G A N Z E E R . T O D A Y

Updated website with two new pieces commissioned by the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Check'em out.

They're part of my IMMIGRANT BLUES series, autobiographical mixed-media works on paper, something I started in 2019 and will likely continue for the foreseeable future (alongside my other very non diaristic works).

#Journal #Work

I recall sometime in the early 2000's, a bunch of people were giving Grant Morrison shit for claiming he had managed to travel to Katmandu or some shit in a matter of seconds without leaving his house. They said he was clearly high off his fucking mind (which, granted he probably was). This was on his short-lived forum which I lurked for a bit without ever posting, but in my mind I was definitely in the Grant-has-lost-his-shit camp.

Lately though, I've come to notice how I seem to be increasingly absent when the wife addresses me. My body can be right there on the chair across from her, but my mind is usually wandering in the world of the book I'm reading, or lost in the world of my graphic novel or past memories or future scenarios and conversations that have not yet happened (and possibly never will).

So it's occurred to me that we all travel to places in our minds without our bodies ever making a move. But like sports or mathematics or singing... some of us just so happen to be more proficient at it than the rest of us.

Pictured is the back-cover from the galley of THE SOLAR GRID #1, coming for the first time in print on April 21st. Now available for pre-order (and subscription!) from Radix Media.

#Journal #TheSolarGrid #Comix

The way I arrived at my post on “The Ultimate Art” (which as mentioned in the original post, is less a statement and more of an exploration), was quite odd and unexpected. It's all the fault, believe it or not, of my longtime work-in-progress graphic novel, THE SOLAR GRID

I knew from the get-go that I wanted to have a festival scene in this future post-eco-disaster version of Earth. It wasn't until I got to the chapter at hand, which is about 70% into the book that I knew it had to be a summer solstice festival (June 20 to be precise), because that would be the longest day of the year and thus, the day with the shortest Solar Grid hours (which is only activated come sundown). What with the Grid's blinding lights and harsh effects, it makes sense that the day you'd have to deal with it the least would be cause for celebration.

However, as is the case with cultures today, mythological fictions are created around most of our festivities (Think Christmas, Ramadan, or Holi), so I had to come up with a mythology around the cause of this summer solstice celebration that would make sense to the fictional characters who inhabit the world of THE SOLAR GRID. And that mythology had to be based on historical events that would have taken place in that world's history in addition to a kind of bastardization of the popular faiths and mythologies of old (because if you read about faith and mythology long enough you realize that's exactly how this sort of thing works).

I also know that it's important not to bang the reader over the head with this stuff, because none of it is really all that integral to story. It's sort of like... if you have a funeral scene in a [Western] movie or comicbook, you're gonna have the usual things: a tombstone with a cross on it, friends and family looking somber and dressed in black, a priest reading something from the Bible maybe or I dunno, just saying some wise shit (significantly different to what I witnessed of funerary rituals in, say, Vietnam for example). But basically, all of these rituals are part of a religious belief that has its own history and development. So, y'know, you wouldn't have a cross on a tombstone if Jesus was never crucified, nor would you have a priest reading the Bible without the Codex Vaticanus, or heck, Gutenberg much later.

Now of course as an author, you don't really need to go into that history when drafting your [Christian] funerary scene because everyone already knows the rituals and what they relate to. If, on the other hand, you're creating a story that takes place in the far off future after everything we know has been destroyed and the dating system itself restarted, then it makes sense that the people of that world would have a different religion(s) to go with their very different reality. And in constructing what their summer solstice celebration might look like, it occurred to me that everything involved in it (costumes, songs, dance moves, decoration, etc.) couldn't just be arbitrary, but would have to relate entirely to their “religion”, which meeeeant... I had to actually construct the entire religion and its historical development.

Even if I'm in actuality only showing a tiny glimpse of that religion in the graphic novel (think your typical Christian funeral scene in relation to the entire history of Christianity), I knew every little thing in that tiny glimpse had to be based on some kind of history for it to ring true, even if I never reveal said history in the book.

So basically, I had to create a fictional religion and I had to do it as earnestly as possible. Which sent me down a rabbit hole that somehow lead to the “Ultimate Art” post, which doesn't even cover half of what's going on in my head right now.

Yes, I think this cursed graphic novel will drive me mad too.

Pictured above is the print edition of THE SOLAR GRID #1, essentially the first chapter, forthcoming from Radix Media and Mythomatic on April 21st (coincidentally: Astronomy Day! And one day shy of Lyrids Meteor Shower).

