Friday, December 19, 2008

London's Babylon exhibit divides myth and reality

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A new exhibition in London explores the reality behind the myths of ancient Babylon through art and relics from the historic site.

"Babylon: Myth and Reality" at the British Museum places artifacts from the site of the ancient city alongside contemporary news footage and works depicting Babylonian themes from such artists as William Blake, Cornelis Anthonisz and Pieter Bruegel the Elder.


The reality of ancient Babylon is demonstrated through numerous artifacts from the site.

The walls are flanked by blue-and-gold glazed panels from the city's processional road and detailed cuneiform scripts describe pivotal moments from Babylon's history.

One giant tablet covered in cuneiform known as the "East India House" slab describes Nebuchadnezzar's rebuilding of the city's holy districts. Another, the "Cyrus Cylinder" relates Cyrus of Persia's conquest of Babylon in 539 BC.

The site of Babylon, which sits about 85 miles south of modern Baghdad, has been altered often in modern times. The area was damaged during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple President Saddam Hussein, who also built a huge palace nearby that overlooks the city.


The exhibition depicts the damage done to the site during U.S. occupation and Saddam Hussein's leadership through news footage from modern day television broadcasts.

"The effect of the Gulf War was that it concentrated public attention, concern and worry onto Iraq," he said. "The disasters affected the archaeology of the whole country."

I hope there's extensive news coverage of the exhibition. I'd love to see pictures, at least.

London's Babylon exhibit divides myth and reality

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Life on the edge for Syrian artists

Click the title to read the full article at the BBC

In the second of his articles from the Syrian capital Damascus, the BBC's Martin Asser looks at the role of the cultural life in a police state which for years has oppressively controlled freedom of expression.

I was trying to buy a banned book in Damascus by one of Syria's top literary figures, and to my surprise it seemed to be going rather well.

The bookseller phoned another supplier located nearby. A boy was dispatched and soon returned with my request, discretely folded in a plastic bag.

Actually, I confess to being somewhat disappointed - as I had been trying to test one of Syria's famous "red lines".

These are the taboos imposed by Syria's repressive government on public discussion of things like politics, the ruling Assad regime, or the security forces.

So how was I standing in a bookshop in the centre of the Syrian capital having just bought a book that crossed a whole tangle of red lines, In Praise of Hatred by Khalid Khalifa?

Happily, or perhaps unhappily, my faith in Syrian totalitarianism was restored as soon as I asked for a receipt for my purchase.

"I can't give you one, sir," the bookseller hissed conspiratorially. "It's banned, it's a banned book. Let me make it out in a different title for the same price."

Which he did, officially "selling" me a fictional work (in more than one sense) called In Praise of Women.

It's not perhaps a very good fit, but the above excerpted article reminded me of a story in the December '08 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, "The Flowers of Nicosia." Click the story title for an excerpt.