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Art Historians Take to TikTok to Shake Up the Narrative

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Art Historians Take to TikTok to Shake Up the Narrative

In May 2021, Australian art historian and TikToker Mary McGillivray went viral for using her knowledge of visual geometry to debunk a claim that Eurovision winners Måneskin were snorting cocaine in the green room. In her clip on the video-sharing app, she used her training in Renaissance art to map the angles and prove singer Damiano David’s nose couldn’t have touched the table.

Using the name @_theiconoclass, McGillivray has amassed nearly 400k followers on TikTok who tune in for her pithy, irreverent content about art. One of her most popular videos provides tongue-in-cheek explanations of artist styles. “If it looks like the chaos after blackout where everyone is stumbling around in the dark under one solitary emergency light, it’s a Caravaggio,” she explains in the clip, and “If there’s at least one person looking to the camera like they’re on The Office, it’s a Velázquez.”

Other videos praise Taylor Swift’s unintentional reference to how medieval iconography works and Lizzo and Cardi B’s hidden art history references in their Rumors music video. She also does a deep dive into the role of bananas in Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian — a banana duct-taped to a wall — and Susan Gourley’s Half-Eaten Banana — actually recycled materials masquerading as a banana. As McGillivary ponders, “Are people more okay with [Gourley’s] artwork because it’s not a real banana? Do we feel more okay when the artist has carefully constructed the banana out of rubbish and then put it on the wall?”

McGillivray is part of an art history subculture on the video-sharing app that, despite being niche, has a huge following. Although the bite-sized clips could be dismissed as superficial, TikTok’s art historians are using the platform to explore points of view often excluded in more established spaces like galleries and museums. 

Cordelia Noe, the founder of The Art Gorgeous media group and website sharing stories about creative endeavors around the world, is an advocate of TikTok’s art history content. “I think people and the art world have got a bit bored of Instagram, of the algorithms and the way of communicating there,” she tells Observer in explanation of the skyrocketing popularity of art-themed TikTok. The video-sharing platform is particularly appealing because “it is more fun, even a bit silly,” she says. 

Colette Bernard, an artist living in New York City, turned to TikTok during the pandemic because of its refreshing informality. Like Noe, she noticed that TikTok seemed to provide a good platform for her content. “I got so many more followers than I had ever managed on Instagram,” she tells Observer. “People really want to comment and share and weigh in on things on TikTok.” Bernard describes the platform as “silly and informal” giving rise to a more accessible approach to content and education. 

Bernard notes that one of her most popular series of videos was titled “Poopoo Peepee Art History.” It talked about toilet-related content in art, such as Maurizio Cattelan’s America. “It was so mind blowing to some people,” Bernard says. “If you take something that is so serious like art history and you approach it in a fun manner, I think that’s the best way to educate.”

TikToker Evan Hart, currently studying for a Master’s in Medieval Art and Civilisation, also appreciates the freedom from convention that the social network provides. “I can discuss more controversial topics or a number of different perspectives that certain [art] organizations would not be able to do,” Hart tells Observer. Posting under the name @evan.hart, Hart’s content focuses on women’s art, medieval iconography and paleography, while finding quirky angles like ‘Snistory’ (snail history), explaining the symbolism of snails in medieval art. “Old art has more in common with modern memes than might appear at first glance,” Hart says, “and it’s always interesting to find out little fun facts about secret messages or innuendos in art.”

The art history TikTokers are also interested in delving into topics like racism, misogyny and colonialism that are not often addressed in traditional art historical discourse. “If you come from art history courses or art history institutes, it’s still really more classically focused,” Noe says. “On TikTok, you get an insider’s perspective with an ironic undertone but also in a more accessible way.” 

Dane Nakama, on TikTok as @umeboi and studying Fine Arts at the California Institute of the Arts, often spotlights discrimination and prejudice within the art world. In several videos, he looks at cultural erasure stemming from sexist and racist attitudes of the past. He also makes a point of approaching art through a non-eurocentric lens in order to open up the study to people who “thought they weren’t smart enough to understand art or that their voices were underrepresented,” as he says in one video. 

Content creator Cassandra Rush, an art history student on TikTok as @pheauxtogenic, is becoming known for her short biographical videos about contemporary Black American artists. She began posting earlier this year about artists like Jammie Holmes and Tschabalala Self, only to find most people had never heard of them. “Some of the comments or direct messages I get on my videos are from different graduates of art that say they were never taught about any of these artists in school,” Rush tells Observer. “But how is that possible when we existed in those same spaces at the same time?” 

Bernard similarly likes to feature art and artists frequently left out of the canon. One of Bernard’s most popular series focuses on public art, which she plans to extend next year with videos about public art around New York City. “When you highlight things that are not so traditional, it sparks people’s interest,” she says. “I try to emphasize on my page that your interests in the art world don’t have to be linear.” 

