The Romans thought excessive milk drinking and eating butter was 'crude and tasteless'

Mark Kurlansky, the author of Milk: A 10,000-Year History, wrote an adapted article for Gastro Obscura about the Romans disdain for milk and butter consumption when they visited Britain:

During a visit to conquered Britain, Julius Caesar was appalled by how much milk the northerners consumed. Strabo, a philosopher, geographer, and historian of Ancient Rome, disparaged the Celts for excessive milk drinking. And Tacitus, a Roman senator and historian, described the German diet as crude and tasteless by singling out their fondness for “curdled milk.”

The Romans often commented on the inferiority of other cultures, and they took excessive milk drinking as evidence of barbarism. Similarly, butter was a useful ointment for burns; it was not a suitable food. As Pliny the Elder bluntly put it, butter is “the choicest food among barbarian tribes.”

But the Romans weren’t the only milk and butter critics. The Ancient Greeks used “butter eaters” as an insult for the Thracians who lived north of Greece. Interestingly, cheese was exempt from such criticism as both the rich and poor enjoyed a variety of cheeses. I guess they thought feta of it.

More on milk and cheese:

The cultural taboos of pointing at rainbows

TIL: it’s a no-no to point at a rainbow in many cultures around the world.

Robert Blust has spent the last few years exploring these rainbow-pointing taboos and why they all exist. His first encounter with the belief came in 1980 in Jakarta, when he was a university professor:

[…] One of the teachers, seeing Blust’s gesture, politely informed him that, in Sumatra, pointing to rainbows was considered a no-no. Another chimed in to say the same was true where he came from, in a different part of the archipelago. Both had learned as children that if you broke the taboo, your finger would become bent like a rainbow.

He later found that the forbidden gesture wasn’t specific to south-eastern Asia:

Blust began to cast a wider net. He sent questionnaires to colleagues and missionary stations around the world, inquiring about rainbows and taboos related to them. He would soon amass evidence for the rainbow taboo—in some form or another—in 124 cultures. The prohibition turned up in North America, among the Atsugewi of northern California and the Lakota of the northern plains; in remote parts of Australia and isolated islands in Melanesia; among the Nyabwa of Ivory Coast and the Kaiwá of Brazil. At one time it was present in Europe, too: one of the Grimm brothers noted it in his book on German mythology. The belief was not found in every culture, according to Blust’s search, but it was present globally, across all inhabited regions.

Although the reasons differ, the general idea behind the rainbow-pointing taboo is bad luck. I wonder how many “successful” or otherwise happy people have done it and how it affected them, if at all. And does it count for rainbow drawings (of which there have been loads in the UK during the pandemic)? Cultural anthropology is fascinating.

(via Atlas Obscura)

Is 'ugly design' good or bad for culture?

Creative director Andrea Trabucco-Campos wrote about the pros of ‘ugly design’ for Fast Company:

For a designer, “ugliness” hasn’t historically been something to strive for. Beauty has largely been a no-brainer when it comes to what’s desirable, or what constitutes “good” design.

Yet, culturally, we’re becoming increasingly fatigued by perfection. After years of brands behaving in similarly simple, orderly ways, we’re yearning for expressions that are less hygienic and altogether more human. When designers do away with old-fashioned principles that align “good” with “beautiful,” they have the freedom to make work that’s infinitely more creative. And in doing so, it’s more interesting—and more inclusive.

Design that destabilizes inherited “rules” around ugly and beautiful rewrites what’s seen as acceptable. It progresses visual culture by celebrating playfulness and forging intimacy by underscoring the limitations (and untruths) of perfection. It subtly helps everyone from brands to designers to consumers communicate more honestly.

Andrea also dives into the disciplines of typography, branding, and ‘ugly as democratization’.

An example of ugly design that I love is brutalism. I jokingly call brutalist buildings “arresting developments” because they are so stark, often cold, grey, and… brutal. Concepts like brutalism and dadaism follow Andrea’s idea of destabilization and serve as visual communication. That’s not to say I dislike modernism or minimalism (spoiler alert: I love them), and don’t think they have their place in design history and the present, but the world and its cultures would be a boring place if they were all we had. Embrace the ugly!

