Portfolio Piece

NINEVEH: Vibes of Nineveh (Cityscapes Series)

Nineveh Cityscape

Shato brikhto (Happy New Year of 2019)! I am excited to share a new design piece of mine — a visual expression of the Assyrian capital, Nineveh. I also detail  some of my research, design process, and other musings in this post. Nineveh is part of a lettering & illustration series I am working on, which carries a heavy emphasis on architecture and archaeology of each city I explore and design on. I hope to discuss this cityscape series in a future post. But if you’re curious right now, please take a look at my Vibes of Sana’a  project, which was the first design of this series.  So without further ado . . .

LANGUAGES Represented by Lettering:

I composed Nineveh in four different forms, but in three different scripts: (1) Cuneiform, (2, 3) Syriac, and (4) Arabic. Scripts from top to bottom: Cuneiform, Syriac (Classical), Syriac (Eastern), and Arabic. I arranged these scripts in that order chronologically. The oldest language that would have been used in the Nineveh during ancient times lies at the top, which is Old Assyrian. The most recent language used by the inhabitants of this region lies at the bottom, which is Arabic (Iraqi dialect).

Cuneiform, Syriac, and Arabic = ASSYRIA!

Let’s start from the top — Cuneiform. There are many versions of Cuneiform syllabaries. Different dialects and writing systems of Cuneiform evolved from the different regions within Mesopotamia (Assyria versus Babylonia). There are also differences of Cuneiform due to the different time periods spanning its usage, such as Old Assyrian (OA), Neo-Assyrian (NA), Old Babylonian (OB), and Neo-Babylonian (NB). There are clay tablets containing a mix of languages and dialects of Cuneiform (Sumerian mixed with Akkadian), and there are tablets containing a mix of ideograms and syllabaries (writing systems shifted over time).

The variant of Cuneiform I decided to choose to represent the name “Nineveh” is the Old Assyrian version. It took me a long while to research all the various Cunei-forms (heh) that can spell out “Nineveh”. So I really hope the ideograms or syllables I used in this illustration is accurate. If you are a linguist or Assyriologist and believe I made a mistake, I would appreciate you letting me know. The more I learn, the more I realise how much I still have to learn.

Syriac:
Below the Cuneiform, we have “Nineveh” written in the Estrangela Syriac script — the oldest written form of Syriac. Underneath Estrangela, we have the Madnhaya Syriac script (Chaldean or Nestorian) used by the eastern Assyrians. As I created this, I debated on whether to include an additional Syriac script in this piece. Serta (Maronite or Jacobite), was spoken and written by western Assyrians, in dialects like Turoyo. I felt, though, that including this third Syriac script would be inaccurate to represent Nineveh, as that script is more associated with western regions of the historic Assyria, such as in Tur Abdin (in modern day Turkey). So I left Serta out; however, I will happily include it in customized versions of this piece.

Arabic: Finally, we have Arabic at the very bottom. Although Arabic is the dominant language of Iraq and Syria today, it is not the official language of the Assyrian nation.

THE ILLUSTRATION

With the illustration, I aimed for a rustic look, somewhere between abstract and realism. I sketched two Lamassu (Lamassi?) on the foreground of either side of the design. The Assyrian “tree of life” stands in the background. Protruding from the tree are branches that twist and turn, and finish off with flowering leaves, in depictions of it on the Old Assyrian tablets and reliefs. The branches become one with the four languages of lettering I included, as they share a similar form. I wanted to really make this tree intricate and to hide the scripts within the branches to evoke mystery . . . but later I decided that my work and its meaning would become lost. Versions of a “sacred tree” or “tree of life” are quite universal in cultures beyond Babylon, and can be seen in Old Norse literature all the way to Mayan and Aztec works of art.

THE PROCESS

I started this piece in January 2018, while I was at my old job in the firm. I liked staying a little late to take advantage of the silence, the bright lighting, and large desks in the office (all features of which I lacked at home), as escapees from the office plunged themselves into heavy traffic. As always, my art work begins with anger. I was angry at several events that happened in areas of Syria and Iraq that we sentient and sensitive citizens of Earth have no control over. I needed to find a release somewhere, so I converted my negative emotions into creative energy.  It started with a pencil lamassu sketch, based off a cell phone picture from Met. Museum in NY. Why couldn’t these colossal entities come to life and protect inhabitants of Assyria? Then I realized I could borrow the concept from my Sana’aa multi-lingual lettering design for a new piece featuring Nineveh, the lamassus, and . . . the Assyrian tree of life!  I made two separate pencil sketches before digitally erasing my sloppiness, connecting missing lines, and completely reworking other areas in the design. Then I researched an appropriate colour palette. Assyrian and Babylonian art is often depicted with lots of neutral browns with a pop from lapis lazuli blue and gold.

Sketching, sketching, sketching . . .