Content like this has earned Bernard over 300k followers. Noe explains, “TikTok art history content has the potential to grow an audience rapidly because there is not this intimidation that you sometimes have with the more theoretically loaded sources.” As Bernard says, “Every time I make a video about art history whether it’s from today or a thousand years ago, I want people to be able to understand what I’m talking about and not think ‘I’ve never learned about this and I’m too scared to search it myself.’” Bernard notes how the informal format of TikTok also helps remove that sense of intimidation allowing more people to engage. “I can make a video with a towel on my head after having a shower and people are still going to listen,” she says.  

With such an interest online, there’s hope that this might translate into real-life changes in the art world. Noe thinks it is an opportunity for art institutions to rethink how they appeal to a wider audience. “I believe it will have an impact on the way museum tours or digital content might be created and featured on content platforms,” she says. For Hart, “Art history content on TikTok rejuvenates and invigorates the discipline, putting new twists and perspectives on what may sometimes be considered a somewhat ‘stuffy’ discipline.” 

For both Hart and Rush, an important objective is to engage an audience that may not feel welcome in the conventional art history world. “There’s less elitism involved [on TikTok],” Rush says. “You can choose to engage without needing a degree from Yale. No one is asking what your credentials are. Everyone is just there to engage and learn and show passion.” Rush herself says she didn’t feel comfortable visiting a museum until her 20s. “I want to cultivate the thought that we (Black people) also belong in these spaces […] Representation is everything to a young Black child.”  

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Joanna Vail, ‘greatest public service lobbyist in Minnesota,’ dies at 93

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Many colleagues considered Joanna Vail the “greatest public service lobbyist in Minnesota.”

Joanna Vail portrait
Joanna Vail (Courtesy of the family)

“At the Metropolitan Council, she was called ‘our legislative mortician’ because she would always kill off any bad legislation,” Todd Lefko, a longtime friend and president of the International Business Development Company, told the Pioneer Press. “She was a fixture, sitting in the front row of the legislative hearing rooms, knitting and staring at any legislator who might vote against her bills.”

Vail was also a former nurse, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leader and aide to the late Gov. Wendell Anderson.

But to Capitol insiders, she will likely be best remembered for her furious knitting during legislative committee meetings. A political foe once mailed her a pencil drawing of a guillotine over the message: “Are you knitting, Madame Defarge?” — a reference to the fictional character in Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel “A Tale of Two Cities” who sat outside her Paris wine shop during the French Revolution endlessly knitting a scarf listing people to be killed.

Vail died May 12 at Presbyterian Homes in Arden Hills, where she had been receiving memory care since 2020. A former longtime resident of White Bear Lake and later Mahtomedi, she was 93.

“Joanna loved cats, baseball, reading and spending time at her family camp on Agate Island in Ontario, Canada,” her son, David, wrote in a profile.

“Joanna was a combination of the Massachusetts culture and the Minnesota nice,” Lefko said. “This was reflected in her humor, which could be biting, but in the Minnesota tradition, always told the truth.”

Vail was born Nov. 16, 1928, in Waltham, Mass. She graduated from Waltham High School in 1945, and then earned a nursing degree from McLean Hospital School of Nursing in 1950. She worked as a registered nurse in Massachusetts and Maryland in the early 1950s.

After attending the University of Maryland, she served as head nurse at Springfield State Hospital in Sykesville, Md., from 1952 to 1953 and was an instructor and director of nursing education at Rosewood State Hospital in Owings Mills, Md., from 1953 to 1956.

She married Dr. David Vail in 1956. They moved to Minnesota, where he became state medical director and she dove into politics.

After he died in 1971, she returned to work to support her four children. She became a staff assistant to Gov. Anderson, a post she held until 1973, when she left for a position as special assistant to the chair of the Metropolitan Council until her retirement in 1994.

A member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, Vail enrolled at Metropolitan State University in 1988 and became one of the first three area union members to graduate from the school’s labor studies program.

“I think people take for granted many of the things labor has fought and worked for. I don’t think they should,” she said later. “We can’t count on the benevolence of management without a strong countervailing force looking out for the interests of the workers.”

The Vails moved to White Bear Lake in 1959. She quickly became active in local politics but was soundly defeated in a 1961 primary election for a city council seat there.

She was elected Ramsey County DFL “chairman” in 1968 and Fourth Congressional District DFL “chairman” in 1970. Friends said she was the first woman elected as the top congressional district officer in either party in Minnesota.

In 1968, she was a strong supporter of Eugene McCarthy for president. DFLers elected her as a delegate to that year’s turbulent Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where Hubert Humphrey defeated McCarthy for the party’s nomination. While walking back to her hotel one night Vail was tear-gassed by police who were battling violent protesters.

