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In Hell

Marina Warner: Wat Phai Rong Wua, 13 September 2012

... In 1975 Benedict Anderson first visited the extensive monastery of Wat Phai Rong Wua, one of dozens in central Thailand; he returned in the 1990s and again a few years ago. Any wat is an imagined community, and this one, a Buddhist Disneyland, presents a special case for Anderson, whose curious book, The Fate of Rural Hell: Asceticism and Desire in Buddhist Thailand, enlivened with startlingly brash photographic evidence, is about currents in the national imagination, about modernity and about forms of religious practice (Seagull, £6 ...

Death in Plain Sight

Marina Warner: Emily Davison, Modern Martyr, 4 July 2013

... Marina Warner explores Emily Davison’s legacy as the suffragettes’ first martyr in a talk given at the inaugural Wilding Festival at St George’s Bloomsbury, where Davison’s memorial service was held.1 Emily Wilding Davison was born in 1872 in a substantial house in Greenwich, the middle daughter of her speculator father’s second marriage ...

At the V&A

Marina Warner: ‘Hollywood Costume’, 20 December 2012

... Dressmakers’ dummies are favourites with photographers of haunting; Eugène Atget, who rarely shows the inhabitants of a Parisian street or room, dwells on the smiling mannequins in shop windows, wearing aprons and housemaids’ caps, or on an effigy of madame in a string of pearls and a tilted trilby. Fixed expressions and rigid bodies give the images an uncanny aura – something similar radiates from cult statues when they’re dressed up and carried in procession in Spain or Italy ...

At Camden Arts Centre

Marina Warner: Kara Walker , 5 December 2013

... Silhouettes are polite, a parlour art, practised in gemütlich Vienna and Berlin among families who also formed quartets and played the piano; they were often made by the same accomplished daughter who would perform at home for a soirée. The art’s antecedents are Asian: an Egyptian shadow puppet, dating back millennia, featured recently in the British Museum exhibition about the Arabian horse, and in Indonesia and India puppeteers, working with perforated figures on sticks against candle flames, still recite sacred epics ...

Short Cuts

Marina Warner: The Flood, 6 March 2014

... I face More of the epic would be discovered under the sand as time went on. In 1990 Stephanie Dalley added more lines to her edition from newly recovered pieces, but most of what’s left has probably been smashed in the course of the Iraq wars. It seems proper that a place of fire and dust, its skin scarred by warfare, should be the origin of the story of the Flood today: devastation in negative, flood and drought bound together ...

Men are just boys

Marina Warner: Boys’ Play, 6 May 2021

No Boys Play Here: A Story of Shakespeare and My Family’s Missing Men 
by Sally Bayley.
William Collins, 253 pp., £14.99, January, 978 0 00 831888 8
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... Afew​ years ago, while looking at some early examples of children’s books, I came across a richly coloured catechism listing dos and don’ts: good little children don’t pull the wings off butterflies, or tease their tabby cat, and – this was an expensive, finely printed volume from the early 19th century – a good boy doesn’t throw his footman out of the window ...

That which is spoken

Marina Warner, 8 November 1990

The Virago Book of Fairy-Tales 
edited by Angela Carter.
Virago, 242 pp., £12.99, October 1990, 1 85381 205 6
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Sisters and Strangers: A Moral Tale 
by Emma Tennant.
Grafton, 184 pp., £12.95, July 1990, 0 246 13429 1
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... unruly gaggle of children. The author is often funny: Eve is evicted to make way ‘for an Inland Marina and a Pizza Piazza project, designed by an architect by appointment to the Prince of Wales to resemble the gingerbread cottages inhabited by plantation slaves in the West Indies at the end of the 18th century’. She tackles the pleasure women readers find ...

Fierceness

Marina Warner, 6 April 1995

Love’s Work 
by Gillian Rose.
Chatto, 135 pp., £9.99, March 1995, 0 7011 6304 6
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... This small book contains multitudes. It fits to the hand like one of those knobbed hoops that do concise duty for the rosary, each knob giving the mind pause to open up to vistas of meditation on mysteries and passions; in the compass of a scant 135 pages it provokes, inspires and illuminates more profoundly than many a bulky volume, and confronts the great subjects – death, illness, reason and unreason, family strife and family bonds, friendship and betrayal, today’s political abdication and philosophical cowardice, the limits of feminism, of happiness – and it delivers what its title promises, a new allegory about love ...

