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.

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Life as Art – ALWAN338

ALWAN338 at Bohemia

LmbK described Life as Art when the first creation provided the idea for the second making life a multi-layered experience.

Or walking around ALWAN 338 you might describe Life as Art.

ALWAN 338 was led by one of Bahrain’s preeminent arts advocates, Bayan Al Barak Kanoo.  Since 1998 she has promoted new artists and actively sought to creatively engage the community.

This year in conjunction with the Spring of Culture Festival, her gallery the Al Riwaq Art Space, with the aid of government and non-government supporters, teamed up with its neighbors in the 338 restaurant block to create a community space for art.

Last week my friend and I drove over to ALWAN338.

As the threshold for ALWAN338, Zoe’s restaurant, got a facelift.  The outside was painted a bright blue with gold, oriental-style motifs.  Mercedes Gonzalez de Garay’s graphic cut-outs of old Egyptian movie stars hung between the windows.  Across the street from Mirai, Scottish artist Alan Goulbourne created a wood sculpture on the plywood around the vacant lot.

Late as usual, we hurried over to Al Riwaq to meet a third friend.  She had already toured al mahata – the station – exhibit featuring Egyptian artist Mohamed Sharkawy.  His tarbouched-figures graphically interpreted Old Cairo.

Playing catch-up I dashed through the rooms.

Waheedah Mallulah at ALWAN338

Waheedah Mallulah’s Big Rooster and the Little One, a montage of black, white and red photos of Mallulah doing yoga-for-roosters, delighted the rooster-lover in me.    The gift shop was transformed into a space for Zilia Monteiro’s videography.

Mohamed Sharkawy at ALWAN338

I climbed the curved stairwell to the second floor where Sharkawy’s Egyptians continued to go about their daily business.

Next to the colorful, but undifferentiated beings, a young man sat on the couch, his earphones around his neck, working on his laptop.  He smiled at me and asked whether or not I had seen the exhibit at Bohemia, the building encircled with flying bicycles.

I told him no, but said “we were on our way over there”.  I asked him if he was working.

He said, “I am finishing up an assignment.  I go to school at NYIT.”

“Good luck.”  We smiled at each other and said good-bye.

The renovation of the old Bohemia restaurant into a four-story exhibition for I AM THE OTHER is the crowning achievement of ALWAN338.  Visiting-artist Mo Reda connected with over 20 Bahrain-based artists to comment on

“how do we exclude the OTHER, when we ourselves are the OTHER to those around us?”

This is a critical question in a time when the EU considers whether “to let” Turkey join their union, after France and Switzerland created legislation responding to their Muslim populations, and in the USA where mainstream Americans describe the OTHER as Teacup Conservatives, uber-rich executives or illegal alien-workers.

A microcosm of global politics, Bahrain has faced its own challenges over the past year.  As the diverse community members entered into the National Dialogue, the question of Who am I?  Am I the OTHER? became particularly relevant.  ALWAN338 gave established and emerging artists an opportunity to publicly add their distinctive “voice” to the dialogue and answer the question in their unique ways.

Bahraini, Bahrain-immigrants and Arab artists of “mixed” parents presented their personal experiences as the OTHER.   Being and raising third-culture children, the exhibit felt relevant to me.

However, I found the most striking artists were Bahrain Contemporary Arts Association member Nader Abdulrahim, street-artist Huvil and architect Maysam Nassar.

Maysam Nasser at ALWAN338

The fact that they can publicly describe their perspectives regarding truth and current social issues speaks volumes on Bahrain’s openness compared to its neighbors.

But the ALWAN338 artists are not just visual artists or limited to these two venues.

DJs will be performing live at The Meat Company, an excellent place to go during this pre-summer lull in the heat.

Architect Sara Kanoo created a temporary “Park”; an outdoor stage, library and cinema screen.   In this under-utilized public space, films “Life in the Day” (April 10, 7:30pm) and “Man Without a Cellphone” (April 12, 7pm) will be shown; jazz-band 13th Note (April 13, 8pm) and Watan (April 20, 8pm) will perform; and several workshops for kids (Spray Painting, Cartoon Animation) and Adults (Photography, Mosaic, Street Art Intervention) will be held.

My friends and I left Bohemia hoping it would become a permanent gallery and walked to Coco’s for an outdoor lunch.  Coming towards us was the tall, slim man I saw earlier at Al Riwaq.

Only then I knew his name.  Ghalib Zuhair.  He was the Iraqi artist whose visage was featured on the  I AM THE OTHER cover.

Ghalib Zuhair at ALWAN338

According to his bio, he is looking for a place to call home.

“I just saw your installation in the gallery.”  Being recognized, he beamed.   “How long have you been doing photography?” I asked him.

“About twelve years.  This is my second exhibit.”

“Congratulations.  You did a great job.  It seems like Bahrain is home for you.”

“For now,” he smiled.

That, my friends, is Life as Art.

ALWAN338 continues through April 22nd from 10am-10pm.  The entire schedule is on the Al Riwaq website and exhibit programs can be found at the restaurants in Adliya where the ALWAN338 flag is displayed.   The restaurants that have given support and invite you to experience art-camaraderie, Bahraini-style include Blaze Burgers, Block 338, Café Italia, Mezzaluna, Tian and Masso at the Palace Hotel.

In case you don’t remember Bohemia (next to the Adliya Café Lilou which for some reason is not a sponsor), you can plug this address into your GPS:  Adliya, Block 338, Road 3816, Building 502.

Andrea Bocelli Concerto – One Night in Bahrain

Andrea Bocelli performed his One Night in Central Park Concert last night.  As the solar flares whipped around our sun, the energies of cultures, music, eras and beliefs mixed in the air next to the sea.

Italian Andrea Bocelli was the headliner, but the young Bahraini woman with the bobbed hair and boots sitting behind me did not seem to understand the concert was not just Andrea singing.  The renowned Russian State Hermitage Orchestra conducted by veteran Eugene Kohn was FEATURED.  And Soprano Paola Sanguinetti who has performed with Bocelli for over ten years was more than arm candy.  But each time Bocelli was walked on and off stage, the audience held their breath wondering whether HE was going to come back.

My neighbor thought when Bocelli was not on stage it was a mini-intermission so she laughed and chatted with her friends.  After Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, I finally turned around and said “your laughing is distracting” and suggested that she save her comments for between the movements.

She said “I will try.”

The program’s second half gave the audience some operatic relief.

During his famed rendition of Shubert’s Ave Maria, the stage screen featured a video of Bocelli standing at the foot of a four-foot tall Virgin Mary covered in a floor length veil.  Muslims respect the Virgin Mary.  There are more passages devoted to her in the Koran than in the Bible.  But as Bocelli placed a white rose at her feet and the Virgin’s veil was gently pulled from her face, the Islamic tenet that idol worship is forbidden came to mind.  When the song ended, half the audience clapped and Mojo leaned over and whispered, “oops”.   Already MPs had been calling the Spring of Culture “immoral”.

The Incanto favorites Mamma and Funiculi, Funiculi did not relieve the discomfort hanging over the audience.

Bocelli left the stage and the orchestra played a suite from Romeo and Juliet.  Excerpts from Zeffirelli’s 1968 film’s balcony scene were projected behind the orchestra.  I heard tongues clucking when the blue-eyed, 17-year old Leonard Whiting snuck into 15-year old Olivia Hussey’s window and kissed her.  I don’t think anyone told the producers that in the Bahrain cinemas even Shrek’s first kiss with the princess-turned-ogre Fiona was cut out.

Ultimately it was Elvis, a showgirl and the Las Vegas crooners who saved the night under the Lenten moon.

When Bocelli sang Elvis’ familiar Can’t Help Falling in Love, the mood began to lift.  The audience cheered after he gave his young guest artist, Ilaria Della Bidia, a big hug between their duets.  The audience went wild over his New York New York encore and gave him a stomping ovation for this Liza Minelli and Frank Sinatra staple.

Just as earth lucked out without any power grid disruptions, the Spring of Culture‘s Bocelli concert ended on a HIGH NOTE.

And the audience bundled in their winter jackets and scarves proved the concert did not simply “please semi-naked women” as the MP claimed.

You Can’t Be Grumpy When Julio Sings

The last three days I have been feeling quite grumpy.

It’s because I am having to come to terms with the age-related adjustments I must make to my yoga practice.  As I watch my young teacher bend, bend, bend, my ego is having difficulty accepting that I cannot mimic her without injuring my knees, back or _____   (insert nearly any body part).

Perhaps next week.  If only I stretch a little further……..

Last night Mojo and I attended Julio Iglesias’ concert at the Arad Fort.  He came to Bahrain as part of The Spring of Culture.  Even though I only knew his “All The Girls I Loved Before” duet with Willie Nelson, we both agreed the show was terrific.

 

The good news was his voice is still strong.  And he was still surrounded with young women whose legs sliding out of their evening dresses trounced Angelina Jolie on the red carpet.

HRH King Hamad was impressed too.  He presented the 69-year old Spaniard an award for his prolific musical achievements.

I can only imagine Julio must be pretty grumpy today after the local newspaper featured his award on the front page.  Why? The photo was taken from his left side.

Based upon his myriad of publicity shots, Julio prefers his right side.  Even in his younger days, he entered the stage from the left and sang to his partner so his right side faced the audience.  The same was true last night.  His three sinewy backup singers all stood on the right side of the stage.

After flying in from a concert in Moscow and two nights outside in the Bahrain winter, I hope today he is resting and not obsessing about the photo.  But I know as I watched him carefully execute his choreographed moves, his age was on his mind.

“I am 47 years old” he joked with the audience.

He pretended his water was vodka.
When his saxophonist offered him a scarf, he turned it down, shouting “I feel terrific!”

Wearing only his suit jacket, he sang for an hour and a half while being pelted by an icy desert wind.

Watching him I wondered “at his age, why is he subjecting himself to this?”

Today I went to see my young hairdresser after a two month hiatus.  He looked at me and said, “You look great.  Have you lost weight?”

“No,” I said thinking a moment.  “But I have been immersed in my yoga training since January.”

“I have never exercised.  My doctor told me I should do yoga.  Everyone says yoga is excellent for you.” He continued, “You look different, better.  After seeing how you were walking, I am motivated to find a yoga class for me.”

I was so pleased.

“Yoga is great,” I agreed.  And thinking about Julio telling us how his music came from his heart and how much he enjoyed singing to people around the world, I added,

“And always do what you love.  That will keep you feeling young.”

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