The Arc de Triomphe – Unique Art Project

I love to travel and explore the world, and Europe is my favorite place since I was born and raised there. One of the places I wanted to visit was France and I was fortunate to visit Paris in October. In addition to visiting all the main art actions, I was able to visit an usual art project, the wrapped Arc de Triomphe. This project was a long-life dream of Christo.

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He was a Bulgarian refugee who had escaped Soviet occupation like me, but he made his way to Paris in 1958. He went to Paris because he was an artist and that was where he believed the capital of art was located. In 1961, three years after he met his wife in Paris, Christo and Jeanne-Claude began creating works of art in public spaces. One of their projects was to wrap a public building. When he arrived in Paris, Christo rented a small room near the Arc de Triomphe and had been attracted by the monument ever since.

During his career he and his wife did a lot of different projects to transform public spaces. One of his dreams was to wrap the Arc de Triomphe. Even in his early work, he was thinking big, wondering what it would look like to wrap something important and public—like, for instance, the Arc de Triomphe at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. Unfortunately, he passed way before he could achieve this dream. But, per Christo’s wishes, the wrapped L’Arc de Triomphe was completed by his team after his death.

From my hotel window in Paris, I was able to see the giant silver Arch among the golden trees. We decided to go there immediately after we unpacked out luggage and we had a cup of aromatic, double espresso to rejuvenate ourselves.

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After going through the checks of our green certificates, we headed to the tunnel that led to the Arch. The pictures on the walls told the structure’s story. Footsteps filled the tunnel, and it was difficult to read everything under each picture in the dim amber light. My mask made my breathing difficult, and I quickened my pace at the sight of the stream of light at the end of the tunnel. Fresh raindrops fell on my flushed face as I exited, and I removed my mask to take a deep breath of the cold autumn air.

I didn’t have time to think, because my attention was drawn to the arch. It was a splash of silver and gray. Hundreds of people moved around its bold giant columns like an anthill. Camera flashes reflected off of the metallic gray-blue fabric.

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We were in the open air, but it felt like a big gallery that gathered the whole world under its roof.

Squeezing my umbrella that could fly out of my hands at any moment, I slipped between the smiling faces of the people. I smiled in return and walked toward the arch, trying not to interfere with selfie and group photos.

Languages ​​merged into one: German, French, English, Russian, Scandinavian, Arabic, and Slavic, and others creating a sound a music of delight and wonder.

After a few minutes, I crept to the arch and, without waiting for an invitation, went closer to touch it. I shivered at the coldness and roughness of the gray-blue fabric. When I touched it, the threads of the fabric felt like muscle fibers wrapped around the body of the arch. The red threads ran like veins through it, tying it tightly to the body of the arch.

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The arch looked like a great Egyptian mummy to me, wrapped up, veiled, and ready for its next journey. Beneath the heavy material lay the graceful forms of baroque bas-reliefs depicting battles, victories, and triumphs. But in those days, this story was closed, the forms were transformed, and the arch had wrapped its history under a silver veil.

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When I stood in the center below it and looked up, I felt small, lost in space. The light from the spotlights accentuated the folds, the shadows; the glare formed a web of beauty. I felt the power of the silver dome above my head.

It was me and the wind, even the clatter of footsteps on the plates could not disturb this moment.

The wind passed beneath the arch, crashing into the crowd and continuing its way through the veins of Paris.

It was a cold autumn day, but I felt a lot of energy around me, people from all over the world watching, observing and reflecting.

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The art project received positive and negative feedback, but from my perspective, it was an art project that united people during the time of a pandemic, when we are all scared of human interaction and have gone virtual. The sound of cheers, the smiles on people’s faces, the noise of the crowd was like a gift to me, a spark of life. This gave me hope that everything would be fine and people would find the right path again. Cheers, hugs, something we didn’t see often after the start of the pandemic. Art is a temple of the human soul, and it comes in all shapes, colors, media and ideas.

Images copyright Nelly Tonchev and Vesselina Toncheva

Baba Yaga: Deity of Death or Regenerator of Life?

Back in March, we gave a brief overview of the infamous Baba Yaga, which you can read here to refresh your memory. But, this famous witch is more than a mere child-eating demon. If Hansel and Gretel had happened upon Baba Yaga in the forest, the witch might have taught them a thing or two about Slavic customs. She is a “baba,” after all, a wise, skillful old woman, who often performed the role of a midwife. Saving lives, not consuming them, she’d tell her honored guests.

First, she would let them know that by venturing into the forest, they had entered the in-between realm, the land of unconsciousness, the other side of life. It’s here that she guards the entrance to the “other world,” the world of the dead. It was once her role, long ago, to escort souls to the world beyond.

