This poem was originally published June 25, 2012.
The Pre-Raphaelite movement was the first movement or genre in art history that I was drawn to back when I was about twelve. It lead to a lifelong passion for the arts. I immediately fell in love with the works of Rossetti, Hunt, Millais, Burne-Jones, and Waterhouse. Their works collectively cast a spell on me that has held me in its sway ever since. I’ve frequently turned to my favourite works of art, literature, and film for poetic inspiration. In this case, it’s most evident, as I sought to evoke, or at least allude to, the imagery of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Particularly, I wanted to pay homage to Alexa Wilding, who was Rossetti’s muse, and whose face has become synonymous with Pre-Raphaelitism. Of all Rossetti’s major muses and models, Wilding is the least known about and this may be due to the fact tat she is the only one with whom there are no love letters to document a possible affair.
‘Twas so easy to go over
To just retrace the line
To place the face of an angel
Over the devil’s concubine
Young Wilding was a beauty
With her locks of flaming red
Such deep eyes like an ocean
Upon her my eyes have fed
Her sweet lips full and scarlet
No wonder she was Rossetti’s muse
For those mundane pale and shudder
By her exposure of their cold ruse
In golden light she shone
And lent her higher grace
Yet the brush failed to possess
The nuance of such an elusive face
The subtlety and the complexity
Gentle features hid them well
And upon her brow, no worry
Or else none that her heart would tell
The lines of the poem reference two paintings: Sibylla Palmifera and Lady Lilith. These two paintings were intended as companion pieces to one another. Alexa Wilding appears in both, however, Lady Lilith was originally painted with Rossetti’s previous muse, Fanny Cornforth, as its model. Five to seven years later, Rossetti altered the painting, placing Wilding’s face over Cornforth’s. This is referenced in the first four lines of the poem. Lilith, in Hebrew mythology, is the first wife of Adam who is banished from Eden after crying out the secret sacred name of God. She dwells in the desert lands outside of Eden and preys upon men given to temptation and feasts on the blood of innocents. She is the Queen of the Night, the Mother of Demons, and the First Vampire. During the Medieval period, Lilith’s myth was expounded upon and expanded, and she was dubbed the Devil’s Concubine, a title that was also applied to the Fallen Angels that followed Satan. The phrase was also uttered by the character of Van Helsing in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Francis Ford Coppola-directed adaptation of the late Victorian era Gothic novel Dracula to describe the character Lucy after she became a vampire. In the film, Lucy is depicted with long, flowing red hair, and her sexualized nature, in stark contrast to the virginal Mina, foreshadows her becoming a predatory creature of the night. This ties into Victorian ideas about femininity, which I have elucidated on in a number of essays, in which women were either seen as saints or sinners, as domesticated matrons or lowly prostitutes, as the Virgin Mary or Jezebel. Cornforth seems to fall into the latter category while Wilding falls into the former, at least in how Rossetti depicted them, and this makes his alteration of Lady Lilith all the more interesting because it stands out from the conventions he created around Wilding.
In the poem I also alluded to the sad reality that Cornforth went mad, was forced into a workhouse her sister-in-law, gradually losing her memory, becoming unable to carry on conversations, and finally living the last years of her life in an insane asylum. She died at age 74. As Rossetti’s muse and mistress, Cornforth went from being a celebrated muse and model, living in lush life to basically being exploited and eventually abandoned to her own insanity. As the original model for Lady Lilith, this somewhat echoed the fate of the mythological Lilith’s exile from the garden of Eden.
Alexa Wilding‘s own fate was just as tragic. She died around the age of 37, half the age of Cornforth, due to peritonitis and extreme exhaustion. While Cornforth had been voluptuous and represented the physical world and the body to Rossetti, Wilding’s depictions were more spiritual and ethereal, and she may have been seen as his ideal model, often embodying the soul itself. Rossetti’s last painting of Wilding was begun when she was only 27 and completed four years later. She would eventually be replaced as his muse by Jane Morris. He would die in 1882, just two years before Wilding in 1884, and she was said to place wreathes on the site of his grave.
La Danse Macabre
Gather ye ’round the graves tonight,
For we shall dance in sweet remembrance
We, the departed, worm-riddled, and decay’d,
Who patiently lie in wait for our descendants.
The drums of the Earth beat rhythm into the night,
And by that solemn tempo are we guided
O’er grassy knoll and o’er the bitter soil,
Where for ages our ancestors have resided.
Until the cock crows the coming of the morn,
We dance in our blackened reverie,
As the moon recedes and the sun ascends,
Then is a new day birthed from ancient history.
