Saturday, July 31, 2010

Awil-um Magazine, 2

Here we are, the second issue of Awil-um Magazine, and I must admit... it was a fun and inspiring experience making it. From 12 pages we arrived at 40, almost three times more content than before. This is the farthest I can go solo and that is why I am asking for your help. The next issue which is scheduled to be released at the end of September will have even more pages filled with wonderful ideas because you will be part of the experience. We are opening the doors to the project for all to share their knowledge and imagination.

Three things are in need of your contribution, three new categories to help inspire others. The first is photography, if you enjoy taking pictures (some quality needed) of anything, we wait for you to send them along with short descriptions or comments regarding them. This could be an artistic photo or a picture from an event, a building that you noticed while walking by, anything that you want others to know, understand or experience with you.

The second category is cinematography. Here it is best to keep an open eye for details and an open mind for the review, because you will be the one who presents the wonderful world of motion pictures. If you want to take part in this, you will have to send two reviews, one of a movie released during the two months the magazine is being edited and another article about a movie that you consider a classic. Old ones and new ones, side by side.

The third project consists of literature. If you write poetry, stories, anything that contains some sort of understandable strings of words, you can send us an email. We want to promote an "Internet culture" through this activity, by encouraging people to use this powerful tool more efficiently.

Enjoy the reading.

Click here to read the issue

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

WWI - Meuse-Argonne offensive

Soldiers of Headquarters Company, 23rd Infantry Regiment (2nd Infantry Division) firing a 37mm gun during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, or the battle of the Argonne forest. Here, the American soldiers fought their most difficult battle in World War I. This whole offensive was planed by Marshall Ferdinand Foch with the intention of forcing the Germans to capitulate by breaching the Hindenburg line. It lasted between September 26 and November 11, 1918. Here, the Browning Automatic Rifle was first used in combat, in fact, it was popular among both US and French troops.

Click image for larger version

This article is extended in the second issue of Awil-um Magazine (June-July 2010)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Ninth Wave by Ivan Aivazovsky

The Ninth Wave, painted in 1850, is considered the most beautiful painting in Russia, at least according to The Art Wolf magazine. Responsible for its creation is Ivan Aivanovsky, a Russian painter of Armenian origin born in Crimea in the year 1817. His works were highly appreciated by J.W.M. Turner. In 1844 he was awarded the title of Academician at St. Petersburg, and during his lifetime produced around 6000 paintings that earned him fame and money. The painting in question need no descriptions, simply enjoy.

Click here for large image (5815px × 3840px 12MB)

Friday, July 23, 2010

St. Mary's Cathedral, Tokyo by Kenzo Tange

St. Mary's Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tokyo. The original structure of 1899 was a wooden building in the Gothic style that was destroyed during the second world war. Kenzo Tange won the competition for the reconstruction of this church in 1961 and with the assistance of Wilhelm Schlombs, architect to the Archdiocese of Cologne, the building was constructed between April 1936 and December 1964.

The plan is in the form of a cross, nothing extraordinary here, instead, what makes this cathedral a monument of modern architecture are the eight curved walls (or hyperbolic faces) which make the structure truly impressing. The exterior is covered with stainless steal and aluminum frames while the interior is bare concrete. The 60 meter high bell tower is like a sharp needle that seems to disappear into the sky.

The spine of the building consists of a series of skylights.

The cubist baptismal

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why are we here? [a religious perspective]

The subjects and themes that fall in the religious sphere are vast and diverse. This article does not even come close to scratching the wealth of knowledge and thought that lies in the sacred texts of world belief systems, instead it tries to concentrate on the main monotheistic religions that originated in the Middle East region, more exactly Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All this religions have many basic principles in common but our interest now is the creation of Man.

In Zoroastrianism the main religious writings are the Old Avesta and the Young Avesta. The Young Avesta contains among others the Videvdad in which a creation story is described. Belonging to the Middle Persian period, or Pahlavi, we have the Bundahishn (Creation), this is not considered as being part of the main canon, although it is believed that it has roots in Avesta texts that did not survive. Coming back to the Videvdad we must know that this "nosk" contains 22 chapters or "Fargards" that focus mainly on moral laws, the creation story is only present in the first chapter, while in the second we find the legend of Yima; a destructive winter, on the lines of a deluge story is also described. Ahura Mazda created sixteen lands, one by one, with the people's happiness in consideration. Then came Angra Mainyu, the destructive spirit which introduced plague and sin as counter-creations. In this case man is just a player who must take sides before the final battle. How was the human race created is not revealed to us (or maybe that part was lost), and the question why found an answer but not an explanation.
”I have made every land dear to its dwellers, even though it had no charms whatever in it, had I not made every land dear to its dwellers, even though it had no charms whatever in it, then the whole living world would have invaded the Airyana Vaêgô” - 1:2

