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Sicanje, an Ancient Balkan Tattoo Tradition, Draws a New Generation

Bosian tattoosThis from Atlas Obscura -

For millennia, women adorned their daughters, and sometimes sons, with symbols of belonging and protection. Then the practice vanished—until now.

For millennia, women in what is now Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina performed sicanje—the word means, literally, “to prick”—on their daughters. Using needles and a mixture of soot, spit, honey, and breast milk, the tattooing tradition covered the hands, chest, and sometimes forehead with deeply symbolic patterns.

In the 1920s, anthropologist Edith Durham wrote that sicanje had passed from one generation of women to the next for nearly 4,000 years. In the mid-20th century however, it vanished. Now, a new generation of Balkan women—and men—is reviving the tradition as part of a larger trend to reclaim and celebrate their heritage.

“Unfortunately we don’t have any primary sources [about the tradition’s origins]. We only have the Greeks talking about them as their opponents,” says Marija Maracic, coauthor of The Sicanje Project, an oral and visual history of the tradition. In written histories and on vases and other artwork, ancient Greeks depicted Balkan people with tattoos, and archaeologists working in the region have discovered bronze tattooing needles in 3,000-year-old graves. Some of the ancient designs appear universal, such as the kolo circle, representing family and unity; it shares a name with a traditional dance still performed at weddings and family reunions. Other tattoos, such as a particular combination of motifs, appear to signify a specific village or tribe.

In fact, sicanje symbolized identity but also protection, blessing, and beauty for centuries. As the Balkans became Christianized in the ninth century, the pagan tradition of sicanje evolved to incorporate Catholicism. For example, the kriz, a pagan symbol of the four cardinal directions, became a stylized Christian cross. And while women had traditionally marked their adolescent daughters on the vernal equinox as a rite of passage, they began doing it on the feast day of St. Joseph, which falls close to the arrival of spring.

In the 15th century, sicanje transformed again, this time into an act of resistance. Under Ottoman rule, Christian Balkan families were levied devshirme, sometimes called the blood tax. Boys as young as eight were taken to Istanbul in a system designed to surround the emperor with loyal foreign servants, limiting the power of the Turkish elite. Devshirme were often well educated, and served as high-ranking soldiers and bureaucrats, but they were still far from home.

During this period, Catholic Balkan mothers began tattooing boys as well as girls, marking them prominently with symbols of protection and belonging. And if devshirme ever returned to their village as an adult, their sicanje would identify them, no matter how many years had passed.

As the Ottoman empire waned, sicanje continued on as a mark of beauty and religious and tribal belonging. The tattoos remained most common on women, but some men also carried the marks. In the mid-20th century, however, under the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the tradition of sicanje began to fade. Maracic says modernization, urbanization, and other trends changed attitudes about old customs. Women started to hide their marks, and their daughters declined to receive them. By the 1960s, sicanje lived on only in fading marks on grandmothers’ hands.

In the 21st century, a new generation of historians and artists are rediscovering the tradition. Maracic sees the growing global acceptance and interest in tattoos as a major factor in sicanje’s revival. Popularizing the nearly-lost art is also a way for people to celebrate their heritage and identity in a post-Yugoslavia world.

 


The Best Street Art in Athens, Greece

One of the oldest cities in the world, full of history and the cradle of democracy and culture.

This is Athens. The ancient’s ‘glorious city’. And at the same time, a contemporary city that assimilates cultural trends and adapts them to its own character. It goes without saying that the modern urban religion of graffiti and street art is part of this: tags, throw-ups, wild style graffiti, political activist stencils, stickers, paste-ups and public art murals created for festivals and other projects. So if you love art and street culture, you’ll love discovering this lesser-known side of Athens.

Every neighborhood has a different story to tell.

 Keramikos & Gazi  Exarhia
 Metaxourgio  Piraeus
 Omonia  Rentis
 Psirri  The School of Fine Arts
 Monastiraki  The Polytechnic campus

25 Places Reborn Through Graffiti

In this list offered on Atlas Obscura, there are 25 international places that have been reborn through street art and graffiti.

