Course Review: Masterpieces of Ancient Egyptian Art (7 Aug 2014)

Yesterday, I delivered my Prehistoric and Ancient Egyptian Art Course in Cairo. The course tackled Rock Art, Predynastic Art and Ancient Egyptian Art (normally –but inaccurately- referred to as Pharaonic Art). Among other things, we shed light on 8 masterpieces, namely:

The Bird Lady, Naqada II (Brooklyn Museum);
Gebel el-Arak Knife, Naqada II (The Louvre);
The Narmer Palette, Naqada III/Early Dynastic (The Egyptian Museum);
The Statue of Khafre Enthroned, IV Dynasty (The Egyptian Museum);
The Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun, XVIII Dynasty (The British Museum);
The Amarna Art, XVIII Dynasty (Various Museums);
The Tomb of Sennedjem, XIX Dynasty (Deir el-Madina);
The Papyrus of Hunefer, XIX Dynasty (The British Museum).

Special emphasis was given to Egypt’s Predynastic Period. Predynastic cultures are the ones that directly preceded the final consolidation of the Upper and Lower Egypt into one state and the rise of the First Dynasty. These cultures produced striking examples of artifacts and left a legacy that is currently scattered across some of the world’s most prestigious museums: pottery, palettes, game boards, statuettes, decorated knives, combs, etc. These objects represent a ‘vision of life’ and help us understand how these cultures related to the world that surrounded them. The archaeological sites of Hierakonpolis, Abidos and Nagada provide most of the material vestiges of these cultures.

Among the most important Predynastic Cultures in Egypt are the Fayoum, the Merimda, the Omari, and the Maadi Cultures in Lower Egypt and the Delta; as well as the Badarian and the Nagada Cultures in Upper and Middle Egypt.

Mediterranean Art Presentation (10 June 2014) – Teaser

Next week, I will be giving a presentation on Mediterranean Art at my university, the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC). The presentation is centered on seven tales and seven masterpieces from Prehistory, Ancient Civilizations and Classical Antiquity, namely:

1. Michelangelo of the Cave (Magdalenian Culture, France & Spain)
Cave Paintings of Lascaux & Altamira

2. The Stone Idol (Saflieni Phase, Malta)
The Sleeping Lady of Malta

3. Beyond the Minotaur’s Labyrinth (Minoan, Greece)
The Bull-Leaping Frieze

4. Tragedy of the Horse-Tamers (Mycenaean, Greece)
The Mask of Agamemnon

5. Mystery of the Heretic King (Pharaonic, Egypt)
The Bust of Nefertiti

6. The Seafaring Purple Traders (Phoenician, Lebanon)
Ivory Panel with Lioness devouring African Boy

7. Till Death Do Us Apart (Etruscan, Italy)
Sarcophagus of the Spouses

Below are some questions to help you ‘warm up’ for the presentation:

– Which European cave is known as the Sistine Chapel of Prehistory? Why?
 – How did a queen & 80 women lay the foundation for Carthage?
 – Who were the Purple Traders that sailed the Mediterranean & founded Cádiz?
 – Who was Ancient Egypt’s Heretic King?
 – What Med. culture erected the world’s oldest freestanding stone structures?
 – Who were the Mediterranean Vikings?
 – Who were the Etruscans? Where did they originally come from?
 – Who were the Hippodamoi that were conquered by a horse?
 – How did the Trojan War start with Paris?
 – When and why did the Classical Antiquity come to an end?


Tales of al-Andalus: Lecture Review

Last Thursday, I gave a lecture at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria) for the second year in row. Coinciding with the anniversary of the surrender of Granada (the last Islamic Kingdom in al-Andalus) in 1492, this year’s lecture, titled ‘Tales of al-Andalus‘, offered a different perspective and some fascinating details:

A saint from the Orient is re-invented as the ‘Arab-Slayer’ (Santiago Matamoros)…
A man flees persecution in Baghdad only to revolutionize the cultural scene in Cordova (Ziryab)…
An Andalusi envoy to the Vikings enchants their queen (Yahia al-Ghazal)…
A group of 3,000 moriscos give up on farming and turn into pirates in Morocco (in Salé)…
Rebels exiled from Cordova found an Andalusi republic in Alexandria then another in Cyprus (9th century)…
A man from Toledo lays the foundations for the glory of Timbuktu (Ali ibn Ziyad)…
Ibn Khaldun sees the orange trees at the Alhambra and forsees the fall of al-Andalus (14th centrury)…
The stories told presented a potpourri of moments, events and encounters that define the ‘human condition’ in al-Andalus, a ‘paradise lost’ for some, a ‘poisoned paradise’ for others.

Among the questions asked following the lecture were the following two questions:

Why is it that the Arab World never witnessed anything similar to the Andalusi refinement again in history?
Why weren’t the Arabs of Andalusi origin granted the ‘right of return’ to Spain?

Questions and answers apart, lecturing at the Library is always a rewarding experience. Even more rewarding was the visit to some extraordinary places in Alexandria, but that’s another story. Many thanks to the BA team for the kind invitation and for making this event possible.

My Lecture in Bibliotheca Alexandrina: Tales of al-Andalus (2 Jan 2014)

(Scroll down for Arabic)
I am pleased to announce that I will be giving a lecture at Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Egypt) on 2 January 2014, titled ‘Tales of al-Andalus’ (2 hours, in Arabic). Through these tales, I will try to trace distance memories and present an alternative history of one of history’s most fascinating periods. The lecture starts at 18:00h and the tales are:

Bird of the Orient
Saint Matamoros
Between two ‘Hakams’
The Majus Crisis
A Manuscript’s Odyssey
From Yusufiya to Nasiriya
Ibn Khaldun’s Orange
The Hornachos Pirates

محاضرتي في مكتبة الاسكندرية: حكايات الأندلس (2 يناير 2014)
يسعدني أن أعلن عن قيامي بالقاء محاضرة في مكتبة الاسكندرية في 2 يناير 2014 بعنوان “حكايات الأندلس” (ساعتين، باللغة العربية). سأحاول من خلال تلك الحكايات أن أستحضر ذكريات بعيدة وأن أقدم تاريخ غير تقليدي لواحدة من أروع فترات التاريخ. تبدأ المحاضرة في تمام الساعة السادسة مساءاً، والحكايات هي:

عصفور من الشرق
القديس قاتل العرب
بين الحَكَمَين
محنة المجوس
رحلة مخطوط
من اليوسفية إلى الناصرية
برتقالة ابن خلدون
قراصنة هورناتشوس


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

My lecture on al-Andalus @ Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Jan 2nd)

On 2 January 1492, the last Muslim ruler of Granada, king Boabdil (Abu Abdalla al-Saghir), handed the keys of the Alhambra to the Catholic Monarchs, bringing to an end the rule of Islam in al-Andalus in the present-day Iberian Peninsula.

What followed was a tragedy at all levels and it took the Catholic Monarchs no time at all to violate the vows they had made. The first to suffer were the Jews, then the Muslims, and even those that converted into Christianity did not survive the horrors of the Inquisition Courts. The definitive expulsion of the Moriscos (Muslims that had converted into Christianity) came in 1609 through a royal decree by Felipe III. Over 300,000 moriscos were kicked out, and this marked the beginning of a new episode of pain and passion: the moriscos diaspora in the Mediterranean.

On 2 January 2013, I will be giving a lecture titled ‘The Fall of al-Andalus: Reasons and Consequences’ at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. This is an open invitation. ANDALUS - Copy