In Judaism and Christianity (Genesis 1:1 - 2:25) there is a more detailed creation story which tells us that man was created on the sixth day in the image of God, from the dust of the ground:
"the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" (2:7)
He prepares a garden of Eden for him to live in without knowing mortality and suffering. The only thing Adam and Eve were not permitted to do was to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Lucifer told them that if they will eat from that tree they will become like God.
"(...) when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (3:5) 
This was a test, putting the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life in the middle ("In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" 2:9) indicate to us that these two were not hidden and God wanted to see if Adam and Eve will follow His wish/command. This thing can be clearly seen, but the reason I brought it up was that God is "behind" or conscious of Lucifer's actions, which is not the case of the Zoroastrian belief.

The Islamic faith is an Abrahamic religion just like Judaism and Christianity and many things are common.
"Indeed, your Lord is Allah , who created the heavens and earth in six days and then established Himself above the Throne. (...)" (7:54 Sahih International version)
As we see, the concept of six days of creation is also present in Islam, but there is a major difference in this sentence, there is no seventh day of rest. The creation of man is described in the following verse:
"And We did certainly create man out of clay from an altered black mud." (15:26)
And Eve came to existence as follows:
"It is He who created you from one soul and created from it its mate that he might dwell in security with her. And when he covers her, she carries a light burden and continues therein. And when it becomes heavy, they both invoke Allah , their Lord, "If You should give us a good [child], we will surely be among the grateful." (7:189)

Religion tried to answer most of the questions man had using his limited knowledge of the world. It tell us that we have an important part to play, in Zoroastrianism, man needs to chose on what side he will fight at the final battle between good and evil. The Judeo-Christian and Islamic belief systems also tell us about a day when our species will mature, so to speak. In short we are born to take care of the world and sometime in the future some of us will be strong enough to be accepted back by God. Some may argue that the phrase "accepted back by God" is inappropriat, the reason it was used is because our time on this level of existence is intended for us to chose between two opposing forces in what could be described as a microbial part of time in our wider spiritual existence. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Ziggurat at Ur

Around 2100 BCE the king Ur-Nammu, founder of the Sumerian 3rd dynasty of Ur, started the construction of a series of ziggurat buildings, it is also important to mention that in his time the first legal code was written. He was eventually deified because of his piety and his reputation of building and restoring shrines.

The Ziggurat from Ur is situated in modern day Tell el-Mukayyar, in Iraq. As I said before, the project was started by Ur-Nammu, but it was finished by his son, King Shulgi. With time, the building suffered a series of restorations, the most important are in neo-Babylonian times (6 BCE), by king Nabonidus and it is believed that he greatly modified the original structure, and in the 1980s, when Saddam Husein ordered the rebuilding of the facade and the main staircase.

It consisted of three inward sloping platforms with the base measuring approx. 60 by 40 meter. Because only the first platform is left standing we can not say for sure how tall the structure was, estimates are around 42 meters. On top, a temple dedicated to the moon god Nannu was constructed, it was most probably an enclosed rectangular building.

The temple and the upper stages were accessible only to priests, so the monument was not dedicated to ordinary people, in fact, it was considered to be the home on Earth of the particular god, in our case, Nannu. The one responsible for uncovering this treasure was Sir Leonard Woolley who excavated the remains between 1920 and 1930.


The guide showing a drawing of how the ziggurat originally might of looked.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Industrial Revolution played a decisive role in the development of the Western world and ultimately the entire human civilization. Like all major changes, this too faced some opposition, but the kind we will talk about now is of a more artistic nature. The appearance of mechanized methods of production used for consumer products made them more affordable but also reduced their quality.
A minority saw this changes as a threat to culture and society because something intended to help man produce objects faster, cheaper and better, ended up destroying creativity. This was one side of the story, the other side was that when decorated, consumer objects were made difficult to use and simply put, were ugly.

The two people responsible for starting a movement intended to recreate ”the old way” are William Morris and John Ruskin. The first paved the way through his own house (the Red House) which he decorated. Red House comes from the bricks used but could also be a hint to his political affiliations. John Ruskin on the other hand, wrote "The Stones of Venice", a book where he showed us that man can not make the job of machines, instead, he has the capacity to create unique things. 

