Munch: Three Paintings, Three Quotes

‎“I was out walking with two Friends –the sun began to set- suddenly the sky turned blood-‎red –I paused, feeling exhausted, and there I still stood, trembling with fear –and I sensed an ‎endless scream passing through Nature.” – Edvard Munch on The Scream

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

‎“The passers-by were all giving him strange and peculiar looks and he could sense them ‎looking at him –staring at him- all those faces –pale in the evening light- he tried to cling to ‎some thought, but failed –he had a sense of there being nothing inside his head but ‎emptiness –and then he tried to fix his gaze on s window far up above –and once again the ‎passers-by got in his way –he was trembling from tip to toe and breaking out in sweat.” – ‎Edvard Munch on Evening on Karl Johan

Evening on Karl Johan

‎“All the tenderness in the world is in your face –Moonlight passes across it- Your lips crimson ‎as the fruit that is to come part as if in pain. The smile of a corpse. Your face is full of the ‎beauty and the pain in the world, because Death and Life are joining hands and the chain that ‎links the thousands of generations of the dead with the thousands of generations yet to be ‎born is connected.” – Edvard Munch on Madonna


Charlie Hebdo: Liberty should –again- lead the people ‎

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.”

This quote, usually attributed to Voltaire, doesn’t seem to make sense to many people who ‎still question the freedom of expression and ask for ‘laws’ to ‘regulate’ it, or simply put, for ‎mechanisms to reverse and ambush one of the most celebrated values in the civilized ‎world and a basic human right.‎
To reduce the Charlie Hebdo tragedy into a religious ideology or a political message is to miss ‎the bigger picture: the cultural context. It is the cultural context that I will intend to address in ‎this message.

And because my interest is mainly cultural, my conclusion is that you can never ‎explain freedom of expression to people who have never fully experienced it; people whose ‎minds are trapped in the straightjackets of state-sponsored media and the self-‎administered taboos of religion and sex. ‎
Most of the Arabs that I know condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo, but attach a disclaimer ‎to this condemnation, undermining it in many cases: We condemn terrorism but…‎

When examined through a European moral lens, this is unacceptable because condemning ‎terrorism should come with no ‘but’s attached. Seen through an Arab cultural lens, things ‎would look quite different, as scores of innocent Arabs are killed every day in Palestine, Iraq, ‎Syria and elsewhere without anyone lifting a finger or doing as much as showing sympathy. ‎This is why many Arabs would tell you I am not Charlie; I am Ahmed, I am Gaza, to the end of ‎the list, and they definitely have a point.‎

Again, and because this is not about politics, the West (consciously or unconsciously) falls into ‎the enormous mistake of referring to the assassins as Islamists and/or Jihadists, while the ‎only term that should be used to describe them is one that we all know all too well: ‎terrorists! Islamists are not equivalent neither to Muslims nor to terrorists, and the term ‎Jihad should never be used lightly by those who do not understand it, because likewise, you ‎can never explain Jihad to a secular mind.‎

This is not about a clash of civilizations, but rather about cultural relativism as a friend ‎referred to it…it is about a cultural ‘divide’. Caricature is a very fine art and a powerful tool for social and cultural change, ‎and by nature it mocks and reveals things that many people do not want to see or accept. ‎Not so to those accustomed to censorship as the easiest ‘and cheapest’ way to fix things. The ‎worst is yet to come, as the attacks give a new impetus to the European far right and the ‎ultras, and as a new wave of Islamophobia looms in the horizon, only to add insult to ‎injury…that is, of course, if you still look at the ‘region’ rather than ‘your corner of the world’. ‎

PS. This article represents my personal opinion as an Arab living in Europe.

Eugène Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuple

Prehistoric Cave Paintings were actually Animated Films?

In his article titled ‘The First Artists’ in this month’s edition of the National Geographic Magazine, Chris Walter recalls a very interesting –and rather convincing- argument about what some archaeologists consider to be history’s earliest ‘flip-book’ or animated film inside the famous Prehistoric cave of Chauvet in France! Here:

“In his book La Préhistoire du Cinéma, filmmaker and archaeologist Marc Azéma argues that some of these ancient artists were the world’s first animators, and that the artists’ superimposed images combined with flickering firelight in the pitch-black caves to create the illusion that the paintings were moving. “They wanted to make these images lifelike,” says Azéma. He has re-created digital versions of some cave images that illustrate the effect. The Lion Panel in Chauvet’s deepest chamber is a good example. It features the heads of ten lions, all seemingly intent on their prey. But in the light of a strategically positioned torch or stone lamp, these ten lions might be successive characterizations of just one lion, or perhaps two or three, moving through a story, much like the frames of a flip-book or animated film. Beyond the lions stands a cluster of rhinoceroses. The head and horn of the top one are repeated staccato-like six times, one image above the other, as if thrusting upward, its whole body shuddering with multiple outlines.

Azéma’s interpretation fits with that of eminent prehistorian Jean Clottes—the first scientist to enter Chauvet, only days after its discovery. Clottes believes the images in the cave were intended to be experienced much the way we view movies, theater, or even religious ceremonies today—a departure from the real world that transfixed its audience and bound it in a powerful shared experience. “It was a show!” says Clottes.
Thousands of years later you can still feel the power of that show as you walk the chambers of the cave, the sound of your own breath heavy in your ear, the constant drip, drip of the water falling from the walls and ceilings. In its rhythm you can almost make out the thrum of ancient music, the beat of the dance, as a storyteller casts the light of a torch upon a floating image, and enthralls the audience with a tale.”

Another quote from the article:
“The greatest innovation in the history of humankind was neither the stone tool nor the steel sword, but the invention of symbolic expression by the first artists.”

True. We now live in a world dominated by symbols: from traffic signs to computer icons and smartphone Apps… it would never have been possible without someone first inventing a system of symbols and abstractions that would express ideas, emotions and actions. This ‘someone’ happened to be the Neanderthal Man, our immediate ‘predecessor’.

For the full article: