Category: Museums

Tate Modern Rejects “The Gift”

There are those who credit the Tate Modern in London for being in the vanguard of promoting and collecting “cutting edge” postmodern art. A 2010 installation at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is often mentioned in that context. Working with the Tate, Ai had assistants cover the entire Turbine Hall floor with over 100 million handmade porcelain sunflower “seeds”. What it all meant was open to interpretation, but for the next 48 hours the public was invited to frolic through the thick carpet of seeds, until the museum roped off the area because of hazardous ceramic dust.

In 2012 the Tate purchased ten tons of Ai Weiwei’s porcelain sunflower seeds, around 8 million individual seeds, for the museum’s permanent collection. The acquisition represented less than a tenth of the seeds used in the original installation. The Tate would not divulge the purchase price of their acquisition, but at a 2011 auction at Sotheby’s the white ceramic seeds were sold for £3.50 each (around $5.00).

"The Gift" - Liberate Tate. Installation/Performance. Tate Modern Turbine Hall. July 7, 2012. Photo by Immo Klink.

"The Gift" - Liberate Tate. Installation/Performance. Tate Modern Turbine Hall. July 7, 2012. Photo by Immo Klink.

In the latest, albeit unauthorized, installation at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, the artists and activists of the Liberate Tate art collective delivered an artwork titled The Gift to the Tate Modern on July 7, 2012; the gift being an enormous 54 foot, one and a half ton wind turbine blade. Over 100 Liberate Tate group members carried the leviathan blade, disassembled into three huge parts, to the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

Getting the blade past the panicked Tate security guards was difficult enough, but once inside the hall the group reassembled the blade under the watchful eye of museum guards and police officers.

Think of Liberate Tate’s wind turbine blade as a gigantic Duchampian style readymade, but one with a clear and timely message. The windmill blade, icon of renewable energy, is placed inside the Tate, recipient of major funding from the international oil company, BP. Conceptual art with an actual concept! There is no small irony in this, since the Tate has in its collection a replica of Fountain, the porcelain urinal Marcel Duchamp submitted to an exhibit organized by the Society of Independent Artists in 1917.

The Tate website describes Fountain with the following: “Fountain is an example of what Duchamp called a ‘readymade’, an ordinary manufactured object designated by the artist as a work of art. It epitomizes the assault on convention and good taste for which he and the Dada movement are best known.” The Tate understands “readymade” and “assault on convention” in a purely academic way, but fails to comprehend any contemporary real world application. Can anyone really explain why a urinal is a “work of art” but a windmill blade is not?

Liberate Tate art collective installation and performance. Tate Modern Turbine Hall. July 7, 2012 Photo by Ian Buswell.

Liberate Tate art collective installation and performance. Tate Modern Turbine Hall. July 7, 2012. Photo by Ian Buswell.

The Liberate Tate art collective put forward their wind turbine blade as a “gift to the nation” under the provisions of the UK government’s Museums and Galleries Act of 1992. This requires the Tate to officially consider accepting the work as part of its permanent collection. Liberate Tate formally submitted their artwork as a gift to the nation in an official letter to Sir Nicholas Serota, the Director of the Tate. The letter in part read: “We gift this artwork with the intention of increasing the public’s understanding and enjoyment of contemporary art.” Liberate Tate spokesperson Sharon Palmer told the press:

“For more than 20 years Tate has been used by BP to present an image of corporate benevolence while the oil company has been involved in environmental and human rights controversies the world over.

We’re approaching an irrevocable turning point in our ability to address the climate crisis, so now is the time for Tate to look to the future and remove itself from the destructive heart of the fossil fuel economy. Liberate Tate has created this artwork using an icon of renewable energy with an express wish that Tate will have the courage to take leadership in addressing the threat of catastrophic climate change and end its relationship with BP.”

In a separate public statement, Communiqué #3 The Gift, Liberate Tate offered a rather poetic explanation of The Gift, and what motivated them to bequeath their giant wind turbine blade to the nation. An excerpt from the message reads as follows:

“Despite recent reports that our biosphere is approaching a ‘tipping point’ where ecosystems are close to a sudden and irreversible change that could extinguish human life; despite years of creative protest and thousands of signatories petitioning Tate to clean up its image and let go of its relationship with a company that is fuelling catastrophe; despite all these things, Tate continues to promote the burning of fossil fuels by taking the poisoned ‘gift’ of funding from BP. This is why today we have given you something you could not refuse.

The law of this island requires that all ‘gifts to the nation’, donations of art from the people, be considered as works for public museums. Consider this one judiciously. We think that it is a work that will fit elegantly in the Tate collection, a work that celebrates a future that gives rather than takes away, a gentle whispering solution, a monument to a world in transition.

Resting on the floor of your museum, it might resemble the bones of a leviathan monster washed up from the salty depths, a suitable metaphor for the deep arctic drilling that BP is profiting from now that the ice is melting. But it is not animal, nor is it dead, it is a living relic from a future that is aching to become the present. It is part of a magic machine, a tool of transformation, a grateful giant.”

Not surprisingly, just hours after the public and Liberate Tate’s members were cleared from the Turbine Hall by museum security, the Tate removed the 54 foot wind turbine blade from the hall to an undisclosed location. One can surmise that it was not even considered by the Tate Board of Directors for acceptance into the museum’s permanent collection.

Liberate Tate’s performance and installation was captured on film and posted on the VICE News website. Felix Goncalez and Stephanie Thieullent of You And I Films also documented the event in a short video they call The Gift.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

View of the Walker Landing Plaza between galleries at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas USA. Photograph by Charvex/Wikimedia Creative Commons.

View of the Walker Landing Plaza between galleries at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas USA. Photograph by Charvex/Wikimedia Creative Commons.

During the month of May 2005 I posted an essay titled The Wal-Mart Museum of Art.

My article detailed the intentions of Wal-Mart heiress Alice L. Walton to found and build the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, the hometown headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world’s largest retailer.

Forbes ranks four of the Waltons among the top dozen wealthiest Americans, with the family members collectively worth around $93 billion dollars. Alice Walton alone has a net worth of $20.9 billion dollars, and not surprisingly she serves as the head of the museum’s Board of Directors. The $800 million it took to erect the huge museum of course came from the Walton Family Foundation. Crystal Bridges opened this past November to much fanfare from the press, though this article will make note of a few things generally left unsaid about the new “world-class” art museum and its connections to the Wal-Mart empire.

Should I ever find myself in Bentonville, Arkansas, I would most likely pay a visit to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. There is no doubt Alice Walton and family have purchased a superlative art collection. The museum houses works by the likes of Charles Wilson Peale, John Singleton Copley, Charles Bird King, Asher Brown Durand, Arshile Gorky, Thomas Hart Benton, Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keefe, Claes Oldenburg, and innumerable others from throughout America’s episodic history. It may be a conservative collection hung in a conventional setting, but there is no arguing its significance. It is also incontestable that the museum serves an unstated political purpose. I will set the pace for the remainder of this article by quoting from my original May 2005 post:

“Wal-Mart Inc. is hardly a credible or benevolent voice when it comes to the public interest, and delivering the nation’s art treasures into its gapping maw makes me shudder. While the corporate press and apolitical art critics fawn over the art world’s latest benefactor, they are likely to forget to mention the following… Wal-Mart Inc. has a terrible record when it comes to the mistreatment of its US employees, and a ghastly history of exploiting workers in other parts of the world. There is no better example of how politics is intertwined with art than the spectacle of an art museum being founded by a rapacious corporation well known for exporting US jobs overseas and profiting from foreign sweat shop labor.”

Writing for Bloomberg.com, Jeffrey Goldberg penned a December 2011 article titled “Wal-Mart Heiress’s Museum a Moral Blight“, in which he updates and extrapolates on the points made above. Goldberg referred to the Wal-Mart Museum as “a moral tragedy, very much like the corporation that provided Walton with the money to build a billion-dollar art museum during a terrifying recession. The museum is a compelling symbol of the chasm between the richest Americans and everyone else.” He went on to write that the museum “is certainly the handsomest building ever built with Wal-Mart money. I suspect it is also the only building associated with Wal-Mart that is devoted solely to American-made goods.”

Here I must point out that the inaugural presentation of the Crystal Bridges Museum collection was co-sponsored by General Electric, Coca-Cola, and Goldman Sacks. Honestly, the museum seems not so much a gathering of historic and noteworthy American art as it does a monumental advertisement for America’s plutocratic 1%.

Contributing editor to Art & Auction magazine, Abigail Esman, may no doubt disagree with my assessment. In her article for Forbes, “How Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Exposes The Foolishness Of Occupy Wall Street“, Ms. Esman wrote of Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridge Museum as a “love letter, as it were, to her community and to America”, saying that “there remain those so wedded to the whining of the so-called 99 percent that they remain blinded both to the philanthropy and to the significance of the project.”  Esman’s attacks against the “Occupy crowd” are simply diversionary and do not address the social role played by Wal-Mart and its cultural appendage, the Crystal Bridges Museum. She maligns the Occupy movement by saying “What matters to them is simply the fact that Ms. Walton has the money to do any of this in the first place - and this, evidently, is an emblem of pure evil.” It is not the family’s affluence that is problematic, it is the question of how they acquired their wealth and the ways in which they utilize it.

I realize that worshipping monetary success has become a cult religion in the United States, but please, let us not delude ourselves.

According to a 2007 report from the Economic Policy Institute (ECI) titled The Wal-Mart effect, the mega-corporation imported $27 billion dollars worth of products from that shining citadel of democracy, the People’s Republic of China; those imports, according to the ECI, “eliminated nearly 200,000 U.S. jobs in this period”. The ECI report also stated that “Wal-Mart has aided China’s abuse of labor rights and its violations of internally recognized norms of fair trade behavior by providing a vast and growing conduit for the distribution of artificially cheap and subsidized Chinese exports to the United States.”

I can only add that the U.S. trade deficit with China has increased exponentially since the 2007 ECI report, and that Wal-Mart continues to eliminate even more American jobs by ramping up its imports from China. That is some “love letter” to America. One wonders how the follies of a few misguided adherents of the Occupy movement could even begin to compete.

In my original May 2005 article I mentioned that Wal-Mart defiled the ancient metropolis of Teotihuacán by opening one of its super stores in the city’s archeological perimeter after months of protests by the Mexican people who saw the store’s location as an affront to Mexican culture and history.

Located just outside of Mexico City, I visited the ancient indigenous site in 1991 and climbed to the top of its magnificent pyramids dedicated to the Sun and Moon; the ruins of the old city are massive and breathtaking, and indigenous people continue to see Teotihuacán as a sacred place. When viewing the grounds it is difficult not to agree. Seeing a Wal-Mart store less than a mile from those ancient pyramids is as unacceptable an experience as seeing the big-box store on the grounds of the Vatican or near the great pyramids of Egypt - especially knowing the Wal-Mart 7 1/2 acre lot is undoubtedly covering priceless artifacts.

In a 2009 dispatch titled, “Teotihuacán Gets Mickey-Moused“, author John Ross wrote that; “Priceless artifacts uncovered during store construction were reportedly trucked off to a local dump and workers fired when they revealed the carnage to the press.” Those who imagine Wal-Mart as an advocate for the arts should think deeply about the mega-corporation paving over an archaeological zone belonging to one of the world’s most celebrated ancient cities. While Wal-Mart’s reckless cultural insensitivity regarding Mexico’s Teotihuacán is stunning enough, an even bigger story is currently playing out at the time of this writing.

On April 21, 2012, the New York Times published a report titled “Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle“. The story detailed how Wal-Mart’s largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico, “orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance” in Mexico, paying “more than $24 million” in bribes and kickbacks to corrupt officials both in and out of government. The story came to light in 2005 when a former Wal-Mart executive leaked information regarding the crooked business practices. When Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas was informed of the subsidiary’s criminal behavior, it launched its own supposedly impartial investigation. According to the New York Times:

“Wal-Mart dispatched investigators to Mexico City, and within days they unearthed evidence of widespread bribery. They found a paper trail of hundreds of suspect payments totaling more than $24 million. They also found documents showing that Wal-Mart de Mexico’s top executives not only knew about the payments, but had taken steps to conceal them from Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. In a confidential report to his superiors, Wal-Mart’s lead investigator, a former F.B.I. special agent, summed up their initial findings this way: ‘There is reasonable suspicion to believe that Mexican and USA laws have been violated.’ The lead investigator recommended that Wal-Mart expand the investigation. Instead, an examination by The New York Times found, Wal-Mart’s leaders shut it down.”

