The Birth of Venus (Pip Starr Version)

There are a number of themes that many classical painters tackled such that they nearly became traditional in art, and they largely fell into two central categories: religious themes such as the Virgin and Child, the Annunciation, the Crucifixion and the Temptation of St. Anthony, and mythological themes such as the Judgment of Paris, the Rape of Europa and of course, the Birth of Venus. I have decided to do my own take on several of these traditional  themes, starting with this one. Naturally, my pieces will be rather loose interpretations and will include primarily children in the roles of classical or biblical figures à la the film Angyali üdvözlet

In my somewhat surrealistic version of The Birth of Venus, our goddess is about ten or eleven years old, and she emerges not from the sea but from a bathtub full of wine which she herself is pouring. The idea here is that Venus is not literally being born, but rather this girl is becoming Venus by vinous baptism (get it?)  In fact, Venus was initially a goddess of fertility and was associated with vineyards, so the wine is appropriate here, though in our modern Western society children cannot legally drink it. Thus, there is a hint of illicitness here. Shells are also a common symbol of Venus, and our young goddess wears one around her neck, as well as there being a large one on the side of the bathtub. Venus is also surrounded by putti, as is often the case in paintings of her.

This entire scene takes place amidst ancient ruins, telling us that Venus is one of the old gods, though this is contradicted by the girl’s youth. Venus shall remain eternally young, and to my way of thinking, she should not be embodied by a single figure but rather is reborn whenever a young girl develops her first hints of womanhood. To be sure, I blatantly stole this idea from Moebius. This image differs slightly from my usual pen & ink pieces in that I deliberately gave it a foreground, middle ground and background whereas usually I’m quite content with just foreground and middle ground or foreground and background. This gives the composition more depth and richness, I think, and as a result this is one of the more successful drawings I’ve ever completed.

As is usually the case, this piece, which is 11″x14″, is for sale. If you’re interested, contact me at pipstarr72@yahoo.com

Pip Starr – The Birth of Venus (2017)

Compelling Images: Diane Arbus

by D.F. Ottewill

Diane Arbus – A Child Crying, New Jersey (1967)

There’s something magical about a lens, especially the kind you find on the medium-format film camera that Diane Arbus used for this photograph.

These lenses present to the world a large, perfectly smooth convex surface (of a diameter to be measured in inches, not millimeters). Beyond this is a tunnel enclosing multiple glass surfaces receding into darkness, each surface giving off its own little distorted reflection.

Children of this girl’s age are fascinated by such lenses. They come up close and stare into their depths. If you let them, they will press their eye up against them.  Most photographers are unhappy about this; toddlers tend to be sticky with sugar, crumbs, tears, saliva and worse. And lenses are awkward to clean, easily damaged and expensive.

But Diane Arbus knew that great photographs don’t happen when you’re trying to keep your equipment clean. She also knew that the best portraits are a kind of love triangle in which the photographer, the subject and the lens exert an equal fascination on one another.  This photograph would be thrown out of many photography competitions and photo-clubs; it breaks too many “rules”.  For a start, a crying child is not a fit subject for a photograph and the photographer should have used a longer focal length and put more distance between herself and the subject.  But what is the right viewing distance for photographing a crying toddler?

We don’t comfort crying babies at arms-length, but hold them tight against us. The world of this photograph is that of the hands-dirty parent, not of the professional baby photographer, paid to present babyhood at its most appealing and reassuring.

The girl is poised on the knife-edge between two states: the self-absorption of crying and a reengagement with the world.  At first it’s not clear in which direction this transition is heading: is this a happy child provoked to tears by the attentions of a lady pushing a camera in her face? or is this an unhappy child being distracted from her crying by the strange object she’s been presented with?  The girl’s eyes are so powerful that it takes a few moments to notice the signs that the girl had already been crying when Arbus intervened and stanched her tears—the flushed cheeks, those perfect tears rolling down her jaws.

Looking at this photograph I have to remind myself that it is normal and healthy for children of this age to cry like this.  Not only does the intensity of her crying seem disproportionate to its likely cause, but the suffering expressed seems to exceed what a human mind and body can experience or endure.  This is probably a result of misapplied empathy; when I see a child crying like this I effectively ask myself the question: what would it take to make me to cry like this?  And I can imagine no loss, heartbreak or sorrow that could bring me to the tears, which, in a child of this age, are provoked by maybe the softest of falls or a refused lolly.

Child Emancipation

*** Spoiler Alert ***

With our recent troubles, my thoughts have been occupied with those guardian angels who have helped us in the past and those who continue to do so today. Therefore this post is dedicated to “Liquid” who handled the technical end of getting our site up and running again after first being shut down by WordPress. In one of our few communications, he mentioned one of his favorite films starring a sweet little girl called Maisie. What Maisie Knew (2012) is the latest remake of a story based on a novel by Henry James. It is about a neglected girl who bonds with her nannies and, in the end, exerts her independence by expressing her wish to stay with them. The theme of the story reminded me of a film years ago called Irreconcilable Differences (1984) starring Drew Barrymore. This inferior film starred Shelley Long and Ryan O’Neal as Casey’s parents. It had a clever hook; at the time, there was a California law that allowed for minors to “divorce” their parents and take adult responsibilities for themselves. The intent of this law was for older teens—who were close to legal adulthood anyway—to escape the abuses of the foster care system or neglectful parents. The unusual thing in this story was that the girl suing for emancipation was 9 years old. Her wish was to live with the housekeeper and her children. It is an intriguing idea but the fact of the matter is that this movie was guilty of child neglect itself. Instead of telling the story from Casey’s point of view, her testimony was simply used to showcase the retelling of the drama of her parents’ relationship working in the brutal world of Hollywood film production.

Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers – Irreconcilable Differences (1984)

On the other hand, the latest incarnation of Maisie directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, screenplay by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, was a delight. Six-year-old Maisie (Onata Aprile) gave a skilled and convincing performance. Her mother Susanna (Julianne Moore) is in an updated role as a music diva engrossed in her career. It was decided that the early scenes should reflect her parents’ more nurturing sides. Although Moore is a performer, this was the first time she was recorded as a singer—singing a bedtime lullaby.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (1)

Maisie’s father Beale (Steve Coogan) was a high-stakes business man travelling all the time. One of the motifs of the film was that Maisie should be surrounded in animal imagery to accentuate the difference between her world and that of the grownups.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (2)

Aprile was a remarkably disciplined actress for her age. She had barely turned six when she was cast. Her mother Valentine Aprile dedicatedly ran lines with her and was present on the set during shooting. Valentine played a small role in the film as one of the mothers of Maisie’s classmates.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (3)

The only time Onata’s discipline would be broken was when food was present. Good directors of children know how to make use of these foibles and there were a number of ad libs that made it into the final cut—usually the girl’s idle but effective manipulation of the various props—making her performance that much more real. For example, while assembling a peanut butter sandwich, Aprile could not help licking her fingers.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (4)

We are introduced to Margo (Joanna Vanderham) in the first scene.as Maisie’s nanny. At first she is working for the mother but, as an added bit of turmoil in Maisie’s life, she falls in love with and marries Beale and thereafter is only present in the father’s household. Instead of the girl’s father properly explaining the situation, Margo is left to look after Maisie’s well-being by explaining things the best she could.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (5)

With Margo living with the father, one of Susanna’s groupies Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård) was abruptly tasked with running domestic errands including shuttling Maisie around. The first time he did this, no one was informed so Margo and the school personnel were quite nervous about turning over custody without some verbal confirmation from Susanna. These days, we are so conditioned to expect the worst since the decision to send Lincoln was made in haste and we did not really know him yet. There are two amusing details about the Aprile-Skarsgård relationship. For some reason Aprile really took to Skarsgård and loved spending time with him on and off the set. One of the demonstrations of her skill as an actress was persuading us that she was actually nervous about being passed off to Lincoln. The other thing was that Skarsgård was quite tall and getting the two of them together in the same shot was a continuous logistical challenge.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (6)

During the course of the film, Maisie is seen spending a lot of quality time with her nannies—sometimes at the same time. In these scenes, she is actively involved with the adults. In contrast, except in those cases when the parents are lavishing her with compensatory attention, whenever Maisie is observing the adults, the directors established the convention of shooting her behind some kind of obstacle or barrier to help convey this alienation.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (7)

The neglect becomes progressively more horrific as Susanna goes on tour and Beale travels overseas. The situation reaches a climax when Maisie’s mother leaves her unattended at the bar where Lincoln works because she neglected to confirm the arrangements. Beale’s neglect takes its most severe form when Margo is locked out of their apartment and cannot get in because he did not bother to put his own wife’s name on the lease. Aprile really enjoyed those scenes with the young couple and movie-goers begin to realize that they had fallen in love during the course of this drama. By all accounts, this is when Aprile gets to display her real personality. She was reported saying that she hoped her next film would be a happier one because she dislikes having to be “so sad” all the time in this one. While both parents were away, Margo took Maisie away on a kind of retreat to a beach house on Long Island owned by her uncle; they are shortly joined by Lincoln.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (8)

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (9)

When Susanna arrives later in her tour bus, assuming that Maisie would be delighted at the prospect of joining her, she is surprised to learn that she would rather stay with Margo and Lincoln. In a frank and heartfelt moment, Susanna finally realized how unhappy Maisie had been and in a selfless act of love, allowed her to stay with them.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (10)

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (11)

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (12)

The point of James’ novel was to show an uncharacteristically self-possessed little girl take a hand in her own happiness. Although her future was far from certain, she at least had some say in shaping it. At the end of the pier was docked a boat and in the last shot, she is shown running toward it in anticipation of another outing, another adventure.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (13)

The Girl and Her Vessel: A Psycho-Artistic Examination

While I am not a subscriber to the Freudian philosophy in full, I do find it fascinating and worth looking into from time to time. What most interests me is what I would call proto-Freudianism, a sort of loose and unfocused examination of concepts like the symbolic phallus and vagina in art. The phallus in artistic imagery is well-documented; less so the vagina. When the vagina has been represented symbolically, it generally manifests in two forms: the flower and the vessel. In my post Deflowered, I addressed the latter in a particular context, namely the shattered or broken vessel as it represented the loss of virginity. Here we will examine the same symbol in its purer form, before it is broken. Thus, in Freudian terms we are looking at girls who are still sexually innocent. The symbolism is rarely conscious on the part of artists, but for a Freudian that hardly matters. Of particular concern to us are pieces from the heyday of Freudianism (late 19th to mid 20th century), when artists were more likely to be aware of the sexual symbolism in their work and could choose either to accentuate it or downplay it.

Our first couple of pieces are a pair of objets d’art from unknown artists, Niña con cántaro and Niña llevando un cántaro (Girl with Pitcher and Girl Carrying a Pitcher respectively). In the first, one of the girl’s sleeves has fallen off her shoulder, thus baring one of her nipples. As Journey Darkmoon pointed out in his Chauncey Bradley Ives post, the revelation of the little girl’s nipple symbolizes her innocence, as she is unaware of the deeper connotation of such an act. This, coupled with the vessel at her feet, symbolizes feminine innocence. In the second example, the girl is nude altogether (save for a couple of bows in her hair), but again her innocence is clear.

Artist Unknown – Niña con cántaro (ca. 1920)

Artist Unknown – Niña llevando un cántaro (1)

Artist Unknown – Niña llevando un cántaro (2)

The trend continues with this set from Lladró. The famous porcelain company’s history of producing charming child pieces is unrivaled.

Lladró – Little Peasant Girl (Blue, Yellow & Pink Variants)

A common theme running through all of these pieces is nudity, partial nudity or, as in the case of Bessie Potter Vonnoh‘s Garden Figure, an ephemeral sort of drapery. Again, this is all meant to reinforce the fact that these are innocent young girls. The vessels they bear are unbroken for a reason. Vonnoh’s little vessel bearer was later used as part of the Frances Hodgson Burnett Memorial Fountain.

Bessie Potter Vonnoh – Garden Figure; ‘Garden Figure’ Maquette

Bessie Potter Vonnoh – Frances Hodgson Burnett Memorial Fountain

Art Deco and other modern artists tended to focus on early adolescent models rather than prepubescent ones, such as this lighter/ashtray combo piece, Juan Cristobal‘s Niña con cántaro and Joseph Bernard‘s The Water Bearer.

Artist Unknown – Nude Girl with New Yorker Lighter and Ashtray (1929)

Juan Cristobal – Niña con cántaro (1926)

Joseph Bernard – The Water Bearer (1912)

One of my absolute favorite pieces in this vein is Peruvian sculptor Juan José Paredes Antezana’s Niña A. It’s difficult to pin down the date here but the style seems fairly modern.

Juan José Paredes Antezana – Niña A

Here are two rare examples in which our young water carriers are fully clothed. They are by Ramon Martí Alsina and Ricardo de Madrazo y Garreta respectively.

Ramon Martí Alsina – Niña con cántaro

Ricardo de Madrazo y Garreta – Regreso de la fuente (1878)

V. Marseille’s topless adolescent water bearer is a fine modern exemplar of the trend.

V. Marseille – Girl with Water Jug

Our sole photographic entry in this subject is a piece by Rudolf Lehnert and Ernst Landrock. Judging by the iconography on her vessel, this little girl appears to be Arabic or North African, possibly Egyptian. Lehnert & Landrock really deserve a dedicated post of their own on Pigtails. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable on the pair will do us the honor.

Lehnert & Landrock – (Title Unknown)

This sculpture of a boy and girl retrieving water, which I’ve posted here before, is one of the most blatantly Freudian pieces I’ve ever come across. Here we have two vessels, the water jug, which has a spigot and is held up by the young boy (one of the rare times when the vessel takes on a masculine aspect rather than a feminine one), and the cup in the little girl’s hand. Take note of the almost wanton look on the thirsty girl’s face as she raises her cup to be filled by the boy. Note too how uncomfortably close her cup is to the boy’s genitalia. The boy also sits above the girl, reflecting his sexual dominance of her. Clearly the artist who created this piece (Edme Marie Cadoux) did so with at least some degree of awareness of all these cues. That this would all be accidental seems rather unlikely to me.

Edme Marie Cadoux – At the Fountain (1887)

Otherwise, even when the vessel is borne by a male, it still retains its feminine attributes, which subtly suggests homosexuality. The context is certainly relevant in this piece by Neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. In this image we see the goddess Hebe, formerly the cup bearer of the gods, passing her serving vessels on to Ganymede, the boy who replaced her in this duty, while Zeus in his eagle form looks on. If you know your Greek myths, then you are well aware that young Ganymede was also one of Zeus’s lovers.

Bertel Thorvaldsen – Hebe and Ganymede

Speaking of Ganymede, he was the original representative for the zodiac sign Aquarius. Over time a girl or young woman tended to replace Zeus’s catamite in artistic representations of the sign for perhaps obvious reasons. Eduard Steinbrück‘s Die Nymphe der Düssel could’ve been the prototype for modern images of Aquarius. (See also the Deflowered post linked above for symbolism surrounding the adolescent girl dipping her toe into the water.)

Eduard Steinbrück – Die Nymphe der Düssel

Finally, we have a pair of candlesticks, a boy and a girl, by Edward Francis McCartan. Again, even the boy is rather feminized, all the more so for holding an amphora. These are certainly eroticized portrayals of youth, which McCartan was no stranger to.

Edward Francis McCartan – Children Holding Amphorae (early 20th cent.)(1)

Edward Francis McCartan – Children Holding Amphorae (early 20th cent.)(2)

Edward Francis McCartan – Children Holding Amphorae (early 20th cent.)(3)

Edward Francis McCartan – Girl Holding Amphora (early 20th cent.)(1)

Edward Francis McCartan – Girl Holding Amphora (early 20th cent.)(2)

Maiden Voyages: April 2017

Art Style Advisor Wanted: Thanks go to Christian for rigorously reviewing old posts and updating them and, more importantly, streamlining the classification system to remove confusion and redundancies.  However, he is not an expert on artistic styles and movements and we are still in need of someone who can help us with these categories now that Pip only has time to work on this site sporadically.  Someone please come forward, even if you are only knowledgeable on a small range of art styles or media.

Pigtails Welcomes New Writer: I am delighted that yet another fan of this site has agreed to do some writing.  His first proposal is to do a series of commentaries on single ‘Compelling Images’ such as that of William Klein.  Many of the artists he proposes to cover have only done incidental work with little girls and so it is a great way to bring attention to these photographers.  The use of the handle “D.F. Ottewill” is an homage to the camera Charles Lutwidge Dodgson used to take the famous Beggar Maid photograph—the Double-Folding Ottewill.

Where One Can’t Prosecute, One Can Always Censor: One of our readers, who offers interesting leads from time to time is a child model agent.  She has offered a number of insights into the world of modeling and the conditions under which these children must work.  In the past month, two of her sites were shut down without warning with explanations that she violated the Terms of Service (TOS).  This tiresome tactic is used all too often to eliminate any material a company does not want to be associated with no recourse for the customer.  I have seen the site and can tell you that the top page has a few images of girls in various costumes (no nudity) and one can click to see the second page which contains some partial nudes.  I can assure readers that those photos were innocent out-of-the-bath/shower shots and contained no frontal nudity or suggestive poses —a towel, bath toy or other object was always strategically placed.  The agent has requested that Pigtails not link to her site in fear that more aggressive zealots would make even more trouble for her and her business.

