Cultrface is a blog about culture and how it can enrich our lives.

Brain Pickings is now The Marginalian

I won’t bore you with the inner workings of SEO but I always wince a little when I see a longstanding site change their name (and domain). Not because it’s cringy but because, in some ways, it’s starting from the beginning again. But when I read about Brain Pickings changing its name to The Marginalian and the reasons behind it, I said “to hell with that, good on them!”

Brain Pickings was born on October 23, 2006 as an improbable idea in a young mind only just becoming literate in the language of life. Fifteen years hence, it is reborn as The Marginalian — reborn as what it has always been beneath the ill-fitting name chosen by a twenty-two-year-old immigrant in whose ear the tired puns and idioms of a non-native language rang fresh and full of wonder: an evolving record and ongoing celebration of my readings and my loves, of all that makes me feel most alive.

It also taught me a new word: marginalia – marks made in the margins of a book or document (and a word I will add to my favourite words list). To Maria, congratulations on the rebirth and happy 15th birthday to the site!

The Morning News's "Secret Horror" movie list

I’m not big on Halloween but dabble in Halloween-related media when October rolls by. I’m also partial to a good horror movie as long as it doesn’t mess my head up too much. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the movies in The Morning News’s “Secret Horror” list would fall under the latter category, regardless of quality. Dennis Mahoney chose 5 “underappreciated horror movies to thrill and disturb you this Halloween season” including Don’t Look Now which I have seen, funnily enough:

This one’s known for a scary red dwarf and an infamous sex scene with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. It’s really about dread. You should know going in that Don’t Look Now (1973) isn’t a traditional horror movie, nor are the supernatural forces readily apparent. The story is one of constant anxiety, a cumulative holding of breath that makes your brain more susceptible to hidden meaning, hallucination, and psychological discomfort.

That one did mess me up. The jumpscares and transformation scenes get you first but it’s the psychological stuff that lingers after the credits roll.

Halloween/horror related: queer Halloween parties in Castro, The Addams Family promo that became Michael Jackson’s Ghosts, Carvell Wallace on Candyman and the exploitation of Black pain in cinema, and Get Out: Black Solidarity and Knowing the Code

How many countries can you name in Europe? (QUIZ)

Can you name 47 of the European countries listed in this Sporcle quiz?

This will put your geography knowledge to the test, particularly some of the name changes of certain countries and how many of the tiny nations you can remember. Oh, and those pesky municipalities. I’ve said too much already…

I got 43/47, although (spoiler alert) I think Georgia not getting mentioned as a separate country was unfair.

For a bigger quiz, see how many countries you can name in 15 minutes.

A UK Black History Month Post (2021)

I’m going to quote myself from last year because it’s still relevant:

It’s been a challenging year to navigate and, needless to say, Black people are tired.

I’ve not really written anything specific about Black History Month this year but I have thrown in some Black British content here and there. So I’m going to emulate last year’s BHM round up post for 2021. It’s been tough finding decent BHM content because so much of it is whitewashed or performative. People are retreading the same steps and the same “look at these famous slaves!” lists of influential Black people, often written by white people. Or pledges for more action that were made last year and the year before. I’m also not pleased about a few articles regarding more Black presence in the police force which is the most counterintuitive suggestion to make in any month, let alone Black History Month. But I digress.

Same format as last year—some stuff from the Web, some stuff from the Cultrface archives, and people you should follow.

From the Internet

From the Cultrface archives

People to follow

See 2020’s list for more people to follow

  1. Demi Colleen: Twitter | Instagram
  2. Kuchenga: Twitter | Instagram
  3. Emma Dabiri: Twitter | Instagram
  4. Sareta Fontaine: Twitter | Instagram | Website
  5. Lauren-Nicole: Twitter | Instagram | Linktree
  6. Nathaniel A. Cole: Twitter | Instagram | Linktree
  7. Matilda Egere-Cooper: Twitter | Instagram | Linktree
  8. Tanya Compas: Twitter | Instagram
  9. Nicole Crentsil: Twitter | Instagram | Linktree
  10. Ronke Lawal: Twitter | Instagram | Website

Rhea Dillon on 'Nonbody Nonthing No Thing', her debut solo exhibition

“Being Black British is part of my ontic and ontology so it’s always present in my work because it is me.” Photography by Theo Christelis, via V.O Curations

For AnOther, Sagal Mohammed spoke to Rhea Dillon about her first solo exhibition, entitled Nonbody Nonthing No Thing. The Black British-Jamaican artist, writer and poet uses a variety of media to interpret what she calls the “‘rules of representation’ as a device to undermine contemporary Western culture” and “‘humane afrofuturism’ as a practice of bringing forward the humane and equality-led perspectives on how we visualise Black bodies”.

Nonbody Nonthing No Thing is one of those works, showing abstractions of Blackness in the form of 7 paintings and sculptures. The above image depicts “landing” and how the Diasporic experience for Black Africans and Caribbeans meant leaving the known and landing in the unknown. That fragmented journey, which doesn’t stop when the plane touches down or the ship anchors, is captured brilliantly in this work.

