AN INTERVIEW WITH PAKISTANI ARTIST FATIMA ZAHRA HASSAN Thirst of the Soul Aug 27, 2013 Interview by Valerie Behiery, Islamic Art historian, Ph.D.

“Beauty is an abstract reality that needs shape and form for its manifestation. The process of its’ intentional and purposeful manifestation through form, colour, pattern and shape is what I call Art”.

(Fatima Zahra Hassan)

Fatima Zahra Hassan was one of the early graduates of the innovative miniature painting program established at the National College of Art in Lahore. Having mastered the age-old technique, Hassan set for herself the much more daunting task of infusing her work with the same perennial spirituality that emanates from the best of the Islamic miniature tradition. The artist explored the link between art and mysticism further while pursuing her Masters at the Royal College of Art and then Ph.D. at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London. Currently a professor of fine art in the United Arab Emirates, Hassan continues to paint and show her work in Europe and the Middle East. She is presently participating in “Muslima”, the global online show organized by the International Museum of Women.


Fatima Zahra Hassan / Courtesy of the Artist

The National College of Art is now known internationally because of the many outstanding artists it has generated. You were one of the early graduates of its miniature program. Is its’ success due to outstanding teaching or to the fact that the art of miniature allows students to connect with their past without turning their backs on modernity? Many contemporary artists working in the genre, including yourself, often bring to it a contemporary approach and aesthetic.

Well, I am one of those who believe that teachers should definitely get due credit for their students’ achievements. I can single out Ustadh Bashir Ahmad in Lahore and Keith Critchlow and Paul Marchant in London. But it is not entirely the teaching. It is the traditional training of that very art form, which has stood the test of the time and is part of a living tradition. This particular program connects so well with Pakistan’s illustrious history that students can relate to it. As an early graduate, I probably suffered the most only because I decided to follow the path, which was less travelled at the time. The trend was then to paint something that was popular and called contemporary art and apparently had more followers.


Love Charms (part of Album based on the poetry of Bulleh Shah), Water colour gouache, natural pigments, gold leaf on tea stained ‘Wasli’ paper, 1996/97, 8×12 inches / Courtesy of the Artist

What were attitudes like then towards traditional art forms?

Artists like me who believed in the sanctity of traditional art were far less in number. I strongly believe that modernity grows from tradition and without tradition there is no modernity… there are millions of artists who are breaking away from tradition but people like us keep it alive, otherwise it will all be dead one day and there would not be anything left for posterity. It is also difficult to practice within a discipline and strict regime and follow certain parameters. Whereas it is easier to break away! One needs more time, passion, and skill to produce traditional work as opposed to something that needs manufacturing.

imageA Fall, Watercolour gouache, natural pigments on patterned and printed ‘Wasli’ paper, 2011/12, 15×25 cm / Courtesy of the Artist


I Follow the Religion of Love, Watercolour gouache on printed tea stained ‘Wasli’ paper, 2012/13, 32×50 cm / Courtesy of the Artist

Miniature painting in the Muslim world generally formed part of the arts of the book. Your work whether visually or conceptually more ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ is also grounded in text, inspired by Sufi literature, especially Rumi and Bulleh Shah. How do you understand and experience the relationship between the literary and visual arts in your own practice?

The book or kitab has had a pivotal role in Islam and Muslim history in imparting knowledge; therefore the arts of book or paintings done in order to convey what the text had to say became very popular in the Muslim world under various patrons. I grew up in a household where I was surrounded by books. My parents were keen on books, specially my father who had his own library that housed thousands of books and who was and still is an avid reader of history and theology. I grew up reading the poetry and literature of famous Muslim scholars. My maternal grandmother was also instrumental in introducing me to many leading poets and writers as she herself was a poetess and composed poetry in Persian and Urdu. At the age of twelve, I was already exposed to Sa’adi, Rumi, Attar, the Shahnameh, Firdawsi, Jami, Ghalib, Iqbal and many more…

I was keen on classical and Sufi music and was also interested in Qawwali which led me to the poetry of Bulleh Shah. I realized that politics, gender and socio-economic issues become irrelevant when one is a believer and has a spiritual connection with the Divine. For me, as a traditionalist, I have always felt the need to incorporate text in my work, using both image and words to convey the message of Divine Love.


I Am A Flower, Photograph on archival paper and watercolour gouache, 2009/10, 20×30 cm / Courtesy of the Artist

Some contemporary artists have appropriated or rather subverted the miniature genre to broach personal, social or political issues. But it seems that your work remains focused on the unchanging needs and aspirations of the human soul and the power of beauty, with the exception of the paintings addressing the issue cum violence of American drones.

A majority of contemporary artists chose to appropriate or decided to address issues pertaining to their circumstances or needs, I would say. I realized that I had to continue what I was taught and how I was taught. I was not trained to please galleries or collectors and buyers but to please my consciousness and paint on the ethos I believed in. My training in London harnessed the concept of sacred art and taught me a great deal about perennial philosophy, which is a cardinal element in sacred and traditional art. The Islamic Visual Arts’ program advocates “Art for Purpose” and not “Art for Art’s Sake”. Art should have utility and be functional which makes it more like design. However, its’ principal elements are: Truth, Beauty and Goodness. We have to question ourselves, when we look at some artwork, whether or not this art is truthful or whether it has beauty – which is sense datum – and, above all, whether it really emanates goodness.


The Drones, Watercolour gouache, gold leaf on printed tea stained ‘Wasli’ paper, 2012/13, 25×8 cm / Courtesy of the Artist

The distinction that’s often made between narrative or figurative art and abstract art does not really apply to your work in the sense that even your most figurative pieces are allegorical and symbolic. Could you say a few words about this?

I personally feel that my work is both. My training in traditional South Asian and Middle Eastern manuscript illustration and then further grounding in ornament design including geometric and floral design has trained me to use symbols and allegories and create paintings that have stories to tell, for example the piece “Hide No More” named after the poem which inspired it and concludes with:

But I have fastened you in my heart. Now whither can you flee? O, the spouse of Bullah, I was your slave. And was dying for the sight of your sweet face. Ever and always I made hundreds of entreaties. Now sit securely in the cage of my body.

