“Wandering from the Straight Path of Clarity,” review of “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists”

“You may feel, at times, as if you’ve been handed a map, and then told that the map may or may not be accurate, may or may not relate to anything in the real world, may or may not be entirely a fiction, or a random design concocted by some clever trickster to mislead you. That is how the title of a new show at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art — ‘The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists’ — relates to the work on view, by more than 40 artists from 18 African countries.

“The exhibition is shoehorned into spaces not quite big enough for anything to breathe comfortably, filling temporary galleries, stairwells and passage spaces on four floors of the mostly subterranean museum. The current exhibition, curated by Simon Njami, is slightly smaller than the original Dante exhibition he presented in Frankfurt last spring, but it still sprawls, both in its physical layout (the route through its various rooms requires careful navigation) and intellectually.

“Consider one of the best works in the show, a large-scale drawing by Julie Mehretu, in which a finely etched suggestion of architectural facades is overlaid with a storm of delicate lines, smudges and erasures. In the catalogue, published in conjunction with the Frankfurt display, her work is listed as belonging to the ‘Purgatory’ part of the presentation; in Washington, it is in the ‘Inferno’ room. It isn’t the only work to migrate from one celestial realm to another, and those migrations suggest that the basic template borrowed from Dante is not to be taken too seriously.” […]    –Phillip Kennicott, The Washington Post, April 17, 2015

See also our post on the first iteration of Njami’s exhibition, featured at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s museum.

The Nine Circles of Survey Research Hell

“When Dante Alighieri was composing the Inferno section of his epic poem, the Divine Comedy, he was surely thinking of online survey content and execution. Okay, maybe he was thinking of something else. Nonetheless, Dante’s visionary landscape of falling into a place where everything around you burns to ruin can apply to various situations. It certainly applies to how shoddy survey research can incinerate your market research. Let’s keep it heavenly then, by avoiding these survey circle hells.”

“First Circle (Limbo): This place (or state of being) is not that bad. It’s full of nice gardens where pagans like Plato, Virgil and Julius Caesar hang out. They never had a chance to convert to Dante’s religion, but get a pass for being notable and thus hang out in blandness for eternity.

“Here on earth, that’s the problem when it comes to market research. Nothing happens. You’ve released a survey, and it’s as quiet as a Nickelback internet fan site. Response rates are low. Why is this happening?

“How to get out of this hell: There are many explanations, as you will see, found by plunging deeper into the rest of the survey circle hells.” […]   –qSample, qSample, April 4, 2016

Dante’s Psychological Comedy

[…] “My own background is in psychoanalysis, and I have recently translated the Purgatorio in an attempt to get as close as possible to the actual movement of Dante’s thought. It is “a psychology” in a certain sense, but not a precursor of the modern science. It differs from what we think of as science in at least two respects…”

D.M. Black, Los Angeles Review of Books, July 7, 2019

 

The Rouge Theater, “Dante’s Purgatorio (2014)

“Dante’s Purgatorio
Written by Patrick Baliani
Directed by Joseph McGrath

See also the performance by The Fountain School at Dalhousie University, 2018

Luar’s Spring 2019 collection for the ‘Thotaissance’

“For his spring 2019 collection, Luar designer Raul Lopez was inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Or, more specifically, Purgatorio. While Lopez’s white, billowing pieces felt far more suited to the angels than Dante’s frozen, three-faced Satan, he was hoping to lift the audience up and away from 2018’s endless waves of bad news. ‘It’s like we’re living in purgatory right now,’ he said. ‘And I wanted to take us out of it.’

“If the goal was to distract people from the hellscape that is our current world, Lopez definitely succeeded. The show guests watched open-mouthed as models strolled by in ornate confections that seemed to float (as Dante put it, the designer ‘[deals] with shadows as with solid things’). They wore sculptural knife pleats and headpieces that looked like whipped cotton candy, and smeared, lived-in makeup.”    –Jocelyn Silver, Paper Magazine, September 17, 2018

Eggs in Purgatory


Giuseppe Topo, on Napoli Unplugged, November 16, 2012

Fried eggs.
Like the second part of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Trapped between heaven and hell.

Uova in PurgatorioOva ‘mpriatorio in Neapolitan, or Eggs in Purgatory, this could only be a Neapolitan dish.