#Journal #TheSolarGrid #comix

A few disclaimers before we get into this:

1) I'm not one to proclaim what is or is not “The Ultimate Art” and I probably wouldn't trust anyone who did. But I'm at a loss at what to label it at this time. Perhaps, it be better to give it a name as a certain type of art-making (like say impressionism, cubism, abstractism, etc.). What that name ought to be though I'm not entirely sure yet.

2) I'm not at all religious and this post will touch upon a number of religions in a way that may (or may not) come off as blasphemous to some. Please don't be offended.

3) I'm still actively thinking about all this, so this post is by no means a concrete declaration as much as it's an in-progress exploration.

REVOLUTION AND RELIGION

photo: Striking Power: Iconoclasm in Ancient Egypt – Pulitzer Arts Foundation

Looking at what we call “Abrahamic Religions” (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), it seems quite clear to me that all three rose out of massive social movements (whether the origin stories are based on historical fact or fiction is not the point, the point is what the stories themselves embody); Moses lead a slave rebellion, Jesus undermined the Roman Empire and disrupted a major income-generating event in Jerusalem, and Muhammad threw a wrench in Mecca's economy by renouncing their multi-deity belief system (and the idols they produced and traded in). It seems to me that there's a strong correlation between the economic disruption of the ruling class through massive social upheaval and the birth of new faiths. Typically, very much based on the ethos surrounding that particular upheaval or as a necessary tendency to break away from the dominant faith of the time that came before said upheaval.

France certainly experienced serious (and even violent) de-Christianization during the French Revolution, giving rise one might say to the “Faith of Reason”. Following the Russian Revolution, the Soviet Union sought to stomp out all religious practice and instead establish what it called “Scientific Atheism”, but one could say the actual new faith that took hold (at least for a time) was that of Communism, with Marx and Lenin held as its saintly prophets. It doesn't seem like anything nearly as close applies to the American Revolution, which either: a) Completely obliterates my argument, or... b) Indicates that the American Revolution may not have been that revolutionary after all?

(Although, there is something to be said about the rise of American Freemasonry, at least for a time.)

On the other hand, there may be something to be said about American democracy taking on religious attributes. How “The Founding Fathers” are often talked about in the country's official narrative and grand monuments such as Mount Rushmore and the Lincoln Memorial reek of holy adoration. Not to mention the American constitution, which is only ever brought up in sacred terms quite akin to the Bible.

In more recent(ish) times, the rise of New Age spirituality coincided with the American counterculture movement in the 1960s, an era that also brought with it the Civil Rights Movement, anti-War protests, and arguably one of the most major cultural revolutions in the last 100 years. It may not have brought about the actual revolution demanded by its generation, and it could be for that reason that none of the New Age faiths that rose in its wake took hold on a truly mass scale.

It is also my understanding that the 1920's saw an explosion in Occult movements, the same decade that gave us Women's Suffrage, the Harlem Renaissance, and Jazz.

Now, we may not be living in “Revolutionary Times” per se, but I doubt anyone can deny we've been living a period of serious social upheaval for at least the past decade. Between the Arab Spring, the many Occupy movements, Me Too's, Women's Marches, Climate Marches, Ukraine, Hong Kong, and Black Lives Matter , we're likely living in an era where major change is about to occur (unless the efforts to squash it continue to succeed), and if my theory is correct, with that comes a spiritual awakening that leads to the adoption of a newfound “religion”. I imagine the seeds for what such a religion might look like should already be evident to some degree around us, but I'm not entirely sure I'm able make them out.

Although I've certainly gotten a whiff of cultish feels in spaces that—while never advertising themselves as places of a particular faith—operated eerily similarly to houses of worship. Spaces like SoulCycle, CrossFit gyms, and the occasional yoga studio. Not saying any of these exercise establishments or regiments are bad, but if you're in a room with a group of people repeating the same bodily movements to the rhythm of music and the inspirational oration of a guru, with the added psychological manipulation of choice lighting design, we're basically in the vicinity of Religious Rituals 101.

EROTICISM AND REVOLUTION

photo: Rich Lam/Getty Images – Toronto Star

I'll say this bluntly: the best sex I ever had was when high on the euphoria and adrenalin of revolution. The second best sex I ever had occurred in a delirium of art-making. It should be noted that regarding the former, my method of revolution involved some form of artmaking, and so any sex that was had at the time was very much charged by both Art and Revolution.

Personal experience aside, it seemed to me that a kind of sexual liberation was taking place in Egypt circa 2011 in the wake of its revolution, at least in some of the circles I ran in, and I suppose only for a time.

