ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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I, too, was fed national geographic images as a child. . . . those

magazines hurt entire cultures by representing them . . . by the

images  of starving children. . . . (I was a child myself).

I am tired, myself, of the way Africa . . . is represented.



Book by Spring Ulmer

The Age of Virtual Reproduction

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Tourism of Death

By Spring Ulmer


I've thought of it, of course. At fifteen I spent time in Germany, in concentration camps as a visitor, a tourist. I think of the plantation estates where one can go pay eighty dollars to stay in slave quarters, of prisons in eastern Europe that are now "sparse" hotels, offering the visitor the feeling of what it might be likehahato be in a gulag. I think of s/m, of the photos of Abu Ghraib and what they mean, as public (and some of them still secret) documents.

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For twenty-seven years we Futurists have rebelled against the branding of war as anti-aesthetic . . . Accordingly we state:  . . . War is beautiful because it establishes man’s dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flame throwers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metalization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony.

War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of the big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages, and many others. . . . Poets and artists of Futurism! . . . remember these principles of an aesthetics of war so that your struggle for a new literature and a new graphic art . . . may be illumined by them!Marinetti's Manifesto

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US plans shock and awe" blitzkrieg in Iraq—By Henry Michaels—30 January 2003—The war being prepared by the White House and Pentagon on the people of Iraq will be characterized by barbarism on a scale not seen since the horrors of the 1930s and 1940s. The level of brutality will recall scenes seared into the collective consciousness of previous generations, such as the bombing of Guernica and the Nazi blitzkrieg against Poland. . . .

CBS news reported last weekend that the invasion will begin with war planes and ships launching between 300 and 400 cruise missiles on day one. This is more than the number of missiles launched during the whole of “Desert Storm” in 1991.

Another 300 to 400 missiles will follow on the second day.At an average rate of one weapon every four minutes around the clock, missiles will relentlessly rain down on Baghdad and knock out water supplies, electricity services, communications, government buildings, roads, bridges and other essential infrastructure.—WSWS

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Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—By executive order of President Harry S. Truman, the U.S. dropped the nuclear weapon "Little Boy" on the city of Hiroshima on Monday, August 6, 1945, followed by the detonation of "Fat Man" over Nagasaki on August 9. These two events are the only active deployments of nuclear weapons in war. The target of Hiroshima was a city of considerable military importance, containing Japan's Second Army Headquarters, as well as being a communications center and storage depot.

Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki, with roughly half of the deaths in each city occurring on the first day. The Hiroshima prefectural health department estimates that, of the people who died on the day of the explosion, 60% died from flash or flame burns, 30% from falling debris and 10% from other causes. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness. In a US estimate of the total immediate and short term cause of death, 15–20% died from radiation sickness, 20–30% from flash burns, and 50–60% from other injuries, compounded by illness.

In both cities, most of the dead were civilians.—Wikipedia

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I think of Hiroshima's museum. what we visit and whyas tourists, as searchers, as pilgrimsis important to contemplate, and of course there is always commerce and what it means to drop dollars in place of misfortune. I lived for a year at seventeen in India. came back torn. couldn't travel to the two-thirds world again until I was 32 and heartbroken, searching for Capoiera corners in Brazil. I think of what it means to go in search of death, and what it means to go on vacation when most of the world is paying for you to do so. there is much guilt and there is much remorse.

Perhaps the only thing that keeps me going in life, when knowing, as I write that writing is (Benjamin insists) barbarism if anyone else is unable to choose to do so, too . . .  that there have been those before me who have traveled and done good. who have made such films as Sankofa, Daughters of the Dust, Hiroshima Mon Amour . . . and written such books as Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others, Berger's Into Their Labors trilogy, Oe's Hiroshima Notes . . . .

It is the work and travel of these men and women who have brought suffering to my attention. They are not survivors, but they are "witnesses," even as that term is problematic, that role is problematic . . .  they have taught me what it means to be human, what it means not to give up and die from depressed caused by guilt . . . these omnipresent sufferings and how to stand those histories we are haunted by; what to do about the spiritual need to search out such spots in which atrocity occurred, what to learn.

How to be respectful; how never to travel without integrity, care for the environment and people around you; how to be a decent person.

It is a large narrative, no?

I, too, was fed national geographic images as a child. I am haunted still, even though those magazines hurt entire cultures by representing them in pejorative light, by the images of starving children; asking my mother why those children's bellies were sticking out (I was a child myself). I am tired, myself, of the way Africaif you go to a literature shelf in any bookstoreis represented. how the West represents anyone but western white people . . .

Now I am at university of Iowa, on a fellowship to write non-fiction, in an African lit class taught by a German . . . I want to run far away and can't.

