An Iraqi Painter Moved to America for a Better Life and Got Robbed Anyway
It’s not often you see a look of total devastation on someone’s face, but that was the expression Bassim Al-Shaker wore when I met him at a bar in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday night. Escaping threats for his life, the Iraqi-born painter fled to Phoenix in July of last year, eventually obtaining refugee status and becoming a permanent citizen earlier this year.
But Bassim woke up Monday morning to discover the door to his downtown studio smashed. Ten paintings were stolen August 18, as well as a couch and some power tools, from Bassim’s studio on Fourth Street and McKinley. Bassim was using the studio space rent-free before the whole block is to be demolished at the end of the year.
Formerly a barber in Baghdad, Bassim was once blindfolded, spat on, and beaten by loyalists of Iraq’s Mahdi Army militia, who left the painter so battered he spent the next two weeks in the hospital. But what had Bassim done to attract their violence? He had drawn sketches of the Venus de Milo as part of an entrance exam at Baghdad University’s College of Fine Arts.
Yeah, that’s right. Some tasteful nude sketches almost got this guy killed.
Werner Herzog Has a Lot of Time for WrestleMania
It’s only since dropping Grizzly Man and Into the Abyss that Werner Herzog became a staple of conversation between you and your friends. Before that, he was just the award-winning, critically acclaimed father of modern European cinema—the man who lugged a 320-ton boat over a hill in the Peruvian rainforest and cooked and ate his own shoe for a short documentary.
This month, Faber published A Guide for the Perplexed, a compendium of conversations between Herzog and the writer Paul Cronin. As a testament from one of the world’s most prolific filmmakers, it reads almost as self-help. “Get used to the bear behind you,” he tells us, ostensibly referring to the ambition and drive to create, but equally evoking images of Timothy Treadwell, a.k.a. Grizzly Man. I’m putting my neck out and saying it’s the best book I’ve read all year.
I caught up with Herzog on the phone last week, and we spoke about films, football, WrestleMania, and the loathsome trend of children’s yoga classes.
Werner Herzog at his home in Los Angeles
VICE: I’ve just finished reading A Guide for the Perplexed. Have you had a chance to read it?
Werner Herzog: Yes, I did when we were looking through the entire text for corrections. We left no stone unturned.
Is it strange reading yourself back?
I took a professional distance to it because I think it is unwise to stare at your own navel. Now it’s out for the readers. I’m plowing on with a lot of projects, so don’t worry about me.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m finishing Queen of the Desert, I’m preparing three feature films, and I am doing my rogue film school at the end of this week.
Can you explain a bit more about the rogue film school?
I can explain it easily. For 20 to 25 years there has been a steady avalanche of young filmmakers coming at me who wanted to be my assistant, or who wanted to learn from me or be in my team. And this has grown rapidly in numbers. For example, a few years ago, when I did a conversation on stage at the Royal Albert Hall—which has something close to 3,000 seats—it was sold out in minutes. And of these 3,000 people, there were at least 2,000 who would have liked to work with me. So I tried to give a systematic answer to this onslaught. The rogue film school can happen 50 times a year or once a year. I just need a projector. I could feasibly do it in the middle of the desert.
VICE Photo Editor Matthew Leifheit wants to know your secrets. He’s co-curating SLIDELUCK NYC at Photoville in Brooklyn Bridge Park with MAGNUM PHOTOS Creative Director Gideon Jacobs. More details and submit your work here. Deadline is Friday, August 29th.
"Okay" – by Paul Maliszewski
Paul Maliszewski is one of the strangest, most original people we know. He is extremely funny. He probably doesn’t want us to talk about it anymore, but when he was just out of writing school, he worked at a business paper, and he spent several months creating “contributors” to the paper. They had names, voices, and agendas, and they were published straight. Paul’s bosses had no idea that he was writing half their content. Anyway, one thing led to another, and then the New York State Attorney General’s office got involved, and two men sat Paul down in a room and told him his life was over. In response, he defined satire. He is stubborn, and when he gets angry—Jesus, you don’t want to be around. But this all gets missed sometimes, if you aren’t paying attention, becausehe hides it. He goes around in khaki pants and button-up shirts, all innocent, all good credit, but then he writes a story like this.
