Frida Kahlo self-portrait sets auction record for Latin American painting

New York, A self-portrait by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo featuring her husband, artist Diego Rivera, sold at auction on Tuesday for $34.9 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting by a Latin American artist.

Completed in 1949, Kahlo’s “Diego y yo” (Diego and I) went under the hammer at Sotheby’s in New York and sold to an unidentified buyer. The price included $3.9 million in fees, the auction house said, Reuters reported.

“This is one of the most important works by Kahlo ever to come to auction and we’re thrilled that it should be at Sotheby’s,” Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s auctioneer and senior director, said as he opened the bidding.

The painting shows a teary-eyed Kahlo with her hair loose around her, a portrait of Rivera bearing a third eye embedded above her brow.

Kahlo, who spent long periods bed-ridden after a traffic accident in her youth, created some 200 paintings, sketches and drawings – mainly self-portraits – in which she transformed her misfortune into works of bold colour and emblematic strength.

She attained international fame after her death in 1954, and after the 1970s rose as a feminist icon.

Source: Bahrain News Agency

Patriotic Korean War Epic Topped China’s October Box Office

TAIPEI, TAIWAN — The dramatic retelling of a decisive Korean War battle between Chinese soldiers and U.S.-led United Nations forces smashed box office records last month to become China’s third-highest grossing film of all-time, according to state media, amid a new push for patriotic-only historical accounts by the Communist Party.

Released over China’s National Day holidays in early October, The Battle at Lake Changjin is set during November 1950 and recounts how Chinese soldiers forced a retreat of U.N. forces from the Choisin Reservoir in present-day North Korea.

The film has already earned $875.5 million (5.6 billion RMB) since opening on September 30, according to the e-ticketing platform Maoyan, and it is still showing at some cinemas in China more than a month after opening.

The Battle at Lake Changjin was commissioned by the Chinese government ahead of the Communist Party’s 100th anniversary this year, and it is the latest in a series of patriotic war-time films to hit Chinese theatres in the last few years.

Other notable hits include The Korean War epic, The Sacrifice, The Eight Hundred, which recounts the 1937 Battle of Shanghai between invading Japanese forces and the National revolutionary Army, and The Wolf Warrior action film franchise about contemporary People’s Liberation Army soldiers.

In China, the Korean War is officially known as the war to “Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea,” and it has inspired multiple films — but this time the story has changed. According to a review by The Washington Post newspaper, The Battle at Lake Changjin emphasizes the defeat of the United States rather than China’s close bonds with North Korea.

“The Korean War has always been used as propaganda by Beijing — that’s nothing new — but I think what is new is in recent years the elevated level of nationalism as well as the new circumstances in which China and the United States find themselves in,” Adam Ni, a China watcher and editor of the newsletter China Neican, told VOA.

“The Battle at Lake Changjin,” Ni said, “speaks to the moment” of souring U.S.-China relations — as well as the Party’s renewed emphasis on China’s history and an accompanying crackdown on “historical nihilism” that questions its official narrative of events.

In one of the most high-profile incidents, Chinese journalist Luo Changping was detained in early October for criticizing The Battle at Lake Changjin, according to The New York Times. Luo wrote on social media that more than 50 years later “few Chinese people have reflected on the justifiability of the war.”

Luo’s criticism could not have come at a worse time, however, as the Party celebrated its 100th anniversary on October 1. China’s historical narrative has remained front and center throughout celebrations and will be the subject of a resolution this week at the Sixth Plenum of the Central Committee — a meeting of more than 300 of China’s top leaders in Beijing.

“The Party sees the construction of historical narrative as an integral part of its power and of its legitimacy, so that’s why it’s come down pretty hard on historical nihilism — people who have visions of historical events that are different from the Party in a way that the Party perceives them to be harmful,” Ni said.

This trend is already making its way into popular culture where the Party is “rectifying the entertainment sector,” he said, by rewarding more patriotic films and pushing out more subservient ones. Less than a month after the success of The Battle at Lake Changjin, the government already announced a sequel — although other films may not be as lucky.

“The Party has a lot of resources and if your agenda overlaps, if your aesthetic and creative agenda overlaps with the party it could be a lucrative market opportunity because the Party has leverage over market opportunities,” Ni said. “But the other hand you get to the case of ‘boy love’ (LGBTQ-themed) stories or fantasy stories … you could be successful creatively and commercially, but on the other hand, you run the political risk of upsetting the Party.”

Source: Voice of America

‘It’s Our Lives on the Line’, Young Marchers Tell UN Climate Talks

Thousands of young campaigners marched through the streets of Glasgow on Friday, chanting their demand that world leaders at the U.N. climate conference safeguard their future against catastrophic climate change.

