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Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

Photo: CNRS / MADAJ / R. Schwerdtner
Mysterious 2,000-year-old camel carvings found in Saudi Arabian desert.

The lure of space travel notwithstanding, there’s still a lot to discover and puzzle out on Planet Earth. In this story, archaeological adventurers ask why life-size camels might have been carved 2,000 years ago in a Saudi Arabian desert.

Ruth Schuster explores the mystery at Haaretz. “About a dozen life-sized stone sculptures and reliefs of camels have been found in a markedly inhospitable site in northern Saudi Arabia. While camelid art has existed in the region going back millennia, nothing quite like this has been found before.

“The somewhat eroded statues are tentatively dated at around 2,000 years old, give or take a century or more, according to a collaboration between the French National Center for Scientific Research and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage reported [in] the Cambridge journal of Antiquity. …

“No associated artifacts were found at Camel Site that could give clues about origin – no hammers, picks or anything.  …

“For all the art, Camel Site seems not to have been inhabited. As the authors write, it ‘does not seem propitious for permanent human settlement.’ However, they point out, the fact that ‘this isolated and seemingly uninhabitable site attracted highly skilled rock-carvers is striking testimony to its importance for surrounding populations.’

“For instance, it might have been a place of veneration going back generations. … Or the site could have been a boundary marker. Or a rest stop for caravans. …

“The camels were carved in proportion. Muscles and heads, particularly the muzzles and eyes, and the thickness of the legs were individual. These were lovingly depicted camels.”

More about the work to uncover the story of the carved camels may be found here. I was surprised to learn camels actually emerged first in North America.

By the way, I once rode a camel briefly. I was five months pregnant with John. I think I pretty much just got on and then got off.

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In a recent NY Times article, art critic Holland Cotter expressed skepticism that a show of new artists lumped together as “Arab” could work. (Some artists declined to participate for the same  reason.)  The artists in the New Museum exhibit are from “Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, not to mention Europe and the United States.”

But in the end, he was thrilled with the opportunity to see the new works.

“It’s a big show, intricately pieced together on all five floors of the museum, and starts on the street-level facade with a large-scale photograph of an ultra-plush Abu Dhabi hotel. The image was installed by the cosmopolitan collective called GCC, made up of eight artists scattered from Dubai to London and New York who make it their business to focus on the preposterous wealth concentrated in a few hands in a few oil-rich countries on the Persian Gulf.”

Cotter goes on to describe many of the pieces in detail, here, and concludes with some advice for visitors.

“To appreciate this show fully, a little homework can’t hurt. But really all you need to do is be willing to linger, read labels and let not-knowing be a form of bliss. In return, you’ll get wonderful artists, deep ideas, fabulous stories and the chance, still too seldom offered by our museums, to be a global citizen. Don’t pass it up.”

The show will be up until September 28.

Photo: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

“Here and Elsewhere” show at the New Museum

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