Woo Girls

According to popular sources, the definition of a "Woo Girl" or "Woo Woo Girl" is: a young woman who screams "Wooooo!" in public, usually accompanied by a group of women her age. 

What this says to me is that happy and excited women are annoying to others and the fact that they are in a group makes it worse. From a patriarchal point of view, apart from annoying, this is an inconvenience - loud young woman in a group? no. Loud young woman? no. From a matriarchal point of view I am more confused. Is it that we have certain perspectives about our fellow women so ingrained that we can't tolerate their expression of happiness? have we bought into the adage that women's voices are annoying? Next question for both perspectives: is it just the human jealousy of seeing someone else happy when we aren't, the culprit?

I am not buying the "annoying part". It has to be more than that. I am asking for collective introspection from each and everyone who condemns these young women. I moved to the PNW from a republican, conservative state and I never heard the phrase "woo girl" used to describe young women, usually sorority girls, like I've heard it in northern, liberal spaces. There is such disdain for these "woo girls" here and I do not like that a lot of people, who consider themselves liberal and feminist, seem to be OK with that. This selective tolerance is accepted as "passable misogyny" and it is, astoundingly, an accusation celebrated by liberal members of different communities that have for a long time been discriminated against. If we read current news, articles, blogs and other writings, we know that liberal misogyny exists but it's harder to call out because of the level of denial within the moralist standards of the community. Artists, comedians, regular folks... they make fun of the woo girls, they create inspired by the disdain they feel against these women. I have heard my own friends point out that a girl is a "woo girl" when devaluing something she said or did, as if that was a valid reason. I have seen women of all ages scream "woooo!" who later disparage the women who are, by definition, doing the same thing. When did that become OK? what reasons are you building in your mind to justify the accusation towards the woo girls?

Weird post from me, huh? why defend these women? they are women, I was young, I am surrounded by them, and regardless of who they are I have a civic duty to defend them from ridicule. Ridicule never builds bridges of understanding. To see some people in the surrounding artistic community increasingly pile on these women, for the last couple of years or so, when the sociopolitical make up of this community is changing, is a disappointment.

Next time you see a happy, young woman screaming "wooo!" surrounded by her friends or alone, and it annoys you, ask yourself why.

A. Iaroc 

Contemporary Trends in Video Advertisement: An Art Historian’s Perspective

Video ads are an inconvenience to most of us, which is understandable – loud music, flashing letters, vapid scenes, and the shoving down of X product down our throats before we get to our video or film. While YouTube and Netflix are not the only websites that rely on marketing and advertising partnerships for revenue, billions of people use them around the world and know what to expect when they are not paying to go ad-free.

For me, some YouTube ads may be annoying but I still watch most of them because they are telling me something else. First, they tell me how the ad industry is being informed by contemporary art practices and vice versa. They also show me the ways in which the ad industry is using the elements of art and design, music, fashion, politics, and multicultural influences to get their point across. As an art historian, these things are not to be dismissed… most of the time. (I also like to catch the latest movie trailers because Wonder Woman!)

About three to five years ago an ad trend that’s picked up is the storytelling type. These storytelling formats have been in existence since the 80s but were not as common as the “IN YOUR FACE!” type of advertising preferred by companies. Echoing the narrative propaganda humans have responded well to since we started drawing on caves, these brands are confident enough to move focus away from their product and tell a story, something to connect with all people, something we all feel, wish for or admire. Tugging at heartstrings, our conscience, our regrets and desires, they successfully remind audiences of their brand but through a subtler approach… a way that humanizes and makes us believe that these brands actually care for more than their capital success and understand their customers at an emotional level.

I have enjoyed and teared up at ads that empower women. It’s not only the feminist viewpoint that touches me. The soundtracks stir memories of similar experiences and recognizable self-doubts. Here are some of my favorites (bring out your art critic eye and pay close attention - notice patterns? styles? music choices? colors? angles? what do you think?):

Curve Power

Mother E

Dove - Beautiful | Average

Nike - Greatest Athlete Ever

Some of these ads have a high cinematographic caliber and extend into short films that cement a brand's social standing or showcase the audience they are targeting or the people they want their audiences to emulate. We are primates after all.

The Gentleman's Wager

The Gentleman’s Wager II

Some of these ads really bring out the human condition, its pathos and beauty, so far away from the brand itself that only reaching out for some metaphorical theories explain why they relate to each other.

For instance Ray Ban's series of social experiment ads. Just like glasses give us clarity or blur our reality, so can our emotions and experiences.   

