William Blake’s Paintings Come to Life in Two Animations

The poet and painter William Blake toiled in obscurity, for the most part, and died in poverty.

Twenty some years after his death, his rebellious spirit gained traction with the Pre-Raphaelites.

By the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Blake was ripe to be venerated as a counter-cultural hero, for having flown in the face of convention, while championing gender and racial equality, nature, and free love.

Reclining half-naked on a “a fabulous couch in Harlem,” poet Allen Ginsburg had a hallucinatory encounter wherein Blake recited to him “in earthen measure.”

Ditto poet Michael McClure, though in his case, Bob Dylan’s “Gates of Eden” served as something of a medium:

I had the idea that I was hallucinating, that it was William Blake’s voice coming out of the walls and I stood up and put my hands on the walls and they were vibrating.

Blake’s work (and world view) continues to exert enormous influence on graphic noveliststheatermakers, and creatives of every stripe.

He’s also a dab hand at animation, collaborating from beyond the grave.

The short above, a commission for a late ‘70s Blake exhibition at The Tate, envisions a roundtrip journey from Heaven to Hell. Animator Sheila Graber parked herself in the Sculpture Hall to create it in public view, pairing Blake’s line “Energy is Eternal delight” with a personal observation:

Whether we use it to create or destroy—it’s the same energy. The practice of art can turn a person from a vandal to a builder!

More recently, the Tate gave director Sam Gainsborough access to super high-res imagery of Blake’s original paintings, in order to create a promo for last year’s blockbuster exhibition.

Gainsborough and animator Renaldho Pelle worked together to bring the chosen works to life, frame by frame, against a series of London buildings and streets that were well known to Blake himself.

The film opens with Blake’s Ghost of a Flea emerging from the walls of Broadwick Street, where its creator was born, then stalking off, bowl in hand, ceding the screen to God, The Ancient of Days, whose reach spreads like ink across the gritty facade of a white brick edifice.

Seymour Milton’s original music and Jasmine Blackborow’s narration of excerpts from Blake’s poem “Auguries of Innocence” seem to anticipate the fraught current moment, as does the entire poem:

