Monday, August 27, 2012

Books in Homes

I had the pleasure and the privilege of meeting and having lunch last week with Kim Kingston, Director of Books in Homes, and her warm, energetic and dedicated team—Laura, Julie and Hester.

To put you in the picture...

Books in Homes is an Australian charitable foundation that aims to "re-awaken a sense of wonder in children and excitement in parents, by creating an Australian where every child and family has access to books of choice at home."

The heart of the organisation lies in its mission:
Books-in-Homes provides books-of-choice to families and children living in remote and low socio-economic circumstances, ensuring crucial early literacy engagement and the development of reading skills needed for lifelong success. 25% of titles on offer are written by Indigenous Authors.
This Programme aims to break the education inequality found in remote and disadvantaged communities where resources are often scarce and generational poverty endemic.

I've just volunteered to be a Role Model and will be attending a book-giving assembly at a local public school at the end of the year to talk about why I LOVE books and why they were so important to me when I was growing up, as well as to hand out some books to the students.

I must add that Books in Homes also believe in graphic novels... and guess what? Mermaids as well!

So we encourage you to read all about the Books in Homes program here, or better still, make a donation or help in some other way to, as they say, "Empower Kids, Literally".

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Graphic Novel Session at Sydney Fringe Writers Festival [UPDATED: 12/0912]

UPDATE 12/09/12: The event organiser has just informed us that due to unforeseen circumstances this event has been cancelled, and she will look at running it again next year.

Black Mermaid Productions (BMP) Director Julie Ditrich will be presenting a session called "Comics and Graphic Novels for Beginners" at the Sydney Fringe Writers' Festival on 23 September 2012. Julie will be discussing the following at the session:
Australia is entering a new dawn of comics and graphic novel publishing. The quality of storytelling and production values of late has been superb. However, the “comics” medium is still misunderstood in the literary world where it is relegated to the fringes rather than the mainstream and recognised more as pop culture than high culture. This seminar will initiate you into the world of comics, and will examine definitions, formats, building blocks and conventions, as well as current Oz comics trends and opportunities. If you want to be part of the new wave of comics talent, then there is no better place to begin than here! 
Julie will also be announcing a new comics initiative aimed at emerging and developing Australian comics creators.

The incomparable Irina Dunn, champion of all things literary in Australia, is the organiser of the event. Irina was the foundation director of the NSW Writers' Centre, and now heads up Australian Writers' Network. The event line-up as a whole looks fabulous with talks topics such as traditional media vs print media, journalism in the modern age, novels vs scripts, and publishing and promoting your books. You can check out the Sydney Fringe Writers' Festival schedule here.

Date: Sunday 23 September 2012
Time: 9am to 5pm
Venue: Harold Park Hotel, cnr Wigram and Ross St, Glebe NSW 2037
Ticket Price: Adults – $125.50; Concessions $110.50

CLICK HERE to book.

Hope to see you there. Come up and say hello.

Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore Art Exhibition

What do Pliny the Elder, Bartholomaeus Anglicus, Christopher Columbus, the first three enslaved Africans brought to the South Carolina Low Country, Henry Hudson, explorer of the Hudson River, and the current Water Resources Minister Zimbabwe have in common? 

They have all seen mermaids!

A few months ago we posted a Call for Entries for the Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore Fibre Arts Exhibition. Well the exhibition is nigh upon us and we wanted to bring it to your attention again, simply because thematically it deals with mermaids – "black" mermaids to be specific – and culturally it is important to understand the importance of mermaids in stories and mythologies from around the world. This exhibition is also very moving—the stories of mermaids comforting African slaves kidnapped from their home and chained in the hulls of ships on route to a strange land where their lives are to be filled with horror, brings us to tears. 

This exhibition brings us those tales and more. Over 100 art quilts and art dolls will explore the visual representations of myths of Afro-centric mermaidswater spirits celebrated throughout Africa and the Afro-Atlantic world as deities.

A colour-drenched exhibition catalogue, Black Mermaids in Vision & Verse, invites you to celebrate the relationship between fine craft and soaring poetic verse that speaks of the black mermaid.  For the first time poets have been tasked with writing poems to accompany a fiber arts exhibit dealing with one specific subject.  Dive in to the rich juicy Mermaid poetry and the vivid, affecting powerful collection of artwork and you will be baptized into the undersea world of the Merpeople.

Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore promises to be a visual journey of color and inspiration, an inspiring feast of imagination and expression.  The art dolls and art quilts depicting mermaids and water spirits will delight and educate the public about this little known folklore.  The fine craftsmanship in Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore is griot in nature.  This exhibit brings together both critically acclaimed and emerging fiber artists.  Each piece is a storyteller, using color, texture, form and embellishment to express a narrative.
Curator, Torreah "Cookie" Washington says, 
Mermaid stories may have first come to the USA through the South Carolina Low Country with the first three black slaves that arrived in the year 1670 along with Colonial Barbadian immigrants.  African-based faiths honoring black mermaids have continued to flourish throughout much of the Americas.  Today, new communities of color have reestablished, revisualized, and revitalized African water spirits in their art. The quilting and doll-making traditions have also undergone a renaissance as utilitarianism has given way to fine crafts.  Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore is a journey of color and inspiration, a visual feast of imagination and expression.  The fine craftsmanship in Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore is griot in nature,” says Curator Cookie Washington.  She has brought together both critically acclaimed and emerging fiber artists.  “Each piece is a storyteller, using color, texture, form and embellishment to express a narrative.”
We would like to congratulate curator Torreah "Cookie" Washington looks to have done an extraordinary job in realising her vision. We wish we could be there, but alas, we live half way around the world.

But you can go and here is all the information you need:

Dates: 28 August to 28 October 2012
Venue: City Gallery at Waterfront Park, Historic Charleston, South Carolina USA

The opening reception will be held on 8 September from 5pm to 8pm.

For further enquiries, email Torreah "Cookie" Washington on or phone on +1 843 259 8108.

Art credits featured in exhibition: 

We Are Mermaids Too (Redux) by Kit Lang

Little Karoo at Night by Kit Lang

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mermaids in Comics 2 – The Little Sea Maid

 This was one of my favourite books when I was little. It came to me dog-eared and second-hand. There is an inscription on the inside page opposite the title page with the names of four sisters who used to be my baby-sitters so I am assuming it belonged to them and they gave it to me as a gift.

The book is called Children's Favourite Stories in Pictures. There are no authors' or illustrators' names attached to it. There is no year of publication. There is no copyright information. The publisher is Consolidated Press in Sydney. It looks like it was published in the 1950s. It has an orange cover with illustrations of daisy chain around the title but with berries instead of daisies. In the four corners are four spot illustrations including a horse and rider, as well as a dwarf plus two others that are difficult to see. The inside contains 28 stories, ranging from Greek mythology to Aesop's fables to tales from the Arabian Nights. Some are rendered in colour; others in black and white.

Why is this significant?

Most of the stories are told through sequential art. The panels are wordless, and the text is underneath but they fall under the definition of comics simply because of the sequential art. And most significantly, one of the stories is "The Little Mermaid", although it is called "The Little Sea-Maid".

This, of course, was my favourite story in this book of favourites. The images are gorgeous. They're inked.

Here's what I found online about this book:

1950? Children's Favourite Stories in Pictures. No author or illustrator acknowledged. Sydney: Consolidated Press Ltd. $2.70 somewhere in Colorado, March, '94.
This large-format book is unusual in a number of respects. First, it is one of the very few books I have from Australia. Second, it includes an unusually broad range of material, from Greek myths to Australian aboriginal folklore. Aesop is given two three-page sections: 23-25 and 87-89. Three fables are presented on each page with text and illustration equal in size and alternating columns with each other. On 89, the fables switch finally to color. The illustrations of the second set (87-89) seem to me superior in their artistry; they remind one of Boris Artzybasheff.

The National Library of Australia also has it catalogued.

I think mermaid collectors would be hard-pressed to find this book on the antiquarian book market but you can try.

I've scanned in three of the six pages in the story—the ones that feature the sea maid in mermaid form and where the tail is prominent. The pages are not in sequential order.

I'll lend the book to Jozef so he can scan the entire story for his mermaid art archive. I'm sure he'll be thrilled.

Elf~Fin Leaks and Peeks 28

That's Spax, Hyfus and Razbi in case  anyone wants to know. We wonder what they're looking at? You'll find out very soon with the imminent release of the first issue of Elf~Fin: Hyfus & Tilaweed.

Mermaids in Folklore and Australian Indigenous Culture – Guest Blog by Vanessa Witschi

Mermaids in Folklore
Mermaids are present in the folklore of many cultures around the world. They can be found in Native American culture, Ancient Greek and Roman cultures, as well as in Asia (particularly China, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines), Russia, Finland, France, Spain, the British Isles and India.