From the beginning of the 19th century a series of important events influenced art. Slowly, Oriental art started to be injected into Western culture through international exhibitions. This was possible because everyone was aware that their industrial civilization produced objects of far lower quality than countries like China and Japan. In an attempt to recover the lost ground, artists tried to borrow Oriental motifs and techniques. A very good example is "The Peacock Room" made by Abbott McNeill Whistler.

Arts and Crafts developed as a movement between 1880 and 1910 first in Great Britain and then in America under the name "Mission Style". The American version will end up going on a separate way. Besides the artistic elements, which will be borrowed by the Aesthetic Movement, there is a strong social stance. Morris was an artist and writer, but also a socialist leader.

The framework of the movement was made up of guilds after a medieval model, also, Gothic aesthetic elements found their place in this artistic reform. In his own house, in 1861, Morris started "Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.", the name later being changed to "Morris & Co". This was the start of a long series of such enterprises.

In 1881 "Home Arts and Industries Association" was created, with an emphasis on protecting rural traditions and developing an infrastructure for revitalizing the economic activity of craftsmen.

The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was formed in London in 1887 and started exhibitions annually with the aim to promote decorative arts. In 1891, William Morris became its president and made a change of policy, by organizing the exhibitions every three years.

The equilibrium between the object's function and the material from which it is created was very important for the Arts and Crafts artists. The shapes were simplified and borrowed much from medieval and Islamic design.

Time and economy proved that what Morris wanted could not be implemented. His vision was for everyone to have quality products, but quality was expensive so the middle class workers could not afford them.

 Charles Voysey


 Christopher Dresser


William Morris


William de Morgan

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sara Shamma

I came across Sara by sheer luck while going through a list of young artists. What caught my attention was the manner in which her paintings are created, being an excellent example of figurative, non-conceptualist art.

She was born in Damascus on 1975 from a Syrian father and a Lebanese mother and like the interview says, she began to paint at the age of 4. Her art has something special in the way she manages to recreate the human face through a well thought color pallet, in this way influencing the viewers emotions without the use of external or additional elements as is the case of other contemporary artists.
 
1. How did your life as an artist began? Tell us the first things that influenced you to go on this road.

I can say that it started since childhood. I started painting when I was 4 years old; I used to paint on the floor, the walls, the furniture…etc. I never had a problem to paint in my house, I was always encouraged by my family, I believe that the freedom I had in my family’s house helped in making me evolve into an artist. When I was 14 years old I knew that I will become a painter for the rest of my life.

2. How much did education shape you? Did you have a teacher, a mentor so to speak, to look up to?

I studied at the Department of Painting in the University of Damascus where I graduated in 1998, but I do not believe that education gave me a lot, I worked hard by myself, I read many books, painted many paintings and tried a lot of techniques, those things shaped me more than my teachers did.

3. How would you describe your works, what motivates you and where does your inspiration come from. 

I am inspired by everything around me, especially people and mainly the ones I love, also the music gives me big inspiration, I always paint listening to the music I like. I got married recently with the man who I always wanted and today he is giving me a lot of support and inspiration.

Her individual exhibition "Love 2009" held in Kuwait in December 2009

4. Is your art understood in the way you want it to be? 

If I meant to communicate a specific idea with my art, it would have been easier for me to write it down on the wall, but I don’t mean that, what I want or better wish is to put the viewer in that state I felt when I created the painting or when I looked to it done, actually I don’t want to put him in my same state, as I personally see my painting, feel it, different each time I look at it, and each time it takes me to a different world, I want my painting to take the viewer to unlimited places, worlds and states, I want it to move his imagination, to touch his senses and to penetrate his consciousness.

5. What are the main themes and how do you feel people react to your work?

There are always new themes, but humans are the main interest of mine, people are reacting in a great way to my paintings till today, I am satisfied.


6. Beside creating art, what other things interest you?

I like to listen to music.

7. Does an artist express a national/cultural identity or is he a ”global citizen” expressing the universal characteristics of humanity? How do you see yourself in this regard?

I don’t believe in geographical classification in contemporary art, I barely accept some classifications based on art movements, art for me is one, global, not influenced by any of the artist’s identities and nevertheless it is very personal.

8. What role does an artist have in a society?

I don’t think an artist can change the world, he can’t stop a war, but he can do a lot of things to make life nicer but moving the feelings and the imagination of the people, by touching their subconscious.