The French Revolution came with its sexual liberation, as did the Roaring Twenties and Swinging Sixties in America. I suppose it makes sense that a movement for Liberation must also bring with it sexual liberation. But then that theory heavily contradicts with the “revolutions” of the Abrahamic religions. Unless of course, the revolutions themselves were far more liberal at their inception, with a conservative narrative projected onto them hundreds of years after the religions inspired by them were codified under what had become far from progressive societies (this can happen even in a far more condensed fashion; take the Iranian Revolution for example, which was notoriously liberal at its onset prior to being co-opted by Khomeini and his militants).

Eroticism seems to have played an important role in the belief systems of antiquity though. A recurring feature in much Ancient Egyptian art and architecture is the Lotus flower. Often reduced in museum texts to the symbolism of renewal it embodied, Egyptian Blue Lotus or Sacred Blue Water Lily (otherwise known as Nymphaea nouchali var. caerulea) is in fact an aphrodisiac that also has psychoactive properties. Now, we're not talking about an indigenous plant that might've occasionally featured as a hieroglyph here and there. Most columns that held up entire temples of worship and festivities were crowned by lotus-shaped forms (or otherwise, papyrus-shaped forms), and in fact many survive today. This is a clear acknowledgment by a people of the important role played by a plant in the foundation of their entire civilization, not just symbolically, but in actual function as well.

The Dionysian Orgies of Ancient Greece of course are well known, and may have inspired things like Eroto-comatose Lucidity and other forms of “Sex Magick” practiced in modern times. In India, one only needs to look at the kama-related reliefs and sculpture in old Hindu temples to see how important eroticism was to ancient Hinduism (prudified by British colonialism according to Indologist Wendy Doniger).

We've established that there seems to be a bit of overlap between revolution and the birth of new religions (or at least the search for heightened spiritual consciousness). And there are instances of overlap between revolution and eroticism, as well as occasional overlap between eroticism and spiritual practice. One only needs to recall Woodstock 1969 as a case-in-point for overlap between all three: revolution, spirituality, and sex.

CONSUMPTION AND SPIRITUALITY

photo: Egyptian Art by Emile Prisse D'Avennes

The Lotus Flower is quite commonly depicted in the act of consumption on many an Ancient Egyptian wall, walls that belong to some place of spirituality; typically either a temple or a tomb. So we can say there's a strong link between heightened spiritual exploration and the consumption of psychoactive substances (which, in this case, also double as sexual stimulants). It is said that prior to the mass popularization of coffee, it was primarily used by the Sufi mystics of Yemen (probably late 15th century) during late night chanting rituals to induce themselves into a state between alert wakefulness and restful sleep. The Bacchanalia of Ancient Rome were festivals of wine, freedom, intoxication, and ecstacy devoted to the God Bacchus and based largely on the Dyonisian festivals of Ancient Greece that came before. In the modern era, occultist Aliester Crowley wrote on the “Psychology of Hashish”, a substance of which the oldest surviving mention of is in a pamphlet published in Cairo in 1123 CE, accusing Nizari Muslims of being “hashish-eaters”. Although mentioned derogatorily, the Nazaris are in fact an Islamic sect known for having championed human reasoning (which may not have been appreciated by more conservative Muslims, and hence, the derogatory “accusation”).

1960's America is of course notorious for the proliferation of LSD and Amphetamines. Combined with the Free Love, New Age spirituality, and revolutionary aspirations and protest movements, it's hard not to see an obvious overlap between all these areas. That's not to say that one can't exist without the other. After all, how many people have in fact been heavily intoxicated on hashish without ever experiencing an inkling of spirituality or thought of rebellion or cared for sexual liberation? Way more than the contrary for sure. But I think what I'm trying to get at is that there seem to be very particular scenarios that combine all these elements into a kind of perfect storm. A sum that is far greater than its individual parts so to speak.

Notice however that I didn't title this segment “Drugs” or “Intoxication” as is often the case with this sort of thing, because that would be awfully reductive and would negate the effects of all the other things we consume that shape our psyche. Which, if you ask me, is basically everything. Our moods aren't solely shaped by the drugs and alcohol we may or may not ingest, but by everything that enters our body. Food isn't exclusively a matter of nutrition or sheer hunger-suppression. Certain foods and flavor combinations will make us feel comforted, fresh and energetic, tired and bloated, or heck even euphoric sometimes. Awareness of food and its affects, and conscious utilization of the magic of perfect flavor(s) is of the essence.