Notice that New York City is not listed. And yet this city had what would arguably be the pinnacle of street art revitalization. That was 5Pointz, an industrial square block dedicated to artists around the world. Destroyed in 2014 it is now the site of two vampire towers of glass, isolation and ugliness that the developers have the temerity to name "5Pointz".

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Abandoned or forgotten places can become otherworldly canvases.

There are endless stretches of abandoned structures scattered around the world, many forlorn and destined to be reclaimed by nature—eventually. In the meantime, many abandoned factories, alleys, hotels, and more have been transformed into living canvases. With every brushstroke and release of spray paint, these places, some officially sanctioned, others not so much, get some injection of new life, as art museums without the white walls. 

Just outside Las Vegas is a former shopping outlet that has been reimagined as a modern art gallery. Due to financial issues, the Primm Outlets were forced to close their doors, until a new owner stepped in with a new approach. Artists were invited to decorate the walls and remaining storefronts of the now Prizm Outlet, and it’s seen more visitors than ever before. In Stockholm, an abandoned industrial village is now one of Europe’s largest graffiti exhibits. Each spring, graffiti writers and mural artists across Sweden descend on what’s known as the Snösätra Wall of Fame to refresh the artwork and craft new pieces. From an abandoned sniper post to an alley that is the largest outdoor art gallery in the Northwest United States, these are 25 of our favorite places reborn from the end of a nozzle. 

Check it out here.


India's Beautiful and Amazing Truck Art

I have seen these fabulous trucks myself while traveling in India in 2013. Here are some of my photos IMG_2030 IMG_2030

 

HyperAllergic's recent post on these trucks gave me added insight into why. Here is a short excerpt and you can read the full article here.

In India, trucks play a pivotal role in transporting heavy-duty goods, journeying for endless kilometers across the country. Most drivers are on the road for weeks, sometimes months at a stretch, living a nomadic life and often sleeping and eating in their vehicles. Their trucks become their travel companions and their homes, and the drivers go to great lengths to beautify them. They work closely with truck artists, describing the illustrations they would like to see.

“A good artist should have a steady hand and an intuitive understanding of color-pairing,” said Raj Dongre, in Hindi, over the phone. He has been embellishing trucks with his designs for over three decades. Before the country was engulfed by the pandemic, he worked in a truck-building workshop in Nagpur. In the summer heat, wearing scruffy clothes, he would dip his brush in colors of indigo and green, and glide it across the truck’s sturdy body, defining the fine feather wisps of a peacock. His hands moved with adept flourish, while songs from old Bollywood films played on his mobile phone.

A superstitious totem often seen on the bumpers is the nazar battu: the mug of a sharp-toothed demon with matted hair, believed to ward off the evil eye. Graffitied catchphrases like “Horn OK Please” and “Use Dipper at Night” (the latter encourages other drivers to dim their headlights at dusk) are now an inextricable part of the truck nomenclature. 

To preserve and promote the country’s ephemeral art tradition, Bawa launched All India Permit (AIP) in 2018, an art project which collaborates with local truck artists. AIP supplies them with Cold Rolled steel sheets on which they paint their vibrant creations. In turn, these pieces become one-of-a-kind collectors’ items, available for sale. A sizable portion of the proceeds goes to the artists, providing them with financial sustenance, particularly during the ongoing quarantine period. AIP’s online platform showcases the artworks, while educating visitors of the art form’s cultural relevance.

“Unfortunately, I think this might be the last generation of truck artists,” speculated Bawa. “Many want their children to work in air-conditioned offices, not on rough highways. Also, there is [financial] uncertainty in this field.” While both Ahmad and Dongre don’t want their kids to inherit their profession, they believe that truck art will never peter out. “Otherwise,” Dongre mused, “the Indian highways will be gloomy and bare forever.” 

 


ENO Breathe Shows How Singing Opera Can Help Long Haul Covid Patients

More than a year later, Sheeba, a long haul Covid survivor, still faces bouts of breathlessness, fatigue and anxiety, things she rarely experienced prior to her Covid-19 diagnosis. And she’s not alone.