Its Own Dark Styx

Marina Warner, 20 March 1997

The Nature of Blood 
by Caryl Phillips.
Faber, 224 pp., £15.99, February 1997, 0 571 19073 1
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... Memory says: Want to do right? Don’t count on me.’ So writes Adrienne Rich in a poem from An Atlas of a Difficult World, opening an unpunctuated sequence of horrors: lynchings, pogroms, Auschwitz, Berlin, Palestine, Israel: I am accused of child death   of drinking blood ... there is spit on my sleeve    there are phone-calls in the night ...

At the Hayward

Marina Warner: Tracey Emin, 25 August 2011

... Quilts used to be made from baskets of scraps; old clothes were cut up, the worn and stained bits discarded, the best parts kept for reuse. Every household where a woman lived had such a container – a midden of memories – and when the scraps had become a patchwork quilt, spotting this old dress or that old pair of curtains or that old cushion was part of the pleasure of the bed, a domestic pleasure ...

Imps and Ogres

Marina Warner, 6 June 2019

Big and Small: A Cultural History of Extraordinary Bodies 
by Lynne Vallone.
Yale, 339 pp., £20, November 2017, 978 0 300 22886 1
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... In​ 1956, Lorenza Mazzetti, then a student at the Slade, made a film called Together, with her fellow artists Michael Andrews and Eduardo Paolozzi playing the main parts. She shot it in the bombed-out East End, which gaggles of children had made their territory; her camera catches the wild scrambling, dash and hurtle of scores of boys and girls playing together in the puddles and the rubble ...

At Tate Liverpool

Marina Warner: Surrealism in Egypt, 8 March 2018

... Art et Liberté​ was a movement that came into being in 1938 in Cairo. It was affiliated to Surrealism through contact with André Breton in Paris, and shared Surrealism’s spirit of rebellion and provocation, its desire for dream knowledge and penchant for manifestos. ‘Long live degenerate art’ was the title of its opening blast, printed in Arabic and French alongside a reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica and signed by writers and artists from a great variety of backgrounds but united in their political leanings and belief in culture without borders ...

Is there another place from which the dickhead’s self can speak?

Marina Warner: The body and law, 1 October 1998

Bodies of Law 
by Alan Hyde.
Princeton, 290 pp., £39.50, July 1997, 0 691 01229 6
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... Anatomical cabinets, displaying bodies bottled whole or in segments, are gripping artists’ and writers’ imaginations: the Enlightenment’s relish for physical data banks excites awe, fascination and horror in inverse relation to the disembodiment and intangibility of knowledge in the contemporary computerised classroom. A pigmy woman, who died in childbirth in London, where she had been brought to be exhibited, is preserved, in a complete half-section, in the Hunterian Museum ...

A New Twist in the Long Tradition of the Grotesque

Marina Warner: The monstrousness of Britart, 13 April 2000

High Art Lite: British Art in the 1990s 
by Julian Stallabrass.
Verso, 342 pp., £22, December 1999, 1 85984 721 8
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This is Modern Art 
by Matthew Collings.
Weidenfeld, 270 pp., £20, June 1999, 0 297 84292 7
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... The heavy in shirtsleeves on the door of the disused Strand tube station was working the phone to a reluctant client who had rented the premises for a rave that didn’t happen and now didn’t want to pay. The man’s job title was something like Manager of Decommissioned Underground Material and I had gone to see him with Michael Morris, one of the directors of Artangel, a company that puts on art events in different media in unusual places ...

Performances for Sleepless Tyrants

Marina Warner: ‘Tales of the Marvellous’, 8 January 2015

Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange 
translated by Malcolm Lyons, introduced by Robert Irwin.
Penguin, 600 pp., £25, November 2014, 978 0 14 139503 6
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... When​ Marie-Antoinette couldn’t sleep, she would ring for a lady-in-waiting to come and read to her; a rota of lectrices was on call at Versailles at any time of day or night; before radio or talking books, this was one of the luxuries of the Ancien Régime. The queen could have lit her bedside candle and read to herself, but it wasn’t just a rich woman’s indolence that made that remedy less appealing ...

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