Christo’s giant ‘mastaba’ unveiled in London — next stop Abu Dhabi

Artist Christo stands in front of his work The London Mastaba, on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London, on Monday. Reuters
Updated 19 June 2018
0

Christo’s giant ‘mastaba’ unveiled in London — next stop Abu Dhabi

  • The London Mastaba is Christo’s first major outdoor public work in the UK, but in many ways it is a trial run for what many believe he intends as his legacy: A permanent mastaba constructed in the desert in the UAE
  • That structure will stand 150 meters tall and be made of 410,000 barrels painted in ten different colors

LONDON: It stands 20 meters high, weighs 600 tons and needs 32 anchors to stop it floating away.
Amid much fanfare and an unseasonably chilly wind, the London Mastaba by the renowned artist Christo was launched on Monday on the Serpentine lake in London’s Hyde Park.
The Mastaba is a ziggurat, a sort of pyramid with two sloping and two vertical sides, and the top sliced off, made of 7,506 barrels painted red, blue and mauve and all piled up on a polyethylene platform.
The word mastaba simply means “bench” in Arabic. The shape dates back to at least 6,000, when such benches first began appearing outside dwellings in ancient Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq).
As Christo cheerfully admits, like all of his art — the silvery wrapping around the Reichstag in Berlin, the 7,503 gates hung with saffron-colored fabric in New York’s Central Park — it has no function but to look beautiful and excite the onlooker, at least for a while. The London Mastaba will remain on display until Sept. 23.
The Bulgarian-born artist arrived in fitting manner by boat to be paraded before an assembled throng of admirers, art world top brass and more than 200 members of the international media.
The London Mastaba is Christo’s first major outdoor public work in the UK, but in many ways it is a trial run for what many believe he intends as his legacy: A permanent mastaba constructed in the desert in the UAE.
That structure will stand 150 meters tall and be made of 410,000 barrels painted in ten different colors. Even in model size — one built to scale is on display in the Serpentine Gallery as part of the accompanying Christo exhibition — it looks staggeringly colossal, with minuscule model people around it.
Christo is used to his projects progressing slowly. He is also used to not always getting what he wants.
“In 50 years I have completed 23 projects and failed to get permission for 47,” he said.
It took nearly 25 years to get permission to wrap the Reichstag in 1995. But negotiations for the desert mastaba have already been going on since 1977.
Asked if there had been any progress, he said, “I can’t tell you. There are two stages in any project — the software period and the hardware period. We are in the software period. This is the longest time we have spent, but I am a stubborn man. It is an unstoppable urge within me. It energises me.”
The London mastaba cost about £2 million ($2.6 million). As with all his art, Christo paid the costs himself, raising the money by selling preparatory sketches and collages, which are highly sought-after and therefore considered a good investment. He accepts no commissions for his work and seeks no sponsorship.
However, the desert mastaba is likely to cost about $500 million at a conservative estimate, a sum certainly beyond even Christo’s fundraising means.
“It’s not just about building the mastaba. The problem is that there is no infrastructure at the site where he wants to build it, which is about a two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi,” explained Scott Hodes, Christo’s lawyer for 55 years. “You would have to build a road, accommodation for the construction workers and facilities for visitors and tourists. It’s a huge undertaking even for a wealthy country like the UAE.”
Could Christo be persuaded to relocate his structure to somewhere that is at least partly equipped already? “No. It’s in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere but that’s where he wants it,” said Hodes.
There have been many meetings and discussions over the years with the ruling family, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. Christo’s nephew, Vladimir Javacheff, who works with him on all his projects, said, “We keep going. I’m there (in the UAE) at least four times a year.”
Christo celebrated his 83rd birthday on June 13. Though still sprightly, there is no denying that time for him to realize his mastaba-in-the-desert dream is not limitless.
But apparently he does not consider his presence to be essential to the project. His nephew explained it will go ahead with or without Christo.
“Even if he passes away, the project will be fulfilled,” said Javacheff. “He doesn’t need to be there.” But, he added hastily: “Christo is not going anywhere. He is indestructible.”


India’s singing village, where everyone has their melody

This photo taken on July 12, 2018 shows an Indian child whistling her name, in Kongthong village, in East Khasi Hills district in India's eastern Meghalaya state. (AFP)
Updated 18 September 2018
0

India’s singing village, where everyone has their melody

  • The origin of “jingrwai lawbei” isn’t known, but locals think it is as old as the village, which has existed for as long as five centuries
  • The custom is known as “jingrwai lawbei,” meaning “song of the clan’s first woman,” a reference to the Khasi people’s mythical original mother

KONGTHONG, India: Curious whistles and chirrups echo through the jungle around Kongthong, a remote Indian village, but this is no birdsong. It’s people calling out to each other in music — an extraordinary tradition that may even be unique.
Here in the lush, rolling hills of the northeastern state of Meghalaya, mothers from Kongthong and a few other local villages compose a special melody for each child.
Everyone in the village, inhabited by the Khasi people, will then address the person with this individual little tune — and for a lifetime. They have conventional “real” names too, but they are rarely used.
To walk along the main road in this village of wooden huts with corrugated tin roofs, perched on a ridge miles from anywhere, is to walk through a symphony of hoots and toots.
On one side a mother calls out to her son to come home for supper, elsewhere children play and at the other end friends mess about — all in an unusual, musical language of their own.
“The composition of the melody comes from the bottom of my heart,” mother-of-three Pyndaplin Shabong told AFP.
“It expresses my joy and love for my baby,” the 31-year-old said, her youngest daughter, two and a half years old, on her knee.
“But if my son has done something wrong, if I’m angry with him, he broke my heart, at that moment I will call him by his actual name,” rather than singing lovingly, said Rothell Khongsit, a community leader.

Kongthong has long been cut off from the rest of the world, several hours of tough trek from the nearest town. Electricity arrived only in 2000, and the dirt road in 2013.
Days are spent foraging in the jungle for broom grass — the main source of revenue — leaving the village all but deserted, except for a few kids.
To call out to each other while in the forest, the villagers would use a long version lasting around 30 seconds of each other’s musical “name,” inspired by the sounds of nature all around.
“We are living in far-flung villages, we are surrounded by the dense forest, by the hills. So we are in touch with nature, we are in touch with all the gracious living things that God has created,” says Khongsit.
“Creatures have their own identity. The birds, so many animals, they have ways of calling each other.”
The custom is known as “jingrwai lawbei,” meaning “song of the clan’s first woman,” a reference to the Khasi people’s mythical original mother.
And unusually for India, this is a matrilineal society. Property and land are passed down from mother to daughter, while a husband moves in with his wife and takes her name.
“We consider the mother the goddess of the family. A mother looks after a family, after the inheritance we get from our ancestors,” Khongsit said.

But according to anthropologist Tiplut Nongbri, a professor at Jamia Millia Islamia university in Delhi, it is something of a “disguised patriarchy.”
Women “don’t have decision-making powers. Traditionally, they can’t take part in politics, the rules are very clearly demarcated between male and female,” she told AFP.
“Taking care of the children, that’s the women’s responsibility. Statecraft and all that is (a) male function.”
The origin of “jingrwai lawbei” isn’t known, but locals think it is as old as the village, which has existed for as long as five centuries.
The tradition’s days may be numbered, though, as the modern world creeps into Kongthong in the shape of televisions and mobile phones.
Some of the newer melodic names are inspired by Bollywood songs.
And youngsters are increasingly going off singing out their friends’ melodic names, preferring instead to phone them.