Blogs Field Guide Allison

Me: Former Walker employee now infiltrating the ranks of public television in St. Paul, Minnesota on the new arts and culture show called Minnesota Original. The show premiers in Thursday, April 22nd at 7:30pm on tpt channel 2. Yes, it's television and not Hulu.

You: Walker blog reader who will enjoy my comments, however pithy.

Enter the One Liner Joke Contest

The text inRichardPrince’s monochrome joke paintings are described as borscht-belt style humour. Jokes like, “I metmy first girl, her name was Sally. Was that a girl, was that a girl. That’s what people kept asking me.” These are the kind of crude, below the belt, old school raunchy one-liners our parents’ generation might remember telling […]

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The text inRichardPrince’s monochrome joke paintings are described as borscht-belt style humour. Jokes like, “I metmy first girl, her name was Sally. Was that a girl, was that a girl. That’s what people kept asking me.” These are the kind of crude, below the belt, old school raunchy one-liners our parents’ generation might remember telling during cocktail parties and the like. Maybe eating fondue was involved as well.

If you’rea New Yorker reader, then hopefully you’re familiar with the cartoon contest every week. It’s where you, the reader, are given an opportunity to supply text to a cartoon drawn by one of the esteemed New Yorker cartoon artists. So, in response to the Richard Prince Spirtual America show here at the Walker we’ll give you a chance to come up with your own one line joke to win prizes and other Walker Art Center swag. Sound exciting, then keep reading!

This contest is a little different. You, the gallery goer,the blog reader, the joke enthusiast, will be asked to supply a one line jokethat is about jokesintime for our Richard Prince Gallery talk on June 5th. This third in a series of three specialized gallery talks will attempt to explain what makes a joke funny, what is borscht-belt style humor, and the history of humor. It’s being led byTwin Cities funny manJoseph Scrimshawwho is an internationally produced writer, performer, and independent theater producer. He’s created multiple best-selling shows in the Minnesota Fringe Festival including Die, Clowns, Die and Macbeth’s Awesome Scottish Castle Party. His hit interactive romantic comedy, Adventures in Mating, has played in New York, Seattle, the UK, Bulgaria and every Monday night right here in Minneapolis

Submit yourjoke by June 4th. Again, the rules are simple. It has to be a one line joke about a joke. Submitthem to this address: allison.herrera@walkerart.org. Include your name, email address and phone number.

First prize wins two tickets to Joseph Scrimshaw’s current show Adventures in Mating plus two free tickets to Walker on the Green: Artist-Designed Mini Golf, which opens May 24th.Runner upis two free tickets to Walker on the Green: Artist-Designed Mini Golf and a B.T. McElrathSalty Dogchocolatebar from the Walker Art Center Shop.

To win, you must make Joseph Scrimshaw laugh!

Let the games begin!

The UpTake Awarded Best Citizen Based Media Outlet by City Pages

For those of you who don’t know what or who the UpTake is, let me inform you now. It is definitelyy one of the most rockin citizen journalist efforts to spring from the offices, basements, and living rooms of Minnesota. It is also the brainchild of St. Paul activist and sculptor Jason Barnett, Minnesota Stories […]

For those of you who don’t know what or who the UpTake is, let me inform you now. It is definitelyy one of the most rockin citizen journalist efforts to spring from the offices, basements, and living rooms of Minnesota.

It is also the brainchild of St. Paul activist and sculptor Jason Barnett, Minnesota Stories creator Chuck Olsen, and Mike McIntee, producer of Inside Minnesota podcasts. Not only have they stayed up latecovering all things Minnesota politics, but they also have loyal bloggers, video journalists, and writers all over the country covering this wacky thing we call the election. Their motto is, “Will journalism be doneby youor toyou?”

I sing their praises on the Walker blog because we here in ECP will have the pleasure of working with these nice fellas during the summer months on the Walker’s Unconvention project, “I Approve this Message.” It’s a project that will hopefully incite the Twin Cities and beyond to explore what is democracy, and whatdoes participating in it look likedespitethe craziness that will be our metro area in the first week of September. Ordinary citizens like you and I will roam the streets armed with video camera and microphone to find out what people think about this election and our role in it.

So, congratulations, UpTake folks! We’re working with the best!

Thursday Panel at the Walker Addresses Suburban Subprime Woes.

If you’ve read the Star Tribune yesterday and today you’ll know what a woeful state the Twin Cities suburbs are in. Especially Wright County’s many cul-de-sacs and developments that sit empty and unfinished waiting to be unloaded while one bad investment scam after another takes its toll on the residents there. Many of thethem were […]

If you’ve read the Star Tribune yesterday and today you’ll know what a woeful state the Twin Cities suburbs are in. Especially Wright County’s many cul-de-sacs and developments that sit empty and unfinished waiting to be unloaded while one bad investment scam after another takes its toll on the residents there. Many of thethem were promised bustling shopping centers, recreation facilities and schools to send their kids to.A safe place away from the city, but with some culture and more shopping options than a strip mall.

This Thursday at the Walker we will talk about the rising rate of home foreclosures amongst other changes occurringin the metro in our panel Next Exit: The Shifting Landscape of Suburbia. It’s in conjunction with our exhbit Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes.

How willAmerica seeit’s suburbs in the growing housing meltdown?Whatdoes a city dowhen they’re left holding the bag after borrowing money to pay for new schools, roads, and water treatment facilities when there is no tax base to pay for them? These questions will be addressed by Lance Neckar of the Metropolitan Center for Design at the University of Minnesota, Michael Lander of Lander Group Development, and Dan Bergin, documentary filmmaker for TPT.

Reading the the story about the Collins family in Monday’sStar Tribune article Housing Bets Gone BadI felt many things. From anger at these fraudulent investor scams to a sense ofamazement at how anyone would want to take out million dollar mortgage whenthey make less than 30K a year. Everyone shares some responsibility. People are desperate, and sometimes getting money for free doesn’t seem to be a bad idea, even when it’s not reallyfree.

While foreclosures are ripping communities apart and shredding people’s good credit, it’s no wonder people are bitter. They should be. Homeownership is sold as the American Dream, but now with the economic downturn it is a nightmare. It’s now wonder they’re clinging to their guns and subdivisions, as one presidential hopeful might suggest.

The Parade of Homes: A journey to Wright County

Winter is clinging on to the state like unwanted guest and it was incredibly dreary in Minneapolis last Sunday. So, instead of sitting around the house cleaning and wishing I could ride my bike around Lake Nokomis, I took a trip with my friend and fellow independent journalist Todd Melby to Wright County to discover […]

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Winter is clinging on to the state like unwanted guest and it was incredibly dreary in Minneapolis last Sunday.

So, instead of sitting around the house cleaning and wishing I could ride my bike around Lake Nokomis, I took a trip with my friend and fellow independent journalist Todd Melby to Wright County to discover the charms of outer ring suburban living.

Why would we do this? Well, it’s all to promote our upcoming panel Next Exit: The Shifting Landscape of Suburbia where we will explore the changing dynamics of the suburbs in the culture, green open spaces, and why people live there rather than a city. This is all in conjunction with the Walker exhibit Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes.

Why would people live where there might not be easy access to shopping and the commute may be longer? We attempted to answer some of these questions when we went on the Parade of Homes tour. Across the greater metro area, folks can go in search of the home of their dreams by driving around cul-de-sacs, lanes, and avenues to visit semi-finished and finished units. Some of these are staged to give the potential buyer a warmer feeling for the house in question. It also helps the realtors chance of unloading the house. And what realtor doesn’t need help in todays housing slump!

Our journey began on a long drive on I-94, but we finally arrived at our first home, selling for a mere $179,900. We decided to pose as a married couple to see exactly what that would get us. Not much really. We were greeted by a young man of 25 who was watching golf and eating cheezits. We would have to purchase our own sod and finish the garage. This house was not staged and as I walked around, I felt an overwhelming sense of boredom and gloom. It was so small and so plain looking. Even with staging I wouldn’t have bought it. It felt a little too slapped together. We moved on, thanked the young gentleman, and let him get back to the golf channel.

