Allah is Greatest

Nora Al-Galad  Digital Calligraphy  2012

The holy month of Ramadan has begun for practising Muslims around the world.  It is a celebration of the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) by the Archangel Gabriel in a cave called Jabal an-Nour near Mecca.

Ramadan is observed in many ways, but most notably by adhering to two of the Five Pillars of Islam.  In addition to prayer, the majority of Muslims fast during Ramadan from dawn to dusk.  Ramadan is also marked by zakat, charitable giving.

Artistic depiction of the human form is forbidden in Islamic art.  It is considered a form of idolatry and a sin.  Although there are some examples historically, it is rare and generally deemed disrespectful.  Therefore, a majority of Islamic art is geometric forms and calligraphy.

This piece is by an Egyptian artist named Nora Al-Galad.  You can find more of her work here:  Nora al-Galad

I love how this calligraphy has a bit of a modern flare.  The flowers and leaves are unusual for Islamic calligraphy.  Usually one would use more geometric pattern, not something from nature.  This artist uses flowers in the forefront, but also uses them in the background in a more traditional, repeating pattern way.

Regardless of your religious or philosophical views, the world could use a lot more charity.  My first charitable act to the world is to not fast.  It would be bad, trust me.  But I do intend to make a conscious effort to be more giving and more forgiving this month, and I encourage you to do the same.

Ramadan kareem (have a generous Ramadan)!

Entry into the City

John August Swanson  Acrylic   1990

Today Christians celebrate Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem of Jesus.  He and the Disciples are journeying to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.  They have recently come from Bethany, where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

In the days it took Jesus to reach the city of Jerusalem, the story of the miracle of Lazarus spread quickly.  The teachings of Jesus were already somewhat known in the area, and His arrival caused quite a commotion.  When it became known that Jesus was entering Jerusalem, the people went out into the streets to see who He was, and to welcome Him.  The people spread cloaks and branches for His donkey to tread on.  They sang Psalms and celebrated.

Palm Sunday is my favorite liturgical day of the year.  When people hear this, they generally think it is because it’s a happy, celebratory occasion.  That is not the reason.  It’s actually much more ominous and reflective.

I have a horrible fear of mob mentality.  I always have.  I hate crowds and crowded spaces.  I might blame it on reading Lord of the Flies when I was a bit too young.  More likely, it’s from watching a terrifying episode of The Twighlight Zone entitled “The Shelter” (also at a young age).

A group of friendly neighbors turn on each other when the Civil Defense makes an announcement that an object is heading their way.  They assume they are facing the impending doom of a nuclear attack, and desperately seek help from the only family with a fallout shelter, the same family they teased moments before for its existence.  I probably watched that episode twenty-five or thirty years ago, and I still have nightmares about it.

What does this have to do with Palm Sunday and the happy ride into Jerusalem on a donkey by Jesus?  For me, it’s a stark reminder of how quickly things can change, especially when people aren’t thinking for themselves.  In just a few short days, Judas betrays Jesus.  But more importantly, the crowd, this very same crowd cheering, turns on Him and call for His life.

One reason I think they are so easily swayed is because of their lack of information and knowledge about who He was.  While they joined the exalted cheering and singing of Psalms, they yelled out, “who is it?”  Matthew’s gospel says there was a pretty generic answer given, “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”(Matthew 21:10-11).

This reminds me of being in the airport and seeing everyone grab their phones and rush to get a photo of someone you don’t recognize.  Someone throws out a name that is vaguely familiar or a movie or TV show you’ve heard of, so you grab your phone and get excited as well.  But when someone else somehow becomes more popular for a day or two, you suddenly find you’re more interested in Barabbas the thief than the prophet you were infatuated with days before.

You follow the whims of the crowd, however uniformed, however dangerous.  This is what Palm Sunday teaches me.  Think for yourself.  Be informed.  And be leery of masses of people who don’t.

John August Swanson is a painter and serigrapher.  I’ve nearly used his paintings for this blog for several different Christian holidays, but for various reasons have always chosen something else.  He has an immense body of religious work, but also some secular as well, including an excellent circus series.

I love that his work is influenced by his mother’s Mexican tradition, but mixed with a look of Russian iconography.  The facial features remind me of Medieval religious work, but the color palette is more Mexican folk or early 20th Century American Regionalism.  It gives the feeling of representing a historical event, while simultaneously seeming modern and current.

