Saturday, 24 June 2017

Showcasing Notes From a Funeral

Notes From a Funeral is a book-in-progress. I'm not sure exactly how it will work out, but it consists primarily of snatches of dreams, snippets of overheard conversations, stolen chats from emails and the internet, and a few brief musings and observation of my own. The title came to me as it seems remarkable to me how many of our conversations seem to naturally have this dark undercurrent, an interstitial subtext about death. It's all very raw and as-it-occurs, so not sure if it will wind up being in this format or be reworked somehow. Anyway, I'm adding a photograph to illustrate the first paragraph of the midstream extract below...


The water moved about, among and between us
Like a cool lick of autumn between our chilled thighs
Your teeth chattered yut-yut-yut-yut
And I mimicked your shiver, our skin goosefleshed 
As you threw your arms around my neck
Your lips purple in the night air, your eyes luminescent like Kali’s
Your black coiled hair like barely-constrained baby snakes
Your bikini midnight blue, but paler, moonlike, underwater
We were breaking the rules: no brown girls in this pool
But our nighttime love breathed and slipped all bonds
Now tonight, I walk the cool slate of my flat, barefoot
A quarter of a century later
Worrying like a forlorn, half-mad desert spirit
Why you never inscribed a book to me.


So this was when I was working in Nigeria. This colleague of mine was telling me about juju and I didn’t believe him so he arranged that I attend this ceremony. He said, ‘There will be a part of the ceremony you can watch and a part that as a white man you can’t be allowed to witness.” I said “OK,” so we went this one night and he introduced me to this ancient woman, I think she was about a hundred, and she was so old she was just one big wrinkle. She didn’t speak any English but she talked to me then drank this kind of liquid, I’m not sure what it was. Then she began to do this dance and at some stage, I shit you not, right before my eyes, she changed into a goat. Now, I am an atheist and I can’t say I believe in this one way or another, but I saw what I saw.


“Can I speak to Salim please?” the lawyer says into his cellphone as Centurion blurs by the Gautrain’s windows. “OK, what are the other lawyers’ names? It must be Hanif then; is he in? OK, then please tell him to contact me regarding the Loren Louw case… El-oh-ahr-ee-en, El-oh-yew-doubleyew. We’re taking his farm from him as he owes us a lot of money.” The lawyer is dressed in dark blue jeans, a checked shirt, brand new rubber-soled brown leather boots. He has been on a continuous stream of calls, mostly in Afrikaans, asking people on the other end of the line whether they are in Croatia or not, and about other matters. This one about the farmer’s dispossession, presumably on behalf of a bank or other creditors, relayed in English, piques my interest. In sitting down, he has allowed his beige coat to fall open, revealing the black handle of a chrome-plated pistol tucked into his waistband. It goes without saying that passengers are not allowed to carry firearms on the train. Reminds me of the Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd, a protest song about an interwar Oklahoma bank-robber with a reputation as a bit of a Robin Hood for redistributing stolen cash to the poor: “As through this world you travel / you'll meet all kinds of men / Some will rob you with a six-gun / some with a fountain pen / And as through your life you travel / as through your life you roam / you won't ever see an outlaw / drive a family from their home.”


Pirate Bill 2 years ago (edited)
Well, it was February 1971 and I was one of the last draftees. I decide to go see the Capitol in Washington, DC before reporting to basic at Fort Knox. I stuck my thumb out in Toledo and before long I was somewhere in Pennsylvania where I ran into this kid who was thumbing around, too. I guess he was about 16 and I was just 18 but you know I was old enough to tote so that made me the elder expert in matters of life and love and all other "etceteras". I don't know the kids name. I suppose I did for a while but, now, all I remember is that he was running away from home because he said his dad was in the CIA and was an intolerable nutcase. We determined that we might find a place to sleep at the University of Pittsburgh and headed there, directly, to try and find a place to crash. From the student union some straight types directed us to a crash pad and on the way this guy with long hair and a beard, driving in an old green station wagon, picks us up and takes us to the address which turns out to be a vacant lot. So the guy with the long hair and the family wagon says, “Hell, you can crash at my pad," which we agreed was a good idea. Turns out the hippie guy (whose name has also long been forgotten) was an artist and had a lot of very cool things in his house, among which was his own grave-marker, fully memorializing his life in everlasting stone, sitting right there in the living room in front of the fireplace. Being a hospitable sort of guy, the hippie fella brings out a grocery bag full of pot and we all proceeded to get stoned and for the very first time I listened to “The Dance of Death and other Plantation Favorites” by John Fahey. I have been a fan ever since.

