The five interlaced rings of the Olympic flag — blue, yellow, black, green, and red — Pierre De Coubertin said in 1931, represent “the five inhabited continents of the world, united by Olympism.” No continent (now region) is assigned a specific color. Perhaps that’s why graphic designer Gustavo Sousa intentionally chose not to provide a legend or key for the illustrations above.
In his illustrations, Mr. Sousa assigns each color of the Olympic rings to a specific continent and then pairs it with a variety of data sets: obesity, gun ownership, McDonald’s outlets, population, homicides, people living with HIV, military expenditures, Facebook users, number of Catholic priests, percentage of homes with televisions, to name a few. He requires the viewer to ponder, to reflect, to think, to make sense of the information.
As Mr. Sousa explained to Fast Company, “The rings represent healthy competition and union, but we know the world isn’t perfect. Maybe understanding the differences is the first step to try to make things more equal.”
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Shoah: A Table of Elements
by Dov Abramson, guest contributor
“The trade of chemist (fortified, in my case, by the experience of Auschwitz), teaches you to overcome, indeed to ignore, certain revulsions that are neither necessary nor congenital: matter is matter, neither noble nor vile, infinitely transformable, and its proximate origin is of no importance whatsoever. Nitrogen is nitrogen, it passes miraculously from the air into plants, from these into animals, and from animals into us; when its function in our body is exhausted, we eliminate it, but it still remains nitrogen, aseptic, innocent.”
—Primo Levi, The Periodic Table
The Holocaust represented a contradiction in perception: ordered, regimented evil and unrestrained, billowing pain. For decades, artists have sought to capture the ineffable destruction that befell the Jewish people.
“Shoah: A Table of Elements” describes the task of making order of the ungraspable. In so doing, it works to release some of the emotional charge of our most raw subjects, while evoking the more prominent associations of the Holocaust: the gases, the smoke, the debris.
“Shoah: A Table of Elements” is a meditation on how we commit to memory, how we use symbols, and how we represent that which we cannot behold.
Dov Abramson is founder and creative director of an art and design studio in Jerusalem, Israel. His work combines classic graphic design and branding with independent artistic work that deals with Jewish and Israeli identity. His projects have been featured in Zeek, Forward, Maariv, Haaretz, and the Chicago Tribune, and his art has been exhibited at The Jewish Museum in New York and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
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Animated Shorts on the Lessons of Forgiveness and Repentance for the High Holy Days
by Susan Leem, associate producer + Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The son of an Israeli nuclear physicist, the artist Hanan Harchol moved to the United States with his family when he was two years old. And it’s his father’s accent that Harchol impersonates and argues with in these two humorous and enlightening animated shorts for the High Holy Days.
But, these illustrated videos mining a deeper understanding of the Jewish concepts of teshuva (repentance) and slicha (forgiveness), Harchol says, weren’t inspired by a personal sense of devotion or religiosity. Just the opposite, in fact. The requirements of the project stipulated that he immerse himself in the texts, and through studying them he reevaluated the essence and spirit of Jewish teachings he had ignored or rejected for many years:
“I spent my life gravitating towards, and making, narrative art that explores the human condition from a psychological, philosophical, and existential perspective. While Judaism offers thousands of years of wisdom on the human condition, I avoided it as a source because of what I perceived to be its preachy, judgmental, and shaming tone.
Then, in 2009, I was commissioned to create a short artistic animation that interpreted the eating of bitter herbs during Passover. As part of the project, I was mandated to participate in a monthly Jewish study group under the leadership of a dynamic and brilliant rabbi named Leon Morris. To my surprise, I discovered that the human themes we were discussing and wrestling with in the study group were precisely the kind I had always been exploring in my personal artmaking. Even the process itself of sitting around a table, debating and wrestling with these human concepts (a process I did regularly with my friends and in my artmaking) proved to be a fundamental part of the Jewish study and learning process.
I became filled with questions about how much my Jewish heritage had influenced how I was raised, how I behaved, how I thought, and even who I was as a person and an artist. What I discovered was a wealth of wisdom. Within the Jewish texts were crucial teachings and lessons that applied as much to our contemporary lives as they did when they were written. By avoiding the Jewish writings because of their religious nature and tone, I was missing out on thousands of years of deep thought and study on the human condition itself. I had thrown the baby out with the bath water.”
