The ‘female pirate printer’ who creates fashion from manhole covers

Artist Emma-France Raff decorates clothing and tote bags guerilla-style in the street using ink, a roller and manhole covers as her printing press

Its not often manhole covers and fashion are uttered in the same sentence, but for Emma-France Raff, these functional metal structures have a distinct charm.

So much so that she scours the streets of cities for ones with intricate details and textures which she uses as a printing press – painting them with ink and transferring their designs onto t-shirts, hoodies and bags.

The artist, who brings a whole new meaning to the term streetwear, gets some curious looks when she gets her roller, ink and equipment out, and starts printing on the ground in public places.




  • Raff copying designs from Berlin and Budapests distinctive manhole covers as well as a more abstract design from Portos tram tracks

But Raff, who has turned the streets of Berlin, Barcelona, Istanbul, Paris, Porto and Stavanger among others into fashion has always been fascinated with tiny details spotted while out and about, and finding inspiration in often overlooked elements of the urban landscape. The appeal of manhole covers, she says, is that they often have a local flavour.

Often drain covers will have symbols or letters that make them unique to that certain place. They have something from the city on them, she says. In Berlin, for example, they have the TV tower on them and other monuments.


  • Raff at work in Vienna in 2017

The Berlin one is very nice because it has a lot of details but I also like the abstract ones. Theres so much variety, you have thousands of different ones. Theyre special because they always have something local.

Raff, whose parents are German, was born in France. Her family moved to Portugal when she was nine, and she came up with the idea of using manhole cover as prints with her father while she was studying textile design in Porto.



  • Raff capturing a floral tile pattern in Barcelona

She went on to create experimental printing project raubdruckerin which means female pirate printer which is based in Berlin, although she travels to different cities to do the printing, and sells the t-shirts and other hand-printed merchandise via her website.

In addition to manhole covers, she finds other neglected patterns in city streets. I did a sign for bicycle parking in Amsterdam. In Barcelona we printed tiles on the concrete floor. If theres chewing gum I leave it on, sometimes you can see it on the print. It makes it very unique – its the idea that this print comes from one specific place, and maybe in two years it will not be there, so it has to do with time and place.

After the printing it can take between half an hour to an hour to clean up. She says she uses a water-based ink, which reacts with the fabric but it doesnt connect with the metal. Its like painting with water marker on plastic, it makes pearls.

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Paris’s Pompidou Centre to open gallery in Shanghai

The modern art gallery, which also plans to open branches in South Korea and Belgium, has been in talks for more than a decade with China

The Pompidou Centre in Paris, which houses the worlds second biggest collection of modern art, is close to signing a deal for a franchise gallery in Shanghai.

It will show around 20 exhibitions over five years in a wing of the new West Bund Art Museum, which is being built in the cultural district of Chinas commercial capital by British architect David Chipperfield.

The Paris gallery, which also has plans to open branches in South Korea and Belgium, has been in talks for more than a decade with the Chinese authorities.

Last year it staged its first show in China called Masterpieces from the Centre Pompidou 1906-77 featuring work by Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp and other big names at the Shanghai Exhibition Centre.

The gallery said it had signed a protocol with the publicly-owned West Bund Group for a renewable five-year deal to stage exhibitions in the new museum from 2019.

The company has been turning part of the formerly industrial Xuhui district of the city into a 11km (seven mile) cultural corridor along the Huangpu River.

The Pompidou hailed the deal as the most important long-term cultural exchange project between France and China and said it would give an important place to contemporary Chinese art in the new gallery.

It said its new franchise would be called the Centre Pompidou Shanghai (West Bund).

The West Bund Museum is due to be completed at the end of 2018. It will be a major boost to the areas attractions which already include the private Long Museum West Bund, the Yuz Museum and the Shanghai Centre of Photography.

The Pompidou Centre which also houses a library and cinemas was an architectural sensation when it first opened in Paris in 1977.