My favorite part of this painting is the clouds.  I think that’s why this painting fits me so much better than most other paintings of the triumphal entry.  They give the feeling that something is about to change, something is coming.  It might be a celebration now, but something foreboding lies ahead for Jesus.

So while we celebrate, let us look to what we know the rest of the week will bring.

Swanson detail

Detail of Entry into the City

See more of John August Swanson’s work here:  John August Swanson

Read the Biblical texts of the triumphal entry here:  Matthew 21:1-11

 

White Helmet Rescue

Marc Nelson  Charcoal and Watercolor  2016

Today we remember the protest of March 15, 2011 in Damascus. Joining what had already been dubbed the Arab Spring, Syrian protesters took to the streets to demand governmental reform and the release of prisoners. Six years of civil war, chaos, and destruction, and there is still no reform.

When we saw the security forces open fire on the crowd that day, we knew it was bad.  But which of us realized the future that lay ahead for this country?  Who among us knew the suffering children not yet born would endure?  Could we have predicted six years of civil war with no relief in sight?  And most alarmingly, how could we possibly have known our own country would turn our backs on those most in need, those seeking refuge?

The Syrian Civil Defense, more widely known simply as the White Helmets, are the best hope for Syrian civilians.  They are not military or militia.  They do not defend homes with weapons, nor do they sit in offices in far off lands debating the fate of others.  They are the heroes.

They may consider themselves unarmed volunteer rescuers, but what they are is something bigger than heroes.  They’re angels.  They are hope.  They have saved over 78,500 lives after attacks.  More than 150 have lost their lives in the process.

Last year, a middle school art teacher in Kewanee, Illinois challenged his students to draw portraits of people who performed acts of kindness “under the radar.”  Marc Nelson used the White Helmets as examples for his students, and has several sketches of them in action.

I love the bright, white helmets in the drawing.  They seem to cut through the fog of rubble and chaos behind them and shine as beacons of hope.  The boy’s face is grey and ashen.  The face of the man that’s holding him is happy to pass him over to the rescuer.  But the boy, the far off look of his eyes is almost eerie, lost.  This is a child  who has probably spent half of his short life with the hum of airstrikes looming.  Gunfire just a part of the soundtrack to his everyday life.

One has to wonder, have we lost them?  Have we lost them all?  A whole generation that knows nothing but violence.  Their parents protested in peace to have the freedoms that we in America enjoy.  They once envied our way of life of religious freedom, tolerance for all ethnicities.  Now do we show them our true colors?  Do we tell them they are not entitled to the rights we enjoy?

Each time we take to the streets to protest, let us remember we have not only that freedom.  We also have the freedom to go to bed without the fear of bombs falling on our heads.  We have the freedom to buy food or walk across the street without the fear of gunshots killing our children.  We have the freedom to live in a land where all peoples are represented in our government.   We are free.  I hope that some day the Syrians will be too.

To read more about the White Helmets, click here:White Helmets

To see more work by Mr. Nelson, click here Marc Nelson

 

 

 

The Carnival in Rome

Jose Benlliure y Gil  Oil on Panel  1881

Fastnacht Day, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Carnivale, Pancake Day–whatever you call it, celebrate it today!  How do you celebrate? Eat, drink, be merry!  And don’t just eat, eat fatty, rich foods like fastnacht and paczki (doughnuts), pancakes, king cakes, or anything else you may not be able to eat starting tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Today marks the last day of Shrovetide, the period before Lent.  It is a time of self-examination for Christians.  The general idea is self-reflection leads to repentance and the absolution of sins.  It is a way to prepare for the somber season of lent.  And by prepare, I mean eat alot.

Jose Benlliure y Gil is a Spanish painter of the late 19th and early 20th century.  He is known for both his beautiful portraiture, as well as his work based on flowers and floral work.  This painting is a lovely combination of both.

To me, this painting is somewhere between Pre-Raphaelite and Impressionist, and I love it.  There’s so much happening with the flowers and the costumes and the banners.  My favorite is the woman on the left in red lowering a basket of flowers from the balcony.  Who is she lowering them to?  Or is an admirer sending them up?

And I  also like the child on the right.  It looks like a young person has just tossed flowers and maybe pamphlets or flyers over the balcony.  You can see blue papers or pieces of fabric and flowers floating down in front.