Inside the COP26 conference venue in the Scottish city, civil society leaders took over discussions at the end of a week of government speeches and pledges that included promises to phase out coal, slash emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane and reduce deforestation.

“We must not declare victory here,” said former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work informing the world about climate change. “We know that we have made progress, but we are far from the goals that we need to reach.”

Campaigners and pressure groups have been underwhelmed by the commitments made so far, many of which are voluntary, exclude the biggest polluters, or set deadlines decades away.

Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg joined the marchers on the streets, who held placards and banners with messages that reflected frustration with what she described as “blah-blah-blah” coming from years of global climate negotiations.

“You don’t care, but I do!” read one sign, carried by a girl sitting on her father’s shoulders.

Sixteen-year-old protester Hannah McInnes called climate change “the most universally devastating problem in the world,” adding: “It’s our lives and our futures that are on the line.”

Promises

The talks aim to secure enough national promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions – mainly from fossil fuels – to keep the rise in the average global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Scientists say this is the point at which the already intense storms, heatwaves, droughts and floods that the Earth is experiencing could become catastrophic and irreversible.

To that end, the United Nations wants countries to halve their emissions from 1990 levels by 2030, on their way to net-zero emissions by 2050. That would mean the world would release no more climate-warming gases than the amount it is simultaneously recapturing from the atmosphere.

The summit on Thursday saw 23 additional countries pledge to try to phase out coal – albeit over the next three decades, and without the world’s biggest consumer, China.

A pledge to reduce deforestation brought a hasty about-turn from Indonesia, home to vast and endangered tropical forests.

But a plan to curb emissions of methane by 30% did appear to strike a blow against greenhouse gases that should produce rapid results.

And city mayors have been working out what they can do to advance climate action more quickly and nimbly than governments.

The Glasgow talks also have showcased a jumble of financial pledges, buoying hopes that national commitments to bring down emissions can actually be implemented.

But time was running short. “It is not possible for a large number of unresolved issues to continue into week 2,” COP26 President Alok Sharma said in a note to negotiators published by the United Nations.

Efforts to set a global pricing framework for carbon, as a way to make polluters pay fairly for their emissions and ideally finance efforts to offset them, are likely to continue to the very end of the two-week conference.

The new normal

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said on Friday it was possible to reach a deal at the summit settling the final details of the rulebook for how to interpret the 2015 Paris Agreement.

He said the United States was in favor of “the most frequent possible” assessments of whether countries were meeting their goals to reduce emissions.

In Washington, President Joe Biden’s mammoth “Build Back Better” package, including $555 billion of measures aimed at hitting the 2030 target and adapting to climate change, looks set to pass eventually. It hit snags on Friday, however, as the House of Representatives was due to vote on it.

Gore, a veteran of such battles, offered conference-goers a scientific video and photo presentation filled with images of climate-fueled natural disasters, from flooding to wildfires.

“We cannot allow this to become the new normal,” Gore said.

One schoolchild’s placard put it just as well.

“The Earth’s climate is changing!” it read, under a hand-painted picture of a globe on fire. “Why aren’t we?”

Source: Voice of America

Facebook Shuts Down Facial Recognition Technology

Facebook says it is shutting down its facial recognition system.

Citing “growing societal concerns” about the technology that can automatically identify people in photos and videos, the company says it will continue to work on the technology to try to address issues.

“Regulators are still in the process of providing a clear set of rules governing its use,” Jerome Pesenti, vice president of artificial intelligence at Facebook, said in a blog post. “Amid this ongoing uncertainty, we believe that limiting the use of facial recognition to a narrow set of use cases is appropriate.”

The move will delete the “facial recognition templates” of more than 1 billion people, Reuters reported. Facebook said that one-third of its daily active users opted into the technology.

The deletions should be done by December, the company said.

The company also said that a tool that creates audible descriptions of photos for the visually impaired will function normally, but will no longer include the names of people in photos.

Facebook, which rebranded itself as Meta last week, doesn’t appear to be shutting the door permanently on facial recognition.

“Looking ahead, we still see facial recognition technology as a powerful tool, for example, for people needing to verify their identity or to prevent fraud and impersonation,” the company wrote, adding it will “continue working on these technologies and engaging outside experts.”

Source: Voice of America

Facebook to shut down face-recognition system, delete data

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA —

Free press advocates are calling for accountability for perpetrators of crimes against media workers as they commemorated the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.

According to the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), an advocacy group working to advance media rights in the horn of the African nation, 12 journalists have been killed since February 2017, while more than 60 others were arrested from January to October 2021.

Most of the perpetrators have not been brought before the court to face charges.