Its collection of more than 120,000 artworks is regarded as the second most important in the world after the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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From paintings to entire castle rooms, UK treasures that vanished in America

Art historians are appealing for the return of hoards bought by billionaires

Leading British historians are calling for the return of a huge hoard of UK art treasures that has gone missing in the United States.

The works a slice of the nations cultural history range from ship-loads of paintings and sculptures to entire interiors from old houses, transported across the Atlantic as part of the largest movement of art and architecture since the Renaissance. The former V&A director, Sir Roy Strong, is one of the academics calling for Britains vanished heritage to be found.

The extent of the lost art and architecture has emerged since the launch in January of an appeal to find a Tudor oak parlour missing from Gwydir castle in north Wales. The ornate panelling and a fireplace were bought by the US billionaire William Randolph Hearst in the 1920s and were last seen at his palatial home in New York in the 1930s.

Efforts to find the room, one of two from the castle sold to Hearst, have so far failed. But the search has brought to light the greatest single loss of cultural artefacts from Britain. Though many pieces shipped across the Atlantic passed into public collections in the US, and some worldwide, the fate of the bulk of the material is unknown.

Hearst, fictionalised by Orson Welles in the film Citizen Kane, was an obsessive collector of European especially British art and architecture. He was dubbed the great accumulator by one dealer. Rumours persist that sealed Hearst containers remain in storage.

Gwydir Castles missing Tudor oak parlour. Photograph: Gwydir Castle’s 1921 sale catalogue

The largest Hearst storage site is in the Bronx, New York, but other warehouses are believed to exist across the country. His fantasy medieval castle at San Simeon, California Xanadu in the film displays many works, though they are thought to be only around 10% of his entire collection. More than 90 rail wagons brought treasures to San Simeon, and one of the final scenes in Citizen Kane shows an endless vista of crated art at Xanadu.

Hearst was one of several super-rich Americans vying to amass art and antiques. John D Rockefeller, JP Morgan and Henry Clay Frick were also major players, with an extensive second tier of buyers below them.

For nearly 60 years, from the 1880s, items from Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Greece were snapped up, but Britain was the richest source. The trade was frenzied. When the Titanic sank in 1912, 30 tons of crated English architectural objects were on board. Entire historic interiors would be acquired panelling, fireplaces, doors, paintings, timbers and plaster ceilings, libraries and tapestries and shipped as job lots, often without an inventory. Artworks in particular were sold en bloc by quantity by dealers with no detailed description.

Over time, US galleries and museums came to own some of the items. Georgian rooms bought by Hearst, taken from Sutton Scarsdale Hall in Derbyshire, were used as film sets in Hollywood before ending up at the Huntington Library collection, California. Other Sutton Scarsdale rooms are held by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In the 1990s, the owners of Gwydir traced one of the castles two missing interiors, a 1640s room, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which acquired it from Hearst. The room had been stored at the museum for decades, and the owners bought and reinstated it.

The gothic-style dining room at Hearst Castle. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The extent of exports of British art and antiques to America is known to a few academics, but Gwydirs search for its lost room has brought this episode out of the shadows. Now calling for a concerted effort to find the lost heritage are the pre-eminent historians Sir Roy Strong and John Harris.

Strong told the Observer: There were ship-loads of early English portraits exported, not just grand things. There were interesting Elizabethan and other pictures. Back then, you wouldnt have got 50 quid for an Elizabethan painting.

It was the fashion, the English Tudorbethan. Theres English sculpture how much of that went to America? We dont know. There were no export controls. Records just went over to America, those of fantastic gardens, for instance. The fate of the rooms has never been highlighted.

A large proportion of Britains art history from the 16th to 18th centuries may be missing.

John Harris, who, with Marcus Binney founder of SAVE Britains Heritage campaigned in the 1970s to prevent heritage neglect, shares Strongs concern. Harris is the only historian to have studied the export of artefacts from the UK. I lived in New York in the early 1960s, Harris told the Observer. Around 20 houses on Park Avenue alone had old English rooms. Hundreds, if not in the low thousands, of items [are unaccounted for]. Some of the finest craftsmanship. At least 200 rooms were taken apart.

