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Can art transform a nation's legal consciousness? This pandemic-inspired cartoon series is trying –



Crop of #COVICATURE artist Jitet Kustana’s piece “Maintain Health.” (Jitet Kustana)

Omid Milani never received any professional artistic training, but he always drew. Before taking notes in class, he would think of images to draw on his blank sheet of paper. It’s always been more natural for him to draw than speak. As far as he’s concerned, both are pretty similar: “When we speak, we evoke images. We’re drawing images,” he says. “But the process is so abstract and quick that we dismiss [that] fact.”

It was this interest in art that inspired his doctoral thesis as a law student at the University of Ottawa, where he found that the dark and complex subject matter he was researching — death panels — could only be properly explored through storytelling. Particularly when it comes to difficult topics, Milani believes that art as a mode of storytelling allows us to communicate using emotion rather than just rationale. Now, this belief has led him to his next research project, supported by the University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre: Contekst (a play on the word “context”), from which the art series #COVICATURE was born.

#COVICATURE is an example of Milani’s aesthetic approach to law and human rights — that is, seeing the image as a universal mode of communication and expression. “At the time of a global pandemic such as this, we need [a] universal means of communication,” he explains. “The linear, textual way of communicating ideas is too slow, whereas cartoons are not like that; they are quick, but they are very profound.”

#COVICATURE artist Bruce MacKinnon studied fine arts at Mount Allison University and later graphic design at the Nova Scotia college of Art and Design. Now, he draws editorial cartoons for the Halifax Chronicle Herald. “In the online world, especially of social media, there is pushback to almost any kind of political thought or opinion. I think editorial cartoons are flourishing in spectacular fashion online … It’s a transitional stage for the art form and I think we have yet to realize what its future will be.” (Bruce MacKinnon)

Cartoons can be quickly understood and they encourage active participation from the viewer. Just as importantly, satirical cartoons — and cartoons in general — empower our imagination, making them ideal for exploring complex experiences such as suffering. “You can create your own version of the meaning, and that’s clearly close to the universal spirit of human rights,” says Milani. “That’s why #COVICATURE can show those kinds of universal stories that we all feel, but maybe words are too little to communicate them to universal audiences.”

For Milani, arts and human rights are closely tied and interdependent. “Art can help human rights in terms of communicating, popularizing, and promoting [its] content.” It can also transform and broaden our understanding of what human rights really is. This is especially important today considering our current political climate.

For example, we can look at how #COVICATURE, a series of cartoons, takes on the current public discourse on COVID-19, exploring all the complicated emotions bound up in this historical moment. Cartoons can also potentially challenge the politicization of the pandemic (think anti-mask protestors, COVID conspiracy theories, and a president briefly pushing the injection of disinfectant as a cure). As Milani believes, when people in positions of power promote messages that go against reason and science, the public can become confused and unable to distinguish misinformation from fact. But in a single frame, cartoons can cut through it all, delivering audiences from superstitions and lies by communicating messages simply but profoundly.

#COVICATURE artist Katherine Laflamme was influenced by Antoine Dumas, a professional painter who often included irony in his works. Laflamme’s work touches upon the new reality of homeschooling and confinement during the pandemic: “Despite our apparent comfort, our system and structures are very precarious. And when it gets destabilized, it is often mothers who sacrifice their careers to hold the rest together. I hope mothers get the recognition for the often invisible sacrifices they are making during the pandemic.” (Katherine Laflamme)

This is not to say that cartoonists should strive to control meaning. On the contrary, as Milani believes, cartoons withdraw from that sort of “intellectual aggression,” allowing the audience room to imagine and create meaning themselves. It is this liberty of art, Milani argues, that can serve Canadian human rights initiatives and legal institutions as a whole. Art gives us the freedom to create truthful images that can combat bigoted frames of reality. It can broaden our minds, free us from limited ways of thinking and offer up different perspectives rather than the ones dominant society considers “correct.”

Ultimately, law and human rights both deal with life experiences, but those experiences are not so simple that they can be faithfully expressed through written reports and essays alone. “Human rights are universal and words are not,” Milani argues. “Therefore, to speak about human rights, it is only natural to incorporate images.”

Milani believes that #COVICATURE and Contekst can enrich legal scholarship with this exploration of the relationship between art and law. Law may be seen as a science, but it shares many characteristics with art — especially the importance of imagining, since imagination has long been key to how people have been differentially (and often unfairly) subjected to the law. Milani hopes that his way of conceiving of art and imagination transforms Canada’s legal consciousness.

