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My first proper review for The Guardian, and I couldn't have asked for a better commission. Getting on the train to see this show  -- Phyllida's first major exhibition since she passed away last May -- was emotional. But it was also glorious. 

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I first interviewed An-My Lê in 2018 for the Guardian's My Best Shot and I could never let go of her portrayals of war and resistance. I found the seriousness of her work -- its unflinching gaze, its magnificent stillness -- utterly captivating. I visited her at her New York studio in 2019 then met her again the following year when she presented Silent General at Marian Goodman in London. So when MoMA announced this full career survey a full 12 months before it opened, in November 2023, I spent the whole year pitching stories about it. Sometimes quiet work is the hardest to get people to pay attention to. I'm so glad I stuck with it though and secured this Art Newspaper's Artist Interview. Lê is a giant.  

 

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YouTube's fabled hermit with a camera, Martijn Doolaard, focuses on process, not outcome. Watching him taking on the mother of all buried rocks with a handheld hydraulic drill is like witnessing Ahab reckon with the whale. “I try to focus on the moment all the time,” he says. “Planning traps you. Arriving at a goal is only exciting in the short term. At some point my home will be finished, but that won’t last. That’s why I enjoy the journey so much.” The Guardian

 

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This will sound incongruous to anyone who’s sat through a Theresa May press conference, but Saied Dai says they played a lot to find the right pose for her portrait. He decided early on that she should stand – “she’s very stylish, statuesque” – and though he’d asked that she bring clothing options, he opted for vintage pieces belonging to his wife to achieve the sculptural silhouette he needed. The Guardian

 

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For a while now, I have been getting the strangest emails. They concern golf rules, carpenter bees and CPR short courses I’ve not signed up for at local fire departments I could not place. I have been on the receiving end of a round-robin addressed “to all the stoners”. The Guardian

 

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Uyghur dancers performing on stage.

Working -- so remotely -- on this piece about the Uyghur desert shrines and oral traditions being erased by China’s cultural crackdown was emotional. If I feel such a keen sense of loss for this heritage that isn't mine, quite what living with it from the inside must be is beyond me. Exile has always been a potent musical metaphor. But in the context of the Uyghur people’s plight, it is not imagery. It is an emergency. The Guardian

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Photographs from the Atlas des régions naturelles project by French photographers Eric Tabuchi and Nelly Monnier.

Eric Tabuchi and Nelly Monnier's Atlas des régions naturelles is a sprawling, unwieldy multipart portrait of a nation. It takes as its foundation the 500-odd régions naturelles, or non-administrative areas (a bit like British counties) into which mainland France is divided The Guardian

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A hand with a pen and a burger.

To determine to what extent a good review might uplift -- or destroy -- a restaurant, I interviewed esteemed critics from the Guardian, the New York Times, the Evening Standard and the New Yorker. What a trip. The Guardian

 

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The sculptor Phyllida Barlow with sculptures.

This tribute I wrote about Phyllida Barlow being that teacher that person that if you’d had her in primary school, now, at 46, you’d still think of her as Miss Barlow, but you had her at art school, and so 20, 30, 40 years on into a lifelong battle with artmaking – or writing, or parenting, or just being a decent human – you’re still striving to make something she’d rate. So many people have texted or emailed or called or tweeted to say how much it resonated with how they felt too. What a beautiful human. The Guardian

 

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Phenomenologists like Gaston Bachelard imbue simple objects with great meaning. A corner, a recess, a shelf. On the timeline of how I have learned to mother our child are a few such objects. The yellow wooden lemon she wanted and crawled, for the first time, to reach. The blocky gold chain she poured, like liquid gold, from an empty Bialetti moka pot, when lockdown boredom raised the bar in terms of what a household item can become. But the first one -- the ur object in this genealogy of meaningful things -- is the cardboard box Hazel suggested I put Tsubamé in, just so I could get stuff done. She'll be safe, she said. She'd propped up all four of her babies and her nine grandchildren in a laundry basket while she hung up the washing. The Guardian

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Not sure I'll ever live down the fact that, in this piece I wrote about the beauty of the rural soundscape in my parents' small cevenole village, I said that a "herd of sheep" and their barking attendant patou sheepdogs routinely trot down the road and across the bridge, to bleat their way out the other side of the village headed for pastures down stream. Often they walk down my parents' actual street. They poop everywhere and eat my mother's pansies. And my father will forever now remind me that I got my farmyard collective nouns muddled. It's a flock of sheep innit. What a dimwit I am. The Guardian

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was 15, my father bought a book about Frank Auerbach. It was the art critic Robert Hughes's acclaimed 1990 monograph and I drew from it incessantly. Years later, I bought my own copy. Opening it to the portrait of EOW on page 137 I found myself overcome, expecting it to be as smudged as I'd left my father's. Auerbach's works taught me how to see and how to draw. The Guardian

 

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The painter Frank Auerbach in his studio.
Dale Berning Sawa's old stamps.