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Our next stop was 76th and Larabee in another development with lots of new looking units around piles of dirt. It was almost complete. This house was totally staged. Complete with faux family photos, plates on a well dressed table, and even a pretty pink dress in the girls room. We met a nice family walking their dog. They said they like the quiet, and the fact that they could walk around without the fear of crime.

Ballet Anyone?

We were also fortunate to meet another young family of five who were looking to purchase another home. They currently live in Elk River and were wanting a place with more space than they currently had. This development seemed nice to them. They could let their kids run around without being hit by a car or falling into a pond. Below is a complete interview.

Our last stop was Oakland Homes, where we met the enthusiastic Randy Straus. He almost sold me the house he was so nice. I could picture myself laying on the couch watching cable, my waisteline expanding. He echoed what other folks had said about living here: a quiet place to raise kids, shop in nearby Maple Grove, but then return to the sanctity of your own four bedroom home.

We saw a lot of empty homes in our trek. People are staying put, hoping to hold on to the house that they’re already in. In 2001, Wright County ranked 44th in the nation of fastest growing suburbs, but today that figured has lagged to 169th. Yesterday’s Star Tribune article, “Dash to the Suburbs Slows to a Jog” explains why. Home foreclosures are also a problem in the suburbs. With that brings vandalism, some crime, and the potential of other homes losing value in a development that is slumping in sales. The Atlantic Monthly has a great article on that called “Suburbs: The Next Slum”.

Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes comes at a critical point when art making is responding to the shifts in the culture, and identity of the suburbs. Surely anyone who ventures out to the houses in Otsego and Wright County can feel that.

Click below to see more.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6XYg_xojkU[/youtube]

Frida for Sale Part IV: Juanita Garciagodoy muses on the The Two Fridas

Juanita Garciagodoy breathed the same as-yet-unpolluted air of Mexico City that Frida Kahlo breathed for two years before the latter died. She wrote a book about Mexico’s Days of the Dead, and now she reads and writes mostly about Iberian romances of chivalry. Juanita Garciagodoy holds a PhD from the University of Minnesota in Hispanic […]

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Juanita Garciagodoy breathed the same as-yet-unpolluted air of Mexico City that Frida Kahlo breathed for two years before the latter died. She wrote a book about Mexico’s Days of the Dead, and now she reads and writes mostly about Iberian romances of chivalry. Juanita Garciagodoy holds a PhD from the University of Minnesota in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Languages and Literatures, is a visiting assistant professor emerita at Macalester College, and lives with novelist George Rabasa by the Mississippi.

I was twelve when the Museo de Arte Moderno opened in Chapultepec Park in 1964, and my family went to admire the curious architecture of Pedro Ramrez Vzquez and the marvelous opening exhibition. That was the first time I saw Las dos Fridas (1939). I was and wasn’t ready for it. I found the exposed hearts, the blood, and the veins very disturbing, though I was fascinated by the double self-portrait and compelled by the double gaze–still, steady, magnetic–to remain before the piece (though I really wanted to walk away from those painful hearts). It felt like the two Fridas were inviting me to be part of their ineludible dyad, calling me to know their silence, to reveal my thoughts and feelings to them, to open myself to the new acquaintance.

The painting made my heart ache for my best friend who had just been taken back to New Jersey by her parents. I’d met the sylph-like Monica Lee Schlick in fourth grade. Her brown eyes had jolted me into a friendship that made us long intensely to have been born twins. The best we could do was to become blood sisters, and that little ritual served partially to correct the incomprehensible cosmic error that had us born to different mothers in different countries, three weeks apart. Monica’s and my sisterness was evoked powerfully for me that first time that I regarded Las dos Fridas, which, as Frida wrote in her diary, was inspired by her imaginary friend.