Ray Ban - Sound of Sorry and Eye to Eye

“The golden age of advertising may be coming to a close, but the golden age of storytelling is just getting started. Don't skip it.” Scott Donaton

A. Iaroc

Leave of Absence

Dear Readers,

There are many topics I want to write about in this blog but there are a few reasons why that has not been possible:

  • Maybe I feel passionate about certain ideas and in order to build good arguments I need to compartmentalize my emotions for your consumption. 
  • In order to do the aforementioned thing, I need time.
  • There are some writing and community projects, as well as family functions, that are taking priority over this blog. This means that that "time" requirement is out the window.

In the meantime, I wish you all a beautiful summer. Go to art shows, performances,  concerts, the outdoors, watch the XXXI Olympics, celebrate your family and friends...

Warm regards,

A. Iaroc

London in summer... © ISCU Consultants.

London in summer... © ISCU Consultants.

 

 

Shaking Dust Off

As a devoted art historian I rarely get creative. I support, encourage, teach, or consume art but it is much harder for me to take the place of an artist. Formally trained to draw, paint, and sculpt, these educational experiences partially killed any inspiration I had as a young person. However, in recent months I have allowed others to guide my path back to a more creative me.

It started last winter when Hannah Frelot suggested I submit a piece to a Kelly Diels’ project. I ended up writing a very intimate and vulnerable piece I'll call X. This process allowed me to write creatively and not as an academic. Even writing this blog, which started as an exercise in informal writing, has proven hard at times to execute as such.

X - that unguarded, raw prose sparked something inside.

Natasha Marin invited me to participate in the first Read & Bleed where I read X for the first time. Apart from my mom, my best friend, Kelly Diels, and the ladies that were listening that afternoon, no one yet knows what X is about. I am forever grateful to the Read & Bleed sisterhood for listening without judgement and to Natasha for creating the space in the first place. It was an honor. 

I have been part of other artists’ collaborative, community driven projects. In spite of this, I never allowed myself to be carried too much into an artist's vision until I met Natasha. While I participate when possible, mostly in the form of writing, I make sure my heart is in it. To be encouraged to do what I've had to do for Natasha, has been liberating and therapeutic. Even though I know many artists from the Seattle art scene, it wasn't until I met them at Natasha's events that we got to know each other more than professionally - we developed a closer connection. 

Last week at the Seattle Art Museum Natasha offered a Red Lineage tour and workshop. My tour was facilitated by the very talented and nurturing poet, Anastacia Tolbert. To be succinct - at times I wanted to cry when listening to others' Red Lineage poems and experiences, the writing portion allowed me to work out some of the most problematic aspects of my relationship with my father, and the experience of listening to all of us recite or sing our poems made me feel understood and part of a one and many. It was wonderful. 

To my fellow art historians and academics, who are not practicing artists:

From time to time we must shake the dust off and create something. While it is true that living day to day is an art itself and that creating is part of the daily, let us assign intention. It is easy to become jaded, to disdain the pretentiousness that permeates the art world, to get tired of the "subjectivity", but we must relearn to love art and not let the negative drag it down from its righteous place. I had some help from my friends, but you may be lucky to find the path back all on your own. 

My friend, artist Natasha Marin. You know? don't play yourself. Those eyes will see through your bullshit. #warriorwisdom, #milkandhoneysister

My friend, artist Natasha Marin. You know? don't play yourself. Those eyes will see through your bullshit. #warriorwisdom, #milkandhoneysister

A Different Wavelength

It has come to my attention that a photographer I criticized five months ago is allegedly offended at what I wrote.

There must be some concerns on his behalf I hope to address on this post.

I do not claim to be the smartest tool in the shed, my limited talent lies in researching and parsing out information for my more serious writing. This casual blog is a little place where I write “random thoughts and better organized concepts about what I see, feel, and think is happening in our fragile, dramatic, and vulnerable art world.” It is not, by any means, a deep philosophical exercise on art historical perspectives. This blog also happens to be read by a very small fraction of people and is of no consequence to someone’s big celebrated career. I am surprised he found the three-paragraph stub where I accused him, summarily, of having the arrogance of a colonizer’s lens, because Google has it hidden in its many pages. Not surprisingly, Google produces more positive, profound, informative and praising results about said photographer and his body of work. Why would he take the time to contact me to tell me off? This blog space is pretty much insignificant in the art world and for him to focus on my accusation, when there is so much good stuff out there about him, baffles me.