SJS secretary-general Abdalla Mumin says the organization is worried about deteriorating relations between the media and the security agencies in particular.

“The cooperation between the state security forces and the media in general is nonexistent in Somalia,” Mumin said. “The Somali federal government in September last year announced [a] special prosecutor for the crimes against journalists, but this was only word of mouth, and nothing has been done to implement it in [a] tangible way.”

Hanad Ali Guled, editor of the Mogadishu-based Goobjoog media network, survived an attack in July and said he still faces threats based on his work.

He said he was attacked heading home from work in Mogadishu by assailants he suspects are linked to the government agencies. He said he continues to receive constant threats from the group.

The director of communications at Somalia’s president’s office, Abdulkadir Hashi, said in a tweet that the government will continue to speak out against anyone who obstructs the work of press in the country.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2021 Global Impunity Index, Somalia has been the world’s worst country for unsolved killings of journalists for seven consecutive years.

Source: Voice of America

Singer Jon Bon Jovi Diagnosed with COVID-19 Just Before Concert

Local media in Miami reported that rock star Jon Bon Jovi was forced to cancel a concert Saturday minutes before taking the stage after testing positive for COVID-19.

A Miami television station said a spokesman for the fully vaccinated singer told the audience Saturday evening that Bon Jovi had tested positive after he and members of his band took rapid response tests. The spokesman said the rock star “feels great” but would not be performing and was headed to bed.

The band is reported to have stayed and played for the crowd without the lead singer.

There was no word about whether the concert would be rescheduled.

Bon Jovi participated in public service campaigns last year encouraging people to mask up and practice social distancing.

Earlier Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the more than 5 million COVID-19 deaths was “a global shame” and a reminder that much of the world is being “failed” by vaccine inequities.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Monday that the global death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic reached its total just four months after the 4 million death milestone.

In a statement, Guterres said these deaths are “not just numbers on a page. They are mothers and fathers. Brothers and sisters. Daughters and sons. Family, friends and colleagues. Lives cut short by a merciless virus that respects no borders.” COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus.

Guterres said the devastating milestone is a reminder that while wealthy countries are rolling out third “booster” doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, only about 5% of people in Africa are fully vaccinated.

The U.N chief urged world leaders to fully support the Global Vaccination Strategy he launched last month with the World Health Organization, and through funding and vaccine donations, help meet the goal of inoculating 40% of people in all countries by the end of 2021 and 70% by mid-2022.

“The best way to honor those 5 million people lost … is to make vaccine equity a reality by accelerating our efforts and ensuring maximum vigilance to defeat this virus,” Guterres said.

Meanwhile, Monday marks the easing of travel restrictions in Australia for its citizens and permanent residents who will no longer be subjected to a two-week quarantine when reentering the country. Australians will also be able to leave the country without getting special permission.

Thailand began allowing fully vaccinated tourists into the country Monday. Thailand’s economy has been pummeled by the tourist restrictions prompted by the pandemic.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that although she is fully vaccinated, she has contracted COVID-19, adding that she is exhibiting only mild symptoms and is in quarantine. Members of her household have also tested positive, she said in a Twitter post Sunday.

Psaki did not travel to Europe with U.S. President Joe Biden, who attended the recent G-20 summit of world leaders in Rome and then flew to Glasgow, Scotland, for a conference on climate change.

British health care workers began their plan Monday to visit more than 800 schools to inoculate students ages 12 to 15 with COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccines minister Maggie Throup said, “Thanks to the dedication of NHS (National Health Service) vaccine teams, we are making it as simple as possible for parents or guardians to book COVID-19 vaccines for their children.”

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center said Monday that nearly 7 billion vaccines have been administered worldwide.

Source: voice of America

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade returns to pre-pandemic shape

New York, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will return to its pre-pandemic form this year, with its route restored through Manhattan, high-flying helium balloons once again pulled by handlers and crowds welcomed back to cheer them on.

This year’s parade — the 95th annual — will snap back to form after bowing to pandemic restrictions last year. It will feature 15 giant character balloons, 28 floats, 36 novelty and heritage inflatables, more than 800 clowns, 10 marching bands and nine performance groups and, of course, Santa Claus, AP reports.

New balloon giants joining the line-up on Nov. 25 include Ada Twist, Scientist and the Pokémon characters Pikachu and Eevee. Broadway will be represented by the casts of “Six,” “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” and “Wicked.” The Rockettes will be there, as will the cast of the upcoming NBC live production of “Annie.”

“For our 95th celebration, Macy’s has created a spectacle to remember featuring a dazzling array of high-flying balloons, animated floats and incredible performers. We can’t wait to help New York City and the nation kick-off the holiday season with the return of this cherished tradition,” Will Coss, executive producer of the parade, said in a statement.

