Ideas of transformation are inevitably seductive, whether tied to inner life or the outer world.
The Ledger
December 2018
Transformation is seductive, whether held in alchemy’s promise of base metals turned to gold, Michael Pollan’s courtly endorsement of psychedelics, or the magical tales we return to over and over. Take the selkie-folk of the Orkney Islands, for instance—a mythological seal-people who emerge from the ocean, shed their skins for safekeeping in some sea cave along the shore, and comfort the lonely with their heroic sexual prowess, like versatile mermaids. Of course, more workaday transformations can also be wondrous: look at the efforts of Rouble Nagi, an artist in Mumbai who recruited volunteers to help bring new life to the city’s vast slums, painting formerly drab homes in vibrant colours. It’s the time of year for this kind of thing, albeit more ephemerally: who among us is immune to the charm of wreaths on doors, candelabra winking in windows, and strings of lights illuminating city squares? The transformations we enact may be aesthetic or spiritual; and change may take the form of regression or even of stasis, deliberate or accidental, as often as ‘progress’. The more we embrace that possibility, the more level we’ll be.
Poems spun as if from silk, and literally written in its strands
Jen Bervin’s collection Silk Poems speaks not only to her skills as a poet, but also to her ingenuity and curiosity—containing poems shaped literally after the structure of silk and workings of silkworms.
Music of transcendence, mainly in the Persian tradition
Based in Tehran, the musician, composer, vocalist and scholar Davod Azad aims to make music that goes beyond technique and imparts a granular spiritual change.
From towering grain silo to ten-storey art museum
The British architect Thomas Heatherwick carved through a former waterfront grain silo to create Cape Town’s remarkable Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), which opened in 2017.
A life-changing anti-trafficking programme in Nepal
Human trafficking is a lucrative business, but Anuradha Koirala, who established the organisation Maiti Nepal in 1993, has developed highly effective interventions to fight its strong undertow in her country.
Tangled skeins of metaphor, reality and selfhood
‘In all chaos there is a cosmos’, an experimental-theatre director named Evangeline (Molly Parker) proclaims, quoting Jung, early in Josephine Decker’s brilliant new film Madeline’s Madeline, ‘in all disorder a secret order.’
Star charts gleaned from famed opening lines
‘I didn’t intend to create constellations’, writes the data artist Nick Rougeux of the unusual diagrams he created to map famous first sentences from works in the Western literary canon. Yet constellations they became.
Tracking the shifts that steer language and culture
Fascinated by the capacity of language both to persist and to evolve, the American scholar Sarah ‘Sally’ Thomason has spent 34 years compiling a dictionary of the Montana Salish language, spoken by fewer than 40 people.
Taking resolute steps in the cause of social transformation
At 85, the Japanese calligrapher, Zen teacher, author, translator and peace activist Kazuaki Tanahashi is still going strong. Published in April, his most recent book is Painting Peace: Art in a Time of Global Crisis.
Illustrations by Audrey Helen Weber
‘…nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.’
Antoine Lavoisier
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