Bombarded with cultural traditions and unrealistic fantasies, we often forget that a woman is a person and it is her right to define her life in her own terms. When she is allowed to do so, the power, truth and beauty of her uniqueness far surpasses anything culture or advertising has shown us. Men experience cultural objectification to some degree, as well, but are more likely to be rewarded for breaking the mold, while women are most often castigated.
The following is a luscious music video by the Brazilian band Francisco, el Hombre(Francis the Man) from their 2016 album Soltasbruxa (LettheWitchesOut). The video was directed by Rafa Camâra and filmed in an early 20th Century mansion in Havana, Cuba. It features the sultry voice of Juliana Strassacapa backed by guest vocalists Salma Jô, Helena Macedo, Larissa Baq and Renata Éssis, as well as the Cuban dance company Danza Voluminosa. The gentleness of the song and the fluid elegance of the dancers do not diminish the defiant spirit that gives this song power.
Danza Voluminosa was founded in 1996 by Juan Miguel Mas. Unlike conventional dance troupes, they do not pressure their dancers to maintain or lose weight, but seek out heavier body types. They teach their dancers to embrace their bodies and express their emotions through movement. These dancers may move differently than the body types the world is used to putting on display, but they are no less creative and expressive. Their work has been praised for its sensitivity, emotional impact, beauty and uniqueness.
Francisco, el Hombre was formed in 2013 when two brothers, Sebastián and Mateo Piracés-Ugarte, left Mexico and moved to Brazil. There they met Juliana Strassacapa, Rafael Gomes and Andrei Martinez Kozyreff and decided they needed to do something different with their lives.
“Four years ago, us friends felt an urgent need to live, to feel, to learn and grow. The way we found to do that was to get out of our “nest” and travel in order to learn. Music was the means that we found to be able to travel without money. We played on the street, in restaurants in exchange for food, in hostels in return for a night’s stay. And that was inspired by the figure of Francisco el Hombre. Meaning, we didn’t think about forming a band, it was about a learning experience.” –Sebastián Piracés-Ugarte, Billboard Magazine, 11/14/2017
Francisco, el Hombre
Named for a legendary folk musician from Colombia, who sang and played as he traveled, Francisco, el Hombre spends a great deal of time touring throughout Latin America, singing about the struggles of common people. They are no stranger to injustice themselves. In 2015, the entire band was robbed and lost all of their possessions after playing a show in Mendoza, Argentina. They had to crowd source to rebuild the band, but the experience seems to have made them more resilient. They did not travel to the Latin Grammys when Soltasbruxa was nominated, preferring to tour among the people who understand them best.
Latin American art and music has always been among the most political and socially conscious, and Soltasbruxa is no exception. It is a stirring mix of feminism, anti-capitalist and anti-greed sentiment, and idealism shattered and bent by reality. Triste, Louca ou Má is among the gentlest tracks on the album, which starts with the keening excitement of the title track and builds into to the riotous harmonic strains of Calor da Rua (the Heat of the Street), a exposition of domestic violence on the street. The entire album is full of surprises and quick changes in tone. Sensual melodies, daring harmony and infectious dance music are all present and delightful, but it isn’t merely entertaining. It is an explosive shout for those who are tired of losing.
Scientific discovery and artistic innovation often occur together in unpredictable ways. How is this relationship shaped by accident and synchronicity?
During the early 1700s, the color maker Diesbach was attempting to produce a red pigment from iron sulfate and potash in his laboratory in Berlin. He decided to be frugal and use some contaminated potash which his friend, the alchemist, theologian, and physician Johann Konrad Dippel, widely purported to be the model for Dr. Frankenstein, was about to throw out. As a result, he first obtained a very pale and unsatisfactory red. He decided to concentrate it, but it turned purple instead of a deeper red. At this point he concentrated it one last time and it became deep blue. Diesbach had accidentally created the first synthetic blue paint.
Prussian blue thinned with turpentine
At that time the best and most reliable blue pigments came from ground lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone, and they were extremely expensive. This alternative, easy to make, inexpensive, intense and non-toxic, would become incredibly popular and was known as Prussian or Berlin blue. It would later be used to color the uniforms of Prussian soldiers. In an ironic twist, painters also sometimes refer to it as Parisian blue, since the first painter to make it famous, although not the first to use it, was Antoine Watteau, who passed it on to his students. It has been used by artists all over the world, including Asian painters such as Katsushika Hokusai, who imported it from Europe. The color appeared in the crayon box in 1949 and has been known as Midnight Blue since 1958.
Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai
Prussian blue is made from a powder of tiny crystals. These crystals are not water soluble and differences in their size result in variations in shade. The color owes its intensity to the transfer of electrons between iron compounds. Unfortunately for us, Prussian blue cannot be accurately reproduced on a computer display.
In 1842, the scientist and astronomer Sir John Herschel, seeking a means to reproduce notes and diagrams, would use a solution of Prussian blue on treated paper. This was called a cyanotype, although we are more familiar with the term blueprint. He shared his invention with friends, including the botanist Anna Atkins. One of his first experiments was a rather eerie copy of an engraving of a lady playing the harp, seen below.
Lady with a Harp, Sir John Herschel, 1842
Anna, born in 1799, was the daughter of another famous scientist, John George Children, a mineralogist, zoologist and chemist. Her mother, Hester Anna, died from complications after Anna was born. As Children’s only child, she was very well educated and grew into a an accomplished scientist herself. Her father used her engravings to illustrate his translation of Lamarck’s Genera of Shells, published in 1823. After her marriage to John Pelly Atkins in 1825, she devoted herself to collecting plant specimens.
When Herschel exhibited the cyanotype as a way to copy manmade items, Atkins was intrigued and saw potential to render the images of natural subjects. She began making contact printed images of algae by placing them on cyanotype paper and exposing them to light, creating the photogram or camera-less photo.
Dictyota dichotoma, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843) Anna Atkins
“The difficulty of making accurate drawings of objects as minute as many of the Algae and Confera, has induced me to avail myself of Sir John Herschel’s beautiful process of Cyanotype, to obtain impressions of the plants themselves.”
Cystoseira granulata, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843) Anna Atkins
In 1843 she published Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, the first book ever published containing photographs. She published a number of such books as well as non-photographic literary works, including her father’s memoirs, before she died at the age of seventy-two.
The most famous of vampires is Dracula. Why are we mesmerized by this character created more than a century ago?
We owe our acquaintance with Dracula, a figure who has laced himself through western culture and has been portrayed on film more than Sherlock Holmes, to the mind of Bram Stoker, who wove him from legend and his own imagination with daring skill. Stoker was known during his lifetime chiefly as the personal assistant to actor Henry Irving and the manager of Irving’s theatre, the Lyceum, in London. It is ironic that his name would eclipse that of Irving, only to be overshadowed by his greatest creation, the aristocratic vampire known as Count Dracula.
Origins of a Monster
Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Dracula
Stoker spent seven years researching vampires before writing Dracula, with particular attention to thestrigoi, or undead, of the Balkan peninsula. The strigoi were peasant men and women who came back from the dead to feast upon the blood of their own kin. Although he was excited by the animal ferocity of these creatures, who often transformed themselves into wolves or bats, these folktales were not completely satisfying to Stoker, who wanted to create a character to be played by his own employer, Henry Irving, a regal and noble presence who often played impressive villains onstage. Much to his delight, he ran across the history of a Wallachian prince of Transylvania, now a region of central Romania, renowned for his unspeakable cruelty and bloodlust. This prince was called Vlad Țepeș, the Impaler, after his habit of impaling his enemies on long wooden stakes, but not while he was within earshot. His title was Vlad Dracula, son of the Dragon, after his father who had been knighted into the Order of the Dragon and was thus sworn to keep Christianity safe from the invading Ottoman Turks. In fusing the strigoi with this infamous historical warrior, Stoker produced a menacing and enduring personality who contained both aristocratic and uncivilized elements.
A Shadow of Victorian Values
Christopher Lee as Dracula
Contrary to what we often see in movies, Stoker’s Dracula is not charming and seductive, nor does he seem susceptible to romance. He is a violent and methodical predator who is capable of taking what he requires by overwhelming and out-thinking his victims against their will. Although he cannot enter a home without being invited in, he has, over centuries, amassed techniques for tricking the inhabitants into doing just that. Thus he uses Lucy’s sleepwalking to trap her and his power over the insane Renfield to gain access to Seward’s asylum and his guests. With the exception of a quick glimpse on the street, neither Lucy nor Mina ever meet him in a normal social situation.
If he is not conventionally seductive, why are Dracula’s victims women and why do they end up under his power? Here lies a deep shadow. At the time Stoker wrote Dracula the push for women’s rights and universal suffrage was beginning, hence there are many references to the “new women”, usually spoken by Mina or Lucy in a pejorative fashion that belies considerable fascination. In addition, Sigmund Freud was promoting his ideas about sexuality and the subconscious. Victorian blood was beginning to boil. We see the men in Stoker’s novel trying to protect their women from the vampire while seeking to retain the proper distance and decorum between genders that was required by society. This strategy very nearly gets them all murdered and the ladies turned into immortal killing machines. It is ultimately Mina’s coordination and communication across the gender divide that provides hope for overcoming Dracula, not the overprotective schemes of Van Helsing and his crew, who consistently make quite a mess of things. These men are crippled by their own refusal to see women as complete beings and their idealization of the feminine. Unfortunately, it is usually the women who pay the price for their ignorance.
She is one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist – and that, let me tell you, is much in this age, so sceptical and selfish.
–Professor Van Helsing, speaking of Madam Mina, Chapter 14
The Victorian lady was presented with few options: she could retain an innocent, angelic personality and show childlike devotion to a husband whom she would regard worshipfully without lust, she could become a spinster on the edge of society who would always be dependent on male relatives and regarded with some suspicion, or she could become a lady of ill repute. Female sensuality was taboo and any woman who admitted to enjoying sex, even within the bonds of wedlock, was not considered wholesome or healthy, although mothers were revered. There is a sense in Dracula that, rather than see their women as sexual creatures, these men would see them dead and their bodies desecrated. Are they engaged in battle with a vampire, or are they victim to their own fears and imaginations?
The unfortunate Miss Lucy has three suitors. In her letters to Mina, she expresses dismay at having to choose between them, admitting to having the scandalous thought of marrying all of them. Later, in an attempt to keep her alive, she will receive blood transfusions from each of these suitors, as well as one from old man Van Helsing himself. Is it this underlying sensuality which condemns her, and if so, are the men guiltless in this regard? Perhaps Dracula is terrifying because he lies at the intersection of female sensuality with male aggression.
Dracula in the 21st Century
Dracula takes place in a culture where women are not permitted to make choices vital to their own survival and where they are stigmatized for their natural sexuality. Old habits die hard, because these issues are front page news these days, although women have many more options and a stronger voice than they did in the Victorian era. Maybe we can put a stake through the heart of misogyny some day in the future.
Dracula may seem like your grandfather’s vampire, but there is life in him yet. A foreign invader possessing skill, intelligence, and animal sensuality, he remains a persuasive argument against eternal youth at a time when our culture seems ready to embrace it as a path of little risk. Come to think of it, maybe the vampires of the 21st century are more frightening. Would anyone want to spend eternity as a sparkly teenager?