The cool tones of the palette, especially cerulean blue, contrast wonderfully against the warm grey walls.  And the texture is just layer after layer.  The blotchy walls, the fabric, the flowers.  There is just great depth in this painting that I enjoy.

Please check out Museo CarmenThyssen Malaga for a description from the museum where it is housed.

I hope you have enjoyed your final day of Mardi Gras!

 

 

jose-benlliure

Jose Benlliure y Gil  Self Portrait

 

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Paul Delaroche  Oil on Canvas  1833

On this day, February 12, 1554, teenage former queen of England Lady Jane Grey was beheaded at the Tower of London.  Her cousin, Edward VI, named her as his successor on his deathbed in 1553.  He was bypassing both of his half-sisters, Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, and Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn.

Many historians believe the king was pressured by his advisor, who happened to be Jane Grey’s father-in-law, the Duke of Nuthumberland.  And although that may have played a role in his decision, I think he genuinely believed Jane Grey was the right choice for the role.  She was well-educated and well liked, having lived with his step-mother and sixth wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr.  It’s said her husband, Lord Guidford Dudley, was the most well liked man in all of England.  And most importantly, she was Protestant.

Of course, she also had a very strong claim to the throne.  She was the granddaughter of Mary, King Henry VIII’s younger sister.  According to his will and the line of succession she was third in line.  Had it not been for a change of heart to add his daughters back in line late in his life, she would have been the first in line.  Many at the time refused to recognize the change in succession, making Jane Grey the most legitimate candidate in their eyes.

However, the line of succession set forth by Henry VIII was clear.  More importantly, Jane Grey’s supporters abandoned her as soon as it was clear that the tide was turning in Mary’s favor.  The young queen, only 16 or 17 years old, was left to face a charge of treason, along with her husband and father.  The treason charge was based on the fact that she signed papers “Jane the Queen” during those nine days.  Although there was an unsuccessful rebellion, Wyatt’s Rebellion, to fight for her cause, it’s generally believed she was not involved in any way.

There is an amazing account of the execution of Lady Jane Gray called The Chronicle of Queen Jane, and of Two Years of Queen Mary.  Below is an excerpt from this anonymous work.

The hangman went to her to help her of therewith; then she desyred him to let her alone, turning towardes her two gentlewomen, who helped her off therwith, and also with her frose paast” and neckercher, geving to her a fayre handkercher to knytte about her eyes.

Then the hangman kneeled downe, and asked her forgevenesse, whome she forgave most willingly. Then he willed her to stand upon the strawe: which doing, she sawe the block.

Then she sayd, booke, good mayster lieuftenaunte, therefore I shall as a frende desyre you, and as a christian require you, to call uppon God to encline your harte to his lawes, to quicken you in his waye, and not to take the worde of trewethe utterlye oute of youre mouthe. Lyve styll to dye, that by deathe you may purchase eternall life, and remembre howe the ende of Mathusael, whoe, as we reade in the scriptures, was the longeste liver that was of a manne, died at the laste: for, as the precher sayethe, there is a tyme to be borne, and a tyme to dye; and the daye of deathe is better than the daye of oure birthe. Youres, as the Lorde knowethe, as a frende, JANE DUDDELEY.”

Here is a link to the book in its entirety: Chronicle of Queen Jane

Paul Delaroche was a highly lauded and critically acclaimed French history painter.  His tendency to paint British historical events made him very popular in England as well as France.  His scholarly dedication to historical accuracy made him popular with art critics and academics alike.

This painting, although showing one brief moment, has the ability to tell such a story.  The former queen’s ladies wail at the loss of their mistress.  One had been her maid since infancy.  Lady Jane Grey reaches her hand out for the block, unable to see.  Her white dress seems to remind the viewer of her youth and innocence, as well as her willingness to accept the punishment of her cousin, the queen.  The executioner looks calm and patient, ready to do his duty.

It’s such a beautiful painting for such a dark moment.  I find it so striking and lovely, and much more powerful than a gruesome, bloody painting would have been.  And although Delaroche took some liberties with the setting, he did a superb job of depicting an important historical event accurately and wonderfully.

