Behind the mask

MASK COLLAGE 3
Lilianne Milgrom  Collage 2020

In the throes of the global pandemic, the mask has become far more than just a face covering. It has become the symbol of our times and a lightning rod for diametrically opposed political views. Different interest groups are playing tug of war with guidelines for wearing masks while behind the scenes PPE masks and the materials required to produce them have spurned a black market run by profiteering opportunists – or smart entrepreneurs, depending on which side of the geopolitical divide you’re on.

Which brings me to the unlikely subject of this month’s blog post: The world’s newest superhero, Maskman! Forget Superman – or Batman for that matter. Maskman is here!

This is no fictitious comic action figure, although this real-life ‘hero’–known to millions of giddy Chinese fans as the Mask Hunter–has all the makings of one: square jaw, tight fitting black turtle-neck, and a world view that is ruthless yet ethical in a self-serving sort of way. Meet 30-year-old businessman, Lin Dong from Guandong province.

Lin Dong (2)

As the saying goes, one man’s misfortune is another man’s fortune. And that’s the way Lin Dong sees it. While the world is succumbing to COVID-19, Lin jet sets around the world buying up as much of that superfine, super-expensive fabric that filters out virus-carrying particles. Welcome to the COVID world’s hottest commodity: melt-blown, nonwoven fabric. And don’t even try to unload that cheap spun substitute onto the Mask Hunter. Lin can smell a rip-off a mile away. It’s got to be melt-blown or nothing. His primary suppliers are sleazy arms dealers who have temporarily pivoted away from illegal arms to COVID-inhibiting shmattes because the profit margins are astronomical.

How did businessman Lin Dong become a Chinese superstar sensation? Here’s where art comes into it. Chinese video blogger Wu Dong stumbled upon our dashing hero carving out a deal in a hotel in Istanbul and immediately saw the film making potential. He cozied up to Lin Dong’s pretty sidekick and got the green light to tag along and film Lin Dong’s deal making.

The resulting eight-part series “Mask Hunter” was a blockbuster. Over one hundred million viewers and counting. Lin’s search for the rare fabric has made him millions but he stands to lose it all in a bad deal. His Chinese fans are rooting for him as if he were the Robin Hood of PPE, unlike those money-hungry American profiteers. KABAM!

On that note, I’ll sign off with a powerful and thought-provoking video about masks created during lock down by fellow artist, Reda Abdelrahman. Click HERE to watch.

maskreda

You can read more about Reda in this interview by CARAVAN as well an interview with yours truly here.

Stay safe!

Another of my articles on face masks can be found on Medium.com.

Praying that it’s over soon…

The world is going through a crisis, a global pandemic, an unprecedented assault by an unseen enemy. Call it what you will, COVID 19 is literally killing us while we’re waiting for our lauded scientists and medical professionals to get us out of this. In the meantime, we’re sitting at home reading, playing, working, singing, chatting, zooming, eating, drinking, crying, watching Netflix and praying that this will be over soon. Praying, the way I see it, is a personal and intimate dialogue with whatever form of Spiritual Other people find comfort in believing in. We’re all searching for ways to comfort ourselves and others during this difficult time and if prayer does the trick, why not?

These thoughts brought to mind an installation I created in 2014 entitled ‘Virtual Angel’.

virtual angel II

‘Virtual Angel’ was created specifically for an international traveling exhibition called AMEN. I was honored to have been selected by CARAVAN as one of 18 Western artists to join with 30 leading Egyptian artists in building bridges between faiths and cultures through Art. Each participating artist received a life-sized fiberglass figure in prayer with which to create a personal expression of prayer.

Close up back

I chose to transform my figure into an angel as angels appear in the sacred texts of Christianity, Judaism and Islam as well as in ancient manuscripts that predate those texts. These winged creatures straddle the celestial and earthly worlds acting as divine helpers, intermediaries, protectors, and emissaries.

But I wanted to find a way to actively engage the public and provide the viewer with an opportunity for personal prayer. By using a mobile phone to scan the QR code I emblazoned on the angel’s chest (below), viewers were able to send their personal prayers to the world with a click of a finger.

Virtual angel III

My Virtual Angel provided a means of bridging the spiritual world and the contemporary digital world. It seemed fitting that these digital prayers are sent to the cloud for safe keeping. I invite you now to scan the QR code and send your own prayers out into the world.

Angel QR

If you do not have a QR code scanner on your mobile phone and wish to send a digital prayer to the cloud, you can do so directly by clicking HERE where you can also read the anonymous prayers that have been sent out by others. And for what it’s worth, I’m sending my prayers out to one and all for a safe and healthy sheltering. Take care. 

When is a chair not a chair?

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Having to cut down a dying, 90-foot tree in my front yard yesterday was a sad event. But it brought to mind a mixed media artwork I created several years ago entitled ‘Life after Death’ that touches upon the cycle of life.