Most Covid-19 patients recover and return to normal health two to six weeks after initial diagnosis, according to the World Health Organization. But the global medical community is finding that lingering symptoms are quite common, and some conditions can last weeks or even months after a negative Covid-19 test. Symptoms can include fatigue and anxiety, similar to what Sheeba is experiencing, as well as shortness of breath, muscle pain, headaches, rashes and persistent coughs.

Frustrated that she wasn’t getting better, Sheeba turned to the internet for answers and stumbled upon ENO Breathe. Launched in June, ENO Breathe began as a pilot program in partnership with the English National Opera (ENO) and the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, part of one of the largest healthcare networks in the United Kingdom. Working together, a team of doctors, therapists and vocal coaches developed a breathing and well-being program for people like Sheeba who were recovering from Covid-19 but still suffering from breathlessness and anxiety. Their idea was simple: Take the same vocal techniques and breathing exercises used by opera singers and apply them to Covid-19 patients in a group setting. The program is structured into hour-long sessions that take place via Zoom once a week over the course of six weeks. (It’s also entirely free.)

 


French Street Artist's Amazing Creations

Charles leval

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scrolling through Charles Leval's work is not only fun but illuminating. His work can be seen all over Paris. Enjoy!

Street art is a usual sight in many cities and towns. Most of the time, the street art we see is not that impressive—random tags or writings that you can't even read. Sometimes, however, there is artwork that takes your breath away. It livens up the surrounding area and makes it look much more cozy and colorful. And although many people dislike street art, we hope this artist and his work can change your mind.

The French artist Charles Leval, better known as Levalet, creates the kind of art that brings cities to life. He creates designs that interact with their surroundings, often choosing a humorous theme. His art is playful, funny, and very beautiful. He told Bored Panda: "I didn't start working in the streets because I was first and foremost interested in the street. What I wanted—and what keeps being my aim—was to work on reality and produce a context-sensitive art. Not simply to show one’s productions ranging from picture rails on a neutral medium and beckon the eyes to enjoy it, but also an art which is a means of intervention and joins an outside reality and aims at modifying it."

 

 

 

 

 

 


Secret Tiles All Around Tel Aviv

Tel aviv tilesThis from Atlas Obscura -

In the early 20th century, Tel Aviv had a distinguished industry of beautiful decorated tiles, which can still be seen in some private homes, apartments, stairwells, and public buildings. After peaking in the 1920s, the tiles have become more and more scarce over the decades. Now, there’s a renewed appreciation for them.

Between 1921 and 1925, Tel Aviv’s population went from 2,000 to 34,000. The new city’s architects were European Jews who trained in art schools in Eastern and Western Europe. Their building style came to be known as Eclectic. Architect Professor Nitza Szmuk, the guru of historical building conservation in Israel, says Eclectic architecture represented “the attempt to create a synthesis between East and West, thereby generating a local notional style.” The architects’ perception of Palestine and the Near East remained Orientalist, even when walking in the Tel Aviv sunshine or buying a tomato at the local grocer. The tiles in their buildings were part of this European Oriental fantasy. In the words of Architect Yossi Klein in a Domus magazine article, “the contrast between ‘the Oriental style’ and the European building technique allowed Zionists to return to a ‘sterile Orient,’ while maintaining European modes of living.”

“This was the golden age of the painted tile,” says Avi Levi, a landscape architect and hunter of derelict buildings and decorated tiles. “They became a local fixture and the connection to the European origins was forgotten.” The decorated tiles prevailed during the early 20th century in houses in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. They were found in luxurious villas and humble apartments. However, “after three decades, people started to think of the tiles as old-fashioned, expensive and excessive.” Ultimately, “this style flourished only for a short time,” Klein writes, “and as the conflict with the Arab community escalated, Modernist tendencies prevailed.” The romantic, Eclectic style gave way to the clean, modernist Bauhaus. Decorated tiles were abandoned in favor of simple, cheap, industrial tiles. As a result, most of the factories have closed. But at the end of Herzl Street, a street of woodworkers and craftsmen in southern Tel Aviv, the small tile factory of the Gluska family is operating to this day.

 

 


Love These Hats!

