Il fiore delle mille e una notte, The flower of 1001 Nights 1974

This is the fourth posting regarding adaptations from 1001 Nights. We have seen one commercial movie about every 25 years now taking one to the mid 1970s. Directed by Pier Pasolini, as the third film in his "Trilogy of Life" series. Each of these movies has their own strengths, and this film invokes the storytelling suspense that exists in many of the short stories. In terms of costumes and sets, the filming was done across North Africa, Yemen, Iran and beyond. In that there is a "realness" to the shots, combined with various visual influences including Bedouin, Ethiopian, Tibet, and Persian. 


Chichén Itzá and Ziggurats

After visiting the Yucatan several times and returning with some interesting samples of building material, it is worthy to discuss the popular speculation that the pyramid shape temples bare a striking resemblance to those found in Giza Egypt.  Many people have suggested this indicates a cultural connection however the pyramidal design is a basic and solid architectural concept.  With that said, aside from the pyramidal base, these pyramids differ considerably in their intention as well. Those within the Mayan culture were made with steps to reach a top level specific to prayer services. The Pyramids of Egypt, suggest a burial only basis for their construction with no external stairway (it is worth to note that tombs have been found within many Mayan pyramids). Their is however, a much closer Middle Eastern comparative structure,  is the Ziggurat  with a ramp leading to the ceremonial structure at the top. ( this photo  is taken of a reconstructed Ziggurat in Iraq showing US troops walking down the staircase)

The small model featured above of the castillo, in Chichén Itzá, I completed in order to resemble the ruins circa 1830 popularized by  Incidents of travel in Yucatan. By John L. Stephens. The plates are worth viewing on their own merit. The deserts may reclaim with sand, but the tropics do so by absorbing the structures in record time.


The Thief of Bagdad 1940

This is the third installment regarding movie adaptations from 1001 Nights.  During the onset of WWII this British production was made taking many of the themes from the tale from 1924. This colour movie holds up in terms of many of its special effects, considering the time. While this adaptation is seemingly less dream like than the 1924 version, its palate of pastels is visually engaging. It is a shame, that to my knowledge, none of the set models or background paintings have survived.  The movie also encouraged a jewelry line production, allowing women to walk around with a bejeweled "Sultan" lapel in addition to other characters in the movie. 


Original "Barbie" Dolls from Iran

As it has been noted that Iran has banned Barbie dolls, I thought to pull out of my collection some old wax dolls each about 20 inches in height. Two are labeled as "Mullahs" and come complete with Tasbih or prayer beads. The woman is well dressed, and her expression is quite realistic. I have been told these were sold from the 40's into the 60's, while these came from Iranian homes, I would have guessed they were made for the Bazaar as tourist items. Which brings me to a Persian tale involving a family member. I am told that Baba as a young boy was offered to paint something in a house of a Mullah, and agreed to do so, but enlisted his brother to help as well. After they finished the job, the Mullah gave them 5$ but the brothers each claimed it as their own. They took it up with their father (or my Grandfather), and he told them that he would settle this in the most fair way possible. He took the money, put it in his wallet, and told the boys to go to sleep!.


Versace, Jean Paul Gaultier, Rose Water Sprinklers

"Deep" in the Souk (or Bazaar in Persian) you can find many an item, including these highly recognizable perfume labels, that have been converted into rose water sprinklers.  I picked these up for obvious reasons. For a little background, the process of distilling roses within water is an ancient process, and has been practiced in and around the Middle East/Mediterranean first by the Persians,  then Greeks, and Romans and the list goes on.  Rose water can be used for weddings and funerals, as well as food and cleaning. It has no limitations. However as a child I learned that it is not made to be ingested like a soda. 


The Palace of The Arabian Nights , Le palais des mille et une nuits (1905)

The second posting in this series regarding movie adaptations from 1001 Nights. This is the first motion picture adaption. The Palace of The Arabian Nights was produced by Georges Melies. A typical Melies fantasy with walking trees, crawling white bears and balled dancers. Based of the tale of 1001 Nights. Aside from watching something over 106 years old, it is interesting to note the mixture of themes in this film, from skeletons, ballet dancers, and "sultans". Finding the entire length video was slightly challenging, however once it was acquired I uploaded the video in its entirety. 