Untitled (wood the life and death)
Life after Death   Lilianne Milgrom  Wooden doll chair and ceramic trunk

Looking at this artwork reminded me that I often use chairs as an evocative motif in my art. Discarded chairs by the side of the road have always saddened me for some reason. The chair is a uniquely human object – an empty chair is a powerful signifier of the absence of people just as a chair can elevate the person sitting on it. A chair can take on human qualities and convey a wide range of emotions.

Telephone still life (2) - Copy
The Office, still life   Lilianne Milgrom  Acrylic on canvas
Virtual angel VIII
Amen  Lilianne Milgrom (Learn more about this installation here)

Many artists have used chairs as a conceptual vehicle to make political statements. One of my favorite artists, Ai Wei Wei, created a series of works whose fundamental building block was a simple wooden stool that was symbolic of China’s past.

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By re-configuring the stool to make it non-functional, he challenges China’s push for modernization at the expense of its traditions. By using multiple stools, the artist also visually expresses the loss of the individual in China’s rapidly industrializing society.  

Grapes by Ai Weiwei
Grapes, a spiky cluster of wooden stools from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), is part of Ai Weiwei’s repurposed furniture series

Another famous conceptual artist, Christo (1935-2009), renowned for wrapping buildings, bridges, and even islands in swaths of fabric, similarly wrapped a chair to distort its purpose and to ‘reveal through concealment’ according to art critic David Bourdon.

christo wrapped chair
Christo  Wrapped chair

One of the first artists to use ready-made objects as art was Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). He is credited with being one of the fathers of modern art in so far as he upended all conventional notions of what constitutes Art. In the example below he uses a simple kitchen stool as a pedestal to elevate a bicycle wheel into an object worthy of being called Art. When it was first displayed it was met with outrage and incomprehension. Today it is an iconic symbol of Modern Art.

marcel duchamp bicycle wheel
Marchel Duchamp Bicycle Wheel (Recreated 1951 from a 1913 original)

At the Milan Design Fair this year, an 8-meter high installation paying homage to Italian designer Gaetano Pesce’s Up Armchair, was installed in the central Piazza del Duomo in Milan. Fifty years ago, it was conceived as an industrial design project that heavily implied his support for women to start standing up for themselves and to fight for equal rights.

Gaetano Pesce UP ARMCHAIR

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Check out the latest New York exhibition ‘The Chair’ at The Future Perfect. In a similar vein, look at all the chairs on show at Brooklyn’s newly launched Object & Thing, an art fair blending art and design with a non-curatorial approach to the 200-plus gallery objects.

chairs brooklyn Object & Thing

So next time you plop your behind into a chair, realize that a chair is not necessarily only a chair..

Museum-Contemporary-Art-Chicago-Keith-Haring-Chair
Artist: Keith Haring

Vive la liberté!

When freedom of expression is muzzled, Art withers and dies. We cannot allow our culture to be terrorized and blackmailed. We must stand together to defend our heritage of freedom and creative expression. In the wake of the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, France, it is uncannily timely to announce the upcoming interfaith, peace-building art exhibition in which I will be participating and have played the role of co-curator. The exhibition is titled The Bridge (Le Pont) and will open in Paris at the historic Church of Saint Germain des Pres, the oldest church in Paris.

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I will be traveling to Paris to help set up the show. The exhibition will act as an emissary of peace, traveling from Paris to Brussels, Rome, London, Cairo and the United States for 18 months. I am very honored to have played a key role and to be exhibiting my own painting alongside 46 artists of Arab, Persian and Jewish backgrounds. Below is the image of my painting entitled Narrow Bridge followed by my brief artist’s statement that explains how I found inspiration for this painting in the wise words of a hassidic mystic from the 18th century….

MILGROM Narrow bridge

ARTIST STATEMENT ON ‘NARROW BRIDGE’

“The whole world is a narrow bridge.

The main thing to remember is not to be afraid.”

Rabbi Nachman of Bratislav (1772-1810)

Within minutes of being invited to participate in The Bridge exhibition, the words of a popular Hebrew song began playing in my mind: Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar me’od, v’haikar lo lefached. (The whole world is a narrow bridge. The main thing to remember is not to be afraid). I was surprised to learn that these words are attributed to the rabbinical sage, Rabbi Nachman of Bratislav, born in Ukraine in the 18th century and the great-grandson of the founder of Hassidism, a mystical branch of Orthodox Judaism.

These few words have survived intact over the centuries yet they capture the essence of this exhibition. If ever there has was a time to reach across cultures, religions, borders and peoples in order to pull the world back from the brink, it is NOW. My painting ‘Narrow Bridge’ is a crude reminder that in order to bridge our differences we must conquer our fears and reach a hand across that narrow bridge without looking down.

Lilianne Milgrom

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IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN PARIS IN THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY PLEASE JOIN US IN FORGING UNDERSTANDING AND PEACE THROUGH ART. MORE INFORMATION ON THE EXHIBITION HERE.

YOUR COMMENTS WELCOME AT THIS DIFFICULT TIME.

General Invite Paris -English