16: tenzin lama, china's camel milk mogul, nihilist perfumes, shamate, queer gun hobbyists
January, and time to begin packing up everything I’ve accumulated here. My flight goes over London, which makes me worried it will get cancelled, but the thought being stranded here when my visa expires at the end of the month, is far worse to contemplate. My plants are small trees now. My mother has replaced me with a ginger stray known only as the cat or occasionally, kazhutha, the Malayalam word for ‘donkey’. When I leave Dubai later this year I think I would like to get a fish. It seems quite the thing to do in a new country.
A big thanks to everyone who has signed up at a paid level. We’re nearly at the point where I’ll be able to pay diarists, which is important to me. Maybe in the post-BXD future I will have an extra edition/similar that goes out to paid subscribers, but I would love to keep it accessible for everyone, as much as I can.
This week’s diary comes from curator and arts worker Tenzin Doma Lama. The illustrations come from Icones of Japanese Algae.
The Lab-Leak Hypothesis. Where year two of the pandemic will take us. A hospital employee was arrested for intentionally spoiling more than 500 doses of the COVID vaccine. Poetry of praise in the time of the pandemic. Can habit tracking apps help bring some routine back to our quarantine lives? Saved by the rave: British youth are reclaiming public land to party, even in a pandemic. What would the pandemic have been like in 2005? A far-right terrorism suspect with a refugee disguise: the tale of Franco A. Rebel Cops. The Cruise Ship Suicides.
glouglou and snackchat
What the hole is going on? China’s camel milk mogul. Exceptionally well-preserved snack bar unearthed in Pompeii. How Indian curry became Japan’s favourite dish. The extraordinary power of soup joumou. How KFC made Colonel Sanders sexy. These coded wineglasses were used for treasonous toasts. Yvonne Maxwell “cooks” Yemisí Aríbisálà. The hyper-regional chippy traditions of Britain and N. Ireland. Plum dumplings to go the distance. To make Japan’s original sushi, first age fish for several months. Food banks have had a record year. Here’s what it’s like to run one. The joylessness of cooking. Why an Alaskan hospital added reindeer pot pie and seal soup to the menu. The customer is not always right. In praise of Nabi Bux, the finest khansama in 1950s Sindh. Salt, fat, acid, defeat. The custard factory.
Rise and fall. Get Real! The death of the lanyard. It’s 2021. But should you dress like it’s 2011?More men reach for sewing machines. Mistranslation and diaspora: the brilliance of fashion collective CFGNY. Presenting a bag you can’t even use. Fashion and the fleshy body. Touchy feely with Chopowa Lowena. The death of the department store and the American middle class.Throw out your bra, already. Behind a $13 shirt, a $6 an hour worker. Fashion for the 67 percent. Nice work if you can get it. The year in garments.
What does history smell like? Why do most languages have so few words for smells? The smell of dawn. The new trend in luxury perfumes? Smelling normal. The ugly history of beautiful things: perfume. Eau d’isolation. The scent of a novel. Can you judge a book by its odour? Darling, how about a spritz of something divine? Vetiver’s ‘super blades of green’ are rooted in India. What 2020 taught us about smell. What’s that smell you’re reading? The white sage black market. Asafoetida’s lingering legacy goes beyond aroma. Covid has caused millions of people to lose their sense of smell—one writer’s journey into the scentless life and back again. The fantasy art of celebrity perfumes.Losing smell. Smell, memory.
☞\( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)☞ yeehaw
Stock Art for the Masses. Meet the Launda dancers. What it’s like to earn a Master’s degree in the basement of an Amsterdam nightclub. Inside America’s LGBTQ+ Gun Hobby. Influencers feuding after both naming their babies ‘Baby.’How SoulCycle lost its soul. ClickHole started as a meat joke. Can it avoid being offal? Inside India’s booming dark data economy. Shunned, Shattered, Shamate: a new film spotlights China’s most hated subculture. A Scandinavian nabob of the British empire: the discovery of a new colonial archive. One woman’s high-touch bid to upend the sex toy industry. How my pet snake taught me to really see. Welcoming the new year at an ancient festival in Pakistan. The secret formula.
culture diary: tenzin doma lama
This is the tenth month since I left my job at a gallery. I have been freelancing, working with a South African artist, an Iranian artist and a private consignor, and also working at a restaurant, Phayul. Writing gives me anxiety. It is the main reason I chose to study visual anthropology in college where I realized my conception of ideas and my understanding of the world are highly based on my visual experiences. Quarantine has been more of an introspective journey and a quiet time with myself in my tiny apt, where I live with two other students.
I mustered up the courage to ask the delivery men who hang out on our street if I could write about them in the future. It’s been my ritual to go out on the street for smoke breaks and fraternize with the delivery folks, and make recordings of canners passing by. This connection is what kept me going for the past however many months, reminding me of old Kathmandu where the tol or maholla life i.e. neighborhood life was part of our everyday. Their insights allowed me to understand the convergence between the overabundance of capitalism that is so pervasive in Manhattan and the desperation that this economic system creates, which goes unnoticed for so many people.
I have been making an attempt to draw out these narratives and depict landscapes where the voices of the people of my neighborhood reside, while trying to resist the urge to romanticize what I am encountering. While writing during the pandemic, I realized most of my understanding of their struggle was catalyzed by my own long episodes of reliving the historical fractures that have been etched in my mind and body.
