Hey Sexy Owl

Letters to Ishtar 3

Recently the newspaper reported that women in downtown Manama were being harassed by tourists.  The tourists were assuming all women walking along this particular street were “women of the night”.  One woman said the men in their cars, slowly drove by and called out, “Hey sexy owl.”

I did not understand the owl reference and have been asking Arab people whether they could explain it.  No one had an answer for me.  It was after stepping into the Al Riwaq Gallery to see Letters to Ishtar that I realized the source of this very ancient, owl reference.

Ishtar from Babylonia British_Museum_Queen_of_the_Night from Wikipedia

Ishtar, was the great Babylonian Goddess.  The Bible referred to her as Ashtoreth and the Mother of Harlots.  One of her symbols was the owl.  In many depictions, she held a staff made of intertwined snakes, the caduceus’ precursor.

“With exultation in my supremacy, with exultation do I, a Goddess, walk supreme; Ishtar, the Goddess of the evening, am I; Ishtar, the Goddess of morning, am I; Ishtar who opens the portals of heaven, in my supremacy.” – Poems to Ishtar.

HAR meant temple of women and Harine referred to the female. spiritual rulers in Ishtar’s city, Uruk, in ancient Iraq.  Bahrain’s story intertwines with Ishtar’s because she wanted to marry Gilgamesh.  Gilgamesh refused her proposal.  Enraged, she sent her heavenly bull to kill him.  Gilgamesh, helped by his friend Enkidu, killed the bull and threw its thigh at her face.

Letters to Ishtar 2

Using poetry, painting, collage and sculpture, Iraqi artist, Himat Mohamed Ali has created a dialogue about this ancient Goddess.  It is on display at Al Riwaq through April 24th as part of the Spring of Culture.  It is an interesting opportunity to explore how the ancient past continues to exist within the region’s subconscious.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. winfredpeppinck
    Mar 17, 2013 @ 12:23:22

    Thanks Eva, what a hoot! No doubt they were wised up by the tourists. Thanks too for the ornithology and mythology lesson – appreciated.


  2. Lena
    Mar 17, 2013 @ 13:36:15

    I went to Himat’s exhibit at Al Riwaq last weekend, but I lacked the knowledge of Ishtar’s story to fully appreciate the artist’s work. As with much contemporary art, the artist tries to engage the viewer in a conversation or thought process about his/her work. In a way, the conversation or communication of an idea becomes more significant to the artwork than the actual art itself. Himat’s paper wall-hangings were decorative, colorful and beautifully crafted, but I would have liked more insight from the artist about how Ishtar’s love poems inspired his artistic renditions. In the meantime, a friend has recommended that I read “Inanna: Queen of Heaven & Earth” by Diane Wolkstein & Samuel Kramer. Apparently it is an excellent translation of the story of Ishtar. Maybe it will inspire me too?!


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