Baba Yaga and boy
Ivan Bilibin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

And next, if they questioned her about her penchant for sticking children into the oven, she’d tell them it was an age-honored tradition in parts of Russian and elsewhere to perform a ritual on premature babies to make the infant strong and resilient. Just like you make dough rise by putting it into a warm oven, so you do the same with a baby born early.

“How so?” her guests would ask.

“Why,” she’d reply, “aren’t you a wonder. What do they teach children these days? All the smartest people know that you have to cover the baby with dough and place him on a bread shovel, which you place into the warm oven—warm, mind you, not scorching hot. We only want to plump up the little one so he completes his growth cycle. The oven is much like it’s mother’s womb and ensures the child becomes fully developed.”

“But how do you know when he’s done?” children ask with a tremor in their voices.

“Surely, you know when bread is done. By practice, you can tell. Same goes for the little one.”

The witch, with a gleam in her eye, goes on to tell them that the same can be done with older children who have become ill. The oven heat will burn away the disease and it escapes through the chimney. Then, lo and behold, the child becomes healthier. These ancient rites and traditions have served our ancestors well, she tells them, and it’s such a shame they are now forgotten.

“How are you feeling, dear children?” She approaches and touches their heated cheeks.

“Fine, just fine,” they say as they take cautious steps back to the doorway.

The woman they see before them may be ugly as sin. She may even have a snake’s tail. Once, long, long ago, before she had any resemblance to a person, she had the appearance of a frog. Her arms were twisted with claws at their tips. She was bent over and had long, dirty hair.

Baba Yaga in Her Mortar
Ivan Bilibin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It is this Baba Yaga who is said to transform you through your death. Yes, you heard me right, your death. She not only burns away impurities such as diseases. She can also end your existence—but for the better. That part of you that dies is that which holds you back from becoming who you should be, the better you. Fear not, she has the power of death, but the power of life, as she is the keeper of both the Water of Life and the Water of Death.

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We could talk about Baba Yaga for 1001 nights. There is so much information about her. But we hope this is enough to pique your interest in this ambiguous witch. We are currently researching more about Baba Yaga and will publish the fourth book in our “Spirits & Creatures” series hopefully by the end of 2022 or early 2023.

Sources:

“Baba Yaga’s Cottage: Meeting the Goddess of Death and Rebirth”: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/babayagascottage/2020/03/baba-yagas-cottage-meeting-goddess-death-rebirth/

“Baba Yaga – The Ugly Evil Witch of Slavic Folklore”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSCkdWREr7k

“Баба- Яга: в сказках и в жизни” (Baba Yaga: in fairy tales and in life): https://www.b17.ru/article/6550/

The Beauty and Power of Woman

I’m sure many of you have seen the painting of a beautiful mermaid combing her hair with a dreamy look on her face. Mermaids have fascinated artists and writers for centuries. John William Waterhouse is no exception.

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Mythology and tales have had a great impact on his work. He was a renowned and notable English painter and draftsman. His paintings were characterized by an intense appreciation of natural light and setting, and a deep inspiration from bold, strong, and beautiful female figures.

He had an eye for natural beauty and beautiful female figures. He painted several portraits of some of the era’s most famous women. One of my personal favorites is his fascinating portrayal of Cleopatra, a woman of mystery in the Western imagination. It’s never been completely agreed upon whether Cleopatra was more alluring due to her beauty or her brilliance. Waterhouse has managed to intertwine the two traits. He depicts a woman of great intensity and power, and one of intelligence and sexuality.

Cleopatra

Looking at his paintings it’s difficult for me to describe the Waterhouse women, but they all have something in common. They all are the same model, a woman called Muriel Foster.

I see each of them as a morning rose ready to blossom. Each one is innocent and perfect, but at the same time, bewitching the viewer. They are calm, but strong, contemplative, and proud. In their countenances, you can see they dream of love and deserve to be adored and cherished like a fragile flower.

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Waterhouse created around 200 paintings during his life. Some of his most famous and widely applauded works include “The Lady of Shallot,” “Ophelia,” “The Enchanted Garden,” “A Naiad,” “Consulting the Oracle,” and “Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May,” among many others.

It’s a testament to the work of Waterhouse that the Royal Academy displayed his last work, “The Enchanted Garden,” upon his death, even though it was never finished.

You can find some of Waterhouse’s works in our Redbubble store, as well mythological themes from other great painters. Please stop by and visit: https://www.redbubble.com/people/ronesaaveela/shop

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