Published: The Louvre, a passion for Egypt

From Ancient Egyptian and Hellenistic art, all the way to Coptic and Islamic art, the quality and scope of the Egyptian collections at the Louvre are everything you would expect from a legendary museum in a country that paved the way for the Egyptomania that swept across Europe following Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign in 1798 and the publishing of the Description de l’Egypte a few years later.

Here is my full article about the Egyptian collection(s) at the Louvre:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/58593.aspx

Half-forgotten corners in Barcelona’s Medieval Quarter

Today I took my class for a cultural walk in Barcelona. There were people from 14 different coutries…a cultural mosaic proper of a cosmopolitan city of many charms.
Away from the tourist herds, one can still enjoy half-forgotten corners at the very heart of Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic (Medieval Quarter). Plaça Sant Felip Neri is one such place…an oasis of tranquility located only a few meters away from the maddening crowds. Behind the peaceful ambiance lies a horrible memory, one that remains engraved in the scarred walls of the Baroque church at the Plaça: it was here that, during the Spanish Civil War, Italian aircrafts bombarded the city, killing over 40 people (mostly children) back in 1938.

Franco, the Spanish dictator that led the Nationalists against the Republicans, had allied himself to Fascist Italy and to Nazi Germany, and literally asked them to bombard Spanish cities like Guernica and Barcelona in order to crush the resistance. He emerged victorious in 1939, but the tragedy remains immortal in the memory of stone (like the walls of the Church of Sant Felip Neri) and in the visual memory of art (like the painting of Guernica by Picasso).

During the Spanish Civil War, several great literary figures joined on the Republican side, writing their memoirs and describing their firsthand experience. George Orwell had much to say, and I leave with some quotes from his novel ‘A Homage to Catalonia’ that we read during today’s walk:

“All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

“The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it.”

Cultural Walk in Barcelona: In the footsteps of great cultural figures (Nov. 18th)

This Sunday, I will organize the annual cultural walk for my class in Barcelona, followed by a tertulia session at one of the city’s cultural cafes.
One of the things that fascinate me about Barcelona (apart from its Mediterranean character and cosmopolitan feel) is the abundance of public artworks that can be enjoyed by all in the streets and squares of the city. Signature works by Spanish artist like Picasso, Joan Miró, Gaudí and Subirachs, as well as international artists and architects like Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Rebecca Horn and others.

Many of these works date back to 1992, the year in which Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games. The city witnessed one of the most massive urban regeneration processes in its history, with several neighbourhoods and beaches given a ‘facelift’ to project an image of a confident and modern city. It came at a price: some things are lost forever in the name of ‘urban development’, and the original ‘chiringuitos’ of the fishermen are lost once and for all, replaced by chic restaurants and cafes that cater to massive cultural tourism.

The Top Ten Guitarists in the History of Rock?

You can never ‘get away’ with any such list, but still…I was chatting with a friend, and we had an argument about who should be on the list, so, I thought I would share my list here.
Away from the acrobatics of phenomenal yoyos like Michael Angelo Batio, Steve Via and Yungwie J Malmsteen, and ignoring overrated celebrities like Slash and Kirk Hammett, when I have to think of the top ten rock guitarists of all time, I find myself forced to ignore some of my own favorites like Mark Knoplfer (Dire Straits), Andrew Latimer (Camel) and Steve Rothery (Marillion), and to drop legends like Richie Blackmore (Deep Purple), Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), Randy Rhoads (Black Sabbath) and Chuck Berry, but what can we do? It’s a matter of taste (and influence).

My own list of the greatest rock guitarists would include the following (in no specific order). I am also adding links to some of their live performances so that you can listen to some of their best solos:

1- Jimi Hendrix
You can listen to his ‘Hey Joe’ at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vsNQE-I6E4

2- Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)
You can listen to ‘Stairway to Heaven’ at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugxFcmZXDyc&feature=related

3- BB King
You can listen to ‘The Thrill is Gone’ at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fk2prKnYnI&feature=related

4- George Harrison (The Beatles)
You can listen to…basically anything of his!