(Next three images Joe Cyriac)
“The world is on your palm, why are you stuck with papers and text” is what my mother told me when I flew back to Nepal with two suitcases just filled with my books and a carry-on in 2014. Recalling this line leads me to reflect on my printernet mode time and again, as I am drawn to write on my iPhone notes instead of my moleskin or legal pad.
Today, I spoke with Joe Cyriac, a photographer based in India. I reviewed the very little knowledge I have on writing on photography before rambling my questions to him via Instagram around midnight, after having eaten little but a couple smoothies over the course of the day
He discussed his current project titled abyss. “It is a work in progress—an online exhibition will happen as a part of the Egaro Photo Festival—the result of spending hours in front of the screen during the pandemic. Our lives have become increasingly mediated through images, and abyss is a meditation on that, a road trip across the hinterlands and frontiers of a digital India … It is about the internet (its vulnerabilities in the form of surveillance and censorship in particular). How the entire art world has shifted online, and the increased accessibility because of this (you can now attend Photo KTM while sitting in New York). The dangers of this increased dependence is present in my work.”
Nepal is going through an interesting time politically; I hear rumors of privileged monarchists in Nepal hitting the streets to attempt to reinstate the previously overthrown political system. All of this takes place while the farmers in Haryana are grieving for the death of a 65-year-old priest, Baba Ram Singh, as a testament “to express anger and pain against the government’s injustice” (quoted directly from his suicide letter).
Looking at the weather forecast, I decided to fill my pantry. We are due for a blizzard soon, and there are warnings on the news that people should gather enough food for a week, just in case. I have been thinking about the artist Bahar Behbahani, and rummaged through my diary and the recording of the short interview conducted during the first wave. When asked her how she is coping with the pandemic she said, “me and my mother have been practicing the walking ritual, while working from home.” I have heard that even my healthiest friends in the arts and public health have started thinking in loops caught in their humble abodes. Bahar’s equipoise and calmness gave me a hope that we can get through this time.
The blizzard kept Phayul closed, and my body is still recovering from my 12 hour shifts from last week. I lazed around in my bodysuit and contemplated a few things I wanted to jot down for my job applications in the art world. Wrote a few emails to alumna and professors asking for guidance on what jargon I should include in my cover letter, whether to play it safe or be radical. I have heard spokespeople from various bends of the art world finally speaking about repatriation, decolonization and income redistribution after toiling away for more than a decade under the same hegemonic institutions and entities. Looking at this phenomenon of power tripping and capitalizing on your struggle narrative, I remain suspicious. My wanting to be an art educator or an art admin came out of a desire to support artists yet I mull over how to perform and maneuver through this maze that commodification of the arts has created today.
Breaking out of the cocoon of commercial gallerist mode and reaching out to spaces that are embracing radical ideas in curation and art education keeps me afloat for the time being.
Today I couldn’t focus on the so-called rat race and I had to be present for a loved one who was going through a difficult time during COVID. Coming from a traditional realm and assimilating into an ultra modern context broke my dear one into pieces. The feeling of having two feet in two different boats, succeeding as an artist and understanding the nuances of technology from the core, fulfilling the demands of a religious body, and seeking liberation through modern education is somewhere I have been too. This complex is what defines us, and many other lives that stretch from villages to cities and now into diasporas.
In the Buddhist context one either becomes a “shebkyu” or a “subordinate” to the source of the knowledge to enhance their abilities. The only opportunity I had to gain the suffering person’s attention was by giving a reality check, saying “your benefactor being part of some religious body doesn’t mean you need to submit to that religious body, you are here to complete your education, maybe read something that activates you rather than what pacifies you.” Here, I was preaching on self care and how selflessness is a luxury for one privileged only. The humanitarian dream to help people who are suffering is only possible when one can stand on their own feet first.
Not killing my time on Mubi this Saturday, finishing my readings and researching for my visa sponsors is what I ought to do today.
Revisiting my notes after the weekend chores and errands. I spent some time reflecting on what books I want to purchase this Xmas and dived back into where I had left with Griselda Pollock’s essays. I have known one of my employers, an artist, for the past 12 years and I have resisted making interpretations of her work all these years, wanting to hear her story when she is willing. Here I am reading a scholar appointed by the gallery who reveals and conceals the artist’s intentions, whether it is to utilize her archived ephemera, or to demystify the brutality that her elders have suffered in dignity in a nutshell. I must say I was both relieved and at the same time to in severe despair be handed this book when I received it few months ago.
“Sunday or Monday we eat egg everyday” rhymes in Hindi very well. I ate two boiled eggs and ran for my 12 hour shift.
The service industry has humbled me, and I have learnt that Jackson Heights is the mecca for us South Asians here. Working there gave me solace, more than when I got my liberal arts degree. The days I am exhausted mentally or physically I treat myself by revisiting my children's book project. Today I learnt about how spirits are represented in many other cultures and speculated where the idea of implanting fear or envisioning these uncanny encounters comes from.
featured creature: sea pen
Looking up images of sea pens, you might think that they would be pen, or rather quill sized. But they can get terrifyingly large: