Martha’s Quarterly is a quarterly subscription of four handmade artist books a year. Every season, subscribers will receive a new artist book that may take the form of an object, an experimental binding, or a simply beautiful hand-bound book. Martha’s Quarterly aims to present urgent topics that are not always covered by mainstream media or widely archived by cultural institutions. As every person has a library of their own belongings, every issue seeks to exist in the reader’s catalog of possessions as something that might be read through once, revisited again, and reflected upon as a messenger of critical subjects.
Paper Tiger, edited and designed by Tammy Nguyen. Contributions by Lorne Swarthout, Larry Ossei-Mensah, and Saretta Morgan
About the contributors:
Lorne Swarthout is a history and economics teacher at the Berkeley Carroll School. His academic compass has pointed him towards the histories of East Asian peoples, of the world's oceans, and of national economic development.
Larry Ossei-Mensah is a Ghanaian-American curator and cultural critic who uses contemporary art and culture as a vehicle to redefine how we see ourselves and the world around us. Ossei-Mensah is also the Co-Founder of ARTNOIR, a global collective of culturalists who design multimodal experiences aimed to engage this generation’s dynamic and diverse creative class.
Saretta Morgan is author of the chapbooks room for a counter interior (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2017) and Feeling Upon Arrival (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2018). She has designed interactive, text-based experiences for the Whitney Museum of American Art, Dia Beacon and as a 2016-2017 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace resident. She is a member of the feminist publishing collective, Belladonna* Collaborative, and a contributing interviewer at The Common (Amherst College).
“There was no way she would have won,” a man at the table said of Hillary Clinton. He continued, “She’s a tiger, and he’s a dragon, and when a tiger meets a dragon, they will always lose. In order to take him out, the next person who runs against him will have to be a dragon too.” Laughter followed his explanation.
This man was one of my parents’ friends, and they were all having dinner at another friend’s house after an afternoon of dancing at the Vietnamese community center; karaoke was to follow the food. These folks, all over 65 years old, were Vietnamese refugees, displaced from Vietnam after the war, having made their way to the San Francisco Bay Area over a period of time by various means.
It has frequently been striking to me that my parents and their peers can keep calm and find humor in stunningly consequential events. While media and local conversations have tried to make sense of last year’s election, here, this group of war-experienced people speculates the results with faith.
The term “paper tiger” has been coming up in foreign policy, especially in discussions about US relations to China. It was a term first used by Chairman Mao to describe “one that is outwardly powerful or dangerous but inwardly weak or ineffectual.” Martha’s Quarterly, Issue 5, Fall 2017 features an essay by the history teacher Lorne Swarthout, who recounts Chairman Mao calling the United States a “paper tiger.” As Swarthout’s essay continues, he advocates that that this term may be relevant in thinking about the nuclear powered China and its “little brother” North Korea.
Nations are big entities as they are ideas, but those big things trickle down to the little things like us, and our communities, and our loved ones. Thinking about this, Passenger Pigeon Press invited curator Larry Ossei-Mensah and poet Saretta Morgan to respond to the term “paper tiger.” Ossei-Mensah annotated a facsimile of a conversation between Chairman Mao and Henry Kissinger where Mao admits to calling the US a “paper tiger.” The two arrogant men talked casually about the their countries, Germany, Russia, and England with riddles, sarcasm, and a lot of laughter in between. (Chairman Mao even called US intelligence a bunch of flying pigeons.) It is hard to read such a transcript and know the fatalities of both Mao’s reign and WWII. Ossei-Mensai’s scribbling shows his coming to grips with such language. At one point, Ossei-Mensah writes in the column, “Are Democracy and Communism just one and the same?”
Saretta Morgan moves forward with the term “paper tiger” in her poem on lines. Juxtaposed with images of influential books, Morgan’s words and the space in between them seem to talk about a border. She opens, “a border is only habitable. sensual”. Morgan’s poems brings us inward perhaps as a way to allow us to push back on the greater institutions that are nations.
In the last few months hurricanes have devastated America and Latin America. The people of Catalan roared for an “out.” A terrorist was successful in Las Vegas. The Rohingya people of Myanmar flee for survival in Bangladesh. Flames destroyed parts of Wine Country. These events are not “paper tigers;” they are tigers. What the nations prove to be, paper or flesh, time will tell.