Auguries of Innocence

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour

A Robin Red breast in a Cage

Puts all Heaven in a Rage 

A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons

Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions 

A dog starvd at his Masters Gate

Predicts the ruin of the State 

A Horse misusd upon the Road

Calls to Heaven for Human blood 

Each outcry of the hunted Hare

A fibre from the Brain does tear 

A Skylark wounded in the wing 

A Cherubim does cease to sing 

The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight

Does the Rising Sun affright 

Every Wolfs & Lions howl

Raises from Hell a Human Soul 

The wild deer, wandring here & there 

Keeps the Human Soul from Care 

The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife

And yet forgives the Butchers knife 

The Bat that flits at close of Eve

Has left the Brain that wont Believe

The Owl that calls upon the Night

Speaks the Unbelievers fright

He who shall hurt the little Wren

Shall never be belovd by Men 

He who the Ox to wrath has movd

Shall never be by Woman lovd

The wanton Boy that kills the Fly

Shall feel the Spiders enmity 

He who torments the Chafers Sprite

Weaves a Bower in endless Night 

The Catterpiller on the Leaf

Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief 

Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly 

For the Last Judgment draweth nigh 

He who shall train the Horse to War

Shall never pass the Polar Bar 

The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat 

Feed them & thou wilt grow fat 

The Gnat that sings his Summers Song

Poison gets from Slanders tongue 

The poison of the Snake & Newt

Is the sweat of Envys Foot 

The poison of the Honey Bee

Is the Artists Jealousy

The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags

Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags 

A Truth thats told with bad intent

Beats all the Lies you can invent 

It is right it should be so 

Man was made for Joy & Woe 

And when this we rightly know 

Thro the World we safely go 

Joy & Woe are woven fine 

A Clothing for the soul divine 

Under every grief & pine

Runs a joy with silken twine 

The Babe is more than swadling Bands

Throughout all these Human Lands

Tools were made & Born were hands 

Every Farmer Understands

Every Tear from Every Eye

Becomes a Babe in Eternity 

This is caught by Females bright

And returnd to its own delight 

The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar 

Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore 

The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath

Writes Revenge in realms of Death 

The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air

Does to Rags the Heavens tear 

The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun 

Palsied strikes the Summers Sun

The poor Mans Farthing is worth more

Than all the Gold on Africs Shore

One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands

Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands 

Or if protected from on high 

Does that whole Nation sell & buy 

He who mocks the Infants Faith

Shall be mockd in Age & Death 

He who shall teach the Child to Doubt

The rotting Grave shall neer get out 

He who respects the Infants faith

Triumphs over Hell & Death 

The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons

Are the Fruits of the Two seasons 

The Questioner who sits so sly 

Shall never know how to Reply 

He who replies to words of Doubt

Doth put the Light of Knowledge out 

The Strongest Poison ever known

Came from Caesars Laurel Crown 

Nought can Deform the Human Race

Like to the Armours iron brace 

When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow

To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow 

A Riddle or the Crickets Cry

Is to Doubt a fit Reply 

The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile

Make Lame Philosophy to smile 

He who Doubts from what he sees

Will neer Believe do what you Please 

If the Sun & Moon should Doubt 

Theyd immediately Go out 

To be in a Passion you Good may Do 

But no Good if a Passion is in you 

The Whore & Gambler by the State

Licencd build that Nations Fate 

The Harlots cry from Street to Street 

Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet 

The Winners Shout the Losers Curse 

Dance before dead Englands Hearse 

Every Night & every Morn

Some to Misery are Born 

Every Morn and every Night

Some are Born to sweet delight 

Some are Born to sweet delight 

Some are Born to Endless Night 

We are led to Believe a Lie

When we see not Thro the Eye

Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night 

When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light 

God Appears & God is Light

To those poor Souls who dwell in Night 

But does a Human Form Display

To those who Dwell in Realms of day

Related Content:

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William Blake’s Masterpiece Illustrations of the Book of Job (1793-1827)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Take Immersive Virtual Tours of the World’s Great Museums: The Louvre, Hermitage, Van Gogh Museum & Much More

Can you remember when you last visited a museum? Even if you didn’t much care for them before the time of the coronavirus, you’re probably beginning to miss them right about now. At least the internet technology that has kept our communication open and our entertainment flowing — and, regrettably for some, kept our work meetings regular — has also made it possible to experience art institutions through our screens. Here on Open Culture we’ve previously featured many such online art spaces, digital gallery experiences, and virtual museum tours, and today we’ve rounded up some of the best for you.

Most everyone who had a trip to France scheduled for this spring or summer will have canceled it. But thanks to these three high-definition, first-person videos, you can still tour the Louvre, Liberty Leading the People, the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, and even I.M. Pei’s rooftop pyramid and all. Perhaps you’d planned to spend part of 2020 traveling Europe more widely, in which case you’d almost certainly have gone to Italy and seen Forence’s Uffizi Gallery as well. Luckily, that most famous collection of Renaissance art has gone digital with a complete “street view” tour as well as an archive of 3D sculpture scans.

Of course, no art-oriented trip to Italy would be well spent only in galleries and museums: it would also have to include St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and other sacred spaces of the Vatican, in whose virtual versions you can now spend as long as you like. And while some tourists in Europe face time or money constraints too tight to allow visits to smaller countries like the Netherlands, internet travel is subject to no such limitations. So go ahead and take a seven-part tour of the Van Gogh Museum in 4K, or have a look at Rembrandt’s The Night Watch down to every last brushstroke.

You won’t find every Dutch masterpiece in the Netherlands. Take Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Early Delights, for instance, currently held by Spain’s Prado Museum, which has also made a virtual tour of the grotesque and spectacular painting available online. As for the work of Spain’s own artists, you can go even deeper into the work of Salvador Dalí with this 360-degree virtual-reality video of his painting Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet’s ‘Angelus.’  Those who’d like to spend some time off the continent and back down on Earth can view an altogether different 360-degree video, this one of Shakepeare’s Globe Theatre in London — and have a look at the treasures of the British Museum while they’re at it.

The ongoing pandemic having put a temporary stop to not just most travel to Europe but most international travel of any kind, hopeful travelers to and within North America have also been forced to change their plans. If this describes you, consider taking a virtual tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural HistoryFrank Lloyd Wright’s studio Taliesin, or the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City. But while you’re online, why not mount an even more ambitious worldwide art journey: to the Hermitage in Russia, the Ghibli Museum in Japan, and street art (as well as stolen art) from all over? It’s a big world of art out there — something we can’t let ourselves forget before we can see it in person again.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch Home Movies Starring Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Igor Stravinsky, Gertrude Stein, Colette & Other Early 20th Century Luminaries

Léonide Massine may not be not the most famous name to grace socialite Elizabeth Fuller Chapman’s home movies.