Paranoia in the Streets of Paris: After producing the Perrusset post, the photographer told me a couple of interesting anecdotes about the challenges of his work.  I decided to add these to the end of that post so readers can take another look.

Dance Prodigy’s New Book: Maddie Ziegler, 14, whose interesting work has been posted on this site has now released a new book, The Maddie Diaries.

New Joshua Hoffine Film: In WCL’s post on this photographer, a new film had just been released and, at the time, no copies were available for review.  It is a pleasure to inform readers that the video can now be viewed on Vimeo.  If you are a fan of this photographer and filmmaker, take a look at Black Lullaby right away in case it should be removed.

Famous Postcard Girl: I have heard a lot in the past couple of years about the discovery of the identity of the little girl pictured in a number of iconic Edwardian postcards.  It seemed a suitable subject for a Pigtails post but since so much has already been published on the subject, it would be foolish to spend time duplicating someone else’s efforts.  If you collect vintage postcards of little girls, chances are you own some Grete Reinwalds.

Where’s the Line? One of the anecdotes offered by the agent mentioned above is the issue of what is acceptable nudity in child models and under what circumstances.  Whenever someone tries to spell out some standards, they seem arbitrary and absurd.  For example, another agent has taken nude shots of children (including her own), but does not publish them on her website.  However, her nudes of babies and toddlers appear openly without comment.  The Mexx Kids ad caused quite a stir but something like these Cinta Child ads (here and here) do not.  What’s the distinction?  Age?  Skin Color?

Removal Requests: From time to time, artists or their agents request that their work be removed from this site.  In the past, we have complied because we did not want to make trouble and wished to fly “under the radar”.  Since that is no longer possible, removals will only take place under compelling circumstances.  Otherwise, like it or not, artwork and other media images will be legally drafted in service to the noble political purpose of this site.  Given the usual ignorance and narrow-mindedness of these requests, it is not possible to spell out what is considered a “compelling reason” as artists will simply use one of these excuses to cover up their real objections.

Anime and Manga on Pigtails: A reader sent me samples of numerous manga artists requesting that we cover this medium/genre more.  The contribution is appreciated but the real problem is that none of us is knowledgeable enough to say something constructive about these works.  I would once again like to offer an invitation to manga/anime fans who can write to please contribute to this site.

The Quagmire of Internet Research: This is a bit off-topic, but one of the points of Pigtails in Paint is to make certain material accessible and not have to compete with more “popular” politically-correct material that may have less relevance.  It is annoying how many searches yield nonsensical results and one must sift through these redundancies just to find the object of one’s clearly-defined search.  Here is an interesting article that discusses some of the interesting aspects of this issue.

Igor Stravinsky: Dances of the Young Girls

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) was a Russian Neoclassical composer, pianist, and conductor. He is arguably the most influential composer of the 20th century. His style of composition is still noticeable in the work of film soundtrack composers. He first gained acclaim for three ballets commissioned by the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). In last of these, Stravinsky developed a new system of bitonality and polyrhythms which gave him enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary.

Dancers in Nicholas Roerich’s costumes for The Rite of Spring

The premiere of the The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps) on May 29, 1913, at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris started a riot; some accounts of the performance claim the police were called. The audience was shocked by Stravinsky’s unprecedented use of dissonance and rhythm as well as Vaslav Nijinsky’s unusual choreography of the dancers. The performance of the Introduction was uneventful, the riot really broke out according to Stravinsky, “when the curtain opened on the group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down”. Danses des Adolescentes  or Dances of the Young Girls is the first scene in The Rite of Spring in which Stravinsky employed his bewildering rhythms. The audience responded by whistling and stamping their feet, the noise was so great the performers could barely hear each other.

Beethoven 6th Symphony 2nd Movement (At the Brook)

Ludwig van Beethoven 6th Symphony 2nd Movement (At the Brook)

One would expect the music for a dance of young girls in Spring to be light-hearted in mood, perhaps something like this passage from Beethoven’s 6th “Pastoral” Symphony is what could be expected. ( At least this what Walt Disney had in mind for the Centaurettes in Fantasia)

Igor Stravinsky ~ The Rite of Spring ~ Dances of the Young Girls

Stravinsky shatters our expectations by instead having the girl’s dance begin with a loud pulse with unpredictable dissonant chord strikes, which ironically, later inspired John William’s theme for the attacking shark in the film Jaws! Erik Heine noted, “The accents in the shark’s music mirror the accents from the Dance of the Young Girls in Stravinsky’s ballet”. Stravinsky upset the meter most are accustomed to hear, a measure of four eighth notes — 1234, 1234, etc. instead, the accents (reinforced by of 8 French Horns!) make us hear 1234, 12345, 12, 123456, 123, 1234, 12345,123! melodic fragments from Russian folk songs are introduced which give the sense of a dance in an immense kaleidoscope.  Dances of the Young Girls can be heard here.

While it is true The Rite of Spring is a masterpiece of modern music in terms of form. Is it really modern in terms of content? Although Stravinsky gained reputation of being avant-garde, I’m certain he did not intend to cause offense, he said in an interview,”I knew the music (The Rite of Spring) so well and it was so dear to me that I couldn’t understand why people were protesting against it.” Gill Perry recognized that “Many artists whom we now label ‘modern’ were in fact opposed to the processes of modernization (by which I mean the forces of industrialization and urbanization in Western capitalist society).”

