My article on Humanities & the War of Ignorance

A mini-article of mine was published in this month’s issue of my university’s magazine under the title ‘The War of Ignorance’. The study of Humanities is obviously eclipsed by other priorities in the Arab World. Nevertheless, Humanities is exactly what we need to mark the way towards a world that would make better sense.

Un mini-artículo mío ha sido publicado por la revista de me universidad bajo el título ‘La Guerra de la Ignorancia’. El estudio de Humanidades ha sido obviamente eclipsado por otras prioridades en el mundo árabe. No obstante, Humanidades es justamente lo que necesitamos para señalar el camino hacia un mundo que tenga más sentido.

Modernism’s ‘Apple of Discord’ – Tales & Photos from my Walk

Well, it’s not exactly an apple, but it’s a story that I told during the cultural walk that I organized for the ECSA presidents last weekend.
The Apple of Discord is a famous Greek myth, supposedly provoking the Trojan War. When Eris -the Goddess of Discord, was not invited to a banquet hosted by Zeus, she decided to take her revenge: She threw a golden apple into the banquet with a few words written on it: ‘To the fairest one’. It had the expected result immediately as three of the goddesses present disputed the title of ‘the fairest’: Hera, Aphrodite and Athena. Zeus was too smart to fall into judging the dispute, and instead he directed them to a Trojan shepherd named Paris, whom he praised as a man of good taste. Each of the three goddesses tried to win Paris to her side with temptations and promises, but it was Aphrodite that made the most irresistible promise, and accordingly was voted by Paris as the fairest. The promise was to give him the fairest mortal woman, who happened to be Helen, the wife of the King of Sparta This ‘Judgment of Paris’ provoked the Trojan War as the Spartans moved to bring back Helen from Sparta.

The Spanish word for apple (manzana) has a double meaning: apple (the fruit) and a block of buildings. The ‘Apple of Discord’ is the name given to the most famous block of buildings in Barcelona, dominated by three Modernist buildings, each of which seems to claim being ‘the fairest’ (here there is a double-play with words using both meanings):
Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí;
Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch;
Casa Lleó Morera by Lluís Domènech i Montaner.

The three architects are what you can consider to be the holy trinity of Modernist Architecture in Catalonia and Spain in general.
I am attaching photos of all three houses, and you can sit back and think of yourself as Paris: Make your judgment as to which of the three buildings is the fairest, bearing in mind that there are no promises or temptations other than the beauty of design and the exquisiteness of the details.

The European Community Studies Association: Successful Workshop

Organizing the European Commission Studies Association (ECSA) Workshop with my tutor last week in Barcelona was by far the most interesting challenge in my career as cultural manager: Over 30 speakers from different countries joined the Workshop, most of them ECSA presidents in their countries (from Chile to Japan). In addition, there were speakers from the European Commission and a former President of the European Parliament (José María Gil-Robles).

Being an association dedicated to European Studies, several interesting ‘European’ issues were raised during the Workshop: the widening democratic deficit; the need to appease the markets; the status of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP); the Union for the Mediterranean; the dream of a ‘global agora’; among other things. The cultural programme that we organized for the participants included a cultural tour in Barcelona that I guided and a mini-concert by a small orchestra.

Finally, a quote (by Gandhi) shared by one of the speakers:
“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

You can read more about ECSA at:
http://www.uic.es/en/ecsa

My Cultural Walk for the European Studies Workshop (May 11th)

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the European Studies Workshop that I’m participating in organizing for the European Community Studies Association (ECSA) in Barcelona.

As part of the cultural programme of the Workshop, I will be organizing a cultural excursion for the participants (poster and itinerary attached). Next week, I will share some of the stories that I will tell during the excursion on my blog.

It’s Goya’s ‘Third of May’

Art historians are fond of drawing sharp dividing lines between different art phases. Many like to consider the first Impressionist Exhibition (1874) as the starting point for Modern Art, but they seem to forget (or ignore) the fact that decades earlier, Goya had already painted an overwhelmingly ‘modern’ masterpiece: modern in composition, in the dramatic use of the elements of design, in the secular treatment of the subject matter, among other things.

‘The Third of May 1808’
was like no other day in the history of Spain. The French troops had hundreds of Spanish civilians shot by firing squads in Madrid, and Goya’s painting captured that insane moment in time as a group of civilians was being massacred by one of the squads. I will not get into the juicy details, or maybe just one: you cannot see the face of any of the executors. They all have the same posture, as if replicas of one and the same evil spirit devoid of compassion and mercy…a killing machine hiding behind a gun with no eyes to see, no brain to think, no heart to feel. They are ‘anonymous’ because they will pass into history not name by name, but rather as one homogenous group under the name ‘criminals’.

This painting is not as morbid as other works by Goya about war (his series ‘The Disasters of War’ haunted me for several weeks after I first saw it), but every figure in this painting is a careful study of an extreme human condition: horror, despair, faith, and many other ‘conditions’ that unfold through the facial expressions and the body language of the victims.

Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ sells for $120 million

Edvard Munch is still alive; his ‘scream’ can still be heard!
‘The Scream’ was sold yesterday at Sotheby’s for $120 million. Have a look at the BBC video:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-17926519

According to The Associated Press, “Only two other works besides Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust” have sold for more than $100 million at auction. Those are Picasso’s “Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice)” for $104.1 million in 2004 and Alberto Giacometti’s “Walking Man I” for $104.3 million in 2010.”

 

My 5th article in Ahram Online: Debod, the Pharaonic Temple in Madrid

Sacredness, is it site-specific? Is it lost when the geo-cultural context is altered?
The Temple of Debod may provide an answer. The setting is a perfect one from an aesthetic viewpoint: the temple dominates a beautiful park, surrounded by an artificial pond in an attempt to recreate –in part- the original context. A closer look reveals that it is not that perfect from a conservation perspective, because –unlike other Pharaonic temples outside Egypt- Debod is set in the open, subject to Madrid’s polluted air and extreme weather conditions.
Why Madrid then? What brought the Temple to Spain in the first place? The answer takes us back to Egypt of the 1960s, and to the epic UNESCO Campaign to save the Monuments of Nubia from being lost forever.

Read my full article at:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/40533.aspx