I googled the birthdays of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton was born in 1947, Trump in 1946. This makes her a fire pig, and he, a fire dog. The two signs are compatible.
— Tammy Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief
Giant Balloons, edited and designed by Tammy Nguyen. Contributions by Dr. Peniel M. Dimberu, Chayce Marshall, and Francis Bacon.
About the contributors:
Peniel M. Dimberu, PhD is a biologist, writer and educator. His graduate work was focused on how cells detect an infection and then alert the immune system to respond. Peniel is an ardent believer that science literacy is an important metric for any society but even more so under the current US political climate.
Chayce Marshall is a 9-year old student at Pierrepont School in Westport, CT. He enjoys Star Wars, soccer, and karate, but his true loves are the outdoors, nature and his classical guitar. When he grows up, Chayce would like to be a farmer, thinking of new ways to grow food.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was a philosopher, scientist, and stateman who served as the Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England. He has been frequently called the father of empiricism– the theory that knowledge comes from one’s own sensorial experiences.
It's hot in Manila, as it was a week ago when I was in New York. Today, on July 9th, I sit at Manila Ocean Park, at a pan-Asian lunch buffet pleasantly chilled in air conditioning. is was my escape from the humid heat and stench of Manila Bay, where this tourist attraction sits side-by-side with the US Embassy. The shore’s contour is artificial, as much of it has been designed and manufactured with sand, extending Manila’s natural landmass. Here, the aspirations of militaries and capitalism merge— this water has been the stage of many battles and now it serves as the Port of Manila distributing goods throughout the Filipino trade-dependent economy. Like many bays throughout the world, this bay has served the interests of powerful navies and then transformed into a site for commerce.
I’d like to think about this setting of Manila Bay as an allegory for the climate change crisis. Along this bay, capitalism appears in many forms which all follow the military trajectories of the Spanish, Japanese, and Americans. As the battles have left memories of massacre and visible neglect, the ambitions behind them have also left an invisible trail of damage felt and smelt in the air and heat. Climate change is sublime; and a literal consequence of collective human passion and pursuit of power.
Last year, I learned of geoengineering from the Carnegie Council’s program: Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative (C2G2). Geoengineering is a, “deliberate large-scale manipulation of an environmental process that affects the earth's climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming.” (1) It entails solutions for the climate change crisis that I have found as equally sublime as climate change itself. And so, this issue of Martha’s Quarterly entitled Giant Balloons addresses the profundity of climate change by springing from the idea of geoengineering through the contributions of the biologist Dr. Peniel M. Dimberu, the 9- year old poet Chayce Marshall, and the philosopher/scientist Francis Bacon. Dr. Dimberu explains geoengineering as Marshall presents his observations of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in NYC. Juxtaposed to these pieces is the preface to Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum where he transforms man’s gaze on his planet— turning nature into a natural resource. (2)
I’m finishing this introduction on July 12th. As I navigate torrid Manila for souvenirs to gift my friends and family, an iceberg the size of Delaware broke off of Antarctica. While scientists have not confirmed the direct link between this event and climate change, one thing is for sure: maps will be redrawn creating new opportunities for the doubled edged ambitions of capitalism.
— Tammy Nguyen
(2) Idea adopted from The Darker Side of Modernity by Walter Mignolo, The Formation and Transformation of “Patrón colonial de poder”
Skyglow and the Desert Fox, edited and designed by Tammy Nguyen. Contributions by Emma Colbert, cover illustration, Andrew Hughes, In the Valley of the Blind, Andrew Stein, Blitzkrieg in the Orient.
About the contributors:
Emma Colbert is a Northern Irish born artist who specializes in pastel portraiture, wildlife, and landscape. Inspired by nature, she produces paintings in a realistic vibrant style. To see her work digitally, visit: www.emmacolbertart.com.
Andrew Hughes is a Writer, Musician, & Nomad. Traveling and performing in Europe.
Andrew Stein is a history and American Studies instructor at The Berkeley Carroll School. His research interest lies in race, gender, and sexuality in the U.S. and the Global South, particularly South Africa and the Caribbean.