When Stravinsky was completing The Firebird in 1910, an image flashed in his mind:

“…there arose a picture of a sacred pagan ritual: the wise elders are seated in a circle and observing the dance before death of a girl whom they are offering as a sacrifice to the god of Spring in order to gain his benevolence. This became the subject of The Rite of Spring“.

Scott Affleck ~ Rite of Spring (sketch) 2013

Many remain blind to the trend in art between the late 19th Century and early 20th Century I refer to as Jugend. Many artists of the period felt the need to find “roots” away from the sophistication and materialism of the modern world. Very often rural peasants were chosen as a subject of great moral worth, others turned to youth. It seems that no one wants to notice this, for example Die Brücke paintings of young girls were central to the school but are not included in art history books. I make a point of the loss of sensitivity modernism has brought in my post ‘The Zeitgeist’ on Celestial Venus. The rites of passage have been done away with in modern society so Stravinsky, like many other artists, return to the initiation folklore of youth. Leonard Bernstein observed, “This is one very obvious sense in which Stravinsky’s music can be understood as Poetry of Earth; these pieces are deeply rooted in the earth of folklore, at times seeming to reach back even further than traditional folk music, reaching atavistically back to prehistory.”

One Blond Little Girl … and Many Racists in Europe

EPA/Greek Police – Maria (October 2013) (1)

My previous article ‘The Abducted Girl in Anti-Roma Imagery‘ analysed the use, notably in the early 20th century illustrated press, of the theme of the European little girl abducted by Roma. Now I will discuss the affair of the “blond angel” Maria, where the discovery of a blond little girl in a Roma camp in Greece sparked an international hysteria, with unfounded accusations of child abduction, and led to similar accusations being raised against Roma parents with blond children in other European countries. It revealed deep-seated racist stereotypes about this ethnic group. Finally, we will see that the “child abductors” are not the Roma, but the official institutions that have systematically taken away children from families of ethnic minorities.

Since this article is already very long, I had to leave out a detailed analysis of media coverage—not only the openly hateful gutter press (The Daily Beast, Daily Mail, The Sun, etc.), but also the self-styled “serious” BBC, which only propagated subtler forms of prejudice. I might return to this aspect on another occasion.

I have used many sources: first an article in Spiegel Online International (October 28, 2013), second a consolidation of the case by Natasha Dukach in Fair Observer (June 26, 2015), which contains many links to media treatment of the case, and third an extensive study of the case in the French Wikipedia, with many links to important documents, media coverage and scholarly analyses (this work was awarded the “article of quality” label by Wikipedia). See the references at the end of this post.

The story

Early in the morning of October 16, 2013, Greek police raided a Roma community in the town of Farsala (in central Greece).

Police were actually looking for drugs and weapons, but then they caught sight of this girl who looks so different than the rest of the family — and that alone sparked suspicions and fueled speculation: Maria could have been abducted or sold to a Roma family that kept the girl as an attraction, just as dancing bears were once led on chains through the towns of Europe. They could have forced her to beg or work for them, it was thought. … 10 police officers banged on the door … and then pulled Maria out of bed.
“This child is not yours; it’s white,” yelled one of the policemen. The little girl didn’t cry. The police also took along the parents, and the three of them sat in the backseat of a squad car. –Spiegel Online International, October 28, 2013

The couple claiming to be the parents of the little girl, Eleftheria Dimopoulou and Christos Salis, aged 40 and 39 respectively, were kept in police custody and interrogated.

Maria with her adoptive parents, Eleftheria Dimopoulou and Christos Salis (October 2013)

When police questioned them about Maria, they lied at first. But they eventually told the story of the Bulgarian woman, a migrant worker who placed the child in their care. Nevertheless, mistrust persisted. Dimopoulou, the mother, had a forged passport. To make matters worse, the couple have reportedly been collecting child benefits for a total of 14 officially registered children, six of which must have been born within a 10-month period, according to the information that they provided. They allegedly collected 2,800 Euros ($3,850) a month this way (Spiegel Online International).

DNA tests confirmed that Maria was not the biological daughter of Dimopoulou and Salis. The couple was charged with child abduction and forgery. Interpol released a Yellow Notice stating:

On 16 October 2013, a police operation took place in a camp near Larissa/Greece. During the operation, a little girl (approximately 4 years old) was found and the subsequent DNA check revealed that she was not the biological daughter of the couple who presented themselves as her parents. Preliminary investigations revealed that the couple abducted the minor in 2009 under unknown conditions.

The affair immediately made headlines in the European press, which in most case relayed uncritically the accusation of abduction, and sometimes spread various rumors, that Maria was forced to beg, that she was raised for prostitution, or in order to be sold in marriage at age 12, etc. And according to the Spiegel article, “Some TV reports have even speculated that the family wanted to raise Maria so they could sell her organs, and one story on organ trafficking included images of the Roma settlement.”

On October 22nd, two “blond angels” (blond Roma children with blue eyes) were found in Ireland, a 7-year-old girl in Tallaght and a 2-year-old boy in Athlone. The Guarda (Irish police) removed them from their parents, but in both cases DNA tests revealed that they were indeed the biological parents of the children; the latter were thus returned to their families (The Telegraph, October 23, 2013; The Guardian, October 24, 2013). In Serbia, skinheads attempted to abduct a fair-skinned Roma child:

On 22 October news server Blic.rs reported that a group of men described as skinheads almost succeeded in abducting a two-year-old child last Saturday evening from in front of his home on Šafarikova Street in Novi Sad just because the child’s skin was fairer than that of his father, Stefan Nikolić. The men accused Nikolić, who is of Romani nationality, of having stolen the child from its biological parents.
Nikolić told Blic.rs that when he threatened to call the police, the hooligans ran away. (Romea.cz, October 23, 2013)

Reuters – International appeal

Maria was put into the custody of the charity The Smile of the Child. An international appeal to find her parents was launched, which got around 9000 replies. Panayiotis Pardalis, spokesman for the charity, said that “about 10 cases of missing children around the world are “being taken very seriously” in connection with Maria’s case. They include children from the United States, Canada, Poland and France.” (CNN, October 23, 2013) But none of the cases matched Maria.