In light of the corruption scandals Wal-Mart now finds itself embroiled in over its dirty business dealings with crooked Mexican officials, one must consider something John Ross wrote in his aforementioned article. Ross brought up Arturo Montiel, the former governor of the State of Mexico and Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) politician who in 1994 granted Wal-Mart the permits allowing construction of its store on the grounds of Teotihuacán. Mr. Montiel was driven from office in 2005 due to charges of corruption, including influence peddling, using public funds for private purposes, and amassing a personal fortune through bribery and other illegal means. In its 2012 expose, the New York Times conducted extensive interviews with Sergio Cicero Zapata, a former Wal-Mart de Mexico executive that ran the company’s real estate department since 1994. The NYT wrote that:

“Mr. Cicero recounted how he had helped organize years of payoffs. He described personally dispatching two trusted outside lawyers to deliver envelopes of cash to government officials. They targeted mayors and city council members, obscure urban planners, low-level bureaucrats who issued permits — anyone with the power to thwart Wal-Mart’s growth. The bribes, he said, bought zoning approvals, reductions in environmental impact fees and the allegiance of neighborhood leaders.”

One may wonder about the extent of Wal-Mart’s bribery in Mexico and if its long reach got to former governor Montiel, “helping” him to issue those permits for the Teotihuacán Wal-Mart. In a follow-up article by the New York Times dated April 22, 2012, the paper noted that a leader from one protest group, Emma Ortega Moreno of the Civic Front for the Defense of the Teotihuacán Valley, charged that the 1994 permit process was rigged. Moreno asserted that “Wal-Mart started building without permits, the licenses came later. When there are banknotes, you know that they can work wonders.” In the same article the paper mentioned the U.S. government’s “1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars U.S. companies from bribing foreign government officials or companies to secure or retain business.”

As the world’s largest retailer the company certainly has no shortage of expendable cash, and it can just as easily purchase foreign government officials as it can procure a fabulous art collection and an $800 million dollar museum in Arkansas to house it. Both projects serve political expediency, but only one can be cast as benevolent. There is an old saying South of the Border, “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States.” Wal-Mart’s relationship with Mexico seems to exemplify that truism.

If Wal-Mart using its considerable financial resources to buy market dominance and political influence in Mexico does not offend you, then consider the following. On April 30, 2012, the New York Times published a report concerning how the corporation:

“has adroitly used millions of dollars in campaign contributions, charity drives, lobbying campaigns, and its work for popular causes like childhood nutrition and carbon emissions to build support in Congress and the White House. It also uses these methods to increase its ‘favorable’ ratings, especially with liberals. And as Wal-Mart’s top lobbyist explained to investors in 2010, the company thinks the strategy has worked. ‘Across the board, our reputation with elected officials is improved, not only here in the U.S. but around the world,’ the lobbyist, Leslie Dach, boasted as he ticked off poll numbers that he said demonstrated the company’s improving public profile. That popularity, he said, ‘makes it easier for us to stay out of the public limelight when we don’t want to be there.’

(….) For years Wal-Mart had reliable allies in the Republican Party, while it struggled to develop support among Democrats. But in recent years it has joined with the Obama administration on a number of its initiatives, including President Obama’s health care plan, environmental safeguards and childhood obesity. At the same time, it has aggressively lobbied the administration and Congress on dozens of policies affecting its business operations, including global trade, taxes, immigration, business regulation and waste disposal standards.”

Wal-Mart certainly wants the “public limelight” when it comes to their new museum, but when it comes to exporting America’s industrial base to China, bribing shady Mexican government officials for special treatment, or buying favor with U.S. politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties… not so much. No matter how sophisticated the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art might be, nothing can conceal the pernicious crimes of Wal-Mart.

Review: Four Los Angeles Exhibits

I started 2012 by taking in four exhibits in the Los Angeles area; Art Along the Hyphen: The Mexican-American Generation and The Colt Revolver in the American West at the Autry National Center, as well as Places of Validation, Art & Progression and The African Diaspora in the Art of Miguel Covarrubias: Driven by color, shaped by Cultures at the California African American Museum.

What unites these seemingly unrelated exhibits are the deep insights they provide into the American experience. This review is to encourage those in the Southern California region to see the shows for themselves if possible, and barring that, to do further research on the artists mentioned.

Art Along the Hyphen: The Mexican-American Generation

Starting with the Autry National Center, the Art Along the Hyphen exhibit (which ended Jan. 8, 2012), presented the work of six Mexican-American artists who created art in Los Angeles in the post-WWII era of the 1950s and early 1960s; Alberto Valdés, Domingo Ulloa, Roberto Chavez, Dora de Larios, Eduardo Carrillo, and Hernando G. Villa. That these artists are still unknown, even to aficionados of Chicano art, is a testament to the influence of art establishment gatekeepers. It was not just elite art world racism that kept these and other Mexican-American artists out of the museum and gallery systems, it was also the totalitarian supremacy of abstract expressionism that held them in check. The artists in the Art Along the Hyphen show were committed to narrative figurative realism, and that put them squarely at odds with an art establishment obsessed with abstraction.

"Braceros" - Domingo Ulloa, 1960. Oil on masonite. Image courtesy of the Autry.

"Braceros" - Domingo Ulloa, 1960. Oil on masonite. Image courtesy of the Autry.

The paintings and prints of Domingo Ulloa (1919-1997) were the most politically charged in the Autry exhibit.

The artist was unquestionably influenced by the 1930s school of Mexican Muralism and social realism; Ulloa in fact studied at the Antigua Academia de San Carlos in Mexico City, the same art academy attended by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Born in Pomona, California, Ulloa was the son of migrant workers, and after serving in World War II he came under the influence of the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP - Popular Graphic Arts Workshop), the famous Mexican political print collective. Every bit as didactic and radical as his contemporaries in the TGP, Ulloa’s art focused on the social ills of American society; racism and social inequality, police brutality and imperialist war.

In 1963 Norman Rockwell painted a canvas he titled, The Problem We All Live With. It was a depiction of a 6-year-old African-American girl named Ruby Bridges being escorted through a racist mob by U.S. Federal marshals to the just desegregated William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The real life incident occurred on Nov. 15, 1960, when a large crowd of white racists gathered in front of the school to protest against integration. Armed Federal marshals had to guard the tiny black girl against the angry throng as it chanted “Two, Four, Six, Eight, we don’t want to integrate!” Rockwell’s painting appeared as a double page spread in Look Magazine in 1964, it was a controversial image that would capture the attention of Americans, but Domingo Ulloa had painted a similar canvas six years prior to Rockwell’s original painting.

"Racism/Incident at Little Rock" - Domingo Ulloa, 1957. Acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy of the Autry.

"Racism/Incident at Little Rock" - Domingo Ulloa, 1957. Acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy of the Autry.

In 1957 Ulloa painted Racism/Incident at Little Rock, which was based upon real life events that took place that same year in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1957 a federal court ordered the State of Arkansas to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which outlawed racial segregation in America’s public schools. Orval Faubus, the Governor of Arkansas and a Dixiecrat (a right-wing racist Southern Democrat) resisted the court decision by calling in Arkansas National Guard soldiers to prevent African-American students from entering “white” schools. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower pressured Faubus to uphold federal law and use the Guard to protect black students, but Faubus instead withdrew the troops entirely, leaving black students exposed to attacks by white racist lynch mobs.

When nine black students attempted to enter Little Rock High School on September 23, 1957, thousands of enraged whites assaulted them with stones and fisticuffs. This clip from the 1986 PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize details the incident. At 7.55 minutes into the video you will see footage that I viewed on national television in 1957 at the tender young age of four; the indelible imagery changed my life forever. Although only a four-year-old, I wanted to rush to the victim’s defense. Ulloa attempted to capture all the horror of that ugly affair on his canvas.

Ulloa’s painting is dramatically different from Rockwell’s, and it goes without saying that Ulloa’s vision did not appear in Look Magazine. In Racism/Incident at Little Rock there are no government agents deployed to rescue black school children, there are only six youthful black students surrounded by a howling pack of phantasmagorical monsters. The adolescent African-Americans in the picture huddle together, the oldest of them looking stoic; they have no one but themselves to rely upon. Ulloa’s canvas was inspired by The Masses, a 1935 lithograph by José Clemente Orozco; one could say that Ulloa perhaps borrowed a bit too much from Orozco, or he was simply paying homage to the master. Ulloa’s paintings at the Autry showed that he had not entirely escaped the orbit of the Mexican Muralists; his heavily textured brushstrokes and color palette bearing a striking similarity to that of Siqueiros.

"Don Pela Gallos" - Alberto Valdes, 1980. Acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy of the Autry.

"Don Pela Gallos" - Alberto Valdes, 1980. Acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy of the Autry.

The works of Alberto Valdés (1918-1998) caught my eye. His delicate semi-abstract paintings were filled with vivid color and Pre-Columbian iconography; dreamlike apparitions, mythic creatures, indigenous warriors, and fantastic landscapes.

A small portrait of a fierce imaginary Aztec warrior held me spellbound; painted in muted hues of red and yellow, the face filled the entire diminutive picture plane.

Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) was an obvious inspiration to Valdés. A handful of Valdés’ paintings achieved a mystical quality where reality melted into intricate webs of translucent primary colors. However, I think Valdés for the most part agreed with Tamayo that a “non-descriptive realism” would counter the “bourgeois” escapism of abstraction. The enigmatic Don Pela Gallos is indicative of Valdés’ opulently painted visions.

The Colt Revolver in the American West

While at the Autry to see Art Along the Hyphen, I decided to visit the museum’s newly opened Greg Martin Colt Gallery, were the exhibit The Colt Revolver in the American West can be found; I knew a rare poster by artist George Catlin (1796-1872) was part of the exhibit. Starting in 1830 Catlin was the first American artist to travel beyond the Missouri River to visit and document indigenous people; over a six-year period he ended up painting more than 325 portraits of individuals from eighteen tribes, some of which had never seen a white man before.

Colt Single Action Army revolver. This lavishly engraved .45 cal pistol belonged to Captain Manuel Gonzaullas of the Texas Rangers in 1929. Gonzaullas was the first Latino to become a high ranking officer in the Texas Rangers. First introduced in 1873, the Colt 45 became known as "the handgun that won the West." Photo by Mark Vallen ©.

Colt Single Action Army revolver. This engraved .45 cal pistol belonged to Captain Manuel Gonzaullas of the Texas Rangers in 1929. Gonzaullas was the first Latino to become a high ranking officer in the Texas Rangers. First introduced in 1873, the Colt 45 became known as "the handgun that won the West." Photo by Mark Vallen ©.

In 2004 the Autry hosted an unforgettable exhibition titled George Catlin And His Indian Gallery that showcased 120 paintings by the artist. The exhibit was originally organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which houses the greater part of Catlin’s works in its permanent collection. Ever since first learning of Catlin when I was a teenager, I have maintained a keen interest in his works, and so was eager to see his poster in the Colt exhibit.

Detail of historic poster designed by George Catlin for Colt firearms. Circa 1851. Photo by Mark Vallen ©.

Detail of historic poster designed by George Catlin for Colt firearms. Circa 1851. Photo by Mark Vallen ©.

Samuel Colt constructed the very first rotating cylinder fed handgun in 1831 at the age of sixteen, a prototype of which is on display in the Autry exhibit. He patented his invention in 1835, and his innovative revolver grew increasingly popular with hunters, frontiersmen, and settlers. Around 1851 Samuel Colt commissioned Catlin to do a series of paintings showing the artist using Colt rifles and pistols during his travels. Catlin’s paintings were reproduced as lithographs, a common practice at the time, and distributed to promote the Colt line of firearms. A total of six different lithographic posters were produced, but only Catlin the Artist Shooting Buffalo with Colt’s Revolving Pistol, is on display at the Autry. Apparently Catlin was one of the very first American artists to promote a commercial product.

