The Art of Sacred Places

Kenro Izu is looking back at a successful photographic career that has spanned more than 40 years and acknowledged that it was a fellowship at the Center for Photography at Woodstock (CPW) that launched his career. Izu reflected on the opportunity and admitted it wasn’t just the money, but the importance of the professional encouragement of CPW’s founder, Howard Greenberg, and connecting him to opportunities to develop his photographic practice.

During January 2018, Izu displays a selection of his photography series “Sacred Places,” which has been internationally exhibited. The exhibit is up at Aaron Rezny Gallery in Kingston and is organized by CPW, with a portion of sales to benefit the photography center’s programming.

Izu uses a large-format camera favored by 19th-century photographers, stating that, “It captures air and the subtle nuances of tonality in platinum printing.” The 14-inch by 20-inch custom-made camera was purchased with funding he received from an NEA grant in 1984. Despite weighing 300 pounds, the camera has traveled with him during his photographic explorations, creating the platinum palladium contact prints that are included in this exhibit.

The photographer has traveled the world seeking out the places that are sacred to people, including areas of Tibet, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and India. Izu explained that he first traveled to Egypt in the 1970s and discovered he was especially drawn to the stone monuments. This has led to his photographing a number of places most would call the “Seven Wonders of the World,” including Stonehenge, Machu Picchu and Chichén Itzá.

While traveling in Hampi, India, Izu came upon a sight that he captured in “Vijayanager #15.” The elaborate shrine-like structure was built on a massive stone, designating a sacred place reachable by rock climbing. The contrast between the giant rock and the detailed architectural structure is surprising. In another human touch, the base of the stone has been patched to ensure its continued stability.

Blog Kenro Izu 1996 IND 15 Hampi
Kenro Izu captured “Vijayanager #15” in Hampi, India. 

 

In the image “Kanchipuram #638,” the photographer has placed himself within a sacred space on a pathway with the deity directly ahead. In the shrine’s low interior light, viewers can observe carved stone columns receding into the distance along a pathway alight with devotional fires.

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“Kanchipuram #638,” by Kenro Izu, depicts the interior of a sacred space in India.

 

In “Ladakh #49,” captured in Ramayuru Gompa, India, the photographer uses the light across the mountains to highlight the sacred temple built on a hill surrounded by a small village. Capturing the last light of the day, the spectacular shadows encircle the sacred place in a series of gradations, creating an abstracted composition of darks and lights.

Izu travels to and focuses on a region, becoming familiar with the local customs from there; he awaits inspiration to discover the sacred places. As his travels took him to the far reaches within Cambodia and Laos, he was moved by the children’s dire health conditions. On his return to New York Izu founded a charitable foundation, Friends Without a Border, that built a free pediatric hospital in Cambodia in order to give back to the people who have inspired his photographic journey.


All photos included in this entry are copyright Kenro Izu. More information on the photographer: http://www.kenroizu.com/

Link to the Friends Without a Border foundation: https://fwab.org/

This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal, Friday, January 12, 2018: http://pojonews.co/2EGRY7Z

 

Desert Beauty

Marking the first day of winter, I walked up a Palm Springs trailhead passing by barrel cactus, creosote bushes and rock formations framed against a brilliant blue sky.

Looking over the valley certainly puts a perspective on life equalizing all the political intrigue and petty issues of everyday matters.

I am so thankful that my family led me to another place of incredible desert beauty. The Tahquitz Canyon was a lovely, quiet walk through the desert that ended with a 60-foot waterfall, through rocks and native plants. Home to the Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, it is indeed a cultural treasure.

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This is the walking that feeds the soul. Today with one day left in 2017, I am contemplating not only what 2018 will bring, but what I will seek during this new year.

 

The Art of Advertising

Growing up in Southern California, nearly every summer vacation included a family trip in the station wagon to visit relatives in Missouri and Arkansas. The route we traveled on was always the old Route 66, another story all by itself. The drive was mercilessly boring so the least little thing would amuse me and my six siblings as we made our way eastward.

Jack rabbitLooking out the car window for something to entertain us was a good way to pass the hours. The giant jackrabbit signs perched on hills above Route 66 for Jack Rabbit Trading Post were a spectacular sight. They taunted us for miles while we imagined all the wonderful curiosities that the Jack Rabbit Trading Post held – I mean, arts and crafts – I was THERE! And then finally, we would spot the one that read, Here it is! Oh, the pain as we sped by each and every one.Here-It-Is21

But the absolute best sighting was the Burma-Shave signs. These were a brilliant ad campaign for shaving cream featuring six sequential signs that passengers in cars could read as they passed  – they were spaced far enough apart that the sentence was read naturally. Here is one message from 1963, the last year Burma-Shave used this promotion:

Our fortune / Is your / Shaven face / It’s our best / Advertising space / Burma-Shave

burma-shave flickrThis has been so woven into our collective culture that artist Norman B. Colp created a public art installation inspired by the Burma-Shave signs installed in the 42nd Street subway tunnel. Called The Commuter’s Lament, or A Close Shave, the installation is a series of signs attached to the roof of the passageway, with the following text:

Overslept, / So tired. / If late, / Get fired. / Why bother? / Why the pain? / Just go home / Do it again.

At this point, you realize that I am fascinated by popular culture and how the influence spreads into art, collective memory, and history. So imagine my delight when walking down the street today and spotting a series of painted rocks with little hand-lettered messages. Each one was carefully placed to make sure pedestrians would see them. While these did not have the clever poetics of the Burma Shave signs, they spoke with a more gentle and encouraging voice:

Live, Love, Laugh / Breathe / Be humble / Keep Going

 

It might be a child’s project, or perhaps a creative release for someone who wanted to have some fun. I was delighted and will continue to be on the lookout for more signs of encouragement.

Life and the Art of Cooking

2016-04-24-11-28-56Winter is here, bringing cold slush, freezing temperatures and making me think about heading back to Mexico. The temperatures are not only warmer, but the people are friendly and the food is wonderful.

Finding good food in Mexico City is easy enough – just walk into the nearest little place and order the menu of the day.  Most of the time lunch will include soup, salad, main dish and a dessert. Eating this way is easy and inexpensive, but the more we wandered through markets with the stunning piles of chiles, fresh squash blossoms, fruits and tortillas, the more we talked about how fun it would be to be able to make our own meals. During our last trip to Mexico City, we stayed in an Airbnb with a kitchen, which opened up the possibility of shopping and cooking our own meals.

First, I should mention we are a family of people who love to cook, including two chefs who make their living this way. There are few travel activities more exciting than wandering through a food market and finding new options for dinner.

Some of the food is simply beautiful in its color and pattern, such as the stacks and stacks of dried cereal, pasta, and spices. Other types of foods we had no idea what we were looking at and had to ask how the vendor cooked it at home.

2016-04-25-16-54-15-1  Shopping in the neighborhood also gave us a glimpse of life in that community, since we had to visit the green market, the Mercado for supplies, the bakery, and a liquor store for our favorite tequila, Gran Centenario.

 

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Dessert from the bakery – an important part of dinner.

We enjoyed every minute of these neighborhood wanderings and arrived back to begin preparing that evening’s feast. Dinner one night included a simple stew with garbanzo beans, corn, tomato, and small red potatoes – it was delicious, but the experience of shopping and cooking was a large portion of the pleasure.

 

 

 

The art of Mercados

I love a Mercado! Across the major neighborhoods of Mexico City, Mercados are the center of commerce and the interactions of daily life and should be part of  every visitor experience.IMG_0978

During a recent trip to Mexico City we stayed outside the center in Coyoacan, a quieter community where Frida Khalo, Diego Rivera, and Leon Trotsky once lived. The Mercado Coyoacan has everything a local resident might need in daily life, from birthday gifts to fresh tortillas. In fact, the entry we came through had a tortilla machine cranking out fresh tortillas.

Walking through the aisles I am always struck by the beauty of the displays – whether the rows of cactus fruit, or the pyramids of differently colored red chilies, it is visually beautiful. The perfume of each section will assail your senses as well – I always stay away from the meat aisles for this reason.

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There is a pride and showmanship in each merchant’s displays – whether you are selling fruit or toys, items are arranged with an artistic eye and precision.IMG_0980

Small food stalls sell fresh fruit drinks, breakfast, lunches and snacks. Sitting down at the counter and ordering the specialty can be one of the most wonderful parts of your visit to a Mercado.

Xoloitzcuintli

We are departing for Mexico City in 4 days, leaving snow and slush behind – nothing these little Mexican hairless dogs would likely experience. Xoloitzcuintli, or Xolo for short, has been popular in Mexico for centuries. The dog was named by the Aztecs after Xolotl, the God of lightning and death.

These small effigies can be seen at street markets as freshly baked clay folk arts, and also nearly identical Xolos at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The dog statues were buried alongside their masters to protect and guide them in the afterlife.

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Art collecting as you like it

Our art collection began in 1980 with a mask that my husband and I fell in love with, but it was far beyond our budget. We

Carved and painted wood mask
Carved and painted wood mask

struck a bargain with the Santa Barbara proprietor and paid for it over three months – the layaway plan for art. Today, that same mask hangs on our wall, at the center of our mask collection.

We have bought sculptures, paintings, prints, drawings, and textile work from artists and galleries. The only criteria is that we love it and can’t imagine living without it. This work is intermingled with my own artworks, and our home is like a small museum with the art exhibited salon style. We do switch the art around and change the exhibition for our own pleasure. However, rarely have we deaccessioned a work of art. Over 35 years later, the collection now has a voice and personality of its own.
Nearly every piece has a memory and story about how we acquired it, along with information about the artist. And this is essential, we seem to buy works most often directly from the artists, or at least with knowledge about the artist.
For instance, our first trip to Mexico we purchased a crow, one of the papier-mâché and wire creations of Saulo Moreno Hernandez, who today is one of the pre-eminent Mexican artisanos and has been featured in the MOMA publication, Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art. We liked its raw personality, and after several years added another of his pieces – a gallo, (rooster) to our collection.
We have purchased many wood sculptures from the Miguel Diaz family who live just outside of Oaxaca in San Pedro

By the Miguel Diaz family
By the Miguel Diaz family

Ixtlahuaca. We met the Diaz family on a trip to Oaxaca when they were in the central square selling their wood carvings. We instantly connected when we realized that we had a family that had the same number of children that were the same ages, and were invited out to their home to have a Sunday meal with the family. We have bought many pieces from the Diaz family on numerous trips to Mexico. We remember when we look at these pieces that the entire family has a job in creating each of these wood alebrijes; from sourcing and carving the first wood structure, to the final delicate painting, every family member contributes to the piece.
One of our favorite pieces is a Huichol yarn painting bought on our first trip to Mexico, with the help of our friend, Robert Forman, who we also met on that first trip in 1992. We had heard from Robert that a Huichol yarn painting might be for sale when we were in Mexico City preparing to depart for home. On the night before we left, we were summoned to the lobby of our hotel by Robert, accompanied by several of the Huichole and discussed the paintings and other artworks we had seen during the day. At that point, we had no more pesos left, but made an arrangement with Robert to send a check to his father living in New Jersey, who would reimburse the Huichols for the painting. We left Mexico that next day with an a???????????????????????????????stounding work of art that we have included in our collection – front and center.
The moral of this story is to buy art that you like – don’t hesitate! Don’t rely on anyone else’s opinion, unless that person will also live with the art on a daily basis. Have faith in your preferences, and the only thing that might happen is that your eye becomes more discerning as you focus in on what art gives you the most pleasure.