Bananas and Mottainai

After seeing a sixty-foot refrigerated truck full of yellow bananas being unloaded onto the loading dock at the transfer station this summer, I couldn’t get the Japanese word “mottainai” out of my mind. “Mottainai” means “what a waste” and conveys a sense that we should not throw away useful things. In David Kestenbaum’s NPR story “Mottainai Grandma Reminds Japan, ‘Don’t Waste’,” Yuko Kawanishi explained that Mottainai is an old Buddhist word that relates to ‘the Shinto idea that objects have souls.’

While they were in transit, the temperature of the bananas rose, causing them to soften. I thought, “Perfect for banana bread!” wanting to contact everyone I know to pick up a 40-pound box of soft yellow bananas. I felt helpless when I learned that they were not only going to waste, they would not be composted. There was not enough staff to separate the cardboard, plastic, and bananas.



Putting Things Together

I’ve been collecting crocheted afghans from the Transfer Station. As I consider possible ways to put them together–I am looking to other artists’ work made with fabric.

The image below is of an Egungun mask from the mid-20th century created by the Yoruba Peoples of Nigeria I saw at the National Museum of African Art. According to the didactic label, “Egungun” means “powers concealed,” referring to the dancer under the costume–and to the ‘spiritual power of the ancestors it honors.’ The layers of cloth are built layer by layer–and ‘celebrate the wealth and status of all family members, living or dead.’

Egungun Mask Costume, Yoruba Peoples, Nigeria
(National Museum of African Art)









Recycled Material: Powerful Objects

I stopped at the Smithsonian Museums last week, and saw some impressive works of art made from recycled materials. Here are two photos of Romuald Hazoumé’s “Rainbow Serpent,” an enormous sculpture made of oil jerry cans currently on exhibit at the National Museum of African Art.

Romuald Hazoumè "Rainbow Serpent" 2007 "African Cosmos: Stellar Arts" Exhibition

Hazoumé, a traditional mask maker from Benin, is most famous internationally for his “jerrican masks.” Some were featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Reconfiguring an African Icon” in 2011. (Here’s a link to more about that exhibition: <>.)

"Rainbow Serpent" detail


Fragile Beauty

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio Rutulus)

This dead but perfectly intact butterfly turned up inside a box of truck tail lights at the Transfer Station! I looked into the long rectangular box, and assuming I saw a plastic model, dumped it on the ground. I placed the Papilio Rutulus on the dumpster for this photo.

Everyone’s Here.

I photographed these books about artists and ideas, and remembered a quote by Philip Guston:

John Cage …once told me, ‘When you start working everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas – all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.’ 1

1 Philip Guston from ‘The Philadelphia Panel,’ transcribed in It Is, no.5, Spring 1960, pp. 36–8.