Strange kind of Love: Art, Sex & She-goats

Pan and the She-GoatHaving sex with animals is a repulsive idea (to say the least!), but it becomes a whole different story when it involves an animal and a mythical Greek creature, and it becomes even ‘artistic’ when captured in sculpture. Such is the case with Pan, half-man half-goat, having sex with a nanny goat. He may be the god of the shepherds; he may be very ugly to the extent that he horrified his own mother, but the she-goat seems ok with it.

The Roman marble sculpture that once adorned a garden in Herculaneum (before Vesuvius erupted in the year 79 AD) is one of hundreds of pieces and artifacts on show as part of “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum” Exhibition at the British Museum, already a hit with critics ad visitors.

Published: Old Treasures of the Middle & Near East at the Louvre

While thousands of visitors rush up and down the crowded corridors and halls of the Louvre every day in search for the Mona Lisa & Co., the Louvre’s ancient masterpieces make for a delightful visit to those with any interest at all in the Middle and Near East.
In my latest article published by Ahram in Egypt, I shed light on four masterpieces, namely the Zodiac of Dendera (Egypt, Ptolemaic), the Law Code of Hammurabi (Iraq, Babylonian), Frieze of the Archers (Iran, Achaeminid) and the Lamassu from Khorsabad (Iraq, Neo-Assyrian).

The link to the full article is:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/67159.aspx

Detail of the Law Code of Hammurabi

Frieze of Archers

Lamassu from the Palace of Sargon II

The Griffin Frieze

The Zodiac of Dendera

Dead People Art: And if ‘the medium is the message’?

Are the dead capable of ‘producing art’?
Maybe, if you ‘make them’ do it. Morten Viskum did, and he did it inside a church. No, he is not a mwdium with psychic abilities or any such thing, he is a Norwegian artist.

During the Red Zone Festival held in a church in Oslo, Viskum used the hand of a dead African immigrant (who had moved to Norway as a child) to paint an African landscape the way the dead man would have dreamed of it. This is not the first time that Viskum used a dead hand to ‘perform’ art. He did it before in Venice.

Four questions immediately come to one’s mind:
1. Why is this art?
2. Where did he get the hand from and why is this legal?
3. Apart from the legality of it, is it ethical?
4. Who told him that what he painted would match the dead man’s imagination?

I can live with the first question, and yes, it is art (as irritating as this might sound), but the last three questions have been disturbing me ever I read about it. I can make my peace with the last question too, but still. With Morten Viskum, just like with Hirst of Emin, controversy is assured. I wonder how Marshall McLuhan would relate to this (he is the one who coined the phrase ‘The medium is the message’).

Morten Viskum painting with a dead handViskum with a dead hand

My Lecture on Rating Agencies (Mar 6th)

Tomorrow I will be giving a lecture about Rating Agencies at the Faculty of Economic Sciences at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya. I teach art and culture at the Faculty of Humanities, but this time I will be lecturing on an economic topic, given my experience in investor relations.

Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch Ratings are collectively known as ‘The Big Three’ Credit Rating Agencies. To put it very simply, these agencies evaluate the financial strength of companies and entire countries, assigning a certain grade (rating) to each. With the amount of funds moving around the planet every day, the international investors depend –among other things- on the rating reports to make big investment decisions. If a company or country has a low rating, it means it would be a risky investment, so, either no one would lend it or invest in it, or they would do but at a very high price, to make up for the higher risk that they assume by lending it or investing in it (the higher the risk, the higher the return).

Do you know the sovereign rating for your country?
The rating of mine (Egypt) is B, while that of the country where I live (Spain) is BBB-.
What does that mean?
Egypt’s economy is rated as ‘junk’ or ‘speculative’, while that of Spain is the lowest in the investment grade, only one ‘push’ away from joining Egypt in the junk category. Comes as no surprise given the economic crisis in Southern Europe.

Las agencias de calificación de riesgo

Milan Kundera’s ‘Identity’

“No love can survive muteness” – Milan Kundera (Identity)

Identity is one of my favorite novels by Milan Kundera (the famous author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being), a story of two lovers whose emotional insecurity degenerates into full-blown identity crisis. As someone once said, Kundera is an expert on human interplay, and this book is an excellent example.

Through his examination of the relationship between the two protagonists and how it develops throughout the novel, Kundera examines two important aspects of identity, and two questions that seem to be central to the plot:
Do we develop our identities regardless of others, or is identity defined only in terms of ‘the other’?
Do we ‘create’ our identity or do we just ‘find out’ about it?

Below are some memorable quotes from the novel:

“How could she feel nostalgia when he was right in front of her? How can you suffer from the absence of a person who is present?
You can suffer nostalgia in the presence of the beloved if you glimpse a future where the beloved is no more.”

“To ensure that the self doesn’t shrink, to see that it holds on to its volume, memories have to be watered like potted flowers, and the watering calls for regular contact with the witnesses of the past, that is to say, with friends.”

“Pain doesn’t listen to reason; it has its own reason, which is not reasonable.”

“He represented the abolition of all possibilities; he was the reduction of her life to one single possibility.”

“Having lost my ambition, I suddenly found myself at the margin of the world. And, what was even worse: I had no desire to be anywhere else.”

Identity

Published: Al-Sustari, the Juggler of Love

“My Beloved, He visited me before dawn,
And my scandalous state was never sweeter,
He gave me a drink of wine and He told me: ‘rejoice,
for he who loves Me can never be deemed sinner’.” – Al-Sustari

They call him the Prince of the Austere, the Juggler of Love, the Pride of the Poor, the Buddha of al-Andalus, to the end of the long list. His real name is Abul Hasan al-Sustari (13th c.), one of the most interesting poets and mystics of al-Andalus, almost always misunderstood for his sensual metaphors and figures of speech. Though not as famous as Ibn Arabi, Abu Madyan or al-Mursi, he remains to be a very influential figure in medieval mysticism ever since he left his hometown near Granada and till he died near Damietta in Egypt.

Here is his full story in my latest article published by Ahram Online:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/65910.aspx

Guadix in Granada

Winners of the National Geographic Photo Contest 2012

Always an inspiration, the winners for this year affirm the National Geographic’s reputation for great photography. Out of over 22,000 photos submitted, only 14 were selected.

I particularly liked three photos: ‘The Explosion’ (Grand-Prize Winner), featuring an Indochinese tigress; ‘Among the Scavengers’, showing Kenyan women picking through a dumpsite; and ‘Stilt Fishing’, showing fishermen from Sri Lanka practicing a traditional fishing technique.

Yet another sensational photo is ‘Predation, Up, Close and Personal’.

The ExplosionAmong the ScavangersStilt fishingPredation

You can check all the winning photos at:
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/photo-contest/