Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘world’

23 SEPTEMBER, 2011

I Like Cats: A Picture-Book Showcase of Indian Folk Art

By:

Bad cats, sad cats, sunny cats, slow cats, hurried cats, cats with scowls and cats with jowls.

On Tuesday, we featured The Night Life of Trees — an incredible handmade book based on Indian mythology, crafted by a commune of artists, designers and writers in South Indian independent publisher Tara Books’ fair-trade workshop in Chennai. Among Tara’s many other treats is the exceptional I Like Cats — part lovely children’s picture book, part priceless showcase of work by some of the best-known tribal and folk artists from various Indian traditions. Each rich, textured page is screen-printed by hand and features a different cat. (In the vein of this week’s inadvertent running theme of cats — as a piece of Edison’s marketing genius, a key to the future of computing, and now an ambassador of Indian artisanal culture.)

The simple but clever verse of author Anushka Ravishankar are part Dr. Seuss, part Blexbolex, part wholly different kind of playful poetry.

As if the book itself wasn’t enough of a jewel, it comes with a frameable screenprint.

Like other Tara Books gems, I Like Cats comes in several limited-edition runs of 2000 copies, each hand-numbered on the back and featuring a different artwork on the front cover.

UPDATE: I Like Cats is now sold out in the U.S. — the fine folks at Tara have put together an offset version in its stead.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

19 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Parastou Forouhar: Art, Life and Death in Iran

By:

Turning tragedy into a source of creativity, or why art doesn’t have to be street art to be politically subversive.

One November evening in 1998, Iranian intellectuals and activists Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, supporters of the democratically elected Prime Minister, were savagely murdered in their home in Tehran. Their devastated daughter, Berlin-based artist Parastou Forouhar, channeled her grief in the language she spoke most fluently: art — powerful, poignant, subversive art that pulls you into its uncomfortable beauty with equal parts urgency and mesmerism. In, Parastou Forouhar: Art, Life and Death in Iran, London-based writer and curator Rose Issa has gathered some of Forouhar’s most provocative yet poetic work from the artist’s exhibitions in Germany, exploring everything from democracy to women’s rights to her parents’ brutal murder.

In a way, Forouhar’s work is the polar opposite of the loud, conspicuous, explicit messaging of Iran’s street art. Her soft colors and fluid shapes might lull you into their surface beauty…until you realize they depict scenes of torture and tragedy — living proof that art doesn’t have to be “street art” in order to be subversive and make compelling cultural commentary on even the most uncomfortable of subjects.

When I arrived in Germany, I was Parastou Forouhar. Somehow, over the years, I’ve become ‘Iranian.’ This enforced ethnic identification took a new turn with the assassination of my parents in their home in Tehran. My efforts to investigate this crime had a great impact on my personal and artistic sensibilities. Political correctness and democratic coexistence lost their meaning in my daily life. As a result, I have tried to distill this conflict of displacement and transfer of meaning, turning it into a source of creativity.” ~ Parastou Forouhar

Images copyright Parastou Forouhar courtesy of Saqi Books

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

16 SEPTEMBER, 2011

The Geography of Bliss: The Secrets of the Happiest Places on Earth

By:

From Iceland to India, or what medieval depictions of heaven have to do with the neuroscience of well-being.

The French call it la chasse au bonheur. Americans have it inscribed into their constitution. The hunt for happiness seems to be a global, fundamentally human pursuit — but what exactly is its actual prey and does that prey have a natural habitat? That’s exactly what Eric Weiner explores in The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World — a fascinating tale of psychology, geopolitics, science, travel and humor, and a fine addition to these 7 essential books on happiness. From the relationship between democracy and happiness to the role of religion, temperature and failure in happiness, the book offers a provocative perspective on what happiness is — and isn’t — and where we might find it.

Weiner came of age as an NPR correspondent, reporting from some of the gloomiest, unhappiest places on Earth. So he decided to seek out their opposite and spent a year traveling the globe, hunting down the world’s unheralded happy places, where one or more of the ingredients we consider essential to well-being — pleasure, money, spirituality, family, chocolate — flow unabated. The itch for his quest came from a what-if we’re all familiar with:

What if you lived in a country that was fabulously wealthy and no one paid taxes? What if you lived in a country where failure is an option? What if you lived in a country so democratic that you voted seven times a year? What if you lived in a country where excessive thinking is discouraged? Would you be happy then?”

Our tendency to conflate geography and happiness seems to be more deeply embedded in our thinking and even our language than we realize. We speak about “looking for” happiness and “finding” joy as though these were specific locations on an actual map. Until the 18th century, people even believed the Garden of Eden, the biblical notion of paradise, was a real place, so they depicted in on maps — located, as Weiner notes the irony, at the intersection of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers where modern-day Iraq lies. At the same time, the entire self-help industry is built — and billed — on the premise that happiness is inside us and we simply need to dig it out. But, Weiner argues, both of these notions are wrong — the line between “out there” and “in here” is much finer than we’ve been led to believe and, as he puts it, where we are is vital to who we are.

The journey wavers across ten countries — The Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India and the United States — to uncover the greatest enablers of, as well as obstacles to, happiness, examining in the process a wide spectrum of definitions of what happiness actually is, from Aristotle (“a virtuous activity of the soul”) to Weiner’s personal favorite, by an unhappy man named Noah Webster who penned the first American dictionary (“the agreeable sensations which spring from the enjoyment of good”).

Happy feelings register in the regions of the brain that have evolved most recently. It raises an intriguing question: Are we, in evolutionary if not personal terms, slouching towards happiness?”

In Bhutan, Weiner contemplates their Gross National Happiness as an alternative to GDP as a measure of a nation’s well-being. In The Netherlands, he tracks down Ruut Veenhoven, the godfather of happiness research and proprietor of the World Database of Happiness.

Throughout the narrative, intriguing factoids add delight to journey (did you know that in 1962, the citizens of the Dominican Republic reported the lowest level of happiness recorded in history, a mere 1.6 on a scale of 1 to 10, or that the ubiquitous yellow smiley face graphic was invented by graphic designer Harvey Ball in 1963?), and some perplexing paradoxes begin to emerge — the world’s happiest countries also have high suicide rates; people who attend religious services report being happier than those who don’t, but the world’s happiest nations are secular; countries with a wide gap between rich and poor are no less happy than countries with even wealth distribution.

Weiner’s subtle humor and charming self-derision bring a wink and an exhale to the cerebral, the empirical and the philosophical concepts at the heart of his findings.

Every religion instructs followers in the ways of happiness, be it in this life or the next, be it through submission, meditation, devotion, or, if you happen to belong to the Jewish or Catholic faith, guilt.”

In the end, Weiner comes full circle to the famous words of Henry Miller, with which the book opens:

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

The Geography of Bliss is neither a self-help manual nor a pop-psychology book. Instead, its ultimate quest for the objective elements of happiness is, ironically yet intriguingly, just one man’s subjective interpretation of the conditions and complexities of well-being. And, like happiness itself, the book’s beauty lies in the layered insights of its subjectivity.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.