While it’s a topic that I have often overlooked, fashion has been an undeniable stone in the foundation of both high and low culture, serving as a point at which the worlds of commerce, films, music, and art have all intersected. It has become impossible to explore any of these areas thoroughly without seeing how the world of fashion has overlapped with all of them. Whether it’s costume design for films and television series, the latest business suits for the bigwigs of industry, the wardrobe supplied for commercial photography and modelling, or the extravagant apparel of celebrities walking the red carpet, fashion is an integral element of the modern cultural zeitgeist. And in recent memory, but especially in the last two decades, it’s hard to find another fashion designer who has shaken things up as much as John Galliano.
Controversial designer John Galliano, head of Dior from 1996-2011, has often been referred to as “the rock star of fashion”. Like a rock star, Galliano’s designs have pushed the boundaries of the fashion world with their combination of his haute couture (high culture) fashion mindset and the more counterculture Goth and Punk do-it-yourself aesthetics. He has also courted controversy on numerous occasions, both for his designs, and for his outrageous statements. Galliano has also drawn considerable influence and inspiration from the world of Fine Art. This becomes particularly apparent in his Ready-to-Wear 1997 Fall line (aptly dubbed the “Siouxsie Sphinx” line), which combined imagery taken from Ancient Egyptian artworks and the styles of the Goth sub-culture that was cultivated by none other than Siouxsie Sioux of the Post-Punk/Goth-Pop band, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and for his Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2008 line, which built upon the themes and aesthetics of the aforementioned line and explored other influences.
Galliano drew inspiration from Siouxsie Sioux, whose own fashion aesthetics were a mix of the black leather, metal spikes, dog collars, and tousled hair of Punk, the fishnet stockings and garters of the Cabaret dancer, and the theatricality of Kabuki performance with its luxurious silk robes, pale facial makeup, heavy eyeliner, and dark lipstick. Another important aspect of Siouxsie’s style was her love of the artworks of the German Expressionists and the artists of the Vienna Secession, most notably Gustav Klimt. The influence of Klimt’s work is most apparent on Siouxsie and the Banshees’ 1982 album A Kiss in the Dream House, which as an aside is often considered the band’s greatest artistic achievement in their early Post-Punk days, and, along with a trio of albums by pioneering Goth-Pop band The Cure, helped to establish the sound of the Alternative and Goth genres as distinct from the umbrella terms “New Wave” and “Post-Punk”. Sioux’s style was a combination of Punk, New Romantic, and the emerging Goth, and it would rise in prominence throughout the late ’70s and ’80s, and help give birth to the Goth look of the ’90s adopted by Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and others.
Looking even further into the progression of influence and inspiration, Gustav Klimt was moved to emulate much of what he admired in the artworks of the Ancient Byzantines and Greeks, with their lavish mosaics, recurring geometric patterns (of triangles, squares, and spirals), and bright flourishes of gold leaf. Klimt’s art, more of which can be seen HERE, was striking in its modern style and yet still incorporated ancient elements, resulting in something that felt both timeless and fresh. Klimt’s work was considered controversial and subversive when he, along with artists Koloman Moser and Max Kurzweil, and architects Joseph Hoffman and Joseph Maria Olbrich began the movement known as the Vienna Secession. The group’s motto was “Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit.” (English trans. “To every age its art. To every art its Freedom.”)
This motto accurately reflects Galliano’s attitude towards fashion as well. We can best see the effects of these various stylistic progenitors in Galliano’s opulent and elegant dress from the Haute-Couture Spring-Summer line in 2008. Here one can see echoes of Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees, Gustav Klimt, and classical works of art and design from the Byzantine tradition. Much like a garment made from different materials, which are cultivated and gathered from different places, then carefully dyed, cut, and sown together following the plans of a designer, these seemingly disparate influences and inspirations all come together via the direction of creative peoples. Seeing this progression forwards and backwards through time not only hits home just how much art and culture is reverberated throughout the ages, but also how art in one form, the visual arts, can impact art in other forms, music, performance, and fashion.