The poem’s language is so simple but has so much depth. As with all mystical poetry, there is a kind of double meaning. The subject is how elusive the Beloved is and how fast and fleeting the vision of Reality is. There is a perpetual game of hide and seek and the lover, again female, must constantly be on the watch so as not to lose sight of the Beloved, even though the Beloved tries to hide. The one who is constant and persevering and makes “hundreds of entreaties” will eventually capture the Beloved and fasten Him in his or her heart, so that finally He will “sit securely in the cage of my body.”

My painting shows a peacock and woman sitting against a pale sea-green background painted as a carpet, a crescent moon in the night-sky behind with stars like a jali screen with lotus flowers and leaves in between. The overall hues are different shades of blue and green. Green, as your readers know, is considered a mystical color in Islam associated with Paradise and the Prophet and blue is the color of the Heavens. I use these two colors most as they seem more than the others to indicate the infinite mystery of the Divine. The female figure is wearing yellow, which represents spring, new life and joy but it is also the color of longing and waiting for the Beloved. And while the peacock represents many different ideas in different traditions, one of its meanings in the Indo-Pakistani tradition, is that it stands for the male Beloved.


Hide no More (part of Album based on the poetry of Bulleh Shah), Watercolour gouache, natural pigments, gold leaf on tea stained ‘Wasli’ paper, 1996/97, 8×12 inches / Courtesy of the Artist

From a Traditionalist perspective, art, life and the spiritual path are all seen as transformative, perhaps even alchemical, processes. Do you sense a direct link between the bettering of your soul and that of your brush?

In traditional society and in particular with reference to Islamic or Muslim society, all is connected. One’s profession, daily life and spirituality are all interconnected. It means that all your work as a visual artist is a spiritual process and has an alchemy, which transforms you into a soul that is contented, known as the “Nafs Al-Mutmainnah”.

You have stated elsewhere that it is not easy for artists like you to find a place in the art world even if prestigious collectors of Islamic art such as Prince Charles and the Aga Khan have acquired some of your paintings. However, in the last decade, we have increasingly seen work openly visually related to the Muslim world and Islam exhibited in mainstream art galleries, East and West. How do you explain this: the vagaries of the art market, the development of an active contemporary art scene in the Muslim world, the growing presence of Islam and Muslims in the West, a growing search and assertion of identity? Traditional Islamic art never ceased but it seems to be less confined to specific venues than before.

We have seen how the world changed after 9/11 and while it has done so much harm to Muslims as a whole, it has also done some good to Muslim culture. The world suddenly became interested in Islam and its culture and civilization. The world wanted to see the art, which was produced by artists living in Muslim countries. Curators, collectors, galleries and museum directors were all traveling to these countries to discover the art but the artists with Muslim identity, who were already living in the West, were in a different situation. The ones who submitted fully and were not resilient, they gained and the ones who kept the tradition alive were not necessarily getting any favors. The West generally wants to see art from the Islamic world that shows the negative side and all the lows rather than give an opportunity to everyone including those who are working on interfaith subjects, such as peace, benevolence, harmony and the love for humanity. The West is keener to see burka-clad women, women in niqab, and women who are deprived. I have yet to see interest in art from the Muslim world, which shows the positive side. In my case, I do not work with any gallery or agent but rather through a network, which helps me to see and undertake commissions.


Rumi, The Seeker, Watercolour gouache, natural pigments, gold leaf on tea stained ‘Wasli’ paper / Courtesy of the Artist

I understand what you are saying about the West comforting stereotypes about Islam but I think that there are also many exceptions. For example, Western collectors are sensitive to the beauty of calligraphy –a traditional and beautiful art– especially when used in large scale paintings. Beauty is at the heart of Islamic art and this –I think– explains its great appeal beyond the Muslim world. The universal appeal of beauty is central to your own work as is its’ resuturing to goodness and truth. How would you define in words the beauty you seek to attain in your art?

As I mentioned earlier, beauty is a sense datum. Its’ importance is repeatedly stated in the Qur’an and the Hadith such as, “Verily, Allah is beautiful and loves beauty” and “God has inscribed beauty upon all things”. Beauty is an abstract reality that needs shape and form for its manifestation. The process of its’ intentional and purposeful manifestation through form, colour, pattern and shape is what I call Art.


The Green Coat in Wilderness, Watercolour gouache, natural pigments on ‘Wasli’ paper, 2012/13, 20×16 cm / Courtesy of the Artist

What are you presently working on now and what are your plans for the coming year?

I am currently working on a series of paintings based on various topics such as construc-tion and building and how the South Asian labor force has played such an important role in building the modern UAE. I have taken an inspiration from an old 15th century Bihzad miniature in which he has painted a scene of the city of Herat’s construction.

Another series is based on “Objects of Desire” from the 60s and 70s such as the Vespa Scooter, typewriters, Raleigh bicycles, the Singer sewing machine and so on. The idea is to show these objects well drawn and painted to a 21st century audience. These were every one’s dream objects as opposed to today’s gadgets. I was born in the late sixties and I grew up with these objects myself, which were very beautiful. Being a British Pakistani, I strongly feel connected to these objects. For my kids, however, they have no meaning.

I am also working on old maps of the world, in particular US maps, and trying to transform and insert one Islamic pattern using a part of it to symbolize a drone. I never take a direct approach; rather, I use symbols, allegory and metaphor. I believe in painting that needs to be unfolded. I like mystery and most of my works have a maze or a labyrinth like structure, which is complex. Traditional miniature paintings or paintings from manuscripts always had mystery and, to this day, when you view a painting you will keep on unfolding it. The more you look at it, the more you discover.

I have two solo exhibitions and one group show coming up and am trying to paint different subjects from what I have painted before. In addition, I write and have many writing projects on the go and so life is very busy.


Night Of Union (part of Album based on the poetry of Bulleh Shah), Watercolour gouache, natural pigments, gold leaf on tea stained ‘Wasli’ paper, 1996/97, 8×12 inches / Courtesy of the Artist

I know you write about Mughal and Persian painting and have also published two really lovely children’s books on Ibn Sina and Rumi which can be seen on your website. We wish you every success with your numerous interesting projects.

I really want to thank you and the IAM team for giving this opportunity to speak about my humble contribution to the arts of the Muslim World. I shall surely keep IAM posted with my projects.

AN INTERVIEW WITH KASHYA HILDEBRAND, DIRECTOR OF THE KASHYA HILDEBRAND GALLERY A Global Vision of Art Feb 07, 2015 Interviewby Valerie Behiery, Islamic Art historian, Ph.D

“The combination of emotion, personal experience and consciousness tends to provide the perfect ingredients for a meaningful work of art.” (Kashya Hildebrand)

During her successful 14 year long career in finance, Kashya Hildebrand lived in New York, Paris and London. Visiting the museums and galleries of these art capitals ultimately led her to change careers. Kashya Hildebrand established her first gallery in Geneva in 2001 and, after stints in both Zurich and New York, is now operating out of London. Her internationalism and her plural heritage –Hildebrand has a Pakistani father, an American mother and a Swiss husband—are reflected in the gallery’s emphasis on global contemporary art. The artists represented, many hailing from the Middle East and East Asia, produce transnational work that often challenges the binarisms of East and West, modern and traditional and craft and art.

imageKashya Hildebrand, director of the Kashya Hildebrand Gallery / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery

Your artists come from around the globe, in particular from the Middle East, Iran and East Asia. Did you set out to establish a gallery specialising in global contemporary art or are you simply showing artists whose work you are drawn to most?

I most definitely show artists who I am drawn to but contextually I feel that the artists represent the eclectic, internationally diverse, global world we live in.

Do you think that art can play a critical role in forging more positive relationships between cultures or is this just naïve idealism?

I certainly do believe that art can play a role in bridging cultural divisiveness and feel that, by creating a high level of awareness and a platform for artists, we can bridge an important gap. Our recent exhibition RCD>PLY>RWD>FFWD>STOP>EJ in October-November 2014 featuring artists from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Palestine illustrated this point to me given the warm reception the exhibition received.

imageRCD>PLY>RWD>FFWD>STOP>EJ / Randa Mirzas, Beirutopia series, curated by Aya Haidar / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery

imageRCD>PLY>RWD>FFWD>STOP>EJ / Ayman Yossri Daydban, curated by Aya Haidar / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery

imageRCD>PLY>RWD>FFWD>STOP>EJ / Yara El Sherbinis, Buzzwords in the foreground, curated by Aya Haidar / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery

How does your own plural identity influence your selection of artists and shape the gallery’s overall vision?

Having straddled three continents over my life, I am well aware of what it means to live in an international community and also of the perceptions and biases that occur when one is isolated and living in a small community. The privilege of this platform has allowed me to maintain an open mind regarding our programme and to recognise the importance of having an international programme.

The work you show possesses both tremendous aesthetic appeal and craftsmanship even when the medium is recycled socks! Both beauty and craft are often considered irrelevant to contemporary art but your artists demonstrate their power.

The artist’s intent will always play a critical role in the selection process. There is, however, no doubt that I appreciate beauty and craft. Perhaps it was the exposure to oriental rugs at an early age… at any rate, I adore the works of Lalla Essaydi, Ghada Amer, Anish Kapoor, Shirazeh Houshiary, Farhad Moshiri and Idris Khan just to name a few and I would put them all in that same category. How wonderful when an artist can synthesise an important thought or concept and translate it into beauty.

imageLalla Essaydi, Installation view / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery

imageAbu Dhabi Art booth with Khaled Al-Saai in background and Lalla Essaydi in foreground / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery

imageAbu Dhabi Art booth with tapestries by Ahmed Moustafa / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery

Could you say a few words on what you look for in an artist and his or her work? And who were the first artists you showed in the original Geneva gallery?

I am always intrigued when artists are driven by their own passion and creativity and touched by their social and economic standing. The combination of emotion, personal experience and consciousness tends to provide the perfect ingredients for a meaningful work of art. One of the first exhibitions the gallery ever launched was of Farhad Moshiri in 2001.

Calligraphy continues to play an important role in the work of many contemporary artists from the Muslim world, as witnessed by the gallery’s current show ‘Memory of a City’ of Khaled Al-Saa’i’s work.

It is such a privilege and honour to host the exhibition of Syrian artist Khaled Al-Saa’i here in London. We have followed his practice for the last nine years and have seen the most incredible evolution of his work. The more classical modern form of calligraphy painting has recently been replaced with extraordinary mixed media interventions reflecting the contemporary moment. The reference to protests, demonstrations and graffiti reveals the current socio-political unrest in his homeland. The titles he attaches to each work are also extremely revealing, expressing his own pain and concern.

imageKhaled Al Saai / Inner Journey, 2014, mixed media on paper, 50×70 cm / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery

Such artists reveal the depth and breadth of calligraphy-related or inspired work. This type of work is greatly prized in Iran and the Arab world, but does it have equal success with European collectors?

Clearly this work is coveted in the Middle East and recognised as important within their classical modern art history. With that being said, there is a graphic contemporary reference point that the artists seek that also has some Western appeal. The varied media of such work such as sculpture as well as mixed media also bring a new energy to this genre and are appreciated by Western collectors. For example, when an artist makes their first pilgrimage to Mecca, the work then reflects this seminal moment and is suffused with a new contemporary perspective that can be extremely powerful.

If the West conceived of modernity as a complete break from the past, many non-Western modernities translated traditional elements through the prism of the changes that modernity brought about. Much of the work you show is innovative while also integrating elements associated with pre-modern artistic traditions. Why does this combination intrigue you?

This combination intrigues me because it reveals the fact that all art is grounded in classical art history and has reference points that provide a solid foundation for an artist’s development. Given our presence in the Middle East over the last nine years, it has become clear to me that in order for collectors from the region to feel comfortable with the contemporary art movement, they must have some reference points. I find this perspective helps create the narrative that allows one to travel to the present day.

imageA Hidden Order, installation view / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery

Did your professional background in finance help you with the daunting task of establishing a gallery or did you nonetheless have to go through a process of trial and error?

My successful finance career potentially left me feeling too confident when I first started my gallery. Trial and error is indeed a wonderful way to describe the journey. After more than 13 years in this business, I do feel that we are getting closer to defining our gallery programme and to reflecting the spirit of our vision. The fact that financial markets are often driven by exogenous forces and commodify certain assets is similar to the art market so for sure there are some similarities.

imageNobuhiro Nakanishi / Layer Drawing, Light of the Sunrise 1, 2012, Mixed Media on Sculpture, 28,5x31x198 cm / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

imageKatherine Tzu Lan Mann, installation view / Courtesy of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery

The Kashya Hildebrand Gallery has been open now for over a decade. What do you consider to be its biggest accomplishment and how do you see it evolving from here?

The biggest accomplishment is to have put together a wonderful team of dedicated and passionate individuals who are driven to present a creative and insightful perspective. My colleagues are just as important as the artists who help drive this vision and perspective.

I thank you so much. IAM wish the gallery much continued success and hope you will keep us posted on your upcoming shows.

Thank you for giving us this wonderful platform!


Iran’s Women Police Academy had existed for just two years in 2005 when Iranian artist Abbas Kowsari went to photograph a graduation ceremony. The women wore hijabs as they did things such as scaling walls, which is what they’re doing in the Kowsari photo on view in LACMA’s “Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East.”

Kowsari had to ask permission to take the photo, and it has an understated feeling: Four staggered figures in flowing black robes look as if they’re almost floating up a brick and concrete wall. You could almost overlook the strangeness of the situation the photo depicts, one in which conservative tradition clashes with a certain kind of progress. And that clash is already a thing of the past, since Tehran’s new police chief no longer allows women to climb, practice karate or jump out of windows.

A lot of the work in LACMA’s new exhibition traffics in subtlety. “At the end of the day, these artists don’t have the same freedoms. You have to read between the lines,” says photographer Firooz Zahedi, who was born in Iran but left at age 9 and doesn’t consider himself an Iranian artist. Zahedi belongs to LACMA’s Art of the Middle East: Contemporary council, which purchased Kowsari’s work along with about half of the artworks in the exhibition. Zahedi also is partly responsible for the council’s relatively recent formation.

Late in 2010, his friend, artist Yassi Mazandi, took him with her to visit Linda Komaroff, the head of the museum’s Art of the Middle East Department. Komaroff had become interested in contemporary art coming out of the Middle East around 2006, after seeing an exhibition at the British Museum. She found resonances between the contemporary work and the historical work she had studied for years.

Michael Govan, who believes in giving curators freedom to shape their departments, had just become LACMA’s director at that point, and he encouraged her to collect contemporary work, as long as she found the funds. Her department already had a collectors council (its own group of donors) but its members weren’t terribly excited about newer art. So she began to wonder if she could start a contemporary council.

At some point during their conversation, Zahedi told Komaroff about photographs he had taken on a diplomatic trip to Iran with Elizabeth Taylor in 1976, because his cousin, Iran’s ambassador to the United States and a friend of Taylor, wanted her and other big names to be on Air Iran’s inaugural flight. Taylor, who had met and liked Zahedi, said she would go if he went.

Certain photographs Zahedi took during that trip look almost like ornate tapestries. In one, Taylor wears glimmering clothes she’d just bought at a bazaar and reclines in a tent of fabric she and Zahedi built together as a slapdash set.

LACMA exhibited these photographs in a small gallery in its Ahmanson Building. The opening, on Taylor’s 79th birthday, pulled in the Hollywood and Iranian community, and the excitement around them helped Komaroff get a viable council started. By the end of 2011, a growing group of people had agreed to contribute at least $1,000 a year to help LACMA acquire contemporary Middle Eastern art.

Zahedi remains a member of the council. “I like art in general, and some of the contemporary Middle Eastern art I really like and some is OK,” he says. “But for me to see an American woman like Linda so committed to this part of the world was inspiring. Many Westerners would like to avoid this part of the world.”

Hassan Hajjaj's Gang of Kesh Part 2 (2000)

Gift of the artistHassan Hajjaj’s Gang of Kesh Part 2 (2000)

Installed on the fourth floor of LACMA’s Ahmanson Building, “Islamic Art Now” (the first part of a two-part exhibition) is the first chance to see much of the work Komaroff’s department has acquired with the council’s help. For the past few years, visitors who came to see historical tiles, calligraphy or manuscripts might also encounter recent video work by Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj or a photo of a young woman in hijab and red boxing gloves by Iranian artist Newsha Tavakolian. But now there’s room for a full exhibit, since some of the permanent collection is on tour.

Komaroff’s department has a world-class contemporary collection, with almost 200 works. The Met’s Islamic Art department, in comparison, has fewer new works, and its holdings are less diverse (fewer young artists, less conceptual photography).

“We tend to see Islamic art as ending around 1900,” Komaroff says. The reasons for this, as usual, have to do with the unwieldy ways in which institutions work, the way history is written and the fact that much of the Middle East has been embroiled in conflict, keeping its art under-exposed. Plus, many people in the West see Middle Eastern culture as stuck in the past.

For instance, when art historian and curator Tim Stanley joined the Victoria & Albert Museum in London around 2002, he found the Middle East department had been subsumed into the materials department around 1900, and there had been little focus on new art since. Stanley spent his first few years at the museum constructing new galleries for Islamic and Middle Eastern art. When those galleries opened a few years later, they included a minbar, or pulpit, from 1468 next to a video of people in Cairo of today, praying in a mosque with a similar minbar in the background.

“We want to combat the idea that it’s somehow a dead civilization,” Stanley says. Since 2009, his department has been awarding the Jameel Prize to artists influenced by Islamic tradition. It’s a way to “demonstrate that our collection is a living artistic phenomenon,” he explains.

Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, gave a 2012 lecture in which he described driving around Abu Dhabi, thinking about how Middle Eastern art history has either been “erased over the course of much of the 20th century” or “simply never written,” whether due to a lack of interest or prejudices.

“Artistic practice in the Middle East,” Lowry said, has “parameters and a history we are only now beginning to see and understand.”

That “we” could refer to the Western curators who only recently started paying attention to art of the Middle East. But it also could apply to the artists beginning to understand their history in a new way.

In “Islamic Art Now,” the wall texts Komaroff wrote are especially open-ended, leaving the art itself to push at the parameters and tell complicated stories about tradition and history. London-based Iranian artist Mitra Tabrizi’s panoramic view of a residential area on the edge of Tehran shows figures dressed in solid colors, all moving as if entirely alone, in different directions, while a billboard of Iran’s revolutionary leaders looms behind them. The leaders, reads the wall text, seem “incapable of imposing order or direction.”

Hassan Hajjaj’s photograph Gang of Kesh Part 2 shows a group of women in hijabs made of patterned fabric posing next to motorcycles — their veils, in this context, are like gangster bandanas.