While the Autry asserts Catlin’s poster depicts the artist firing a “Dragoon revolver”, I think otherwise. The Colt Dragoon was first produced in 1848, years after Catlin made his 1830-1836 excursions through territory inhabited by the original Americans. The handgun Catlin depicted himself using in the poster looks very much like the model No. 5 Colt “Paterson” Revolver manufactured by Samuel Colt in Paterson, N.J. in the year 1836, a year that fits the time frame of Catlin’s actual travels. In 2011 a rare 1836 Colt “Paterson” sold at auction for $977,500, a world record price for a single historic firearm sold at auction.

Places of Validation, Art & Progression

The California African American Museum (CAAM) offers Places of Validation, Art & Progression, an exhibit tracing the development of artistic expression in the Los Angeles African-American community from 1940 to 1980. On view until Feb. 26, 2012, this large and somewhat unwieldy exhibit covers an important period for L.A. and the United States. The post-war struggle to achieve full human and civil rights for African-Americans, and the social engagement in the arts that accompanied that effort, is a central focus for much of the work in the exhibit.

Concomitant with political shifts in the U.S., Black artists in the 1960s began to explore Africa as an aesthetic wellspring, in addition to taking on a critical examination of Black life and history in America. A good portion of the art on display is in the figurative realist tradition, but the CAAM exhibit also demonstrates how Black artists in the avant-garde used conceptual and installation art in a decidedly political way; here, Betye Saar’s Sambo’s Banjo comes to mind.

The work is a mixed-media assemblage composed of a banjo carrying case displayed to stand open, the outside of the case painted with a contemptibly stereotyped image of a Black man with huge bulging eyes and enormous blood red lips. An examination of the case interior reveals that in the area where the circular body of the banjo would rest, a diminutive “Little Black Sambo” toy figure dressed in red, white, and blue hangs from a tiny noose. Above, in the thin part of the case were the banjo’s fretted neck would be situated, a small black metal skeleton is arranged next to a historic black and white photograph of an actual lynching. A piece of wood carved and painted to look like a large slice of watermelon sits in front of the tableau formed by the banjo case. Altogether, Saar’s assemblage forms a chilling picture of American racism.

"My Miss America" Ernie Barnes. Oil on canvas. 49 x 37 inches. 1970.

"My Miss America" Ernie Barnes. Oil on canvas. 49 x 37 inches. 1970.

The exhibit contains three works by Charles White (1918-1979), an artist whose works exerted a powerful influence upon me in the early 1970’s.

Three works by White are on display, a small linoleum cut and a larger and quite extraordinary etching, the triad completed by a sizeable oil painting titled Freedom Now. These three works alone give enough reason to visit Places of Validation, but the CAAM exhibit offers many other treasures.

One of my favorite works in the exhibit is by Ernie Barnes (1938-2009), who was born in North Carolina during the brutal years of White supremacy.

In 1956 the eighteen-year old Barnes visited the North Carolina Museum of Art while on a field trip; when he inquired of a docent where he might find the museum’s collection of works by Black artists, he was told “Your people don’t express themselves that way.” Barnes would develop into one of America’s premier Black artists and in 1978 would return to the same museum for a successful solo exhibition of his art.

On display at the CAAM is My Miss America, Barnes’ heroic depiction of Black womanhood. Painted in 1970, the canvas portrays a woman made rough by years of drudgery and sacrifice; dressed in a plain red cotton dress she hauls two heavy brown bags with her coarse hands. It is evident the working woman is part of America’s permanent underclass, yet, she exudes the dignity and nobility that evades those thought to be “above” her. The title Barnes gave to his canvas was not based on the notion of woman as trophy, rather, it is an affirmation of the strength, integrity, and leadership of women. If there is a “Miss America”, Barnes showed us where she is to be found.

The African Diaspora in the Art of Miguel Covarrubias: Driven by color, shaped by Cultures

In another wing of the CAAM one can see the works of Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957). It brings together the artist’s paintings, lithographs, drawings, sketches, and illustrations for books and magazines portraying people of African heritage in the United States, Haiti, and Cuba; but the exhibit also includes portraits the artist made of people while traveling through North, East, and West African countries. Gathered under the thematic banner of  The African Diaspora in the Art of Miguel Covarrubias: Driven by color, shaped by Cultures, the exhibit’s primary focus are the works Covarrubias produced in the mid-1920s as an observer of the Harlem Renaissance.

"Rumba" Miguel Covarrubias. Lithograph. 1942. This, and other superlative lithographs by the artist are on view at the CAAM exhibit.

"Rumba" Miguel Covarrubias. Lithograph. 1942. This, and other superlative lithographs by the artist are on view at the CAAM exhibit.

With a grant from the Mexican government, the 19-year old Covarrubias traveled to New York City in 1924 where he  became immersed in African-American culture. He met and befriended Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and other notables from the literary scene, and regularly frequented Harlem’s many Jazz clubs. He produced an endless stream of drawings and other artworks that depicted African-Americans in church, on the street, and going about their everyday lives; to my mind few non-African-American artists up until Covarrubias had ever been given to such a positive examination of Black Americans. By 1927 a number of these works were published in book form under the title of, Negro Drawings, and more than a few of these original works are included in the CAAM exhibit.

A remarkable painter, printmaker, curator, writer, theatrical set and costume designer, anthropologist, and radical humanist, Covarrubias is mostly known in the U.S. as an illustrator and caricaturist whose celebrity caricatures graced the covers and inside pages of publications like Vanity Fair, Fortune, and The New Yorker in the 1920s and 1930s. But when it came to his depictions of African-Americans, he said the following: “I don’t consider my drawings caricatures. A caricature is the exaggerated character of an individual for satirical purpose. These drawings are more from a serious point of view.”

"Black Woman with Blue Dress" Miguel Covarrubias. Oil on masonite. 1926. Collection of the Library of Congress.

"Black Woman with Blue Dress" Miguel Covarrubias. Oil on masonite. 1926. Collection of the Library of Congress.

One especially striking painting in the exhibit is Covarrubias’ Black Woman with Blue Dress, an oil on masonite study of a fashionable young woman. One must assume she was a denizen of one of the Jazz clubs the artist haunted, her cool gaze and “Flapper” attire the mark of an urban sophisticate.

The reproduction of the painting shown here does not begin to do the original justice; Covarrubias made full use of the transparent characteristics of oil paint, his vibrant portrait looking ever so much like a backlit panel of stained glass. Next to this painting, another similarly sized and composed oil portrait stood out conspicuously, a masterful interpretation of a young woman in a deep red dress.

The portrait of the Black woman in the red dress continues to enthrall me, though I did not get the title or date of the painting. The woman wearing a bobbed Flapper hairdo so angular it seemed architectural, was portrayed in silhouette against a background the color of ripe lemons. Thrown into shadow and her beautiful ebony skin painted in the darkest of hues, her features appear hidden, until a closer look reveals that her eyes are staring back at you. Covarrubias’ close-up portraits of North African women are similarly eye-catching and arresting studies that will have me visiting the exhibition a second time before its closing.

I cannot speak highly enough of  The African Diaspora in the Art of Miguel Covarrubias, it is one of the best exhibitions I have ever seen in Los Angeles, if only for the fact that the artist’s fine art prints and oil paintings are so little known in the United States. Regrettably the museum offers no printed catalog of this important show, not even an informative pamphlet. The superb exhibition runs until Feb. 26, 2012.

Occupy the Art World

Placards at Foley Square, New York City, Nov. 15, 2011. - Anonymous artist. Photo from www.occupywallst.org

Placards at Foley Square, New York City, Nov. 15, 2011. - Anonymous artist. Photo from www.occupywallst.org

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement describes contemporary U.S. society as being under the domination of the “one percent”, those super-wealthy individuals and corporations that control everything from the media to the halls of Congress.

While the primary focus of OWS has been aimed at the home foreclosures, unemployment, and social inequality fostered by the greed of rapacious banks and corporations, some critical assessment of the impact corporate titans have exercised over culture is also in order.

For those inured to the art world having been commandeered by high finance, now is the time of reckoning. In view of the Occupy movement’s fight against plutocracy, the arts community should scrutinize the role financial institutions have played, and continue to play, in the collapse of the economy. Those same corporations maintain a benevolent public image through funding the arts; I will mention a handful of these oligarchic “arts supporters” in this article.

Mat Gleason, art critic and founder of the Los Angeles arts periodical Coagula Art Journal, wrote an essay for the AOL owned Huffington Post titled, Is Pacific Standard Time Too Big to Fail? While Gleason’s article was certainly a jab at the Getty Foundation’s much heralded Pacific Standard Time extravaganza of some forty exhibits across Southern California, his commentary also raised the issue of corporate sponsorship of the arts. He specifically targeted Bank of America as the financial backer behind Pacific Standard Time. In his article, Gleason wrote:

Bank of America ATM receipt - Original illustration for Mat Gleason's article, "Is Pacific Standard Time Too Big to Fail?"

Bank of America ATM receipt - Original illustration for Mat Gleason's article, "Is Pacific Standard Time Too Big to Fail?"

“A friend sent me her Bank of America ATM receipt with its upbeat encouragement to explore the Pacific Standard Time (PST) website. Could there be a crueler indictment of an art world that is convinced of its moral superiority to mainstream culture than to be subsidized by one of the criminal financial forces that has brought our culture to its very knees?

I was seriously considering a boycott of the entire Pacific Standard Time when I saw an entity sponsoring a cultural event after basically destroying the culture via the economy. For BofA to celebrate the very pulse that it now has contributed to killing is disgusting. But the era of the boycott seems to have vanished - instead of the boycott’s zero attention, the ‘occupy’ era challenges power by giving perpetrators 100 percent attention. While there is a call for people to remove their money from large financial institutions on November 5 and open accounts at a local credit union, how do we as a region remove the art that defines our city and our times from the large art institutions?

I suppose you don’t need an answer to begin your occupation of the art institution of your choice. And if you cannot choose one, don’t forget that the big banks collaborate with art educational institutions to profit mightily off of student loan debt. Curricula in the hallowed halls of these capitalist MFA casinos mimic the self-impressed non-engagement aesthetic as much or more than most PST exhibits. The anxiety is erased into the conceptual ether. Prozac is to art creation what the Getty is to art curation.”

"Make Wall Street Pay" - Anonymous artist. Based on a photo of "For the Love of God", a sculpture by British artist Damien Hirst. The work, a human skull cast in platinum and covered with 8,601 flawless diamonds, is alleged to have sold for £50 million ($79 million). Poster available for download at www.adbusters.org

"Make Wall Street Pay" - Anonymous artist. Based on a photo of "For the Love of God", a sculpture by British artist Damien Hirst. The work, a human skull cast in platinum and covered with 8,601 flawless diamonds, is alleged to have sold for £50 million ($79 million). Poster available for download at www.adbusters.org

While I do not agree with Gleason’s assessment of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time exhibitions, his swipe at Bank of America broaches the wider issue of corporate backing of the arts.

The prickly question is, how do artists circumvent the hegemony of the privileged few to establish and sustain truly autonomous art?

In January 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws banning corporations from using their vast wealth to support or oppose candidates for political office. Millions of Americans were aghast at the decision, which allows corporations to pump unlimited funds into the coffers of political candidates; a distortion of democracy that gives powerful companies the ability to purchase candidates as well as the legislative process. But if it is injurious to the nation to hand over government to monied interests, then is it not also ruinous to give those same monied elites control over the nation’s artistic and cultural life?

The economic meltdown that began in 2008 was in part a result of corrupt dealings by giant banking and loan companies, particularly in the housing market. As that market collapsed, firms like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase loaded portfolios with “toxic” mortgage investments, then sold them to unsuspecting clients while betting the investments would fall in value. The scamming was a factor in the economic crisis, yet, as journalist Robert Scheer pointed out, not a single banker faces criminal charges “since the Justice Department has refused to act in these cases, and the Security and Exchange Commission is bringing only civil charges, which the banks find quite tolerable.” By contrast, 4,542 activists have been arrested in protests against the financial elite since the Occupy Wall Street movement began on Sept. 17, 2011.

 "Money Talks Too Much, Occupy!" - Josh MacPhee. 2011. JustSeed Artist's Cooperative. Silkscreen print.

"Money Talks Too Much, Occupy!" - Josh MacPhee. 2011. JustSeed Artist's Cooperative. Silkscreen.

Throughout the 2004-2008 housing bubble, the banking practices of Bank of America abetted the ‘08 crash of the global economy.

In the aftermath of the collapse, BofA received $15 billion in taxpayer’s bailout money from the U.S. government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), along with an additional sum of $10 billion so that BofA could purchase the failing bank, Merrill Lynch. In January 2009 BofA received another $20 billion from TARP; unbelievably, 75% of the $20 billion went to pay Merrill Lynch executives massive bonus packages!

Needless to say, the roughly 9 million Americans who lost their jobs as a result of the Wall Street crash have still not received a bailout.

On Sept. 2, 2011, the U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), announced a lawsuit against more than a dozen major banks, including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. The feds charged the banks with having sold some $200 billion in fraudulent mortgage investments to housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, leading to huge losses during the financial crisis. On Sept. 13, 2011, CNBC reported that BofA was “ramping up its foreclosure processing, sending out far more notices of default to borrowers in August than in previous months, well over 200 percent more month-to-month.” Around 1.2 million BofA customers in California alone are delinquent in their mortgage payments and could face foreclosure on their homes. When BofA subsidizes a museum or cultural event, one should think of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens the bank has made homeless.

"Take The Bull By The Horns" - Jesse Goldstein. 2011. Silkscreen print.

"Take The Bull By The Horns" - Jesse Goldstein. 2011. Silkscreen print.

On Nov. 8, 2011, a class-action suit against Bank of America ended with the company being required to pay a $410 million settlement.

The lawsuit affected some 13 million BofA customers who were wrongly charged overdraft fees on their debit cards, charges that were typically $35 per occurrence.

According to the Associated Press, an attorney involved in the lawsuit, “calculated that the bank actually raked in $4.5 billion through the overdraft fees and was repaying less than 10 percent. He said the average customer in the case had $300 in overdraft fees, making them eligible for a $27 award - less than one overdraft charge - from the lawsuit.” With BofA making off with that kind of plunder, no wonder they can afford to underwrite the arts.

Despite being the largest bank in the U.S., BofA paid no income taxes in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. In fact the bank received a tax “benefit” of nearly $1 billion for 2010. The bank’s new CEO, Brian T. Moynihan, received $10 million in 2010 as compensation for his first year as Chief Executive Officer.

"The Brains" - Thomas Nast. Wood engraving. 1871. Originally published in Harper's Weekly as an attack against the corrupt Democratic Party political machine that ruled New York City in the 19th century. Specifically Nast portrayed oligarchy as "the brains" behind the crooked politician "Boss Tweed", but Nast's acerbic cartoon was also a general condemnation of oligarchy as the corruptor of democracy. In essence Nast's cartoon epitomizes the political philosophy of today's Occupy Movement, i.e., financial oligarchy is strangling democracy and impoverishing the majority.

"The Brains" - Thomas Nast. Wood engraving. 1871. Originally published in Harper's Weekly as an attack against the corrupt Democratic Party political machine that ruled New York City in the 19th century. Specifically Nast portrayed oligarchy as "the brains" behind the crooked politician "Boss Tweed", but Nast's acerbic cartoon was also a general condemnation of oligarchy as the corruptor of democracy. In essence Nast's cartoon epitomizes the political philosophy of today's Occupy Movement, i.e., financial oligarchy is strangling democracy and impoverishing the majority.

With some $2.1 trillion in assets, JPMorgan Chase is the second largest bank after BofA, but it is second to none when it comes to financial crimes - one hardly knows where to begin. As the housing market crashed JPMorgan Chase sold mortgage securities to investors but failed to tell buyers it used a hedge fund to select the assets in the portfolio, and that the hedge fund stood to profit if the investments lost value, which of course they did. More than a dozen investors lost huge sums of money in the crooked deals. JPMorgan Chase paid $153.6 million to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges that it had mislead investors.

JPMorgan Chase sponsored The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire, an exhibit that ran from March to July, 2010 at the Getty Villa in Malibu, California. A merger between J.P. Morgan & Co. and Chase Manhattan Bank in 2000 created JPMorgan Chase, but Chase Manhattan Bank has an unsavory history in Latin America. Long associated with the Rockefeller family, Chase was once known for its close ties to Standard Oil (itself founded by John D. Rockefeller), which rapaciously exploited Mexican oil starting in 1910. It is indeed ironic that Chase would be the sponsor of Mexico’s great Aztec art treasures. Chase Manhattan Bank played a key role in the military coup that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected government on September 11, 1973. Christopher Hitchins detailed some of this in his book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger.

The New York Times reported that Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, was paid a total of $20,816,289 in 2010, and for the first quarter of 2010 the bank made $3.3 billion in profits. On Nov. 2, 2011, several hundred protestors from the Occupy Seattle movement protested against Dimon when he appeared at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Seattle, Washington, as a keynote speaker for the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. Chanting “Banks got bailed out; we got sold out!” the protesters disparaged Dimon for his exorbitant salary, and condemned JPMorgan Chase for getting $25 billion in bailout loans in 2008 while tens of thousands of homeowners lost their homes to foreclosures.

"Shut Down The Wall Street Casino" - G. Brockman. 2011. Poster announcing the first day of action at New York's financial district. Poster available for download at www.adbusters.org

"Shut Down The Wall Street Casino" - G. Brockman. 2011. Poster announcing the first day of action at New York's financial district. Poster available for download at www.adbusters.org

Levi Strauss & Co. (Levi’s®.) and Nike SB (the skateboard division of Nike Inc.) provided financial backing to Art In The Streets, the “blockbuster” exhibit mounted by the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), in Los Angeles. Getting uncommon press attention and running from April to August, 2011, the show was the first U.S. museum exhibit to present the history of graffiti and street art.

The exhibit was promoted and generally received as groundbreaking; but consider the following - Levi’s pays Haitian workers slave wages in the sweatshop manufacturing plants the company’s “contractors” operate in Haiti, and Nike does the same in Taiwan where workers are paid 50 cents per hour.

U.S. State Department diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and published in the Haitian newspaper Haïti Liberté and the monthly Nation magazine, revealed that the Obama White House in 2009 fought to keep the minimum wage in Haiti to just 31 cents an hour so U.S. companies like Levi Strauss could continue to reap vast profits from Haitian workers. The cables reveal that deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, David E. Lindwall, argued that attempts to raise wages “did not take economic reality into account” but were gambits aimed at appealing to “the unemployed and underpaid masses.”

Haiti is the least-developed and poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and while its workers make pennies a day, Levi Strauss & Co. reported its 2010 net revenues at $4.4 billion. According to documents submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Levi’s CEO Charles “Chip” V. Bergh received compensation of $9,150,000 for fiscal year 2011.

"OCCUPY" - Matt W. Downloadable street poster. Digital media. 2011. Download this 8 1/2 x 11 graphic at: www.occupytogether.org/posters/Matt-W-bw.pdf

"OCCUPY" - Matt W. Downloadable street poster. Digital media. 2011. Download this 8 1/2 x 11 graphic at: www.occupytogether.org/posters/Matt-W-bw.pdf

On July 13, 2011, the Associated Press published an exposé on the abysmal conditions workers suffer in Nike’s Asian manufacturing plants, where most of the company’s 1,000 “contractor” run factories are located. The AP noted that 10,000 female workers at the Nike plant in Taiwan make roughly 50 cents per hour, and complain of being physically abused by plant supervisors (enduring kicks, scratches, and slaps), or of being fired for registering complaints. Workers in Nike’s Indonesian plants also spoke of verbal and physical abuse, low wages and arbitrary firings.

After the AP released its findings, Nike promised “immediate and decisive action” to end the abuses, but it made the same claims in decades past when caught using child labor in Indonesia and Cambodia (involving girls as young as twelve who worked for 22 cents an hour, seven days a week, for sixteen hours a day). It should be noted that while Nike’s contract workers in Asia today are paid around 50 cents an hour, the company earned $1.91 billion in fiscal year 2010, and its CEO, Mark Parker, received $13.1 million in compensation. If the aforementioned facts about the sponsors of Art In The Streets had been known, visitors to the exhibit might have been offended; but corporate sponsorship of the arts, at least from the perspective of corporations, is an effective way to conjure up a benevolent public image where otherwise one does not exist.

Target subsidizes free admission days at more than 30 U.S. museums and theaters, from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. But the mega-box store is not without its controversies, from telling its pharmacists they can refuse dispensing emergency contraception to customers, to contributing money to anti-gay groups and politicians. Those enjoying their free museum admission days might be surprised to learn that Target was the number one contributor to Republican Congresswoman and Tea Party favorite, Michele Bachmann, donating $19,950 to the candidate’s 2009-2010 campaign.

In fiscal year 2010 Target made over $67 billion and Gregg Steinhafel, Chairman, President and CEO of Target Stores Inc., received compensation of $24 million. Yet, Target’s mostly part-time workers earn “too little to support a family or afford health insurance, forcing some to rely on food stamps and Medicaid for their children”, according to a New York Times report.

Target’s workers are entirely non-unionized. New hires are required to watch an anti-union propaganda video that is positively Orwellian. A campaign to unionize the Valley Stream, New York Target store faced intimidation and harassment.

The union lost the June 2011 election, but the National Labor Relations Board found evidence that Target threatened workers with the store’s closure if they voted union, a violation of labor laws that may lead to nullification of the election results.

I have been writing about the relationship between BP (British Petroleum, one of the world’s biggest polluters), and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) since March of 2007. In fact this web log was the first to offer a critique of LACMA’s association with BP. My archive of articles pertaining to the BP-LACMA arrangement makes for interesting reading, though there is always something new to report, such as the following.

On Nov. 5, 2011, the Guardian reported that court documents revealed BP’s business dealings with the Russian government and oil consortiums caused BP to describe their Russian contacts as “crooks and thugs.” Whether or not the Russians BP deals with are criminal types is beside the point; that BP perceives them to be gangsters and yet continues to partner with them tells everything there is to know about the business ethos of BP. A review of BP’s multi-billion dollar dealings with Libya’s former strongman Muammar Gaddafi only sharpens the point.

Project Censored released a report in 2011 claiming the U.S. Department of Defense is the worst polluter on the planet. Whether or not readers accept those allegations, BP selling huge amounts of aviation fuel and petroleum products to the Pentagon cannot be disputed. The Washington Post reported that BP “was the Pentagon’s largest single supplier of fuel” in 2009, and that “contracts amount to roughly the same percentage” for 2010. Sales continued even as BP’s pipeline gushed tens of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The paper quoted a former EPA lawyer familiar with the contract between BP and the Pentagon: “BP was supplying approximately 80 percent of the fuel being used to move U.S. forces” in the Middle East.

We have entered the age of austerity, and everywhere the 99% are being made to pay for the financial crimes of the 1%. Those who say corporate backing of the arts is necessary, that museums and other cultural venues could not survive without it, especially with austerity budgets and deep cuts in arts funding being enacted by governments, are missing an essential fact. The resources exist, they are simply monopolized by a minority out of greed and self-interest. The Congressional Budget Office reported that from 1979 to 2007 the after-tax income of America’s top 1 percent soared 275 percent. More importantly, Citizens for Tax Justice released a report showing that 280 of the most profitable U.S. corporations have sheltered half their profits from taxes, and thirty U.S. corporations paid no federal income tax whatsoever from 2008 to 2010. In addition, the report found that “the top ten defense contractors saw their combined tax rate decline from 19.3 percent in 2008 to a mere 10.6 percent in 2010″.

Some arts professionals have told me that corporate sponsorship of the arts is no different than the kings of yesteryear lavishing gold upon artists to create grandiose works in praise of nobility and kingly realms; after all, some of the world’s greatest artworks were created due to the largesse of “royal sovereigns”. But we are no longer serfs living in medieval times, or so I like to tell myself. Just because a gaggle of multi-billionaires like to imagine themselves as the Medici’s of the 21st century does not mean we have to entertain their delusions. People today aspire to democratic governance where potentates do not determine the course of society. If democracy is preferable to aristocracy in political affairs, then why should art and cultural policy be determined by a new financial aristocracy?

Peace Press Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change

I am pleased to announce that a number of my early graphic works have been included in the museum exhibition, Peace Press Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change, organized by the University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach (CSULB). The exhibit is part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945 - 1980, the largest collaborative art project in Southern California history. I have six artworks in the exhibition, and four additional graphic works in the exhibit catalog, but in this article I am going to highlight a Peace Press published work of mine  not included in the show. In weeks to come I will upload more of my Peace Press images and bring their histories to light in a detailed essay.

Peace Press Graphics is an important showing of over 100 historic posters and flyers published by Peace Press, a now defunct Los Angeles collective that ran a professional print shop serving the local and national needs of radical and progressive political groups and organizations. The published works on display, culled from the archives of Peace Press as well as from the collection of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG), address a wide range of topics - civil liberties and human rights, worker’s issues, feminism, environmental concerns, anti-nuclear and anti-war protests, and much more.

A number of posters in the show epitomize the psychedelic aesthetics of the late 1960s, works from the likes of Robert Crumb and Skip Williamson, exemplars of the 60s hippie counter-culture. Other posters embody the political militancy of the day, like Chicano artist Rupert Garcia’s Save Our Sister, a poster commissioned in 1972 by the Los Angeles Committee to Free Angela Davis. Taken as a whole the assortment of works on display form an accurate visual record of dissident cultural and political forces working within the U.S. from 1967 to 1987.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s I created a number of drawings and flyers as a direct result of my involvement in the early punk rock movement of Los Angeles. In true punk spirit my flyers were meant to provoke, and I generally produced and distributed them anonymously. One such example is the flyer I designed for the L.A. chapter of Rock Against Racism (RAR) in 1980, a rare leaflet that was published by Peace Press.

Rock Against Racism. Punk concert flyer designed by Mark Vallen in 1980 for a Los Angeles Rock Against Racism concert featuring punk bands D.O.A., Silencers, and the Gears.

Concert flyer designed by Mark Vallen in 1980 for a Los Angeles Rock Against Racism concert featuring punk bands D.O.A., Silencers, and the Gears.

My Rock Against Racism flyer announced a free concert in L.A.’s MacArthur Park, held October 27, 1980 at the band shell area of the commons. The leaflet touted the appearance of the rough and tumble Canadian punk band, D.O.A., who were quite big at the time and remain one of my favorite punk bands. In the context of the museum exhibit the significance of this particular flyer is twofold. While Peace Press printed a number of posters and flyers for the likes of Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, and others associated with the counter-culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s, my RAR flyer is most likely the only punk graphic ever to be printed by Peace Press; the flyer also gives evidence of the progressive political side to L.A. punk. I invite readers to download and print a free copy of the historic flyer (.pdf format).

My flyer was created before computers were used to generate graphic art. Utilizing the dread inducing “ransom note” visual language, the text, replete with intentional misspellings, was mostly produced by cutting letters out of magazines and newspapers with a razor blade, then gluing them down to a sheet of paper. The rest of the copy was created using the now archaic “transfer type” once so prevalent in the advertising industry of the day. News photographs were interspersed with the irregular lettering to construct an incendiary narrative. The photo at the bottom edge of the flyer shows American Nazis wearing crash helmets, waving a U.S. flag, and carrying a banner that brazenly praises Hitler; the timely photo being ripped from a then current newspaper report on a neo-Nazi rally in a U.S. city. Soaring above the scene, two RAR fighter jets unleash bombs and automatic cannon fire upon the gaggle of jackbooted fascists.

Founded in London, England in 1976, the launching of Rock Against Racism was concurrent to the emergence of punk rock in Britain, a movement that would explode upon the world scene in 1977 with the outrages of the Sex Pistols, the Damned, and the Clash. In the mid to late 70s social conditions deteriorated in the U.K., giving rise to openly fascist political organizations like the National Front; during this period neo-Nazi skinhead gangs unleashed hundreds of violent attacks against South Asian and Black immigrants across England.

As the National Front and neo-Nazi skinheads sowed mayhem throughout England, famed guitarist Eric Clapton added fuel to the fire at a U.K. performance in Birmingham held on Aug. 5, 1976. Clapton launched a harangue from the stage on the dangers of the U.K. becoming a “black colony.” He ranted in part; “This is England, this is a white country, we don’t want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don’t want f*****g wogs living next to me with their standards (….) Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!” Needless to say the celebrated guitarist lost a substantial amount of his fan base over his racist diatribe. A month before Clapton’s concert a Sikh teenager named Gurdip Singh Chaggar had been murdered by a mob of white racists, the chairman of the National Front, John Kingsley Read, responded to the killing during a National Front meeting with the words, “One down, a million to go.”

Immediately after Clapton’s repugnant concert shenanigans, photographer Red Saunders and designer Roger Huddle wrote a seething criticism that was published in the New Musical Express, an article I recall reading when it was first published. The irate Saunders and Huddle berated Clapton, “Half of your music is black. You’re a good musician, but where would you be without the blues and R’n'B?” They went on to proclaim, “We want to organize a rank-and-file movement against the racist poison in music. We urge support for Rock Against Racism.” Soon after the letter’s publication in August 1976, Rock Against Racism (RAR) was founded in the U.K. as an actual political/cultural organization that staged concert events. Tellingly, it was not rock’s superstars and corporate mainstream acts that collaborated with RAR, but rather the rebellious and lesser known ska, reggae, and punk groups that had nothing to lose.

On April 30, 1978, Rock Against Racism staged its Carnival Against The Nazis, a gigantic music festival presented in London’s Victoria Park. The performers included the Clash (click here to see some amazing footage of the band at the RAR concert), X-Ray Spex, the Tom Robinson Band (the world’s first openly Gay rock band), Steel Pulse, and Aswad . The groups played before an enthusiastic multiracial crowd of some 100,000 people. The program for the event proclaimed; “We want rebel music, street music. Music that breaks down people’s fear of one another. Crisis music. Now music. Music that knows who the real enemy is - Rock against racism.” Soon after the Carnival Against The Nazis, RAR chapters began to proliferate.

To my knowledge, the Los Angeles chapter of Rock Against Racism did not operate for very long, but the group’s efforts undoubtedly contributed to the city’s history, as well as to the cultural and political activism carried out in the U.S. during the ultra-conservative Reagan years. I am pleased to take credit for this once anonymous flyer, an artifact from a bygone rebel social movement, and happy to reveal that it was published by Peace Press. With a bit of luck, it will help inspire future troublemaking. One can only hope.

Peace Press Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change, runs from September 10 to December 11, 2011 at the University Art Museum, California State University Long Beach. Visit the museum website to learn more about the exhibition.

¡ADELANTE! Mexican American Artists: 1960s and Beyond

I will be premiering two new oil paintings at ¡ADELANTE! Mexican American Artists: 1960s and Beyond, the latest museum exhibition to explore the world of Chicano art. Presented by the Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale, California, the exhibit runs from September 9, 2011 through January 1, 2012, and offers the paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and photographs of some forty artists. Included are artworks from “veteranos” of the 1960s Chicano Arts Movement, as well as from a whole new generation of artists involved in creating Chicanarte (Chicano art).

Those influential artists participating in the exhibit include the likes of Judith F. Baca; David Rivas Botello; Barbara Carrasco; Margaret García; Ignacio Gomez; Wayne Healy; Leo Limón; Frank Romero; Patssi Valdez, and a host of others. A few of the works on view are from the Cheech Marin Collection, one of the most important private collections of Chicano art in the United States. Adelante is Spanish for “advance” or “forward”, making the perfect title for an exhibit that surveys Chicano art as it moves into the second decade of the 21st century.

La Causa (The Cause) Mark Vallen. Oil on canvas. 40" x 36" inches. 2011. On exhibit at the Forest Lawn Museum, Sept. 9, 2011 through Jan. 1, 2012.

"La Causa" (The Cause) Mark Vallen. Oil on canvas. 40" x 36" inches. 2011. On exhibit at the Forest Lawn Museum, Sept. 9, 2011 through Jan. 1, 2012.

When Joan Adan, curator and exhibit designer for the Forest Lawn Museum, requested my participation in the Adelante show, I made a commitment to create a pair of new oil paintings especially for the occasion. I would have barely four months to complete the works. I had been conceptualizing a number of large canvasses based upon observed life in the city of Los Angeles, so when Ms. Adan offered inclusion in Adelante - my ideas became concrete. I was determined to paint narratives that typically get little attention in Chicanarte exhibits. I chose to create paintings inspired by a major event in Mexican-American history, the National Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War, telling the story of how that event continues to resonate in the present.

The Chicano Moratorium march took place in East Los Angeles on August 29, 1970, and was partly organized by the Brown Berets, a militant Chicano group that fought for the civil and human rights of Mexican-Americans. The Brown Berets were originally organized in East L.A. in 1967 as an outgrowth of the burgeoning Chicano civil rights movement. In 1968 the group organized the first student walkouts to protest racism and substandard schools in East L.A., electrifying an entire generation. Soon Brown Beret chapters sprang up throughout California, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and beyond - but it all started in the city of Los Angeles.

Some 30,000 people took part in the 1970 moratorium march, which culminated in a rally at Laguna Park; dozens of Brown Berets acted as marshals, providing security for the protest. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department attacked the gathering, initiating a riot. Ultimately police killed four citizens that day, Lyn Ward, José Diaz (both Brown Berets), Gustav Montag, and L.A. Times reporter Rubén Salazar. Salazar was slain as he sat in the Silver Dollar Café; a deputy sheriff fired a tear gas projectile into the cafe, striking Salazar in the head and killing him instantly.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium, on August 27, 2010 I joined 5,000 others in walking the original march route along Whittier Blvd. Instead of the Vietnam War, we protested the current U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A new generation of Brown Berets provided security for the march - as well as inspiration for my painting, La Causa. The Brown Berets disbanded in 1972, but were re-activated in 1993 under the group’s original charter and mission statement; the organization currently seems to be flourishing. As the multitudes passed where the Silver Dollar Café once stood, piles of flowers were placed on the spot where Rubén Salazar was killed. We rallied at Rubén Salazar Park (formerly known as Laguna Park), where forty-years ago the police provoked the riot now recorded by history.

 La Causa (Detail) Mark Vallen. Oil on canvas.

"La Causa" (Detail) Mark Vallen. Oil on canvas.

My oil painting, La Causa (The Cause), is a depiction of two of the female Brown Beret cadre I caught a glimpse of at the 40th anniversary protest march. The title of my canvas is taken from the words that appear on the emblematic patch worn on the berets of the organization’s members, the “cause” being the liberation of the people.

I felt it important to portray these young Chicana activists as a counter-balance to the stereotypical images of Latinas. Despite their legendary public image, at least as it is known in the greater South West of the U.S., I think mine might be the first serious painting of Brown Beret members. My canvas is not a wholesale endorsement of the group’s cultural nationalist political philosophy, but rather an acknowledgement of the role the organization has played in the history and collective consciousness of Mexican-Americans.

It is ironic that while working on my La Causa painting, I received word that the FBI and the SWAT Team of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department raided the home of Carlos Montes on May 17, 2011. Montes, a co-founder of the Brown Berets and a leader of the historic student walkouts in East L.A., had his cell phones, computer, notes, and other personal affects seized by the authorities. Apparently the Obama administration has targeted Montes for his antiwar activities, part of an underreported repressive sweep the Obama Justice Department has initiated against antiwar activists as reported in the Washington Post. As of this writing, the government’s case against Carlos Montes is still pending.

What initially attracted me to the Chicano Arts Movement in the early 1970s was its innovative merging of aesthetics and political concerns; it was a populist, anti-elitist school of art that sprang from a people’s struggle for equality, democratic rights, and self-determination. Chicanarte took inspiration from the Mexican Muralist School of social activist art, but it succeeded in creating its own unique visual language that reflected the distinctive Mexican-American experience. While the elite art world discarded painting altogether in favor of postmodern conceptualism and its rejection of “grand narratives”, Chicanarte never abandoned figurative realism in paintings, drawings, prints, or sculpture; a fact that largely remains so today.

Chicano artists continue to address the dreams, aspirations, history, and lived experience of la gente (the people), which is the genre’s one consistent and unbreakable grand narrative. The Chicano Arts Movement has certainly expanded since the early 1970s, nowadays incorporating performance, installation, abstraction, and other disciplines, but for the most part it still retains the activist spark of its founding years. The state of U.S. society today, with its austerity budgets, numerous wars, economic decay, and xenophobic anti-immigrant stance, gives impetus for the social realist activist component of Chicanarte to once again move front and center.

¡ADELANTE! runs from September 9, 2011 through January 1, 2012. The Forest Lawn Museum is located at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, 1712 South Glendale Avenue, Glendale, California. 91205. The museum is open every day except Monday, from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission and parking is free. Phone: 1-800-204-3131. Website: www.forestlawn.com. A larger reproduction of La Causa can be viewed here.

The Firing of Zahi Hawass

On July 17, 2011, the world’s best known Egyptologist, Zahi Hawass, was fired from his position as Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities. The first news I received of Hawass being discharged came from Max Fisher’s article, Egyptians Celebrate Firing of the ‘Mubarak of Antiquities’, published in the Atlantic on July 18, 2001. Hawass was sacked by the country’s ruling army council, which reshuffled the government cabinet to purge it of Mubarak henchmen, a move widely seen as an attempt to placate the millions of Egyptians involved in the nation’s revolutionary upsurge.

In February of 2011 I wrote The Museum at the Center of Egypt’s Revolution, an article about Mr. Hawass that detailed his record as an ardent supporter of the former dictator Hosni Mubarak (who is scheduled to go on trial Aug. 3 over charges of corruption and having given the orders to murder dozens if not hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators). Since publishing my article I have been waiting for news that Hawass was either resigning or being arrested, so Fisher’s announcement in the Atlantic came as no surprise.

Typical of Western press coverage of Mr. Hawass’ downfall, the New York Times simply mentioned on July 22, that Hawass had drawn criticism from critics “for his ties to the Mubaraks, his role in sending artifacts abroad on traveling exhibitions and his relationship with National Geographic, which paid him up to $200,000 a year as an explorer-in-residence.” There is much more to say about why Hawass has been such a controversial figure for Egyptians.

My abovementioned article not only addressed how Egyptian archaeologists and state museum workers viewed Hawass as running the nation’s archaeology institutions for his own personal profit, it focused on another very disturbing possibility; as Egypt’s chief archaeologist, the Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, and the Minister of Antiquities (a newly created cabinet post given to him by Mubarak just prior to the dictator’s demise), Hawass certainly had to be aware that the Egyptian Museum was being used by Mubarak’s army as a detention center where prisoners were brutally interrogated and tortured.

Zahi Hawass in the Egyptian Museum with army commandos. Pulled from Hawass' official website, this undated photo was most likely taken in late January, 2011, when Mubarak's soldiers were first deployed to occupy the museum for its "protection." Photographer unknown.

Zahi Hawass in the Egyptian Museum with army commandos. Pulled from Hawass' official website, this undated photo was most likely taken in late January, 2011, when Mubarak's soldiers were first deployed to occupy the museum for its "protection." Photographer unknown.

On February 9, 2011 the Guardian published the hair-raising Egypt’s army ‘involved in detentions and torture, a story that brought to light allegations made by Human Rights organizations that Mubarak’s soldiers had “secretly detained hundreds and possibly thousands of suspected government opponents since mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak began, and at least some of these detainees have been tortured.” The article reported that “some of the detainees have been held inside the renowned Museum of Egyptian Antiquities”. While the article published the testimonies of those who claimed to have been mistreated while held inside the museum, the report did not mention Hawass - who nevertheless was in charge of the museum.

Even after the fall and arrest of President Mubarak, reports about the Egyptian Museum being used as a detention center continued to emerge. On March 17, 2011, the Egyptian Al-Masry Al-Youm, published the testimonies of those who had been arrested by Egyptian soldiers during a peaceful sit-in at Tahrir Square on March 9. Dozens of detainees held a press conference where they said that on March 9 they had been “dragged into the Egyptian Museum where they endured six hours of torture and mistreatment.” Egypt’s largest news organization, Al-Ahram, also published these accounts, reporting that “According to eyewitnesses, thousands are still being held in the military camps with detainees packed inside the Egyptian Museum, which has been turned into a torture chamber by the army.”

A mass of welts, cuts, and burns. Screenshot from amateur video showing Ramy Essam's back after being tortured in the Egyptian Museum by the army on March 18, 2011.

A mass of welts, cuts, and burns. Screenshot from amateur video showing Ramy Essam's back after being tortured in the Egyptian Museum by the army on March 9, 2011.

On March 18, 2011, CNN published a detailed account concerning 23-year-old student, Ramy Essam, who had also been arrested at Tahrir Square on March 9. Essam was a singer who put the revolution’s demands to music, and his wildly popular songs were sung by tens of thousands of people at mass rallies against the Mubarak dictatorship.

Soldiers arrested Essam and “hauled him to the nearby Egyptian museum where uniformed soldiers tortured him for four hours and cut off his shoulder-length hair.” Essam insists the authorities tortured him with electric shocks, “They took off my clothes. They used sticks, metal rods, wires, whips.” In this amateur video Essam is interviewed right after his torture, the film showing his slashed, bruised, burned, and scarred back. NPR published an account of his ordeal at the Egyptian Museum, which includes a video of Essam singing before a massive crowd at Tahrir Square before Mubarak was ousted. One has to ask, where was Zahi Hawass when the museum he ultimately had supreme oversight over was transformed into a torture center by Mubarak’s security forces?

On April 9, 2011, well over 100,000 Egyptians gathered at Tahrir Square to demand that the army put former President Hosni Mubarak on trial. The next day hundreds of protestors who had re-occupied Tahrir were attacked by troops of Egypt’s new military council, demonstrators were sent fleeing by soldiers armed with batons, tasers, and firing live ammunition; dozens were arrested. Quoting Al Jazeera’s report on the army attack, “Other central security and army forces had been stationed to the north of Tahrir Square next to the Egyptian Museum, which military police have turned into a makeshift detention centre.”

On April 11, 2011, the New York Times reported that an Egyptian blogger by the name of Maikel Nabil was sentenced to 3 years in prison by the county’s military council. His lawyer referred to him as “the first prisoner of conscience in Egypt after the revolution.” His crime? Mr. Nabil was charged with spreading information previously published by Amnesty International regarding “the torture of those detained inside the Egyptian Museum.”

When Zahi Hawass was unceremoniously dismissed on July 17, archeologists, museum staffers, and others were there to met him with angry chants as he left his office at the Supreme Council of Antiquities and hurriedly got into a cab. Hundreds of protesters surrounded the cab and blocked it from moving as they unleashed a torrent of insults at Hawass. The entire event was captured on an amateur video, which surely documents how Hawass is actually regarded by many Egyptians.

Of course not everyone is a critic of Mr. Hawass. For instance, the organizers of the coveted Freedom to Create Prize picked Hawass to hand out awards at their 2010 Freedom to Create awards ceremony held in Cairo, Egypt. The organization annually presents cash prizes to international artists and arts groups that “promote social justice and inspire the human spirit.” On the Freedom to Create website, the organization wrote:

“Supporting the Freedom to Create Prize, the Secretary General of Supreme Council of Antiquities and renowned Egyptologist, Dr. Zahi Hawass said, ‘Providing the opportunity for creativity can inspire and unite individuals, breaking down social barriers and fostering a greater sense of peace and unity within nations. The 2010 Freedom to Create Prize entrants are a testament to the human spirit and should be an example to us all.’”

Perhaps in 2011 the Freedom to Create organizers will do a better job of vetting their award presenters. That, and giving their top cash prize to tortured Egyptian singer, Ramy Essam, would go a long way towards reversing their error of associating with Hawass. Such a gesture would provide a small modicum of justice to those who were tortured and abused at the Egyptian Museum.

Zahi Hawass recently told the New York Times that “I am retiring to focus on my own work, as a scholar and a writer,” adding that he looks forward to “living quietly as a private person, away from politics.” That is all well and good for Hawass, who one must presume is still being paid $200,000 a year by National Geographic - which lists Hawass as its “Explorer-in-Residence Emeritus“. However, blogger Maikel Nabil is at this moment serving his 3 year sentence for the crime of writing that the army tortured and abused prisoners at the Egyptian Museum. While Mr. Hawass’ speaking engagements bring him $15,000 each, there are dozens of Egyptians who are demanding justice over their being detained and tortured at the Egyptian Museum.

The Museum at the Center of Egypt’s Revolution

The Egyptian Museum became an improbable backdrop to Egypt’s ongoing revolution when on Jan. 25, 2011, pro-democracy protesters first occupied Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, where the Victorian-era museum happens to be located. As the rebellion unfolded the rose-colored walls of the museum were seen on television and computer screens all across the globe; it was quite possibly the first time many non-Egyptians had ever heard of the museum, which holds the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts in the world. An examination of the intrigues swirling around the museum, and by extension, taking a closer look at Zahi Hawass (Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities), reveals much about the current situation.

After the Egyptian Museum was broken into by looters on Jan. 28, I wrote an article refuting claims made in the mainstream press that attributed the looting to pro-democracy protesters. By now everyone knows about the ransacking of the museum, but few have paid attention to another distressing report; the Egyptian Museum has been used as a detention center where the army held, abused, and at times tortured protesters it arrested during the uprising. More on that later, but first let us reappraise Mr. Hawass, perhaps best known to Americans for appearing on the U.S.-based History Channel special called “Chasing Mummies.

As his country’s chief archaeologist, Mr. Hawass has served as the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), and more recently was appointed Minister of Antiquities. There is no doubt Hawass has made major contributions to Egyptology, and I do not mean to denigrate his accomplishments. Nonetheless, it is impossible to overlook his ignoble side; Hawass is a loyal supporter of the ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak.

On Jan. 28, Mubarak ordered the ferocious police repression that resulted in crowds of infuriated protesters burning down the headquarters of his despised National Democratic Party (NDP). With the people taking to the streets to topple the Mubarak regime, Hawass went on state-controlled television to call on Egyptians not to believe the “lies and fabrications” broadcast about Mubarak on Al Jazeera. On Jan. 31, Mubarak appointed Hawass to the cabinet post of “Minister of Antiquities,” a special position the dictator created for Hawass. On Feb. 1, even as Mubarak’s hated secret police and hired goon squads were beating, torturing, and killing pro-democracy demonstrators, Hawass told the New York Times that protesters “should give us the opportunity to change things, and if nothing happens they can march again. But you can’t bring in a new president now, in this time. We need Mubarak to stay and make the transition.” On Feb. 6, 2011, Hawass appeared on the BBC to exclaim:

“The president would like to stay, he and all of us would like him to stay, not all of us as a government, but all of us as the majority of the Egyptian people, because we need President Mubarak to make the smooth transition of the government, he’s the only one who can do that. All of us of course agree with the people who did the marches, who asked for freedom and democracy, all of us would like that, but the only one who can continue and make the stability in Egypt is only one person - President Mubarak (….) He made the whole world respect Egypt, and he was a kind man and a good man, and I myself always respected this man, and I would like this man to stay.”

Also on February 6, Hawass posted the following proclamation on his official website:

“In these very critical moments of Egypt’s history, I believe that President Mubarak is capable of insuring a peaceful and democratic transition of power; especially since he has announced that he would not seek re-election. I also would like to remind everybody that Mubarak is a decorated war hero, and should be allowed to leave his office in dignity. I say that as an Egyptian who honors the war heroes of this country, but not as a cabinet member.”

Screenshot of Zahi Hawass (left) giving NBC's Richard Engel a tour of the Egyptian Museum. From the Feb. 9, 2011 NBC Today show broadcast.

Screenshot of Zahi Hawass (left) giving NBC's Richard Engel a tour of the Egyptian Museum, Feb. 9, 2011.

On Feb. 9, Richard Engel of the NBC Today show was given a tour of the Egyptian Museum by Zahi Hawass, who confirmed that artifacts damaged by looters were being restored.

NBC failed to describe Hawass as a Mubarak supporter, or as having accepted a high position in the dictator’s thoroughly discredited regime while the majority of Egyptians were calling for its abolishment. As a corporate news outlet NBC is not alone in rushing to conduct uncritical interviews with Hawass, which should give one pause over the state of U.S. journalism.

It has come to light that a dozen or more priceless artifacts were stolen from the Egyptian Museum on the night of Jan. 28. Hawass had previously told the press that objects at the museum had only been damaged, but after museum staff conducted an inventory it was found that a number of items were missing. This led Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor to write that Hawass “appeared to have hid the extent of the damage done at the famed Egyptian museum.” Murphy quoted an unnamed acquaintance of Hawass, who said “I think he held the information back because he understood it would be catastrophic for the regime’s legitimacy.”

Al-Ahram (Arabic for “the Pyramids”) is the most widely read Arabic language newspaper in Egypt and it also runs a weekly English language website. Owned by the government, it has been a dubious source for news; its editors having been handpicked by the Mubarak regime, at least up until the present. The Feb. 10 weekly edition of Al-Ahram published “Not getting away with it,” an article about the looting of the Egyptian Museum. It reported that Irina Bokova, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), had contacted Hawass over the condition of museums and archaeological sites during the violence. According to Al-Ahram, Hawass told UNESCO the museums and archaeological sites were “safe and sound” under his hand!

In addition, Al-Ahram reported the International Committee of Museums (ICOM) had decided to establish a committee to protect and monitor the Egyptian Museum; Hawass rejected this, saying “We don’t need any international supervision.”

Sounding every bit as pompous as his despotic boss, Hawass said, “I want everyone to relax and to know that I am here and we are all watching with open eyes. I want people to know that after days of protest, the monuments are safe.” Yet on Feb. 17, Hawass would write on his official website that multiple archeological sites had been broken into and pillaged.

State museum workers in Egypt hold a protest for higher wages on Feb. 9, 2011. Rallying in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the workers were confronted by Zahi Hawass. Some of the signs read, "No to corruption, no to oppression," and "Increase Pay." AP Photo/Ben Curtis.

State museum workers protest for higher wages in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Feb. 9, 2011. Some of their signs read, "No to corruption, no to oppression," and "Increase Pay." AP Photo/Ben Curtis.

Enjoying the status of being Mubarak’s hand-picked Minister of Antiquities, Hawass is now in the position of having to contain labor unrest, as thousands of workers emboldened by the dictator’s departure go on strike for better working conditions and higher wages.

On Feb. 9 dozens of state museum workers and staff held a lively protest in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), where Hawass has his office. Rallying for higher wages, Hawass came out of the building to argue with the workers, telling them that their wages could only be increased after things returned to “normal.” Hawass appears unable to grasp the significance of what has happened in Egypt; a return to normal is untenable for the Egyptian people.

On Feb. 14, the protests in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities were aimed directly at Zahi Hawass himself. Chanting “Get out!” nearly 200 graduates of Egyptian archaeology schools called for his resignation, denouncing him for corruption and for being a stooge of the Mubarak regime.

What particularly angers the archaeologists is that they are impoverished despite the fact that Egypt’s tourism industry, centered around the legacy of ancient Egypt and the pharaohs, generates billions of dollars. They are undoubtedly correct in believing the old regime and its many cronies simply made off with that money, and they suspect Hawass has been part of that wrongdoing.

 "Get Out!" Nearly 200 demonstrators chant a message to Hawass in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Feb. 14, 2011. AP Photo/Ben Curtis.

"Get Out!" Nearly 200 demonstrators chant a message to Hawass in front of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Feb. 14, 2011. AP Photo/Ben Curtis.

Robert Mackey of the New York Times The Lede blog, interviewed archeologist Nora Shalaby, who helped organize the protest against Zahi Hawass.

Ms. Shalaby chided Hawass for referring to the revolution as “a black week” in Egypt’s history and for his close relationship with Mubarak’s wife, the “First Lady” Suzanne Mubarak, but Shalaby also lambasted Hawass for being “surrounded by a bunch of corrupt officials who have been sucking most of the SCA money.” At the protest, archaeologists complained about the salary the antiquities ministry pays them (an equivalent of $75 per month), and raised objections to “wasta”, or the arrangement of connections, pay-offs, and influence that secures a job.

When an army tank arrived at the front door of the SCA building, Hawass snuck out a side door to avoid the protesters. Though he managed to duck this militant demonstration, it certainly will not be the last of its kind. The protest against Hawass by archaeologists was not the first time he has came under fire for abusing workers in his field. In Oct. 2009 the pan-Arab human rights organization, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), condemned Hawass for waging a campaign of intimidation against fellow Egyptologist and researcher, Ahmed Saleh. Mr. Saleh, who holds a Master’s degree from Manchester University in England, expressed different views from Hawass on the way Egyptian antiquities should be handled, which led Hawass to publicly mock Saleh in the state-run press.

Subsequently the Supreme Council of Antiquities, under Hawass’ leadership, launched no less than 42 investigations against Saleh. ANHRI “decided to adopt Saleh’s case and support him in the face of this injustice.” At last word in ‘09, the Egyptian court system was reviewing Saleh’s case against Hawass and the Supreme Council of Antiquities, but with the intervening revolution, the status of the case is unknown to this writer.

All of the aforementioned pales in comparison to the report published by the Guardian on Feb. 9, detailing how the army used the Egyptian Museum as a detention center for pro-democracy demonstrators it had seized during the uprising.

Within its grounds, a number of captives were tortured, and some detainees remain unaccounted for. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has stated the army still holds “hundreds” of people arrested during the uprising, “but information on their numbers is still not complete.” The Guardian report raised serious questions about the army as a “neutral force” in Egyptian politics, but it also produced doubts about Mr. Hawass. As a Mubarak loyalist, the former Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, and now the Minister of Antiquities, he is the ultimate steward of the Egyptian Museum.

The Guardian reported “the Egyptian military has secretly detained hundreds and possibly thousands of suspected government opponents since mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak began, and at least some of these detainees have been tortured.” The paper went on to report that “some of the detainees have been held inside the renowned Museum of Egyptian Antiquities on the edge of Tahrir Square. Those released have given graphic accounts of physical abuse by soldiers who accused them of acting for foreign powers.”

One account of abuse came from a 23-year-old man who was seized and beaten by the army while delivering medical supplies to the free clinics protesters operated in Tahrir Square. He said soldiers tied his hands behind his back and beat him before moving him to a makeshift army post located at the back of the Egyptian Museum. He said soldiers “got a bayonet and threatened to rape me with it. Then they waved it between my legs. They said I could die there or I could disappear into prison and no one would ever know.” After 18 hours of imprisonment the young man was released but warned not to return to Tahrir Square.

On Feb. 13, 2011, the army cleared the remaining demonstrators from Tahrir Square, resorting to force when protesters resisted. The Guardian reported that “demonstrators said about 30 were arrested and taken to a military compound at the nearby Egyptian museum where detained protesters have previously been beaten and interrogated.”

Reports of the army using the Egyptian Museum as a detention center have been confirmed by Amnesty International (AI). On Feb. 17, 2011, AI released a report detailing the torture inflicted upon protesters by the army just prior to the fall of Mubarak, abuses that included whippings, beatings, electric shock, simulated drowning, along with threats of rape. An 18-year-old student from Cairo told AI that he and a friend were arrested by the army and taken to an “area of the museum which is controlled by the army and held us there in an outdoor area.” The two were beaten by soldiers before being transferred to another location where they were tortured with electric shock. In another case a 29-year-old detainee was arrested by the army and taken to an annex next to the Egyptian Museum, where soldiers beat him with a whip and a chair until he was unconscious. One must ask, has Zahi Hawass been unaware of the army using the campus of the Egyptian Museum in this way?

In a Feb. 16 post to Hawass’ official website concerning the search for missing antiquities inadvertently dropped on the museum campus by looters, it was stated that a meticulous search had just been conducted, and that a “full and thorough search of the museum and its grounds” continues. In all of this rummaging around no one has noticed any evidence of a temporary military compound on museum property? The web post on Hawass’ blog rather ominously states that, “museum staff is not yet able to move freely within the museum, and has, until now, had to walk in groups of 10-15 people, accompanied by soldiers. Unfortunately, this has slowed down the search, and made it very difficult to carry out a final inventory. The army is allowing very few people into the museum, and the first time the museum’s office staff was allowed in was on 6 February 2011.”

Zahi Hawass might be one of the more innocuous members of the Mubarak cabal, but he is nevertheless part of the old regime. With Mubarak’s departure the components of that old order - the corrupt judiciary, state-controlled media, security forces, government ministers, crony capitalists, and above all the army - remain intact and in control; it is Mubarakism without Mubarak. An authentically democratic Egypt can only be achieved if there is massive and constant pressure from below applied to the upper echelons of power. That process, now fully underway, must eventually erode and completely dismantle Mubarakism for democratic governance to be successful. It is for that reason that Zahi Hawass must resign from his position as Mubarak’s Minister of Antiquities - sooner rather than later.

The Looting of the Egyptian Museum

Pro-Democracy demonstrators rushed to protect the Egyptian Museum; they are pictured here guarding the museum entry gate in a still from a video by Euronews. Photo courtesy of AFP

In this screen shot from AlJazeera news, a soldier surveys the damage at the Egyptian Museum.

Readers of this web log are no doubt aware of events in Egypt, where the people are in open revolt against the U.S.-backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak. The people have but one clear demand, the ousting of Mubarak and the sweeping away of his entire government.

Apart from a few comments, I will mostly leave the political philosophizing and theoretical analysis regarding the situation to others, except to say that I fully support the struggle for democracy currently being waged by the Egyptian people. I salute them for their bravery and their determination to transform their society. U.S. media has generally referred to events in Egypt as a “crisis,” which is far from the truth. What is unfolding is a popular democratic revolution carried out by the Egyptian people. It is only Mubarak and his backers in the White House who face a “crisis”.

As the 30-year old tyrannical regime of Mubarak begins to crumble under popular pressure, chaos reigns on the streets. During the massive protests and fierce police repression of January 28, the downtown Cairo headquarters of Mubarak’s hated political party was torched by furious demonstrators. The neighboring Egyptian Museum seemed in danger from the flames, but more importantly, people wisely thought it might come under attack by opportunistic bandits - and so rushed to defend the institution which houses the treasures of King Tutankhamen as well as the nation’s largest collection of Pharaonic artifacts. As it turned out, nine men did succeed in breaking into the museum by entering through the rooftop. They shattered museum display cases, threw the contents to the ground, and ripped the heads off of two mummies (Correction: the report of beheaded mummies was revealed to be an ugly rumor since proven wholly inaccurate. It turned out to be one of those “sensationalist lies” mentioned in the next paragraph).

Pro-Democracy demonstrators rushed to protect the Egyptian Museum; they are pictured here guarding the museum entry gate in a still from a video by Euronews. Photo courtesy of AFP

Pro-Democracy demonstrators rushed to protect the Egyptian Museum; they are pictured here guarding the museum entry gate in a still from a video by Euronews.

