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Black Tears

by mana on May 6th, 2013
Michel Bellaiche, "Justine at Dawn," 2013, Acrylic and China black ink

Michel Bellaiche, “Justine at Dawn,” 2013, Acrylic and China black ink

Many wonderful things happen in my life when I am roaming! Not cell phone roaming but getting away from the routine, wandering, and discovery.

In the last month, a remarkable man named Michel Bellaiche contacted me when I was about to roam in NYC. Michel has many talents. He is a painter, a poet, a photographer as well as an engineer. Born in Tunisia and a citizen of France, he has travelled widely and lived in various countries. While his travels have exposed him to many cultural influences, his soul remains Mediterranean.

For the last ten years, Michel has made his home in Spain, in the small town of Sant Pere de Ribes. He is surrounded by vineyards and almond trees with the sea nearby. There are rugged hills and hidden villages. It is a warm and sunny place well suited to an artist such as Michel. Yet it is certainly not paradise.

Spain is currently going through a deep crisis. With unemployment at 26%, five million people are out of work. Sometimes people come to Bellaiche’s door begging for food. With incomes going down, Spaniards cannot afford houses at any prices. There is darkness amid the bright sunshine.

I see the same combination of beauty and darkness in Michel’s painting, Justine at Dawn. Justine looks like a Tunisian woman with large black eyes, beautiful and ghostly. The memory of her is joyful but her loss brings sadness. She embodies the women who come and go in our lives, leaving their lost possibilities in our dreams. The image speaks to the unfulfilled dreams of many Spaniards today. The dramatic black strokes of the painting even recall the Spanish coastline. It has been largely spoiled by over-development, but there are still beautiful spots, if you know where to look.

In Lágrimas Negras, Diego Salazar El Cigala sings movingly of the pain of abandonment while showing a resiliency and hope for the future that mirrors the struggles of people in Spain today.

Michel Bellaiche, "Irène et Jour de Fête," 2013

Michel Bellaiche, “Irène et Jour de Fête,” 2013

A recent painting by Bellaiche, Irène et Jour de Fête, captures the joyful spirit that endures even in the face of disappointment and adversity.

I go across the Brooklyn Bridge and discover a new love. The Brooklyn Museum takes an approach to art that is very much in sync with my own goals at Chez Mana.

Georgia O'Keeffe, "Brooklyn Bridge," 1949, Oil on Masonite

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Brooklyn Bridge,” 1949, Oil on Masonite

Works representing broad themes from across different times and cultures are brought together. The museum is inviting and open. Even their store rooms are visible. The contemporary artists whose works are on display come from many cultures including those that are seldom highlighted.

The visitor is more connected to the special exhibits with the help of furniture settings. iPads ask you questions about what you see and what you feel. Installations are not just in galleries but in public spaces of the museum which makes them appear integrated in everyday life. Scanning QR codes with your cell phone brings you in-depth information about works of art that you are seeing.

One artist at the museum especially captured my attention. He is one of the most important innovators in abstract art today, El Anatsui, from Ghana. His work is being shown in an exhibit entitled Gravity & Grace. Anatsui challenges traditional Western art and moves the boundary between painting and sculpture. He creates works rich with the flavor of West Africa. He lives and works in Nigeria and uses wood, metal and found materials to create large pieces that can be installed in flexible forms to interact with the surrounding space. Many have a striking resemblance to African woven cloth.

El Anatsui, "Peak," 2010, Tin, copper wire

El Anatsui, “Peak,” 2010, Tin, copper wire

Anatsui’s work Peak composed of copper wire and tin sits on the floor. Its folds suggest a flowing movement and the many metal caps sparkle in the light. Peak is a brand of condensed milk that is produced in the Netherlands and sent to West Africa for sale. Just as materials circulate throughout the world, Anatsui creates distinctly West African art forms incorporating foreign materials with a vision that is both personal and universal.

Anastui and Bellaiche exemplify confident artists who expose their unique cultural roots through their artwork. They create a dialogue about what differentiates us and unites us, not just through geography or conventional categories but larger themes of our common humanity. There are many layers of beauty in those connections.

From → Musings

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