We have underestimated the number of [historic] rooms in the US. It is unclear what is in storage, what the Hearst people have. It is odd that there has never been an effort to identify what is in the States.

The billionaire publisher William Randolph Hearst was an avid collector. Photograph: Bettmann Archive

The scale of the buying was historic. Only the Renaissance princes were spending on an equivalent scale, says Dr Mark Westgarth, art historian at Leeds University and a specialist in the art trade. One of the reasons why heritage laws began in Britain was to stop the flood of material to America.

Hearst was notorious for buying pieces then leaving them in storage.

By the late 1930s, Hearsts empire faced bankruptcy and, in 1941, 20,000 lots were auctioned off at New York department stores Gimbels and Saks. There hasnt been sufficient awareness of this aspect of what has been exported to America, says Harris. That was seriously to this countrys loss.

A lot of the documentary records have vanished, dealers papers especially. Years ago, I searched the records of one, French & Company, and Hearst without success. Ive always been told there are Hearst stores in the US, difficult to access. Efforts must be made to examine Hearst sites and open containers. But Im past it now.

Those looking after the surviving Hearst archives believe there is much to be discovered. The whereabouts of a lot of the items Hearst bought are not known, says Dr Catherine Larkin of the William Randolph Hearst Archive at Long Island University, New York.

Things have gone missing by being placed in homes which might not exist any more, or are still in one of Hearsts many warehouses.

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I threw away $100m of Picasso and Matisse art, says dealer in Paris theft trial

Co-defendant in Spider-Man trial says he destroyed five paintings stolen in 2010 from Museum of Modern Art

A co-defendant in one of the worlds biggest art heists has told a court he destroyed and threw away five art masterpieces worth more than $100m that were stolen by a thief nicknamed the Spider-Man.

Yonathan Birn was among three people who went on trial in the case on Monday. The five paintings stolen in 2010 from the Museum of Modern Art in Paris a Picasso, a Matisse, a Modigliani, a Braque and a Fernand Lger have never been found.

I threw them into the trash, Birn repeated three times at the court bar, in tears. I made the worst mistake of my existence.

Neither the investigating judge nor other defendants at the trial believe Birns claims. The investigators believe the five paintings have been taken out of France. Birns co-defendants testified he was too smart to destroy the masterpieces.

The main suspect Vjeran Tomic, dubbed the Spider-Man by French news media, has been convicted 14 times in the past, notably for thefts. Authorities found climbing gear at his home: gloves, ropes, a harness, climbing shoes and suction cups.

Tomic testified that at about 3am on 20 May 2010, he broke into the museum near the Eiffel Tower with apparent ease, taking advantage of supposed failures in the security, alarm and video-surveillance systems.

Spider-Man removed the glass from a bay window without breaking it, cut the padlock of the metal grid behind it, allowing him to then move from one room to another without arousing the guards suspicions.

Tomic was there to steal a painting by Fernand Lger and possibly a Modigliani ordered by a third defendant, 61-year-old antiques dealer Jean-Michel Corvez, who confessed to being a receiver of stolen goods. Tomic said that when he came across the Picasso, the Matisse and the Braque paintings, he decided to take them as well.

Several hours after the burglary, Tomic said, he offered the five paintings to Corvez, who said he was totally stunned by them.

Corvez said he initially gave Tomic a plastic bag containing 40,000 (34,000) in small denominations just for the Lger because he was unsure he would get buyers for the other paintings.

Corvez became worried about keeping the artworks in his shop after several months and showed them to his friend Birn, a 40-year-old expert and dealer in luxury watches. Birn said he agreed to buy the Modigliani for 80,000 ($68,000) and to store the others in his studio. The Modigliani was hidden in a bank safe, he said.

Birn said he panicked when police began investigating and, in May 2011, he retrieved the Modigliani from the safe, returned to his workshop and broke the stretcher bars on all the canvasses before throwing them all into the buildings trash.

Tomic is charged with stealing public cultural property, while Corvez and Birn are accused of receiving stolen goods. The three men are also accused of taking part in a criminal conspiracy to commit the thefts.

Both Corvez and Birn can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Tomic could up to 20 years in prison as a repeat offender. The trial is expected to resume later this week.

After he was questioned, Tomic said he was sure Birn didnt destroy the paintings and wanted him to say where they were located. These are my artworks, he said.

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‘Spider-Man’ burglar on trial over 100m Paris art theft

Vjeran Tomic goes on trail for theft that included works by Picasso and Matisse from citys Modern Art Museum

A burglar known as Spider-Man, notorious for daring acrobatic heists, goes on trial Monday for the 2010 theft of a 100m haul that included works by Picasso and Matisse from a Paris gallery.

Vjeran Tomic, 49, who is facing 14 charges, will stand trial along with two accomplices charged with handling stolen goods.

The three were charged over the May 2010 robbery at the Modern Art Museum of five paintings by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Ferdinand Leger and Amedeo Modigliani.

On 19 May, 2010, a thief cut through a padlocked gate and broke a window to get into the gallery, one of the most-visited museums in Paris on the leafy banks of the Seine, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

The museums alarms had been awaiting repair for several weeks and the thief somehow managed to knock out a security camera.

Three guards were on duty that night, but the paintings were only found to be missing from their frames just as the museum prepared to open to the public the next day.

When police arrested the Serb in May 2011, Tomic told them he had initially broken into the museum for Legers Still Life with Candlestick from 1922, not thinking he would also be able to steal another four.

Henri Matisses La Pastorale (Pastoral, 1906). The artwork was one of five paintings stolen from the City Museum of Modern Art in Paris, in May 2010. Photograph: Universal News And Sport/EPA

Besides the Leger canvas, the other works stolen were Picassos cubist Dove with Green Peas from 1912 worth an estimated 25m ($26.8 million) alone French contemporary Matisses Pastoral from 1905, Braques Olive Tree near Estaque from 1906, and Modiglianis Woman with a Fan from 1919.

All but the Modigliani were hung in the same room in the museum, located in the well-heeled 16th district of Paris, which is run by the city and is home to more than 8,000 works of 20th-century art.

Tomic said he took them all because he liked the paintings.

Authorities put the total value of the haul at 100m ($107 million), but some experts said they were worth twice that, while admitting it would be totally impossible to sell them on the open market.

French police arrested Tomic after receiving an anonymous tip. Surveillance cameras from the night of the heist recorded only one person entering through a window but the person could not be identified.

Tomic, an athletic 1.90m (6 foot 2) rock climbing enthusiast, earned his nickname for clambering into posh Parisian apartments and museums alike, to steal valuable gems and works of art.

Authorities said he was spotted by a homeless man as he roamed around the museum in the days leading to the theft.

And they say Tomics mobile phone or that of one of his accomplices showed a signal coming from that area during the heist.

They trailed the signal to a Paris metro station then to a car park in the city centre. Authorities believe that is where he may have sold the paintings to a first dealer.

A second dealer claimed he held on to the paintings for a short time before he dumped them in a garbage can, which authorities do not believe.

International police body Interpol put out an alert to its 188 member countries in the hope of recovering the five paintings, but so far they all remain missing.

There has been a spate of art thefts in Europe in recent years.

The most recent, in 2015, involved the theft of five paintings worth 25m by renowned British artist Francis Bacon in Madrid.

Spanish police arrested seven people last year suspected of being involved in the theft.

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Hoops, wheels and moose heads: playtime in the world’s most inhospitable places

How do children play in refugee camps, aboriginal reserves and places ravaged by war? Photographer Mark Neville found out

You seldom see a smile in Mark Nevilles photographs of children. Even in glorious circumstances, among the mud and smoke of a well-run adventure playground, children appear stern and serious: deeply focused on whatever business is afoot. In what Neville calls oppressed space at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya or in bomb-damaged east Ukraine they gaze into his camera quizzically, as if briefly awoken from a more absorbing inner world.

Childs Play, an exhibition opening this week at Londons Foundling Museum, brings together images from 15 years of Nevilles photography. From Afghanistan to Pittsburgh, London, Corby, Port Glasgow and the Isle of Bute, he noticed that his big, socially engaged series all featured strong images of children. These are now part of a wider campaign to raise awareness about the importance of play in childrens development.

A boy in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, 2016. Photograph: Mark Neville

Neville has previously tackled post-traumatic stress disorder, toxic waste and war, so this new topic play might seem a lighthearted departure. But he believes it is an essential survival strategy. Unstructured activity determined by the child, as opposed to educational games or sport, is about social interaction, testing boundaries and confidence. The only way we gain confidence is to test our fears. Some are social, some physical, some psychological. All get tested in the playground: its a microcosm of the real world.

New material for the show has been taken in Kenya and Ukraine, as well as in the London borough of Islington, which granted Neville access to the Toffee Park and Lumpy Hill adventure playgrounds. Neville is concerned by the lack of a national play strategy in the UK, which could lobby on behalf of such sites. If were looking at making cuts we look at Toffee Park and think, Well, surely kids can play at school, so we dont need that. It just gets crossed off. If we dont provide play, theres going to be a generation of unwell adults.

Christmas Day in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2010. Photograph: Mark Neville

Across the thousands of miles of territory covered in the show, common threads emerge: kids trundling hoops and wheels in Kenya and Afghanistan; girls playing mother and child; the universal appeal of water, mud, rope and string. We see children performing for the camera: there is the occasional manic grin, a hardman snarl from a pre-schooler in Pittsburgh and unexpected vamping from a girl in southern Afghanistan. We drove for a couple of hours in a tank to get to Lashkar Gah, Neville recalls. There was an outdoor class going on. I was at the back and suddenly this girl stands up and starts posing to camera like a silent movie star.

Neville has seen first-hand how, in hostile environments, play becomes an outlet, a release, a kind of therapy. It allows children to make sense of the horrors going on in the adult world and deal with them. Whether theyre the horrors of life in Islington which there are or on an aboriginal reserve in Shamattawa, Manitoba.

That reserve in Canada has become totemic for Neville a place of extreme neglect. A community of about 1,600 people living in shacks, serviced by one grocery store (which burned down last September) and accessible only by plane, Shamattawa is home to a generation of aboriginal tribes Cree, Sioux who have been completely disinherited from everything to do with their identity and their religion. The adults live without hope, so they become hopeless parents too..

The mooses head in Shamattawa, Manitoba, 2016. Photograph: Mark Neville

One image of Shamattawa shows half-dressed children in a dilapidated kitchen with a severed moose head on the floor in a puddle of congealed blood. What might be an axe handle, or the butt of a gun, lies beside it. Shamattawa has shocking numbers of child suicide. Kids see that if you kill yourself, theres a funeral and a public outpouring of attention and grief, says Neville. I was walking around and came to a little clearing in a wood. There was this graveyard of little crosses with teddy bears stuck on them, hundreds of them. I wept and wept.

In March, alongside Childs Play, the Foundling Museum will host a symposium on issues of public space and childrens rights. Neville and campaigner Adrian Voce have also put together a book outlining the mental and physical health issues associated with a lack of free play, and covering the threats currently facing spaces and facilities in the UK. It will not be commercially available, but will instead be sent out to bodies and individuals with a stake in the issue, or influence in the field.

This reflects Nevilles belief that simply taking photographs and exhibiting them is no longer enough: the images have to be disseminated in a way that might actually make a difference. Because its a fucking disaster, isnt it, the world at the moment? he says. None of us can afford to sit back and let it happen.

Childs Play is at the Foundling Museum, London, from 3 February until 30 April.

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