#COVICATURE artist Hernández Guerrero, a.k.a. Ares, began to publish cartoons in 1984 when he was a third year medical student. Influenced by the Cuban cartoon publication dedeté, he is involved in many political movements related to cartoons, such as Cartooning for Peace founded by Kofi Annan. “In Cuba cartoons [are] flourishing in this moment, mainly on the internet. My colleagues are creating more cartoons than in previous moments — sure[ly] because they have no possibility to go to a bar!”” (Hernández Guerrero)

This hope is also the impetus behind the Human Rights Research and Education’s Centre’s Arts & Human Rights Program. “We can’t have lawyers that cannot imagine because that’s inhumane,” Milani says. “The same for judges, the same for prosecutors, researchers, professors, students.” He says those who fail to imagine beyond narrow readings of the law might “violate human rights.”

It’s a warning that reminds me of the current pushback against political cartoons and artists in various countries, and of Toni Morrison’s essay, “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear,” in which she states “dictators and tyrants routinely begin their reigns and sustain their power with the deliberate and calculated destruction of art.” As Morrison argues, a key strategy of oppression is to “limit or erase the imagination that art provides” — imagination that encourages critical thinking, critical thinking that encourages empathy, empathy that encourages an understanding of shared humanity.

Law, after all, is a system that regulates humans. Therefore, future representatives of the law need to be able to open their minds and hearts to understand the depth of what humanity is. Considering it in that light, perhaps street art movements like Toronto’s Paint the City Black can be just as valuable an educational tool as standard legal documents. Maybe that’s why Milani considers imagination to be so precious: it’s “a gift that art can share with law.”

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High school art relaunches online – St. Albert TODAY



If you’re going through with.draw.all withdrawal, then the cure is nigh.

The Gazette’s online venue that featured local high school students’ art from the latter end – re: the COVID end – of the school year was an über-popular place to get your visual fix from the creative wunderkinds. The students discovered a new way to get their work out there and learned even more about the therapeutic value of artistic creation.

Now that school is back in session, a new collaborative art project is being launched.

Re/LAUNCH/ing is aimed at hitting the same high notes that its predecessor did, but with the added emphasis on the intrinsic value of art to the artist.

“The importance of the arts in education can’t be stressed enough. Not only is it helping our youth with their mental health in a really stressful time but it is providing an avenue to really work on developing their creative and critical thinking skills. This is going to become even more crucial in the near future. These times that we are living through will require creative thinkers to help society move forward,” expressed Colleen Hewitt, art teacher at Paul Kane High School.

Students will explore a medium inside of a specific theme as part of their art educations. A selection of their creative output will be featured on on the last Thursday of each month.

“We are so grateful for another opportunity to showcase the talent of our St. Albert art students. The city gets to have a sneak peek of what is currently going on in the art programs. It is so important for these students to have a platform to share their creative ideas and thoughts. Finding ways to connect our students with the art community and see how other youth in St. Albert are demonstrating their creative path allows for collaborative growth,” stated Teresa Wallsten, art teacher at St. Albert Catholic High School.

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Come to Vote, Stay for the Art – The New York Times



While many California museums are still shuttered because of the coronavirus, and others are opening slowly at limited capacity, the Institute of Contemporary Art San José has come up with an ingenious solution to open the museum, legally, for four days.

Starting on Oct. 31 through Election Day, the museum will become a polling site. Alison Gass, its executive director, is hoping that civic-minded citizens will stream through the museum to vote and take time to appreciate the art inside (a local art exhibition called “Personal Alchemy”) and out.

It will be hard not to notice.

A 50-foot vinyl mural by the Iranian-born artist Amir H. Fallah will wrap around the museum’s facade, and two six-foot circular paintings of his will slowly rotate in two windows.

Credit…Amir H. Fallah and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles; Alan Shaffer

In his mural, titled “Remember This,” messages in vibrant colors read: “REMEMBER MY CHILD NOWHERE IS SAFE”; “THEY WILL SMILE TO YOUR FACE”; and “A BORDERLESS WORLD,” along with other text. By “child,” Mr. Fallah means his younger self — by the age of 6, he had lived in four countries (Iran, Italy, Turkey and the United States) — and his 5-year-old son. “In America, people have a false sense of security,” he said in a recent interview.

In late July, Ms. Gass, who also is the museum’s chief curator, asked Mr. Fallah to paint a mural that addressed “the social and political conditions happening in this election and beyond.” He told her that was what he was thinking about, too. His paintings would appear outside of the institute, “because we wanted a safe way for people to see art,” Ms. Gass said.

A few days later, she met with her longtime collaborator, Florie Hutchinson, who was about to become the museum’s director of external relations. Ms. Hutchinson thought of a way for more people to see Mr. Fallah’s art: Make the institute a polling place.