One of the most interesting, although perhaps not as obvious facts, is that mermaids appear in Indigenous Aboriginal culture. 

Separated by water for thousands of years, mermaids appear as an important factor in many of the language and cultural groups spread across Australia. Interestingly, for a country surrounded by oceans and seas, mermaids are largely portrayed as freshwater creatures living in rivers, lakes and billabongs.

How Mermaids are Portrayed in Different Cultures
Some cultures depict mermaids as meek benevolent beings, others as possessors of medical knowledge or as unlucky omens bringing disasters.

Both the Indian and Greek folklore see mermaids as Goddesses—some of whom were originally in a human form but were made half-fish as a punishment from the Gods, and some who always existed in mermaid form. 

Commonly, mermaids (in particular the sirens who were depicted in two forms – mermaid-like and also bird-like) are portrayed as malevolent creatures that sang or played music to lure sailors towards cliffs and death by drowning. These depictions often have their origin in early Greek, Roman or Spanish civilisations. 

In early Russian culture it was believed that women who had died violently or by their own hand lived at the bottom of rivers and mesmerised men to lure them into the river to drown them.

Even today, many cultures still believe in the existence of mermaids. In February 2012, it was reported in the UK Daily Mail, that the Water Minister for Zimbabwe announced that there were delays in building two reservoirs due to mermaids hounding the workers away. It was believed that performing rituals and sacrifices would encourage the mermaids to leave the workers alone. 

The Australian Aborigines of today also believe that mermaids still exist in their waters and rivers.  In some Northern Territory regions, mermaids were believed to instruct women in ceremonial procedures in early Dreamtime, particularly those procedures related to fertility. It was believed that they were still present in many areas and could be seen sitting on rocks but would quickly jump back into the water if they saw anyone coming.  

Another Aboriginal story tells of a man who set a trap to capture a mermaid who he then tied to a tree. He treated her very kindly and eventually she agreed to be his wife. They had children together but she one day disappeared into the river after being reminded of her mermaid form when she saw her reflection in the water.

There is also a belief in some Aboriginal language groups that albino children born to Aboriginal parents are the result of mermaid blood in their ancestry.

A Torres Strait Islander Dreamtime story tells of how fishermen caught a mermaid in their nets. The mermaid warned them not to over-fish the lake and to just to take what they needed for their family. The fishermen continued to over-fish the lake so the mermaid consequently drowned them.

Mermaids in Australian Aboriginal Art
There are a number of modern Aboriginal paintings depicting mermaids, which are held in national museums and art galleries around Australia. Perhaps the most famous are the Yawk Yawk (mermaid) sculptures held in The National Museum of Australia's collection from Western Arnhem Land. These modern woven pandanus sculptures depicting mermaid spirits are by artists Lulu Laradjbi and Marina Murdilnga.

Woven pandanus yawkyawk sculptures by Kunwinjku artists Marina Murdilnga, left, and Lulu Laradjbi. These mythical beings have the tails of fish and hair resembling algal blooms. Photos: Dragi Markovic.

One Aboriginal artist from the Central Arnhem Land (Darnkorlo clan, Yirridjda moiety, Ngarridj subsection, Kunwinjku language), Owen Yalandja creates sculptures and paintings almost exclusively based on the Yawk Yawk (mermaid) spirits near Barrihdjowkkeng. 

Here is one of the first carvings he ever did of a mermaid in 1993, which won the 10th National Aboriginal Art Award that year. The work is held in the Maningrida Arts and Culture Centre in the Northern Territory. 


There are also several modern Aboriginal artworks for sale that depict mermaids including this painting by artist Edie Blitner from the Kimberley area of Western Australia. 


And this by Northern Territory artist Chris Liddy / Moonggun who notes that when someone drowns it means their spirit was taken by mermaid Mimi spirits. The first one is called Mermaid Mimi Spirits and Crocodile.


The second one by Chris Liddy / Moonggun is called Mermaid and Mimi Spirits.

And you can also find some more Yawk Yawk spirit painting by West Arnhem Land Kunwinjku artist Lesley Nawirridj below. They are both called Mermaid (Yawk Yawk) in the Billabong.

You can buy some of these magnificent original paintings and printes at their respective galleries. Just follow the links attached to each piece to find out about the artist, the painting and the price!

Vanessa Witschi is a polymer clay artist who creates one-of-a-kind dreaming mermaid sculptures. These collectable mermaids are perfect for little girls, girls at heart and those who truly feel the magic of mermaids!