Currently some of Galliano’s most spectacularly flamboyant designs, including the one featured in the photo above, are on view until March 3, 2019 at the Denver Art Museum as part of the special exhibition Dior: From Paris to the World, of which the Denver Art Museum is the sole location. If you’re interested in seeing more of Galliano’s Siousxie Sioux and Gustav Klimt-inspired designs for Dior, please follow these links to slideshow of his 1997 Ready-to-Wear Fall line and his 2008 Haute Couture Spring-Summer line on the Vogue website:
John Galliano’s Fall 1997 Ready-to-Wear Line for Dior
John Galliano’s Spring-Summer 2008 Haute Couture Line for Dior
From its opening in 1947 being protested for its extreme opulence during post-WWII austerity measures to its use of cultural misappropriation in the many themes for each fashion line, from the small size of both its dresses and its models to claims of plagiarism, the house of Dior has been no stranger to controversy. But nothing has been quite so controversial as a series of highly insensitive, violent, and anti-Semitic remarks made by John Galliano, which lead to his subsequent firing as the fashion company’s Creative Director. Galliano had held the position for almost fifteen years at the time of his termination. The reason behind it were ultimately two separate incidents when Galliano, who was drunk on both occasions, made some pretty horrific statements to patrons of a cafe in Paris, and then later again in the same cafe where the incident was caught on video and shared online. In the video, Galliano said, “I love Hitler. People like you would be dead today, your mothers, your forefathers would be fucked gassed, and fucking dead.” Galliano’s remarks were made in France, where it is illegal to make racist statements or to promote fascism, and so he was arrested, and his Legion of Honour medal revoked.
Ironically, much of the artwork that Galliano took inspiration from, be it the work of Odilon Redon, Edvard Munch, or Gustav Klimt, was part of a trend of radical artistic reinvention in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a trend largely born of Jewish intellectualism, and one that Hitler would denounce as Entartete Kunst: degenerate art. Greater irony, still, is that Galliano, a Gibraltar-born citizen of Britain, and a homosexual man, would also have found his own works banned and himself imprisoned by the Nazi regime.
Since his firing, Galliano has had a temporary residency for fashion designer Oscar de la Renta in 2013, and then in 2014 he became the Creative Director for Maison Margiela.
The invention of the photograph was so much more than a mere technological innovation. It enabled the human species to graphically document their own existence while simultaneously allowing photographers the unique ability to express themselves in a manner that forced the viewer to experience their perspective. This kind of multi-faceted engagement with the viewer created a level of intellectual stimulation, and often provocation, as well as emotional stimulation, and sometimes manipulation, that carried with it the power to shape our perception of individuals and events. Lives were forever captured on film and preserved. Occurrences were frozen in time for all the world to see and to study. And ideas were proliferated through print.
Indeed, it’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words, maybe even more depending on the picture, but more importantly, what words and how they are expressed is ultimately what determines their effect on us. Whether a photo accurately reflects its subject matter is largely dependent on the context in which we see it and how the image is in turn stored in our memories. Equally important is the intent of its author, the photographer, and how the photo is treated after its taken, whether its colours are heightened or muted, or whether the image had been cropped. Each alteration to the image can reveal so much about both the photographer’s own mindset and what they want viewers to see.
Collected here are some of the most iconic and socially significant photographs of the 20th Century and the stories behind them. While I am sharing these primarily with the intention of education, some of these images are graphic and may be considered disturbing, so view them at your own discretion.
It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. This may or may not be accurate, in part depending on the picture, but also in part depending on the imagination and sensitivities of the viewer. Some images dictate to us the thoughts of their creator or evoke a particular emotional response. Some images tell an entire story or create from within our own psyche a story that we need to tell to ourselves; a bedtime fairy tale for the conscious as told by the subconscious. These stories come to us in vague imaginings or vivid dreams, and settle within the foundation of our personalities, shaping our continual personal and societal growth. Whether it’s the origin of a myth and the archetypes that proliferate throughout numerous countries and cultures or the dreams that we share together of our own fears, fantasies, and aspirations, the image contained within the mind’s eye is perhaps the most powerful and radical in changing us. It is the internal revelation that precedes the external revolution.
Sometimes you can walk past an image and not really see it. Other times you can walk past an image and see it, but not necessarily see it as it is, or in the case of a work of art, see it as it was intended. Other times still, you walk up to an image and something uncanny happens as you make a connection, simultaneously seeing and processing the image while getting the sense that the minds behind its creation can see you in return. This has been the case for me with the work of a number of photographers, but most recently, it’s the work of Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick that has been speaking to me. And I’ve been listening with eyes wide open.
I work in an art museum, and part of my job is to ensure the safety of the visitors and the art, but there’s more to it than just that, because as one of many individuals who roam the galleries, I play an integral role in introducing works of art to the public and thus helping to contextualize in their minds what art is and what it can convey. Many times now I’ve been asked what does this painting mean, or what is the purpose of that modern sculpture, or how was this image created. Occasionally there are clear-cut answers, which usually are the result of having familiarity with an artist’s work or the resources to research the details of their lives, and other times the best I can do is to offer a series of interpretations and let the visitor decide which one resonates with them. When asked about Kahn & Selesnick’s poetic photograph, Melora, I have to stop and ask myself if I am offering the artists’ perspective or my own, but furthermore, I have to question if there is indeed a difference, because with some works of art there is an invitation to explore and interpret the work only from the vantage point of a spectator.
