Culture / Global
Choice cuts from the world's creative minds.
Respite through retail
Condemning Isis’s destruction of ancient Middle Eastern monuments is one thing but could the arts and culture fraternity be doing something more tangible?
Do you mind being made to exit through the gift shop? Retail is a vital revenue stream for any museum; in the UK there’s a tacit agreement between museum-goer and museum director that a visit to the merchandise stall is the way to pay for ogling all those treasures for free. In the US, paid-for shows and collections are the norm; at the Moma for example, the store is an extension of the curatorial attitudes of the cultural institution to which it’s attached. The gift shop is a powerful way to communicate the beliefs and the brand of a place – rendered on tea towels and umbrellas – but nonetheless communicated in that most understandable of ways: part with a little money and you can go home with some approximation of Degas, David or a chip from a vase from a Chinese dynasty in a sturdy, well-printed carrier bag.
In the gift shop we are buying into something familiar: Sunflowers, Screams, nags by Stubbs. But what if we weren’t? What if we were being encouraged to buy a souvenir of something that we’d never seen? And what if the things that were printed on tea towels, mousemats and brollies were the endangered masterpieces of the ancient civilisations of the Middle East, smashed and pillaged and shot at by the militias murdering under the black flag of Isis?
Across the world, museum directors have shaken their heads in sadness at this orgy of nihilism but have offered no sort of united front. Standing on a dais and declaiming such frenzied nastiness is one thing but I wonder what it does? Isis aren’t exactly ashamed of condemnation, rather they proudly stockpile it and use it as fuel. So we must do something else and something new. Printing the extant and ruined treasures of the Assyrian and Akkadian empires of Mesopotamia on pencil cases, silk scarves and carrier bags might be the spur that we need to care more about this pillage. Let’s familiarise ourselves with these works. Let’s make them Pop.
We find it hard to care about things of which we know little; it’s easy to cough politely and look away from rack and ruin if we’re unfamiliar with the imagery, with the history, with the importance of these objects. But not if the mercantile wing of a museum (pick for yourself the percentage that fits) asks us to buy the postcard. It’s in these small and incremental ways, where a little money changes hands, that attitudes are changed and eventually forged anew.
I’d love to see the great museums of the world allied on each printing a tea towel with a work of art from Iraq or Syria that’s been lost to the terror. The quiet activism of drying your teacups with the image of a priceless relic, a wonder of antiquity, will start to effect the change the world could do with. Exit through the gift shop with pride.
Lawrence Osborne is a British novelist and travel writer who has lived in New York, Istanbul, Paris, Mexico and Bangkok, where he currently resides. Osborne’s memoir of drinking in dry countries, The Wet and the Dry, is a modern classic of itinerant intoxication. His new novel, Hunters in the Dark, is reviewed on this page.
How do you create the dream-like atmosphere of your books?
My books always start with a place in which I’ve lived or spent a lot of time. Familiarity for me breeds love, not contempt. Over time this love for a place begins to suggest emotions, which I transfer to characters.
How does your travel writing cross over with novel writing?
Not very much. I do rather little travel writing now. One immerses oneself better in the spirit of a place through surrogates, through characters.
Cambodia and Thailand, which feature in Hunters in the Dark, are often written about in an Orientalist way. How do you achieve your even-handedness?
The more I live there the less seriously I take the white-saviour industrial complex. I want to be an observer, nothing more but also nothing less.
Your characters usually embrace their strange circumstances. Is this a trace of autobiography?
Indeed it is. It’s a necessity for an immigrant, is it not? And I consider myself an immigrant not an expat.
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Dutch social-experiment-turned-reality-series that takes four homosexual men and their homophobic fathers and drops them in the wilderness of South America, where they must work together to make it out and attend the Gay Pride festival in Buenos Aires.
Holland has regularly been responsible for coming up with cutting-edge television formats, from Big Brother to Utopia and The Voice, and Fathers’ Pride – known in Holland as De Roze Wildernis – is no different. The four young men and their fathers must take part in a series of bonding exercises and outdoor challenges that aim to bring them closer together.
The show is hosted by television personality and fashion model Arie Boomsma, who previously fronted the Dutch version of 1990s UK show Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush.
The series premiered earlier this year on Dutch public broadcaster KRO. It launched at Mip TV in April with international distributor Lineup Industries set up by a number of former Sony Pictures executives in discussions in a number of countries.
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