Category: Museum

Picasso’s (and Miro’s) City

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Barcelona, Spain—It was a warmish morning. I had just purchased a museum pass to visit multiple museums and I was ready to plot out my next several days. I sat down on a bench on a sidewalk and was engrossed in the museum pass booklet; toggling between it and the city map, trying to plan a sensible route. After several minutes, an elderly man walked in front of where I was sitting and spit on the sidewalk directly in front of me. My first response was, “Gross!” It took me several minutes before I realized what had happened. It was racially or culturally motivated.

It’s an insult of the worst kind and I almost missed it. It’s a universal passive aggressive sign of disrespect and disgust. Usually it’s in direct response of something or someone that you’re familiar with. I think everyone encounters people at some point in their lives and think, “This fool has lost his mind!” Well, I thought that (it was my natural reaction) but as I sat there for several minutes, wondering about the mind of a person who would do something like that. Don’t get me wrong, I was less surprised than curious. The irony of it all is that my purpose for being in Barcelona is to understand its people and culture.

That single action made a significant impression on me and shaped my time in Barcelona. As I continue to study art in other cultures, I’m learning that it’s imperative to make connections with every aspect of life of a place. For instance, history is critical when trying to understand people…so is religion, and politics, and family, and media.

Everything is connected.

People’s ideology is shaped by their experience and contributes to how they perceive others so having an understanding of all cultural aspects is going to help me understand why people do the things they do, why they create and how they communicate.

A couple of days later, I revisited the Arc de Triomf. It was my second attempt. The first time was on a weekend and it was crowded. The second time was less crowded but something was happening. There was a large crowd gathered on the mall waving the flag of Catalonia.

Later I asked someone what was going on and basically it was a political gathering of people who are in favor of Barcelona seceding from Spain.

The rest of my time in Barcelona was fruitful. I visited the Picasso Museum and saw a lot of his early work. Picasso was one of those artists who was always working, always creating. It’s fun to look at his early work to try to identify stylistic clues characteristic of his later work. I also visited the Joan Miró Foundation. It was fantastic! His work is thoughtfully whimsical and inventive. I’ve never seen more than a few pieces at a time so it was a treat to be able to see multiple works at various stages of his career.

The highlight of my trip was my visit to the National Museum of Catalonian Art. There were so many magnificent work by artists I had never heard of, like Joan Llimona, Ramon Casas, Ramon Amado, and Antoni Badrinas.

While I was disappointed by how I was treated in Barcelona, I decided to consider it a teachable moment. It only affirms the necessity of intercultural education. It wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last. At least I learned something.

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Epiphany in Ethiopia

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Lalibela, Ethiopia—This happens to me a lot. I land in some place with no agenda, only to find out that something spectacular is going on. When I arrived in Lalibela, I hadn’t coordinated a plan. The historic rock-hewn churches are the main attraction, so I decided to start there.


The churches were impressive, no doubt. But after several hours of tours, I needed a break. I was headed back to my hotel when I noticed something in the brush along the side of the road. There was a cow laying on the ground and another being guided by a group of men. After staring for a bit, I realized what was happening. They were in the process of slaughtering the cows.

I asked my guide if we could get closer and if it was appropriate to take photographs. I was in the clear.

I learned that this particular slaughtering process happens every year for Epiphany. It is a process that involves several people. At one point, my guide was recruited to help the men drag the cow to the shade. The cows are slaughtered and skinned by a group of men. Afterward, women come and cut the animal into smaller pieces. The meat is dried underground for one day, then prepared by women the next day. The slaughtering process was relatively quick. I took lots of pictures. A group of children came by to watch and we had similar reactions, mine being a bit more exaggerated (I was simultaneously gagging and snapping photographs.) While I don’t think the photographs are as disturbing as actually being there, I will spare you the gore.

The cow slaughtering experience was so much more interesting to me than visiting the churches. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was sad and fascinating all at once.


The following day was the eve of Epiphany, part of the Timket celebration. I observed the late afternoon portion of the ceremony which included a processional of the priests and deacons walking through the streets of the city, delivering sermons and prayers. The day of Epiphany was the actual carrying a representation of the Ark of the covenant to the church, The House of St. George.

What Freedom Looks Like

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Portrait of Nelson Mandela at the Apartheid Museum

Johannesburg, South Africa—I couldn’t go to South Africa without visiting Johannesburg. My first stop was the Apartheid Museum. I remember, as a child, watching the film Sarafina and not understanding what was going on. Probably like many people, I had a vague understanding about apartheid. Later during the week, I visited Soweto and discovered the integral role school children played in fighting the apartheid regime.

The Apartheid Museum has lots of online resources. I highly suggest learning about South African history from South Africans, to fully understand. Start with The Origins of Apartheid. There was an exhibition about Nelson Mandela. I read his autobiography several years ago so it was a good refresher about his life and the lives of other freedom fighters.

The entire time while I was walking around the museum, I was asking myself how could something like this happen, and for so long. It was a similar internal dialogue that I had when I visited the Slave Lodge in Cape Town, and the history of my ancestors in the United States. Trying to wrap my brain around injustice usually leaves me exhausted and angry.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

— Nelson Mandela

So after my wandering around the museum, I allowed myself to be fully engaged with the complexity of human history and I came to the realization that freedom looks like the sacrifices people make to ensure the freedom of others.

True beauty.

Tokyo, Day 1

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Yasuda Yukihiko, Arranging Flowers, 1932. National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.

The first day in a new place is always exciting and a bit anxiety inducing. I like to get familiar with a city by learning the public transportation, i.e. getting lost on the train. By that measure, my first day in Tokyo was a success! I managed to get lost but I also learned a couple of ways to get from my home base to points of interest.

The first day is also important for me to observe myself observing the culture…meta. Everything is new that first day and because I am usually pretty quick to adapt, I don’t get do-overs for experiencing things for the first time. For instance, I had an ‘aha’ moment when I noticed that the steering wheel is on the right side of the car in Tokyo. I started to think about the implications of this, like the proper side to walk on a sidewalk. I’m sure these things are connected. By the way, you’re supposed to walk on the left side of the sidewalk.

Transitioning into a new city also means seeing art. It’s my safe place. So I visited the National Museum of Modern Art, which was beautiful and they had lots of great works on display. There was a special exhibition by German artist, Thomas Ruff, on display but I opted not to see it because it cost ¥1,600 (which is about $15 USD).

After checking out the museum, I had lunch in the restaurant. I don’t typically have meals at museums because it tends to be expensive. This place was no different. What was different was the quality, flavor and presentation of the food. Absolutely impeccable. In my experience, you usually sacrifice one of those three things. It was a set menu and there were several courses, each more delicious than the last. My only complaint is that the portions were small.

I believe in the idea of art being in everything, especially in the mundane, and everyday things. I wonder what are the quality of life implications for creating artistic experiences in things like food presentation. This idea is not new, as evidenced by the number of fancy restaurants in the world. But I don’t think these experiences should be reserved for people who are able to spend a lot of money for them. Art is in everything and should be appreciated and enjoyed by all people.

Speaking of food and perfection, you should see the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. You will have an appreciation for the idea of creating in an ‘everyday’ context.