In high school, the double self-portrait still evoked my blood sister even though she had stopped writing me. As I looked at the Fridas’ gently clasped hands, my mind filled with questions. I knew absolutely nothing about her. I was radically alone with this commanding painting, wondering at the metaphor for self and consciousness of self. What did it mean that Frida depicted herself as both prim and casual, European-Victorian and Mexican-timeless (because the dress of our Indigenous women does not change perceptibly until it’s given up)? What did she mean by the stillblood on the stage-right Frida’s lap and the tiny portrait on the lap of the stage-left one? Was it a third self-portrait? Had she once seen herself as male, as I had done (as Salvador Dal had, looking under the skin of the ocean in a girl’s body)?

In those years, my brother “ Manito,” my cousin Carl, and I spent countless hours in the ancient Bosque de Chapultepec, including in its museums. We were intent on knowing ourselves and each other as honestly as possible: docile and rebellious; obtuse and insightful; strong and kind, fragile and cruel. Pre-Columbian and modern art was helpful in our quest.

As an adolescent, I was sure–as I am to this day–that Las dos Fridas was also a metaphor for self-knowledge and for acceptance of one’s complexity and integrity. I was sure that Frida sought herself both in the looking glass and in her mental and psychological self-image, plumbing the mystery of who and what she was: docile and rebellious; mesmerizingly beautiful; strong and fragile; polymorphously sexual, sensual, playfully perverse…(I staunch the flow of adjectives with editorial hemostats).

The two women on the canvas, one with perfect posture, one slouching like me, gave me more of a sense of Frida Kahlo than one alone might have done. As a reader and a poet, I admired her artistic insight and inventiveness, her allusions to pre-Hispanic dualism and Christian trinitarianism. I admired the great skill that delivered the almost tangible skin; the sticky, hot and the cooled, dry blood; the rubbery conjoining artery; the smoothly combed hair. (Was it silky like Monica’s or coarse like mine?) Myriad encounters later, I can, for a few weeks, stand in front of Las dos Fridas in Minneapolis, as often as I did in Mexico City. On my visit last week, I saw the painting as I hadn’t before: Frida renders herself double, inescapable, practically life-size. There’s no mistaking her, and she serenely, softly, firmly holds her own hand, such that she accompanies herself completely, sufficient unto herself. The picture of the child Diego shows a sharp contrast. He is in such a wee format that it’s hard to recognize him, and he supports himself on a table. Frida, who wrote about Diego with mystical adoration, painted him dependent on her more than once, and in Las dos Fridas, while she is all there, twice, not reaching beyond herself at all, he is not even animate.

Sometimes I still ask questions of this painting, but soon enough, its beauty dissolves my questioning. Sometimes I feel vertigo before it, not exactly like that I feel before Las Meninas, but the two masterworks cast on me a mirroring spell.(Yet not the stupefying mirror-spell of poor Narcissus who lacked enough self-knowledge to survive his self-seeking.) Both Las dos Fridas and Las Meninas induce me to stand still and long in their presence and to seek the artists and to seek myself. Both canvases request that I give myself to their fullness, their inevitability. (Had Velzquez not painted the one, had Kahlo not painted the other, they must still have come into existence. But that’s the quandary that perplexed Monica and me as children: If we had been twins, whose parents would have engendered us? Could we still be who we are? Would we still be friends?)

Today, everything I know about Frida melts away as I contemplate this poetic work. Both Fridas feel as thoroughly present, warm, and vibrant as my husband and my friends, as the Frida-tattooed lady and the reverent students in the Walker’s Frida-enchanted galleries. That’s the power and the mystery of Art.

Many of us can remember the impact that seeing Frida’s work for the first time had on us. She is not for sale. But while seeing an exhibition of her paintings is a rare (wonderful!) privilege, we can buy, carry, or wear reproductions of them to remind us of the truth and the beauty of the vivid canvas; to continue to contemplate meanings; and of course, to honor an artist who has moved us so profoundly that we may experience her as very much nuestra Frida.

Frida for Sale Part III: Poet and writer Lorena Duarte muses on Frida consumption.

Lorena Duarte is a poet and writer living in the Twin Cities. She has a degree in Hispanic Studies from Harvard University and taught a class on Kahlo for the Walker ArtCenter in conjunction with their current exhibit. Whenever I think of Frida Kahlo, and her current status as pop icon, I think of Sylvia […]

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Lorena Duarte is a poet and writer living in the Twin Cities. She has a degree in Hispanic Studies from

Harvard University and taught a class on Kahlo for the Walker ArtCenter in conjunction with their current exhibit.