The photograph, about being badass while tied to a heritage, is conventionally elegant in the way it’s been composed, with the figures centered. It seems like a strategy: to stay familiarly beautiful while challenging perceptions.

“Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East,” LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Miracle Mile; ongoing.

Iran’s most celebrated visual artist, Parviz Tanavoli, speaks to MEMO about his work Amelia Smith Tuesday, 03 February 2015 16:32

Later Tanavoli went to Italy to study. It was on his return, he recalls, that he realised the role locks played in Shia Islam and Persian culture. In Iran public water houses were built in bazaars and neighbourhoods and during the hot summers passers-by would stop to take a sip of water. Gradually people started to make donations and the water houses became shrine-like decorated with imagery of the imams.

“People who have wishes or problems go to the shrines and tie up a strip of their clothing or fasten a lock to the grille of the shrine hoping that they can unlock their problems and cure their sicknesses or disease,” explains Tanavoli. “So the lock has great significance in Persian culture.”

In the sixties the lock became one of the iconographies central to a new movement co-founded by Tanavoli, termed Saqqakhneh, the Farsi word for water house. Dubbed spiritual “pop art”, Saqqakhneh sought to incorporate Shia symbols into art and often you will see padlocks on the body of Tanavoli’s sculptures and in the work of the young artists that joined the movement.

Another concept central to Tanavoli’s work is the principle of “Heech”, Farsi for “nothing”. Like the lock, the word Heech has been moulded by the artist and incorporated into the anatomy of his sculptures numerous times. It began in 1965, he says, in protest to the popularisation of calligraphy that at the time became fashionable and was exhibited in nearly every gallery. “I gave calligraphy up and only used one word,” he says.

Tanavoli describes the shape of Heech as malleable and soft, a word that can be put in a cage or on the walls. “I found there is so much in the Heech, that Heech is not nothing, Heech is something. Then later, as time went on, I realised that there is so much meaning behind it and so many poets prior to me, from centuries ago, have paid attention to this word and have used it and that is how it began.”

Parviz Tanavoli, Poet Turning into Heech (detail), 1973-2007. Collection of the artist.  Photo by John Gordon.The early poets, Rumi, Khayyam and Hafez, wrote a lot about Heech, points out Tanavoli, and posed the question of whether existence is nothing or whether non-existence is existence. “They wanted people to think about that – don’t underestimate the nothingness. As important as existence and thing are, no thing or nothing is important too.”

Work that features the Heech is the most popular and sought after of Tanavoli’s art. He says this is because people can relate to it and find something in the concept they can connect to. “It’s a simple shape, it’s abstract, and it’s very meaningful. It has a sculptural body different than other known sculptural figures,” he reflects. “I think there are many reasons it became popular.”

In 2008 Tanavoli’s The Wall (Oh Persepolis), a two metre bronze sculpture etched with hieroglyphics, made a record sale when Christie’s auction house sold it for $2.84 million, the highest ever paid for a piece of artwork from the Middle East. Despite this, Tanavoli says that commercial success has not compromised his work. “I didn’t follow the market or market requests, in fact I turned it down in many instances and I followed my path. I continued doing my thing and opted out. I haven’t changed, I haven’t really commercialised any of my art.”

Though Tanavoli would not describe himself as “political”, there is certainly a political element to some of his work. Most artists, he says, are somehow involved in the politics of their time. “All the artists I know somehow are, but they may not reflect it directly, they might be very indirect. Somehow artists stay away from it especially in the area that we live. It’s not very safe to be political.”

Heech in a Cage – literally a Heech coming out of a silver cage – was made in protest of Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, a facility set up to imprison and interrogate suspects in the “war on terror”. The prison has attracted worldwide controversy for its use of water-boarding, the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike and detention without trial.

“I was very bothered when they put all these people in jail without giving them a fair trial. The torture and the way they were kept. I always felt that even if there are innocent among them, this is damaging American democracy. I decided to make a monument to the innocents of the Guantanamo.”

Parviz Tanavoli, Heech in the Cage, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.  Photo by John GordonThe monument was intended to be an enlarged version of Heech in a Cage which would then be donated to the people of Afghanistan; Afghanis were once the largest nationality represented in Guantanamo. However, Tanavoli couldn’t find a sponsor or a location in Afghanistan willing to take it, and so the project was never realised.

Closer to home Tanavoli has been involved in a drawn out conflict with the local government. In 2002 the artist’s house was turned into a museum by request of the city of Tehran with the backing of then Mayor Mohammad-Hassan Malekmadani who was keen on art and culture. But when Ahmadinejad became mayor he closed the museum declaring “it wasn’t part of our culture it was foreign culture,” recounts Tanavoli.

The artist went to court and fought for six years to get his house back but by this time much of his artwork had been taken. Last March he retrieved 13 pieces through a court order, but a few days later people from the municipality hired trucks and cranes, came back, broke the door down and took everything again.

“They don’t like my work, they’re not even interested,” he says. “But now they have realised that it is worth some money and that’s all they’re interested in. I wish they had even taken care of it. Several of my works are broken, some are damaged, some kept in very bad conditions and not handled professionally and so they are going into a state of decay. I want to get them back. I don’t know if I will or not, I still haven’t given up.”

Tanavoli says that wide-spread censorship on art and culture is more relaxed than it was in the Ahmedinejad years, under whom hundreds of books were censored, publishing permits were denied, films were banned and theatres shut down. “It was the worst period of all these eight years,” he reiterates. “Things are loosening now, they are better and of course more books are published, films are shown and theatres are again going back to their lives. So it goes up and down.”

Though he has a studio and a house in Tehran, Tanavoli and his family moved to Canada in 1989 and now lives and works between the two countries. “I couldn’t sell my sculptures there. I wasn’t even allowed to sell my sculptures there,” he says, explaining why his family moved. “Our children had to go to college for higher schooling and they didn’t have any chances, especially the girls. We have two daughters, so we decided to move to Canada for the sake of the children and then also to re-start my life. It wasn’t easy but of course things are better now.”

A decade before his move Tanavoli retired as head of the sculpture department at Tehran University, at the time of the Islamic Revolution.