"Okay" is about a husband whose wife suggests that she have sex with strange men while he watches. Paul applies all his intelligence and creative energy to an idea that an inferior writer (1) wouldn’t think up or (2) would think was enough in and of itself to carry the story and would just kind of mess with for 20 pages and then add an up note or a down note and call it done.
My wife liked the idea of me watching. That’s what she said. One moment we were talking about making dinner and what did we even have that we could make and did I need to run out and get something or should we just order in again, and then she was saying how she wanted to pick up random guys and bring them back to our house, and she wanted me there to, I guess, see what transpired. It was as if I’d just turned on some movie, except I was in it and my wife was in it and we were speaking about stuff we’d never spoken of before. I asked her where she got such an idea, and she shrugged. “It just came to me,” she said. “You know, necessity. Mother of invention and all that.” Wasn’t that what people said about the lightbulb? “Exactly,” my wife said. After much discussion, we went to a restaurant she liked. It had a big bar that wrapped around the inside. The place looked like a ski chalet. Stone fireplaces and heavy furniture and so forth. We took a table, and our waiter bounded right over. He was wearing ski pants and a black T-shirt that said “Eat.” My wife asked him to please just give us a few, and then he was gone. She put her hand on top of mine and said, “I’m going now, all right?” She indicated the bar, and I nodded. “And you’re sure you’re okay with this?” she said. I told her that I guessed I was. What else was I going to say? “I want to be clear,” she said. “I’m not asking for your permission, Thom. But I do want to make sure you’re okay. I care about you, you know. Very much.” I was okay. I told her not to worry. “You’re going to keep an eye on me, right?” she said. “Like you promised?” I said sure. “The whole time,” she said. I agreed, the whole time. She stood then and held on to the edge of the table. “Don’t you want to kiss me or something?” she said. I looked at her. Did she want me to kiss her? She shrugged, like whatever, so I wished her good luck instead, and then she walked away. She limped slightly, how she always does, favoring that left leg. I was thinking about getting a steak. I hadn’t had any steak that month. I’m supposed to eat red meat only very occasionally. My wife had been at the bar for maybe a few minutes when this guy in a suit sent her a drink and waved from across the room. She is not an unattractive woman. She’s also petite but big in the bosom, which I knew wouldn’t hurt her chances. I’ve seen how men look at her, like when we’re out shopping, and some guy’s walking by and I’m looking at him, assessing the threat level, and he’s just looking at her the whole time, like I’m not even there. Anyway, the two of them got to talking or whatever, and the guy looked like he was getting pretty fresh, and I saw my wife doing that thing where when she laughed she showed a lot of throat, and she must have said something about me, because the guy turned around and looked at me. I was having my steak, chewing on a French fry. I nodded in his direction, and he got to talking again with my wife and then he came over. “Is this some kind of game?” he said. He seemed agitated. I sawed a small bite off my steak, just like my doctor told me I’d better do. I told the guy if my wife said it was a game, then it was a game. Basically, it was whatever she said it was. What had she said? I sort of wanted to know and sort of didn’t at the same time. The guy said something that sounded about right, and I said he seemed like an okay guy, clean and all. I’d figured my wife and I would ride home together, in our car, but she wanted me to follow them. She was quite clear about that. The guy opened the car door for her and then did this little jog around his vehicle. He had one of those sporty Honda Civics. I flashed my high beams to let him know I was ready. We took the usual roads, how I would’ve gone, if I were doing it. I liked how the guy drove. Not too fast and not too slow. It meant something to me that he wasn’t a shitty driver. We turned down our street, and then he proceeded to pull into our garage and park his car. I was fixing to honk, I was this close to laying on the horn, but then I suspected my wife had just told him to do it. She probably insisted. That time of night, I could usually find a spot on the street somewhere, maybe on the other side of the park. When I got back to the house, I went straight upstairs to our bedroom. That’s what my wife had told me to do. The two of them were in the kitchen, getting into some wine, it sounded like. Our bedroom overlooks the living room. There’s half a wall and some decorative iron railing that looks like it was removed from the outside of a house in Italy or Spain or somewhere like that. Anyway, that’s where I was supposed to station myself, by the railing. My wife and the guy—his name was Terry—got pretty chummy on the sofa. He was telling this joke that sounded like what some comic he saw said on TV, and my wife was sitting there absolutely rapt, like she was hearing about the time he saved a blind family from a burning building. She had one leg tucked under her kind of girlishly, and she was doing that thing where she stretched her other foot out and bounced her shoe on the end of it. The guy touched the back of my wife’s neck, smiled, and I thought, Here we go. They got a pretty kissy thing going then, and my wife started pawing at the guy’s pants, and next thing she removed his member, which didn’t look like anything special, as far as I was concerned. The guy leaned back into the sofa and loosened his tie. Then my wife inserted his member into her mouth and started going up and down like a piston, making these just ridiculous sounds. I really could not get over the sounds. That’s when the guy—Terry—saw me, I think, upstairs, peering through the railing. “I’m sorry,” he said. He pushed my wife away. Not roughly. It wasn’t excessive force he used. He just kind of moved her off him. “This is too weird,” he said. He stood then and tugged at his pants. “You folks have a nice night or whatever.” When he was gone, my wife looked up at me. “You don’t have to be so fucking creepy about it,” she said.