One visitor at the art museum asked if the photograph was a statement on the environment and our collective need to be closer to nature. Is Melora returning to the wild to live in symbiosis with the land and animals? Another asked if there was some mystical meaning and if Melora was a shape-shifter. Is Melora undergoing some symbolic transformation or even a physical metamorphosis? One visitor even asked as to the identity of Melora. Is Melora the deer or the woman? To this last question, the answer is at least a bit more straightforward, because Melora is the name of the model. Artist Melora Kuhn, a friend of Kahn and Selesnick, posed for the photograph and lent her name its title. The photo was taken on her property.
As a feminist and a student of both art history and psychology, I look at Melora and I see an archetype, and I see an exploration of femininity. I see a woman wearing fashion of the late Victorian Era, an era of both technological progress and gender repression, of reverence for the ideal of feminine beauty and restrictive social roles where a woman’s innate power was suppressed. The woman moves out of industrialism and into nature, out of the rigid social strata of her time and into a realm of female liberation, and this is most abundantly clear by the antlers on her head. When visitors initially ask me what the image means, the first thing I suggest they look at is her antlers, because neither female elk or deer typically have antlers. Yet here is Melora, a seemingly human woman, striding into a field where a stag stands amidst the tall grass, its gaze meeting hers, and Melora’s antlers are equal to, perhaps even rival to, that of the stag. She appears to me to be a woman who is leaving behind her own world, where she is seen and treated as a subordinate and objectified, and entering into the world of the wild, where she can adopt an independence and a strength that civilization would deny women, and where she can be an equal to her male counterpart. She is seeking gender equity by abandoning the world that has attempted to reduce her to domesticity. This is, of course, just my own interpretation.
Interestingly, the reindeer is one of the only species of deer in which the female grows antlers, though not all of them do, because in harsh environments where food sources are scarce, the growing of antlers expends a great deal of energy and nutrients. While the male reindeer uses its antlers to fight other reindeer for social dominance, the female reindeer uses her antlers to move through heavy snows and to fight for food, and while male reindeer shed their antlers in the late Autumn and grow them back in the Spring, the female reindeer retains her antlers through the Winter and sheds them in Spring. This independence and self-reliance can be viewed from an evolutionary angle, and one could discuss biologically how reindeer differ from other bovids, but from a social perspective, this makes reindeer almost eerily familiar. There is something there that we can relate to.
At the time when I first saw Kahn & Selesnick’s Melora, I happened to be writing a number of essays on evolving gender roles in society throughout the ages, and during the research phases of these projects, I found myself repeatedly gravitating towards the work of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a celebrated poet, Jungian psychoanalyst, and trauma recovery specialist. Her works, particularly Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, were instrumental in introducing ideas and concepts that informed how I viewed Melora.
“Yet even in an oppressive culture, in whichever women the Wild Woman still lives and thrives or even glimmers, there will be “key” questions asked, not only the ones we find useful for insight into ourselves but also ones about our culture. “What stands behind those proscriptions I see in the outer world? What goodness or usefulness of the individual, of the culture, of the earth, of human nature has been killed, or lies dying here?” As these issues are examined, the woman is enabled to act according to her own abilities, according to her own talents. To take the world into one’s arms and to act toward it in a soul-filled and soul-strengthening manner is a powerful act of wildish spirit.
It is for this reason that the wildish nature in women must be preserved—and even, in some instances, guarded with extreme vigilance—so that it is not suddenly abducted and garroted. It is important to feed this instinctive nature, to shelter it, to give it increase, for even in the most restrictive conditions of culture, family, or psyche, there is far less paralysis in women who have remained connected to the deep and wild instinctual nature. Though there be injury if a woman is captured and/or tricked into remaining naive and compliant, there is still left adequate energy to overcome the captor, to evade it, to outrun it, and eventually to sunder and render it for their own constructive use.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estés
The image of a woman in the wild, outrunning predators, outrunning the unwanted attentions and advances of men only to be tricked, recalls the Greek myth of Atalanta. In the tale, a beautiful huntress and priestess, Atalanta, takes a vow of celibacy in the name of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, of the moon, and of virginity. Atalanta was said to have been abandoned by her father, Iasus, left to die on a mountaintop, because her father would accept only a male heir. Like Artemis, Atalanta has sworn off all relationships with men, and she develops into an untamed beauty, self-possessed, strong, and uncompromising. Raised in the wilderness, according to some versions of the myth, by female bears, Atalanta developed a fierce wildness and could live off the land independent of so-called civilization. Other versions of the myth say that she was found by hunters who raised her as they would have raised a boy, teaching her to fend for herself, and to rely on her strength and her mind rather than just her beauty. She was said to challenge men, including the hero Peleus, to wrestling matches and would easily overpower them.
