June 18, 2013
UPDATE 12/12/2013: Two photos—of the yonahlossee salamander and the gray-cheeked salamander—in this essay, were attributed to the wrong photographer. We regret the error.
Appalachia may be known for many things: its music, its industry, its culture, but what about its salamanders? It turns out, of the 550 known salamander species in the world, 77 can be found in this mountainous area, more than any other one region in the world. Many of them can only be found there. But this global hotspot of salamander diversity is in danger, according to the National Zoo; global warming, which dries salamanders’ naturally wet habitats, and water pollution are the two biggest threats. All of which is why the Zoo is bringing 10 different species to an upcoming exhibit, “Jewels of Appalachia,” even as observation in the field continues.
Salamanders are known to be a hardy bunch, having survived for more than 200 million years through three mass extinctions. But, because they have relatively long lifespans, it’s unclear if the rapid pace of climate change will leave them time to adapt.
June 13, 2013
In the shadow of the Blue Mountain foothills on the Umatilla Reservation in Orgeon, Crow’s Shadow Institute of Art has been nurturing and cultivating American Indian artists from across the country. The works of seven of those artists are now on display at the American Indian Museum’s Gustav Heye Center in New York City.
“Making Marks: Prints from Crow’s Shadow” will feature pieces from Rick Bartow (Wiyot), Phillip John Charette (Yup’ik), Joe Fedderson (Colville Confederated Tribes [Okanagan/Lakes]), Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne/Arapaho), James Lavadour (Walla Walla), Wendy Red Star (Crow) and Marie Watt (Seneca).
Check out a preview of some of the work from the show:
“Making Marks: Prints from Crow’s Shadow” is on view through January 5, 2014 at the American Indian Museum Gustav Heye Center in New York.
June 11, 2013
To commemorate the unification of the Hawaiian islands under a single ruler, floats, trolleys, marching bands and dancers parade through the streets of Hawaiian towns every year for King Kamehameha Day, June 11. In downtown Honolulu, thousands of residents celebrated the day a little early Saturday, June 8, with the annual King Kamehameha Floral Parade. The event included a float with a giant red aloha shirt, princesses on horseback representing each island and riders from the Sons of Hawaii motorcycle club.
The first European to set foot on the islands, Captain James Cook, was killed in 1779 as he tried to take a local leader hostage. The islands would remain free awhile longer, though not united. King Kamehameha fought for nearly 20 years to bring the islands under his rule, succeeding in 1810. He created a single legal system and protected the territory’s newfound status by prohibiting land ownership from non-Hawaiians while still opening trade to Europeans and Americans. But just one year after his death in 1819 Christian missionaries and European traders arrived in force, bringing with them disease that devastated the native population, as well as a new economic order.
American colonists quickly took control of the sugar-based economy and in 1898 the country annexed Hawaii. The territory’s final ruler, Queen Lili’uokalani, relinquished the throne and Hawaii’s sovereignty only after an American invasion. She believed eventually the injustice would be corrected. Writing in 1893 she said, “I do, under this protest, and impelled by said forces, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.”
Set against this history, King Kamehameha remains a figure of pride for the islands, a reminder of a unique past. In a ceremony in D.C. celebrating the sovereign Sunday, June 9, Senator Mazie Hirono told the gathered crowd, “He laid the foundations for modern Hawaii by protecting the traditions and culture of his ancestors even as the kingdom grew and interacted with Western nations. His strong leadership during this period of great change inspires us all to work together to ensure our shared traditions and history can be celebrated for generations to come.”
June 7, 2013
From her salon in Silver Spring, Maryland, Camille Reed spreads the message of natural hair to her clients. And it seems to be catching on. The products once advertised to black women in the pages of Ebony and elsewhere are on the decline. Between 2009 and 2011, sales of chemical straighteners dipped 12.4 percent, according to Danielle Douglas reporting for the Washington Post with data from market research firm Mintel. In 2011, the number of black women who said they no longer relaxed their hair hit 36 percent, a 10 percent bump from 2010.
