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Food and Shelter/Gender and Sexuality; Artist Spotlight Ehren Tool and Lukas Avendaño.

Assignment Goals:

Food for Thought:

This week we examined the theme of Food and Shelter and Gender and Sexuality and how they relates to art. As we learned in Chapter 5 & 6, the topic of survival and procreation have been explored in art since the beginning and some artworks related to this topic were made for functional and aesthetic reasons. In chapter 4 we also learned that deriving meaning from art relies on contextualizing ant artist’s work through formal analysis. Context literally means “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.” What that basically means is that, in order to understand something fully, “you need to see the whole picture.”

We saw several examples of ceramic ware in this last section. In Chapter 5 we learned about Tea Bowl, Japan, seventeenth century (Image 5.21) and in Chapter 6 we saw the an example of a stirrup vessel, by the Moche culture (Image 6.16).

Japanese Tea bowl used in a cultural ceremony.

There are cultural connections related to the ceremony that surround the consumption of tea in Japan. The use of Japanese tea developed as a “transformative practice” and began to evolve its own aesthetic, in particular that of wabi-sabi principles. “Wabi” represents the inner, or spiritual, experiences of human lives. Its original meaning indicated quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste “characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry” and “emphasizes simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and celebrates the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials.” (Chado , the Way of Tea (Links to an external site.)“Sabi”, on the other hand, represents the outer, or material side of life. Originally, it meant “worn”, “weathered”, or “decayed”. Particularly among the nobility, understanding emptiness was considered the most effective means to spiritual awakening, while embracing imperfection was honored as a reminder to cherish one’s unpolished and unfinished nature – considered to be the first step to “satori”, or enlightenment. (Living Wabi Sabi: The True Beauty of Your Life; pg. 19-21)

Moche Stirrup Vessel depicting two lover engaged in sexual intercourse

This stirrup-shaped bottle was created by the Moche (pronounced moh’-chay) people who lived in South America on the north coast of Peru along the Moche River between 1000 and 1250 CE. They were a culture that spoke a language called Mochica (pronounced mo-chee’-kah). They made terra-cotta pottery vessels in interesting shapes, such as this stirrup bottle. This particular shape was also practical. Most of the land where the Moche lived was dry desert, and the shape of this vessel slowed the evaporation of the liquid inside the bottle. A bottle could be carried, usually over the shoulder, by a strap threaded through the opening beneath the stirrup. (Stirrup Vessel, VMFA (Links to an external site.))

Group Discussion Part 1 Food and Shelter:

For this week’s group discussion project I would like to introduce you to the work of al living ceramic artist Erhen Tool. Tool is a military veteran that makes ceramic drinking vessels. Please watch the following video from Craft in American about his work. (12:35 minute viewing time)

Ehren Tool says, “It’s just a cup, it’s just a little thing; it’s not confrontational.” And yet clearly they are much more than that; his work had meaning and power. He also refers to what he does as a “vocation” or main occupation, especially regarded as particularly worthy and requiring great dedication. This means that he takes what he does seriously and that he sees himself as the creator of something that serves a functional purpose.

All these examples (Erhen Tool’s ceramics, the Japanese tea cup, and the Peruvian stirrup vessel), serve a practical function. They hold our tasty beverages which provide our bodies nourishment, but they also have specific cultural connections to the individuals and people that made them. We may not know exactly who made the artifacts from the textbook but we have enough context to derive meaning from these works of art.

Group Discussion Part 2 Gender and Sexuality:

Lukas Avendaño

Lukas Avendaño takes us to Oaxaca and discusses the what it is to be muxe: “a person assigned male at birth but culturally behaves within roles that are distinct from what is masculine”. Muxiety has precolonial history. Avendaño is also a military veteran, like Erhen Tool, but his work explores topics related to Chapter 6: Gender and Sexuality.

Lukas Avendaño: Reflections from Muxeidad

By Rita Palacios (Links to an external site.)

© Mario Patiño

Lukas Avendaño (1977) is a muxe artist and anthropologist from the Tehuantepec isthmus in Oaxaca. In his work, he explores notions of sexual, gender, and ethnic identity through muxeidad. Avendaño describes muxeidad as “un hecho social total”, a total social fact, performed by people born as men who fulfill roles that are not typically considered masculine. Though it would be easy to make an equivalency between gay and muxe, or transgender and muxe, it can best be described as a third gender specific to Be’ena’ Za’a (Zapotec) culture. Muxes are a community of Indigenous people who are assigned male at birth and take on traditional women’s roles presenting not as women but as muxes. Avendaño’s work is a reflection on muxeidad, sexuality, eroticism, and the tensions that exist around it. Though muxeidad is understood and generally accepted as part of Be’ena’ Za’a society, it exists within a structure that privileges fixed roles for men and women, respectively. It is important to note that his work provides a reflection on muxeidad from within rather than without, that is, he critically explores what it means to be muxe as muxe himself, providing an alternative to academic analyses that can exoticize.

 (apologies: the video does not have translations, please enjoy in Spanish)

In Réquiem para un alcaraván, Avendaño reflects on traditional women’s roles, particularly in rites and ceremonies of the Tehuantepec region (a wedding, mourning, a funeral), many of which are denied to muxes. For the wedding ceremony, the artist prepares the stage by decorating for the occasion, and then blindfolded, selects a member of the audience who presents as male to marry him. Such a union would not be well regarded in traditional Be’ena’ Za’a society, even though same-sex marriage was recently legalized in Oaxaca, an initiative spearheaded by a muxe scholar and activist, Amaranta Gómez Regalado, in August 2019.

© Mario Patiño

On May 10, 2018 in Tehuantepec, his younger brother, Bruno Avendaño, disappeared during a brief vacation from his duties in the navy. He hasn’t been found since and the artist has used his platform as an international artist to bring attention to the issue of the disappeared in Mexico. Other artists and activists join him as he travels around the world to show his work and create spaces where he can ask for answers at Mexican consulates and embassies for his brother as well as the 60,000+ individuals that have disappeared in Mexico in the last decade and a half.

Article by Rita Palacios

Post Guidelines:

Your analysis of the work of art should be evaluated in an essay format. You must show your reasoning for all designations:

Written Analysis – Essay Format (Address the following questions that relate the topic below):

Making connections: It is clear that all the examples of the art above are deal with the chapter(s) content, but each of these artists touches subjects that cut deeper than just the aesthetic and functional qualities of art. Ask yourself if the art you learned about resonated with you and consider the following:

  • How did you react to all of these artworks? Do you have any personal connections, based on your lived experience, to these kinds of artworks? If so, provide a specific example.
  • How can the meaning behind each of these examples artworks above serve as the spark to address larger issues that affect our lives? How is the making of art like this a two-way conversation between the maker and the user? Provide specific examples.
  • Ehren Tool is an artist that is personally invested in the work that he produces; his concerns are functional and social. How do you feel about his work? What is your reaction to it?
  • How do you think, as Tool has stated, that “American military culture has been translated into civilian culture?” Provide specific examples.
  • Avendaño describes muxeidad as “un hecho social total”, a total social fact, performed by people born as men who fulfill roles that are not typically considered masculine. How did learning about Avendaño’s work challenge you? Did it affect your notions regarding gender? Be specific and personal in your answers.
  • Avendaño’s work deals with those 60,000+ individuals that have disappeared in Mexico in the last decade and a half. How do you feel about his mission to address all those individuals that have gone missing?

Embedded Images:

Do not upload a document file, .pdf, .jpg and so on. Embed to images into the body of your prompt widow.

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