Billl Ruxton 1 year ago
Don't fall into the trap of overly analyzing His playing, because you'll just get existentially frustrated. LISTEN and enjoy what His genius has given us. Yes, you semi-intermediate fingerpickers can sort-of approximate what he's doing, but you'll never do it as clean as John, because GOD touched Him and only Him in Takoma Park Maryland, right at the edge of the tectonic plate between the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain, where the universe bends dimensions, and Man can only kneel and let one's fingers try to fret the Quantum fingerboard of several dimensions at one time.

Patrick McCluskey 10 months ago
Whoever posted below that John is fine and well living outside Salem, you are a liar. I knew John the last 8 years of his life and played in a band with his manager at the time (Terry Robb) and had many, many interactions with him during that time including jamming with him a few times. He was a beautiful guy with a troubled past. I was given his Martin D1976 (very rare bicentennial guitar from Martin) for YEARS. In fact, I probably wouldn't have had to give it back to him had I not reminded Terry (multiple times) that he gave it to me for safekeeping. I have lots of memorabilia, though. He was an amazing and interesting guy, but he did have his demons. He died living in a fairly dire house, middle of a cold winter with no heat (in Eugene, Oregon) with a half dozen other indigent people (who din't die from exposure), suffering from an obvious emotional problem, after he'd been robbed of everything he had from his ex-wife, Susan. That's what I saw, first hand.


The bicoloured stray dog dances sideways on the beach, its paws a delicate counterpoint timpani to the febrile scuttling of the tiny crab it faces. The moment is pretty, tricky, as the dog matches the crab’s transverse scramble wits its own Lipizzaner gait, catches it in its mouth and bites… death nests coiled in the petals of beauty.


My grandma was the best man I’ve ever met – and I’ll explain what I mean by that. She used to be a regular housewife and just do the cooking and cleaning. She lived on a farm outside of Glasgow and her husband never came back from the war. So within five months she had learned how to raise the entire engine out of the Land Rover, strip it down and how to clean the valves by hand and so forth.



Showcasing Isandlwana - a Love Story

Isandlwana - a Love Story is a multimedia project of mine that includes a written meditation on love and loss, interspersed with paintings (all mine) or photographs (mostly mine) that I have manipulated, plus songs I have written. The blurb for the project reads: 

Michael Schmidt is an awful poet, so this work is a non-poetic stream-of-consciousness journey into his personal experiences of love, hate, loss, and redemption, interspersed with songs he has penned and images he has either painted, photographed or manipulated. It is a forensic meditation into what in Xhosa is called inxeba lenlitziyo, the wound of the heart. He is no Stendhal, no Miller, and no Nin; in fact he’s not sure what he is, being robbed of union at the very moment of illumination. Here, past loves and lusts are blurred together into a singular longing, yet also disentangled for their unique flavours and scents. Here, in a grand circuit from Lisbon to Lyon, Seville to Shobashobane, Faro to Fuentes Georginas, Berlin to Bloemfontein, and Paris to Port Elizabeth, pain and death rotate in satellite of the ephemeral and treacherously delicate uncertainties of sex and love. Here too, faith and apostasy, truth and travesty collide in the integral joy/saudade of the human condition, and his lens zooms from intimate recognition to the obfuscation of incomprehending distance. 

Below is the introduction to the work - kindly edited by former ANC exile Richard Jurgens - in which I have included three versions of an image: my original photograph, my 1999 painting of the photograph, and my 2016 photo-manipulation of the painting. The final product will only include the last image though...


Write what you know, they say, so I’ll write about the dead-veined leaves of days blown into the furnace. Yet how some sparks emerge, unconsumed, undying pinpricks in the Leviathan night. How does one rewind the autumnal DNA to the time when sap surged, not without fear but without respite? The conflagration is passed, after all – and bell-jar butterflies soon asphyxiate, shudder and fall, sighing like Edwardian silk settling in a coffin. I guess the only way is to spiral up with the sparks, those few whose iridescent, irreducible cores are crowned with titanium, and which glower like the eyes of Bengal tigers in the forests of malarial dreams, dead stars burning.