On January 19th, 2017, The Financial Times published an article by the Delhi-based author Nilanjana Roy, The dark side of too much light, where she described “skyglow” — a phenomenon where the night sky is brightened over inhabited areas. This is commonly seen in the night skies of urban areas, where the stars are faint, and the horizon radiates from the city’s electricity. This light has lengthened the human’s work day, allowing for more productivity. It has allowed for more interaction and connection into the darkest hours of night. Yet at the same time, this light is also the sublime sky of pollution, the brilliant child of oil and man.
January 19th, 2017 was also the eve of the inauguration of President Trump. In only a few weeks, he denounced the EPA, implemented an immigrant band, and comparisons between his administration to Hitler’s was viral. In this context, this issue of Martha’s Quarterly takes the toxic phenomenon of “skyglow” and considers it as sky, light, and heat of many literal and figurative understandings.
History, climate change, xenophobia, and government are interrelated, as any other seemingly separate subjects. Before we invited contributors, Passenger Pigeon Press conceptually compared skyglow to the light of Orientalist paintings in the 19th century. These images were some of the first cinematic imaginations of the brown and black body as “discovered” by European explorers. Some of these paintings were interpretations of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt— the region of some Nazi operations in WWII led by Commander Erwin Rommel, also known as, “The Desert Fox.” This nickname is also the common name for the fennec fox, a fox breed famous for its small size, and big ears which allows it to bare the extreme heat of the Sahara Desert. That said, greenery has sprouted in patches across the desert due to climate change as if to turn the region into a grassland as it once was, 11,000 years ago. Only this time, plants sprout beneath a sky lit by the dazzle of globalizing cities across North Africa.
With this daisy chain of connections, Passenger Pigeon Press invited three cultural producers— the history teacher Andrew Stein, the visual artist Emma Colbert, and the poet Andrew Hughes — to respond to a directed prompt. Andrew Stein is a history teacher in Brooklyn, and we asked him to tell a story about Erwin Rommel and to incorporate skyglow as part of its literary atmosphere. The visual artist Emma Colbert and poet Andrew Hughes are currently traveling across Europe in a motorhome that is also their studio. A naturalist who specializes in animals, we asked Ms. Colbert to interpret the fennec fox with the knowledge that it lives in North Africa and possesses special temperature-controlling ears. Finally, we asked Andrew Hughes to read the Financial Times article mentioned earlier and to respond with a poem.
Their work is now juxtaposed in this Martha’s Quarterly, entitled: Skyglow and the Desert Fox. Mr. Stein recounts Commander Rommel’s theatrical activities in North Africa. Meanwhile, Ms. Colbert and Mr. Hughes’ work were made in Tarifa, Spain as they looked across the Strait of Gibraltar towards Tangier, Morocco. Surrounded by the same cacti that covers North Africa today and throughout WWII, Ms. Colbert painted the fennec fox as Mr. Hughes’ poem created tension between notions of darkness, brightness, and power.
— Tammy Nguyen
Martha’s Quarterly, Issue 3, Spring 2017, Skyglow and the Desert Fox was designed by Tammy Nguyen, founder of Passenger Pigeon Press. It utilizes risograph, digital, and letterpress printing. The papers used are: Staples 20 lb. Ivory, Staples Coverstock Beige, French Paper Poptone Snow Cone Lightweight Cardstock, and Basis Colors 80 lb. Light Yellow. The front image behind Emma Colbert’s painting is a photograph of US military vehicles in Tunisia during WWII. The photograph of Erwin Rommel’s death mask was found discovered by the U.S. Seventh Army troops in 1945. The map of North Africa is a cropped section from 19th century map drawn by the German cartographer, Adolf Stieler.
Last summer, I was listening to a podcast on the New Books Network about labor rights in Vietnam. This particular interview was with Tran Ngoc Angie, author of the book Ties that Bind: Cultural Identity, Class, and Law in Vietnam’s Labor Resistance. She described a phenomenon called “cicada practices,” which is when business owners set up a factory and then completely evacuate the premises, deserting the workers without compensation. I was disturbed by this exploitation of workers and how this practice impacts one’s identity. A person’s vocation often gives them personal pride— it allows an individual to make, to contribute, and to support their community and loved ones. Such a practice has repercussions across many senses of self.
Cicada practices, as an analogy, reminds me of a summer afternoon a few years ago, when I went to see cicadas rumored to be in a park nearby. I was told they emerged in such large numbers that they swarm around you. But I was too late. When I arrived, the only remainder of the cicadas were their thousands of skins left behind. I thought that I saw one cicada settled on a branch. When I reached out to touch it, it fell over like a corpse, a weightless carcass, as if to emphasize that new life had fleeted away.
