Today I’m reading picture book biographies of two trail-blazing female artists: Zaha Hadid, an architect; and Amalia Hernandez, a dancer
I loved learning about this architect I’d never heard of, and found myself falling down an Internet rabbit hole of looking at her designs!
The book starts with her childhood in Baghdad, Iraq, where she explored the countryside, thought about ancient cities, and lived with Persian carpets. We follow her to London and get a glimpse of her architectural training and then see her set up shop as an architect, making design after design that is not built. But “Hadid means iron in Arabic, and Zaha is strong as iron. She keeps on working–one plan after another. ‘I made a conscious decision not to stop.'”
And eventually her persistence pays off. In the most wonderful pages of the book, Winter draws the buildings Hadid designed, with their flowing, organic shapes, next to the natural features that inspired her designs.
I loved reading Danza! by Duncan Tonatiuh not because it was unknown but because it was about such a very familiar institution–El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. When I was an exchange student in Mexico, we of course went to a performance, and I have seen similar dances in the United States. But I had never known about the passionate dancer behind the institution: Amalia Hernandez.
The book tells the story of Hernandez’ early dance training and how that eventually led her to looking for a way to put traditional Mexican dances on the stage. Tonatiuh’s art is spot-on for this project. His profile characters and the carefully detailed costumes he puts on them, along with the set and stage details he includes capture my memory of that night when I watched El Ballet Folklorico better than any photographs I’ve ever seen.
I loved the extra details he shares in the back matter–including the controversy over the way some people saw her as appropriating folk dances.
The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane Books: 2017.
Danza! Amalia Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams: 2017.