In terms of 21st century name brand recognition, he definitely lags behind art world heavies Salvador DaliMarcel DuchampConstantin BrâncușiHenri Matisse, composer Igor Stravinsky, novelist Colette, playwright Thornton Wilder, the ever-formidable poet and collector Gertrude Stein, and her longtime companion Alice B. Toklas. Such were the luminaries in Mrs. Chapman’s circle.

But in terms of sheer on-camera charisma, the Ballets Russes dancer and choreographer definitely steals the collective show, above, currently on exhibit as part of the Museum of Modern Art’s Private Lives Public Spaces, an exhibit exploring home movies as an art form.

Massine’s unbridled al fresco hip-twirling, prancing, and side kicks (preceded by a slow-motion run at 1:55) exist in stark contrast with Matisse’s stiff discomfort in the same setting (11:11) One need not be a skilled lipreader to guess the tone of the commentary Mrs. Chapman’s 16mm camera was not equipped to capture.

Stein (12:00), whose forceful personality was the stuff of legend, appears relaxed at the summer home she and Toklas shared in Bilignin, but also happy to position their standard poodle, Basket, as the center of attention.

Georges Braque (14:50), the introverted Father of Cubism, clings gratefully to his palette as he stands before a large canvas in his studio, and appears just as wary in another clip at 20:10.

The Surrealist Dali (21:50), as extroverted as Braque was retiring, takes a different approach to his palette, engaging with it as a sort of comic prop. Ditto his wife-to-be, Gala, and a painted porcelain bust he once accessorized with an inkwell, a baguette, and a zoetrope strip.

Dali serves up some serious Tik-Tok vibes, but we have a hunch Colette’s struggles with her friend, pianist Misia Sert’s semi-tame monkey (4:35), would rack up more likes.

As the curators of the MoMA exhibition note:

Chapman Films is immensely popular in the Film Study Center for the rare and intimate glimpses of their lives it provides, from a time when the famous were not readily accessible. Yes, there were gossip columns, fan magazines, and juicy exposés in the 1930s and ‘40s, but many notable figures carefully curated their public personas. We know these figures through their paintings, music, or words, not their faces, so to see them at all—let alone in real life, doing everyday things—is remarkable.

Also charming is the freshness of their interactions with Chapman’s camera—many of her subjects were celebrities, but their fame was in no way tethered to the ubiquity of smart phones. Hard to go viral in 16mm, decades before YouTube.

Though dancing, as Massine, and his close second Serge Lifar (8:50) make plain, is an excellent way to hold our attention.

Related Content:

Salvador Dalí Explains Why He Was a “Bad Painter” and Contributed “Nothing” to Art (1986)

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Gertrude Stein Recites ‘If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso’

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Take a Virtual Tour of Frida Kahlo’s Blue House Free Online

No first trip to Mexico City is complete without a visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum. Located in the village-turned-borough of Coyoacán south of the city’s center, it requires a short trip-within-a-trip to get there. But even for travelers who know nothing of Kahlo’s art, it’s worth the effort — especially since they’ll come away knowing quite a bit about not just Kahlo’s art and life but the culturally rich place and time she inhabited. For the building occupied by the Frida Kahlo Museum was, in fact, the home in which the artist was born and spent most of her life, making her one of Coyoacán’s many notable residents. (Others include writer Octavio Paz, iconic comic actor Mario “Cantinflas” Moreno, and actress-singer Dolores del Río.)

Though I’ve long wanted to return to the Blue House, as the Frida Kahlo Museum is colloquially known, I somehow haven’t made it back again on any of my subsequent trips to Mexico City. And given the state of world travel at the moment, I doubt I’ll get the chance to make another visit any time soon.

Fortunately, the Museum has become virtually explorable online, with 360-degree views of all its rooms as well as its grounds. Even virtually, writes Vogue‘s Manon Garrigues, “Frida’s spirit can be felt everywhere. In her atelier are carefully arranged pigments facing her easel, while in the kitchen, which once welcomed the couple’s friends to the house, including their renowned neighbor, Trotsky, who lived next door with his wife, are playful ceramics.”

For those with compatible headsets, all of this is also viewable in WebVR mode —  even Kahlo’s bedroom, where “an urn in the form of her face lies on her bed, holding her ashes. Beside is the mirror in which Frida, bedridden, observed herself to paint her famous self-portraits, such as The Two Fridas and Frida y la cesarea, now on display in the villa.”

