Creative Sensemaker: What to read, watch and listen to this weekend

Painting of several people in bright colours

A rundown of the books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency

By Matt d’Ancona

Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.

True art is often the thread that twitches across time. So it was for me, at least, when I finally saw, in its full splendour, Paula’s Rego’s The Policeman’s Daughter (1987) at Tate Britain’s extraordinary retrospective of her work (booking until 24 October).

It’s a stunning piece, depicting a young woman busy polishing her father’s boot – theoretically playing a subordinate role by performing such a chore. But she does so with a duality that’s characteristic of the Portuguese artist, absolutely in command of herself and the space she occupies with her defiant expression and the mass of her body. 

It’s remarkable to reflect that this great artist, now 86 and still busily working, only really broke through to the mainstream in the UK in 1988, with an acclaimed exhibition at the Serpentine. The Tate retrospective, which assembles more than 100 works, is long overdue – but all the more welcome for that.

Born in Lisbon in 1935, Rego was a child of the long authoritarian rule of António de Oliveira Salazar, and has always been a robustly political and feminist artist, rebelling against repression, violence, and patriarchy. Her early work is often explicitly dissident, and even as her thematic focus has shifted over the years, she has remained implacably engaged with questions of human rights and political justice.

Rego’s personal interest in Jungian analysis was undoubtedly a turning point in her life, and this fascination beat a path to a long love affair with fairy tales, folklore, and nursery rhymes. Her paintings are both exquisitely rendered and packed with unsettling fringe details: animals, dolls, morphing faces, mirrors, windmills, the strange intrusions at the edges of the dreaming mind. 

Those who say that she’s a citizen of two artistic realms, moving between the real and the magical as she pleases, miss the point entirely. For Rego, there is no border between the two; only a constant interaction between what we perceive as naturalistic and the dreams that pursue us wherever we go. 

She describes her aesthetic as ‘beautiful grotesque’ – which captures the entanglement in her work of enchantment and terror, of the poised and the feral, of the social and the profoundly interior. 

This is a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition. Don’t even think of missing it.

Film still of man against a greenery and wearing headphones
1980's photograph of woman reclining by poolside holding book


The Water Man (Netflix, 9 July)
In David Oyelowo’s directorial debut, 11-year-old Gunner Boone (Lonnie Chavis) goes in search of the legendary Water Man in the forest to help cure his cancer-stricken mother, Mary (Rosario Dawson). Oyelowo himself plays Gunner’s father, Amos, bringing his usual dramatic heft to the role. The pace, emotional depth and well-judged use of special effects all suggest a bright future for him behind, as well as in front of the camera.

Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story (VOD, selected cinemas) 
It is salutary to be reminded that the reinvention of the self – the public persona crafted almost from scratch – long predates the arrival of the social media juggernaut. The late Jackie Collins grew up in the shadow of her film star sister, Joan, but, tagging along in Hollywood, discovered an unexpected gift for turning what she saw into blockbuster books. Laura Fairrie’s documentary, made with the cooperation of Collins’s children and siblings, is a riveting account of a milieu: the Los Angeles and London of the 1970s and 1980s. It’s also a story fraught with pathos – of personal loss and a relentless Faustian pact that delivered fame, but only at great cost to the soul. 

Black pink and white typography book cover
Colourful typography book cover


Shiny And New: Ten Moments Of Pop Genius That Defined The ‘80s by Dylan Jones 
As well as being one of the most important magazine editors of the past 30 years, Dylan Jones has become an essential chronicler of modern pop culture. After the success of Sweet Dreams, his account of the New Romantic movement, he now explores 10 distinctive singles that defined a decade: from ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by the Sugarhill Gang to ‘Sign O’ The Times’ by Prince. 
Do join Dylan Jones, Martyn Ware and Sarah Champion on Thursday 15 July, 6.30pm to 7.30pm BST, at Tortoise’s ThinkIn on the defining role of pop in the 1980s. 
Vaxxers: The Inside Story Of The Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine And The Race Against The Virus by Professor Sarah Gilbert and Dr Catherine Green 
Quite simply, one of the most extraordinary stories in the history of medicine, told by the two women at the heart of the battle to immunise the world against COVID-19. The sheer speed with which these two remarkable scientists worked, under what can only be described as planetary pressure, is astounding. But the book ends with a warning: ‘If the disease is running wild in other countries then even once we have vaccinated everyone in the country we live in, we remain at risk from someone hopping onto a plane, unknowingly carrying an emerging variant that can escape existing vaccines.’

On which note: do please join Tortoise’s #TheArmsRace campaign for global vaccination. You can find out how to donate doses and help out here.

Close up of woman wearing white gown reclining on piano
Man and eagle in dessert


Love Songs by Angela Hewitt 
For three decades, Angela Hewitt has been a force of nature in classical music, a virtuoso pianist best-known for her interpretations of Bach. This compilation captures the emotion that underpins her awesome discipline, with transcriptions of songs by composers including Richard Strauss, Schumann, Gluck, and Schubert. As ever, the performance is captivating.

Desert Eagle by Jah Khalib (10 July)
The Azerbaijani-Kazakh rapper and singer, Bakhtiyar Mammadov – aka Jah Khalib – makes music that is uplifting, striking in the breadth of its influences, and close to transcendent in its impact. Listen to this for a sense of the wondrous sounds that he produces.

That’s all for now. Have a great week.

Best wishes,

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
Tortoise Media

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