More on ‘ugly’ design: The surreal animations of Wong Ping, Boston’s brutalism, and Observe The Rugged Side Of The Internet With “Brutalist Websites”

A Kaws-tic review by Hrag Vartanian

I try to avoid meta-reviews when they’re especially scathing (Rashayla Marie Brown’s review of Virgil Abloh’s “Figures of Speech” is a notable exception) but I was intrigued by this one by Hrag Vartanian. For Hyperallergic, he reviewed Kaws’ retrospective exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum curated by Eugenie Tsai. Vartanian starts throwing critical punches from the get-go (the title, Kaws Is Terrible, But Thankfully Forgettable, sets the scene):

We live in an age of cons driven by people who think they’re smarter than the rest of us, or in on a joke the rest of us fail to see. Con men (and they’re most often men) are prevalent in the fields of modern and contemporary art. They have their coteries of edgelords, artists, curators, and associated writers and academics who fancy themselves ahead of the crowd, along with collectors, dealers, auctioneers, and other purveyors of luxury goods who join them in celebrating their acquisition of power, or the symbols of it anyway.

Few genres of contemporary art reveal the machinations of this tiresome ouroboros of popular shock to luxury shlock as clearly as graffiti and street art. And no one encompasses that soulless supersizing of pop culture as clearly as Kaws […]

He pours scorn on the gentrification of street art and graffiti, laying a large part of the blame on artists like Kaws, whom he noted for being “apolitical”, lending his work to “the super wealthy who prefer to be comforted and appeased rather than being criticized.”

The art on display in KAWS: WHAT PARTY, is wretchedly meh. The references are facile, and aesthetically the works are akin to Instagram filters or Photoshop tricks. He uses shiny materials, scale, and quantity to make his obtuse points. Not to mention, he offers merchandise in every color and size and price point — let’s call him the Swatch watch of art.

I recommend you read it for the continuous fire spitting from Vartanian which appears to be aimed mainly at contemporary art’s shallow emptiness rather than Kaws alone. Personally, I can take or leave Kaws. His work uses pop culture references I hold dear to my heart (The Simpsons, for example) but his style isn’t for me. Maybe in 2008 when I was heavily into skateboard art (as much as someone can be without every stepping foot on one but I did love Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 back in the day!) I do agree with Vartanian’s overarching views on street art and its commodification. Alas, it is nothing new and artists lament it every decade it occurs. If anything, the time between artistic revolution and gentrification has shortened so much that some artists appropriate before we can blink an eye. But hey, they’re making their millions of NFTs while we sit and bash on our keyboards, right?

Some “better” artists: Keith Haring documentaries to watch on YouTube and Sampira’s top 5 Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings

'Repro Japan' and how Japanese culture has influenced the rest of the world

Lord knows we (the West) have a lot to thank Japan for in terms of pop culture and a new exhibit called ‘Repro Japan: Technologies of Popular Visual Culture‘ pays tribute to that influence. The exhibit is running at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) until 20th March 2022 and features an array of visual artefacts, from woodblock prints to anime cels.

This from Yuchan Kim, writing for The Williams Record:

The first thing I noticed walking into the exhibition is that Repro Japan feels like pieces of Japanese culture stitched together. It’s not organized by timeline, region, or style as you would expect at other exhibitions that survey a particular country’s culture. The two galleries are instead organized by rough groupings of mediums, ranging from textiles and woodblock prints to manga, 3D prints, and cosplay costumes and performances. 

As Kim said in his conclusion, it’s not a cohesive, all-rounded representation of Japanese visual culture (it’s in Massachusetts after all). But you’ve got to start somewhere and if it’s safe to do so and you’re in the area, go check it out.

Found out more on WCMA exhibit page.

A mini Halloween post

Since it’s Halloween and the last day of “Spooky Month”, I thought I’d put together a list of Halloween/horror related links for you to enjoy.

Enjoy your nights, stay safe, and happy trick or treating!

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!

Sampira on Britain’s Art(ifact) Problem

Sammy Willbourne aka Sampira wrote about the various issues with British museums exhibiting stolen artifacts from countries around the world including the Kingdom of Benin (now modern-day Nigeria, not to be mistaken with Benin), Greece, Easter Island, and Egypt:

When you look at a mummy encased in a glass prison, you must wonder, did they ever make it to the afterlife? Or is this their fate, to be trapped behind a glass case of voyeurism, looked upon by people that do not understand them or the life and culture they lived in, whilst their soul becomes weary of never crossing over?

