South African villagers tap into trend for ‘superfood’ baobab

MUTALE, South Africa: From before dawn, 54-year-old grandmother Annah Muvhali weaves between baobab trees that loom over her rural South African home, collecting fruit that enthusiasts worldwide hail as a “superfood”.

About 1,000 women in the village of Muswodi Dipeni, in the northern province of Limpopo, earn a living by harvesting the furry, hard-shelled baobab fruit pods.

The seeds and chalky powder inside the pods have become a global health craze celebrated for their vitamin-packed properties and now used in everything from flavoured soda, ice cream and chocolate to gin and cosmetics.

“Before, I never knew there was any value in baobab. My family and I would eat the fruit simply because it makes a delicious yoghurt-like porridge that is nutritious and filling,” Muvhali told AFP.

“I always use it for my grandchildren when their stomachs are troublesome”.

Known locally as “baobab guardians”, women like Muvhali also plant and nurture baobab saplings in their gardens and earn an income for each centimetre that the trees grow.

Having started in 2006, the grandmother of five has since been able to build a house for her two children and grandchildren from her earnings.

Elisa Phaswana, 59, has been nurturing a single one-metre-high sapling — protected from goats by a makeshift fence — for the past two years.

She said the baobab guardian programme had alleviated poverty in the community.

“It helps the environment and it helps us especially because there is little to no work for us and our children in our village”.

“I get about R320 per centimetre”.

Soaring demand

Sarah Venter, an ecologist who runs the Ecoproducts company behind the baobab cultivation, said the scheme rewarded women for their skills and care.

“They get paid a certain amount until the tree reaches three metres high and after that, it will live for 1,000 years.

“It has a value chain where everybody benefits, including a rural person picking up something that’s already in their environment and getting an income for it,” Venter said.

“If we are lucky enough as an industry to get to a point where demand exceeds supply, prices will go up and rural producers will get more for what they collect”.

Venter said demand for baobab powder has zoomed every year since 2013, with Europe, the United States, and Canada now the biggest consumer markets.

Estimates by the African Baobab Alliance show that baobab powder exports grew to 450 tonnes in 2017.

Baobab Foods, a leading distributor and supplier, has seen an exploding growth in demand for baobab products in recent years.

“In 2018 we have more than doubled our annual imports of baobab fruit powder into the United States alone,” it said in a statement.

The tree can take up to 200 years to bear fruit, but watering them every day can see that time reduced to 30 years. A tree then produces fruit annually for nearly 200 years.

Traditional healing

Historically credited with mythical and spiritual powers in African folklore, the baobab is known as the “upside down tree”, as its branches look like roots.

Fruit like goji and acai berries, pomegranate, cantaloupe and now baobab fruit are described as superfoods by some nutritionists because of their high levels of antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals.

“Baobab is one of the highest vitamin C containing fruits. There’s natural antioxidants, some vitamin E and various plant compounds which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant uses,” Jean Francois Sobiecki, nutritionist and ethnobotanist at the University of Johannesburg, told AFP.

“It has got a really good combination of natural vitamins, antioxidants, protein and also healing substances which all together makes it an incredible superfood”. — AFP

Tiger population nearly doubles in Nepal

KATHMANDU: Nepal’s wild tiger population has nearly doubled over the last nine years, officials said Monday, in a victory for the impoverished country’s drive to save the endangered big cats.

Wildlife groups have welcomed the news as a sign that political involvement and innovative conservation strategies can reverse the decline of the majestic Royal Bengal tiger.

A survey carried out earlier this year counted 235 tigers in Nepal, up from around 121 tigers in 2009.

Conservationists and wildlife experts used more than 4,000 cameras and around 600 elephants, trawling a 2,700km route across Nepal’s southern planes where the big cats roam.

“This is a result of concentrated unified efforts by the government along with the local community and other stakeholders to protect the tiger’s habitat and fight against poaching,” Man Bahadur Khadka, director general of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, told AFP.