When two centaurs attempted to rape her, she defended not only her body, but her sacred vow to Artemis, and she slew them. In doing so, she gained Artemis’ favour, and she would later serve as her proxy in the legendary hunt for the Calydonian Boar. After King Oeneus forgot to make an offering to Artemis at the time of the harvest sacrifices, Artemis let loose a monstrous boar upon his kingdom, and this boar plagued the local farmers and destroyed the crops. Many of the bravest of heroes and hunters gathered together, even going so far in their hubris to place bets as to whom would succeed in killing the fearsome boar, but none of the men took Atalanta seriously as a contender. No, they either dismissed her altogether or they were outright angered by her mere presence intruding upon their fraternal display of ego, and Atalanta was only at last permitted to accompany them when one of the hunters, the hero Meleager, convinced his fellow men to allow her. He did so only because he lusted after and coveted her. The fact that he was already married was of no relevance in his decision, and Atalanta’s vow of celibacy, no deterrent to his desires. He would ensure that she was present when he killed the boar if only to win her affections. But that was not the way of it, and many of the hunters were brutally killed by the boar, and others fought among themselves and murdered one another, and when few of them remained alive and unscathed, it was not Meleager’s spear that drew the boar’s blood; it was Atalanta’s well-aimed arrow that brought the boar down. The boar, however, still lived and was only incapacitated. Not to be outdone, the conceited Meleager then killed the boar, but instead of giving it as a sacrificial offering to Artemis, as would have been proper, he gifted it to Atalanta instead. Still she would not be won.
Atalanta’s adventures did not end there. After achieving fame during the hunt for the Calydonian Boar, Atalanta and her estranged father were reunited, and as women were viewed as the property of either their fathers or their husbands throughout much of the ancient world, Iasus was determined to capitalize on her celebrity and marry her off. Her intelligence being no less than her physical prowess, Atalanta set forth a challenge that whomsoever could beat her in a race could have her as his wife, knowing all too well that no man could run as fast as she. However, the goddess of love, Aphrodite, intervened on the behalf of Hippomenes, because Aphrodite felt slighted by Atalanta’s repudiation of love. She gave Hippomenes three golden apples with which he was to distract Atalanta during the race. Each time he passed her, knowing full well that he could not maintain her speed, he would drop one of the golden apples. She managed to surpass him after the first two apples, but when Hippomenes dropped the third and final apple, Atalanta stopped to appraise it and Hippomenes outdistanced her and won the race, becoming her husband.
In viewing Melora, I am also reminded of Frida Kahlo, one of my favourite artists. Kahlo, who in a 1946 self-portrait, depicted herself as a wounded deer with antlers, lived a rich and complex life, and possessed character as rich and complex as her work. Kahlo experienced profound pain throughout her life beginning with a trolley accident in which she was impaled by a rail. Impalement, literally and metaphorically, would become a recurring theme in her work, as would her relationship to nature and animals. In The Wounded Deer, the two themes are united, as Kahlo, realizes herself with both male and female attributes, which has been theorized as representing her masculine and feminine sides as well as her bisexuality. While her face remains stoic, almost reminiscent of the Sphinx or the Mona Lisa, her body is pierced with nine arrows, revealing her anguish.
Frida famously began an affair with muralist Diego Rivera, which lead to their eventual marriage in 1929, but the relationship would prove to be as volatile as it was passionate, and he was incapable of remaining faithful to her. In turn, as a bisexual feminist, defiant, bold, and as desirous as he, she embraced Rivera’s polyamourous lifestyle, taking both men and women as her lovers. Still, Rivera’s affairs left her deeply hurt at times, and often seething, especially when Rivera slept with her younger sister, Cristina. This would inspire Kahlo’s 1937 painting, Memory, the Heart, in which Kahlo depicts herself caught between the Earth representing her family and the sea representing the inconstant Rivera and his many infidelities. Surrounding her, aspects of her personality, including a modern school outfit alluding to her education in European politics and paternal heritage and a traditional dress alluding to her Mexican home and maternal heritage, are strewn about and she is pierced through the chest by an elongated arrow.
Frida Kahlo‘s work is harrowing, sensual, and primal in a way that even if one does not understand the symbols, motifs, and references she utilized, the emotions she was expressing are universal; they are as clear and vibrant as her palette. She was rebelling against pretension and propriety as much as she was against capitalism and sexism. She lived in the moment, in a way counter-intuitively, throwing herself recklessly into her life, allowing herself to be hurt and immersing herself in her pain, channeling that pain back into her work, and then stripping down to her most vulnerable and exquisite self in order to do it all over again.
