Thursday, July 23, 2009

an ode to life...

How many of us take pleasure in the fact that we can simply walk down the street, enjoy the fresh summer air and look at the gardens as we stroll by? And at the end of the day we can wash our faces, brush our teeth, and climb into our warm, cozy beds. Most of us don't really appreciate these ordinary, day-to-day things but they are -- in fact -- miracles. A ton of people who have touched our lives (friends/family) will never experience those things, ever again.

A few of my favorite things:

-sand squishing through my toes
-my niece's smile
-capturing light with my Canon 40D
-capturing shadows with acrylic paint
-a backrub
-the smell of the rain
-the memories evoked from a photo
-free museum days
-looking up at the sun through a palm tree
-reading Three Cups of Tea


Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

... Prospero, "The Tempest", by William Shakespeare


Enjoy your lives, cherish your family and friends, appreciate all the things you have -- no matter what their value. And remember to value yourself too, because you really are unique -- one of a kind.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

... Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

sketches of spain...

Sketches of Spain (2009)
Acrylic on canvas
16" x 20"

What it is:

...the donkey can represent the forced labor and slavery that built the Spanish empire or the it can represent the Spanish state as an "ass" which despite controlling half the world for 300 years, has little to show for it, it's not a power in finance, technology, trade, shipping, nothing...all the lost lives etc. throughout all those centuries and Spain has one of the weakest economies in europe...Spain manifested as an irrational (stupid) "ass"...

What it speaks to:

The brutal impact of capitalism and colonialism on both the colonizer and colonized, exposing the contradictions and hypocrisy implicit in western notions of "progress" and "civilization" upon encountering the "savage," "uncultured," or "primitive".

The reaffirmation on culture values, identity, and culture, and their relevance, reminding us that the relationship between consciousness and reality are extremely is equally necessary to decolonize our minds, our inner life, at the same time that we decolonize society. Colonization is a complete system—it is a racialized system, a system of psychological dimensions, power domination and economic oppression. On the other hand, it is a system that failed, generating a civilization in decay. For as Aimé Césaire notes, “a civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization. A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization..."

Friday, July 17, 2009

control freak...

Power: the ability to compel obedience regardless of opposition...

As a child you realize pretty soon that your ability to chart your own course and make your own decisions is severely limited by parents and teachers followed by elders and then society at large. Your ability to define the "possible" is largely determined before you are born and is informed by your peers, associates, and the norms of your immediate environment.  We were told by parents to whom not even English was a Second Language to strive to become doctors and astronauts without any road map on how to obtain those dreams. So I learned at an early age to take control of life and be forceful in my actions but not in the way some of my friends did by joining the Army and being all they could be by filling inner-city recruiting quotas but with a pen and later graduating to a brush and canvases. 

I learned from an early age you can will things into existence. In my sketchbook my parents never divorced and my great-grandmother Mamá is still alive in the kitchen adding love to all the masterpieces that ever came out of those pots. As far as me, I have been a conquistador, a doctor, NBA player, pimp, Diego Rivera, Puerto Rican Patriot, Taíno Indian, and yes even a woman. I have lived across different time periods, observed Hannibal's battle at Carthage, saw Columbus wash ashore in the Dominican Republic in 1493 and proceeded to deny him access as an illegal immigrant without the proper paperwork, and served as main liaison between the Dutch and the Lenape Indians, informing them that 24 dollars worth of glass and beads was a joke for their precious Manna-hata island. I have done alot in my lifetime and all before I had even finished my Bachelors degree.

I got this idea after learning that Michaelangelo used his aunt, uncle, nieces and nephews when painting religious figures onto the Sistine Chapel as did most artists of the Renaissance. Of course Jesus and any of the other saints or biblical figures my grandmother spend all her life praying to, would never look like me. They were images of a 16th century Italian family not some Middle East man from Palestine circa 2000 years ago. That's when I learned of the power of art to re-write perceptions and boldly challenge established truths. When I learned from medical records that by the time Napoleon ascended to French throne he was vastly overweight and could not have possibly look like his imperial portrait by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, I knew that merely painting what I saw rather than what I desired what quite a mental box I had trapped myself in. But instead of trying to rewrite whole histories of entire countries I have merely tried to reconstruct my past and reconcile with it's ghosts on better terms.

Art is not a part of life, it is not an addition to life, it is the essence of those pieces of us that make us fulfilled. That give us hope. That give us dreams and provide the world a view very different than what it would have been without us. Art is the enemy of the routine, the mechanical and the humdrum. It stops us in our tracks with a high voltage jolt of disturbance; it reminds us of what humanity can do beyond the daily grind. It takes us places we had never dreamed of going; it makes us look again at what we had taken for granted. That innocent looking crayon in my hand is not merely a stick of paraffin wax, it is a key to the locked doors of a restrained imagination; a stick of dynamite to the chains of reality that attempt to define my being. 