Deforestation, encroachment of habitat and poaching have devastated big cat numbers across Asia, but in 2010 Nepal and 13 other countries signed a pledge to double their tiger numbers by 2022.

The 2010 Tiger Conservation Plan — which is backed by high profile figures including actor Leonardo DiCaprio — quickly began bearing fruit, and in 2016 the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum announced that the wild tiger population had increased for the first time in more than a century.

In 1900, more than 100,000 tigers roamed the world but that fell to an all-time low of 3,200 in 2010.

DiCaprio tweeted his support for Nepal’s success: “I am proud of @dicapriofdn’s partnership with @World_Wildlife to support Nepal and local communities in doubling the population of wild tigers”.

Ghana Gurung, country representative of WWF in Nepal, said that the country’s progress was an example for tiger conservation globally.

“The challenge now is to continue these efforts to protect their habitats and numbers for the long-term survival of the tigers,” he said. — AFP

Straight up? DIY colonoscopy among weird science at Tokyo show

TOKYO: A gadget to “translate” dog barks for humans, a “babypod” that plays music inside the mother’s vagina for unborn babies and the world’s first self-colonoscopy method were among the whacky inventions on show Friday at a new Tokyo exhibition.

The museum celebrates weird and wonderful inventions created by real scientists for the Ig Nobel Prize — or “anti-Nobels” — designed to make people “laugh first and think later.”

Japanese medic Akira Horiuchi, 57, was among the winners last week of the tongue-in-cheek prize, organised by the satirical science journal “Annals of Improbable Research”, for his do-it-yourself colonoscopy.

Horiuchi demonstrated his technique to AFP at the museum from his 2006 study “Colonoscopy in the Sitting Position: Lessons Learned from Self-Colonoscopy.”

The researcher said he had never found his method embarrassing.

“I knew the importance of colonoscopy and that the number of colon cancer patients was increasing,” Horiuchi told AFP.

The latest research shows that cancer of the colon is the most prevalent form of the disease among Japan’s 870,000 cancer sufferers, according to the National Cancer Center.

“Not many people took the test … so I wanted to create an examination that would be accepted by everyone,” said Horiuchi.

Another exhibit was the dog-language interpreter “Bowlingual”, which classifies barks into six emotional categories — frustration, menace, joy, sorrow, desire, and self-expression.

The babypod is a speaker inserted into the vagina that creates a “concert” for unborn children, after research showed this was more effective than playing music on the belly.

Japanese researchers have won Ig Nobel prizes for 12 years in a row. The winners include a team who developed Bowlingual and researchers who discovered female insects endowed with a penis.

Prize founder Marc Abrahams told reporters in Tokyo Friday that Japan had so many winners because there were “many eccentric people” in the country.

“In most of the world, when people behave in very eccentric ways, that’s considered to be a very bad thing.”

“In Japan and also in the UK, it’s different,” Abrahams said.

“You don’t kill your eccentrics. You love them,” he said, adding that is why Japan and the UK have long been “inventing so many clever, crazy, wonderful things.”

Horiuchi agrees.

“I thought I was an eccentric. But I now know there are many people like me in Japan.” — AFP

Burst of life for 113-year-old Sentul Depot

THE 113-YEAR-OLD Sentul Depot, which fell into silence when rail operator KTM (Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd) closed it down in the early 2000s, came back to life for a brief moment during the recent Riuh X Grab Malaysia Day Weekend.

Located in Sentul West and on the way to the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac), Sentul Depot was established in 1905 and once served as a train service centre for the Federated Malay States Railways.

It is now owned by YTL Land & Development, which aims to turn the train yard into an art platform.

Built with English ingenuity and traditional brick design, Sentul Depot’s 200,00sq ft housed what was then known as the railway village, and was home to thousands of rail workers.

The ‘village’ had everything that was needed to maintain and repair the many steam-powered trains in service at that time, from copper smelting and smithing to generator service areas. There were even lodgings and areas for apprentices to learn the craft.

The depot was bombed by the British near the end of WWII to prevent the use of the train yard by the invading Japanese army.

