Domou Walo, one of the many young Senegalese men fighting for a better life in the country’s capital of Dakar, believes that wrestling is not simply a pastime, but a destiny. British filmmaker Tom Sweetland captures the athleticism, ritual, violence, and brotherhood that underpins the sport, where the young challengers train to improve their family’s lot in a country where many survive on an average income of only $10 a day. Six figure prizes for the top fighters have now become the norm. alking about his portrait of this close-knit sporting community, Sweetland explains: “Originating as a seasonal competition to test the skills and strength of young Senegalese men once the hard-graft of the harvest was over, the traditional sport has evolved into a frenzied combo of boxing and grappling. As a sport, it is close to the heart of both ancient and modern Senegal."
In this new film, three-times senior world champion bull rider (an activity that needs no further description) Robert Mims introduces British filmmaker Doug Hancock to the close-knit world of a traditional rodeo community. This lyrical portrait of the rituals and rhythms that underpin the cowboy way of life was shot on location amid the dry heat and picturesque landscapes of Texas and Utah, setting the scene for an exhilarating picture of a traditional sport that, in 2018, is still finding ways to keep up with the times. Speaking of his often hair-raising study of the riders, animals, and traditions that define the bull-riding world, Hancock explains: “What I wanted to make was a film that dispelled the myth that all cowboys are white. I don’t think anyone could fail to be inspired by Robert’s wisdom, wit, and sheer love of life.”
Before her untimely death in April this year, aged only 58, Mexican-American photographer Laura Aguilar had cemented herself not only as a pioneer of Chicana photography, but as an artist who treated her subjects with a tenderness nearly unrivalled in contemporary image-making. Composed of pensive studies of love, the body, and the natural world, Aguilar’s work was not simply about creating arresting images, but about celebrating queer culture and marginalized voices within the wider narrative of American art and photography. In this profile of the late great image-maker, filmmaker Adinah Dancyger examines the life and work of a figure who stood at the forefront of radical photography, capturing a side of America rarely before seen with such honesty. Shooting Latina lesbians in the 1980s, capturing life at queer Chicana bars, and composing scenes within the fold of the natural world, Aguilar’s empathy enabled her to take authoritative pictures without dominating her subjects. Her gaze is unfazed but not exploitative; tender but not sentimental. Images such as her 1996 photograph, ‘Nature Self-Portrait 14’ reveal her mastery both as a technician of film and as a composer—the photo’s subject pauses, leaning and naked, over a pool of water—a bed of stone beneath her body. Taken at a time when Aguilar was grieving the loss of a close friend, the image speaks to the proximity of bodies and nature—a not unnatural decision considering she trained, and lived, amid the wild heat and deserts of Los Angeles. Her images also assert a distinctively queer, female gaze toward the female body—sparing it the clumsy dominance of male objectification. Aguilar's approach was to transform such vulnerability into strength, while acknowledging the slippery and complex split identity she maintained as a queer Irish-Mexican living in the States.
For the second episode of Raw Materials—our new series where we talk to artists about the physical things that shape their practice—filmmaker Will Robson-Scott spoke to colorful Mexican-American artist Raúl de Nieves. During his childhood in Mexico's city of Michoacán, De Nieves was taught to sew and crochet—sparking an early interest in materials not traditionally associated with the paint and clay of fine art. Continuing this thread, art's great transformer of materials chose instead to teach himself rather than follow a formal artistic education. Rather than using an easel and paintbrush, De Nieves relies on the slow, manual labour of stitching and gluing—where patterns of immensely intricate beads and thread sit at the centre of his creative world. De Nieves defines his studio, in a basement beneath Brooklyn's Spectrum Club, as a "queer underground safe space"—many miles from the Whitney Museum in downtown Manhattan, where he recently completed a 50-foot installation for the gallery's Biennial, which De Nieves had coated in gigantic, glimmering candy-colored panels.
Speaking about his candid portrait of the self-taught and widely exhibited artist, director Will Robson-Scott explains: "The interesting thing about Raul and his work is that it’s steeped in community, based around his workspace where he transforms everyday materials in order to make something unconventional. I think his work and his personality are interesting as they nod to his background and political stance, but aren’t being force fed down the viewers mouth. What I take from his work is there is a hidden message that he leaves with the viewer."
It is impossible to miss the curving and sinuous structure located in Paris's 16th arrondissement, which has the bearing of a ship built of glass. This building is the Fondation Louis Vuitton; the museum and cultural centre designed by modern architecture's greatest transformer of shapes, Frank Gehry—the Pritzker prize-winning designer whose buildings have earned him the status of a household name. In this heartfelt portrait of both the architect and the building he has created, filmmaker Emile Rafael lets the man and one of his most unique structures speak for themselves. Mounted by arching glass sails, the building—whose initial concept was that of a fish—is depicted from its smallest details to its shimmering external envelope. Seeming to sail on the lawns of the Bois de Boulogne, the Fondation is revealed as a building in motion, continually slipping and flowing like the creature on which it is based. It draws parallels with Gehry's other great monuments to culture; the Bilbao Museum, the Guggenheim, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, where exciting shapes elevate the works of art they host and contain.
Speaking about his meditative portrait of the great shape-shifter of modern architecture, Rafael explains: "Gehry's presence and energy was enough to fill the entire building. We spoke at great length about his love for art in all its guises, including how architecture is often overlooked as an art form in itself. With the film, my job was to try and capture what we had spoken about visually—to film the building with the same poetry and sense of movement and expression that Gehry had described and so aspired to in designing it."