Monday, December 12, 2011

A Room to Read in Cambodia

And now for something completely different. This one's going out to my dear friend Andrew, whose devotion to his own heritage kindled my fascination with Cambodia a few years ago.

If you're feeling generous this holiday season, you might consider donating a few bucks to Room to Read to help kids in Cambodia who desperately need an opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. Room to Read is an top-rated non-profit organization devoted to providing access to literacy for kids in impoverished countries.

Over the past 11 years, Room to Read has built more than 12,500 libraries that offer the world's least privileged children the opportunity to learn the vital skills that lead to literacy. Where there are few books for children in the local language, Room to Read publishes and distributes picture books in collaboration with local writers and artists.

They also focus on gender equality in education, allowing thousands of deserving girls who would otherwise be kept at home to stay in school. Girls who complete their secondary education grow up to have smaller, healthier families, earn more money and teach their own children to read and write, breaking the cycle of illiteracy in a single generation.

Although there are many needy countries — given that almost 800 million people in the world are illiterate — Cambodia is a special case. Because the anti-intellectual focus of the Khmer Rouge genocide resulted in the decimation of Cambodia's entire educated class between 1975 and 1979, there were few left alive who could teach the youth of the next generation, who grew up largely illiterate, unable to show their own children how to read and write. As a result, Cambodia is still wallowing in a mire of ignorance, corruption and dire poverty, more than 30 years after the horrors that set the country back so profoundly.

Today, the leaders of Cambodia take a laissez-faire attitude toward their people, looking out only for themselves and providing absolutely no support to their millions of impoverished, starving citizens, most of whom are illiterate. But perhaps their excuse could be that they don't know any better — for even the prime minister is said to have achieved only a third grade education. Not long ago, the Ministry of Education announced that 55% of Cambodian primary schools had libraries, neglecting to mention that many of these "libraries" contained no books at all. Some schools only have two or three books to share amongst all of their students.

What Cambodia needs more than anything is the resources to raise a new generation of young people with the intellectual skills to lead themselves out of the darkness. To grow crops more efficiently, to manage resources more wisely, to design better systems of governance, to raise children with a sense of hope. Knowledge is power, after all.

The most empowering thing we could do to help is give these kids the opportunity to lift themselves up. So through Room to Read this holiday season, I will sponsor a Cambodian girl's secondary education for a year, and the company I work for will sponsor the establishment of a library that will allow hundreds of kids starved for knowledge to change their lives for the better. When I was a kid, reading was as integral to my happiness as eating and sleeping, and having unfettered access to books made me the person I am today. You could change someone's life, too — maybe even your own. Happy holidays from Erratic Phenomena!

All photographs are courtesy of Room to Read, aside from the first one, which was taken by Andrew Hem.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Graffiti Bacchanal Miami

Having just returned from the humungous art jamboree that is clustered around Art Basel Miami, I thought I would share a few of my favorite things, most of which were centered around the graffiti zone in Wynwood, which was a hive of activity all week. Hundreds of graffiti and street artists from around the world came and embellished walls, some legally and many working catch as catch can, getting up by any means necessary. For a wider angle view on the festivities and fairs, including a lot of cool stuff I saw and neglected to take a picture of, see my buddy Jack's extensive coverage at Daily du Jour.

First off, Dabs Myla were up to their usual tricks on 25th Street just west of 2nd. Their zesty tiger tipped its hat to their piece in the Underbelly Project Show, which opened its doors just a block down the street.

The legendary Martha Cooper stopped by and was game to let 7th Letter photographer Willie T mount a POV camera on her head to catch some first-person footage of her shooting the dynamic duo at work.

Just across the street, Dabs Myla's friend Witnes was dreaming up a gorgeous mass of billowing flesh woven through a letter skeleton, working entirely freestyle.

On the third day, as twilight closed in, Dabs and Myla finished their piece across the street and came over to add some flanking elements to Witnes's incredible concoction.

Check out Willie T's video of the action.

Meanwhile, just down the street at 25th and 3rd, Zed One from Italy was working on his second piece...

...after completing his first effort in a nearby vacant lot...

...with a few new friends looking on...

....and the inspiration of a splendid holdover from years past.

Heading east on 25th toward Miami Avenue, this police impound lot was getting a makeover...

...and as we turned the corner, we got an eyeful of Rime conjuring up an incredibly ambitious cast of characters along its east wall.

You can see an update on this wall at Daily du Jour, since Jack stayed a couple of days longer than I did. He says Rime's in the home stretch.

(Update: Check out Rime's post explaining his methods and motivation, including a panoramic picture of the entire 50-character wall.)

Not far to the east by the train tracks on 27th, Roa recently bisected this manatee on the side of a warehouse. You should also check out his installation for White Walls at Scope, which adds more dimension to his body of work.

Last but not least, Angry Woebots was in his usual fine fettle, roaring at the world.

Did I forget Pez? He always makes me smile. And that's that!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mark Ryden's "Pinxit"

This one's going out to all you lovers of fine art books. Today, December 1st, will see the release of the collector's edition of Mark Ryden's new book Pinxit, in conjunction with the opening of Miami Art Basel.

This definitive 366-page monograph from Taschen is a 20-year retrospective of Ryden's remarkable body of work, and contains a series of essays translated into three languages, including my essay, "Searching for the Mystical in the Physical."

In our recent interview, Ryden mentioned that the title Pinxit playfully references both the preponderance of pink in his work and the Latin word meaning "he painted this," which artists like Ingres and Rubens once appended after their signatures.

This initial release will be a Collector's Edition of 1,000 and an Art Edition of 50, bound in calfskin in an clamshell box, and stupendously large at 20x15 inches, but a more modestly sized trade edition will be released next year. “There is a physical scale to this book that is truly impressive,” Mark told me. “There are four-panel foldouts that will be a full five feet wide. I have always had a great passion for books, and it is very exciting to have a book of this enormity made of my own art.”