He and I come from different cultures and sometimes misunderstandings are bound to happen. However, for a person of mixed heritage who lives on this side of the world and has seen firsthand the damages of colonization and is particularly sensitive to what that looks like, it can be hard to pipe down and let things of this nature run me by. I take no shame in that – it is my personal experience. I also happen to live in a country that, in spite of its many flaws, is at the forefront of serious collective conversations about colonization, race, ethnicity, socio-economic, gender privilege, and cultural sensitivity.

Although, my response to the article may not have been the best or most cohesive one, and decidedly caused some stress, I still believe I have a valid point:

In the history of photography, we have seen the impact photo-journalists and other kinds of photographers have on native subjects - notably Edward S. Curtis. On the one hand, it helps document and preserve the memory of a way of life, a culture, a people. From an artistic point of view, it can be aesthetically wonderful, ground-breaking, and original. From a humanistic point of view, it shows us that we can connect and understand each other, that with enough empathy we can all inhabit this planet Earth. But it can also leave a bitter after taste.

Appreciation for a culture is a delicate line to walk and what may be OK with some members is not OK with others. Romanticized portraiture of "Vanishing Peoples" doesn’t do any favors to the generations that come after, for as cultures naturally fuse and change they will never live up to a what is portrayed by an outsider. This photographer is not the only one to go down this path, however.

I honestly do not know how this photographer supported the community or in what ways he empowered them to retain their traditions. If his point was to teach me a lesson and put me in my place, it just reinforced my original impression of him. I think we all could have learned more if he would have confronted me with the issues at hand instead of sending an ad hominen rebuke.

As my original stub expressed, I believe his photographs to be beautiful and appreciate the fact that he did not direct their poses – they appeared however they wanted to. It is not the work itself but the way the photographer talked about this culture that touched a nerve. A nerve honed to hurt when White/Western men talk about people in developing countries and their way of life to serve a personal agenda. A nerve that pricks at the whispers of Primitivism, Orientalism, Exoticism, and Otherness.

A. Iaroc

Female Body Autonomy

"Body autonomy means a person has control over who or what uses their body, for what, and for how long." 

If body autonomy is really important and understood by a person, that also means that person is capable of respecting the intentions behind another person's motivation to control and display their body. Calling people out for "exhibitionism" for doing an art piece naked is the antithesis of the previous statement. Do not let the bizarre, contrarian relationship to nudity and sexuality in this country confuse you into prudish ways.  

Do not worry American! those European libertines were once there, too. 

My favorite art historical example is this capolavoro by Edouard Manet:

Édouard Manet, "Olympia", 1863. © Musée d'Orsay 

In 2016 this painting of a nude woman with her maid and cat does not cause too much controversy, except maybe for the racial disparity between the two female figures and their social standing at the time. In 1863 this was a shocker, madness I tell you! how dare Manet confront the French art establishment with a disgraceful portrait of a courtesan? while the men at the time (like many men today) felt comfortable hiring courtesans (prostitutes) for sexual pleasures and lively conversation, just like Roman men in symposiums were intellectually and sexually entertained by the hetaerae, they refused to accept one in an art museum. 

What is so bad about this? have humans not created female nudes since antiquity? Well... yes, there have been nudes for thousands of years (Venus of Willendorf) but if you pay close attention you will see that these nudes either do not have defined faces or are innocently looking away:

Venus Kallypigos, 1st Century,   ©    Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli . 

Venus Kallypigos, 1st Century, © Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

It is quite convenient for a patriarchal society (in the making since 4000 BCE) to let the male gaze eat up a woman's naked body without her intruding by looking back at them. So when we had Manet turn this concept on it's head, people were angry. One would think that after such a move the history of art was going to prove everyone we are capable of fast adaptation and open mindedness.

Le sigh.

It really bothers me when I see artists after Manet - male or female - cover, distort, or remove a nude's face. Let me see the face of the body's owner! Look at Olympia; she isn't allowing the audience power to slut shame her (not a term used back then but same foundation). She even looks down in condescension, don't you think?

And yet, I see this in the XXI century:

Giovanni Di Rosa, Untitled (#20),  ©   BAC Bogota Arte Contemporaneo

Giovanni Di Rosa, Untitled (#20), © BAC Bogota Arte Contemporaneo

At the same time, I want to check myself by giving power to the models and female artists who do have a legitimate reason for covering their or the subject's faces. I just hope they understand the history behind that action. As for male artists: if you guys are using a female model ask how she feels about having her face covered/distorted/removed/frontally depicted, etc. and take into account you are portraying a gender that your frame of reference will not allow you to fully understand. Both male and female bodies should be depicted with all respect, of course, but female nudity has been manipulated in ways male nudity has not. At least, as a well read art historian, I have not seen anything to indicate they are at the same level of violation. 