Reed, a participant in a discussion about health and identity at the African Art Museum tonight, says she’s seen the changes too. She opened Noire Salon 13 years ago because she wanted, “young women to understand that they can be beautiful without the wigs, without the weaves, without the extensions.” Her second-floor shop sits right outside D.C., a hot bed of hair whose salons reported the highest sales per business in the country in 2007, according to census data. Offering a range of services from coloring to cutting to dreadlock maintenance and styling, Reed says she tries to use as few chemicals as possible and instead work with a person’s natural hair to create a healthy, stylish look. ”Girls are not buying the chemicals as much,” she says, “They’re still buying the weaves here and there because people like options but they’re not buying the harsh chemicals.”
The history of African-American hair care is a complicated one. Early distinctions existed during slavery when, “field slaves often hid their hair, whereas house slaves had to wear wigs similar to their slave owners, who also adorned wigs during this period,” according to feminist studies scholar Cheryl Thompson.
The history also includes the country’s first female, self-made millionaire, Madam C. J. Walker, a black woman who made her fortune selling hair care products to other black women in the early 1900s. Begun as a way to help women suffering from baldness regrow hair, her company later promoted hot comb straightening–which can burn the skin and hair and even cause hair loss–creating a tangled legacy for the brand and speaking to the fraught territory of marketing beauty.
Eventually the business of straightening won out. In the August 1967 issue of Ebony alongside a profile of a 25-year-old Jesse L. Jackson, a look at the birth of Black Power and an article on gangs in Chicago, there is a mix of advertisements promising better skin and hair. “Lighter, Brighter Skin Is Irresistible,” reads one for bleaching cream. Another single-page spread offers a 100 percent human hair wig for $19.99 from Frederick’s of Hollywood. Chemical relaxers were sold alongside titles like James Baldwin’s “The First Next Time.” As clear as it was that messages of inherent inequality were false, there pervaded an image of beauty, supported by an industry dependent on its propagation, that placed fair skin and straight hair on a pedestal.
When activists like Angela Davis popularized the Afro, natural hair gained visibility but also a reputation for being confrontational. As recently as 2007, black women were told by fashion editors that the office was no place for “political” hairstyles like Afros, according to Thompson.
Reed says the pressure is internal as well, “It’s really more of our older generations, our grandmothers and our great-grandmothers who were saying, don’t you do anything to rock the boat, you look like everybody else so that you can maintain your life.”
Reed’s own personal hair history is a deeply inter-generational story. Her grandmother was a hair stylist at a salon in Cleveland, Ohio, where her mission, says Reed, was to transform women and give them confidence. “My grandmother was about the hair looking good, looking right,” says Reed. In the context of racism, if hair was a woman’s crowning glory, it was also a shield.
Meanwhile, she says her mother taught her about cornrowing and her aunt, who was one of the first to introduce the track weave, showed her how weaves could be used to supplement damaged hair and not necessarily to disguise a woman’s natural hair.
In high school, Reed says, “I was the girl who had her hair done every two weeks like clockwork because that’s how I was raised, to keep your hair done.” Then, three weeks before her senior prom she says, “I realized, this relaxer life is not for me. All of this stuff I have to do with my hair, this is not who I am, this does not represent me…I cut off all of my relaxed hair, left me with about an inch, inch and a half of hair.”
In college she decided she wanted even less maintenance and began to lock her hair. To her surprise, her grandmother actually liked the change. “And we were all just floored because this is the woman we knew who didn’t like anything to do with natural hair.”
Now Reed has children of her own, a son and daughter, whom she is teaching about beauty and hair care. “I purposefully let my son’s hair grow out about an inch to two inches before I cut it because I want him to feel comfortable with it low and shaven and faded–and I do all that–as well as feel comfortable with it longer, a little bit curlier so he knows, whichever you way you look, mommy and daddy still love you.”
For her clients, the message isn’t too different.
Camille Reed will be participating in a panel discussion “Health, Hair and Heritage,” hosted by the African Art Museum and the Sanaa Circle the evening of Friday, June 7 in the Ripley Center.
For the past few months, students, families, as well as church and synagogue groups around the D.C. area have been busy making human bones out of materials like plaster, glass, metal or wood. In fact, some 100,000 people from every state and 30 countries have made bones. Now, the hand-crafted bones–one million of them–will be placed on the National Mall in a symbolic act of artistic intervention, which they call a “visual petition” to act against the ongoing crimes of genocide around the world. Organized by the award-winning artist and activist Naomi Natale, the three-day event beginning this Saturday, June 8, will include a bone-laying ceremony, workshops and a visit to representatives on Capitol Hill.
