“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 Campaign Hell

“You aren’t imagining things — this campaign season has been hell on earth.

“During the State Dinner the White House hosted for the Italian prime minister Tuesday, President Barack Obama compared presidential campaigns to Dante’s Inferno.

“If choosing the punishment for this circle of political hell were up for a vote, having to sit in the front row of a never ending presidential debate seems like a pretty strong contender.” [. . .]    –Brenna Williams, CNN, October 19th, 2016

You can read the full list here.

How a Museum Reckons With Black Pain (2016)

A woman passes a display depicting the Mexico Olympic protest during a media preview at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, U.S., September 14, 2016. The museum will open to the public on September 24. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. - RTSNR10

A woman passes a display depicting the Mexico Olympic protest during a media preview at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, U.S., September 14, 2016.

“The Smithsonian’s new memorial of African American history and culture is at once triumphant and crushing.” […]

“The descent and ascent achieve an effect similar to Dante’s harrowing journey in Inferno, and the walk upwards through Reconstruction, Redemption, the civil-rights movement, and into the present day is a reminder of the constant push and pull of horror and protest.”    –Vann R. Newkirk II, The Atlantic, September 23, 2016

Contributed by Pamela Montanaro

Hillary’s Hell

“When the story of Hillary Clinton’s second run for the presidency is written, it may come to resemble Dante’s Inferno more than a customary campaign book. We’ve seen greed — lots of greed (the fourth circle). We’ve seen the destruction of material, the failure to live up to her agreement with the State Department and misleading tax returns from the Clinton Foundation. In Dante’s hell, the corrupt politicians got to the eighth circle. We’ve seen flashes of anger (“At this point what difference does it make!”) — that’d be the fifth circle.” [. . .]    –Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post, May 14th, 2015.

Ettore Ximenes’ 1921 statue, Meridian Hill Park (Washington, D.C.)

Ettore-Ximenes-Dante-Alighieri-Washington-Meridian-HillDante Alighieri stands in Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C.  Commissioned by Carlo Barsotti as a gift on behalf of “the Italians in the United States,” Italian artist Ettore Ximenes sculpted the monument in 1921, the 600th anniversary of the poet’s death.

The statue was included in the Smithsonian’s Save Outdoor Sculpture D.C. survey in 1994, and was featured in a 2014 Washington Post editorial called “Monument Madness,” where it lost to a statue of Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog in the Elite 8.

Contributed by Aisha Woodward (Bowdoin, ’07)

XimenesMonumentMadness

Dante at the Supreme Court

dante-at-the-supreme-court“From Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in today’s case involving violent video games, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn.: California’s argument would fare better if there were a longstanding tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence, but there is none.  Certainly the books we give children to read — or read to them when they are younger — contain no shortage of gore. . . In the Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface . . . Justice Alito accuses us of pronouncing that playing violent video games “is not different in ‘kind'” from reading violent literature.  Well of course it is different in kind, but not in a way that causes the provision and viewing of violent video games, unlike the provision and reading of books, not to be expressive activity and hence not to enjoy First Amendment protection.  Reading Dante is unquestionably more cultured and intellectually edifying than playing Mortal Kombat.  But these cultural and intellectual differences are not constitutional ones.  Crudely violent video games, tawdry TV shows, and cheap novels and magazines are no less forms of speech than The Divine Comedy, and restrictions upon them must survive strict scrutiny[.]” […]    –Marc DeGirolami, Mirror of Justice, June 27, 2011

Contributed by Patrick Molloy

“My Dante,” Frank Ambrosio and Edward Maloney, Georgetown University

my-dante-georgetown-university

“Conceived as a digital incarnation of the medieval illuminated manuscript, My Dante fosters an entirely new type of contemplative reading experience. MyDante encourages readers to experience the poem in a way that is profoundly personal, while at the same time enabling a collaborative experience of a journey shared by a community of readers.
MyDante was originally developed for a philosophy course at Georgetown University, and a public version is currently in development that will be free and open to anyone.”    —My Dante Blog

Visit Georgetown’s My Dante site.

“Rogue American Woman”

rogue-american-woman“Of course, the subtitle of Sarah Palin’s book is ‘An American Life.’ Because she is the lovely avatar of real Americans — ordinary, hard-working, God-fearing, common-sense, good, ordinary, real Americans. If you are not living an American life, you are, to use a Palin coinage, living ‘bass-ackwards.’. . .
I approached reading her book with trepidation, worried I might learn that I am not a real American, dang it, just another dreaded, jaded ‘enlightened elite.’
I was born and live in Washington, D.C., after all. Now you’d think that this would be a rather patriotic city to call home, but Palin paints it as a cross between Sodom and Dante’s Fifth Circle.” [. . .]    –Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, November 17, 2009

Synetic Theater, “Dante,” Washington, D.C. (2009)

synetic-theater-dante-washington-dc-2009

“In an unprecedented, ambitious production, Synetic Theater takes on the entirety of Dante Alighieri’s epic masterpiece, the tale of a lost traveler’s visionary journey through the torments of Hell and up the slopes of Purgatory, before the final attainment of redemption and Paradise. Delving into the core of Dante’s original work, this modern retelling will bring the Italian classic to life in a way never seen before.”    —Italian Cultural Institute

Contributed by Aisha Woodward (Bowdoin, ’08)