Saturday, August 25, 2012

Foodies Corner Yut Kee Cafe

Just around the corner from our hotel in K.L. we noticed a large crowd gathered on the pavement outside a little non decrepit cafe. Very basic, nothing flash, I asked what was going on, and was told they were waiting for a chair! If you wished to eat , register at the counter and wait for your name to be called out. I must say this was something new, People wait for a table, but a chair was taking the idea to a new level. The turn over of patrons was unbelievable. This establishment is I was told quite famous all over the city. One gentleman waiting to be served came once a month as a special treat. Everything was simple enough, plain wall with their array of various Asian beer adverts, wood tables, metal chairs. This gentleman told me Chicken Chop was the way to go, and it 8.50r proved to be a good choice. This is a well known Malaysian dish of chicken cooked in a very spicy sauce, first rate flavours. I was there for a half hour or so, and the people just keep on coming. If every eatery was like this their owners would be able to retire in no time. Only opens for lunch, but if you find yourself in Kuala Lumpur check it out.

Malacca's street party market.

It would appear every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings are party time here in Malacca's Jonker district. Thoroughfares are closed, along with  narrow connecting lanes to make way for hundreds, no thousands of stalls, road side cafes, and everything in between. A vibrant mass of humanity, shoulder to shoulder enjoying themselves, chocking the narrow street, as could only happen in Asia. Tables and chairs placed randomly along the roadway, while their owners cook up a vast array of unforgettable dishes. People flattening fish through a mangle, or deftly dissecting a chicken with a cleaver. The vitality of all these people is hard to describe. Everyone with their few metres of space have no difficulty co-operating with each other.

Yesterday evening after finishing some drawings of a Chinese Temple, I was suddenly swept up by the crowd unexpectedly. Before I could say Jack Robinson, I found myself in a Chinese Club in full throat Karaoke mode. The singers were quite elderly, but still in fine voice as they sang a varity of Chinese love songs. They were accompanied by a vidio voice and musicians that produced a very professional result. From what I could gather you were able to obtain a CD of your efforts, no doubt to play endlessly to your friends. Then I found myself in the middle of a square dancing class, that looked a little like a high tempo Tai Chi session in some park. The dancers were very earnest and followed their leader carefully. The only thing missing was the cowboy hats, but all seemed to be having a lot of fun as they worked their way around the floor.

There appeared to be little regulation in place, as long as your table stood upright without the need of a brick you were in business. The overall impression was one of vitality, imagination, and energy that overwhelmed the onlooker. Everyone in top gear without any sense of ego. Just this great sense of joy at being alive, something I sometimes feel has been lost this joy in our over regulated existence, were political correctness that has taken over our lives in Australia. Here there is that real feeling of freedom, maybe we have forgotten what the word really means.


Temple roofline, Melacca.

Chinese  Landscape stone used as furniture decor. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cave Painting of Kakadu, Arnheim Land

                                                       Kakadu from the air.

Birth of Djangkawn's children.
Kakadu Rock Painting,

Art is central to Aboriginal Culture, in political, social and utilitarian ways, and Kakdu  National  Park in Arnheim Land and the surrounding districts offer some of the best and richest examples in which to view it. Not everyone is able to the long drive  to the Kimberley in Western Australia to see the wonderful l Bradshaw paintings, but Kakadu fortunately is only a few  hours’  drive  from Darwin within  reach of most of us .

After entering the park at  Ubirr, you are able to stop and view a wide range of different artistic styles. These caves were often were often repainted, new  paintings  superimposed over the old. On a recent trip to Northern Australia, I had the opportunity to fly over Western Arnheim Land and view the full extent of this rocky landscape, a mixture of rock, floodplain, and rivers.  An outsider often has great in difficulty in understanding  this mix of past and present,  ancestor spirits, and the changing  meaning of the icons used in  rock paintings. I shall try to explain as best I can in a condensed form, the broadest  central issues of cultural identity presented.

The acquisition of knowledge, rather  than  material possessions enable a person to acquire status in Aboriginal culture. Art is an expression of this past knowledge and bestows authority on the elder who interprets the work. However the same icon does not always have the same meaning, as this depends on the circumstances at the time. This is why Aborigines are reluctant to explain  their  work, claiming it is either women’s or men’s business, and has  sacred content.  Work in western Arnhem Land tends to be figurative making understanding of the painting more straight forward .Most of the examples, I have photo’d here bear this out.

Kakadu was declared a native reserve in 1931, preserving this unique collection of rock painting for future generations. This painting tradition is still very much alive, and has spawned a collection of artists’ co-operatives enabling the local artists to create some economic independence for their clan. The earliest images in the caves are hand imprints and archaeological evidence suggests many are several thousand years old. Other later works portray the spiritual presence of animals, and human forms, and explains why they are repainted from time to time in order to renew their presence.

                                                 Creation myth.