In early 2023, the Royal Mail sought to phase out old decimal Machins. But these old “regulars” aren’t Ulez-busting, diesel-fuelled Routemasters or sodium street lamps. A stamp weighs, at most, two butterflies. It only really occupies two dimensions. And it cannot be franked more than once. It’s as close as you get to holding a moment between your fingers. The Guardian

 

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A sculpture by the British artist Veronica Ryan.

I live exactly one minute's walk away from Veronica Ryan's Windrush monument -- a custard apple in milky, off-white Carrara marble and two bronzes, a breadfruit and a soursop, green and cream-coloured patinas, respectively. She told me she wanted the sculptures to be small enough that children might want to investigate their surfaces. Maybe climb and sit on them too. And every time I go to buy milk, I see that they do. These objects, so public and so private, are my favourite in London. An extraordinary gift to the city. The Guardian

 

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Ask any of the artists who appear on Ballaké Sissoko's album, Djourou, about the kora player and first they’ll tell you he doesn’t talk much. Ask them to define his playing and they cast about for the right words: a great silence, a holy music, something elemental, a miracle. “It’s like watching someone play water,” says French singer Camille, who appears on a song simply called Kora. “His music creates space.”The Guardian

 

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The kora player Ballaké Sissoko.
The ancient Armenian khachkars in Djulfa, Nakhichevan.

My piece on the monumental cultural erasure perpetrated by Azerbaijan on Armenian heritage in Nakhichevan continues to draw readers and elicit comment four years on. The Guardian

 

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Even before I knew anything of John Akomfrah's British Council commission at the 2024 Venice Biennale, I loved it for its title: Listening All Night To The Rain. 

But home isn't a comfort for everyone. Nor is every listener to rainfall doing so from under a roof. It was a great pleasure to interview Akomfrah for my friend Lou Mensah's Shade Podcast, and to review this remarkable work for Shade Art Review

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Another photographer whose work has changed me. Gauri Gill started out in her 20s, a Delhi-based photojournalist covering stories right across India. She’d drop in, drop back out, then later find herself wondering what had happened to all the people she had photographed. “In India, as across the world, the rural is being written out." The Guardian

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The Nigerian-American photographer Mikael Owunna once told me about an outdoor shoot he did for his series Limitless Africans, during a New York blizzard. The magic happened in between the shots, when he and his four models hurried back inside, snowflakes on eyelashes, and danced in the kitchen. What were they vibing to? “I distinctly remember,” he said. It was Mr Eazi. The Guardian

 

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The musicians Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto.

Interviewing Ryuichi Sakamoto with Alva Noto for The Quietus, in 2011, he told me he'd long collected sounds, field recordings. "If I was a painter," he said, "I would probably draw – recordings are something like that for me. Even if I'm writing a beautiful romantic melody, it will be always triggered by a particular sound. When I get good sound, I can write good music." 

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Even when listeners don’t understand Ami Faku's lyrics, they respond to the melody, which she qualifies as “very church”, and to the emotion. It’s because the writing comes from a true place, she says.

Faku grew up singing in church. Her father, like mine, is a pastor. He and her mother have beautiful, low voices.The Guardian

 

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The South African singer Ami Faku on stage.

 

Stone Ruin Trail I, by the US artist Nancy Holt, is a kind of custom-scored walking tour of a wooded ruin in New Jersey. Holt gave friends a two-page set of hand-typed instructions along with detailed photographs, noting the things (a roped entrance, a metal beehive, a castle-like structure, a glacial boulder) that caught her eye. That approach – observational, methodical, inclusive – was a constant throughout a career, during which she largely remained invisible. The Guardian

 

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A view of Sun Tunnels, the installation by US artist Nancy Holt

 

 

'When we play, everyone dances!' If four-time Grammy winner Angélique Kidjo is Benin’s greatest star to date, Star Feminine Band are its bright future. This is no lazy contextualisation: these teenagers and their unstoppable band leader are taking up Kidjo’s baton as beacons of female empowerment, musical excellence and inextinguishable joy.The Guardian

 

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The Beninese musicians Star Feminine Band.
A record on a record player.

What tunes help you focus or get your mind working when you're working from home? The writers I spoke to plumped for Richard Skelton, Thundercat, Eric Satie and the Jurassic Park soundtrack slowed by a factor of a 1000... The Quietus

 

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A still from the French artist Mohamed Bourouissa's film, Horse Day.

By focusing on the hyperlocal in this way, Mohamed Bourouissa shifts our attention away from any established centre (a nation’s capital; a dominant culture). His work points instead to how the people in marginalised communities are not, in themselves, marginal: where people are is their centre. The Guardian

 

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