• With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, look no further for a fascinating history lesson (and maybe some inspiration) than Katherine Roth on the many iterations of the holiday’s card for AP News:

In the mid-19th century, some people shared “Vinegar Valentines,” a sort of anti-Valentine that featured playfully insulting verses, not unlike a modern-day roast.

Sometimes, cards involved writing in a circle or upside down, like a puzzle. Some had a decorative folded border or verses on the folds; cutwork resembling lace; or watercolor decorations of pierced hearts, lovebirds and flowers. Lover’s knots and labyrinths were also common elements.

  • “What even is a documentary anymore?,” asks Reeves Wiedeman in an exploration of the commercialization boom and general state of the documentary industry for Vulture:

In 2009, researchers at American University published Honest Truths, a report on the industry, in which a nature documentarian admitted to breaking a rabbit’s leg to ensure he got a shot of a predator capturing its prey; another filmmaker couldn’t find home movies of a family featured in a historical film and simply went to a flea market, bought some Super 8 footage of a random family from the same era, and used that instead. The Jinx features the greatest documentary ending of all time — Robert Durst apparently confessing by asking himself “What the hell did I do?” on a hot mic before responding, “Killed them all, of course” — but the two lines were later revealed to have been transposed in an effort to add drama to the climax, an editing technique common enough to have its own name: Frankenbiting.

  • Artist Wendy Red Star writes about the late Cree artist Kimowan Metchewais, whose work speaks to her own art practice and experiences growing up on the Crow (Apsáalooke) Nation in Montana:

Kimowan’s Polaroids of hand gestures are poetic, simple and powerful. My father’s first language is Crow. He told me that when he was young, everyone would sign with hand gestures while they talked. Some signs were specific to the Apsáalooke, and some could be used to communicate with neighboring tribes. My father said that he could pick up conversations from across a room by seeing the hand signs. I don’t see people sign much these days. Seeing this work made me think about my connection to Native sign language.

Art gave me a way to understand or make sense of the world. But my teachers never presented the work of Native artists alongside artists like Cindy Sherman. While I appreciate her work, I don’t connect to it in the same way.

  • For Aeon, philosopher Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò writes about ideas of a ‘precolonial’ Africa that often slip into dangerous and flattening racialized narratives:

All who talk glibly about ‘precolonial’ Africa, insofar as the designation bespeaks a temporal horizon, award an undeserved victory to the racist philosopher. Of course, the ‘pre’ in ‘precolonial’ supposedly designates ‘a time before’ colonialism appeared on the continent. But how do we deign to describe a period from the beginning of time to the moment when the European, modernity-inflected colonial phenomenon showed up? It accords more of a mythological than a historical status to the arrival of modern European colonialism in Africa and its long and deep history. The ‘precolonial’ designation, in practice, even excludes two earlier European-inspired colonialisms in Africa. After all, for those of us who know our history, Roman and Byzantine/Ottoman colonial presences on the African continent were not without legacies on the continent, too.

  • The New Yorker’s David Remnick takes a deep dive into Salman Rushdie’s journey as a writer before and after the fatwa issued against him by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, almost exactly 34 years ago, and where he stands following a stabbing attack last August:

With every public gesture, it appeared, Rushdie was determined to show that he would not merely survive but flourish, at his desk and on the town. “There was no such thing as absolute security,” he wrote in his third-person memoir, “Joseph Anton,” published in 2012. “There were only varying degrees of insecurity. He would have to learn to live with that.” He well understood that his demise would not require the coördinated efforts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or Hezbollah; a cracked loner could easily do the job. “But I had come to feel that it was a very long time ago, and that the world moves on,” he told me.

