Wednesday, November 05, 2014
Roads of Arabia
One of the best exhibits to appear at the Asian Art Museum opened last week after a four-year tour of the world from Saudi Arabia.
Roads of Arabia: History and Archaeology of Saudi Arabia greets you with a trio of funeral steles.
They are paradoxically ancient (3,000-4,000 B.C.) and modern in appearance, looking as if they had come from a 20th Century sculptor's studio.
In terms of age, these young objects were eclipsed by a neighboring glass case with a couple dozen stone tools which are over a million years old.
The case for the Arabian peninsula as a cradle of human civilization comes through loud and clear.
One of the most interesting sections features well-preserved stone tablets from 0 to 5,000 B.C.E.
They are variously inscribed in a Tower of Babel of languages: Old Arabic, Dedanitic (Lihyanite), Hagaric, Sabaic, Minaic, Imperial Aramaic, Nabataean Aramaic, Greek and Latin.
The installation by curator Dany Chan is superb, making each room actually resonate with its own themes, such as the long second chamber detailing ancient cities along the desert trade routes.
Many of the objects are making their public debut after being buried in the sands for centuries, and have only been discovered in the last 50 years.
The exhibit is also a corrective to the last 50 years of the demonization of all Arabs as oil sheikhs and terrorists, amplified worldwide via Hollywood.
The last American film I can remember where the Arab characters were not swarthy, shiftless, thieves, rapists, or simply foils for Indiana Jones is Lawrence of Arabia.
The exhibit doesn't arrive at Islam and Mecca until the third room, which is fronted by a natural light atrium with exquisitely inscribed headstones that were moved from a cemetery near the holy cities.
The show is up through January 18th, and if you are feeling poor, it is free on the first Sunday of December and January.