These artifacts are astonishing. They give us a portal into new worlds. More than this, they give us a portal into the very ground we stand on. We were born on. An empire built on spoils from murder and a spiteful tendency to destroy any cultural, historical, or intellectual significance these spectacular civilizations gave us in art, science, maths, literature, and everything else. As long as they are on our soil, they stand as a testament to a psychosis that people still haven’t woken up from. There is no reason they can not go home. There’s no reason they can not be toured collaboratively and respectfully with the countries that do own them. If the countries say no, we must accept this as an apparent tolerant and respectable country. It is the rightful respect and appreciation for other cultures and customs that we are told we have.

Did the Ancient Greeks not have a word for 'blue'? Or is it a myth?

Blue is a cool colour (badum-tish!). But apparently, the Ancient Greeks didn’t know about it—at least, they didn’t have a name for it, so claims AsapSCIENCE in its video entitled Why The Ancient Greeks Couldn’t See Blue. I found it via Open Culture who also blogged about it in June under the title Why Most Ancient Civilizations Had No Word for the Color Blue and thought “wow, interesting!” But it appears it might not be strictly true.

The first red flag was this line:

“[…] blue doesn’t appear much in nature,”

Have you looked up lately? Or seen any of the blue flowers available on the planet? Then the comments took hold and critiqued the video a bit more. This from “Tom Neff”:

The Greeks had several words for blue: Kyaneos was dark blue and glaukos was light blue.

This article appears to have been substantially copied from a 2015 Australian Business Insider article.

Uh oh. A quick Wiktionary search throws up etymologies for the words “kyaneos” and “glaukos“:

kyaneos (κυάνεος), from κῠ́ᾰνος (kúanos, “dark-blue enamel”) +‎ -εος (-eos). According to Beekes, probably from Hittite (kuwannan-, “precious stone, copper, blue”), likely from Proto-Indo-European *ḱwey– (“to shine, white, light”) (compare *ḱweytós (“white”)).

glaukós (γλαυκός, “blue-green, blue-grey”). Uncertain origin. Barber reconstructs Proto-Indo-European *gleh₂w-ko-, noting that the root only appears in Greek (Homer, Aeschylus), but Beekes finds an Indo-European origin unlikely.

The more you read, the more you see that blue had lots of names and was very prestigious in ancient civilizations. I’d have expected Open Culture to do a bit more fact-checking and the video shouldn’t have been made in the first place.

Really hoping I’ve not been a hypocrite and spewed nonsense here so please correct me if any of this or the referenced links are wrong because I like to learn!

Brasilândia: a platform for Black and LGBTQIA+ communities in São Paulo

METAL PRETO / Brasilândia

Ayla Angelos wrote about Brasilândia, a new multidisciplinary platform that showcases the work and communities of Black and LGBTQIA+ people.

Founded by Kelton Campos Fausto and Iama Martinho, Brasilândia was launched to provide content for the people in their neighbourhood. Kelton, a multidisciplinary artist, produces works in the video, painting and performance sphere. “They’re currently interested in the plastic construction of spiritual and cosmological scenes that propose living spaces and possibilities of health,” says Iama, “based on other ways of apprehending reality and the body.” Iama, on the other hand, is a stylist, creative, thinker and fashion producer whom within the Brasilandia space contributes to the production, styling and creation of content in all formats. She graduated in technical garment design and has since been centring her work on the production of fashion in conjunction with the “re-signification” of textile waste, as well as combining her experience as a trans woman living in a country where “transgender people are treated as garbage”.

I really like the tagline: “uma plataforma não uma objetificação” (a platform, not an objectification)

(via It’s Nice That)

Artsy explored the objects that defined 80s youth culture

I was born in November 1989 so I missed all but a month of the 80s and everything about its culture so this was cool to read from Artsy:

At the moment, our pop culture finds itself at peak ’80s nostalgia, as news outlets rush to publish their own guides to the decade’s easter eggs hidden in the third season of Stranger Things (2016–present). Those who came of age in the 1980s are now in their mid-forties, so perhaps it just makes sense that the kids who grew up are now showrunners, casting viewers in the nostalgic glow of their own youth.