  • And in The Drift’s latest edition, Zain Khalid offers an opposing critical perspective on Rushdie’s position in mainstream consciousness post-fatwa and a review of his latest novel Victory City, published this week:

There are passages, primarily in Victory City’s second half, where the old Rushdie shines through. When Pampa asks her transcriber and acolyte what she might wish for herself in the future, the acolyte responds, “I want to be a foreigner.” Her description of what she envies about foreigners sounds a lot like a diagnosis of Rushdie’s success: “They just come and go, no ties, no duties, no limits,” she says. “They even tell us stories about ourselves and we believe them even if they get everything upside down. It’s like, they have the right to tell the whole world the story of the whole world, and then just… move on.” The exigency of this sentiment recalls the best passages in Shame, places where Rushdie’s visceral portrait of unbelonging collapses the distance between the reader and the text. Unfortunately, at almost every other juncture in Victory City, sensation supersedes internality. There are beheadings, rapes, years of drought, sometimes occuring all on the same page. Stories begin and are swiftly orphaned. More of them should have been. 

  • Manhattan’s World Trade Center Oculus station opened a mere seven years ago to the tune of $4 billion dollars but has already begun showing signs of wear. Christopher Bonanos investigates why for Curbed:

But that’s not all that’s going on here. Matthew Crawford, superintendent at a company called Gem Construction and Waterproofing, oversaw a lot of the floor’s installation and maintenance, and when I called him, he knew what I was asking about right away. He mostly brushed aside my suggestion that the choice of stone was the fundamental problem, though he agreed that it’s “not the most resilient. There are millions of little hammers, every single day, pounding on that floor. I’d see a woman with stiletto heels running there, and I’d cringe.” The deeper problem, he explained, is that there’s a radiant-heating system underneath of the type you see in a lot of premium construction these days. Thin pipes snake around, back and forth, atop a layer of insulation, and they’re filled with a glycol solution that is warmed up and pumped around. Radiant heat has many advantages — evenness, silence, no vents to collect dirt or blow dust around — and a warmish stone floor is pleasant during the cold months. As it warms up, the stone (like all materials, though less than some) expands. The edges press on one another, harder and harder, and eventually they shatter.

  • BBC produced a documentary — using funding from BP — that sanitizes the Azerbaijani regime and its ongoing persecution of Armenians, James Dowsett reports for openDemocracy:

Chris Garrard, from the arts campaign group Culture Unstained, told openDemocracy that media sponsorship arrangements such as BP’s “legitimise” fossil fuel companies as they continue to invest in new oil and gas infrastructure, rather than trying to meet net-zero goals.

Given the Azerbaijani regime’s track record of human rights abuses, the BBC film’s “positive cultural perspective on Azerbaijan” worked to “BP’s advantage”, Garrard said.

  • Following her attendance at the new AP African American Studies framework’s unveiling celebration, the New York Times’s Mara Gay pens an unequivocal opinion skewering the College Board’s exclusion of crucial topics and thinkers from the curriculum:

The College Board, though a nonprofit, is a fixture in the country’s education infrastructure. Taking its courses and succeeding on its exams has long been a way for savvy high school students to make themselves more attractive to the most selective colleges and, upon acceptance, win college credit.

The inclusion of Black history into this enterprise is a meaningful act.

The Black scholars who pioneered the teaching of Black history long before it was popular to do so understand this. “We have to tell the truth,” one of those scholars, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, a professor of African and African American studies at Harvard University, said Thursday evening. “The truth is we helped to build this country.”

  • ProPublica’s Ash Ngu shares a list of must-dos for reporters covering the repatriation of Native people’s remains, including notes for non-Native writers on respectfully connecting with Native Nations:

Reach out to tribal reps early, since they can be very busy. Know that tribes have different views on how best to repatriate. Tribes are not always ready to repatriate and don’t always want remains to be physically returned. Sometimes multiple tribes make competing claims that take time to sort out. Tribes may be open to respectfully conducted research.

Also, keep in mind that tribal leaders may not want to discuss repatriation and might not see news coverage as beneficial, especially if they’re in the middle of consulting with institutions and need to maintain those relationships. Repatriation can be a private issue in some cultures, and some do not have a cultural protocol for handing the dead.