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Update: I started my research paper on cultural hybridity!! :) cannot wait to finish and submit it to the College Art Association's Art Bulletin in four years or so. In the meantime I have some calls to make to an artist in Dubai. 

Also, in the spirit of female body autonomy, I want to share with you an event I will be participating in. It is called Read + Bleed. It is a "women only" event at Twilight Gallery on February 13, 5 to 8pm. Click on the blue highlighted link to learn more. 

A. Iaroc

Reassessment with a dash of uncertainty

“Siempre supe que es mejor cuando hay que hablar de dos empezar por uno mismo” S. Isabel Mebarak Ripoll

"I always knew that when speaking about two it is better to start with oneself” A lot has been lost in that translation but you get the gist. 

Ed and Steph (my siblings) keep telling me to move to Los Angeles - their reasons are different from mine but convenient to my cause. See, here in Seattle the general lack of ethnic, gender, sexual identity, religious and ideological diversity and parity at times is a bit too much for me. If I need a fix I can always spend a day down in Rainier Valley and reset. Some people will say that diversity in Seattle is better seen by neighborhood in what they like to call “block groups”, but this is another way of showing that some sort of segregation is still in place. This can either be self-imposed or the result of class/racial lines that to this day different groups are not allowed or willing to cross. Local Caucasians may say that they are very progressive and pro-diversification but at the end of the day there’s only so much they can tolerate from those that come from different cultures, and vice versa. (Going back home to Magnolia after a hard day of slacktivism or pretentivism is very comforting.)

US vs THEM

Is the music they play too loud because it isn’t Bach? Is the food they cook lacking soul? But their food is so smelly! Why are they so loud when talking? They use big words to be condescending, Ugh! they move too sexual when dancing, well they don’t know how to dance because they can’t give it their all! 

Keep it coming.

Point is, if I am truly serious about my research then I cannot do all of it here. I have to go where the melting already started. Seattle just started dancing and L.A, most ethnically diverse city in the United States, has dancer’s feet – broken down and bruised, with black nails but ready for the show. 

How I am perceived when in LA vs. Seattle: When I've said "I am from Brooklyn" to an Angelino, 95% of the time they take that as my final answer. In Seattle, the answer apparently begs another question 99% of the time, “but where are you really from?” – I cannot possibly be American with my looks, see. To save myself more questions I just spill out everything as fast as I can. 

Anyone who knows me will say I am proud of every ethnicity that makes up my DNA – I am mulatta, mestiza, Semitic and I don’t apologize. My sister joked the other day that we are the result of an ethnic orgy (some Hispanics think she’s half Japanese/half white because of the way she looks… sleeping genes, go figure). We get used to this most of the time but it can cause identity issues that at worst become insecurities. In Colombia we are gringos judíos, nevermind we were raised in a very Catholic country, within a family that is mostly Catholic, and went to Catholic school. {I want to note that American Jews have the privilege of disavowing their Jewishness and still be as American as apple pie. Jews in Latin America are never trusted to be part of their country because their Jewishness is not about religion - it is about ethnicity. We are never allowed to forget that and therefore have a different take on what being “Jewish” means.} In the USA, we present ourselves as Colombian because it is the easiest answer and the identity with which, at the end of the day, we feel most comfortable. And still… we are sometimes not believed when we talk about our origins (you can’t be that mixed!). We just become too much for the boxes where others want to put us in and we end up being too round to fit in that square.

What do ethnocultural hybrids look like?

Image courtesy of National Geographic

There are days when me and my siblings look more ambiguous than others and get mixed results – people who are fascinated, people who fetishize our mixed background to the point of exoticization, and people who seem offended we exist. Whatever! Humans have been mixing since we broke things off with Neanderthals and  have been working our way up to being 50 shades of beige. 

I am just one of the many mixed people living out there and so happy to know that artists and others, more creative and talented than me, have a beautiful outlet to expose the complexities of our kind. I just have to go wherever they are.

A. Iaroc

Do you hear that?...it is the winds of change.

Around this time each year I change my webpage a little bit. *I am just giving you guys a heads up for when you visit next and find that some things are not where they used to be.

This has been a season of changes. Sometime during August I decided to use a COAL (curiosity, openness, acceptance and love) approach to life. It led me to try a few different things and discover myself a little more. For instance, there was a phase when I was all into mountain climbing geology, documentaries, and then Everest and Meru came out (yassss!). Now I am into Crew (rowing and sculling). Next season, who knows?

The best part of these digressions is that they broke the lull in my cultural hybridity research. I am hoping my newfound discipline will give you guys a post worthy of reading next month. 