Natale’s own experience in college reading the wrenching account of the Rwandan genocide in the book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch made her realize how little was understood about the violent 1994 slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis. Together with Susan McAllister, she co-founded the Art of Revolution, a group working to inspire social change, which led to the One Million Bones project.
One Million Bones, says Natale, seeks to educate participants about the mass atrocities occurring in places like Syria, Somalia, Burma, Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo with the belief that once someone makes something with her hands, she forms a new connection to it that will transform her thinking and action. It’s a process she says she has witnessed and experienced. We asked her to tell us about the project.
How did the project start?
As an artist and a photographer, reading these horrific, yet beautifully written, descriptions of what happened in Rwanda made me want to bring the image I had made of [Gourevitch's] words here to the U.S. and think, could we create a symbolic mass grave here? And would people see that? And would it bring something that’s far away close to home?
I did work before on the Cradle Project and that was looking at the issue of orphaned children in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, I was in Kenya as a documentary photographer working with a nonprofit, photographing orphaned children. I worked on this project that was directly related to this personal experience I had in Kenya and it was a call to artists around the world to create a representation of an empty cradle and then they would all be displayed in one space. In the end we had 550 of them.
And from that evolved this idea of participatory art?
Right, exactly, that came out of the project. At that point, I really didn’t understand the kind of impact the project would have on the individual artists who participated. I was just looking overall at the impact of when people would view all those cradles or the impact–we were raising money as well because we asked the cradles to be sponsored and then auctioned off. After the project was done, [I was] able to understand that it actually did have some very significant impacts on these artists and it was a way to bring this issue far away really close to home. I knew I wanted to do this One Million project. I had this vision and I thought it will have an impact on people who make the bones.
And what has been the most impactful?
One that was pretty significant for me, specifically, was in Albuquerque, when we laid our first 50,000 bones down. We’ve had two preview installations–one in New Orleans and one in Albuquerque. A refugee from Congo and a survivor of the massacre in Burundi, about an hour into it, came up to me. And said he was going to go back to his room, his hotel. I offered to drive him and he said: “No, I’m going to walk.” So I offered to walk with him. And he said: “No, I just have to go back to my room and I have to cry for a little while, it’s just so hard.” It was a really important moment, because we had never laid the bones down; and we never knew how people were going to respond. Most importantly, [for] those who [the project] was meant to serve. So I apologized, and I said I would never want to make it harder. And I asked if there was anything that he thought was offensive about it, or wrong. And he said: “No, that’s not it, but you have to understand, we lost so many people and we never saw what happened to those people and in your mind you want to think something else happened.” And he said: “But I saw them today, and it’s so hard, but we have to face it.”
How do you think the process will go in the nation’s capital?
I know it’s going to be extraordinarily powerful. I consider the Mall to be sacred space and powerful. I think that people feel that when they’re there.
We have partnered with the Enough Project. They work on the policy level and on the ground around these issues particularly in South Sudan and Congo. It’s a three-day event, Saturday is the laying of the bones and Sunday we have educational workshops. and a candlelight vigil in the evening, and then Monday is an Act Against Atrocities day so you can bring a bone to Congress. The Enough Project is leading that, so we do hope to make this powerful statement visually and then go to our leaders and explain that these are issues that are really meaningful to us and ask for their leadership.
Is there anyone in Congress who is particularly responsive to the issue?
There’s a number of them. There’s Representative Jim McGovern form Massachusetts. He’s been fantastic. He even made a bone and made a video, as well as Frank Wolf [of Virginia]. There’s Karen Bass in California. There’s definitely a number, Senator Chris Coons in Delaware, who’s been a champion on these issues as well.
When we were speaking to McGovern, he was telling us a story that I thought was really interesting and opened my eyes to how just connecting with our representatives and explaining what’s important to us, can make a difference. He said that a group of students came, their teacher brought them down to D.C. to talk to him about what was going on in East Timor. And they asked him if he would help. From that one meeting, he ended up going to East Timor. And he said, “I pretty much had said I would do something to help, and asked what’s the one thing you want me to do? And they said that, so I said, I guess I have to go.” I think that’s a pretty incredible and extraordinary example of the power of persuasion. At the same time it opens your eyes to the fact that it’s certainly not going to happen if we don’t ask.