Taking its inspiration from Il culto delle anime del Purgatorio, the cult of the Souls of Purgatory, this classic “secondo” comes directly from the pages of Cucina Povera Napoletana. And it is symbolic of the Neapolitan preoccupation with purgatory and the ancient cult that worships anonymous human remains. A tradition that endures in places like the 17th century Santa Maria delle Anima del Purgatorio ad Arco Church in Centro Storico and the Fontanelle Cemetery in Rione Sanità in the scenes of purgatory depicted in the shrines Neapolitans are fond of erecting around the city. And in this culinary rendition of the tradition, where the eggs play the role of souls seeking purification, the sauce, that of the flames of purgatory.

The eggs bubble away in the sauce until the whites are completely cooked, or perhaps we should say, purified. And one can only guess that like the milk from the Virgin’s breast, the breaking of the yolks into the sauce symbolises the extinguishing of the flames. Ouva in Purgatorio, a simple and economical dish that packs a lot of flavour and recalls a tradition that lives on in the hearts and the minds of the Neapolitan people.

Ingredients
1 – 14 oz Can Peeled Tomatoes (or use your leftover Ragù)
4 Eggs
1 Large or 2 Small Cloves Garlic, peeled and halved
Olive Oil
Parsley
Salt and Pepper

Robert A. Ferguson, Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment (2014)

Robert-Ferguson-Inferno-Punishment-Prisons-DanteColumbia Law professor Robert A. Ferguson published a study of the theory informing American systems of punishment in penal institutions. Calling for a new model that emphasizes correction over condemnation, Ferguson writes, “Punishment is a reflexive response to misbehavior, and punishers in their anger are always spontaneously at the ready. Rehabilitation requires thought, a plan, work, and the willingness to probe slow changes in more mundane objects of attrition. It will always be easier to ask for punishment than to institute a treatment program in a prison system where punishment comes first. The answer, to the extent that we can give one, lies in something separate, something either beyond or after punishment.

“The Divine Comedy is a limited guide, but it does reveal the pernicious parameters in the psychology of punishment and gives a response to them. [. . .] Criminal justice has gone astray, lost in a dark wood of its own making. It is time, more than time, to find a way out.” — Robert A. Ferguson, Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment, 249.

From David Cole’s review in the New York Times: “[Ferguson] insists that the only way out is to reconceptualize punishment. Invoking the circles of hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy, Ferguson argues that we need to reorient our prisons away from punishment and debasement and instead model them on Purgatorio, where individuals are restored to heaven through the care and love of others.” — David Cole, “Punitive Damage,” New York Times Sunday Book Review (May 16, 2014)

Ferguson-Inferno-Prison-Chino-Dante

Dante’s Table, Castro, San Francisco

Dantes-Table-SF-Restaurant“[Owner Francesco] D’Ippolito is a fan of Italian poetry, especially Dante’s three-part Divine Comedy, which is why he named his first restaurant Poesia. For Dante’s Table, he hired muralist John Baden […] to do bold and colorful, Dante-inspired works for the walls of the restaurant. The main dining represents Dante’s seminal epic poem, Inferno, with the hallway leading to the rear being Purgatorio, and the back dining room and patio being Paradiso. (D’Ippolito will be making the rear area and the garden patio available for private events.) For now, as the patio gets renovated, they have a tarp up that reads ‘Paradise is Coming…’.” — Jay Barmann, “First Look at Dante’s Table, Now Open in the Castro,” Grubstreet (April 25, 2013)

SCAD Museum of Art: “The Divine Comedy”

Muluneh Aida, 99 SeriesThe Savannah College of Art and Design’s museum featured an exhibit called “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists” which ran from October 16, 2014 to January 25, 2015.

“SCAD presents the U.S. premiere of ‘The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists.’ Curated by the internationally acclaimed Simon Njami, this monumental exhibition explores the thematic sequences of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem through works by more than 40 contemporary artists from 19 African countries as well as the African diaspora. [. . .]

“Through a variety of media, this exhibition demonstrates how concepts visited in Dante’s poem transcend Western traditions and resonate with diverse contemporary cultures, belief systems and political issues. Overall, the exhibition provides a probing examination of life, death and the continued power of art to express the unspoken and intangible.”    —SCAD Museum of Art

The exhibition was later featured at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, running from April 8 to August 2, 2015. The large exhibition was on display in the entrance pavilion, stairwells, and all three floors of the museum. See the National Museum of African Art’s exhibition page here, and Elena Goukassian’s review in the Washington Post here (April 16, 2015).

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948)

The Seven Storey Mountain is Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s 1948 best-selling autobiography. The title refers to Dante’s Purgatory. The book made the National Review’s list of the best 100 non-fiction books of the 20th Century.

Seven Storey Mountain