Which brings me to Amanda Palmer, Amanda fucking Palmer to her fans, who is also a fierce feminist willing to put herself out there again and again, to be hurt, and to lay her life bare for the honesty of her expression. Amanda’s attitude, her modus operandi, and philosophy can be summed up as “in your face vulnerability”. She seeks empowerment through connection, through creativity, through nakedness, through wildness, but above all through vulnerability. She’s the kind of artist who will walk out on stage in the nude, her legs and armpits unshaven, her eyebrows shaved off and then drawn back on, her belly and breasts exposed, and declare to the world, “This is me.” She’s the kind of woman who breastfeeds in public, and when confronted about will reply, without skipping a beat, “I’m a mother.” She’s the kind of writer who will show up to a book signing in her pajamas, put together a makeshift blanket fort, and explain it all by simply saying, “I had the worst flight from L.A..“
That’s Amanda… fucking… Palmer. When I think of Amanda, I think of the quote below, a quote that embodies a philosophy that I myself have prescribed to for sometime, and which I find all the more refreshing hearing it from someone so undaunted.
“The perception that vulnerability is weakness is the most widely accepted myth about vulnerability and the most dangerous. When we spend our lives pushing away and protecting ourselves from feeling vulnerable or from being perceived as too emotional, we feel contempt when others are less capable or less willing to mask feelings, suck it up, and soldier on. We’ve come to the point where, rather than respecting and appreciating the courage and daring behind vulnerability, we let our fear and discomfort become judgement and criticism.” – Amanda Palmer
It’s coincidental, funny, and just a bit odd to me that when I look at Kahn & Selesnick’s Melora, the first person that always came to mind was Amanda Palmer, whose creative output I have admired since I first found out about The Dresden Dolls in the first half of 2003. I look at Melora and what I am reminded of is Amanda’s first solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, and how her unique style left such an impression on me. Her aesthetic, an alchemical mixture of Victorian Era fashion, Weimar Era cabaret, Punk and Goth helped to define what has been called Dark Cabaret since the early 2000s.
When I see Melora, her dress hiked up, marching out into that field, her auburn hair done up in an elegant, but not meticulous bun, and her antlers protruding from her head, I think of Amanda. So, it was surprising and synchronous to me when I was scrolling through Instagram and found that Amanda brought in Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick to do promotional photography and the artwork for her next album. To me, it seems like the perfect fit, bringing Kahn & Selesnick and Amanda together. She has a history of selecting amazing photographers to work with and this time around will be no exception.
In her post, Amanda said, “This record I am about to make in L.A. is without a doubt the most personally intimate/painful/raw record I’ve ever made… my patrons who have been following the trail of demos know what I’m talking about: the songs deal with death, cancer, abortion, miscarriage. I didn’t want to just get glamour shots. I wanted to make meaningful images that match the stories and convey the heaviness of the record. This is why I’m so happy that I met Kahn & Selesnick in upstate New York—they totally get it. I actually started weeping during the shoot a few days ago: I felt so perfectly peaceful and powerful and understood.“
There’s a trend right now, a glorious trend that I wish more people were aware of, of feminist music, raw, intelligent, poetic, danceable, brilliant music by women singers and songwriters (Annie Lennox, Austra, Bat for Lashes, Cyndi Lauper, Florence + the Machine just to name the first that come to mind and the most widely known). I’m glad to see Amanda right there in the midst of it, singing about a woman’s right to choose and her experience having abortions and miscarriages, singing about Harvey Weinstein and sexual harassment and assault, singing about Judy Blume and the influence she had on her as a teen and an adult, singing about the loss of her best friend who died of cancer, singing about the challenges and joys of motherhood, and singing about life as we all experience it and can relate to it. This is what the world needs right now to understand itself and to heal. Sometimes you have to go to the wilderness to heal. Sometimes you have to heal to embrace your own wildness. Sometimes you have to enter the wild in order to strip yourself down to its bare, essential, creative self. Sometimes it is only in the wild that you can be free to cry, to laugh, and to sing. And woman of the wild, I hear thee…
Artists’ and Authors’ Website Links:
Kahn & Selesnick’s website (https://kahnselesnick.biz/)
Melora Kuhn’s website (https://melorakuhn.net/)
Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ website (https://www.clarissapinkolaestes.com/)
The Dresden Dolls’ website (https://dresdendolls.com/)
Amanda Palmer’s website (https://amandapalmer.net/)
Recommended Reading List (includes audio books):
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes/ by Edith Hamilton
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings/ by Maya Angelou
Le Féminisme ou la Mort/ by Françoise d’Eaubonne
The Word for the World Is Forest/ by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Creative Fire/ by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype/ by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Theatre of the Imagination/ by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Tales of the Brothers Grimm/ edited, selected, and introduced by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
The Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature and Place in a Hypermodern World/ by Charlene Spretnak
The Art of Asking: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help/ by Amanda Palmer
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone/ by Brené Brown
“No one wants to touch the legitimate hunter, but we’ve got to protect society from nuts with guns. Something must be done.“
In the first two decades of the 2000s, when we have reached an epidemic of gun violence where there is almost one mass shooting in America every other week and police shootings of unarmed black men occur more and more frequently, Republican attitudes towards gun control can be summed up with these words:
“I think that mental health is your problem here. But this isn’t a gun situation here.” – Donald Trump
Consider the numbers alone. We are barely more than halfway through the year 2018 and over 500 people have been shot and killed by police. 92 of those were black. While only 13% of America’s population is black, 31% of people shot and killed by the police are black, 39% of those shot and killed when not attacking are black, and 62% of those shot and killed by police when unarmed are black. Why the discrepancy in fatal shootings? The answer isn’t simple and a multitude of factors must be considered: a history of police brutality, racism and racial profiling, economic conditions, lack of educational and employment opportunities in inner cities, mass incarceration, the militarization of the police, and an over reliance upon firearms as the first defense.
These are but a few of the instances in recent years when black men were killed by the police…
On January 1, 2009, a twenty-two year old man, Oscar Grant, was shot in the back while being restrained by police at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California.
On July 17, 2014, forty-three year old Eric Garner was choked to death by a plainclothes police officer after selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island, New York. Garner was placed in an illegal stranglehold after he asked the officer to not touch him.
On August 9, 2014, eighteen year old Michael Brown was shot six times in Ferguson, Missouri after an altercation with a police officer.
On November 23, 2014, twelve year old Tamir Rice was shot by police in Cleveland, Ohio while he was pretending to draw and fire a toy gun.
On December 2, 2014, thirty-four year old Rumain Brisbon was shot twice in the chest by a police officer in Phoenix, Arizona who claimed the pill bottle Brisbon was holding was a weapon.
On March 6, 2015, nineteen year old Tony Robinson was shot by a police officer in Madison, Wisconsin after reports were made that he was yelling, behaving erratically, and jumping in front of traffic. The police had been called to help the troubled young man who was later found to have been using multiple drugs.
On April 2, 2015, forty-four year old Eric Harris was shot to death during a sting operation in Tulsa, Oklahoma when an undercover police officer mistook his gun for his taser.
On April 4, 2015, fifty year old Walter Scott was shot in North Charleston, South Carolina during a traffic stop for a broken brake light.
On July 5, 2016, thirty-seven year old Alton Sterling was shot three times in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by police officers who claimed he was reaching for his gun while he was being restrained.
On July 6, 2016, thirty-two year old Philando Castile was shot seven times by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota after a traffic stop. He let the officer know he had a gun and was then shot as he reached for his driver’s license.
On September 16, 2016, forty year old Terence Crutcher was tasered and then shot to death in Tulsa, Oklahoma by police officers, who referred to him as a “big bad dude”, after leaving his vehicle in the middle of the road and behaving erratically.
We’ve seen the headlines in the newspapers, the video reports on the news channels, the blog articles, the protests and rallies, and yet this epidemic of police violence against black men continues.
This is why Living Colour felt it necessary to cover Notorious B.I.G.‘s classic hip-hop track Who Shot Ya? in 2016 with a video documenting gun violence.
In the early hours of the morning on December 4, 1969, Chicago Black Panther Party members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were gunned down by police during a raid. The previous night, Hampton had taught a course at a local church on political education and activism, and then with eight other Panthers met at an apartment gathering place for dinner, where his drink had been drugged by an undercover FBI agent in preparation for the police raid. Clark was found on security in the front room at a table where he sat in a chair with a shotgun resting across his lap. He was shot in the chest. In the bedroom, Hampton, heavily unconscious under the effects of the barbiturates slipped in his drink late the night before, did not wake in the midst of the gunfire. Hampton’s nine-month pregnant fiancée, Deborah Johnson, was dragged from the room and Hampton was shot to death while sleeping in his bed. Witnesses in the apartment reported overhearing the involved police officers having an exchange of words in which the following was said:
“That’s Fred Hampton.“
“Is he dead? Bring him out.“
“He’s barely alive.“
“He’ll make it.“
This was followed by another two shots fired at point blank range into Hampton’s head.