9. Do you believe artistic creativity is something you are born with or do you get the taste of it with time and practice? 

Both.

At “Sara Shamma 2007”, held at Art House, Damascus, Syria.

Website: http://www.sarashamma.com/

(I would like to add that Sara Shamma is the first artist to participate in what I hope to be a long series of artist interviews. More about her you will be able to read in the next issue of Awil-um Magazine which will be out at the end of this month.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Truth is...

I've been asking myself this question all day, what is truth, what is the truth? It's one of the questions you either need to read dozens of books about or you don't have to read anything, because the truth is, in the end you don't know the answer.

We could start by saying that truth is absolute or relative. If there is an absolute truth about something we should know it and accept it, if truth is relative for everyone, then the concept of truth is something only we humans have, in the sense that it is something different for all of us, like musical preferences.

Relative truth

There could be a relative truth when it comes to human interactions and experiences, lets say that two brothers who committed a robbery go to prison for 10 years. After that period it is time for them to get out, one feels that this period was good for him, it helped him be a better man, the other thinks that he lost ten years of his life. We can't say that a general truth about convicts exists in this case.

Let's take this game on a global level. During the Cold War two sides, in some ways different, began to combat one another. Communists knew the truth about capitalism, and capitalists knew the truth about communists, but did they really? The truth about one ideology and another is different in the eyes of different people and if we try to be objective and travel a "middle road" we will find "another" truth.

There is also a spiritual realm which must not be forgotten. We have an easy example of Christians and Muslims and what they know about Jesus. One side believes he is the Son of God, while the other that he is a Prophet. Can you speak against the word of God? If we throw an atheist in the fight the picture is clear, truth is whatever you want to believe.

We can now see how experience, faith and belief can influence what we know to be true. In such cases it is better to show tolerance than to impose your side of the story. The sad thing is that wars are generally started because people lack tolerance and that they tend to want a world that is only black and white, nothing in between.

Absolute (Objective) truth

When I talk about "absolute truth" I refer to things we all know to be true. In this case I would like to concentrate on "consensus theory".

"That which is universal among men carries the weight of truth."
- From antiquity

The funny thing about this theory is that not all people agree with it, thus making it false. But let's say it is true, we can find the example of how Christ is perceived only by Muslims, in this case the theory is true, but if we extend the field to encompass Christians and Jews the theory falls, or no one knows the truth. Let's talk about simple objects, like a chair, when we say "a chair is made for sitting on" we attribute a function to it. Everyone agrees because all of us sit on chairs if we have any. But if we say "a chair is made for hitting someone in the head" people like the two robbers might agree, but some might not. Now we have attributed a function that is not (apparently) part of the original design, but nonetheless it is real.

"Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth."
- Mohandas Gandhi

If an alien for example visits our planet and sees a chair and has no legs because he levitates, what will he think? He has no need for chairs, so he shows tolerance and accepts whatever function we give it. In this situation I wanted to show that we need to know the truth about things, and in some situations, consensus theory can be applied. But if he asks who is Jesus, then we have some explaining to do and eventually he would even use a chair after all the talking is finished.

Humans have the ability to use their senses and make judgments based on those senses. It is like an input-output relation. This is actually a very complex activity and it seems that as complexity rises the risk for errors increase, otherwise it would be impossible for me to explain the vast quantity of truths.

The color red is the color red for everyone, except those who have dichromacy for example. We use our eyes and we do not need to judge whether red is red. Even if we use different languages, the words change, but not their meaning. In a way, simple things that are part of the senses more than the mind, can be considered true by consensus theory, by definition, and other means.

Time to end

My objective was not to write a history of "truth", or a list of philosophical ideas about this concept, I only wanted to turn the wheels in the mind and hope something interesting pops out. I don't believe in the kind of philosophy you learn from books at the University, the real philosophy is inside all of us (well, not quite all), and it is called thinking, reading some Plato and ibn Sina (just examples) along the way should be part of basic education.

So, in the end, our perception of truth is the same, we just added some categories that look good.

I will end by sharing a riddle I came acrosse while doing research for this article:
There was an explorer on his way to a secret city. As he struggled through jungles inhabited by two intermingled tribes - one of whom always lied, while the other always told the truth - he came to a fork in the road. There a native squatted. The explorer was minded to ask his advice but, as the locals all dressed identically, could not tell to which tribe he belonged. The tribes shared a custom: they ate anyone who asked more than one question. How could the explorer formulate an enquiry so as to elicit a useful answer?
Do you know the answer?