Hat donut-1000x563According to Israel21c, Maor Zabar makes some crazy hats. They are definitely artworks unto themselves.

Growing up in Haifa, Maor Zabar was the kind of kid who painted on the furniture and drew on the walls.

“I used to drive my parents nuts,” admits the 42-year-old award-winning costume and hat designer.

Fortunately, his parents indulged their little boy’s artistic exploits. They sent him to afterschool art lessons and the WIZO Haifa Academy of Design for high school. He spent a year living with an uncle in New York, learning makeup artistry before finding his true calling.

Zabar’s famed creations include the attention-grabbing getup that Netta Barzilai wore for her winning performance in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. In 2014, Zabar started his hat business.

He doesn’t consider himself a milliner. He simply loves hats and wanted to create them freely outside the confines of his theatrical costume commissions.

“I don’t treat my hats as fashion items. I refer to them as art pieces,” he says.

It wasn’t long before images of his hats – featuring food, carnivorous plants, sea creatures, pride, and bride themes – from his online Etsy store began making a buzz in the blogosphere. “I get inspired by things I come across, even pictures in a book or a vacation I took,” explains Zabar.

You can spot Zabar’s hats on stylish heads at launch events, red-carpet events and British horseraces.

“If you’re daring enough and want to make a fashion statement, a hat is the most standout item to do that with,” says Zabar.


Tel Aviv's Florentin District is Losing Its Wonderful Street Art

Florentine 04-Rami-Meiri-Photo-Lord-K2-scaledThe Times of Israel sheds light on an international travesty. Artist neighborhoods filled with street art are being over run by developers and destroyed. One such neighborhood is the Florentin in Tel Aviv. Read more here --

The hub of Tel Aviv’s street art scene remains Florentin. Operators regularly offer guided street art tours for foreigners and Israelis alike to view the art spread throughout the neighborhood. Abarbanel Street and its surrounding industrial zone of wood and metal workshops — as well as art galleries — are the street art epicenter.

But with Florentin’s ongoing, fast-paced gentrification, the art on its streets is dwindling. In several parts of the neighborhood, in fact, street art was recently painted over by the municipality. Due to soaring real estate prices, rival developers are battling over the land in their haste to build residential housing. And as they do this, they are stripping away the neighborhood’s soul, driving real estate prices even higher, while offering little to the public — apart from more living quarters in an overcrowded section of a city that is in dire need of cultural spaces.

“Street Art Tel Aviv” — the first in our series of books documenting Tel Aviv’s urban art scene — captures the streets of the city when they still largely belonged to us.

 


Banksy’s ‘Game Changer’ Painting Was Almost Stolen From a UK Hospital

Some people have no shame - as noted by The Observer:

As one of the most famous artists in the world, Banksy is used to people making attempts to pilfer his creations: last September, a stencil drawing made by Banksy of a rat disappeared from its perch outside the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and it still hasn’t been determined whether Banksy himself was involved in this caper. More recently, however, a painting made by Banksy honoring the hospital workers battling at the front lines of the coronavirus was reportedly almost stolen from Southampton General Hospital in the UK. According to The Suna mysterious man was spotted loitering around the painting, which is called Game Changer, by guards watching via CCTV. He was subsequently removed from the premises before he could do any damage.

“The man just walked in brandishing a cordless drill,” an unnamed source told The Sun. The attempted robbery apparently took place on May 8, only two days after the painting was originally installed in the hospital. “Security spotted him and asked a supervisor if they should stop him. They were told to watch him and he was seen walking past the picture at least five times, clearly having a good look. Security stepped in and he was removed.” It was originally planned that the painting should remain in the hospital, at which point it’ll be auctioned off in order to raise money for the U.K.’s National Health Service.

Game Changer, which depicts a small child playing with a doll in a nurse’s uniform while neglecting superhero figurines in an adjacent basket, could eventually draw as much as $6 million at auction, which would be a hugely helpful influx of cash for the NHS, especially given the volatility that the pandemic has unleashed. Given the fact that the Banksy painting holds so much potential value for the U.K. hospital system, it seems as though it should be guarded carefully in the future.