When you think about it, Lady Jane Grey is just another person destroyed in the wake of Henry VIII.  His muddled succession wishes, the division between not only his counrtymen, but his own children in their views of religion, and his overall disregard for human life he seems to have passed down to his heirs.  So today we remember Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Day Queen, her life given in the service of sovereign and country.

Angels of Bataan

Liberation of the Angels of Bataan from Santo Tomas

US Army photo  1945

On February 11, 1945, 3,785 internees were liberated and finally evacuated from Santo Tomas in the Philippines.  Among them were 77 Army and Navy nurses, the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor.  This was the largest number of American woman to ever be held captive.  But they weren’t just women, they weren’t just POWs, they were nurses, and they didn’t forget it.

They never neglected their duty or obligation.  For more than three years under harsh conditions they aided the thousands of American and British POWs interned in the camp.  Even when their food was rationed down to 700 calories a day, they each worked four-hour shifts, ensuring the safety and comfort of others as well as themselves.

Just hours after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941, the Philippines was also attacked.  By December 26, Manila had fallen.  The 20,000 American troops and 80,000 Filipinos began to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula.  Shortly thereafter, all foreigners were transported by the Japanese to Santo Tomas, a large university that was turned into an internment camp.  These were mostly Americans and British, but there were a number of nationals from all over the world, including 400 children

They were basically told to fend for themselves.  There was a nightly roll call and monitors, but not much else.  However, they were not allowed to leave the compound, and those that attempted escape were severely punished.  While at first the locals were able to pass food and letters through the fence, the Japanese soon cut them off completely from the outside world.  There would be nothing, including food, to help them.

The Japanese selected an “executive committee” to run the camp.  They essentially did what any city would do.  They set up a police force and a hospital.

Captain Maude Davison of the US Army Nurse Corps was 57 years old with 20 years of service when she took command of the nurses in Santo Tomas.  She and second in command Josephine Nesbit kept the nurses on schedule, even insisting they continue to wear a proper uniform while on shift.  After liberation, many of the internees credited the nurses for saving their lives.  The nurses credited their routine and those in command for saving theirs.

It’s said the nurses were most proud of that fact that 77 nurses went in to Santo Tomas and 77 came out.

I was unable to find a painting of the Angels of Bataan, but I think this is such a great photo of liberation day.  It’s an official US Army photo.  If you look to the far right with her back to the camera you see an older nurse, uniform cap in place.  Such strong determination, perseverance, and sense of duty to their country and profession.

 

 

angels-3

Newly liberated Army nurses pose before boarding a flight to the U.S., Feb. 20, 1945. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Center of Military History)

 

angels-at-letterman

Photo taken three weeks after liberation at Letterman Hospital.  (Photo courtesy of http://www.west-point.org)

There’s so much to learn about Santo Tomas, the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor, the Bataan Death March and work camps, and the thousands of men and woman of all nationalities that endured World War II.  I would encourage you to read more.  I’ve added a few links below.

Photos of Santo Tomas

National WWII Museum

Maude Davison

Josephine Nesbit

The Suspension Bridge between the Provinces of Hida and Etchu

Katushika Hokusai  Nishiki-e  1830

Today, January 21, 2017, would have been Kip’s 44th birthday.  If you didn’t know him or me, you can read a little about him here.  Who is reboArts?  His artwork of choice was Japanese prints, particularly Hokusai and Hiroshige.  So this post is in honor of him today.

Nishiki-e is a form of blockprinting originally developed in Japan in the late 18th century.  The technique involves carving separate blocks for each individual color.   Printed calendars became popular during this time, and colored prints were highly sought after.

Hokusai is one of the most popular Japanese artists of all time, most well-known for his 36 Views of Mount Fuji, specifically the The Great Wave.  To call him prolific would be a bit of an understatement.  It’s believed he produced more than 30,000 works, including paintings, drawings, and woodblock prints.  This print comes from a series of prints of famous bridges.

I believe many can relate to this traveler.  The bridge over the great chasm of life is long and difficult.  The burdens one carries are heavy and make your journey sometimes nearly unbearable.  The bridge bends and bows under the weight.  If you take a misstep, you fall so far.  Look, those are the tops of trees in the foreground.  There is always some one or something behind you, making the crossing harder,  never letting you rest.

But just in your view is the end of it all.  There is a serene bliss, if you can just get there.  If you’re able to look up, you can see the grazing deer and the birds flying.  You just have to hang in there, and do the best you can.