The most notable architectural designs at the Sentul Depot include the sawtooth roof design that features north-facing sunroofs that kept the natural light in and the heat out, structures built using old train tracks as the frame, and a caged structure used to hold valuable copper train components.

While some works have been done to beautify and ensure the safety of the location while preserving its structure, only two areas – the main train warehouse and a smaller secondary warehouse – were opened to the public during the Riuh X Grab Malaysia Day Weekend.

Although YTL Land provided the space, it was Riuh which transformed the two warehouses for the event.

Nevertheless, it is still uncertain if this monthly creative platform will make the train yard its new home.

Knights of the tripe: French food cults defend local fare

BAGNOLES-DE-L’ORNE, France: On a Saturday morning in Sept in the Normandy countryside a group of men and women gather for an ancient French initiation ceremony.

The merry band bustling about in colourful robes and hats, with oversized medallions hanging around their necks, could be performers in a Shakespeare troupe, members of a medieval guild, maybe even druids.

But the glazed pot perched on the top table in the hall in Bagnoles de l’Orne — laden with symbolism like the potion-filled cauldron in the Asterix comics — gives the game away.

Those gathered are elders in the area’s gastronomic “confreries” or brotherhoods, there for the annual general meeting of an order set up, in this instance, to promote the culinary delights of the lining of a cow’s stomach.

Placing their right hands on the pot, its two newest members, Arlette Allix, 70, who used to work in communications, and her 71-year-old husband Christian swear to become ambassadors for tripe — specifically the famous skewered tripe of nearby Ferte-Mace — and to uphold Normandy’s tradition “of eating and drinking well”.

With a tap of a bone on the right shoulder, the “grand master” inducts them into the association and presents them with their red-and-green regalia as well as medallions stamped with a pot and a small skewered bundle.

Seven emissaries from other fraternities are also made honorary members of Ferte-Mace’s venerable tripe brotherhood.

And then it’s off for a parade through town, followed by a five-course meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant where, naturally enough, the plat de resistance is a steaming plate of tripe.

Taking on ‘malbouffe’

Similar scenes play out nearly every week across France, home to around 1,500 “confreries” with over 10,000 members — mostly pensioners who are not involved in the production of the delicacy in question.

They receive subsidies to crisscross the country promoting their region’s produce and partaking in ritualistic food feasts.

“We’re an association of good-timers,” Jean Traon, the jocular co-grand master of Ferte-Mace’s tripe fraternity, admitted to AFP.

“But we enjoy in moderation,” the 73-year-old former police captain emphasised.

“We’re one big family!” said Marie-Chantal Eudine, the 74-year-old grand dame of the Bayeux pig society who was one of the guests, cutting a dash in a musketeer-style hat with a yellow plume.

The “confrerie” tradition dates back to the Middle Ages, with one of the oldest originating in 12th-century Saint-Emilion, a wine-making town near Bordeaux that was at the time under English rule.

In 1199, King John entrusted its aldermen with running the town in return for a promise to give England priority access to the fruits of its vines.

Saint-Emilion’s wine brotherhood went on to spawn imitators for everything from oxtail and truffles to barley sugar sweets made by Benedictine nuns.

Banned during the French Revolution, together with religious orders, the cultish “confreries” underwent a revival in the second half of the 20th century, spurred by concerns over the rise of industrial “malbouffe” (bad food).

Some serve as little more than a pretext for merry-making but others wield significant economic and political clout.

“The rituals may be of another age but there is a positive effect” on producers of the delicacies, said Joaquim Pueyo, MP of the Orne region who was among a handful of politicians attending the weekend festivities.

The fact that local butchers continue to churn out tripe — a humble leftover from a leaner bygone era with a small but committed fan base in northern France — is in no small part due to the efforts of the brotherhood, Pueyo argued.

“We cannot keep up with demand,” Guillaume Delignou, a 29-year-old who recently took over one of Ferte-Mace’s best-known butcheries, confirmed.

Lucky charm

It’s not just greying gourmets that wear brotherhoods’ colours with pride.