“He’s good and dead now.“
Three other Panthers (Blair Anderson, Verlina Brewer, and Brenda Harris) were also shot at by the police, brutally beaten, and then falsely accused of aggravated assault. The fourteen police officers involved in the raid fired somewhere between 80 and 100 shots. During the raid, only one shot was ever fired by a Panther, and that one shot was caused by Mark Clark reflexively squeezing the trigger of his shotgun as he himself was shot in the chest.
This is why I wear a Black Panther Party patch despite be raised in a small, rural, mostly conservative New England town with a population that was 96% white and being white myself. And this is why I write this post.
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” – Amendment II to the United States ConstitutionThe equality of all man wasn’t acknowledged by Jefferson when it came to his his slaves, and there is no doubt that among black slaves, the predominant labour force in North America from 1619 to 1865, that there was no life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. Independence was a myth. The reality was racial dependence. When viewed in context with the actual history, the words of Jefferson feel hollow, and his words and actions are further proof that the opportunities and freedoms guaranteed by The Declaration of Independence and by the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States did not apply to black people and were never intended to. The laws of the land protected the white man’s freedom, the white man’s land, and the white man’s property. These laws were not extended to people of colour of African, Native, Hispanic, or Asian descent.
On March 3, 1991, after a night of drinking and watching basketball, three friends, Rodney King, Freddie Helms, and Bryant Allen, decided to go driving around midnight in Los Angeles. King was the driver. At 12:30 am, husband and wife officers of the California Highway Patrol, Tim Singer and Melinda Singer, saw the speeding vehicle and followed in pursuit. This became a high-speed pursuit as King attempted to evade the police knowing that a DUI would violate his parole. The pursuit escalated, leaving the freeway for residential areas, and additional LAPD police vehicles joined in, including a helicopter. After being cornered, King was forced to stop his car at Foothill Boulevard and Osborne Street, where he and his two passengers were ordered to exit the vehicle with their hands on their head and lie face down on the road. Allen and Helms complied with this order and were subjected to rough physical handling, claiming that they had been kicked, stomped, and beaten. Helms received a head injury from a nightstick strike while he was lying on the ground. King refused to leave his vehicle at first, but when he did step out, he allegedly patted his buttocks, which was mistakenly perceived as him reaching for a weapon. Singer raised her weapon in preparation for an arrest. However, the Singers were informed that the LAPD would be taking over from this point onward, and all officers were commanded by ranking officer Stacey Koons to holster their guns. Officers Theodore Briseno, Laurence Powell, and Timothy Wind then proceeded to surround King and subdue him. Three of the four LAPD officers together then beat King with their nightsticks, and kicking and punching him over 50 times, as well as tasering him twice. Despite much of the brutal incident being caught on video by local witness, George Holliday, who then sold the footage to a local channel, the three officers, Briseno, Powell, and Wind, were acquitted of use of excessive force by a majority white jury. A federal trial later found officers Koons and Powell guilty of violating King’s civil rights. This famously resulted in riots throughout LA.
This is why Rage Against the Machine wrote Killing in the Name to address the long history of racial violence perpetuated by the police and by white Americans upon black Americans.
At 9:26 pm on March 18, 2018, a twenty-two year old black man, Stephon Clark, was shot while in the back yard of his grandmother’s house, where he had been living. Police had been looking for a suspect involved in a series of car break-ins where the windows of the cars had been smashed with a tool bar. Clark, who had previously had a stint in jail, was unarmed when he was shot. The only possession found on his body was a cellular phone which, according to the the two police officers on the scene, he had been holding out in front of him. Claiming that the white phone was being held out in an aggressive manner, and that they mistook it for a gun, and fearing for their safety, the two officers opened fire on Clark, firing twenty rounds. Eight shots hit Clark, six of which entered his body through his back, and the coroner’s report indicated that one bullet entered his body after he had already collapsed to the ground. It was three minutes before an officer attempted to speak with him and five minutes before anyone approached Clark who lay dying on his grandmother’s lawn. After the arrival of other police officers, and realizing all too late that Clark was unarmed, the two officers muted their body-camera microphones to avoid self-incrimination.
This is why Colin Kaepernick and fellow NFL players kneel during the playing of the National Anthem despite facing criticism from social conservatives who turn the discussion to disrespecting the flag and veterans.
This is why we all must stand together and advocate for stricter gun laws, legal policy and procedure reform, and an open, national dialogue about racially motivated violence and racial profiling in law enforcement. We are all in this together and until all people are treated fairly and equally by law enforcement this kind of unnecessary and deeply contentious violence will proliferate. Regardless of your gender or race, as a human being, your fellow human beings are being killed, and it is your civic duty to recognize and address this injustice.