I look forward to that arroz con salchicha for dinner later Mamá, I know it will be done as soon as the paint on the rice drys...

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

the diaspora strikes back...

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a critical entry concerning the Puerto Rican Day Parade to which I received a substantial amount of praise and criticism that has both reinforced and reconsider my original opinion. (The original entry can be found here).

Most definitely, I appreciate the feedback about the Puerto Rican condition. While I may have made some overarching generalizations the fact remains that Puerto Ricans in NYC and many other parts of the country have the lowest educational achievement levels in high school and college. Many Puerto Ricans I know point to the benefits of U.S. domination, but with a GDP per year about 1/3 of Mississippi and the inability as a whole for us to make substantial socioeconomic and political progress I always wondered why there has never been, since 1493, a determined and coherent drive for political autonomy. If you think that Michael Jackson had an inferiority complex than imagine what 500 years of colonialism does to a psyche of a people collectively (re: Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon)?

Thats all am saying. It is true some of us have made strides and there is much to be proud of but parades do not translate into effective power that can be channelled to get us out of our condition and into actually building up the social capital that matters in sociopolitical terms. I am trying to educate one canvas at a time...

Monday, July 06, 2009

michael (ying)...

Like much of the rest of the world — or at least that segment of it that cares about such things — I was shocked by the unexpected death of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, last week. He was rushed from his rented accommodation in L.A to a hospital just six minutes from where he was staying. Michael was suspected of having a sudden heart attack in his home, on arrival to the hospital it was announced that he had slipped into a coma. Family members rushed to his bed side but the entertainer’s hopes for survival were rapidly fading. Two hours later the devastating news of his sudden death reached every corner of the world. Michael Jackson was one of the worlds best performers ever to walk the earth, there hasn’t been anyone like him since he took the stage at just 10 years old as part of his family’s group the Jackson 5 in the late seventies. In the early 70’s Michael broke away in pursuit of a solo career but remained loyal to the family group The Jackson 5.

It wasn’t until the early 80’s , where he took the world by storm all by himself. Michael wrote alot of his own work and made up his own spectacular dance moves to string along to perform on stage. In the early 80’s his work was so different and so outrageous that it actually worked and took everybody by surprise, which resulted in the sale of millions of copies of his first album Off The Wall.
All his life he was a victim of his own success from the riches he accumulated with his brothers he pumped into his next album Thriller. To this day there is nobody in the music industry to top the sale of his Thriller album, we are 40 years on from then and it is unlikely that it will ever be topped.

As a singer from the age of 5 he lived a very sheltered life from the outside world, he couldn’t walk to the shop like normal kids could, he could only watch through windows at other children playing knowing that he could never join in, knowing that level of fun he could never feel.
From much success of his first album and the support of his fans he went on to reinvent himself as a performer and began work on his Thriller album. Due to popular demand between African American and the white race he broke onto the music scene, a solo artist black man was not heard of in these times due to the discrimination between the two races in America. Everybody went out and bought his Thriller album not just in support of the movement in the industry, but because he was breaking all boundaries from the music he invented and the dance moves he had. Everybody wished they could dance like Michael Jackson back then and if you could pull off a few moves of his today you would be considered as a dancing phenomenon. Now imagine doing them moves back in the early eighties when peoples dance moves were limited to a shimmy or shake or a bounce of the knees.

When Michael took the stage people honestly thought he was a phenom with moves no one could copy or imitate.
After the release of Thriller and the sales were huge, he took on the world with a world tour to promote his album, just as his Thriller album did back home his concerts followed suit by selling out across the globe. As I was born in '82 I had a small bit of catching up to do, by the age of five I knew all the words of all his songs and I was hooked on my parents collection of the Jackson 5 and the first two solo albums he released. His music didn’t only captivate my parents but from a very young age I was hooked on the phenomenon. I remember in school when I was very young, might of only been my second year, the teacher was asking the boys who was their favorite superhero, I was one of the last to answer, I listened to answers like superman, spider-man, batman all the eighties superheros to hit the screens.

When it came around to me I said Michael Jackson, of course the other kids laughed at me and the teacher couldn’t hold in the snigger’s either, when she caught her breath she asked me why Michael Jackson? I replied because he is real. She then nodded her head as if to say I’m with you….
From dance moves like the lean above and the moon walk he was as much as a super hero to me than superman was. In the early 80’s Michael was going from strength to strength his music was spreading far and wide, people that couldn’t speak English knew all the words to his songs, they probably never understood the meaning of the lyrics but they didn’t care. They were as captivated as I was with the level of performance he had.

