BBC BLOGS - The Reporters: Razia Iqbal

Archives for December 2008

A year in the arts

Razia Iqbal | 14:58 UK time, Wednesday, 31 December 2008

I thought you might like to see the review of the arts year that I put together for the BBC News Channel.

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So, what were your cultural highlights of 2008? Which cultural events passed you by?

Does the Nobel Prize overshadow its winner?

Razia Iqbal | 16:07 UK time, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

clezio_300.jpgIt's a mixed blessing, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

This year, the prize went to the French novelist, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio. Along with the international cachet and recognition, there is also a diploma, a medal and 10m kronor (£831,259) in prize money.

Monsieur Le Clezio received his award today from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. He has had to endure his accolade being somewhat overshadowed by the comments made by Horace Engdahl, the Swedish Academy's permanent secretary. The insult he unleashed was pretty spectacular. He said that American culture remains "too isolated" and "insular" to produce a new writer of Nobel rank.

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in Philip Roth's house when he heard that. Roth has been touted as a possible winner for many years - well, by journalists anyway.

And then there were the jokes pitting Scandinavian culture against American culture. You know the kind of thing: How could a culture which had produced the likes of Kierkegaard, Ibsen and Stringberg launch insults about scope to a country which has produced Henry James, Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison and Jhumpa Lahiri (to name a few off the top of my head). And now, this "insular" culture has produced a major critical work on Scandinavian Literature: Arnold Weinstein's just published Northern Arts: The Breakthrough of Scandinavian Literature and Art, from Ibsen to Bergen. It must be tempting for the publishers (Princeton University Press) to send a copy to Horace Engdahl!

Anyway, here's to Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio. Remember him?

Slumdog vies for Oscar nod

Razia Iqbal | 10:48 UK time, Tuesday, 9 December 2008

British director Danny Boyle, speaks with a verve and exuberance that echoes the feel-good factor of his latest film, Slumdog Millionaire.

The movie - which tells the story of a Mumbai teenager's attempt to win Who Wants To Be a Millionaire - has been getting rave reviews in the US, despite almost failing to get distribution there.

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The independent division of Warner Brothers, which was going to release the film, was closed down, and at one stage it looked as though the project would go straight to DVD.

When I asked Boyle if making the film had changed him, he recounted this moment, and said that in the past he may have looked to blame someone. But filming in Mumbai, he said, had changed his view of the world.

boyle226.jpgHe knew he could either fight or go with the flow; he chose the latter and said the city paid him back with great rewards. So he remained calm and things worked out. I was worried he was going to get all mystical on me. Clearly the city and the film made a huge impact on him, and it continues to do so.

Talk in the US and here suggests that the film is a shoe-in for the Oscars. Boyle was sweetly self- deprecating about his chances: "I think we might be in the room, but we'll be waving from the back."

I have always thought that the film award season - which has already begun in earnest - was frothy nonsense, feeding into our obsession with celebrity culture, with the actual art of film taking a back seat.

However, if awards result in more people seeing this film, then roll out the red carpet.

Has the Turner found its limits?

Razia Iqbal | 13:03 UK time, Monday, 1 December 2008

The Turner prize has acquired a reputation for controversy and grabbing the headlines. From Damien Hirst's shark, to Chris Ofili's use of elephant dung and Tracey Emin's unmade bed, it has been a tabloid editor's dream target for more than a decade.

And for Tate, shooting down contemporary art was part of the game: it got great publicity and people went to see the exhibition. This year, Tate at least is holding onto the same line, that its comment room shows that thousands of people are engaging with the Turner and contemporary art generally.

However, this year's shortlist is short on energy and long on theory, which makes it one the tabloids at least, can happily ignore. The Turner Prize has played an important role in our cultural life: bringing artists to public attention, who would otherwise just be beavering away in their studios, is a sign of critical engagement.

This year's shortlist includes three women: Runa Islam from Bangladesh; Goshka Macuga from Poland and Cathy Wilkes from Scotland, and the sole male: Mark Leckey. There are several video installations and some works, which you may be tempted to walk past without feeling you've seen any at all.

I thought that about some of Goshka Macuga's installation - two of the pieces resembled a place I could have left my bike. The installation is looking at the relationships between two twentieth century modernist couples: British surrealists Paul Nash and Eileen Agar, and German architect Mies van der Rohe and designer Lily Reich. If artists were acting as curators, this would be interesting, but art that does not speak for itself, that needs to be explained is difficult for those who are interested in art, but don't have an MA from Goldsmiths.

So, is the prize dead in the water, or just keeping its head afloat for another year? This year, whoever wins, perhaps there should be an acknowledgement that there is a problem with the unwritten rule that an artist should not appear on the shortlist more than twice.

In any generation, there are surely only a handful of brilliant artists and most of them have won it already and those who haven't, have been shortlisted twice or fall outside the under fifty years of age requirement. Is there a limit to cutting edge, and have we reached it?

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