new MMO up at VICE. part one of a fifteen part serial.
This Artist Is Having Sex with a Different Guy Every Day for a Year
What is art? If I cover my naked body in Liam Gallagher quotes and sing Blur songs outside The Wag Club, is that art? Because it sounds like it should be, but the lines are so distorted that it’s hard to really say for sure. Take Mischa Badasyan, for example. He’s a Russian-born performance artist who, for his latest piece, has decided to sleep with a different guy every day for 365 days. This, he says, is art.
Admittedly, there’s more to his “Save the Date” project than thrusting. Mischa is also taking dance lessons so, at the end of the year, he can perform what he calls “the dance of the loneliness.”
I spoke to Mischa to find out what gave him the idea, and how exactly he’s going to find 365 guys to sleep with.
VICE: Hey Mischa. So, tell me about “Save The Date.”
Mischa Badasyan: ”Save the Date” is going to be my hardest and most sophisticated performance so far. For one year I’m going to be immersed in loneliness, with people and the city. For 365 days I’m going to meet, each day, someone new, and discover the other´s stories. Alongside meeting people I’ll work with sound, photo, and video installations, and create different public performances worldwide.
OK. Where did this idea come to you?
I was inspired in Milan in the Center of Contemporary Art. [The French writer, photographer and artist] Sophie Calle was my muse, and she inspired me for this project.
Right. But what inspired you to have sex with 365 people?
I wanted to make a piece that exaggerated my feelings and my emotional state at the moment. So far I’ve never been in love. In this performance, I’m going to share and give all my love to people.
So why is this art and not just sleeping with a load of people?
Sex is just a method to express my idea. Apart from this, a lot will happen, both for the public and for the end exhibition. Like, I will take some dance classes for the whole year and I will create a dance piece for the end of the project—dance of the loneliness. It’s a processional art that deals with the relational aesthetics—aesthetics existing only in the relationships with someone that I meet.
From the 2014 VICE Photo Issue: Walk in the Woods
Thomas Albdorf makes beautiful images and then gives them titles like this: “The Blooming of the Daffodil Flower Between May and June Leads Many Tourists Towards Lunzer Lake.” Get into it!
My Parents Had a Party
My Parents Had a Party, Long Island, NY
Last summer, my parents decided to throw a party to celebrate life. I wasn’t quite sure what my mom had planned other than an entertaining night with good food and company. As I entered my parents’ house that evening, I was greeted by a little person my mom had hired from an adult entertainment agency. He was dressed as a cop and demanded that each arriving and unsuspecting guest show his or her ID… or else.
OK, a little weird, but nothing too extreme. As the party continued, two of the cocktail waitresses and one of the male servers started taking off their clothing, and suddenly they were naked and the lap dances and the tequila ice-luge/body-shot demonstrations began. At first, many of their guests were unsure of how to react to the nakedness around them. I, for one, was amused and a bit surprised to see adults whom I have known my entire life getting smothered in breasts and bathed in booze at my parents’ house.
As the night progressed, two additional strippers arrived to perform for the guests, and the little person quickly stripped down to join in the show. Slowly and surely, more and more guests began to loosen up and really experience the celebration of zany fun that my mom had planned from the start. The hours went by fast; everyone was merrily drunk, including the dog sitter. After a long night of hard partying, the talent was paid, the guests sent off with coffee, and we all went to bed. The next morning may have been even more fun as we conducted the post-party critique, with mom wearing the little person’s uniform, which he had somehow forgoten to take home that night.