Tanavoli’s work can be found in private and public collections from the British Museum in London to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York. At the beginning of February a retrospective of Tanavoli’s work will go on display at the Davis Museum, Wellesley College in the US where over 175 of his pieces will be exhibited. Tanavoli says it will be a good opportunity for Americans to experience Iranian culture which often gets lost in news reporting from such a volatile region.

“I am very happy this is happening, especially in the States, because of this embargo and lack of communication,” says Tanavoli. The US placed sanctions on Iran following the US embassy seizure in 1979 and has maintained them, and broadened them, for most of the period following this.

“I think this might open the door. Americans have the right to see the other side of our culture; I mean the cultural part not just all this bad news. Of course the embargo has stopped all of this for a long time. So this is a good time, a good period, and I’m very much looking forward that there is going to be communication through art and Americans can see a taste of the art of Iran and myself and that part of the world.”

Parviz Tanavoli’s retrospective exhibition will be on display at The Davis Museum, Wellesley College from 10 February to 7 June.

Eating with Ibn Battuta BY MLYNXQUALEY on FEBRUARY 5, 2015

The Dubai International Writers’ Centre recently held a two-part session about Ibn Battuta’s extensive travels, led by their Writer-in-Residence Tim Mackintosh-Smith. Participants were treated to a modern-day adventure as Tim Mackintosh-Smith retraced his footsteps across the globe, using Ibn Battuta’s writings as a guide and sharing his own photos from each destination.

By Sawad Hussain

415B4iI7p+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s two sessions — one delivered in Arabic, the other in English — detailed his life’s work and travels. These were spurred on by the writings of, in his words, “not only the greatest Arab traveller of all time, but perhaps the greatest of all time” — Ibn Battuta (1304-1377).  A true testament to the centre’s outreach capabilities was the diversity of those in attendance: Not only did the ages vary from teenage to adult, but more importantly there was balanced representation of native and non-native speakers of Arabic.

Mackintosh-Smith began his lecture as he did his book Travels with a Tangerine, with the words of a seventeenth-century blurb:

All master-works of travel, if you will but look,

Are merely tails that drag at Ibn Battuta’s heel.

Even though Mackintosh-Smith’s works have received widespread critical acclaim, he was insistent throughout the session that, despite the success he has achieved, all he has written is a dhayl: a tail, or a mere addition to what the Moroccan traveller had written during his fourteenth-century travels. He also said that he felt he had “committed a crime” against Battuta’s exploits by pursuing an abridged version of his legendary adventures.

Mackintosh-Smith set off with the audience from Kilwa in Tanzania, where he showed a now-ruined palace detailed by Ibn Battuta. However, the infinity pool that once existed is still very visible today. He also displayed a Chinese vase from the palace as proof of the vibrant trade occurring at that time.

Next, Mackintosh-Smith took the audience to India, Amjhera to be precise, where he recollected how he visited a site Ibn Battuta described as a “terrifying sight.” It was in fact a place where Battuta witnessed wives throwing themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands to join them in the afterlife. From a photo of the grounds, it was evident that one of the larger rocks was still blackened from the fire, even though the site had been deserted for several centuries. Mackintosh-Smith recounted how, upon reaching the south of India, he had had the exact same meal that Battuta had written about his in travelogues, and exhibited a photograph to prove it!

On the picturesque shores of the Maldives is where the audience next found themselves, hearing how neighbouring islands claimed that Battuta had landed there first.  Mackintosh-Smith delved deeply into the mystical elements of the islands: He spoke of jinn and ifriit, which play a big role in the islands’ storytelling tradition – as recorded by Battuta. Stones engraved with terrifying faces flashed across the screen as the audience heard of Ibn Battuta’s romantic encounters with the islands’ princesses.

ibnBattutaMapAfter a brief stop at Adam’s Mountain in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), which Mackintosh-Smith scaled, the journey ended in China, in Quanzhou and Guangzhou to be exact.  The audience was treated to pictures of a mosque from 1000 A.D, and learnt of how the Maliki sect is most prevalent in that part of China. Mackintosh-Smith dwelled on how the same sect is dominant in Morocco today, leading the group to ponder whether this was but a mere coincidence.

In closing, it became clear how intense Ibn Battuta’s desire was to return home. Even though he was in a predominately Muslim part of China, the culture shock still wore him down. The Writer-in-Residence pointed out how Battuta’s journey to China took up nine hundred pages or so, but his return home was documented in a mere nine.

Mackintosh-Smith’s detailed narrative made the audience feel as if they were on the journey with him, his accompanying photos helping to truly magnify this sensation of discovery. He ended by touchingly stating that he set off across the world to defend Ibn Battuta’s writings and prove to naysayers that the legendary Moroccan explorer had indeed set eyes on all that he had written about in his seminal works. One gathers from his passionate delivery and vivid evidence that Mackintosh-Smith has put forth a strong argument in support of that stated mission.

Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s books – Travels with A Tangerine (2001), The Hall of a Thousand Columns (2005) and Landfalls (2010) – are available at the DIWC or from major booksellers worldwide. Those in Dubai can also go to to read about future talks and workshops.

Sawad Hussain is an Arabic teacher, translator, and litterateur residing in Dubai.

If inspired, you can also take a virtual tour along with Ibn Battuta on Berkeley’s site.

My Fascination with the Once “Exotic” World of Paan BY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE

Paan Leaves. Photo: Shariffa Keshavjee.


Paan, commonly known as betel leaf is an evergreen and perennial creeper, with glossy heart-shaped leaves. The betel plant originated from India and South East Asia. The leaf is mostly consumed in Asia, and elsewhere in the world by some Asian immigrants as paan.

Paan Vine. Photo: Shariffa Keshavjee.

Amongst the South Asian communities in East Africa and Madagascar, the vine can be found in some homes all along the staircase, and at the foot of staircases. In more luxurious homes, a paan vine would surely be creeping along the first available wall. It might not be as exotic as the jasmine and the chambeli, but it is a vital inhabitant for an Indian home.

The CHE ni Boli and Breaking the Code

In 1955 when I was young and curious to find out what happened around me, I was ready to enter the world of the adult. Paan eating and speaking in secret languages was one of those secret avenues.

Paan eating in the 1950’s was the domain of the adult. So when the older siblings were ready to go off into town to have a paan, they would say “CHE pa CHE ne,”  so that us, the young ones, could not decipher the word as it was broken up by CHE. This language was called CHE ni Boli, the secret language of CHE.