Several former presidents have agreed to fly the flag for local produce as a sign of their commitment to France’s culinary heritage, which was honoured with a Unesco world heritage listing in 2010.

Jacques Chirac, a man with a legendary appetite, was inducted into a brotherhood for calves’ brains, while Francois Mitterrand was a champion for cassoulet, a sausage and bean stew.

Emmanuel Macron was the prize catch at this year’s Paris farm fair for the society of the piebald Bayeux pig, with the order’s grand mistresses making him an honorary member when he visited their stand.

Many politicians from rural constituencies agree to bat for several brotherhoods, like Nathalie Goulet, senator for the Orne region, a vegetarian who nonetheless plumps for black pudding, white pudding and tripe among other local favourites including camembert.

Addressing the crowd gathered for lunch at the Manoir du Lys, she credited her victory in last year’s Senate elections to the fact that she was wearing her “lucky charm”, the skewered tripe medallion.

Praising the brotherhoods, whose members are known as knights, as representing “the best of France’s culinary art”, she urged them to widen their nets and recruit catering school students to the cause.

“We have to pass it on,” she said.

Franck Quinton, chef at the one-star Manoir du Lys, is committed to keeping the fires lit by his grandfather — founder of the skewered tripe brotherhood — burning.

But he also wants to elevate the meaty bundles, which are cooked for 14 hours in cider and calvados (some recipes use white wine) and are traditionally eaten at breakfast time.

“I grill them with lobster and scallops. Delicious!”. — AFP

New York expo on conspiracy theories aims to capture zeitgeist

NEW YORK: The Kennedy assassination, Watergate, 911 and the war in Iraq: all these landmark events in US history fueled public suspicions about the elites and fostered conspiracy theories that inspired artists, and are the focus of a new exhibition at New York’s Met Breuer museum.

“Everything Is Connected: Art and Conspiracy,” which opened on Tuesday and runs until Jan 6, attempts to capture the zeitgeist of an age riven with alternative theories about the hidden machinations of power, in what museum director Max Hollein calls a “timely exhibition”.

The history of conspiracy theories goes back centuries, but the show at the Met Breuer — an offshoot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to modern and contemporary works — kicks off with the most famous of the modern era, the assassination of president John F Kennedy.

It is not so much the event itself but the investigations that followed, notably the Warren and Church commissions that examined the actions of the US spy agencies, which drive the show.

“It was really spurred on in a way by all of the commissions that were taking place in the 1970s reexamining what happened,” said curator Ian Alteveer.

“It begins to simmer and it comes to a slow boil by the 1970s”.

An example of how that has translated into the artistic psyche is the 1976 work “The Lee Harvey Oswald Interview”, featured on the poster for the exhibition.

The work by veteran US artist Lutz Bacher — who uses a pseudonym and has never revealed her real identity — features an imagined interview the artist herself carries out with the president’s assassin, together with a montage of pictures of Oswald.

Not enough distance from Trump

The story of Lee Harvey Oswald looms large over the exhibition, which opens with a huge portrait of the assassin entitled “Peach Oswald” by painter Wayne Gonzales.

The first part of the show is dedicated to works that are based on factual research and try to alert the viewer to the real cloak-and-dagger operations of the US government, businesses and arms dealers.

That includes Trevor Paglen’s series of photographs of secret CIA prisons and Alfredo Jaar’s work recalling former secretary of state Henry Kissinger’s support for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The second part of the show is devoted to artists inspired by conspiracy theories to create abstract, often fantastical art that sheds a light on the way society is affected by such tales.

“These works … all address an urgency to question, to imagine and to understand that the world that surrounds us and that we live in is way more complex than we think or that others want us to think,” said Hollein.

The exhibition does not include any works about President Donald Trump, a longstanding backer of conspiracy theories such as his predecessor Barack Obama’s allegedly falsified birth certificate, or his favorite topic of “fake news”.

“There’s not yet enough historical distance, even for an artist, to kind of respond,” said Alteveer. — AFP

The art of flirting

BEING called a flirt or accused of flirting is never considered a good thing in our society. However if handled right, it is one of the best ways to break the ice, talk to stranger or maybe even find that special someone.