Meanwhile the last explanation given by the couple, that they had been given the girl as a baby by a Bulgarian woman who couldn’t take care of her, was confirmed by their Greek lawyer and also by residents of the Roma camp in Farsala, who said that Maria’s biological father had been visiting a few days before. Investigations led to a Roma camp in Nikolaevo, Bulgaria, where many residents show the same features as Maria. A couple with 9 children was identified, Atanas Rusev and Sasha Ruseva, aged 36 and 38 respectively; DNA tests confirmed that they were the biological parents of Maria. A check at the hospital in Lamia yielded her birth certificate, dated January 31, 2009 (GR Reporter, January 14, 2014). Here is the version given by Sasha Ruseva:

In 2008, she went to Greece to harvest oranges and gave birth to a girl there. She actually intended to name her Stanka, but since nobody at the hospital understood that, she called the baby Maria. She said she had no money to acquire papers for the child. One of the women helping with the harvest offered to take care of the child and promised: “You can pick her up her anytime.” She never took any money for the girl, says Ruseva. She worked for another few days in Greece, and then she returned to Nikolaevo, she says.
Ruseva has seen pictures of Maria on TV. “I would take her back, but I’m so poor that I don’t even have enough money to properly clothe my children,” she says (Spiegel).

Stoyan Nenov/Reuters – Sasha Ruseva with 2-year-old son Atanas (October 2013)

The article adds, “And the Greek Roma who have raised Maria are thus neither child traffickers nor thieves, but merely the two adults who have been Maria’s father and mother since soon after her birth.”

Guilty until proven innocent, human rights violated

Media coverage mostly uncritically propagated accusations of child trafficking against Salis and Dimopoulou. As writes the Spiegel article: “The principle of innocent until proven guilty — which should also apply to Roma families — was ignored by the TV reporters. Every day now, the Greek government orders Roma communities to be searched for weapons, drugs and blond children.” Similarly the police assumed that they were guilty of abducting Maria. Indeed the above-quoted Interpol Yellow Notice said “Preliminary investigations revealed that the couple abducted the minor in 2009 under unknown conditions.”

EPA/Greek Police – Maria (October 2013) (2)

The Smile of the Child also propagated the worst stereotypes about Roma, accusing Salis and Dimopoulou of the most heinous crimes without proof. According to The Huffington Post of October 19, 2013, Panayiotis Pardalis, a spokesman for the charity, said “it was obvious” that she was not a Roma girl, while its director Kostas Yannopoulos told private Skai TV “We are shocked by how easy it is for people to register children as their own … There is much more to investigate, there are other registered children that were not found in the settlement, and I believe police will unravel a thread that doesn’t just have to do with the girl.” According to CNN, October 23, 2013, Pardalis also said “We don’t have any other information if this girl was forced to work or to beg on streets.” In a video interview shown on BBC News (October, 18, 2013), Yannopoulos declared “it shows that it could be kidnapping and combined efforts of these people to buy and sell children … They will use this little girl in the streets to beg because she was blonde and everybody says she was cute.” Then in a subsequent video on BBC News (October, 19, 2013), he said “she was either sold at maternity or later abducted for begging, because they use children for begging, or later for prostitution or even worse for selling for other purposes.” The nature of this “worse” is left to your imagination.

Natasha Dukach raises an important point:

Not a single article even mentioned the possibility of human rights violations to the Roma couple. As they adopted Maria illegally and had problems with their papers, no one considered their human rights. … Each European country has its own human rights laws, and these should be applied to everyone in the country, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity. Human rights laws were not applied in the case of Maria. The media failed to report on this angle or even ask the question as to whether gypsies have human rights.

Because Maria’s adoption by the Greek couple was informal, both their parenting rights and those of the Bulgarian biological parents were not taken into account. The fact that Salis and Dimopoulou fraudulently declared 14 children in order to obtain child benefits is not a valid excuse for this. Indeed, there have often been affairs of financial or fiscal fraud involving huge sums of money, but each time the (rich and non-Roma) defrauders saw their rights respected, and their family was not broken by authorities. Incidentally, fraud on taxes and social benefits are very frequent in Greece.

As remarks Jana Hainsworth in Euractiv, society tends more and more to remove children from their families because of “bad” parenting, but in the majority of cases, the family problems are due to poverty.

The informal adoption of Maria by Salis and Dimopoulou can be explained by Roma culture. Unlike Westerners, they do not function according to the model of the nuclear family, where parents “own” their children, whose interactions with the adult world are strictly regimented. They rather follow the extended family system, where children can be raised by cousins, uncles, grandparents, etc. and there is an extensive community involvement in the raising, education and welfare of children. Living as a “homeless nation” marginalized and excluded by mainstream society, they tend to follow their own rules, and not those of the countries where they are stigmatized and marginalized. As writes Louise Doughty in The Guardian of October 22, 2013:

Informal adoption is commonplace, particularly in societies where children are raised collectively by extended family units, and families of eight or 10 are not unusual. Across the world, children in economically difficult circumstances are left with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or sometimes given away because the birth parents cannot provide for them. This is hardly a practice unique to Roma society, and it is a long way from deliberate abduction for the purposes of “child trafficking”, an assumption that the non-Roma world has been happy to make with impunity.