Hummingbirds and Outrage Fatigue
by Anne Breckbill, associate web developer
“I think there is such a thing as outrage fatigue. … Because statistics like that and numbers like that, scenarios like that, are as prone to make people throw up their hands and say, well, then, you know, I can’t do anything anyway.”
During her interview with Bill McKibben, Krista suggests that all the bad environmental news and surplus of data can be overwhelming. What a common human response to a challenge that seems insurmountable! Because we cannot do something big, we are tempted to not even take the small, manageable actions that are well within our power. We feel inconsequential, completely forgetting about the cumulative impact of each person who cares for the Earth. This headline from The Onion captures the poignancy of this sentiment: “‘How Bad for the Environment Can Throwing Away One Plastic Bottle Be?’ 30 Million People Wonder.”
Listening to “The Moral Math of Climate Change” also brought to mind the 2009 Sundance Award-winning film Dirt! and the optimistic parable of the hummingbird as told by Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai. Here’s hoping that the 30 million of us who wonder about the impact of one plastic bottle can adopt the tenacity and courage to be hummingbirds.
The Ramayana, Illustrated
Shubha Bala, associate producer
Sanjay Patel, supervising animator at Pixar, has come out with his second illustrated book on Hinduism, Ramayana: Divine Loophole. Patel is one of the few people who have presented Hindu mythology in a way for North American kids to understand, and enjoy. But he also presents the Ramayana, one of the Hindu epic mythological stories, in a wonderful way for adults too — complete with illustrated character bios and geography lessons in the back.
He says in an Atlantic Monthly interview:
“I grew up in a house where there was no explanation—there was just practice. It was like eating for me: ‘Okay, I’ve got to eat. I’ve got to sit down and pray and stare at these wild illustrations of Hindu gods.’ My parents completely subscribe to these stories as philosophy, of course, but it’s also very much a religion to them, and they do see these beings as gods. I would ask my father, ‘Dad, do you really think there’s a blue guy out there?’ I couldn’t really narrow him down on that. But he seems to believe it.
So the Ramayana was always something my parents would study and worship, but it had no meaning to me until I read the story. Then I was like, ‘Wow, the characters are so cool. The plot is so cool. What they symbolize is so cool. This totally needs to be told!’ I wanted to use all the skills and the knowledge I’d gained at Pixar to put these ancient stories in a package that’s relatable and entertaining. If I have children, I want them to know something about their cultural mythology in a way that’s fresh and dynamic.”
He’s also asked about finding existing images of the Ramayana before creating his book:
“I realized after doing some research that centuries and centuries ago, The Ramayana wasn’t actually illustrated. It was sung and performed, and the actors would bring it to life with masks and costumes. Then later, there were these amazing sculptures. So I was looking at that for sure. But artists only really depicted certain episodes in the Ramayana. I wanted to show all those other scenes, like the part where they meet Jambavan the bear! If I were a kid, I’d want to see cool icons and badass graphics.
That’s what’s so great about this story. If you want to get into the dogma you can. But on a raw level, these stories are amazing conduits for really deep philosophy. I think that’s uniquely Indian in many ways. It’s this profound stuff but told through stories that common people can completely engage with—avatars and man-gods.”
“Every Single One of Us Has a Story to Tell…”
Trent Gilliss, online editor
This “still” from Daniel Clowes not-yet-published (expected launch date: May 2010) graphic novel, Wilson, resonated deeply with my Friday morning conversation with Kate and Melinda (director of digital media for APM) during my annual performance review. We discussed the importance of giving voice to more people’s stories and the need for physically connecting with others through the focusing lens of SOF.
“In WILSON, Clowes creates a thoroughly engaging, complex and fascinating portrait of the modern egoist-outspoken and oblivious to those around him, but who sincerely wants to find his place in the world. Working in a single-page gag format and drawn in a spectrum of styles, the cartoonist of Ghost World, Ice Haven and David Boring gives us his funniest and most deeply affecting novel to date.”
(Thanks for the heads up Matthew Buchanan.)
“Heaven on Earth”
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC has just opened a new exhibition Heaven on Earth: Manuscript Illuminations from the National Gallery of Art. It includes documents from France, Germany, Austria, Bohemia, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy — many of which are rare and haven’t been exhibited since 1975.
If you find this interesting, you might want to visit the site for our program “Preserving Words and Worlds,” which includes a slew of video and images from our production trip to the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in Collegeville, Minnesota.
(image: Detail of Belbello da Pavia’s The Annunciation to the Virgin, from the National Gallery’s online archives)