Lecture in Cairo: Mystery Night (14 Jul. 2016)‎

This is to announce my coming lecture in Cairo on the 14th of July 2016:‎

Course Title: Mystery Night (Unsolved Ancient Mysteries)

Course Language: Arabic (slides in English) ‎

Venue: 33 A Meqias al-Roda Street, 4th floor apt. 9.

Date: Thursday, 14 July 2016

Duration: 2 hours (8:00pm – 10:00pm)‎

Course Description: Since the dawn of time, mystery has always fueled our imagination. From the Nazca Lines to the Nebra Sky Disc, there are many mysteries yet to be solved, and this lecture presents some of the most mind-blowing cases. We will not talk about UFOs or paranormal activity; we will only discuss tangible objects and visible landmarks: the flying men of Tassili n’Ajjer, the Diquís Spheres of Costa Rica, the Cart Ruts of Malta, the Ubaid Lizard Men, and many other fascinating mysteries.

Speaker: Mohammed Elrazzaz holds an MA in Arts & Cultural Management from the Universitat ‎Internacional de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain). He is Professor of Tools for Cultural ‎Management (since 2010) and Mediterranean Heritage (since 2015) at the same university. ‎He participated as speaker/lecturer in several international cultural conferences in Spain, Italy, ‎Denmark and Egypt. ‎

Course Fees: EGP 250 / person. ‎ The fee includes access to the PowerPoint ‎presentation (in pdf format). ‎ Voice and video recording not permitted.‎

Deadline for Reservation/Cancellation: ‎1 July 2016 (or as soon as the course is fully booked).‎

Please contact me for any further enquiries and for reservations:‎ vrazzaz@yahoo.com

Mystery night poster


Rodin sculpture sets $20 million artist’s record at auction

A Rodin sculpture set a new artist’s auction record at Sotheby’s on Monday when it sold for $20.4 million, but the strong price was likely to provide little reassurance to an art market that many fear is softening after years of spiking prices.

Sotheby’s sale of Impressionist and modern art took in a total of $144.4 million, missing the low pre-sale estimate of about $165 million for 62 lots offered. One-third of the works went unsold.

Despite some high points that drew spirited bidding, the sale was marked by its relatively high unsold rate, and somewhat tepid prices for works that did find buyers.

Rodin’s marble sculpture, “L’Eternal Printemps,” soared far beyond its estimated price of $8 million to $12 million, and broke the Rodin auction record of just under $20 million.

Drawing intense, global competition, Sotheby’s pointed to the work as emblematic of the kind of fresh-to-market, quality works that auction houses must now offer to elicit strong prices and spirited bidding.

Executives employed words such as discerning, measured and selective to characterize both the night’s results and the present market itself.

“It’s emblematic of the marketplace we’re in right now,” said Helena Newman, European chairman of Impressionist and modern art, adding “It’s nuanced market.”

After years of soaring prices, both Sotheby’s and rival Christie’s have assembled markedly smaller spring sales, with no works carrying estimates much beyond $40 million. In recent seasons several works have broken the $100 million mark.

The sale’s expected highlight, Andre Derain’s “Les Voiles rouges” estimated at $15 million to $20 million, failed to sell. Picasso’s “Buste d’homme Laure,” expected to fetch $8 million to $12 million, suffered the same fate.

Among highlights, Maurice de Vlaminck’s “Sous-bois” fetched $16.4 million, in the midst of the estimate range, and Monet’s “Maree basse aux Petites-Dalles” sold for $9.9 million, nearly doubling the high estimate. Three Monets were among the 10 highest-priced lots.

Sotheby’s has suffered a spate of resignations by top-tier executives, many of whom had worked there for decades, as well as the departure of its long-serving CEO.

The auction stood in contrast to Christie’s curated sale on Sunday featuring challenging works by artists typically considered less-than commercial. It took in $78 million, handily beating the pre-sale estimate of about $60 million. But Christie’s curated sale last fall, notably, totaled $495 million.

The auctions continue on Tuesday with Christie’s post-war and contemporary art auction.



Migrant Photography: I am Sorry

Reuters won Pulitzer for photography of migrant crisis. Till here it is just a another piece of news, but then you contemplate the photos and it becomes more than just news: it becomes tragedy. Human failure has a name, it has a face, it has a life of its own that transcends national borders and dwarfs whatever discourse no matter how elegantly put. I am ashamed. I am sorry.

A selection of the winning photos:


An overcrowded inflatable boat with Syrian refugees drifts in the Aegean sea between Turkey and Greece after its motor broke down off the Greek island of Kos, August 11, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis


A Syrian refugee holding a baby in a life tube swims towards the shore after their dinghy deflated some 100m away before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, September 13, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis


Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, August 27, 2015. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo


Migrants and refugees beg Macedonian policemen to allow passage to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia during a rainstorm, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis


Hungarian policemen stand over a family of immigrants who threw themselves onto the track before they were detained at a railway station in the town of Bicske, Hungary, September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh


Syrian refugees walk through the mud as they cross the border from Greece into Macedonia, near the Greek village of Idomeni, September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis




“It all started with the mass migration of Greeks early in the first millennium B.C., when they left their homeland in mainland Greece and migrated eastward across the Aegean, settling on the coast of Asia Minor and its offshore islands. Three Greek tribes e involved in this migration –the Aeolians to the north, the Ionians in the center, and the Dorians in the south- and together they produced the first flowering of Greek culture. The Aeolians gave birth to the lyric poet Sappho; the Ionians to Homer and the natural philosophers Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes; and the Dorians to Herodotus, the “Father of History.”

The Ionians ended up with the best location in Asia Minor and the Ionian colonies soon organized themselves into a confederation called the Dodecapolis.