Elvis’ stillborn brother
in his cardboard box he sings
of their souls’ might
two hundred sev’ty nights
when they both were kings

Elvis’ darkling brother
in his old shoebox he croons
of the gods they’d be
his brother and he
before they broke the strings

Never wanted to be famous
never wanted to be born
only wanted to be linked
undivided in dark embrace

Elvis’ changeling brother
with his third eye he spies
a Dravidian maid
his heartstrings she plays
until he all but cries

Never wanted segregation
never wanted to be scorned
only wanted to be twinned
whisp’ring like hummingbirds

Elvis’ monstrous brother
in the lonesome night he howls
for his sweet monster-girl
like a Bedouin bereft
pain shrouded in a cowl

Never wanted to be ground
winnowing of his seed
only wanted to be binary
their harmonics on the wind

Elvis’ lovelorn brother
head a nest of wasps he sings
of their souls’ might
two hundred sev’ty nights
when they both were kings


Friday, 2 June 2017

Radovan Karadžić’s Eyes

Picture courtesy Weights & Measures. All other photographs (c) Michael Schmidt

Radovan Karadžić’s eyes are penetrating as they stare out of the canvas, his overlarge pupils swallowing the light, defying the viewer, challenging our humanity. But in a negative of the image, painted by artist Bradley McCallum, the pupils of the man convicted of the Srebrenica Genocide are a vacant bone white.
McCallum documented the International Criminal Court (ICC), and he is in South Africa with his exhibition of paintings of those accused by the court. It is timely given the recent reversal of two African countries’ positions on their relationship to the controversial court: in February, The Gambia reversed its decision to withdraw from the ICC, while South Africa’s High Court declared our notice of withdrawal to be unconstitutional.  
The notices of withdrawal issued in October by Burundi, then South Africa, then The Gambia – with Kenya, Uganda, Namibia, and now Zambia threatening to follow suit – sparked fears that the primary international instrument of holding perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and gross human rights violations to account was unraveling on the very continent that, convinced by President Nelson Mandela, had driven its creation in 1998.
On 7 April, South Africa battled to explain to the ICC in The Hague its refusal to arrest Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir in 2015 for genocide – and now faces possible censure by the UN Security Council for failing to uphold international human rights law. The Institute for Security Studies’ Allan Ngari wrote that the “ICC now has an opportunity to pronounce itself with finality” on the immunity enjoyed by heads of state.
In exploring the balance between humanity and inhumanity in photorealist colour-and-negative diptych in his Weights & Measures exhibition, McCallum has expanded beyond the ICC trials to look at similar processes such as the international criminal tribunals on ex-Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Sierra Leone.
He has painted former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who in 2013 was the first African head of state convicted of war crimes, committed during Sierra Leone’s civil war, as well as portraits of accused found not guilty, supplemented by photographs of prosecutors, judges, and anti-impunity campaigners – plus an evolving suite of sound recordings of victims’ testimony.
At a teaser launch of the exhibition at the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Center, McCallum screened a special message from Ben Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremburg prosecutor of the SS Einsatzgruppen death-squads.
“Weights & Measures has recognised the value of portraits to teach people a lesson,” Ferencz said. “You ask yourself, ‘was this person a mass-murderer?’ You will come to the conclusion that I have, that war makes murderers out of otherwise innocent and decent people.”
The ICC has come in for criticism by legal professionals such as Professor Alexander Mezyaev of Russia, a former defence counsel before the ex-Yugoslavia Criminal Tribunal, who has argued that the ICC acts “as a ‘legal’ tool for regime change, giving legitimacy to the removal of disobedient heads of state,” and aims at creating “a new body of international law which will reflect only the interests of the Western powers.”
A similar sentiment motivated the Zuma government to exit the ICC – yet McCallum stressed at the launch that the charges brought against African leaders before the ICC “were brought by African victims.” McCallum said his work was about more than guilt or innocence, but was rather intended “to open windows to discussions you otherwise might not have” about restorative justice and the fight against impunity.
After viewing the exhibition, Zimbabwean Arnold Tsunga, Africa director of the International Commission of Jurists, condemned the “African phenomenon” of the abuse of positions of sovereign power and even of the democratic process and its institutions to secure impunity for crimes against the people. He cited the cases of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto who he said had abused their posts by playing victim and interfering with the ICC investigation into crimes against humanity charges they faced for the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
In response, one of South Africa’s leading transitional justice experts, Yasmin Sooka, said that opposition to the ICC stemmed from the fact that it was the only court in the world that did not afford incumbent heads of state immunity from prosecution, but she asked pointedly: “Do we identify only with African leaders – or do we support their victims?”

Former Ansar Dine militiaman Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, sentenced by the ICC to 9 years for the war crime of destroying cultural heritage in Timbuktu.

Former DRC Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, sentenced by the ICC to 19 years for war crimes and crimes against humanity and fined 300,000 Euro for witness tampering.

 Photographic portraits of judges at the ICC in The Hague.

Nuon Chea, former Khmer Rouge Brother No.2, found guilty of crimes against humanity by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and still standing trial for genocide.

 Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladić, left, and other accused in various tribunals, at the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre.

Radovan Karadžić, jailed for 40 years by the ICC for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.