Whenever I think of Frida Kahlo, and her current status as pop icon, I think of Sylvia Plath’s remarkable poem, “ Lady Lazarus”:

“ The Peanut-crunching crowd / Shoves in to see / Them unwrap me hand and foot —— The big strip tease. / Gentleman , ladies / …There is a charge / For the eyeing my scars, there is a charge / For the hearing of my heart— / It really goes. / And there is a charge, a very large charge / For a word or a touch / Or a bit of blood / Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.”

There is this incredible, ravenous quality about the consumption of Frida Kahlo and Plath’s lines kept running in my head this past weekend as I waited over half an hour to see the Walker Art Center’s current Kahlo exhibit. Though largely white, the crowds nevertheless seemed to represent a wide range of folks, from young artsy-punky types, to stroller-pushing families, to distinguished silver bouffants and gold buttoned blazers. She seems to have seduced us all. Personally, I think Frida would laugh at all the fuss. But it is problematic, this consumption – for several reasons. First and foremost, is that a great deal of the furor around Kahlo is not related to her painting, it is biographical in nature. Who was she sleeping with? How many operations did she have? How many lovers?

That seems to me to be terribly disrespectful, if not unexpected, considering our scandal-worshipping culture. If you take a moment to learn a little about Kahlo’s influences, intentions and innovations, her paintings are extraordinary; social commentary, mixed with indigenous and Catholic iconography, each one is a gem of mixed and hidden meanings.

And while her portraits I think are fair game for our examination, there are other aspects of her life, her diary for example, that are not so straightforward. While I adore the Diary, in fact, I am using it for a class I am giving at the Walker, it causes me consternation. Here, Frida loses her masks; all the control and self-mastery that are evident in her self portraits are gone. All her fears and foibles are there for our taking, and we take them indiscriminately. It is terribly conflicting, on the one hand, the Diary is a great source for a deeper understanding of this complex woman, on the other hand, would I want someone reading my diary and dissecting it in class?

But of course this is Frida Kahlo who we’re talking about, and as with anything to do with her, nothing is black and white. We can’t simply talk about her as a victim of crass commercialization by a sensationalistic, consumer-driven society.

She created herself an icon. Like her paintings, which are so careful and intentional, so was she about her life, her dress, her image. She knew she caused a fuss wherever she went by her manner of dress, her rowdy behavior. She loved to cause commotion, and seemed to revel in shocking and offending people (the more pompous, the better). So perhaps she wouldn’t mind being on coffee mugs, refrigerator magnets and t-shirts. Perhaps. Still, I would proceed with caution, and a good deal of respect.

Frida fits our stereotypes of so many things: the suffering artist, the femme fatale, the bohemian, the radical, it is really no wonder that she has become such an icon. I just hope that in the end, people will not ignore the art for the character that created it.

I’ll end with Ms. Plath again, and not just because I’m a poet, but because it so perfectly suits: Frida is herself a Lady Lazarus, a woman who rises from the dead and haunts, lives among, has her revenge upon, and enchants the living:

“ I am your opus, / I am your valuable, / The pure gold baby / That melts to a shriek. / I turn and burn. / Do not think I underestimate your great concern. / Ash, ash— / You poke and stir. / Flesh, bone, there is nothing there— / A cake of soap, / A wedding ring, / A gold filling. / Herr God, Herr Lucifer / Beware / Beware. / Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air.”

Reporting for a Brave New World: Janine di Giovanni

Janine di Giovanni is one tough reporter. She’s been to some of the world’s worst war torn regions, met with some of the world’s worst war criminals, and seen human suffering first hand, yet she remains committed to reporting about the human condition and portraying her subjects with compassion and dignity. She was nearly killed […]

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Janine di Giovanni is one tough reporter. She’s been to some of the world’s worst war torn regions, met with some of the world’s worst war criminals, and seen human suffering first hand, yet she remains committed to reporting about the human condition and portraying her subjects with compassion and dignity. She was nearly killed in Kosovo, had to sleep in the car, eat candy bars for dinner, and jump into a ditch being used asa latrine whenthe unit she was with got ambushed in the middle of the night! She’s dodged her fair share of bullits and gives us some of the most honest and riveting firsthand accounts ofwar .

We are very lucky to host her at the Walker as part of our Writing Conflict Drawing War series. I was also very lucky to talk with her and get her thoughts about the future of newspapers, and how art can make a difference.

di Giovanni has been a reporter for over 20 years. She has won the Amnesty International Award for human rights reporting, has written several books, and like Lee Miller, is elegant on top of it all.

Allison Herrera: I know you haven’t seen the Brave New Worlds exhibit, but i’m wondering if you think art can make difference and make people take action against things they think are unjust.

Janine di Giovanni: I’m not up on contemporary art, but I certainly think art can make a difference. Just look at a painting like Guernica. If you know what it stands for and why Picasso painted it, it can make you cry.

I also think that photography can have a huge impact. Like the photographsLee Miller took during WWII.

And in aplace like Bosnia. During the war, a lot of people were making theatre based on their reactions and experiences aboutthe war.

AH: You’ve been a war correspondent for many years and coveredregions where the nature of conflict isvery different. How has war reporting changed? Do you think reporters are targeted more now than they were in the past?

JG: Journalists have always been at risk. That’swhat happenswhen you’re a war correspondent. This is a business where there is no half way. I’ve lost several friends.I think journalists are targeted when governments don’t want the outside worldto know what is going on. Look at what happened to AnnaPolitkovskaya aftershe had been reporting on Chechnya.

The people who really deserve credit are the Afghani and Iraqireporters who are always at risk of being hit by an IED, but don’t get the credit that Bob Woodruff did. The local fixer, or the local driver don’t get nearly enough credit for putting their lives on the line.

Particularly in WWII, there was a lot of censorship, and journalists were targeted then. It was Lee Miller who broke that censorship and instead of waiting for D-Day to happen like a lot of other reporters, she went out there and reallycovered the war.

Furthermore, I don’t believe in being embedded. You can’t get the truth that way or get the real stories or interact with real people that way.

AH: What do you think the future of newspapers is given that a lot of companies are downsizing their staff and trying to appeal to a market that might not be interested in reading “hard news”.

JG: I was lucky in that I was reporting in the “golden age” of journalism which was the 1980’s. I worked for the British press where there is a wonderful history of narrative reporting. When I was doing reporting, we were given a lot of freedom and newspapers had the budget to do it. I don’t know what it will be like for the next generation of journalists who don’t have what we had.

I like buying newspapers. I get the International Herald Tribune, and a French newspaper.I don’t like reading news online. I like to get ink on my hands, I like to tear things out.

AH: How do you get people to care about regions of the world where there is a tremendous amount of suffering, but is so far removed from their daily lives? Does reading about it, having an awareness about it make a difference?

JG: I really hope so. I’ll give you an example of something that happened a few weeks ago. My husband, son, and I were coming back from the circus on the metro in Paris. An African woman got on and it looked as if she was pregnant. She had just given birth a couple of weeks ago and was living in a hotel for immigrantsin Paris. They’re terrible places. One had burnt down a couple of years ago. She said she desparately needed money to buy food for her child. My husband and I looked through our wallets. I had a couple of euros, but noticed I also had 20 euros.I thought to myself,”She needs this more than I do.” I handed it to her and she threw her arms around me and thanked me and thanked me. We just stood there with our arms around one another on the metrowhile everyone elseacted like nothing happened just reading their newspapers.

I am just a vessel for peoples stories and I hope they effect people the way it has affected me.

Seeing Frida

Jovita Francisco arrived at the Walker on a somewhat chaotic Tuesday. It was Arty Pants after all and she had come with a group of young Latina women and their children to enjoy the Frida Kahlo show. She came without her childso she couldsee the show without having her jacket hem constantly tugged atby a […]

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Jovita Francisco arrived at the Walker on a somewhat chaotic Tuesday. It was Arty Pants after all and she had come with a group of young Latina women and their children to enjoy the Frida Kahlo show. She came without her childso she couldsee the show without having her jacket hem constantly tugged atby a little one.