Typical Mesopotamian colour scheme seen on the “Gate of Ishtar” from Babylon (Photo Credit: Josep Renalias)

Message from the Artist:

Take a look at a map of the Middle East, and you will not see a country labeled “Assyria”, nor will her borders be distinguished. Assyria is a region of the Middle East that covers eastern Syria, northern Iraq, and bits of southern Turkey and westernmost parts of Iran. In these four modern-day nations, there are ancient Assyrian ruins throughout, as well as contemporary Assyrian villages and cities. There was a time where Assyria was not only a vague territory or region, or a country even — she was an Empire. Her capital stood at Nineveh, near the modern Iraqi city of Mosul. After the fall of Nineveh in 612 BCE, Assyria ceased to be an Empire, though her many towns remained. Her languages survived. Her people survived and are still living today. And her culture survived. Nineveh has been through so much Arabisation since the spread of Islam across the Near East, as Arabic is the sacred language of the Holy Qur’an. Over the centuries, Assyrians have picked up on what quickly became the dominant language, but remained a people without an official autonomy. Assyria has been through far worse than just linguistic and cultural demise, though. Seyfo, which comes from the Arabic word sayf for ‘sabre’, was the genocide of the Christian populations that occurred during WWI by Ottoman troops between 1914-1920. 100 years later, today, we see even more atrocities being committed by ISIL/Da’esh whom are all anti- Muslim, Christian, Yazidi, Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Pagan. It’s sickening. It makes me sick that there is far too little that I, or anyone else, can do about these human rights violations to have an effect. Only few governments have the power to run the world’s affairs.  At this point, can all we do is keep the memory alive? or sustain it? or can we make what is a declining culture rise again and become an influence in the Middle East?

We cannot let the dark forces allow societies in the Middle East to just tolerate one another’s existence and to “pray” for one another, but celebrate the diversity and richness within our homes and have open discussions for learning.

Socotra

SOCOTRA, Yemen . . . a celestial island of Dragon Blood trees and dragonflies.


Her fragile ecosystem is falling apart. It was a slow death at first; climate change is a familiar culprit. Her wounds took a turn for the worse amid the ongoing war against Yemen. The world must not turn away from this injustice. If the war ends tomorrow, we might salvage her rare charms, and with persistance she may even flourish. Socotra was once the most alien-looking place on Earth, untouched by man’s corruption. Alas, the islands’ sanctity has withered away in recent years . . .

Socotra, Yemen . . . a military base for foreign invaders.

Dragon Blood trees, formally known as Dracaena Cinnabari, are so called for the thick crimson sap that runs through their trunks and branches, much like the blood that runs through our own bodies. These trees breathe. The resin has been used since ancient times for its medicinal properties. Our island, with all its endemic flora and fauna, only became a UNESCO World Heritage site in this past decade. As I write this, GCC troops are vandalizing Socotra’s environment from the surface all the way down to the marrow. Thousands of Dragon Blood trees that have grown undisturbed for four centuries, are now being uprooted and killed in mere minutes — all it takes is a push of a few buttons on a bulldozer to kill these ancient trees. Many Dragon Blood trees are being exported into the UAE for aesthetic purposes. There, these trees shrivel up and die, as the UAE’s habitat is not natural for them to thrive.

Dragon Blood trees today are literally bleeding between the firm grips of warfare. Socotra has become another playground for supremely wealthy savages. The endemic life that once made her beautiful is being exploited faster than her ability to reproduce, and the life that remains, falls into decay.

This is the current reality, but how can we — the concerned citizens of Earth — put this nightmare to an end? Unfortunately, the world’s leading powers focus only on selfish political agendas, showcasing military strength, and immediate self-gratification over the future of our shared ecosystem, world harmony, and steady perseverance towards a greener and happier planetIf only there were a way to stop this madness before it’s too late.


About This Painting:
Socotra is an island that lies just south of Yemen and east of the Horn of Africa, on the Arabian Sea. Desolate, yet mythical. This acrylic painting depicts the dragon blood trees and dragonflies that call Socotra their only “home”. On the foreground, I illustrated an anguished dryad sipping her dragon elixir (i.e., gahwa Yemenia). 



This was my first time using acrylics, and it took some getting used to. The quality of the final piece is not as I imagined it to be, because I used gouache as a base layer, and the canvas I applied on was meant for water-based paints. I do plan to create an improved version of this piece in gouache and on a much larger canvas. 

Random Thought:
Socotra is a living example of the phenomenon where hearts of gold attract toxicity. Exceptionally kind-hearted people accept bad souls, by giving them the benefit of the doubt, and trying to bring a positive influence into their unstable minds and troubled lives. Many times, those with hearts of gold become emotionally exhausted, whether they realize it or not, as their positivity has been sucked dry.

For detailed information on these trees, this article by Linda Crampton, is very informative. This article by Michael Horton, details the devastation and divide that Yemen is now facing, as KSA and the UAE continue to take advantage of the chaos they caused.