Social and cultural anthropologist Jean Smith breaks it all down in her new book, Flirtololgy.

Considered the world’s leading flirt expert, Smith not only gives talks on this subject but also conducts courses for groups where they get to use what she has taught them to talk to strangers.

One of the ways that Smith makes the subject of flirting approachable is by breaking it all down into a science.

She explained in a recent phone interview: “In most areas of people’s lives (their work lives or friends), they seem pretty confident. They know what to do.

“But when it comes to flirting, finding love or approaching new people, they feel insecure and vulnerable. They fear rejection.

“That is why linking this to something concrete like social science means I can give people real information.”

Elaborating further, Smith gave the example of a networking event when you are supposed to go up and start talking to people.

“All of a sudden, the mind chatter starts, and starts creating all these stories for you about what is going to happen if you talk to this person.

“If you link it to something that is real and concrete like social science, we can say: ‘How many times have you done this?’ and we will think: ‘Not very many’.

“Then we ask: ‘On those two occasions when you had to do this, how was the experience?’ and you would say: ‘Oh, they seemed happy to talk to me’.”

Smith said it is good to have a person worried about rejection to link these feelings to something real.

Asked how she learned so much about ‘flirting’, two things came to Smith’s mind.

“One, I travelled the world by myself after I graduated from university. When you are travelling by yourself and you are a social person, you have to find ways to talk to other people. Otherwise you will find yourself in your room every night, like bored.

“So I was forced to make connection, step out of my comfort zone and talk to people. I saw the reaction [of how] most of these people were so happy to have a connection with someone else.

“The second is because I wasn’t looking at people as a man or a woman, or changing my behaviour if I was talking to a man.

“One of the keys of modern way of interacting is we don’t look at each other as man or woman and change our behaviour accordingly. We must look at each other as human beings and in that way, it is less likely we will see that person as an object.

“Then if the human happens to be your preferred gender, the flirting will happen naturally because the two people will be feeling the vibe.”

The word ‘flirting’ has often been associated with a person of loose morals. Very often, a woman (never the man) is vilified for ‘flirting’ and blamed if something untoward happens afterwards.

“In my first book, The Flirt Interpreter, I interviewed 250 people (in London, New York, Paris, and Stockholm). I asked them: ‘What is flirting?’ and almost everyone had a different answer.

“This is the problem with the word ‘flirt’. It is linked to so many negative stereotypes and preconceptions. In a way that is why I created this word ‘flirtology’. I was trying to create a whole new definition about what we mean by flirting.

“Flirtology is really a whole way of life; it is about breaking the ice, being joyful, and being kind to each other.”

That is why in her new book, she separated flirting, which is a fun way to spend time, from ‘flirting with intent’, which is meant for those who are seriously looking for love or to attract someone.

Thriving trade in pirated reads vexes Moroccan bookshops

RABAT: With a backpack filled with pirated books, Khalid wanders the streets of Rabat peddling cheap reads — part of a flourishing black market eliciting howls of protest from bookshop owners.

“It’s true that it’s not legal, but the price of these books attracts readers,” said Khalid, 25, who hawks his wares at cafes in the Moroccan capital.

A little more than a year ago, he sold pirated DVDs, but Khalid said that market was hit when it became possible to watch films on a smartphone.

One of a large number of young Moroccans working informally in a country with high youth unemployment, he quickly found bookselling the only way to make a living.

Along the main streets of Rabat’s historical centre, dozens of other street vendors sell books in Arabic, English and French.

Pirated works can cost a tenth of the original price, with the average book going for just 20 dirhams (RM22).

They include titles by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, as well as French works by Moroccan-born writer Tahar Ben Jelloun and Yasmina Khadra from Algeria.

Despite being prohibited, the market in pirated books is largely tolerated in cities across the kingdom.

But Abdelkader Retnani, president of the Moroccan Association of Book Professionals, said the trade has led to “significant losses for publishing and distribution professionals”.