5- Eric Clapton
You can listen to his performance of ‘While my guitar gently weaps’ at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj4J6i_vw0w&feature=related

6- Jeff Beck
You can listen to ‘Goodbye Pork Pie’ at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Q0p7yXoOVg&feature=related

7- David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)
You can listen to his solo from ‘Comfortably Numb’ during Pulse Concert:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaoH25TaM-c

8- Carlos Santana
You can listen to ‘Black Magic Woman’ at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRM1ancpQd0&feature=relmfu

Now it gests difficult! I will leave the list at eight.
Did I mention personal taste? Well, I will add two incredible guitarists that are never listed among the top, but who cares? Here:

9- Andrew Latimer (Camel)
Listen to the heartbreaking solo at the end of ‘Stationary Traveler’ at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0aSBP2eLlxk&feature=related

10- Steve Rothery (Marillion)
Listen to his solo from ‘This Strange Engine’ at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20Wpg-WYNMg

Published: Wadi El-Hitan, in the realm of the Lizard King

Wadi El-Hitan (Valley of the Whales) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Egypt. The site is famous for whale fossils (and those of other species) that are over 40 million years old, including the Basilosaurus (King Lizard). Apart from its unparalleled paleontological and geological value, the site resembles a lunar landscape sculpted by time and carved by erosion. This is my article about Wadi El-Hitan, published today by Ahram Online:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/57721.aspx

Three Masterpieces of Islamic Art at the Louvre

“Our task is to reveal the radiant face of this civilization and its undisputable contribution the world.” – Henri Loyrette, President / Director of the Musée du Louvre

On 22 September 2012, visitors to the Louvre could enjoy –for the first time- the collection of the new Department of Islamic Art exhibited at the Cour Visconti under an undulating glass and metal roof that resembled a flying carpet, work of architects Rudy Ricciotti and Mario Bellini. The structure has been hailed as the greatest milestone for the Louvre ever since the Grand Louvre project.

Apart from the structure, one only needs to mention that the collection covers thirteen centuries of Islamic art and comes from three different continents for the reader to realize the breadth of its spectrum. Nevertheless, it is not only the breadth, but also the aesthetic value of the objects that makes this collection unique. Take for example, the Pyxis of al-Mughira (c. 968), a jewel Islamic art in al-Andalus. The Pyxis is an extraordinary example of the ivory carving and engraving tradition in the late Umayyad Caliphate period. Only the Pyxis of Zamora in Madrid is comparable in aesthetic quality.

From al-Andalus (in present-day Spain and Portugal) where the Pyxis was produced, one can travel to the other extreme of the medieval Islamic World, where another masterpiece is on show at the Museum, namely the Candlestick with Ducks from Khurasan, made of engraved copper inlaid with silver. The twelfth/thirteenth century object is a perfect example on the exceptional craftsmanship of coppersmiths at that part of the world, but that is not all: the objects to enjoy include metalwork, glasswork, ceramics, tiles, manuscripts, carpets, textiles, to the end of the list. A list that is, probably, too extensive for some tastes.

From Syria (or Egypt) comes the Basin of Saint Louis (known as the Baptistère du Saint-Louis, c. 1330), a masterpiece of Mamluk metalwork crafted by Muhammad Ibn al-Zain. The hammered brass inlaid with silver and gold is of exceptional quality, the decoration is exquisite, and the iconography is interesting as it shows Mamluk princes holding the ‘instruments’ of their offices.

Sophie Makariou, the Department’s Director, holds that “the civilization behind Granada’s Alhambra, Taj Mahal, Cairo’s great monuments, the mosques of Istanbul, or Isfahan’s Shah Mosque is a great universal civilization.” This fact, in itself, poses numerous challenges, one of them having to do with interpreting the collection and presenting it to the audience. Still, the viaion cannot be clearer, and Makariou puts it clearly:
“The Louvre is restoring this department to its rightful place in the historical chorus of civilizations.”

Announcing my Art Course in Cairo: Immortal Masterpieces

To my friends in Egypt,

Mark your calendars! I will be giving a crash course over 2 sessions in December when I’m in Cairo.
It’s an art course titled ‘Immortal Masterpieces’, presenting 50 artworks from different periods and styles from Prehistory to Modern Art …
Fifty masterpieces with very interesting stories behind them…
Fifty masterpieces that you must know if you have the slightest interest in art and culture.

Venus of Willendorf, Winged Victory, Shiva as the Lord of the Dance, The Gates of Paradise, Guernica…these are just some of the incredible companions that you will have throughout the course.

Date : 25 and 26 December 2012
Time : 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Venue : To be announced
Fee : EGP 300
Included : Handouts / Printed material
Speaker : I hold an MA in Art and Cultural Management, and I have a long experience in teaching art and culture in Egypt, Spain and, recently, Ukraine. I’m currently a Ph.D. candidate in cultural management.

This is an incredible chance to acquire a profound understanding of art history and get acquainted with history’s most incredible artworks. You need no background whatsoever to attend and enjoy this course.

For reservations / inquiries, please contact me via email: vrazzaz@yahoo.com