The Creatures of Yes take on climate change; Maizz maps endangered animals onto trees in Mexico; and the importance and controversy of colour, along with the white is right is might connection.
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The Apollo Belvedere, now at the Vatican Museums, was viewed in the 18th century as the model of beauty. Artists became fascinated with the statue after its discovery in the late 15th century, including Albrecht Dürer. (photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia)
The Apollo Belvedere is the basis for much of racist thought and models, which persist to this day. This beautiful sculpture became a model for the epitome of beauty, proper physiognomy, and of course, the best skin colour, white. The whiter the better. The study of classical antiquity was of all consuming importance in previous generations, and many wrong and devastating conclusions were formed. Greco-Roman works were considered to be of a higher order and very pure, because everything was overwhelmingly white. Except it wasn’t. Science has confirmed that many ‘white’ works weren’t, they were painted, and reflected the diversity of the Greco-Roman world. This is, of course, very upsetting to people for pretty much every reason under the sun. It is a shock to see these pale works come to life in vivid, unapologetic colour, and it changes our perception greatly. No longer do such works have such a detached, pale, cerebral feel.
Modern technology has revealed an irrefutable, if unpopular, truth: many of the statues, reliefs, and sarcophagi created in the ancient Western world were in fact painted. Marble was a precious material for Greco-Roman artisans, but it was considered a canvas, not the finished product for sculpture. It was carefully selected and then often painted in gold, red, green, black, white, and brown, among other colors.
A number of fantastic museum shows throughout Europe and the US in recent years have addressed the issue of ancient polychromy. The Gods in Color exhibit travelled the world between 2003–15, after its initial display at the Glyptothek in Munich. (Many of the photos in this essay come from that exhibit, including the famed Caligula bust and the Alexander Sarcophagus.) Digital humanists and archaeologists have played a large part in making those shows possible. In particular, the archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann, whose research informed Gods in Color, has done important work, applying various technologies and ultraviolet light to antique statues in order to analyze the minute vestiges of paint on them and then recreate polychrome versions.
We are a visual species, and colour is of extreme importance in artistic representations, and it’s absurd to think that all of the astonishing art of the Greco-Romans was utterly devoid of colour in some sort of odd worship of paleness. There’s a great deal of resistance to the evidence of colour, which not only upsets set ideas and perceptions, but it’s yet another stake in the heart of persistent systemic racism. Much of modern white supremacy is founded on the white purity of Greco-Roman art, and people will cling stubbornly to that blind belief in white. It’s time to see reality, and reality is full of colour. Hyperallergic has an in-depth and excellent article on why we need to see the classics in colour.