He blamed the illegal book business on “an organised mafia which makes considerable profits”.

“The authorities recently seized 120,000 pirated books, this sum is enormous but it’s still early to estimate the losses” to booksellers, he added.

‘Pirating suffocates bookshops’

Mohamed, who works in a small bookshop in Rabat, said the street trade “directly impacts our sales” in a struggling industry.

Additionally, he said the copies are “bad quality and take away all the prestige of a book”.

Retnani said there are around 100 bookshops in the country, while Moroccan media put the figure at 250.

In July, the Moroccan Press Agency’s Bab magazine warned “pirating suffocates bookshops” and hits profits.

Hassan El Ouazzani, head of books, libraries and archives at the culture ministry, agreed the black market harms an already weakened sector.

Fewer than 3,000 books are published each year in the country, with an average print run of 1,000 copies.

But Ouazzani suggested the illegal sales “could encourage reading” among Morocco’s 35 million citizens.

Although an increasing number of Moroccans are learning to read, figures from 2014 showed a third of the population was illiterate.

‘Casablanca printers’

For the Moroccan Association of Book Professionals, cracking down on the illegal trade is essential for the survival of their industry.

Retnani called for greater controls at Moroccan ports, a request he plans to put to authorities later this month.

“The majority of pirated books are printed in Egypt and transported by sea to be stored… in illegal depots,” he said.

But in a 2017 investigation, journalist Kenza Sefrioui interviewed a second-hand bookseller who said the black market trade began in 2005 in Casablanca.

A number of small-scale printers reproduced up to 20,000 copies of a Moroccan novel which featured in the school curriculum, before turning their attention to other works.

Cracking down on the street vendors would also boost state coffers, as the informal sector overall cost the state 34 billion dirhams (RM38 dirhams) in 2014 lost tax revenues, according to the General Confederation of Moroccan Businesses.

Street vendor Khalid said he knew of four traders who were recently arrested, in an operation which has not been confirmed by Moroccan authorities.

They “earned a lot of money” importing pirated books, Khalid said, but their detention has by no means put an end to the trade in cheap literary works on Rabat’s streets. — AFP

Yusaku Maezawa: Japanese spaceman with a taste for art

TOKYO: Billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, confirmed as SpaceX’s first Moon tourist, is a former wannabe rock star now worth US$3 billion, (RM12 billion) with a penchant for pricey modern art as well as space travel.

The 42-year-old tycoon, chief executive of Japan’s largest online fashion mall, is the country’s 18th richest person, according to business magazine Forbes.

His Instagram feed is peppered with shots of his luxury living — including private jets, yachts and designer watches, but also his beloved art.

Maezawa hit the headlines last year when he bought a Jean-Michel Basquiat masterpiece worth US$110.5 million.

But he also often features in the tabloid glossies for his celebrity love life.

He used to date the ex-wife of professional baseball player Yu Darvish, pitcher at US major league team Chicago Cubs and is now reportedly with Japanese actress Ayame Goriki.

The entrepreneur has a passion for modern art and splashed a record sum for Basquiat’s 1982 “Untitled”, a skull-like head in oil-stick, acrylic and spray paint on a giant canvas.

Maezawa founded the Contemporary Art Foundation in Tokyo and was on the 2017 list of “Top 200 Collectors” of the ARTnews magazine based in New York.

He insists he is just an “ordinary collector” — despite his extraordinary bank balance. His purchases are born out of love and driven by gut instinct, rather than the instructions of any art advisor.

“I buy simply because they are beautiful. That’s all. I enjoy classics together with the history and stories behind them, but possessing classics is not the purpose of my purchase,” he told AFP in an interview last year.

And rather than squirrel the work away, he loaned it out to museums including the Brooklyn Museum, in the artist’s hometown.

“I hope it brings as much joy to others as it does to me, and that this masterpiece by the 21-year-old Basquiat inspires our future generations,” he said.

Art was high on his mind when he announced he would blast into space on a SpaceX rocket in 2023, saying he would invite six to eight artists from around the world with him.