There will be new floats led by the cast of “Girls5eva” — Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Paula Pell and Busy Philipps — Nelly and Jordan Fisher, while Jon Batiste will be on an alligator-themed float celebrating Louisiana’s music, food and culture.

Other celebrities on hand include Carrie Underwood, Jimmie Allen, Kelly Rowland, Rob Thomas, Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss, Foreigner, Andy Grammer, Mickey Guyton, Chris Lane, Miss America Camille Schrier, Muppets from “Sesame Street” and the three past and current hosts of “Blue’s Clues” — Steve Burns, Donovan Patton and Josh Dela Cruz.

Some of the returning balloons will be Astronaut Snoopy, ’The Boss Baby,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” Chase from “Paw Patrol,” the Pillsbury Doughboy, Red Titan from “Ryan’s World,” Papa Smurf from ”The Smurfs,” Sonic the Hedgehog and SpongeBob SquarePants.

The Macy’s parade has been a traditional holiday season kickoff and spectators often line up a half-dozen deep along the route to cheer about 8,000 marchers, two dozen floats, entertainers and marching bands.

Last year, the usual 2 1/2-mile route through crowded Manhattan was scrapped in favor of concentrating events to a one-block stretch of 34th Street in front of the retailer’s flagship Manhattan store. Many performances were pre-taped and most of the parade’s performers were locally based to cut down on travel. The balloons were tethered to specialized vehicles instead of being controlled by handlers.

Visitors this year will once again be allowed to see the balloons inflated the day before the parade as long as they show proof of vaccination. Children under the age of 12 may be accompanied by a vaccinated adult.

Source: Bahrain News Agency

In Somalia, a Rare Female Artist Promotes Images of Peace

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA —
Among the once-taboo professions emerging from Somalia’s decades of conflict and Islamic extremism is the world of arts, and a 21-year-old female painter has faced more opposition than most.
A rare woman artist in the highly conservative Horn of Africa nation, Sana Ashraf Sharif Muhsin lives and works amid the rubble of her uncle’s building that was partially destroyed in Mogadishu’s years of war.
Despite the challenges that include the belief by some Muslims that Islam bars all representations of people, and the search for brushes and other materials for her work, she is optimistic.
“I love my work and believe that I can contribute to the rebuilding and pacifying of my country,” she said.
Sana stands out for breaking the gender barrier to enter a male-dominated profession, according to Abdi Mohamed Shu’ayb, a professor of arts at Somali National University. She is just one of two female artists he knows of in Somalia, with the other in the breakaway region of Somaliland.
And yet Sana is unique “because her artworks capture contemporary life in a positive way and seek to build reconciliation,” he said, calling her a national hero.
Sana, a civil engineering student, began drawing at the age of 8, following in the footsteps of her maternal uncle, Abdikarim Osman Addow, a well-known artist.
“I would use charcoal on all the walls of the house, drawing my vision of the world,” Sana said, laughing. More formal instruction followed, and she eventually assembled a book from her sketches of household items like a shoe or a jug of water.
But as her work brought her more public attention over the years, some tensions followed.
“I fear for myself sometimes,” she said, and recalled a confrontation during a recent exhibition at the City University of Mogadishu. A male student began shouting “This is wrong!” and professors tried to calm him, explaining that art is an important part of the world.
Many people in Somalia don’t understand the arts, Sana said, and some even criticize them as disgusting. At exhibitions, she tries to make people understand that art is useful and “a weapon that can be used for many things.”
A teacher once challenged her skills by asking questions and requiring answers in the form of a drawing, she said.
“Everything that’s made is first drawn, and what we’re making is not the dress but something that changes your internal emotions,” Sana said. “Our paintings talk to the people.”
Her work at times explores the social issues roiling Somalia, including a painting of a soldier looking at the ruins of the country’s first parliament building. It reflects the current political clash between the federal government and opposition, she said, as national elections are delayed.
Another painting reflects abuses against vulnerable young women “which they cannot even express.” A third shows a woman in the bare-shouldered dress popular in Somalia decades ago before a stricter interpretation of Islam took hold and scholars urged women to wear the hijab.
But Sana also strives for beauty in her work, aware that “we have passed through 30 years of destruction, and the people only see bad things, having in their mind blood and destruction and explosions. … If you Google Somalia, we don’t have beautiful pictures there, but ugly ones, so I’d like to change all that using my paintings.”
Sana said she hopes to gain further confidence in her work by exhibiting it more widely, beyond events in Somalia and neighboring Kenya.
But finding role models at home for her profession doesn’t come easily.
Sana named several Somali artists whose work she admires, but she knows of no other female ones like herself.

Source: Voice of America