If you have been lucky enough to see him live as I have you could see that he poured everything he had into his live performances, to be able to sing while you danced at such a pace is brilliant by itself, not even Britney Spears could manage that. Most of today’s performers mime as they do their dance routines there wasn’t such technology back in the eighties so he done it all in his stride.
Michael Jackson was untouchable by any other leading artist at that time even the Beatles and U2 knew they were fighting an uphill battle, and thought it dumb to even compete in album sales with Michael Jackson. From Thriller were Michael’s best years of his life he went on to release other albums such as Bad and Dangerous and History album. These albums gave Michael the boost he could only dream of, well maybe he did dream of such success but his imagination couldn’t prepare him for what he became. His global success made him friends in far reaches of the planet.

Kings, sultans, princes, presidents and leading politicians from nearly every country of the world knew Michael Jackson as a close friend. If you ever hear the term Live Aid in your life its a charity music concert performed to raise money for the worlds starving and under privileged. Michael was the first one to start that up, he has done endless work for the poverty stricken across the world and donated millions to setting up foundations to better peoples lives.
Everything turned sour at the top of his career people judged him for opening up a wildlife park and a theme park in his back garden. Everyone thought it strange that he would invite kids to come and check it out and have them stay over in his mansion. Michael Jackson missed out on playing with kids when he was a kid himself, he invited every child to come and spend time in the never-land ranch for free. The children’s parents came along and trusted Michael with the supervision of their children for the night. All of the parents knew that their children were in capable hands and that they were safe with the amount of staff he employed to aid him in the supervision of the children.

In my opinion and this is more believable than the accusations a couple of parents claimed to have occurred. Sex abuse charges went in against the world famous singer that he was touching a couple of children while they slept. These are seen to me to be the worlds most evil money grabbers of all time to ruin a mans whole life and career for a few bucks, 10 million dollars that was settled out of court only to be faced with another money grabber a couple of years later with the same claim. I bet you one seen how much the other got and how well they did from extorting money with false claims, so they decided to do like wise only the second time he was found innocent and they didn’t get a dime for it. On the other hand it is easy to make such wild claims but it is not as easy to prove your innocence, and Michael found this out the hard way. In order to prove his innocence he would need the best team of lawyers. The bill for these court appearances and to pay the lawyers saw the multi-million dollar singer go broke to prove his innocence.

I have never met the man myself but I know from those that have met him, they said that they have never met a nicer man. He sees the good side of people all the time, he takes the love of his fans straight to heart and repays them with great performances and songs and energy. He was once asked after the first claim of sexual abuse do you not worry what people say about you walking around with children ? He replied no it doesn’t matter to me what people think of me I am innocent as long as I know that it doesn’t worry me. The interviewer followed up the question and asked him why he does it ? He looked him straight in the eye and said because they tell me the truth...When you read into it he has been lied to by everyone, people turned their back on him when he needed them the most. Michael focused all his attention on the good in the world and never imagined that someone would be so evil as to destroy his world.
As I have said before Michael was my super hero for the last twenty years or so and I for one will miss him considerably and I know the world has been deeply shocked by his death but he will live on through his music and videos. May you REST IN PEACE Michael and thank you for your music you are a legend for the youth of generations to come and all those you have already inspired thank you...

michael (yang)...

Paying tribute to Michael Jackson as the King of Pop is rather like paying tribute to the Pope or some other highly exalted figure. For, where his musical genius was concerned, Michael was not only entertaining, but also revered and respected to the point of seeming, well, Invincible.

Of course his musical legacy is beyond question as evidenced by platinum: i.e., in terms of record sales (Thriller sold over 100 million copies worldwide), music videos (he pioneered black R&B videos on MTV) and memorable performances such as his breakout performance as a solo artist on Motown’s 25th anniversary show where he introduced the world to the Moonwalk. Then there’s all he did as a member of the Jackson 5.

But, unlike so many of his fans, I cannot reconcile his musical genius with his personal life, which seemed beset by childhood traumas that led to a lifetime of irresponsible (if not illegal) and freakish behavior. Frankly, the pathological self-loathing, predatory entitlement and attention-grabbing antics that characterized his personal life towards the end were beginning to fatally undermine the appeal of his professional life.

This is why, in an admittedly perverse sense, his death was timely. Not to mention how it plays into the legend of “only the good die young” (a la Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, et al), with which Michael was reportedly so fascinated.