  • Artist and composer Christian Marclay speaks with France 24 about fusing mediums to create work that “gives shape, form, and color to sound”:
YouTube Poster
  • In an essay for Atmos, writer and conservationist Ashia Ajani muses on roly-polys, green space, and their connection to Black futurity:

When I first began researching pill bugs, I was interested in learning about their parallels to how anti-Blackness poisons the Black experience: our bodies, like those of the pill bug, are in a perpetual state of grief cycling, attempting to filter out the bad in order to pave a path forward to reach the good. But the more I learned about these fascinating little crustaceans, I discovered that they are able to survive despite carrying this heavy metal accumulation in their guts until they die (and, eventually, returning the toxins to the earth as they decompose). It’s as though their life is a barometer of ills—and their death a silencing.

  • The New York Public Library will soon be home to archival issues of the East Village Eye, which produced about 72 editions in its eight years of operation, Hannah Gold writes for the New Yorker:

Graffiti, too, was taken seriously: the same 1982 issue profiles, in addition to Fab 5 Freddy—who’d been part of the Fabulous 5 group in the late seventies, known for spray-painting entire subway cars—Futura 2000, another graffiti artist who’d begun on subways, and by 1981 was touring with the Clash, creating work live onstage as the band performed. The critic Steven Hager, who was fired from the Daily News for praising graffiti, has said that the Eye was the only place that would let him write seriously about the medium. There’s a friendly rivalry between the Eye and the Village Voice about who was the first to ever define hip-hop in print, but the Eye seems to have won. (In that 1982 interview with Afrika Bambaataa, Michael Holman offered this parenthetical: “Hip hop: the all inclusive tag for the rapping, breaking, graffiti-writing, crew fashion wearing street sub-culture.”)

Not all Muslim-centered shows are interested in questioning this representational paradox. In United States of Al, for instance, Islam is thoroughly assimilated and digested through the gaze of whiteness. Muslims go from being the object of Americans’ fears to the object of their amusement. We Are Lady Parts, a joyful ode to the enduring power of female friendship and the autonomous language of music, entirely sidesteps any meta commentary on its historic arrival. Instead, it lets the diversity of its bold characters do the talking. In We Are Lady Parts, whiteness and Islamophobia are a daily nuisance, something to be endured and managed so that one can get on with her day to make a living, to make art. Shows like Mo and Ramy, however, are more explicit about their desire to not only represent Muslim lives on TV but also explore the perils and potentials of making art under the white gaze.

  • You know those stunning photos from the new James Webb telescope we’ve all been fawning over? Telescope administrators are considering lifting a restriction that keeps them out of the public eye until one year after they’re taken, sparking mixed reactions from scientists:

Now, though, with the federal government pushing for more taxpayer-funded research to be made public instantly, telescope managers are pondering whether all of the data collected by JWST should be available to everyone right away.

They’re considering a similar change for the venerable Hubble Space Telescope. Currently, scientists who get a chance to use that instrument generally enjoy six months of exclusive access to their observations.

Proponents of open access say that sharing all of these space telescopes’ findings immediately could accelerate new discoveries and maximize the return from these powerful scientific assets.

Critics, however, worry that this could exacerbate existing inequities in who gets to do astronomical research, and perhaps even result in shoddier science as scientists race to be first to find hidden gems in the data.

  • Clare Thorp unpacks our fascination with TV shows’ opening sequences, starting with the intricately animated, Game-of-Thrones-esque intro to the popular show The Last of Us:

In the case of The Last of Us, which premiered last month, that world was a post-apocalyptic landscape ravaged by a fungal pandemic which turns much of the population into zombie-like creatures – part human, part terrifying mushroom. An adaptation of a hugely successful video game, the show’s set-up was already familiar with many. But for those who’d never played the game, the show’s opening credits gave them a few clues.

Various types of fungi slink rapidly across the screen, spreading outwards and upwards, a microcosm of the natural world consuming everything it comes across – beautiful, yet devastating. Look carefully, and you might spot the fungi morph into a map of the US, a city skyline, a screaming face or two human figures – signs of hope in the darkness.

  • Beyond despicable. Universities are forever professional lingo-ing students out of their basic needs:
  • And if you’re not much of a cat person, here’s an adorable peek at the painterly puppies of New York City’s only dog museum:

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

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Lakshmi Rivera Amin

Lakshmi Rivera Amin (she/her) is a writer and artist based in New York City. She currently works as Hyperallergic's editorial coordinator.

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