observe the global pandemic unfold from the comforts and safety of my Washington, D.C., metro area home, I am transported back to the basement shelters where my parents, sister, relatives, neighbors, and I hid from the daily deadly mortar attacks during the most recent war in Croatia.