“Many people in the past voted at their neighbor’s garage or in retirement homes,” said Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state. That is no longer possible. California is promoting vote by mail “as a preferred option,” Mr. Padilla said. But for those wanting to vote in person, he said, counties have become “more creative.”

Santa Clara County, of which San Jose is the county seat, will be using libraries, empty schools, City Hall Council chambers, another museum and even a police department,said Paulo Chang, the county registrar of voters, election division coordinator.

As people enter the polling place, Mr. Fallah said, “I want them to think about what their vote means, how it affects everyone and everything around them.”

Credit…Maggie Shannon for The New York Times

Mr. Fallah said his paintings for the museum are self-portraits with imagery from disparate cultures that express injustices all over the world. “This is a pretty political mural, but it doesn’t say to vote one way or another,” he added.

(California does not allow anyone within 100 feet of a polling place to engage in electioneering, which refers to displays of a candidate’s name, likeness on buttons, hats or signs. It says nothing about art that addresses anxieties or calls for more empathy.)

An American citizen, Mr. Fallah, 41, who lives in Los Angeles, said he has experienced what he calls the abuse of government power firsthand. In January 2017, when President Trump closed the nation’s borders to refugees and suspended immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries, he was detained “in a basement room at Newark Airport with other brown people,” almost all of whom were citizens, he said. He said his passport was taken from him.

Mr. Fallah’s paintings reflect his fears that “the world is getting darker and darker,” he said. His concerns include but are not limited to “the environment, the treatment of children by ICE, racism, social injustice, an almost war with Iran for no reason,” he said.

Mr. Fallah is also designing a giveaway button that says: “Vote like your life depends on it.” That message will be on signs in city bus shelters and on streetlight poles.

“We were poised to be nimble, especially in a moment of unimaginable crisis for arts organizations,” Ms. Gass said.

The institute, which used to be called the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art but was recently renamed, occupies a red brick, one-story building in downtown San Jose, the third-largest city in California, which Sam Liccardo, its mayor, has called “a city of immigrants.” As of 2014, 38 percent of residents were immigrants, including an Iranian community.

The institute, which is celebrating its 40th year, usually sees 30,000 visitors annually and has a $1.5 million budget. It received some assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program and has kept all seven employees.

At the end of July, Ms. Gass, the former director of University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art, was sitting on a curb in Palo Alto, sipping ice coffee with Ms. Hutchinson. They wanted Mr. Fallah’s art to be seen by as many people as possible during “this most important election of our lifetime,” Ms. Hutchinson said.

The next day, in the shower, Ms. Hutchinson said, it came to her: “What if there’s a way we can open the building for the purposes of letting people vote?”

Ms. Hutchinson was familiar with the California Voter’s Choice Act, which is designed to make voting more convenient. It decouples voting from neighborhoods by offering “vote centers,” larger venues near parking and transit hubs. Voters can choose any center countywide.

Credit…Amir H. Fallah and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles; Alan Shaffer
Credit…Amir H. Fallah and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles; Alan Shaffer

“Throughout my career I’ve been drawn to art that is about politics,” such as Mr. Fallah’s work, Ms. Gass said, “in which you begin to find meaning for yourself.” She chose an artist from an underrepresented group: “artists from countries not given a big platform in American museums.” His work “is bound up in American identity and the immigrant experience,” she added, calling it “beautiful and disturbing.”

Mr. Fallah’s art has been exhibited worldwide in over 100 shows. He is best known for his veiled people — concealed behind gorgeously patterned fabrics. His work was featured in an online exhibition last spring called “How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This?”

His painting is 16 feet by 3 feet. Through the use of high-resolution photography, it has been enlarged and printed on vinyl as a mural. It and the two circular paintings are mash-ups: Ancient script is set against skateboarders’ graffiti, Persian miniature horses against the Black Panthers logo. The circular paintings represent Earth and are edged with “the chaotic mesh of plant life,” he said. One is called “Cowboy,” the other “Cowgirl,” inspired by vintage Valentines. Mixed in are images of a Cambodian propaganda figure, mythical figures from old match boxes, “debris of life” that he finds online. When the paintings rotate, plants and cultures will tumble onto one another.

Explanatory text will appear in five languages, including Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Farsi.

Mr. Fallah said he hoped his art would make people “stop in their tracks and think about what their vote means.”

“The big thing missing in our society is empathy,” he said. Will his art make people care about others? “Will it? I don’t know,” he said. “That’s my desire.”