“I remember thinking, what the hell is this housewife doing in a riot in Chicago?” she later told Star Tribune reporters.

Her family said Vail, with the help of Anderson and others, “became sober in 1971 and remained clean and sober for over 50 years, until her death.”

She is survived by sons David Rand Vail (Anne), Garrett Murphy Vail and Michael Walsh Vail; daughters Sara Vail Palmquist (Dan), Rachel Vail Doran (Michael) and Martha Vail Spittal (Thomas), 14 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.

Vail’s memorial service will be held 2 p.m. Aug. 27 at the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, 328 Maple St., Mahtomedi. Memorials are preferred to Vail Place, a nonprofit organization that provides recovery service for adults with serious mental illnesses.

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Salvation Army seeks 1,000 volunteers to deliver doughnuts to local heroes

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Salvation Army seeks 1,000 volunteers to deliver doughnuts to local heroes

Do you know a first responder, healthcare worker, teacher, veteran or helpful neighbor who could use a doughnut?

On June 3, which is National Donut Day, the Salvation Army Northern Division is looking for registered volunteers to fan out across the east metro and deliver a dozen doughnuts to their “local hero” of choice. The 12,000 doughnuts, which are being donated by Cub Foods, can be picked up from one of six metro Salvation Army locations.

Last year, the event drew just under 700 volunteers. This year, the goal is 1,000. Prospective doughnut deliverers must register in advance at SalvationArmyNorth.org/free-donuts.

As for recipients…

“It’s at the choosing of the volunteer,” said Dan Furry, a spokesman for the Salvation Army Northern Division. “We started doing this last year, and it worked very well. We’ll probably do it every year for Donut Day.”

Why doughnuts? Back in 1938, the Salvation Army’s “donut lassies” served up morale-boosting doughnuts, coffee and more to soldiers stationed in France, near the front lines of World War I. June 3 was set aside as a national recognition of their sweet service to the American troops, who returned home with a hankering for the fried confections.

Their appetites earned the returning soldiers the title “doughboys” and popularized the doughnut in post-war America.

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The Photographer: Murder in Pinamar On Netflix: May 19 Release, Time And What Is It About?

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The Photographer: Murder in Pinamar On Netflix: May 19 Release, Time And What Is It About?

Hold your seats fast! For there is another fiery documentary around the corner. On May 19, 2022, Netflix released The Photographer: Murder in Pinamar. The one hour and forty-six minutes long documentary will take us through the politically heated atmosphere of Argentina and focus on the death of Argentinian photojournalist Jose Luis Cabezas.

The co-writing team includes the names Tatiana Merenuk and Gabriel Bobillo. While Alejandro Hartmann is also one of the executive producers, Vanessa Ragone and Mariela Besuievsky have been a part of the executive production team.

The Plot

On the series’ description page on Netflix, the synopsis reads, “The crime of the photographer José Luis Cabezas, in the summer of 1997, shocks Argentina and reveals a mafia network in which the political and economic powers do not seem to be unrelated.

The consequences will be almost as dramatic as the crime itself, both for its instigator and the country.” The documentary again attempts to reassert the evil of governance and the mafia’s involvement in society’s underbellies, pulling the strings through the exploitation caused by money.

Freedom Of Press

The death of Jose Luis Cabezas was a lightning strike to every layman living in Argentina. This was a direct attack on the freedom of the press, for which people came out on the streets and protested this forced violence again.

It was a wake-up call for all; different media groups and human rights advocates asked for justice for Cabezas. The murder occurred during the times that one can  consider the golden age of the press in Argentina.

1652911028 825 The Photographer Murder in Pinamar On Netflix May 19 Release

The Conspiracy And Secrecy

For a long time in the initial investigation, it is believed that it is simply political motivation; where police  put sheets over it. However, a name soon popped up that shook the investigation in another direction, “Alfredo Yabran.” No one had ever seen his face in public; no photographs, no visual identification marker was present for him. 

This link led to new leads, and rumors started painting a whole new reality. Many people were apprehended from the area known as Los Hornos in the Bueno Aires province, and the case was put on trial in 2000 for the murder of Jose Luis Cabezas. They were sent to jail in feburary.

The Teaser

“Taking a picture of me is like shooting myself in the forehead,” almost horrifyingly; this line appears in the teaser released by Netflix. Yabran wanted to remain a ghost, but Cabezas was on his righteous mission.

The film is rates 16 and up, with children under 16 requiring parental supervision. Netflix describes it as provocative and investigative. Such unearthing of realities sure calls for a mature mind to deal with the complex reality we live in.

The post The Photographer: Murder in Pinamar On Netflix: May 19 Release, Time And What Is It About? appeared first on Gizmo Story.

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