The home-turned-museum’s ten rooms display a great deal of Kahlo’s art, of course, but also works by her husband, the painter Diego Rivera, as well as the couple’s clothing and personal effects. You’ll find paintings by other artists of Kahlo’s day like Paul Klee and José María Velasco, and also handcrafted items from other regions of Mexico. The only thing missing in the virtual Frida Kahlo Museum experience is the requisite cafe de olla enjoyed afterward, back out on the streets of Coyoacán. Enter the virtual tour here.

via Messy Nessy

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Discover Frida Kahlo’s Wildly-Illustrated Diary: It Chronicled the Last 10 Years of Her Life, and Then Got Locked Away for Decades

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The British Museum is Full of Looted Artifacts

As critics and fans wrote excitedly upon its release, Marvel’s Black Panther did an excellent job of creating sympathy for its villain. Many found Erik Killmonger’s radicalism more appealing than the hero’s moderation for some specific reasons, beginning with the heist at the “Museum of Great Britain,” a thinly fictionalized British Museum. “In one scene,” writes gallerist Lise Ragbir at Hyperallergic, “the blockbuster superhero movie touches on issues of provenance, repatriation, diversity, representation, and other debates currently shaping institutional practices.”

As a gallery director who is also black, I was awed by Killmonger’s declaration to an overconfident curator that she was mistaken. When the curator condescendingly informed Killmonger that items in the museum aren’t for sale, my hands began to sweat. And I was downright thrilled when the villain bluntly confronted her: “How do you think your ancestors got these? You think they paid a fair price? Or did they take it like they took everything else?”

He does not exaggerate. The scene “describes a centuries-old truth,” artist Deborah Roberts remarks”—”colonialists robbing black culture to put on display for European consumption.” The issue, in other words, is not only who gets to tell the stories of African and other non-European people, but who gets to see and hear them, since so many non-white people have been excluded from museums and museum culture.

As Casey Haughin wrote in the Hopkins Exhibitionist, the film “presented [the museum] as an illegal mechanism of colonialism, and along with that, a space which does not even welcome those whose culture it displays.” So-called “disputed museum treasures,” the Vox video above shows, are essentially stolen artifacts, with claims of ownership that elide, omit, or fabricate the history of their acquisition.

Some looted treasures have been returned, but when it comes to the majority of the Museum’s “disputed” collections, “so far, it isn’t giving them back,” Vox explains, despite calls from formerly colonized nations. It’s easy to see why. If they were to honor historical claims of ownership, the British Museum would lose some of its most celebrated and significant holdings, like the Rosetta Stone or the Benin Bronzes, “some of the most contentious items in the museum.”

These bronzes, from the wealthy Kingdom of Benin, located in modern-day Nigeria, were “looted by British soldiers during an 1897 raid,” Sarah Cascone writes at Artnet. Faced with calls from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments to return them, the British Museum held meetings that lead to more meetings and a “declaration” that “outlined an intention”—all stalling tactics that have not produced results. Learn why these artifacts are important to Nigerians and how the 19th-century “scramble for Africa” created so much of the museum culture we know today, one still heavily mired in its colonialist roots.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Thomas Jefferson’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandson Poses for a Presidential Portrait

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…  —Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States of America

He was a brilliant man who preached equality, but he didn’t practice it. He owned people. And now I’m here because of it. —Shannon LaNier, co-author of Jefferson’s Children: The Story of One American Family

Many of the American participants in photographer Drew Gardner‘s ongoing Descendants project agreed to temporarily alter their usual appearance to heighten the historic resemblance to their famous ancestors, adopting Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s lace cap and sausage curls or Frederick Douglass’ swept back mane.

Actor and television presenter Shannon LaNier submitted to an uncomfortable, period-appropriate neckwrap, tugged into place with the help of some discreetly placed paperclips, but skipped the wig that would have brought him into closer visible alignment with an 1800 portrait of his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson.

“I didn’t want to become Jefferson,” states LaNier, whose great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Sally Hemings, was written out of the narrative for most of our country’s history.

An enslaved half-sister of Jefferson’s late wife, Martha, Hemings was around sixteen when she bore Jefferson’s first child, as per the memoir of her son, Madison, from whom LaNier is also directly descended.

She has been portrayed onscreen by actors Carmen Ejogo and Thandie Newton (and Maya Rudolph in an icky Saturday Night Live skit.)