One could also argue that ’80s nostalgia is on the rise due to some meritocracy of the decades—the eighties were just a cooler, quirkier, and kitschier time to be alive. My own recollections of the time are a murky haze of fleeting passions, both joyous and totally embarrassing. There are, for instance, the Garbage Pail Kids cards, which hit young male culture hard in 1985—pimply teens sneakily trading Boozin’ Bruce for Adam Bomb or Smelly Sally. I’ll never fully wash off the trauma of the humanoid animals residing in Zoobilee Zoo (1986–87). I’ll never live down listening to the Christian hair-metal albums by Stryper that my mom gently forced on me as an antidote to the more “satanic” alternatives. I’ll never forget the uncomfortable prominence of David Bowie’s codpiece in Labyrinth (1986).

More on the 80’s: Catch some retro 80s and 90s vibes with Retrogeist, Fumi Ishino’s ‘Index of Fillers’ chronicling Japanese culture in the 80s and 90s, and what if Game of Thrones was aired in the 80s?

Black Archives: a multimedia showcase of the Black experience

Archiving is so important in an information era that favours the new and quickly discards the old when it’s deemed surplus to requirements (read: it’s not making profit). This is especially true for Black cultures and Black Archives works to change that.

[…] Through an evolving visual exploration, Black Archives provides a dynamic accessibility to a Black past, present, and future.

Going beyond the norm, its lens examines the nuance of Black life: alive and ever-vibrant to both the everyday and iconic — providing insight and inspiration to those seeking to understand the legacies that preceded their own.

Besides archiving, Black Archives also offers:

  • Content creation and visual curation
  • Archival research and licensing
  • Social strategy and creative direction

For more, check out the Black Archives website.

Every day is Kids Day!

Yesterday was Father’s Day. Upon reminding my son (he made me a lovely card on the Friday), he asked “why isn’t there a kids day?” to which I replied, “every day is Kids Day!” I’ll let you debate the validity of that statement but it rings true for me.

Then today, one of my Twitter mutuals told me that there was a Kids Day (Dia das Criancas) in Brazil on 12th October. This reminded me of Japan’s Children’s Day (こどもの日, Kodomo no Hi) from an old Pokémon episode. So, how many Kids Days are there? According to Wikipedia, there are ~51 Children’s Days observed by countries around the world. While that’s not every day, that’s still nearly 14% of the Gregorian calendar. Most of us only get one birthday!

The official International Children’s Day is on 20th November so kids could get at least two Kids Days a year. In Chile, Children’s Day is officially recognized as the first Wednesday of October but it is actually observed on the second Sunday of August where children are bought toys. Different countries have different traditions, ranging from remembrance (Paraguay) to honour and relaxation (New Zealand’s Children’s Day pays tribute to children as a taonga, the Māori word for treasure)

And that’s why every day is Kids Day for me because children should be honoured and loved every single day. The world can be a horrible place and it can be challenging to nurture children in that kind of environment and explain why bad things happen. It’s important to show love, patience, gratitude, and compassion so they can know what those feelings are and keep them in their hearts. Amongst all the hugs and presents!

Maro Itoje presented an exhibition on Black histories missing from the UK curriculum

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition earlier this month, Itoje, who was educated at the private boarding school Harrow, says one of the constants in his schooling was “the lack of Black and African history that I was taught”. Moreover, when African history was on the syllabus, it was “a single story or narrative that was told”. He adds: “That story was often depressing, and quite often a saviour/survivor narrative. I want to try and show a fuller picture.”

Good on you, Maro!

(via The Art Newspaper)

Queercircle: an LGBTQ+ led charity at the intersection of the arts, culture, and social action

A big shout out to the people at Queercircle as they achieved charity status.

Since 2016, QUEERCIRCLE has hosted exploratory workshops and events with artists, curators, writers and community organisers to develop a programme that is befitting to the needs and aspirations of the LGBTQ+ community.

The organisation champions the art and work of LGBTQ+ creatives and provides services and resources. It’s the kind of space LGBTQ+ communities need right now and in the future—a place to express oneself in the most creatively human way possible.