The Thief of Bagdad 1924

The Thief of Bagdad is a 1924 movie by Raoul Walsh and starring Douglas Fairbanks. Freely adapted from One Thousand and One Nights, it tells the story of a thief who falls in love with the daughter of the Caliph of Bagdad. What I find most compelling of this movie is the attempt for accuracy in terms of specific Islamic references, including the written dialogue material. The sets are rumored to have been some of the most costly during the 20's, and are quite grand in scale as referenced by the above screen shots. I have attached the movie found on youtube as well.


A Hawk and a Snake Fighting the Myth of Etana

Top of "Tree of Life" from British museum 

When I returned from a recent trip, I was walking in a parking lot and a snake seemed to "fail" from the sky. After a double take, I saw the raptor follow, and I was able to capture this on my camera. It caused me to contemplate the meaning of viewing something like this. 

In the contemporary Middle East the hawk and falcon, and eagle are revered animals. I think it fair to say the West shares this appreciation for the raptor as well. One can find raptors on most currency, and used as emblems from the military to sports.  While most cultures revere them in some format pictorially, one is required to go back to find early sources for the depiction of the animal that is similar today, which inevitably takes me to the ancient Sumerians.  Specifically the double headed eagle that today is most commonly associated with European coat of arms. It would appear that following the trail of civilizations,  the Sumarians were once again the fathers of the image dating back to the 20th century BC to the 7th century BC.
Cylindric seals discovered in Bogazkoy, an old Hittite capital in modern-day Turkey, represent clearly a two-headed eagle with spread wings. The aesthetics of this symmetrical position explains in part the birth of this religious figure: It originally dates from circa 3,800 BC, and was the Sumerian symbol for the god of LagashNinurtason of Enlil.
Now how about a snake? The current most visible representation of a snake and a raptor can be found on the flag of mexico. The coat of arms is derived from an Aztec legend that their gods told them to build a city where they spot an eagle on a nopal eating a serpent, which is now Mexico City. However we are once again compelled to reach further back in time to the Sumerians to the Etana myth. 

The tree of Tablet II is Etana himself, whose birth its sprouting marks. The eagle and the serpent are conflicting aspects of man´s soul, the one capable of carrying him to heaven, the other pulling him down to sin and death. Ignoring the voice of his conscience (the small fledgling), he becomes guilty of perfidy, greed and murder; for this, he is punished. This is an allegory for spiritual death; the same idea is expressed by the childlessness of Etana, to whom the narrative returns (Etana´s barren wife being the equivalent to his barren soul, and the desired son/fruit an allegory by which Etana will be judged).


Flying Carpet

The Flying Carpet, originally recorded in 1001 Arabian/Persian Nights. This is a cold cast piece from Austria early 20th century. No doubt this gentleman will either fly from the carpet, or what he is smoking from his pipe.


Pot Holders of Saudi Arabia

Two "his and hers" pot holders from Saudi Arabia. And yes I do in fact use them. While these are intended for a tourist audience, keep in mind that tourism is not exactly on the top of the list for Saudi. It's somewhat difficult to get visas for entry unless its for Hajj reasons or work.


The Iron Sheik or perhaps the Iran Sheik...

The Iron Sheik, portrayed by a Iranian Hossein Khosrow Vaziri, felt that after the 1979 revolution, the better choice in terms of acceptance in the US would be to portray an Arab.  His character was wildly successful in the United States, and embodied a sense of Orientalism that has been under evaluated. For an entire generation children and young adults from the 1980's and early 1990's looked toward the Iron Sheik as  the singular visual representation of a Middle Eastern man. With a quick search I found one can  purchase his clothing online


Iranian Stealth Drone Toy Scale Model In Photos

For about 4 dollars you can pick up what would appear to be a scale down version of the stealth drone that was captured by Iran in December. I was not sure what to expect, as I have a few toys from Iran, and the quality is questionable, plus most of everything is made in China. However These shots come directly from the toy manufacturer and they have a metallic speckling which gives the toy a slightly more artistic appeal. Just maybe I will pick up a few... If your interested in getting a hold of one of these bad boys. sign up on my blog, and email me.