What I think I know is that I think you can respectfully honor people. you can be caring. There are ways of looking that don't rape. There are ways of communicating that don't condemn or that open us to other knowings.

These are my hopes; the other things, they are constant sorrows. And so it is good to care for them, good to sing to them.

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The Aftermath of Rwandan Genocide

Spring with Neighbors

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On the Road

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Spring Eating Cane with Workers

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Women on Swings

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Not Without Pride

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Objects Left Behind

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Objects Left Behind (2)

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Girls at Work

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Cane Cutter

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Walking Up Hill

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The Gaze

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Judith and Marie

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Editor' Note: This exposition does not do Ms. Ulmer's work full justice. Some of these photos I have cropped additionally so they would have a fuller effect in a small space such as this page. If I had the technical know how I probably would have made the full photo available. But of course you can always contact Spring Ulmer: she may make the photos available to you in full or maybe even prints if so desired

Spring Ulmer's introduction was culled from a note she sent me in response to an editorial written by Jean Y.T. Lukaz.

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Spring Ulmer grew up without electricity in the woods with parents who were active in the Civil Rights Movement. She received her B.F.A. in Photography from the Cooper Union School of Art and her M.F.A. in Poetry from the University of Arizona. She worked as a journalist for the Mountain Eagle newspaper in Eastern Kentucky; taught photography and English to Sudanese refugees, migrant children in Illinois, and juvenile detainees in Arizona, and most recently at the University of Arizona. She has received fellowships from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, the Kentucky Arts Council, the Headlands Center for the Arts, and the Andrea Frank Foundation. Presently she is the recipient of an Iowa Arts Fellowship at the University of Iowa. She went to Rwanda this summer.

posted 25 August 2006

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The Age of Virtual Reproduction

By Spring Ulmer

Spring Ulmer's The Age of Virtual Reproduction disrupts and redefines established patterns of seeing as she looks both at and beyond suffering and slaughter for an ethical way to live. Relentlessly in relation and in isolation, Ulmer meditates on moral and emotional anaesthesia our age of numbing. On the road in Rwanda, investigating executions, meditating on photographs of the past, Ulmer interrogates her own and others often "romantic obsession with what is disappearing and asks how to be in touch with the real and reality—either through the self or its loss. Looking at work by August Sander, Walter Benjamin, Congolese painter Tshibumba Kanda Matulu, John Berger, William Gedney, Kenzaburo Oe, Wim Wenders, and others, she finds, with Benjamin, that "there is no cultural document that is not at the same time a document of barbarism."

The Age of Virtual Reproduction offers a catalogue (of people, stories, nature, and art) that maintains that more than just surviving, life can be overwhelmingly and beautifully patterned, and thus, critically, recognizable.—Essay Press

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Ways of Seeing

By John Berger

John Berger’s Ways of Seeing is an in depth look on art, the way people view it and the influences that traditional oil painting has had on society and modern day publicity. The beginning of the book goes into the issue of how people now look at art versus how people in the past look at art and how reproduction has effected this.  The relationship between social status and the subjects of oil painting, particularly the female nude is discussed as well. Berger turns to modern day and explains the role that publicity takes in our daily lives and how it is modeled after the traditional oil painting of the past. . . .

Since art is so widely accessible famous works are being quoted or appropriated for other works of art, advertisements, and merchandise.

The way art is viewed has changed dramatically over the course of a hundred years due to technology and social change. . . . Envy is key in advertising it makes people want what the person in the advertisement has; therefore being unsatisfied with their present state.  Women and sex are used profusely in advertisement since it appeals to both women and men. Men want the women and the sex and the women want to be the women. This idea of women and sex ties into the beginning of the book; where the women in the advertisements are used for the exact purpose that the female nude was used in traditional oil paintings.

Berger paints a grim picture of the effects of traditional oil painting and publicity on the lives of people. It is too often used to promote materialism and individual prosperity and envy. The subjects in oil painting and advertisements are just tools for the constant need to possess certain objects.EmilyMay

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The Dramatic History of the Congo

as Painted by Tshibumba Kanda Matulu

By Paul Faber

Tshibumba Kanda Matulu (1947-1982?) portrays the turbulent history of his country, the Congo, in this impressive series of 102 paintings. Important characters and events feature in this passing parade, such as the political leaders Lumumba and Mobutu, and the Belgian monarchs Leopold II and Baudouin. Tshibumba’s paintings, produced between 1973 and 1974, portray historic events and figures, but always contain lessons for the present. Tshibumba also wrote explanatory texts on his paintings.

The series of paintings was acquired in 2000 by the KIT Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, from Johannes Fabian, an anthropologist, who befriended the artist in the Congo from 1971 to 1974.The series presents a lively and accessible view of colonial and postcolonial African history by someone on the inside and from the working class.