Miletus greatly surpassed all of the other Ionian cities in its maritime ventures and commerce, founding its first colonies in the eighth century B.C. on the shores on the Black Sea. During the next two centuries Miletus was far more active in colonization than any other city-state in the Greek world, founding a total of thirty cities around the Black Sea. Miletus also had a trading station at Naucratis, the Greek emporium on the Nile delta founded circa 650 B.C. Meanwhile other Greek cities had established colonies around the western shores of the Mediterranean, the densest region of settlement being in southern Italy and Sicily, which became known as Magna Graecia, or Great Greece.

The far-ranging maritime activities of the Milesians brought them into contact with older and more advanced civilizations in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, from which the Greeks returned with ideas as well as goods. Herodotus writes that “the Egyptians by their study of astronomy discovered the solar year and were the first to divide it into twelve parts –and in my opinion their method of calculation is better than the Greek.

The trade routes of the Milesians also took them to Mesopotamia where they probably acquired the knowledge of astronomy they needed for celestial navigation and timekeeping. They obtained the gnomon, or shadow maker, in Mesopotamia, according to Herodotus, who says that knowledge of the sundial and the gnomon and the twelve divisions of the day came into Greece from Babylon.

The Ionian Greeks soon progressed far beyond their predecessors intellectually, particularly in Miletus, which in the last quarter of the sixth century B.C. gave birth to the first three philosophers of nature. Aristotle referred to them physikoi, or phyicists, from the Greek physis, meaning “nature” in its widest sense, contrasting them with earlier theologi, or theologians, for they were the first who tried to explain phenomena on natural rather than supernatural grounds.”

Excerpt from Aladdin’s Lamp by John Freely


Palmyra: Terrorists as un-civilizing agents

One photo really is worth a thousand words and, at times, a thousand tears.‎

In an article published today by Spain’s El País (International), the photographer Joseph Eid holds a photo of the ‎great Arch of Triumph of Palmyra taken back in 14 March 2014 against the very same ‎landscape today. Daesh (aka ISIS) has been systematically destroying and looting Syrian and Iraqi sites, ‎and the aforementioned 3rd century Arch of Triumph is no exception: it was destroyed in the ‎‎2015 offensive. ‎

Photos like this bring to mind memories of destroyed heritage sites in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and elsewhere in the Middle East; an eerie reminder of a human condition that could be described borrowing Kundera’s words: ‘the unbearable ‎lightness of being’. These images leave me feeling an emptiness as profound as the void left by the ‎dynamited Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan; a pain exceeded only by the daily news about ‎refugees and migrants fleeing for their life and risking it all because they have nothing left to lose.‎

You can watch more photos here.


Lope de Vega: Spain’s Shakespeare

Lope de Vega was to Spanish theatre what Shakespeare was to English theatre: a revelation, a godfather and a trendsetter. Famous for his play ‘Fuenteovejuna’, Lope de Vega was one of the key figures of Spain’s Golden Age (Siglo de Oro), a long period of unparalleled artistic and literary flourishment that would produce the liked of Luis de Góngora, Velázquez, Cervantes and Quevedo. So profound was the mark that Lope de Vega left on Spanish literature that Cervantes called him a ‘monster of Nature’, supposedly, for having written more than 1000 plays.

Love & treason are central to many of Lope de Vega’s works, and it should come as no surprise: A failed romance followed by a failed attempt to avenge himself provoked his banishment from Madrid for 8 years. Later on, following the death of his wife, his life would become a rollercoaster of emotional adventures and affairs.

I leave you with these quotes from his play, ‘The Knight from Olmedo’, a moving drama of love and fatalism:


“When her lovely feet had touched the valley’s flowers,

they grew in such profusion that heavens exchanged their stars for them.”


“The key to her heart,

You’d have to turn it thirty times at least,

and yet I think I have the master-key,

which is to say,

I love her,

which opens every woman’s heart.”


“They say that sorrows thought of in advance are doubly sorrowful.”


The Mediterranean & Raft of the Medusa

When Théodore Géricault, an icon of French Romanticism, painted his ‘Raft of the Medusa’ back in  1818, he didn’t know he was immortalizing a horrific tragedy in which a group of French people were left on a makeshift raft in the middle of the ocean with no means to navigate and no supplies to keep them alive, while the rich were carried to safety in lifeboats following the catastrophe that had befallen their ship. What followed was a dark drama that ended up in ‘survival of the fittest’. Everything was fair game for the survivors, starting with throwing the weak and the wounded into the sea, and ending with cannibalism (because, who said romanticism was about ‘romance’?).

Almost two centuries have passed since Théodore Géricault had depicted this event based, in part, on the discussion he held with some of the survivors. The painting was so intense that the great Eugène Delacroix willingly posed as model for one of the dead figures in the artwork (face down, arm stretched in the middle). Géricault chose a dramatic moment to capture, namely that in which the survivors spot a ship. Hope of deliverance breathes life into half-dead bodies and souls, and the raft turns into a ghastly theatre of earthly horrors. Expectedly, the painting eventually became a universal icon of human struggle for survival and facing the unknown.


Some 200 years after, one is flooded every day with images of migrant boats and drowned refugees. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), some 3770 migrants died crossing the Mediterranean in attempts to reach Europe in 2015 (an average of 10 people / day). I came across a photo that shows a group of Syrian refugees finally reaching the shore after an epic journey across the sea, Mare Nostrum which has become Cemetery Nostrum. The photo supposedly gained some award (I don’t know the photographer), but this is not the important thing. The important thing is that it captures an extreme human condition of mixed feelings following an impossible odyssey. How would Théodore Géricault paint this tragic moment had he been among us today? What other icons of human failure should we be adding to our collection?