Monday, 15 September 2014

Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

"No city is legitimate if it takes away the dignity of those who live there." (Gabriel Vallecillo Marquez, film maker, Honduras)

It is said that peace, like music is a universal language; heard through all ears, spoken in all tongues and understood by all minds. But since both Arabic and Hebrew, along with Aramaic stem from the same family of Semitic languages, it is not surprising that the words for peace (salaam and shalom respectively) are derived form the same triconsonantal root: S-L-M, which literally translates as "whole" or "safe".

Interestingly, the Hebrew word "shalom" is also a noun and proposes not only peace but "completeness, welfare and wellbeing"1
As far back as the 1960's the World Health Organisation defined peace as not simply an absence of conflict, but as a complete physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. 

And there are traditional Hebrew and Arabic greetings that have the exact same meaning as their Arabic/Hebrew counterparts (peace be upon you). In Hebrew it is "Shalom Aleichem", in Arabic it is "Salaam Aleikum".

One key to building a long lasting peace may be gleaned from the Arabic world "sulh" meaning peace making and reconciliation. It denotes an attitude of goodwill as the backbone for this, the absence of which will lead in the opposite direction.

These and other references can be seen in my new work launched for October. The large scale mezzotint "of order - of chaos" contains the word "coexist" incorporating three recognisable symbols in place of various letters (the symbolism is obvious when you see it), while other works such as "stones throw from heaven" and "current conflict generator" touch on the broader spectrum of the subject.

I had a lot of fun with the two remaining etchings which are substantial re-workings of older plates.  "Time of transition" was initially made in 1994 and although much of the original imagery has been removed, I retained the towers and the cloudburst image, along with the background textures and marks. Then I noticed the faint remnant of the Russian word "Beriozi" (silver birch trees) and this inspired the inclusion of the Periodic Table of the Elements in the re-working of the plate (the Periodic Table was finally compiled by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev). 

I also included a quote in this etching from Maria Mendeleev, Dmitri's mother, who encouraged him at an early age to "refrain from illusion and seek only Divine and scientific truth". Perhaps we would do well to remember that if we "seek" likewise, always to do so with an attitude of goodwill and respect for others because ultimately our city, our culture, our society, our civilisation is not legitimate if we take away the dignity of those who live here.

1. The Webster New World Hebrew Dictionary


Monday, 7 April 2014

The fewer the facts, the stronger the opinion

The six new oil paintings for April’s launch most definitely continue the twin themes of conflict and resolution, and more so of “coexistence”. It was Arnold Glasow who said "the fewer the facts, the stronger the opinion" and elements in these paintings reflect something of that. They are a continued response to a difficult set of circumstances that I have personally encountered in the Middle East over the past eighteen years and the circumstances centred on Jerusalem can be seen as indicative of a wider conflict of ideologies, religions and geopolitical power struggles.

Recently I gave an artist’s talk to a group and there was one particular question afterwards that I though was perhaps both pertinent and astute. I was asked if the West, having failed to resolve the Middle East conflicts should have allowed (or should now allow) the Middle East to attempt to do so. I instantly recalled an essay recently read titled “The Map that Ruined the Middle East”. It laid responsibility of much of the current mess with the post WW1 European Powers (in particular Britain and France) who carved up the remnants of the failed Ottoman empire according to their own European Colonialist interests and priorities (using a ruler and straight lines on a map that paid no heed to the demographic or geographic reality on the ground over hundreds of miles!).

The essay goes on to state that the borders within Europe have been relatively stable (“relatively” being the operative word here) for a long time now having resolved them with a couple of centuries of fighting. Many European borders generally follow along both demographic and geographic lines, ie population identities and natural features in the land. The last centuries conflicts within Europe have not been so much about borders but more of an aggressive conquest of a neighbouring country or persecution of a minority within existing borders. Basically the essay said “squiggly borders work” as opposed to arbitrary straight lines.

So, should the West leave the Middle East to redraw the map probably through conflict, but hopefully resolving its own border issues in the process? As they no doubt still say in exam papers...“discuss”