Jovita is from Ixtlahuaca, Mexico. Her first language is the native dialect Nahuatl, then Spanish, then English. Whew! She works at the Waite House in the Phillips Neighborhood of south Minneapolis. She knew some of the students who were on the bus when the 35w bridge collapsed. Her visit to the walker was coordinated by Latinos en Accion, Cooperativo Mercado Central, and Weed and Seed. This was her first time at the Walker, and she would like to come backto see the exhibit again.

After she had gone through the exhibit, I asked her some questions as to why she thinks Frida is so popular.

Allison Herrera: How did you first hear about Frida Kahlo?

Jovita Francisco: I heard about her through exhibitions in Mexico and here in the US.

AH: Why do you think she is so popular?

JF: Because of her history and the way she suffered. Also, because of Diego Rivera. Mostly because of him.

AH: Is she as popular in Mexico as she is here?

JV: No. People in Mexico are familiar with suffering and tragedy. It’s part of who we are as a people. Life is hard in Mexico. My own life has been hard, but like Frida I am very proud. We are not victims, but we are not unfamiliar with the kind of sorrow she portrayed in her paintings. I think it is different here in the US and maybe that is why she is so popular. The images are more unique here.

AH: What was your favorite painting in the show

JF: Probably Moises. I like the way she depicted the different cultures. I also love her self portraits. I am also a painter, but not like Frida Kahlo. I draw inspiration from myself, which is like her, even though I don’t paint self portraits.

Joe Sacco Speaks!

Joe Sacco is a Maltese-born comics artist and journalist known for his techniques of eyewitness reportage with graphic storytelling to explore complex, emotionally weighted situations in some of the most volatile regions of the globe. He earned his journalism degree from University of Portland, but found his prospects for doing hard hitting reporting very grim […]

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Joe Sacco is a Maltese-born comics artist and journalist known for his techniques of eyewitness reportage with graphic storytelling to explore complex, emotionally weighted situations in some of the most volatile regions of the globe. He earned his journalism degree from University of Portland, but found his prospects for doing hard hitting reporting very grim after working for the National Notary Association. He decided to return to Malta and try to make a living doing what he loved best-cartooning. There he wrote the first comic in a country that had no history of comic books. After traveling across Europe to chronicle the antics of a rock and roll group on tour he started doing research for Palestine in 1991. His encounters, stories, and research culminated in a serialized comic from 1993-2001, the first of which won the American Book Award. He then traveled to Sarajevo and Gorade, a small Muslim enclave, near the end of the Bosnian war to write Safe Area Gorade and the Fixer.

He lives in Portland Oregon and has recently written two pieces on the Iraq war which appeared in the Guardian and Harpers Magazine.

Education and Community Programs Manager Allison Herrera was lucky enough to interview him through email. Sacco will be here at the Walker on November 13th to give us a visual tour of his work. His talk is part the Mack Lecture series Writing Conflict Drawing War , which is related to the exhibition Brave New Worlds. The second speaker in the series, veteran war reporter Janine di Giovanni, will be speaking on November 27th. Her interview with Allison Herrera will be available on these pages very soon. Get your tickets here for Sacco’s talk. Joe Sacco’s talk is beingco-presented by Rain Taxi Review of Books

You were born in Malta–can you tell us a little about that country? I don’t think a lot of people know much about it. I also heard that you did the first Maltese comic book–what was it about?

Malta is a group of small islands in the Mediterranean, just south of Sicily. It’s been an independent nation since 1964, but before that it was run by any number of historically dominant forces in the area. My family immigrated to Australia when I was a baby, but I returned to Malta a couple of times as an adult, once when I was just out of college. A publisher there saw some of my work and asked me to do a comic book series. He gave me a range of options, but I chose romance comics because I thought they’d be a kick to try. The series was called Imhabba Vera’ (True Love). It was poorly drawn, but I amused myself with the plots. In one of the comics, a girl got pregnant and had to fly to The Netherlands for an abortion.Malta had no real history of comics, so there was no argument about whether or not such a story was appropriate – and this is in a Catholic nation that doesn’t allow abortion. I can’t call it the first Maltese comic book, but it was the first Maltese comics series. It lasted for six issues.

Having made books aboutplaces like Bosnia and Palestine, you have said that there are always stories that come out after the shooting stops. What stories do you think will come out of Iraq?

Well, it’s always hard to anticipate the depth and breadth of the fall-out from the

Iraq war, particularly when the war is ongoing. But clearly one of the main issues is the huge number of refugees now living in neighboring states, like Syria and Jordan. Such large, dispirited foreign populations are bound to have an impact on their host countries and the future of the region. That’s the sort of story I’m interested in because it’s not clear when the refugees will feel safe returning to Iraq or what they will find there.

I read the piece you did for Harper’s about US troops training the Iraqi Army. Are you working on any other stories based in Iraq?

Well, I’m not working on any other Iraq stories at the moment, but I have two or three in mind. It’s all a matter of available time. I’m working on a long project now that needs almost all of my attention, and it’s hard to switch gears from one idea to another, at least for me. Anyway, I don’t think I have enough material from my short Iraqi excursion – which was not even four weeks – for a cohesive book.

There is a moment in Safe Area Gorazde where Riki continues to sing after he eats breakfast with you and Edin; he’s leaving to join the battle lines. You wrote, “at that moment I came as close as I ever had to bursting into tears in Bosnia”. What was it about that moment that got to you, when you have heard so many brutal stories about the war?

I think the answer to that question should lie in the pages you mentioned and not in any exposition I can make now. Like many other writers or artists, I’ve fallen into the bad habit of explaining myself in interviews and at talks. I am beginning to understand that the work needs to speak for itself, and that the reader’s imagination has to be allowed to put things together. I realize that will be an unsatisfactory answer for people who are unfamiliar with the work, but…

You are able to seize an emotion, a moment, so clearly and then make it resonate–what kinds of strategies, visual or otherwise, help you do that when you deal with so many interviewees, so much information? How do you bring those stories and information back to the quiet of your home and produce books of such emotional weight?

I think any journalist or writer who travels listens to his or her gut. The way I look at it, what resonates with me will probably resonate with my readers. What makes me laugh will probably make my readers laugh. What makes me want to throw up will – well, you get the picture. I am on the same level as my readers, when it comes down to it. I’m not overly analytical or ceaselessly morose. As far as visual information is concerned, I take photos for reference or I write “ visual” notes to myself so that I’ll be reminded of the atmosphere when I finally get around to drawing. When I get back home, I go through all my notes, journal entries, and interviews. I index and cross-reference them. It can take weeks or even months. I write a script. Another few months. I start drawing. A book can take years. The problem is always what I am going to leave out. It’s difficult cutting poignant stories, but sometimes it’s necessary. I try to bring out some of the emotion I felt when I was there without bombarding the reader with so much visceral information that he or she feels overwhelmed. I make a lot of personal connections “ in the field” and to the extent that I can I try to connect the reader with the people I met. I want the reader to care about these people like I did. That’s all. But it ain’t easy!

Art Spiegelman says that cartoons are defamatory by nature, referring to political cartoons. While I know you aren’t a political cartoonist per se, what do you think of that genre? Has it become either too soft or too controversial?

I am a great admirer of political cartoonists. Their specialty is summing up the essence of a situation in one stroke. It doesn’t necessarily allow for nuance, but it sure has an impact. The recent Danish cartoon controversy is a case in point.

What has been the reaction to your work in the Muslim world, if any?

Well, I can’t talk about the impact of my work in the “ Muslim world,” if any. I think that in general Arab readers have been positive. I’m showing something of the reality of the Palestinian existence under occupation, and they mostly appreciate my efforts. My reaction from Bosnian Muslims has also been generally positive. But we’re talking about populations that have felt sidelined and victimized, and it’s no wonder that any work sympathetic to their viewpoint will be relatively well received.

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