Nonbody Nonthing No Thing is at VO Curations in London from 15th Oct–11th Nov 2021 so get there if you can.

Carvell Wallace on Candyman and the exploitation of Black pain in cinema

Carvell Wallace wrote a brilliant essay on Candyman and chronicled a history of Black pain in cinema for The Atlantic.

Ultimately, DaCosta’s Candyman character becomes a cipher that the film’s characters, and by extension its audience, have no choice but to live with—the absence upon which anything can be projected, bequeathed by centuries of Black trauma. This is perhaps where the film hews most faithfully to the Clive Barker short story upon which it is based. “I am rumor,” his monster reminds his victim, and us, in “The Forbidden.” “It’s a blessed condition, believe me. To live in people’s dreams; to be whispered at street corners; but not have to be. Do you understand?”

I enjoyed Candyman (1992) even if it was a white liberal depiction and exploitation of Black pain as Wallace surmised. Candyman (2021) rewrites, recreates, and renews the ghosts of that film (figuratively and literally) and extends the lore for Black people to feel much more than they could imagine—myself included. I want to watch it again and I will at some point. It was an intriguing film and something to be appreciated and studied (but maybe not by and for white people).

Tina M. Campt's 'A Black Gaze'

I follow MIT’s tech blog and stumbled upon a book from their press called ‘A Black Gaze’:

In A Black Gaze, Tina Campt examines Black contemporary artists who are shifting the very nature of our interactions with the visual through their creation and curation of a distinctively Black gaze. Their work—from Deana Lawson’s disarmingly intimate portraits to Arthur Jafa’s videos of the everyday beauty and grit of the Black experience, from Kahlil Joseph’s films and Dawoud Bey’s photographs to the embodied and multimedia artistic practice of Okwui Okpokwasili, Simone Leigh, and Luke Willis Thompson—requires viewers to do more than simply look; it solicits visceral responses to the visualization of Black precarity.

With regular discourse around cultural appropriation and Black art that falls under the white gaze, it’s important to bring the conversation back to Black people creating for Black people and what that means for us.

You can buy a copy from Bookshop (affiliate link) or head to the book’s official MIT Press page for more stockists.

A brief history of pumpkin spice

Moss and Fog looked at the history of pumpkin spice:

The fall’s unofficial flavor wasn’t always pumpkin spice. But as people’s love of autumn and all things nostalgic reached fever pitch, the unmistakable seasonal taste cemented its place

The history of that spice mix goes back much farther than you might think. Indeed, this American invention can be traced back as far as 1796 in the cookbook American Cookery. In that very old book, they talk about recipes for ‘pompkin’ that include the same spices.

Pumpkin spice’s memeification detracts away from its origins but its popularity has given Certain Demographics the chance to experience a bit of seasoning in their otherwise flavourless food. That can only be a good thing.

Kyndall Cunningham's interview with filmmaker Ashley O’Shay

Unapologetic Trailer

Kyndall Cunningham spoke to filmmaker Ashley O’Shay about her latest documentary, ‘Unapologetic. The film examines the way Black organisers in Chicago—primarily focusing on two young Black women, Janaé Bonsu and Bella BAHHS—came together in the wake of Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald’s murders by the police.

H: Given the history of infiltration in social movements, how were you able to build trust with this community?

AO: I think being a Black woman helped, as far as them being comfortable and feeling like they could open up to me. But I just tried to keep showing up as much as possible. Even when I wasn’t there with the camera or doing an interview, I would try to go to their different rallies to just show support and amplify the work they were doing. I think after a while, when someone keeps showing up like that, you can build that trust with them. And I think also that as I was building stronger relationships with my main subjects, Janaé and Bella, that helped make other organizers in the space feel more comfortable with me as well.

[…]

H: The film is also very nuanced in showing the importance of Black women leaders but also dispelling this myth that representational politics automatically lead to liberation for Black people, particularly with Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot.

AO: Yeah. We see people like Lightfoot in administrative positions, you know, running a campaign and uplifting herself as this Black gay woman, but everyone knowing, like, hey girl. We saw you at the Chicago police board hearings telling people to shut up after their time was up, and basically saying there’s nothing productive about the work that young Black people are doing. And she has a history as a prosecutor and all these other things that show you that all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk. I think depending on the space you’re in, it’s going to differ how your identity does or doesn’t show up. I think it’s really important to remember the communities that are actually doing the work for us.

Lightfoot is an enemy to progress and she knows it. I am grateful for the work of Black women who actually care such as Ashley O’Shay, Janaé Bonsu, Bella BAHHS, and countless others—past and present.

How to brew coffee like it's the 19th century

Brew coffee 19th century style with a balancing siphon

You’ve got your French press, your coffee cone, and your Moka Pot to name but a few ways to make coffee. But how about a 19th-century balancing siphon? Boing Boing showed off this throwback contraption in the video above and it certainly has some flair to it.