But there are no photographs or painted portraits of her, nor any surviving letters or diary entries. Just two accounts in which she is described as attractive and light-skinned, and some political cartoons that paint an unflattering picture.

The mystery of her appearance might make for an interesting composite portrait should the Smithsonian, who commissioned Gardner’s series, seek to entice all of LaNier’s female and female-identifying cousins from the Hemings line to pose.

While LaNier was aware of his connection to Jefferson from earliest childhood, his peers scoffed and his mother had to take the matter up with the principal after a teacher told him to sit down and stop lying. As he recalled in an interview:

When they didn’t believe me, it became one of those things you stop sharing because, you know, people would make fun of you and then they’d say, “Yeah, and I’m related to Abraham Lincoln.”

His family pool expanded when Jefferson’s great-great-great-great-grandson, journalist Lucian King Truscott IVwhose fifth great-grandmother was Martha Jeffersonissued an open invitation to Hemings’ descendants to be his guests at a 1999 family reunion at Monticello.

It would be another 20 years before the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and Monticello tour guides stopped framing Hemings’ intimate connection to Jefferson as mere tattle.

Now visitors can find an exhibit dedicated to her life, both online and in the recently reopened house-museum.

Truscott lauded the move in an essay on Salon, published the same week that a yearbook photo of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in blackface posing next to a figure in KKK robes began to circulate:

Monticello is committing an act of equality by telling the story of slave life there, and by extension, slave life in America. When my cousins in the Hemings family stand up and proudly say, we are descendants of Thomas Jefferson, they are committing an act of equality…. The photograph you see here is a picture of who we are as Americans. One day, a photograph of two cousins, one black and one white, will not be seen as unusual. One day, acts of equality will outweigh acts of racism. Until that day, however, Shannon and I will keep fighting for what’s right. And one day, we will win.

Watch a video of Jefferson descendant Shannon Lanier’s session with photographer Drew Gardner here.

See more photos from Gardner’s Descendents project here.

Read historian Annette Gordon-Reed‘s New York Times op-ed on the complicated Hemings-Jefferson connection here.

via Petapixel

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Exquisite 2300-Year-Old Scythian Woman’s Boot Preserved in the Frozen Ground of the Altai Mountains

Shoes and boots, show where your feet have gone. —Guy Sebeus, 10 New Scythian Tales 

In the age of fast fashion, when planned obsolescence, cheap materials, and shoddy construction have become the norm, how startling to encounter a stylish women’s boot that’s truly built to last…

…like, for 2300 years.

It helps to have landed in a Scythian burial mound in Siberia’s Altai Mountains, where the above boot was discovered along with a number of nomadic afterlife essentials—jewelry, food, weapons, and clothing.

These artifacts (and their mummified owners) were well preserved thanks to permafrost and the painstaking attention the Scythians paid to their dead.

As curators at the British Museum wrote in advance of the 2017 exhibition Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia:

Nomads do not leave many traces, but when the Scythians buried their dead they took care to equip the corpse with the essentials they thought they needed for the perpetual rides of the afterlife. They usually dug a deep hole and built a wooden structure at the bottom. For important people these resembled log cabins that were lined and floored with dark felt – the roofs were covered with layers of larch, birch bark and moss. Within the tomb chamber, the body was placed in a log trunk coffin, accompanied by some of their prized possessions and other objects. Outside the tomb chamber but still inside the grave shaft, they placed slaughtered horses, facing east.

18th-century watercolor illustration of a Scythian burial mound. Archive of the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg

The red cloth-wrapped leather bootie, now part of the State Hermitage Museum‘s collection, is a stunner, trimmed in tin, pyrite crystals, gold foil and glass beads secured with sinew. Fanciful shapes—ducklings, maybe?—decorate the seams. But the true mindblower is the remarkable condition of its sole.

Speculation is rampant on Reddit, as to this bottom layer’s pristine condition:

Maybe the boot belonged to a high-ranking woman who wouldn’t have walked much…

Or Scythians spent so much time on horseback, their shoe leather was spared…

Or perhaps it’s a high quality funeral garment, reserved for exclusively post-mortem use…

The British Museum curators’ explanation is that Scythians seated themselves on the ground around a communal fire, subjecting their soles to their neighbors’ scrutiny.

Become better acquainted with Scythian boots by making a pair, as ancient Persian empire reenactor Dan D’Silva did, documenting the process in a 3-part series on his blog. How you bedazzle the soles is up to you.

via ArtifactsHub

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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