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The art of digitizing ancient calligraphy – CNN



Written by Dan Tham, CNNHong Kong

From the moment we wake up and check the messages on our smartphones, we’re exposed to text design. Throughout our day, storefronts and websites announce themselves, first and foremost, through the typefaces they use — whether it’s the Helvetica used by New York City’s subway, the approachability of Cooper Black, or the proprietary CNN Sans that you’re reading on this page.

For Adonian Chan, a 33-year-old graphic designer based in Hong Kong and co-founder of design company Trilingua, the different texts we encounter in our daily lives amount to what he calls a “visual landscape.”

In his hometown, signs written in traditional Chinese characters can be found around every corner. In the hectic district of Mong Kok, neon signs advertise pay-by-the-hour hotels and foot massage parlors. In the quiet neighborhood of Tai Hang, hand-drawn signboards alert passersby to auto repair shops and Chinese medicine stalls.

But one calligraphy style, above all, has come to represent Hong Kong for Chan: Beiwei Kaishu, a dynamic way of writing that has its origins in 4th century China. But Beiwei Kaishu is endangered, Chan says. That’s why he’s on a mission to digitize it into a typeface — and save it.

A black and white sign — written in the Beiwei Kaishu style — draws attention to a chiropractor’s clinic in Hong Kong’s Yau Ma Tei district. Credit: Adonian Chan

Written in stone

According to Keith Tam, head of communication design at the Hong Kong Design Institute, Beiwei Kaishu originated in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386 — 534 AD), and was inscribed on stones to document historical events.

In the 19th century, Zhao Zhiqian, a renowned Qing dynasty calligrapher with an interest in epigraphy — the study of inscriptions — crafted his own rendition of Beiwei Kaishu and, using a brush instead of a carving knife, revived the ancient style.

The art of digitizing ancient calligraphy

Tam says although it’s not possible to pinpoint when Beiwei Kaishu made its way to Hong Kong, a well-known local calligrapher named Au Kin Kung, who was born in the 1880s, helped to spread its popularity in the city during the 20th century.

“[Au] was what we might call a ‘commercial calligrapher,’ who inscribed many shops and organizations throughout Hong Kong,” says Tam. “His commercial signage work almost always used Beiwei Kaishu.”

The Hong Kong incarnation of Beiwei Kaishu “evolved from Zhao Zhiqian’s rather softer style to become more exaggerated in the stroke beginnings, inflection points and endings,” says Tam, adding that the Hong Kong Beiwei Kaishu is “a lot more dynamic and powerful than Zhao’s hand.”

After World War II, Beiwei Kaishu was used prolifically in Hong Kong signage, partly because it is highly legible, even from far distances, says Tam. “Pragmatism is one of the characterizations of southern Chinese people, and Beiwei Kaishu seems to be a pragmatic choice.”

What sets Beiwei Kaishu apart from other Chinese writing styles is its asymmetric construction, bold lines and unexpected angles — something that makes it “energetic,” says Chan.

But with the advent of computer-generated fonts and LED signs, Chan says he observed that signs written in the style — work that depended on the skill of calligraphers — were disappearing from Hong Kong.

“It’s almost extinct,” says Chan, pointing to the rapid transformation of Hong Kong’s urban landscape. “They demolish old buildings and, of course, the shops, as well. So it’s really destruction to the visual culture.” As a consequence, few designers working today are aware of the Beiwei Kaishu style, he says.

hong kong calligraphy 3 spc intl

Beiwei Kaishu signs like this are disappearing from Hong Kong. This one belongs to Sweetheart Garden Restaurant, in Kowloon, which is famous for its steak. Credit: Adonian Chan

Creating ‘Beiwei Zansyu’

In 2016, Chan asked Wong Gok Loeng, a master of calligraphy in Hong Kong and apprentice of the famed Au Kin Kung, to teach him to write in the Beiwei Kaishu style.

Chan then started the process of digitizing the characters. He first writes the characters on paper with a brush and ink, which gives him a sense of proportion. Next, he makes a pencil sketch. Finally, he recreates the characters digitally, using a computer program called Glyphs.

One of the main challenges when digitizing the ancient calligraphy is striking a balance between the artistic expression of handwritten lettering and the need for consistency and coherence in font design, says Chan.

He can complete two characters a day, depending on their complexity, and is aiming to digitize 6,000 characters.

Chan says his project is geared at doing more than preserving a centuries-old writing style and that he sees himself as building on the work of previous generations.

“We are like co-creators of this design,” he says. He has named his typeface Beiwei Zansyu and hopes it will eventually be installed on phones and computers.

“I see Adonian’s (Chan’s) efforts in turning Beiwei Kaishu into a typeface as a form of historical preservation,” says Tam. “It’s more than waxing nostalgic to bygone eras — it’s reinterpreting and continuing its heritage in contemporary life.”

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