A. Iaroc

Diversity vs. Inclusion

After a decade of working for museums and reading countless articles on their diversification efforts… I know they are trying. They are trying big time. However, the success is a little mediocre for all the money and effort put into it.

What I have seen in the past decade, and now, is that the effort lands on creating programs that include people from different backgrounds. These are performers, lecturers, artists, professors, etc. of different races that may come from a less privileged socio-economic background, are from different countries, or belong to various religious groups. Unfortunately, it stops there. This is shallow diversification and most audiences fall for it.

As many of you have noticed, many museums have a diverse entry level staff - receptionists, secretaries, assistants, etc. And, I am excluding ethnic museums for obvious reasons. Now, have you looked at the directorial body and the board/patron/donor body? What we tend to see is a gynocentric directorial body, which is good news for women, and an androcentric board/patron/donor body. One common factor between the groups: about 95% is Caucasian, from a privileged/wealthy background, educated, cisgender/heteronormative, and able-bodied. I want to see both groups equalized in gender and more minority diverse; by "minority diverse" I not only mean race, I mean LGBTQ, disabled/abled, socio-economic level, education level, and age groups.

These efforts can only go so far because the museum board and high level staff members deciding on the path they want to take the museum/organization do not empathize or sympathize with the audience they want to attract. They think they know how to reach these groups but language barriers, vocabulary, location, presentation and other crucial marketing strategies end up alienating said audiences. It easily comes across as too intimidating. Not inviting. Not inclusive.

If an organization wants to genuinely diversify they have to start from within. I want to see more diverse boards and more diverse high level staff. I also want to see those minorities in entry level positions move up the ladder. And if you believe that museum audiences reflect the population in this country, think again.

Since this is the time of the year I open up my spreadsheets to see what organizations deserve my hard-earned money, I want to suggest you do the same. If there is an organization getting real through actions NOT words, support them in any way you can: Donate, become a member, if funds are low you can go on a free day or with a coupon - just participate!, volunteer, network with the staff. If you are in any minority group, do what you can because we would love for you to be representing and pave the way for others like you. If you end up in a board or as a donor, understand that even though privileged people like to think of themselves as being progressive and politically correct, the truth is that many times they are blind to their own prejudices – call them out on it when you see micro/macroaggressions or hear stupid comments (e.g. people making cocaine jokes to Colombians because they cannot begin to image the damage it has done to the country and its nationals). Don't be a bystander and be mindful of the ways people do defend themselves, step in when required and stay true to your values.

A. Iaroc

 

New Waters... I am on a raft with floaties.

Starting a new research project and defining my focus is never as easy and/or smooth as I imagine. Cultural hybridity is a broad topic and I am just getting an idea of what I want from it and, most importantly, what it means to me.

I have not posted anything on the last three months because of my uncertainty. I am a product of globalization, an ethno/religious hybrid, and I think I know what this project means to me. I know a few artists that create work that expresses their pride/confusion/interest/contempt, etc. on cultural hybridity, which helps me establish where I stand on certain issues.

But what about you? what does this mean to you?

A. Iaroc

It's a Wrap!

Professor Andrea Pappas, Art Historian Ph. D., inspired and encouraged me to talk about my research on Jewish Art. I was hesitant and, quite frankly, did not expect much reception to my subject of study. Robert Beiser and the staff at the University of Washington’s Hillel were very receptive, however, to my lecture proposal for the summer of 2012. And so a three-year lecture series based on my thesis research began.

On June 16, 2015 I presented the last lecture.

My research on Jewish art iconography started in 2006 and continued for five more years. During that time I traveled a lot and learned from many people in the Jewish community, art history professors, scholars, experts, and artists, about the development of Jewish art, its foundations and future.  It was very exciting and, many times, very new. Taking advantage of a nascent topic within the history of art, I developed original ideas and learned to respect artists’ input and perspective. They do not have everything figured out, nor pretend to, but they can be very wise. In the intensity that their work requires, they develop the humbleness that scholars, many times, do not have.

Everything I learned, like, and look forward to in art history, has changed since 2006… as it should. My lecture series was a passion project and now it’s time to move onto other things. Even though I have enjoyed working with the Jewish community and will continue, in one way or another, working on art & culture programs that serve it, I am very interested in cultural fusion contemporary art. Identity issues and cultural hybridity are subjects explored quite often, but more so now with pressing societal changes in terms of race, socio-economic equality, gender, and self-definition.

Thanks to all of you who followed these lectures and engaged me in conversation.

"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading." Laozi

A. Iaroc