The aftermath

As soon as it was revealed that Maria was indeed the biological daughter of the Bulgarian Roma couple, the press immediately lost interest in her case. Most journals that had propagated the accusation of abduction soon forgot her. Some turned their coats elegantly, such as the French online journal Atlantico: on October 22 it titled ‘Greece: “the blond angel” was at the heart of a child traffick and was destined to be sold’ then on October 24 an article by Emanuela Ignatoiu-Sora titled ‘Why affairs of “blond angels” unfortunately awaken prejudices against Roma, children kidnappers.’

Maria as a toddler (c.2011)

As writes Zeljko Jovanovic in The Guardian of October 28, 2013, under the appropriate title ‘Maria is Roma — so now she will become invisible once more’:

When the glare of the media spotlight fades, Maria will go back to a life of exclusion, without basic documentation or rights … But now that it has emerged that Maria is a Roma child, it is painfully predictable that global interest in her fate will fade. Whatever the legal fate of the couple who have been charged with her abduction, Maria, like other Roma children, will have to navigate her way through life suffering illiteracy, unemployment, and segregation in education.

So it has been very difficult to find more recent information about her case (apart in the French Wikipedia article).

On June 30, 2014, the tribunal of Larissa awarded full custody of Maria to the Smile of the Child charity. The decision was motivated by the need to avoid a change of environment for the girl, who had been in the care of the charity since October 2013. She is now going to school. On November 9, 2015, the appeals court of Larissa acquitted Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou of the charge of abduction. But for their use of forged documents, they were sentenced to suspended prison terms, 2 years for Dimopoulou and 18 months for Salis.

It seems that Bulgarian authorities intended “to remove seven of Sasha and Atanas’s other children, placing them in different social care services including an institution.” (Jana Hainsworth, Euractiv, November 13, 2013) However I have no information on what was finally decided in this case, as well as on any Greek decision regarding the custody of the other children of Salis and Dimopoulou.

EPA/Greek Police – Close-up of Maria (October 2013)

Blond angels and dark devils

When the DNA of the two blond Roma children in Ireland was shown to match that of their brown parents, the two French media France 24 and L’Express titled ‘No “blond angels” in Ireland, the two Roma children given back to their families’ and ‘No “blond angel” in Ireland: two Roma children have been given back to their parents.’ Apparently, blond children are “angels” only if they are Westerners abducted by Roma. As writes Louise Doughty in The Guardian:

She is, we have been told repeatedly, the girl Greece is calling “the blonde angel”. She is certainly blonde — and she is a young child who deserves concern as all children do, particularly those facing poverty or discrimination. Whether or not she is angelic is a matter of stereotype rather than personality. She is angelic in the eyes of the media only in stark contrast to the circumstances in which she was found: in a Roma camp in Greece, with dark-skinned parents who, DNA tests have revealed, cannot be her birth parents.

Nikolay Doychinov/AFP Getty Images – Three Rusev children inside their family home (2013) (1)

Some people have explained by a kind of genetic defect the light skin and blond hair of Maria and of some residents in the Roma settlement of Nikolaevo. “Maria’s blonde hair and pale complexion was found to be due to her biological father’s albino gene,” writes Natasha Dukach in Fair Observer. In other words, this would be some sort of accidental occurrence.

Nikolay Doychinov/AFP Getty Images – Three Rusev children inside their family home (2013) (2)

However blond hair, a light skin and blue eyes are not uncommon among Roma people. In The New York Times of October 25, 2013, Dan Bilefsky quotes Dezideriu Gergely, the executive director of the European Roma Rights Center, based in Budapest:

Mr. Gergely, a human rights lawyer who has a Roma father and a white Romanian mother, noted that many Roma, who arrived in Europe from India centuries ago and are also known as Gypsies, came from mixed families.
He himself has light skin and blue eyes, which he said punctured the widespread stereotype that Roma have dark hair and dusky complexions.

Nikolay Doychinov/AFP Getty Images – Four Rusev children inside their family home (2013)

One can guess that Westerners don’t see white children with coloured parents in the same way as the reverse:

“Imagine if the situation were reversed and the children were brown and the parents were white, would they have ever been taken away?” said Dezideriu Gergely. … “The most dangerous consequence of the hysteria is that now we have to live in fear that our children can be removed from us on the basis of a wrong perception. No one should be profiled on the basis of their ethnicity.” (Dan Bilefsky, The New York Times)

Gene Demby in NPR, October 27, 2013, inquired with readers:

We asked readers on Twitter about times when people treated them and their relatives as if they weren’t related. Some stories were funny. But sometimes the cops were called.
One Asian-American woman told us that her white adoptive parents and her white husband are assumed to be related, while she was assumed to be the person who married in. But several women of color with light-skinned children said people just assume them to be their nannies and not their parents. Several people remembered that as children, people inquired with concern about their safety — in echoes of the Roma cases, strangers thought their darker skin parents might have been abductors. (Interestingly, white or lighter-skinned parents with darker children were instead assumed to be adoptive parents.)

Greek Police – Maria (October 2013) (3)

The dark-skinned Rom is seen as a symbol of dirt and crime. For dirt, compare the image of Maria on the day of the police raid, shown at the top of this article, with the one used in the international appeal to search her parents, shown here: fingers tainted purple, unkempt hair and a distressed look in the former, then neatly combed hair, a nice pink and white sweater and a smile in the latter. According to The Huffington Post, Panayiotis Pardalis, spokesman for The Smile of the Child said “She was afraid and under some psychological pressure when she arrived. Colleagues have been trying to communicate but are struggling. She seems to understand Greek but cannot speak it. She was living under bad conditions and was very dirty but is now safe.”

For crime, I quote again the words of Gergely given by Dan Bilefsky:

“It is mystifying that those accused of criminality are seen to represent the Roma community,” he said, noting that if people engaged in human trafficking it was because of severe poverty, not their cultural background. “Applying collective responsibility to the entire Roma community is unacceptable.” … Roma advocates counter that if there is crime among some Roma, it is the byproduct of severe economic deprivation and social exclusion that allowed a minority of unscrupulous ringleaders to exploit poor people desperately eking out an existence on society’s fringes.