Paan Encryption in the 1950's. Image: Adapted from Wikipedia.

How fascinating! And it was spoken so fast that it took a very long time to break the code. But once you had broken the code, voila, you had crossed  the boundary and you were in the august realms of the adult!

Now it was our opportunity to dominate. We were in the sacred space of an unknown language and at every opportunity we would flout this power of the word that had put us into the heights of the supreme. What a world of power we had entered. The tight doors of entry had been broken.

So What Was It About Paan?

In the days of yore, paan was a delicacy for the rich. At the dinner events in the Raaj, after dinner, paan was passed around.

Ghiyas-ud-din Khalji, the Sultan of Mandu (r. 1469–1500), watches as tender betel leaves of the finest quality are spread out and rosewater is sprinkled on them, while saffron is also added. An elaborate betel chew or paan would contain fragrant spices and rose preserves with chopped areca nuts, folio from 16th century cookbook, Nimmatnama-i Nasiruddin-Shahi. Photo: Wikipedia.

Now this was no ordinary paan. In the leaf were ensconced many a treasures. One was a red paste for the sweet paan and a white paste for the paan with a tang given by lime paste. Then there was sesame seeds, fennel seeds, roasted to perfection, grated coconut and often a split cardamom.

Here comes another hierarchy.

Young people had a baby paan with nothing in it but some sweet paste and coconut, and occasionally some sesame seeds, called tal.

Farouk Panwalla preparing a sweet paan with a red paste. Photo: Shariffa Keshavjee.

Farouk Panwalla with all the Paan ingredients before the leaf is folded. Photo: Shariffa Keshavjee

Of course there were other more potent paans, which can have tobacco and other so called uplifting but damaging items.

The adults had a paan with a tang, the white paste was a chuno that gave it a tang. Not only that but the paan had sopari, a nut of a palm tree. Also called a beetle nut, the sopariis a very hard nut that requires a very special cutter called suri. There are many varieties of suris. Exotic gold ones with a jangle, silver ones in all shapes and sizes and bronze ones too.

A collection of Suris, which are used to break the sopari into smaller sizes. Photo: Shariffa Keshavjee

Soon the paan traveled from the courts of Raja to plebs and peasants.

So the well to do middle class family would have a paandania silver salver that held paan.

Paandani. Photo: Shariffa Keshavjee

Paandanis from the collection of the Tayab Jeevanjee family. They date back to the time when making paan at home was an event after dinner, which was presided over by the man of the house. Photo: Tayab Jeevanjee family.


Inside the paandani were silver holders, one with paste, sopari, simsim, saunf,and daal, with aromatic leaves and coconut. Needless to say the up keep of the paandani was up to the woman. She ensured that the silver was polished, the sopari was cut, and the sim sim roasted.

The head of the family had the privilege of making the paan. It was only made after dinner, it was not chewed at lunch!

The first paan would go to the head of the family and then would come the sons and mother and daughters in law and then the children with their baby paans.

What a ritual it was!

Paan Goes Commercial  from India to Africa

Paan shops mushroomed along side eating houses.

In Kisumu where I was born, I recollect a paan shop called “Rambharos Paanghar,” meaning a paan shop trusting in God.

There were many other items on sale at a paan shop, soft drinks advertised as ‘soda’ ice creams, chocolates and sweets. The die-hard paan eaters would stop at the paan shop for a chat and local gossip.

Farouk Paanwalla with complete paan. "I do not count how many paans  I make  It is my life." Photo: Farida Keshavjee

My favourite memory is of riding in the car of an avid paan eater. He would come to a traffic light stop on Salim Road. This is the main road in Mombasa. As he stopped, the paanwalla, would come out and hand him a packet. This was an evening ritual. The paan packet contained enough paan to last till the next evening.

In Mombasa, paan shops were usually neighbours of places where we could purchase coconut water and crisps. Usually an open barbecue area had a paan shop close by. It was customary to eat paan after a meal. A popular place for paan today is the Diamond Plaza which has Indian shops and restaurants as well as at least five paan shops. Hashmi’s, a very popular chicken tikka place, also has a ‘Paan Corner’. This particular one is set up with a little fountain where paan leaves float and everything is clean and cheerful.

Sopari cutters sit outside the paan shop totally engrossed in cutting soparis with a commercial sopari cutters. Photo: Farida Keshavjee.

Paan with sugar syrup, dedicated coconut, sopari, sari sopari, variari, tal and roasted dar,  all ready to pop into the mouth. Photo: Shariffa Keshavjee.

The journey of the paan chewing fascinates me. The once exotic ritual practiced in the palaces of the maharajas went domestic. Then from domestic ritual to the commercial. Paan shops and stands are everywhere, in  India, of course,  but follow the Indian diaspora all over the world. Whereas at one time the paanwalla was an Indian, with the art of making paan going from father to son, today we find many local people making paan too.

My children eat paan, will our grand children? I wonder.

Date posted: Friday, January 30, 2015.
Last updated: Tuesday, February 3, 2015.

Copyright: Shariffa Keshavjee. 2015.


Shariffa Keshavjee - empowers women in the East African nation of KenyaAbout the writer: Shariffa Keshavjee is  a philanthropist and an entrepreneur with an objective to help women empower themselves. Raised in Kisumu, she considers herself a “pakaa” Kenyan. She is now based in the nation’s capital, Nairobi. Her other interest is in visual arts where she delights in painting on wood, silk  and porcelain using water colours, oils and acrylics. She also likes writing, especially for children, and bird watching

My Fascination with the Once “Exotic” World of Paan

03 February 2015

A Mamluk Manuscript on Horsemanship

During the rule of the Mamluks who ruled in Egypt and Syria from 1250 to 1517, the presence of Crusaders coming from Europe seems to have stimulated a great interest in the military arts, weaponry and cavalry training among rulers in the Near and Middle East. The cavalry training was designed to improve the skills of soldiers who practised jousting exercises and equestrian games to prepare them not only for battle against the Crusaders but also for entertaining large crowds of spectators in specially-built stadia or hippodromes.

Add 18866_f113r
A horseman impales a bear, from Book three of Nihāyat al-su’l which gives instructions on using lances. Dated 773/1371 (Add. MS. 18866, f. 113r)

A fourteenth-century Mamluk manual on horsemanship, military arts and technology from the British Library’s collection of Arabic manuscripts (Add. MS 18866) has just been uploaded to the Qatar Digital Library. Its author, Muḥammad ibn ‘Īsá ibn Ismā‘īl al-Ḥanafī al-Aqṣarā’ī, died in Damascus in 1348. The colophon states that this near contemporary copy of the manual was completed on 10 Muḥarram 773 (25 July 1371) by the scribe Aḥmad ibn ‘Umar ibn Aḥmad al-Miṣrī, but it is not certain whether in Egypt or Syria. The manuscript came into the Library of the British Museum (now British Library) in 1852, having been purchased at the auction of the estate of Sir Thomas Reade, one time jailer of Napoleon Bonaparte (for more on the manuscript’s provenance see our earlier post ‘Sir Thomas Read: knight ‘nincumpoop’ and collector of antiquities’). A very similar illustrated copy of the same work, dated 788/1366, is preserved at the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (CBL Ar 5655).

Add 18866_f292r
The colophon giving the name of the scribe Aḥmad ibn ‘Umar ibn Aḥmad the Egyptian (al-Miṣrī) and the date of completion as 10 Muḥarram 773 (25 July 1371). Although the scribe was Egyptian, it is not certain whether the manuscript was copied in Egypt or Syria (Add. MS 18866, f. 292r)

The title-page names the work Nihāyat al-su’l wa-al-umnīyah fī ta‘allum a‘māl al-furūsīyah (‘An End of Questioning and Desiring [Further Knowledge] concerning Learning of the Different Exercises of Horsemanship’) which is an example of furūsīyah, a popular genre of mediaeval Arabic literature embracing all aspects of horsemanship and chivalry. The manuscript itself deals with the care and training of horses; the weapons which horsemen carry such as the bow, the sword and the lance; the assembling of troops and the formation of battle lines.

Add 18866_ff93-4
Diagram of a parade ground (Add. MS 18866, ff. 93v-94r)

This early dated manuscript from the Mamluk period is a veritable treasure in itself containing some of the most magnificent examples of Mamluk manuscript painting. It includes eighteen colour paintings depicting horses, riding equipment, body armour and weapons and twenty-five instructive diagrams on the layout of a parade ground, dressage and various military insignia. Beyond the military and equestrian arts, the paintings in this manuscript are full of details relating to contemporary costume and decorative style. It is one of the highlights of the British Library’s illustrated Arabic manuscripts and is notable also for its beautiful calligraphy and tooled leather Islamic binding that is likely to be contemporary with the manuscript.

Add 18866_bindingBrown goat-skin binding with envelope flap decorated with blind-tooled circular designs on both covers and flap; probably 8th/14th century with signs of later repair (Add. MS 18866, binding)
Below is a list of the manuscript’s eighteen paintings. For most of them the author provided his own captions which are given below. Please click on the hyperlinks to see the full images:

Add 18866_0201
(f. 97r) ‘Illustration of two horsemen whose lance-heads are between each other’s shoulder-blades’.

(f. 99r) ‘Illustration of a number of horsemen taking part in a contest, their lances on their shoulders’.

(f. 101r) ‘Illustration of a horseman taking part in a game with a lance, the lance-head being in his hand and its shaft to his rear’.

(f. 109r) Without caption; a horseman carrying two horizontal lances.

(f. 113r) Without caption; a horseman impales a bear with his lance.

(f. 121r) ‘Illustration of a horseman performing a sword exercise’.

(f. 122v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his hand and his sleeve wound over his hand as he rises out of his saddle and strikes with the sword’.

(f. 125r) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his hand with which he strikes from the horse’s ear as far back as its right croup’.

(f. 127v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with the edge of the sword under his right armpit, the hilt in his left with the reins’.

(f. 129v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a small shield around his neck and a sword in his hand which he brandishes to left and right’.

(f. 130r) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a hide shield over his face, the sword edge under his right armpit and the hilt on his left’.

(f. 131v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with an iron helmet on his head, with a sword. A fire is lit on the helmet, the sword blade and in the middle of the shield’.

(f.132v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his right hand, its blade on his left shoulder and a sword in his left hand whose blade is under his right armpit’.

(f. 134r) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his left hand and its tip under his left arm pit’.

Add 18866_f135r
(f. 135r
) ‘Illustration of two horsemen wheeling around, with a sword in each one’s hand on the horse’s back’.

(f. 136r) ‘Illustration of a horseman with two swords and two small hide shields, on up at his face and the other in his hand with the sword’.

(f. 138v) ‘Illustration of a horseman with a lance in his hand which he is dragging behind him, and a shield in his other hand’.

Add 18866_f140r
(f. 140r) ‘Illustration of four horsemen, each one with a sword and a hide shield, and each one carrying his shield on his horse’s croup’.

Further reading

G.Rex Smith, Medieval Muslim Horsemanship: A Fourteenth-century Arabic Cavalry Manual, London, The British Library, 1979.

Abul Lais Syed Muhammad  Lutful-Huq, A critical edition of Nihayat al-sul wa’l-umniyah fi ta’lim a’mal al-furusiyah of Muhammad b. ‘Isa b. Isma’il al-Hanafi, Ph.D. diss., School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1955. Download free from British Library Electronic Theses Online Services (ETHoS).

D. Haldane,  Mamluk Painting, Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1978.

E. Atıl, Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press 1981.

Colin F. Baker, Lead Curator, Middle Eastern Studies

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Geneva Anderson digs into art

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Some remarks—often with photos!—about manuscripts and the languages, literature, scholarship, and history of Christian culture in the Middle East.

ہم سب

ہم سب مل کر چلیں گے

A Fine Balance ©

A blog about work, life and the pursuit of balance.

Shapes of Space

The shape of space to come

Sufi Events

"We carry inside us the wonders we seek outside us." - Rumi

RoamingArtist's Blog weblog

Pakistan Travel & Culture

Pakistan Travel & Tourism, culture, history and news articles.

History and Chronicles


All About Asia

The Asian Diaries


Hello, this is the creative blog of Mark & Heather, we're freelance designers.


Geneva Anderson digs into art

ASHA: Blast From The Past

The Blog of Aligarh Society of History and Archaeology [ASHA]


Some remarks—often with photos!—about manuscripts and the languages, literature, scholarship, and history of Christian culture in the Middle East.

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