Iraqi "Prayer Rugs", جانماز, سجادة for the US Army

I have a few of these I picked up and at first they appear to be the exact size of a typical prayer rug, and a immediate eye catcher. The ones I have seem to be fashioned to represent different military units that were stationed, and their respective years in service.  On further inspection, they are not really prayer rugs, although they "could" be used. They are interesting keepsakes made in Iraq that were sold to soldiers, and while they are not fine woven wool knits, they are still an obvious blend of culture, and a snapshot of that time period. 

Pasha Turkish Coffee Liqueur

I had this bottle of Pasha Turkish Coffee liqueur sitting on one of my shelves as a small child. I remember taking off the label because it offended the esthetic on the bottle, which was about 22 cm in height (or perhaps my mother took of the label...).  I finally tracked down a unopened bottle, which has been quite difficult considering I can not determine if this is even been manufactured or imported into the US in 20 years. It has a taste similar to Kahlua, but a stronger espresso base. The bottle is an impressive Orientalist design, perhaps dating from the 1960's.  It does invoke  well known elements of the Middle East, specifically the pointed top and rounded base. In any event, it makes its presence known on a shelf.


One Helmet, One Influence, Too many Conspiracies

Iraqi Helmet Design 1995-2003

Original German helmet from WW1 1916

From Tate Modern Exhibit
Typical Iraqi helmet used

Mark on Iraqi helmet

This is a helmet worn by members of the Iraqi Fedayeen Saddam (Saddam's Men of Sacrifice) paramilitary force from 1995-2003. It is made from light ballistic fiber and is painted black to match the Fedayeen uniform. Featured on the right side is an insignia bearing the silhouette of Saddam Hussein and an inscription in Arabic reading " One G-d, One Homeland, One Leader.'

Many people have speculated that the helmet is a direct Inspiration from Star Wars' Darth Vader its simply unlikely. it was a specific genisus for Michael Rakowitz's show at the Tate. Here he had a vital opportunity to actually inform and amaze, but who cares?.  One piece  featured obvious visual points for the Star Wars  Darth Vader Mask designed in 1977, that being a Japanese Kabuti helmet (although i dont agree with that the Japanese influence), the German WW1 Stahlhelm and the Iraqi helmet. So what would this say about the Fedayeen helmet in terms of this supposed Star Wars connection? Nothing really.  

So lets do something very simple and look at the evidence we have. I spent the summer at NYU taking some college classes in High School, one being a film class where at 16 I wrote a paper about the influence of Star Wars.  Star Wars was specifically influenced in terms of esthetic by WWII, with NAZI Germany providing a rich and fertile costume designer's imagination for a villain. "When John Mollo needed to create a rough mock-up for Darth Vader [...] he grabbed a German helmet from the military room".

 Iraq's 20th century past has been directly influenced by two western powers, the British, and guess who else? Germany.   Look at the typical helmet of the Iraqi army.The Darth Vader helmet is nothing more than a modern interpretation of the German Stahlhelm helmet, complete with a Arabic inscription referenced above "One G-d, One Homeland, One Leader.", on the side of the helmet.  That seems very familiar to another German slogan "One people, one nation, one leader" (Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer).

So without writing a thesis on this, its clear that German western design, specifically the Nazi's, which were highly stylized ( the SS uniforms were manufactured by Hugo Boss) have influenced  military powers since the 1930's including fictional works in the 1970s. People would love to say its reality imitating fiction, but we will still have to wait for this one.  And dont get me started about all of the other misinformation about Star Wars being the sole influence on Iraq. Or maybe you should...) If you want to read more on the history of the helmet this blog does a thorough job. Remember Life is always stranger than fiction. 


COMME Des GARCONS of Arabia...

Polish artist Filip Pagowski single handedly created one of the most visible and recognizable icons associated with the popular Japanese brand, as seen in the top image from a COMME Des GARCONS retail store. I was asked to take the popular brand and make it "Middle Eastern". I decided the best way to represent this was by simply focusing on the eye. Specifically, the heavy use of Kohl around the eyes. 

Scenes from the Magreb (المغرب الكبير)

Excerpts from photos that I took in the Maghreb. I will let the photos tell their respective 1000 words each.