June 7, 2013
World Oceans Day often prompts reminders of all the terrible things that have already happened to the ocean and the even scarier prospects for the future. While there’s no doubt that all is not A-OK when it comes to ocean health, it’s worth remembering that when people have come together to make things better, they often succeed. These success stories span the globe and the gamut of marine habitats and organisms.
One of the biggest impacts people have had on Planet Ocean is through fishing and hunting. The Steller’s sea cow was exterminated a mere 27 years after its discovery in the North Pacific. Fortunately, protections have been put in place for many marine organisms, albeit sometimes just in the nick of time. North Atlantic right whale numbers are increasing, and the sea otter brings oohs and aahs from admiring tourists in northern California. Fish numbers have also often increased with protection, either through careful controls on harvesting methods and amounts or through the establishment of marine protected areas.
Sometimes our harvesting has destroyed the very habitat that the creatures we like to eat create. Oyster reefs once dominated shallow waters along much of the east coast of the U.S. But massive dredging efforts left muddy bottoms that new oysters can’t colonize, leading to a collapse of the populations of these magnificent bivalves who not only nourish us, but through their filtering clean the water where they live. In these cases, active restoration rather than simple protection has been required. This is sometimes harder than one might expect, but here progress is also being made.
Hunting and fishing are not the only things we do that can harm marine life. Declining water quality and other forms of pollution, such as the giant dead zone that forms off the mouth of the Mississippi each year, can also be a big problem. Once again, however, restrictions on what can be dumped into our waterways have resulted in dramatic turnarounds. Over a century ago, Monterey Bay was a mess, polluted by the industrial waste from the canneries on its shoreline. But now its ecosystem is restored—sustained and even thriving as a standout example of how public education programs and healthy tourism can have great impact. We still have a long way to go with plastic pollution, but communities around the world have started phasing out the use of plastic bags. China’s five-year anniversary of its ban on plastic bags has reportedly reduced consumption by 67 billion bags.
Ocean warming and ocean acidification loom as larger threats over the long term, and here successes are proving harder to achieve. But one of the important lessons of the last decade is that reducing local stressors can make a big difference, building the resilience of ocean ecosystems and buying us invaluable time as we figure out how to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.
Bottom line? We need to think and act both locally and globally if we want to pass on a healthy ocean to future generations. In an era when catastrophes get much of the coverage, it’s important to remember that we can still make a difference. There are many successes to celebrate. Ocean conservation is working and we can learn from our successes. But there is plenty of work still to do.
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.
June 6, 2013
American swimming champion-turned-movie star Esther Williams died today. She was 91, and passed away this morning in her sleep, according to her family and publicist.
Williams grew up outside of Los Angeles, where she competed for a city swim team and won numerous titles and set national records as a teenager, including a 100-meter freestyle victory at the Women’s Outdoor National Championship in 1939. The next year, she was selected for the Olympic team, but the Games were cancelled when World War II broke out.
Williams left competition in 1940 to make a living, selling clothes in a department store for a few months until she was invited by showman Billy Rose to work a bathing beauty job in his Aquacade show at the World’s Fair. While performing, she was spotted by MGM scouts and given a contract with the film studio in 1941. She became a film sensation over the next decade by starring in the studio’s hugely popular “aqua-musicals,” including Bathing Beauty, Neptune’s Daughter and Million Dollar Mermaid.
She swam more than 1,250 miles in 25 aqua-musicals throughout her film career.
In 2008, Williams donated to the National Museum of American History two giant scrapbooks that MGM kept of her time with the studio, each multiple feet-tall and made of wood. The books are filled with both professional and personal mementos. Williams was recognized throughout her career for her beauty and athleticism, so she appeared in numerous pin up posters and advertisements, as well as magazine and newspaper articles.
The scrapbooks are currently held by Williams’ publicist, but now should be on their way to the museum soon, says entertainment curator Dwight Blocker Bowers. They will likely go on display in a 2016 exhibition on American culture (currently the museum’s popular culture hall is closed for renovations).
Bowers thinks Williams will be remembered not only for putting swimming on the map in film, but also for the genuine star power she brought to the screen as a singer and actress. “You do not remember her just for the swimming sequences,” he says. “She matched her swimming ability with her ability to have a strong presence on the screen. She was a movie star. She was vibrant on screen.”
For more of Bowers’ thoughts on Williams, read the museum’s blog post on her here.
Friday, June 7: The Bullet Vanishes
If you want to spend your Friday evening on the edge of your seat, check out The Bullet Vanishes, a 2012 gun-slinging mystery / action film set in 1920s Shanghai. There are ghosts, detectives and a lot of cool explosions—do you need any other reasons to see it? Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles. Free. 7 pm. Freer Gallery.
Saturday, June 8: Craft Camp! Family Day
Get your craft on today at the Renwick Gallery, where local artists and craft experts are coming together today to give the best craft lessons in town! Scrap DC is in the house to show how everyday junk can by “upcycled” into new art, Kathleen Manning from Beadazzled is demonstrating the art of jewelry making and Sushmita Mazumdar is showing off her handmade books. If you aren’t feeling particularly inspired, hop on a scavenger hunt for spectacular crafts around the museum’s collection to get the creative juices flowing. Free. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Renwick Gallery.
Sunday, June 9: Ceramica de los Ancestros: A Central American Pottery Festival
Over the last millennium, entire civilizations rose and fell in Central America and left behind little more than ceramics. But these ceramics have been incredible windows into these lost cultures, providing researchers with vital information about the civilizations’ beliefs, rituals and lifestyles. Today, the American Indian Museum celebrates the long history of Central American pottery. Explore a new exhibition dedicated to the Central American craft, see the work of a contemporary Guatemalan ceramicist, learn how pottery flutes are made and make your own clay medallion based on the designs in the museum’s collection. Free. 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. American Indian Museum.
Also, check out our Visitors Guide App. Get the most out of your trip to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall with this selection of custom-built tours, based on your available time and passions. From the editors of Smithsonian magazine, the app is packed with handy navigational tools, maps, museum floor plans and museum information including ‘Greatest Hits’ for each Smithsonian museum.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.