The mainstream press has published sensationalist and outlandish lies concerning the looting of the Egyptian Museum. News headlines like “Egyptian protestors ransack Cairo museum,” “Protestors Loot Museum In Cairo,” and “Protestors Destroy Priceless Mummies at Egypt Museum,” are but a few examples of the types of fabrications found in newspapers hostile to the Egyptian people’s fight for democracy. Protestors had nothing to do with the attempted pillaging of the museum; in fact opponents of the Mubarak regime - students, workers, artists, and residents of the neighborhood in which the museum is located, came together to surround the museum with a protective human shield.

The Euronews website posted video footage showing people gathered at the museum gates with the intention of safeguarding the institution from looters. Individual members of the human shield pledged before news reporters that they would not cease guarding the museum until the army came to secure the grounds. The mass of people shown protecting the Egyptian Museum in the video are clearly anti-Mubarak demonstrators; they are chanting slogans and waving the Egyptian flag, one even shows off a police riot shield undoubtedly obtained earlier in the day while clashing with the dreaded security forces.

MSNBC science editor Alan Boyle confirmed that anti-Mubarak demonstrators protected the museum from looters in his MSNBC article, Were Tut’s treasures damaged? Boyle wrote; “(….) young men, some armed with truncheons taken from the police, formed a protective human chain outside the museum’s main gates. ‘I’m standing here to defend and to protect our national treasure,’ one of the men, a 40-year-old engineer named Farid Saad, told AP. AP quoted 26-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim as saying that it was important to guard the museum because it has ‘5,000 years of our history. If they steal it, we’ll never find it again.’”

As the vandals who broke into the museum attempted to exit the building with their loot, they were apprehended by the protestors involved in the human shield as well as by members of the tourism police - a special branch of the police that guard buildings and areas frequented by foreign tourists. The thieves were turned over to the armed forces.

Zahi Hawass, who is recognizable to Westerners because of his role as Egypt’s top archaeologist and the Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, has filed an interesting report with National Geographic concerning the looting of the Egyptian Museum. Because the criminal Mubarak regime has cut off the internet, making e-mail communications impossible, Mr. Hawass had to file his report by fax to colleagues in Italy, who then uploaded the statement to Hawass’s London website. Hawass acknowledged that young Egyptians protected the museum and helped to apprehend the bandits, he wrote in part:

“What is really beautiful is that not all Egyptians were involved in the looting of the museum. A very small number of people tried to break, steal and rob. Sadly, one criminal voice is louder than one hundred voices of peace. The Egyptian people are calling for freedom, not destruction. When I left the museum on Saturday, I was met outside by many Egyptians, who asked if the museum was safe and what they could do to help (….) Many young Egyptians are in the streets trying to stop the criminals. Due to the circumstances, this behavior is not surprising; criminals and people without a conscience will rob their own country. If the lights went off in New York City, or London, even if only for an hour, criminal behavior will occur. I am very proud that Egyptians want to stop these criminals to protect Egypt and its heritage.”

But who exactly were the men who broke into the Egyptian Museum? They were certainly not anti-Mubarak demonstrators. Perhaps the British journalist Robert Fisk can provide some insight into their true identity, he is currently reporting from Cairo. In his Jan. 29 report for The Independent, A people defies its dictator, and a nation’s future is in the balance, he wrote about the “battagi,” Mubarak’s vicious plainclothes police force. Battagi means “thug” in Arabic, and Fisk observed swarms of battagi at protests “who beat, bashed, and assaulted demonstrators while the cops watched and did nothing.” Fisk witnessed battagi - armed with steel rods, sharpened sticks, and police truncheons - collaborating with Mubarak’s uniformed security forces.

Fisk characterized the battagi as corrupt hooligans, “these men, many of them ex-policemen who are drug addicts, were last night the front line of the Egyptian state - the true representatives of Hosni Mubarak, as uniformed cops showered gas on to the crowds.” In his Jan. 30 report for The Independent, Egypt: Death throes of a dictatorship, Fisk wrote: “there are growing suspicions that much of the looting and arson was carried out by plainclothes cops – including the murder of 11 men in a rural village in the past 24 hours – in an attempt to destroy the integrity of the protesters campaigning to throw Mubarak out of power.” Fisk went on to mention the vandalism at the Egyptian Museum, “Again, it must be added that there were rumours before the discovery that police caused this vandalism before they fled the museum on Friday night.” The Hindu newspaper also reported that “officers from the much despised police force” were held responsible by many Egyptians for the looting of the museum and other buildings.

In addition, National Geographic published an open letter from Ismail Serageldin, the director of the magnificent Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a leading Egyptian library and cultural center located on the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria. In that letter titled “To our friends around the world: The Events in Egypt, Mr. Serageldin noted that “lawless bands of thugs, and maybe agents provocateurs,” where responsible for looting, while Egypt’s pro-democracy demonstrators helped to protect the nation’s important cultural institutions. Serageldin’s message was published on the home page of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina website, and I am reprinting his dispatch in full:

To our friends around the world: The Events in Egypt
30 Jan 2011

The world has witnessed an unprecedented popular action in the streets of Egypt. Led by Egypt’s youth, with their justified demands for more freedom, more democracy, lower prices for necessities and more employment opportunities. These youths demanded immediate and far-reaching changes. This was met by violent conflicts with the police, who were routed. The army was called in and was welcomed by the demonstrators, but initially their presence was more symbolic than active. Events deteriorated as lawless bands of thugs, and maybe agents provocateurs, appeared and looting began. The young people organized themselves into groups that directed traffic, protected neighborhoods and guarded public buildings of value such as the Egyptian Museum and the Library of Alexandria. They are collaborating with the army. This makeshift arrangement is in place until full public order returns.

The library is safe thanks to Egypt’s youth, whether they be the staff of the Library or the representatives of the demonstrators, who are joining us in guarding the building from potential vandals and looters. I am there daily within the bounds of the curfew hours. However, the Library will be closed to the public for the next few days until the curfew is lifted and events unfold towards an end to the lawlessness and a move towards the resolution of the political issues that triggered the demonstrations.

Ismail Serageldin
Librarian of Alexandria
Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina

U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden, was interviewed on the PBS NewsHour on January 27, 2011, where he gave the clearest indication yet of the Obama administration’s view of the uprising against the Mubarak regime. Biden questioned the legitimacy of the uprising while emphasizing Mubarak was not a dictator and should not be forced to resign. Biden urged protesters and government forces to remain non-violent, an absurd appeal since the Obama administration supplies the Mubarak regime with $1.5 billion in military aid a year; machine guns, armored personnel carriers, tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets, much of which are now being deployed against the pro-democracy movement.

Anti-Mubarak demonstrators in the streets of Cairo display empty tear-gas canisters clearly labeled, "Made in the U.S.A." Anonymous photo courtesy of imgur.com

Anti-Mubarak demonstrators in the streets of Cairo display empty tear-gas canisters clearly labeled, "Made in the U.S.A." Anonymous photo courtesy of imgur.com

On January 28, 2011, WikiLeaks released secret cables sent in 2009 from the U.S. embassy in Cairo to the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. The communiqués stated that police brutality in Egypt was “routine and pervasive” and that torture was so widespread the authorities no longer denied it.

One cable said, “NGO contacts estimate there are literally hundreds of torture incidents every day in Cairo police stations alone.” Other secret cables sent to Washington in the past two years revealed that Obama wanted to maintain a close political and military relationship with Mubarak. The same day that WikiLeaks released these damning cables, Obama made a statement to the press that his administration recognizes “the people of Egypt have rights that are universal.” Such appalling deceit! This past week pro-democracy demonstrators in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez posed for photographers with empty tear-gas canisters that had been fired at them by police, all of the shells plainly marked, “Made in the U.S.A.” How Egyptians must appreciate Obama’s concern for their universal rights!

Egyptian pro-democracy protestor at the Westwood Federal Building in Los Angeles, Jan. 29, 2011. Photograph by Mark Vallen. ©

Egyptian pro-democracy protestor at the Westwood Federal Building in Los Angeles, Jan. 29, 2011. Photograph by Mark Vallen. ©

On January 29, thousands of Americans and Egyptian expatriates living in the U.S., held rallies in New York City, Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and other cities to show solidarity with the uprising in Egypt. Demonstrators called upon the Obama administration to cut off all military aid to Mubarak.

I joined the L.A. protest at the Federal Building in Westwood along with around 500 others, most of which were Egyptian-Americans or Egyptians living in exile. My participation in the demonstration was based on my conviction that the historic uprising represents the promise of an actualized global democracy struggled for and won by the world’s people. The White House tells the U.S. citizenry that it is a time of austerity, that government spending on vital social programs must be cut or eliminated, all the while lavishing billions of dollars upon the potentate Mubarak. Enough is enough.

The Mubarak dictatorship has shut down the Al Jazeera bureau in Egypt while simultaneously deploying extra army troops and equipment into big cities; it appears that a full scale military repression may soon be in the offing. On January 30, the Egyptian air force attempted to intimidate protestors by flying multiple passes of their U.S.-supplied fighter jets and helicopters over Tahrir Square in Cairo where tens of thousands of Egyptians have been gathering in their demonstrations against Mubarak. That same day the White House issued a statement calling for  “an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.” What is actually called for is the immediate suspension of all  U.S. military aid to Egypt and a declaration that the despot and his hated cronies resign without delay.

UPDATES - 2/2/1011:

Human Rights Watch emergency director Peter Bouckaert is currently in Egypt. He has reported that several captured looters caught breaking into the Egyptian Museum possessed official police ID cards.

The Egyptian Museum faces further damage. On February 2, thousands of armed pro-Mubarak vigilantes attacked the pro-democracy demonstrators at Tahrir Square, the heart of the Egyptian people’s uprising; the museum sits adjacent to the square. Riding horses and camels the vigilantes assaulted anti-government protestors with whips, iron bars, swords, knives, baseball bats, chains, and other dangerous weapons. At the time of this writing, three demonstrators have been killed and an estimated 1,500 injured. There is little doubt the loyalists are backed and organized by the Mubarak regime, several of the thugs captured by pro-democracy forces were carrying official police ID. Al Jazeera and The Guardian both reported that fighting has intensified around the Egyptian Museum.

The day before the regime’s orchestrated day of violence, Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, disgraced himself by accepting a position in Mubarak’s government. The New York Times reported that Hawass accepted the post of Minister of Antiquities, a special cabinet position especially created for him by the dictator. Hawass dishonored himself further by saying Mubarak had responded to the people’s demands, and that the people “should give us the opportunity to change things, and if nothing happens they can march again. But you can’t bring in a new president now, in this time. We need Mubarak to stay and make the transition.” Apparently the beginning of that “transition” was made today with the whips, iron bars, and swords of the goons under Mubarak’s control. Shame on Mr. Hawass.

The perfidious behavior of Zahi Hawass was offset by that of Nouraddin Adbulsamad, the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities. Mr. Adbulsamad was interviewed live on Al Jazeera as the attacks on Tahrir Square were underway. Adbulsamad said the army withdrew from guarding the Egyptian Museum, allowing pro-Mubarak thugs onto the grounds, from there the vigilantes threw rocks and firebombs at the pro-democracy demonstrators in Tahrir Square. Mr. Adbulsamad said the hooligans appeared on the rooftop of the museum, but also seized the rooftops of other buildings from where they hurled Molotov Cocktails at anti-Mubarak protestors. At the time of this post two of these firebombs had landed on the grounds of the Egyptian Museum, setting a tree on fire.

Mr. Adbulsamad called for Mubarak to step down immediately, saying, “Why is the international community silent? (….) “The international community must not just say something - they must do something!” (….) “Mubarak must go, he is a liar, nobody believes a liar” (….) Yes, he must step down, he must leave, this is the first and last solution.” In his emotional interview Mr. Adbulsamad equated Mubarak to the Roman Emperor Nero (54-68 A.D.), who infamously watched Rome burn for nine days. Though he probably had the fires started himself, Nero publicly blamed the Christians, who he then savagely persecuted. Mr. Abdulsamad said Mubarak’s attitude is, “if I don’t stay, I’ll burn down all of Egypt.” Though Mr. Adbulsamad is a government minister, he had the bravery to tell the truth about Hosni Mubarak.