‣ Writing for the Art Newspaper, Martin Bailey tracked down a looted painting from Ethiopia, known as the Kwer’ata Re’esu, in a Portuguese bank vault:
Painted on an oak panel (33cm x 25cm), the holy icon has survived in its original inner frame, which is of early 16th-century Flemish style, with a larger and more modern outer frame. On turning over the frame, I found that the reverse was covered with red silk damask with a stylised pomegranate pattern. Last month the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) textile curator Silvija Banić identified the silk from my photograph as Italian, dating from very roughly 1600 and possibly woven in Florence. How the silk reached Ethiopia remains unknown.
‣ For Wired, journalist Vauhini Vara unpacks her experiences using ChatGPT and other AI tools, including while writing a personal essay about the death of her sister:
My essay was about the impossibility of reconciling the version of myself that had coexisted alongside my sister with the one left behind after she died. In that last line, GPT-3 made physical the fact of that impossibility, by referring to the hand—my hand—that existed both then and now. I’d often heard the argument that AI could never write quite like a human precisely because it was a disembodied machine. And yet, here was as nuanced and profound a reference to embodiment as I’d ever read. Artificial intelligence had succeeded in moving me with a sentence about the most important experience of my life.
AI could write a sentence, then. If I wanted to understand the relationship between AI and literature, I felt like I had to start by acknowledging that. I could use AI to do some of the most essential labor of a writer—to come up with the right words. What more could I do with it? And then, whatever I could do, there was that other question.
‣ Anmol Irfan spoke with several programmers about the digital, political, and artistic dimensions of their efforts to recreate Urdu script as a font online for Time:
Kamran started her Master’s degree in typography after trying to create an Urdu website for Karachi Urban Lab, an organization focused on research, teaching and advocacy around development and urbanization in Karachi through data. She found the lack of typographical resources available to be a stumbling block. Her goal is to help contribute to the work that developers and language experts across the world are doing to digitize Urdu by reckoning with its cultural history. She says that the importance of Nastaliq cannot be understood until its links to Muslim-Pakistani identity building are equally understood. “Urdu and Nastaliq are ideologically tied to each other,” Kamran says. Because of the sensitivities around Urdu, she believes any changes to its presentation must be accepted in society before progress can be made.
‣ In Ghana, the media is known for being homophobic, but one man on the street gave this reporter an unexpected answer:
‣ Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Bin Salman comes across like the entitled fool he is. No ethics, no morals, just greed, and self satisfaction. Of course, Fox News gave him a platform:
‣ Turns out China’s vaccine diplomacy was also about collection DNA samples and most people don’t realize that. In the Washington Post, Joby Warrick and Cate Brown write about this shocking revelation:
In late 2021, with the pandemic still raging, Serbian officials announced they were working with a Chinese company to convert the lab into a permanent facility with plans to harvest and curate the entire genomes, or genetics blueprints, of Serbian citizens.
Serbia’s scientists were thrilled, and the country’s prime minister, Ana Brnabic, praised China for giving the Balkan country the “most advanced institute for precision medicine and genetics in the region.” Yet now, China’s Fire-Eye labs — scores of which weredonated or sold to foreign countries during the pandemic —are attracting the attention ofWestern intelligence agencies amid growing unease about China’s intentions. Someanalysts perceive China’s largesse as part of a global attempt to tap into new sources of highly valuable human DNA data in countries around the world.
‣ Did you know that marijuana was decriminalized in Mexico briefly during the mid-20th century? Writing for the Dial, Alexander Aviña explains:
According to the health department, street dealers and big narcos lost thousands of pesos a day. Doctors, people with drug addiction and even some Mexico City newspapers celebrated the positive impact of the dispensary. Despite the “terrifying spectacle” — in the words of one journalist — of hundreds of people with drug addiction lined up outside the dispensary, some middle-class residents who lived nearby agreed with the approach. Even some of Salazar Viniegra’s old medical rivals backed the plan. Supportive editorials appeared in the Mexico City press, and journalists interviewed people who attended the dispensary. They said the cheap, safe morphine gave them at least the chance to consistently work again and provide for their families. Based on these initial results, according to Smith, the Cárdenas government made plans to open more dispensaries in Mexico City and Guadalajara in May 1940.
Yet by the summer of 1940, the government had abruptly changed course. The health department shuttered the dispensary, and the Cárdenas government repealed the drug laws. Salazar Viniegra was removed from his position as drug czar. The official public explanation was that the beginning of World War II had caused a drastic shortage in the global supply of medical morphine. Mexico could no longer afford to import it from its main source, the U.S.
The actual explanation was more complicated. It involved the shady actions of an influential American official, Harry Anslinger, the J. Edgar Hoover of U.S. counter-narcotics. As head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics for over three decades, Anslinger decisively shaped the punitive drug war regime that initially took form in the U.S. during the 1930s. An ardent believer in drug prohibition, he played a key role in helping to pass the 1937 federal legislation that outlawed marijuana across the U.S., and he vehemently disagreed with the progressive Mexican experiment led by Salazar Viniegra.
‣ Someone crashed a fashion show during New York’s Fashion Week and it’s quite funny:
‣ We’re lookin’ at you, Trader Joe’s:
‣ This Y2K Iranian wedding video is cinematography at its finest:
‣ Forget MoMA — save $30 and watch this instead!
Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.