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Tag: colonialism

Art break: Kara Walker’s Fons Americanus at the Tate Modern

At the end of our Fen Rivers Way walk we spent a couple of nights in London. One of our main goals was to go to the Tate Modern and see the current installation in the Turbine Hall. I’d read about Kara Walker’s new work in the Guardian and we felt really fortunate that our trip would overlap with the exhibit. We were staying in Holborn and it was one of those cloudy/sunny London days, so we walked down to the Tate in the morning. There wasn’t much of a crowd yet, and the Turbine Hall is free to enter.

Walker’s sculpture is a reimagining of the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. That original piece was commissioned as a celebration of the Queen-Empress and her accomplishments, complete with a Winged Victory statue at the top. Walker’s has Venus in its place, one who spouts water from both breasts as well as from her neck.

It’s a breathtaking piece which interrogates imperialism, the 19thC fetish for nationalist and imperial monuments, and the UK and US’s still under-examined and very partial understanding of the consequences of their imperial enterprises. The nautical aspects of the original work here call forth memories of the Atlantic slave trade, with the ships lost as sea, the families torn apart, and the sharks that filled the waters (the sharks are also a reference to the famous Damien Hirst shark in formaldehyde).

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Review: A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee

I ran across a couple of articles about this historical mystery earlier this year, put it on my mental to-read list and promptly forgot about it. Then Liz Mc2 discussed it in a recent blog post and I discovered that it was available through the library. So I took advantage of some extra reading time and sat down with it. I discussed the book in comments to Liz’s post as I was reading it, but rather than filling up her comment feed I decided to write up my thoughts more fully here.

I wanted so much to like it. A mystery set in 1919 Calcutta about a British policeman, which is written by a British Asian rather than the usual white author? Yes please. And the reviews have been very favorable. Sadly, I think the reviews are as much about the intention and effort as the execution. This is so clearly a first novel, and maybe the second one will address some of the many flaws. I hope so, because there is stuff to like here, but the problems are glaring. Some are undoubtedly consequences of first-novelitis, but a lot of them should have been dealt with long before the book was released.

Captain Sam Wyndham is paired with Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee to investigate the murder of a high-ranking civil servant. Wyndham has just come to Calcutta and this is his first case. In addition to Banerjee he works with Digby, a veteran police officer who is resentful at being passed over for promotion. Wyndham soon finds that the murder is more complicated than it seems, potentially implicating British officials, Indian activists, and millionaire businessmen. Wyndham moves between the British and Bengali communities, trying to piece together evidence.

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