Sacrifice: The Sacred Voice of Belkis Ayón

On 12th September 1999, the Cuban art world was left reeling reeling by the news that one of its brightest stars had fatally shot herself at the age of 32. No note was found, and she had been considered in good spirits by her family and friends. To this day, as her sister Katia has sadly remarked, the reason for Belkis Ayón’s suicide remains a secret that she took with her ‘to the grave.’ Her legacy is a collection of images that are at once terrifying, tragic and haunting, yet exuberant, invigorating and exhilarating. As a visual manifestation of Ayón’s perceptions of her native Cuba, her art is both powerful and valuable; furthermore it speaks not only of her feelings about life, but also her attitude towards death.

Born in Havana on 23rd January 1967, Belkis Ayón Manso was one of two daughters from a relatively affluent Afro-Cuban family. At the age of 6, she began to show an interest in painting, leading her parents to enter her into a school competition, which she won. In 1979, she enrolled at the School of Plastic Arts, and two years later, she entered the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes “San Alejandro” – Cuba’s most prestigious art school, graduating in 1986 before starting a degree in printmaking at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA). As she studied for her degree, her work was displayed in over thirty exhibitions across Cuba and Latin America. Continue reading

Once In A Blue Moon: Suwanni Sukhontha’s Stories

Suwanni Sukhonthiang was born in Phitsanulok, a province of Northern Thailand, on 1st March 1932. After leaving school, she travelled to the capital Bangkok, where she spent the next two years studying at the Pohchang Academy of Arts; she completed her education by taking a course in fine art at Silpakorn University, graduating in 1951. Taking a job as a teacher, she worked at the Bangkok School of Arts before lecturing at her alma mater. At the same time, she began penning short stories under the pen name Suwanni Sukontha; her first published story being Chot Mai Thueng Puk for the Siam Rath Weekly. Encouraged the positive reaction to her writing, Sukhontha decided to devote herself full-time to it, and produced her debut novel Sai Bo Yut Sane Hai in 1965.

Noted for her masterful character development, and powerful imagery, Sukhontha won the SEATO literature award in 1971 for her novel Khao Chue Kan, a gritty tale about an idealistic young doctor and his dissatisfied wife, dealing with the corruption and dishonesty of those around them and its catastrophic impact upon their own relationship. By 1973, the story had taken on a greater significance with the student uprisings in Thailand, and the ensuing transition of the previous military dictatorship into a more pro-democratic political system.

A year after she was given the prestigious award, Sukhontha founded and edited the female-orientated literature journal Lalana and used the publication as a platform for her progressive ideas about women and their involvement in Thai society. Sukhontha also received the National Book Week’s Award for Duai Pik Khong Rak in 1973. Continue reading

So Far And Beyond: The Style Of Til Brugman

Mathilda Maria Petronella Brugman, known as ‘Til,’ was born on 16th September 1888 in Amsterdam, the eldest of nine children. The Brugman family were strict Roman Catholics and their first-born daughter’s assertiveness and sexuality would become a source of domestic conflict. At the age of 11, Brugman was sent to a Catholic girl’s boarding school, having already shown an aptitude for languages, encouraged by her mother. In 1911, Brugman found her own apartment in Amsterdam, taking a job as translator.

Always acknowledging that she was attracted to her own sex, Brugman fell in love with the opera singer Sienna Masthoff in 1917, and the couple moved to The Hague, where Brugman worked as a foreign languages tutor. At the same time, Brugman started to write poetry, inspired by her friendship with the avant-garde painter Piet Mondrian.

By 1917, Modrian had become affiliated with the recently formed collective of artists and architects, known as De Stijl. Founded by the designer and painter Theo van Doesburg, the group considered that art should be stripped down to the bare essentials, favouring simple bold lines and mainly black and white colour schemes. Others associated with the movement included the Hungarian painter, Vilmos Huszár and architect and furniture designer, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld. Additionally, a journal of the same name was produced in order to publicise De Stijl’s abstract notions and concepts, with the first edition proclaiming, ‘There is an old and a new awareness of art. The former focuses on the individual. The new focus on the universal.’ Continue reading

Fighting Forms: The Expressions Of Franz Marc

The son of Wilhelm Marc, a successful landscape painter and Professor at the Munich Akademie der Bildenden Künste, and his devout Calvinist wife Sophie, Franz Marc was born in Munich on 8th February 1880. Unsurprisingly, given his background, the younger Marc was fascinated by art from an early age and had seemingly inherited his father’s formidable talent.  Though he had hoped to study theology and become a minister, in accordance with his mother’s wishes, instead Marc chose to read philosophy at university. However, after a year of compulsory military service, a rethinking of his future options, led him to turn his attention back to his first love – art. At the age of 20, he entered the Akademie der Bildenden Künste and his tutors included the renowned illustrator, Wilhelm von Diez, who was to have a profound influence upon Marc’s own work.

In 1903, Marc spent several months in Paris, where he encountered some of the greatest names in Impressionism, but it was the Post-Impressionists, such as Gauguin and van Gogh, who truly seized his imagination. Returning to Munich in late 1903, Marc found his own studio in Schwabing, a bohemian part of the city. It was there that he met the art dealer, Annette von Eckardt, and the two quickly started an affair, despite her being married with two children and nine years his senior. In fact, von Eckardt and her husband, a respected professor of Sanskrit and Indology, acted as Marc’s patrons; but her volatile relationship with the fledgling artist lasted only two years, during which time Marc suffered from bouts of depression and his creativity was adversely affected.

Shortly after the end of his involvement with von Eckardt, Marc befriended two female painters who were both connected to the Women’s Academy of Munich Artist’s Association, Marie Schnür, a 36 year-old teacher there, and her pupil Maria Franck. Attracted to both women, in May 1906, Marc persuaded Marie and Maria to go with him to Kochel am See in Upper Bavaria, to spend the summer painting. Not only did they paint, they also engaged in a ménage à trois, with Marc capturing both his lovers on canvas as they sat gazing at the municipality’s glorious scenery. Continue reading