Over time figures developed into what is called the “X-ray” style, these images present the internal anatomical details for the viewer .You may see the ritual ornaments and bags hanging from necks and elbows of  ancestors. Colours are mainly ochres, yellow and red, white is made from kaolin, and black from charcoal. These colours  have symbolic  meaning, white stands for mourning, work in white suggest a deceased person. Red is the blood of the ancestors, who now reside in the earth, and is there for accessible to the living. The pigments are bound together with wax, birds’ egg yolk and various resins and saps. As permanence is not considered important in Aboriginal art, each painting is created for a particular purpose, the painting of the work being more important than the finished product.
                                                                 Longneck turtle

This connection with the past creates the human bond Aborigines have with their supernatural world. The Cave painting of Kakadu fulfils a traditional cultural need and in varying degrees was created and viewed only by those initiated to the correct level of awareness. The interpretation of these icons depended on circumstances at the time the art work was carried out.
                                               Fish trap and hunters.

                                                           Hand print and fish traps, game
Dreamtime is the core of religious belief and describes the spiritual nature and moral order of the world. Many of these paintings focus on the activities and epic deeds of the supernatural  beings,  and connects the artist with their ancestor. This relationship to some extent is similar to the world of the Olympian gods of Ancient Greece. The Rainbow Serpent, Lightning Man, Wagilag Sisters and company travelled across the world creating everything, laying down the laws for future generations. So ,it is not restricted  to the past, but provides a framework for modern Aborigines to live in harmony with nature. It is was not my intent to write a long discourse on Kaladu painting, but rather to provide a sketchy outline as to what the work is all about.

Kakadu from the air


                                                   Hunting party.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Robert Hughes, art critic extraordinary.

ROBERT HUGHES. 1938-2012

Robert Hughes death early this week, has robbed Australia and the World of one of its finest art commentators and critics. Hughes was nothing,” if not critical,” to borrow the title of his selected collection of essays on art. He had the ability to compress and reduce the most complex concepts to a powerful clutch of words, words that all could understand. His presence and writing will  surely be missed by all who take an interest in cultural matters.

I first became aware of Hughes, as a young artist during those heady days of The Sydney Push in the 1950s and 60s. A time of energetic thinking among Sydney’s post war creative circles.  The  Bohemian element of the city, often met in old fashion coffee shops in lower George Street, the ones with high backed wooden cubicles for private conservation. These coffee shops were the closest Sydney had to aspire to the cafĂ© life of Paris. The city was only just emerging from what was called the Six O’clock Swill, when the male population would line up as many beers as possible on the bar, in order to beat the legal closing time for hotels 6pm. I believe these shortened trading hours were a legacy of war time blackout requirements.

Many European artists had fled to Australia during the 1930s and post war, brought with them new ideas about art. Several had opened their studios to students, or established schools such as Desiderius Orban at Circular Quay, much to the delight of young painters anxious to gain experience in this “new art” first hand. Germaine Greer often held court in these coffee establishments, all of which was the Sydney of Robert Hughes’ youth. Lively exploration of existentialism was fashionable, with the writing of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir laying the foundations of modern world thinking.
How much of this influenced Hughes future thinking I have no idea, but he was part of this world. He excelled in his ability to display in the most subtle way the depth of his knowledge about art, history, culture and the human condition. His analytical contribution to these subjects will be greatly missed. I must extend my sympathies to his family and friends

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A German War Prize.

Ex. German U-Boat Supply Ship M.V. "Kamo"

M.V.” Kamo a” German War Prize?

It is doubtful whether the “Kamo” was considered much of a prize, particularly by the crew who sailed her. The 705 tons of steel, built especially as a mother ship for the North Atlantic U-boat fleet, had been constructed to withstand the hazards of the northern winter. Ice breaker bow, thick plating, twin propellers and electronic rudder control, all added to her unfriendly disposition. It was easy to visualise this sinister ship in her grey wartime attire silently setting out from her Baltic lair on another night of murderous intent. Her brood of hungry U-boats anxiously waiting for mother's call. Acquired by the Union Steam Company at the end of the 2nd World War,their prize for wartime efforts. the Kamo had undergone considerable modification to make her more economical for civilian use to run as a general cargo vessel. The large propellers that allowed her to nip around the North Atlantic among icebergs and Allied convey protectors, refuelling and supplying submarines in the middle of the night, had been  replaced by much smaller ones to save fuel. This dramatic reduction in speed caused her to pitch and roll simultaneously,like a paper boat sailing in a child's bath, resulting in considerable seasickness.

Then there was her advanced steering system, were the twin rudders were controlled by two push buttons, which the helmsman had to depress to move the rudder to starboard or port. The major problem being that unlike a normal steering wheel the rudders did not return to midships on pressure release, but required pushing the opposite button to regain a neutral position. These two factors made the vessel difficult to steer a straight course, resulting in the unstable nature of the vessel, particularly in heavy seas. The Kamo made a regular weekly run down to Hobart carry general cargo, back loading apples and potatoes in the main. On the only voyage I made on the Kamo, we ran into the tail end of a cyclone around Disaster Bay on the southern NSW coast, resulting in cargo shifting, with a number of 44 gallon drums breaking free of their lashings. The  well decks underwater, waves towered above the masts when viewed from the bridge as we ran up and down the mountainous swell, it was not a pleasant trip. The force of the storm required any seaman walking along the deck to hold on to rope railing for dear life. This had been set up to allow the crew to move forward from their living quarters to the midships section of the vessel. Half under water most of the time when even non believers feel this could be the end.

 My cabin mate at the time recalled ironically his sinking in the North Atlantic while on convey duty during the war. He somehow survived twenty minutes in the frozen ocean. He claimed that you were lucky to last fifteen minutes in the freezing water, but he had been quite young only fifteen at the time and felt this had saved his life. Many merchant seaman had little time to vacate their cabins in the event of being torpedoed, often no more than a minute or so depending on the nature of the cargo, and where they had been hit. Ships loaded with dead weight such as iron or heavy bulk cargo would disappear in a matter of minutes or less. Sadly the loss of merchant seaman’s lives during the Second World War has never been fully appreciated, as civilians they were not classified as returned servicemen, and therefor were not entitled to any government assistance or pension.

Like many fellow crew members, I only made the one trip on the Kamo, she seemed to have bad vibes about her. Whether this was due to our knowledge of her past, the untold number of deaths her dirty work had inflicted, I don’t know. But most of us were pleased to make port and felt that the Union Steamship Company should have left M.V.Kamo with the Germans.One positive however, was my discovery of Hobart and Tasmania in general.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fragments of Portuguese Culture, Fado.

"Joy of Fado" watercolour sketch.

Fragments of Portuguese Culture
Fado, the spirit of Portugal, more than the country’s port epitomize what it means to be Portuguese. This music with its sense of passion and pathos somehow tears at your very soul. I first heard Fado on ABC Classic FM one morning, an Australian radio station specializing in “serious” music. The singer was Misia, her voice full of pathos, had that soul wrenching quality that all great Fado should have. Her voice became the sound of Lisbon during the city’s year as Europe’s Cultural Capital in 1993. This first experience occurred without warning making the impact all the more dramatic. I had no knowledge of Fado, but the passion and magic of Misia’s singing aroused a desire  for more, and indirectly knowledge about  Portugal.

I decided to spend a few months there painting and attempting to come to some understanding of Portuguese culture. As I travelled around, I heard Fado drifting across the cities from street vans, apartments, to formal rending in cafes, and a very controlled form of Fado in Coimbra, were this music seemed to be more confined to male voices, rather than the female Queens of Lisbon. Personally I found the female version more passionate and personal. Though at times, their singing can descend  into pop music without the haunting quality of true Fado. The performance I attended in Coimbra was rather stiff, and according to the compare this was the proper Fado, not that female Lisbon version. The Coimbra version was widely sung by male University students dressed in academic gowns, on street corners, where they gave voice to protestsongs during the Salazar years.

Fado has been around for a long time, singer like Amalia Rodrigues, a cultural icon popularised this unique music world wide during her fifty year career. No one seems to know where it originated, it has been suggested the music was left behind by the moors, others that it came to Portugal via the African slaves in Brazil. There is another school of thought that Fado grew out of the waterfront dives of Lisbon, in the same way tango was born in the seedy districts of Buenos Aires, but no matter where this music originated, it has a presence all of its own. A music that invades the senses.

Portugal has many contradictions, a very Catholic country that saw fit to dissolve all the monasteries in the 19th cent. Whether this was due to  lack of leadership by the Church after the Lisbon earthquake I don’t know, but the minister Pombal expelled the Jesuits after the devastation in the 18th cent. I found this closure of convents rather strange for a fairly religious country, There seemed to be many shrines and pilgrim steps ever where in Portugal, particularly in the north around  Braga where pilgrimes climb steps on their knees as penance for past sins. Many of these monasteries, now museums, are very Spartan. One I visited just outside Sintra, The Convent of the Holy Cross built in 1560 had been cut into the hillside, its stone walls wet with seepage, narrow passageways and low ceilings all added to a sense of austerity. How the young monks survived I have no idea. Parts of the ceiling were covered in cork panels, but these areas were for the more senior monks. the Order of  Friers were noted for the extreme simplicity of their lives. The day I visited a T.V. crew was making a documentry, so many rooms were crowded. It reminded me of a visit I made to the Basilica of St. John in Selcui, Turkey were a film crew were making a film and forgot to tell their "Roman Guards" to take their wrist watches off. 

                                                     Pilgrim Steps.

Another contradiction were the Portuguese driver, as a people they are charming, very helpful, and kind, but once behind the wheel of a car a personality change takes place. They seem to revert to the sort of behaviour of a teenage boy driving his first car. Refusal to give way, make rude gestures, and their general reckless driving has to be seen to be believed, I have no idea what the road morality is like, but it must be high Maybe the new EU road network has encouraged them to try out for Formula One raceing. But not to end on a sour note, I really enjoyed my stay, I achieved a lot returning with a lot of work to develop, and am looking forward to a return visit.

Abstract painting titled "Fado"

This will give you some idea how I developed the titles, music and general spirt of Portugal.