We should be mindful, however, about conflating Michael the entertainer who should be celebrated, with Michael the man -- who should be pitied to a certain extent. While watching non-stop coverage of his death half a world away in Paris, I could not help but feel that the celebratory images of people dancing in the streets of Hollywood, CA and Harlem, NYC honoring the legendary entertainer that Michael was, were largely uncritical of his personal life.

Specifically, I’m sure that his entry into show business at such a formative age contributed greatly to his surreal, self-indulgent and self-destructive behavior later in life. But I question the effect he claims being beaten and teased about his looks as a child caused in this respect.

As Quincy Jones, mentor, father figure and producer of Michael’s best-selling albums reflecting on his death stated in an interview with Details magazine earlier this week...

“It's ridiculous, man! Chemical peels and all of it. And I don't understand it. But he obviously didn't want to be black... You see his kids? The statute of limitations has expired on all childhood traumas. Get your stuff together and get on with your life, man. Stop whinin' about what's wrong, because everybody's had a rough time, in one way or another.”

Life isn’t fair but death can be far worse in this regard. M.J’s dead and so is the possibility of correcting the mistakes he made. No one is perfect and so wasn’t Jackson. Now that he’s dead few of us would like to remember he was the self proclaimed ‘king of pop’. I would like to forget all the bad, evil and ugly things that surrounded his life. He was par excellence in what he did and he deserves respect...

Sunday, July 05, 2009

an uncle's love...

Eiffel Tower

This is one of my favorite pictures ever. Not because of the angle of the shot, or my "smile" but rather the subtext behind it. I recently had my niece tag along with me to Paris and the first place we went to was the Trocadero stop on the Metro which offers the best view of the Eiffel Tower. So as we prepared to take a photo at the edge of the plaza she leaps onto to the narrow ledge without looking...a ledge that is about 4 feet wide most of its length and drops straights down about 60-70 feet onto marble stairs. Not exactly the kind of fall that little ten year old skinny girls are likely to survive.

Needless to say, the look on my face was one of those "don't f*ck with me, am not your parent and they are about 3,500 miles away so if I have to shake you a few times and yell at you no one in France is going to understand you mumbling through tears in English and help you" kind of looks. Nonetheless, she got with the program after that, learned how to order her food herself in French at restaurants (jus de pomme et un hot dog sans fromage with a chocolat chaud or nutella/sucre crêpe for dessert). She is one of the eight or so children (a collection of brothers, nieces and nephews, godchildren and a sister of godchildren) who I have decided to take a vested interest in and see to it that they receive the encouragement, emotional, tutorial and even financial support to become successful young adults in the future and see them off to college. Hopefully I will be able to sucessfully keep them away from all physically and metaphorical ledges they may stray to close to along the way...

"Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you"
~Robert Fulghum

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

a leap into the darkness...

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my pre-flight ritual of tapping the fuselage of any plane that I board as a special tribute to my mother. Things were no different the last week of June when I took a trip out to Paris for six days, with stops in Nice and Monaco and took a total of four flights. On the way back to JFK from Roissy Charles De Gaulle on June 30th I arrived at the airport with nearly four hours to kill before my flight and walked all along the corridor of Terminal 2A-D, all the bakeries, duty-free, tax-free shops, post office etc. Little did I know that 150 of those people, perhaps I may have walked by some of them in that very terminal, would never make it to their destination.

The same day  Yemenia Airlines Airbus A310 that originated in Paris crashed in the sea off the Comoros Islands, which are located off of the coast of Africa. This is same type of plane as the Air France flight that crashed in the Atlantic in late May. It was the ninth total loss of an A310 and eighth fatal accident for that plane since it entered service in 1983. Upon landing at JFK, without any knowledge of the Yemenia crash I sent a message out to twitter commenting on the rainy weather, shaky descent and hard landing that ended an otherwise wonderful trip. 

I have never been scared of airplanes but the fact that Air France flight 447 is claimed to have simply broken up in midair has made me more conscious of turbulence and sudden drops in altitude. My first international trip in 2002 to Mexico City forever changed my life and since then I have gone to about 27 countries and 1 principality for leisure and business. This will not change in the foreseeable future. I plan to visit Toronto and Lima before 2009 is over. Plus there are a whole bunch of cities I want to re-visit such as Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, and mexico City in the foreseeable future. But most importantly, you cannot walk to Paris (my favorite city in the world) from New York City. 

However, recent events have taught me never to take anything for granted when traveling. Neither the expertise of the pilots, the maintenance crew of the airline, the age of the aircraft, weather conditions in the arrival city...nothing. Nor will I ever look at the faces of those people who I pass by within airport terminals quite the same. There is good reason why passengers on airplanes are officially referred to as "souls"...