 It translates the African tradition of storytelling into a contemporary style. Furthermore, it tells a story of African-European cultural exchange, as the series was made by an African who knew that he would have a European audience. The insider explains what happened in his country to an outsider. As Tshibumba’s perspective is an integral part of this story, the book reflects on questions of presentation and self-presentation. Johannes Fabian made extensive notes of his conversations with Tshibumba, on which he draws in his Preface to this book. 

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Related Books

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The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility

and Other Writings on Media by Walter Benjamin

Edited by Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Y. Levin

Benjamin’s famous “Work of Art” essay sets out his boldest thoughts—on media and on culture in general—in their most realized form, while retaining an edge that gets under the skin of everyone who reads it. In this essay the visual arts of the machine age morph into literature and theory and then back again to images, gestures, and thought.

This essay, however, is only the beginning of a vast collection of writings that the editors have assembled to demonstrate what was revolutionary about Benjamin’s explorations on media. Long before Marshall McLuhan, Benjamin saw that the way a bullet rips into its victim is exactly the way a movie or pop song lodges in the soul.

This book contains the second, and most daring, of the four versions of the “Work of Art” essay—the one that addresses the utopian developments of the modern media. The collection tracks Benjamin’s observations on the media as they are revealed in essays on the production and reception of art; on film, radio, and photography; and on the modern transformations of literature and painting. The volume contains some of Benjamin’s best-known work alongside fascinating, little-known essays—some appearing for the first time in English. In the context of his passionate engagement with questions of aesthetics, the scope of Benjamin’s media theory can be fully appreciated.

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If the natural utilization of productive forces is impeded by the property system, the increase in technical devices, in speed, and in the sources of energy will press for an unnatural utilization, and this is found in war. The destructiveness of war furnishes proof that society has not been mature enough to incorporate technology as its organ, that technology has not been sufficiently developed to cope with the elemental forces of society. The horrible features of imperialistic warfare are attributable to the discrepancy between the tremendous means of production and their inadequate utilization in the process of production—in other words, to unemployment and the lack of markets.

Imperialistic war is a rebellion of technology which collects, in the form of “human material,” the claims to which society has denied its natural material.

Instead of draining rivers, society directs a human stream into a bed of trenches; instead of dropping seeds from airplanes, it drops incendiary bombs over cities; and through gas warfare the aura is abolished in a new way.—“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936)—By Walter Benjamin

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Age of Silver: Encounters with Great Photographers

By John Loengard

Age of Silver is iconic American photographer John Loengard’s ode to the art form to which he dedicated his life. Loengard, a longtime staff photographer and editor for LIFE magazine and other publications, spent years documenting modern life for the benefit of the American public. Over the years he trained his camera on dignitaries, artists, athletes, intellectuals, blue and whitecollar workers, urban and natural landscapes, manmade objects, and people of all types engaged in the act of living. In Age of Silver, Loengard gathers his portraits of some of the most important photographers of the last half-century, including Annie Leibovitz, Ansel Adams, Man Ray, Richard Avedon, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and many, many others. Loengard caught them at home and in the studio; posed portraits and candid shots of the artists at work and at rest.   Complimenting these revealing, expertly composed portraits are elegant photographs of the artists holding their favorite or most revered negatives. This extra dimension to the project offers an inside peek at the artistic process and is a stark reminder of the physicality of the photographic practice at a time before the current wave of digital dominance. There is no more honest or faithful reproduction of life existent in the world of image making than original, untouched silver negatives.   Far from an attempt to put forth a singular definition of modern photographic practice, this beautifully printed, duotone monograph instead presents evidence of the unique vision and extremely personal style of every artist pictured. Annie Leibovitz is quoted in her caption as once saying, “I am always perplexed when people say that a photograph has captured someone. A photograph is just a piece of them in a moment. It seems presumptuous to think you can get more than that.” —PowerhouseBooks

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The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

By Annette Gordon-Reed


This is a scholar's book: serious, thick, complex. It's also fascinating, wise and of the utmost importance. Gordon-Reed, a professor of both history and law who in her previous book helped solve some of the mysteries of the intimate relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings, now brings to life the entire Hemings family and its tangled blood links with slave-holding Virginia whites over an entire century. Gordon-Reed never slips into cynicism about the author of the Declaration of Independence. Instead, she shows how his life was deeply affected by his slave kinspeople: his lover (who was the half-sister of his deceased wife) and their children. Everyone comes vividly to life, as do the places, like Paris and Philadelphia, in which Jefferson, his daughters and some of his black family lived. So, too, do the complexities and varieties of slaves' lives and the nature of the choices they had to make—when they had the luxury of making a choice. Gordon-Reed's genius for reading nearly silent records makes this an extraordinary work.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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