THE ULTIMATE ART

photo: Genius: Picasso – Trailer

Talking about Art with any kind of objectivity is a very difficult endeavor because the one thing most people can agree on is that Art is clearly a very subjective matter. What someone thinks of as bad art, someone else may declare as avantgarde. However, what is also true is that everyone has an opinion about what they think is good or bad art. Now I'm not going to go as far as to make any declarations about what constitutes good or bad art, but I will point out the kind of art that speaks to me versus that which doesn't. And I think it's fair to say that the kind of art that has nothing to do with anything we have discussed thus far is probably the type that will not speak to me. If, on the other hand, it involves one or more of the facets in question? Chances are... there might be enough in there to grab me.

So for example, even as a non-religious person I can still somehow be spiritually-overcome by a stunning temple, synagogue, cathedral, or mosque (not all of them, but the ones that transcend all the rest with a little overlap with themes other than spirituality). I can also attest to succumbing to spiritual feels in places not designated for worship (The Berghain in Berlin, November 2012). I can be as into a cheap but rebellious zine as much as a trippy Op-Art installation. Reading PROMOTHEA (a comicbook series by Alan Moore and J. H. Williams III) was something of magical experience for me (not throughout, but very much so in some parts) despite my utter disinterest in the Kabbalah (which informs much of the series' ethos). It occurs to me that one of the reasons I might've thoroughly enjoyed the 2004 incarnation of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is that it is in fact heavily made up of the components I cite: Spirituality, Revolution, Eroticism, and Consumption too (this also rings true for BRAVE NEW WORLD, be it the book or 2020 television adaptation).

I should note, however, that “revolution” to me is simply the most extreme display of social engagement. So, if a work is simply “socially engaged”, well that sure as hell counts in my book.

Also, it should be obvious that when I say Art I'm not talking exclusively of the Visual Arts, but rather All the Arts: Music, Storytelling, Sculpture, Architecture, Performance, as well as all the Graphic Arts.

It's probably not a coincidence that each new spiritual awakening and/or rebellion brings with it noticeable changes in Art. Ancient Egyptian art is not the same as Coptic art which in turn is not quite the same as the Islamic art that emerged in the area. There are similarities for sure (the Lotus Flower is in fact a recurring motif throughout), and enough evidence to indicate gradual transitions rather than a sudden break, but still, there's the clear indication of new aesthetics coinciding with new social movements and the spiritual explorations they inspired. The 1920's saw the emergence of Modernism with artists like Kandinsky and Mondrian (both of who were involved in the occult by the way, and sought to tap into a kind of cosmically aware art), not to mention Dada, Surrealism, and the proto Conceptual Art of Duchamp (all of which was heavily steeped in various occult practices of the era). The visual culture of the 1960's was of course dominated by psychedelia, Op-Art, and Pop Art (the latter you can say sanctified Consumer Culture).

The thing that tends to happen though with the emergence of any new aesthetic that taps into a zeitgeist so to speak, is we tend to see declarations of it being the “new artform” that everyone else ought to embrace, follow, and even emulate. That of course is nonsense and has more to do with looking at Art through the lens of the fashion-du-jour than anything else. All approaches to Art anywhere in the world from across the ages are valid, and to me especially those that operate at the “ultimate intersection” we've been concerned with in this here post. Which means stylistically, no one art is holier than the other. It can be figurative or abstract or impressionist or whatever.

Although now I'm wondering if the “ideal style” of the so-called “Ultimate Art” going forward ought to bridge all these superficially opposing styles just to break down barriers and fuck with false hierarchies. Contrary to popular belief, making art isn't exclusively about expressing what you know is already in your head, it is sometimes a process of exploring what you didn't know was in your head, and maybe creating works of art that bring about both the conscious and subconscious is where it's at.

Hm. I may be onto something here. I think I may have come up with The Ultimate Formula for creating The Ultimate Art.

Behold:

(Representation + Abstract Expressionism + Iconography) x (Spirituality + Revolution + Consumption + Eroticism) = The Ultimate Art

Okay, I may be taking a bit of a piss here. Just a bit. A lot a bit.

Not really though.

Maybe I just need to lose “the Ultimate Art” label to keep it from sounding so ridiculous.

#journal #theory

Finally got my copy of Amy Austin Holmes' handsome looking COUPS AND REVOLUTIONS, for which a photograph of one of my works from Cairo circa 2011 was used. I also had the pleasure of consulting on the type treatment and overall design of the dust jacket, which the team at Oxford University Press handled superbly.

Looking forward to sinking my teeth into this one together with Elizabeth Nugent's AFTER REPRESSION, which I've been slow-reading, contemplating, and digesting.

As I often discuss with my peers (10 years after the, ahem, inciting incident), fervor alone is not enough. It's high time we educated ourselves, which backed with our experience(s) should serve us well if we're ever to move past the place of melancholy and defeat.

Things to look forward to.

(The piece of street-art featured on the cover, by the way, is one of the works I'll be discussing in WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?, a live discussion with Bassem Yousri and Lara Baladi on March 27 at 3pm EST)

#work #reads

It is quickly becoming shorts-weather in Houston, and I wasn't wearing shorts at the time the above photo was taken. That is, earlier today. However uncomfortable I might've felt, a good time was had lowkey-celebrating my 39th birthday with the wife and kid, regardless of what it signifies of the sad, unstoppable passage of time and the inevitable encroachment of my end-days (hey, we all get like this past 30).

On the upside though, I guess it means I have one year to go before declaring myself a shaman and it not being weird at all.

Har har.

#journal

Egyptian Streets recorded a podcast with me a while back, which just went live yesterday. Give it a listen if you don't mind a ton of “umms” and the way I click my tongue.

This coming Saturday, ArteEast is hosting a virtual discussion on Zoom between Bassem Yousri and myself, moderated by Lara Baladi.

Should be fun!

#Work #Press

The Manhattanville College event for Saturday has unfortunately and very suddenly been cancelled. But, in other news, a new editorial by Rawaa Talass has gone up on Artsy: 10 Middle Eastern Artists to Discover

Although I have been living a few thousand miles from anywhere remotely close to the Middle East for quite a long time now, I am humbled and honored to be included alongside such incredible artists. I mean c'mon, Ahmed Mater? Nicky Nodjoumi! Ruba Salameh! Every one of the artists named on that list makes such powerful and incredible work, and literally any one item from their output would instantly upgrade any museum's collection.

Humbled and thankful.

#Journal #Work #Press

Just finished one “half” of a mixed-media diptych destined for the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Aiming to finish the rest before month's end. Both are a continuation of my IMMIGRANT BLUES series, one of which is now showing at ArteEast's LEGACY TRILOGY exhibition in collaboration with Artsy. I also recently finished illustrating and designing a new cover for Radix Media's forthcoming edition of THE SOLAR GRID #1 (for which a reveal will come later). Showing now at The Media Majlis of Northwestern University in Qatar is an exhibition titled THE POWER OF PROTEST curated by Hadeel Eltayeb. Four posters of mine are included, part of my TROUBLE TRUNK acquired by Northwestern University through my pals at Booklyn. Radix Media's stock of WE ARE ALL THINGS has sold out and is slated for a second printing. I do however still have some copies in the Garage available for sale.

A virtual comix mini-fest hosted by Manhattanville College and Radix Media is taking place on March 20 for which I'll be discussing some THE SOLAR GRID process stuff.

THE SOLAR GRID #6 is trudging along slower than I would've liked (surprising no one), partially because... well, All The Things (see above) and largely because it has turned into a weird meditation on faith that has sent me down a deep and—dare I say it—wonderful rabbit hole. More on that soon.

Hoping to also get the new cover for issue #2 finished by the end of the month, although that may prove to be a tad bit ambitious. In addition to all this, there's a rather large commission on the horizon than requires some extensive planning.

Life in the 1000 mph lane is real and not for everyone. And if you're an artist/creative of any kind it requires mastering the balancing act between the cold hard world of practical planning and scheduling and hitting targets... and the fluid boundless world of mad but beautiful dreaming.

#Journal #Work

Successful weekend getaway out to Wimberly, a small idyllic town in the hill country a few hours away from Houston (closer to Austin really). Moony saw his first donkeys and ponies, and I got a kick out of seeing my first llamas, which the wife insists are not as weird as camels (what?!).

It provided for a much needed disruption of the routine we've established at home in Houston. Routine is good for keeping the machine-of-life running smoothly, but terrible at making life interesting. But that's what the not-so-frequent intended disruption is good for. The accommodation, sat on a ranch with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking lush trees and a pond, was a sight for sore eyes and a prime example of design-forward architecture for the countryside. Although a small one-bedroom, the high ceiling and ample natural light made it feel spacious and—dare I say—luxurious. And I'll admit made me long for a proper studio space away from the house, which has increasingly been overtaken by Moony (which, if you've ever had a baby, know is only natural). Not ideal for art-making, which for me requires inducing oneself into an almost trance-like state, whereupon you're fully absorbed in the ideas and world you're creating. Not so easy to do if your child sees themselves an opera singer.

It was good to be in nature for a moment though, and think.

#Journal

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