This issue of Martha’s Quarterly, Winter 2016, reflects on the ideas of what makes a life, what defines an identity, and how those entities are part of a bigger system, all simultaneously living and dying at the same time. Cicada Practices are presented by Kevin Collier and Samuel Snow. Collier describes the cicada practices in Vietnamese industry and Snow describes cicada biology. Nested between is a poem, the distorted looking glass, by Tinashe Mushakavanhu, who writes from the point of view of someone who feels so left out that his circadian rhythm cannot find peace. Their contributions suggest relationships to these separate systems despite being inherently different in scale and context. Juxtaposing them aims to encourage empathy between different ways of existing.
As I write this introduction, Donald Trump prepares to take office as the 45th president of the United States. On November 8th, as I watched the electoral votes come in, I felt stunned and ignorant about the perspectives of the many people who chose him. Could part of the president-elect’s supporters be suffering from a sort of cicada practice as well? In the Rust Belt, the collapse of once reliable industry jobs has depleted families of their livelihoods and traditions, which echoes the same loss of identity that I described earlier. For other Americans, there’s been a sharp uptick in hate crimes and harassment since the election. Anxiety and fear have risen accordingly among people of color, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community. Could there be a cicada practice in the midst here as well, as their ways of life and values are threatened by the new administration? Just as the dead skin of a cicada is a sign of new life, this issue suggests that when something dies, elsewhere something thrives.
- Tammy Nguyen
Martha’s Quarterly, Issue 2, Winter 2016, presents three texts: Cicada Practices by Samuel Snow, Cicada Practices by Kevin Collier, and the distorted looking glass by Tinashe Mushakavanhu. This project utilizes woodblock and letterpress printing. The fonts used in the text include Communist sizes 12 and 8, and Promocyja sizes 12 and 36. The jacket which holds the three texts flattens out to a poster. The papers used include Crush Almond 90lbs, and found office paper. The drawings, design, printing, and construction was completed by Tammy Nguyen. This edition was of 150 hand-made portfolios.
Cicada Practices by Samuel Snow, the distorted looking glass, by Tinashe Mushakavanhu, and Cicada Practices by Kevin Collier
Letterpress and woodblock on various papers
6" x 9"
About the contributors:
Samuel Snow, M.S., is an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist, currently a Ph.D. candidate at Yale University. His doctoral work explores the fascinating evolutionary consequences of mate choice for sexual ornamentation, mate-system evolution, and social behavior.
Tinashe Mushakavanhu is a Zimbabwean born editor and writer. He co-edited the critically acclaimed anthology, State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean Poetry (2009) and co-cuartor of ReadingZimbabwe.com.
Kevin Collier is a senior reporter at Vocativ, where he covers politics, cybersecurity, and privacy. He lives in New York City.
The Wild Pigeon of North America
by Chief Pokagon
Letterpress and digital print on various papers
5.25" x 4.25"
This first issue is a visual presentation of the text The Wild Pigeon of North America by Chief Pokagon, which appeared in The Chautaquan in November 1895, Volume 22, Number 20. Chief Pokagon, or Simon Pokagon, was nicknamed by the press as the “Redskin poet, bard, and Longfellow of his race.” He was a full-blooded Native American and a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians that once dwelled in the Great Plains of North America. An activist, writer, and poet, Chief Pokagon fought for the fair treatment of Native American people. In this article, Chief Pokagon describes his awe for what we know as the passenger pigeon. Additionally, he accounts the way that white Americans were killing the species by the masses. He compares this to the way that his own people were killing the bird while also ensuring the species’ sustainability.
Today, the passenger pigeons are extinct and the Potawatomi people were displaced from their lands during the American removal period between 1830-1840. Considering this, it seemed fitting for the inaugural issue of Martha’s Quarterly to present this text as a way to allude to the precarious issues within today’s environment and how we care for people who are different from us.
Passenger Pigeon Press takes its name after the passenger pigeon because of the species’ rich identity within its environment and our human culture. This bird’s tale is also a history of exploitation and displacement by humans which ultimately lead to its own demise. Martha’s Quarterly is named after Martha, the last passenger pigeon who died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.
- Tammy Nguyen