Who are child abductors?

In my previous article, I quoted Thomas Acton, Emeritus Professor of Romani Studies: “I know of no documented case of Roma / Gypsies / Travellers stealing non-Gypsy children anywhere.” Quite to the contrary, there are many instances of minority children being systematically removed from their families in order to be put into the custody of white middle-class families. Well-known are the plight of the aboriginal children in Canada (the “Sixties Scoop”) and Australia (the “Stolen Generations”). The Yenish are a nomadic group living in Central Europe; in Switzerland, between 1926 to 1972, 600 Yenish children were forcibly taken from their parents by the “Oeuvre d’entraide aux enfants de la grand-route”, a charity set up to “protect children in danger of abandonment and vagrancy.”

So, sadly, the accused are rather the victims, poor, marginalized and unable to defend themselves.

References:

Further reading:

Didier Perrusset

On occasion, a fan of ours is also an artist and wishes to have his work published on Pigtails. Assuming the work is of sufficient artistic merit, I am delighted to comply.

Didier Perrusset is a French photographer doing this work as a serious hobby for pleasure and to create a kind of legacy. He began shooting photographs when he was fourteen, with a completely manual camera. He did some professional work for a few months for Keystone Press Agency. His influences include David Hamilton, Lukas Roels, Sally Mann, Jock Sturges, Evgeny Mokhorev and Irina Ionesco and strongly believes their work is legitimate art and not mere pornography. His main interest is street photography, cosplay photography and artistic nudes. Young girls do feature prominently in his work and he tries to shoot 2 or 3 times a week. He operates north of Paris and won 1st place by popular vote in a recent competition.

Didier Perrusset – Stripes and Light (2016)

The following images are from his ‘Angels’ series.

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (1)

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (2)

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (3)

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (4)

Didier Perrusset – Angel (2016) (5)

Didier Perrusset’s Facebook page

Perrusset also has an online book and there is a video interview in French.

This artist has some interesting insights to share and I regret he did not mention them earlier so it could have been included when this post was first published.  Apparently, the hysteria and paranoia in France has reached a fevered pitch in regards to shooting young girls in public.  For example, a friend of Perrusset’s was approached by the police in Paris because he was taking pictures of a little girl—his own daughter!  Three years ago, Perrusset experienced something similar during a Bastille Day Parade (July 14th); the police were told that he was shooting little girls in the audience while they were watching the parade.  -Ron [20170329]

Compelling Images: William Klein

by D.F. Ottewill

Another fan of our site has agreed to write for us.  His proposal was to write a series about single compelling images, usually by noted photographers.  I really appreciate his contribution and remind readers that others are always encouraged to offer their writing to on-topic images.  -Ron

William Klein – Dance in Brooklyn , New York (1955)

We generally prefer depictions of people to be clear and legible. If a person is out of focus, or too far away to assert their individuality, or in some way obscured, we tend to move on to another, more legible image.

But some photographs and paintings perversely refuse to let us have things easy and, despite the illegibility of their subjects, intrigue us and hold our attention—art has this in common with sports and games: it is at its most rewarding when it makes us struggle and pushes us to dig deeper.

William Klein’s Dance in Brooklyn, New York is an example of such a photograph. It seems to pose the question of how little visual information do we need to find someone beautiful.

The children in this photograph were moving while the exposure was made. Klein’s camera (the shutter probably set at 1/15th or 1/30th of a second) has captured this movement as smears, blur and the loss of form and detail.

These, and the coarseness of the grain, have reduced the face of the girl in this photograph to a few broad lines and surfaces. It has the look of an African mask.

The reading of the face depends, more than with any other part of the human body, on the legibility of fine detail—think of how little difference there is between a genuine smile and that same smile held too long and grown stale; think of the kind of details that allow us to distinguish identical twins.

One would expect, given this degree of illegibility, that it would be impossible to get any sense of the girl’s beauty or personality. Yet the little that comes through still manages to give a strong sense of a slim, shapely italic face.

And despite the camera’s imperfect, chaotic rendition of her gesture it has nevertheless captured something that a faster shutter speed (which would freeze the action), or a movie camera, would not: the girl’s energy, grace, and audacity, her confidence, playfulness and sense of humour. There is a trance-like sense of abandonment in the angle of her head and in her open mouth; her eyes at first appear to be looking at the photographer, but a subversive reading has them rolled back into her head, as if in ecstasy.

The photograph offers us a beauty that is especially poignant because it ultimately eludes us: we never really “see” this child. All we get is a tantalising glimpse of a personality whose vigour was imperfectly and beautifully captured for a fraction of a second some 62 years ago.

The Goddess of Youth on Her Father’s Back: Carolus-Duran’s ‘Hebe’

Carolus-Duran (born Charles Auguste Émile Durand in Lille, France in 1837) was an academic realist painter who focused primarily on portraits of French high society, but he occasionally painted nudes and mythological subjects. Here we have Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth, a fitting subject for the (official) 1,000th post at Pigtails in Paint, I think. Hebe was the daughter of Zeus and Hera—the chief god and his wife—and served as cupbearer in Mount Olympus, where the gods resided. Eventually she would marry Heracles (Hercules) and was then replaced by the beautiful boy Ganymede, who was abducted by Zeus in the form of an eagle and became not only Olympus’s cupbearer but one of Zeus’s lovers. The story of Ganymede is a fascinating one but beyond the scope of this blog. Anyway, in this lovely work, Zeus—again in the form of an eagle—serves as a perch for his young daughter as she makes her rounds serving nectar and ambrosia to the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon.

Carolus-Duran – Hebe (1895)