The balancing siphon was notably used in Belgium by the royal family who would make their coffees using the device, as well as in France:

By 1850 the double-globe glass coffee maker had generally fallen out of favor in France, and the fashionable Parisians embraced the next incarnation of the vacuum brewer – the Balancing Siphon. In this arrangement, the two vessels are arranged side-by-side, with a siphon tube connecting the two. Coffee is placed in one side (usually glass), and water in the other (usually ceramic). A spirit lamp heats the water, forcing it through the tube and into the other vessel, where it mixes with the coffee. As the water is transferred from one vessel to the other, a balancing system based on a counterweight or spring mechanism is activated by the change in weight. This in turn triggers the extinguishing of the lamp. A partial vacuum is formed, which siphons the brewed coffee through a filter and back into the first vessel, from which is dispensed by means of a spigot. Sometimes called a Viennese Siphon Machine or a Gabet, after Louis Gabet, whose 1844 patent included his very successful counterweight mechanism, the Balancing Siphon was both safer than the French Balloon, and was completely automatic.

via Brian Harris

The good news is you can buy your own balancing siphon on Amazon but they aren’t cheap. Here’s a list of 4:

Coffee related: An oral history of the weird Folgers “incest” commercial

When Batman mercilessly killed that Red Triangle Gang member

Batman Kills Circus Clown Strongman

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched Batman Returns and yet somehow, after 28 years of watching it, I missed a vital piece of this infamous scene. It’s the one where Batman comes face-to-face (lol) with a member of the Red Triangle Gang—a bald giant of a man who goads Batman into hitting him. The Caped Crusader uncharacteristically takes the bait but it’s all a ruse, for he’s slipped a bomb into the circus performer’s pants. The bald giant looks down, realises his fate, Batman hits him properly this time into a hole, and BOOM!

That’s right—Batman killed a guy.

But back to my point of missing a key element from the scene. I used to think the bomb was already in the guy’s pants/belt area and he was some kind of kamikaze clown that planned to take Batman with him into the afterlife. I clearly wasn’t watching properly as Batman was always carrying the bomb in his hand. It’s very clear and it’s on me for missing it for nearly 30 years but perhaps the ethos of Batman refusing to kill people for no real reason clouded my judgment. He didn’t have to do that!

(via Den of Geek)

Gabriel Rosenberg on W. E. D. Stokes, Charles Davenport, and eugenics

I try to avoid critiques about eugenics as it boils my half-breed blood. But I gave this piece by Gabriel Rosenberg my time and it was really interesting. He discussed the partnership of “rich fool” W. E. D. Stokes and noted eugenicist Charles Davenport and described it as a “Great American Story of Money, Guns, Sex, Racism, Divorce, and Horse Breeding”:

Someone ought to write a book about the Rich Fool in American history, for they are ubiquitous: men—and they are almost always men—who by virtue of their reputation for financial success believe they have very little left to learn and no need to exercise the caution or restraint you or I might deem wise. They wander into circumstances they cannot navigate and debates they are ill-prepared to conduct. They tender specious opinions, and, by the power their wealth gives them, they sway people, policies, and institutions, often to catastrophic effect.

It’s not that Rich Fools are stupid, for stupidity is merely the other side of the coin the Rich Fool spends: innate genius. That is, they overrate the concept of “inborn intelligence” and underrate the degree to which intelligence, however you define it, is necessarily a social good—produced, maintained, and valued never in isolation and only among and between persons. I do not want this to devolve into a debate on IQ or the biology of intelligence, so I will just keep it to this: irrespective of their cognitive prowess, Rich Fools are produced by the social contexts they inhabit, not by how quickly their brains process information.

Davenport used Stokes for his money, which he needed to get into social circles to spread his bigoted views, while Stokes needed Davenport to push a false narrative that he was the genius Roseberg alluded to. What started out as a relationship of high convenience soon became a mess for both parties and a weird obsession with horse breeding.

Read it in full on Roseberg’s Substack.

Wastebasket, Snowflakes, and Spraypaint

Concrete poetry from Rob Giampietro with three poems called Wastebasket, Snowflakes, and Spraypaint. Here is Snowflakes (the poem above) in standard written form:

“No owls as we wake now. As flakes fake snow, we fake OKs. So now we owe. Lakes soak. Oaks flake. No snow owls. No snow as we wake.”

The work was inspired by the late Emmett Williams who used words and poetry to create his own unique blend of visual art in flux and language.

(via Kottke.org)

Black British people from the Windrush era are the focus of a new photo exhibition at Wrest Park

Two black people greeting each other in a museum.
Gestural Greetings © Kemka Ajoku

London-based artist Kemka Ajoku put together a photo exhibition highlighting the lives of Black British people living in the UK following the Windrush era as part of a wider exhibition.

Called England’s New Lenses, it’s part of a major exhibition at four English Heritage sites across the country: Wrest Park in Silsoe, Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, Middleham Castle in Yorkshire and Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, where photographers challenge the definition of heritage.

The exhibition started on 5th August 5 and runs until 31st October (likely to coincide with Black History Month) so if you can, get down to Wrest Park.

Wrest Park location on Google Maps

(via Bedford Today)