“They will be asked to create something after they return to Earth. These masterpieces will inspire the dreamer within all of us,” he told reporters.

He has already shown his appreciation for Musk’s space programme, tweeting his congratulations for the successful launch of Falcon Heavy in Feb.

“I am moved that I shared the historic moment on the scene. I am so thrilled and encouraged I can’t put it into words,” his tweet said.

‘Routine work’

As a young man, Maezawa had aspirations in the music world and was a drummer with a band named Switch Style, which made its debut in 2000.

In an interview with corporate affairs website Nippon Shacho, he said he eventually discovered that the business world was more creative than music.

Writing songs, releasing albums and touring the country performing was “gradually becoming routine work,” he told the website.

“We were about to become salary worker-like musicians,” he said, referring to the famous Japanese “salaryman” businessman.

Even before the band’s debut, he was dabbling in business, founding Start Today, which operates online fashion shopping site ZOZOTOWN.

Start Today is now a publicly listed company with 900 employees according to its website.

He said his company has grown because he and his staff “are doing what we enjoy”.

“We love clothes, and we love our colleagues who love clothes. We are doing business as an extension of our hobby,” he said. — AFP

Paris show blends happiness and melancholia of young Picasso

PARIS: More than 300 works from two key periods in Pablo Picasso’s early years go on display in Paris on Tuesday, the first time they have been brought together in the city where the Spanish master took his first steps toward revolutionary new territories of modern art.

“Picasso: Blue and Rose” delves into the formative days from 1900 to 1906 when the young artist was living the Bohemian life in a Montmartre studio, at times burning his works to ward off the cold.

“The strongest walls would open before me,” he would proudly write while absorbing the influence of Manet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh.

The exhibition at the Musee d’Orsay was conceived with the Picasso and Orangerie museums in Paris as well as the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, Switzerland, which will also show the works early next year.

Curators managed to secure exceptional loans of works from the Picasso Museum in Barcelona and institutions in the US, Switzerland and Russia as well as from private collections rarely open to the public.

The works include some 80 paintings and 150 drawings by the artist in his early 20s as he absorbed what would become his adopted country and several sculptures alongside portrayals of Picasso by other artists.

“It’s the first show in France to consider a period overlooked by art historians, allowing a chance to re-evaluate the early Picasso,” said Laurence des Cars, the Orsay’s director.

The museum was chosen because it is where the 18-year-old artist arrived when it was still a train station, to represent Spain at the Universal Exposition in October 1900.

“It could only be here,” des Cars said.

Light and dark

“We’re going to discover Picasso at 18 to 25 years old, before cubism. It’s all taking shape,” said Stephanie Molins, a curator of the show.

“He’s not only the unrivalled master of the 20th century but also a child of the 19th century,” she said.

The show begins with the Blue period, marked by the artist’s frequent travels between Paris and Barcelona, discovering the possibilities of avant-garde expressionism while still under the more classic influences of his father, an art teacher.

An early work includes “Yo Picasso” (I Picasso), a vivid self-portrait showing him confident at his easel.

But just a few months later the paintings take on a markedly sombre tone, following the death of his fellow painter and close friend Carles Casagemas, who shot himself in the head at a Montmartre cafe following a soured love affair.

Many of the Blue period works are nearly monochromatic and depictions of poverty and old age recurring subjects, including prostitutes with a child languishing in a prison cell.

There are also several funereal portrayals of Casagemas, culminating in the 1903 masterpiece “La Vie” (Life), where his body is embraced by a nude woman alongside a mother holding her child.

Yet starting in 1904 his paintings, if not carefree, begin exploring lighter subjects suffused with the muted yet warmer hues of the Rose period, while also hinting at the explorations with fragmentation to come.

Harlequins and acrobats abound in the works, as well as erotic scenes that coincide with the artist’s affair with Fernande Olivier, a fellow artist who appears in dozens of his works.

“The show is filled with a form of happiness but melancholy as well, in tune with its time,” said Laurent Le Bon, president of the Orsay museum. — AFP