Verbal Contributions

Copyright ©Khairat Al-Saleh


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1. On Art     

2. Lectures and Speeches


1. ON Art

Artist’s Statement 1

My art is a journey and a quest. Because I was born in the Arab World and crossed over to live in Britain, it became imperative that I should reconcile East and West and dwell culturally where they meet… We all need to make history integral and civilizations chapters in one book in order to master enough vision to embrace the world and all its peoples since time began and for all times to come.


Artist’s Statement 2

After the passing of the golden age of Arab civilization, a great darkness was ushered in due to conquest, great upheavals and political disintegration.  Arab art was wrenched from the past into the present missing an interval, a beat, a continuity.  I am in search of the lost bridge, the rainbow.


When I paint, I seem to leave the world behind with all its dissonance and contradictions. Perhaps I do take it with me, purified, condensed, and glowing. I have discovered that because I tend to respond to colour and light with intense animal joy, I cannot make journeys into the dark night of the soul in my paintings. Therefore, the ritual of painting for me has come to embody joy, celebration and praising in triumphant tones the beauty and the gradually

vanishing luster of our planet. I find myself clinging to the splendour of something that might vanish at any moment.


The summer like no summer

The light like no light

The trees like no trees

Where is that unimaginable joy

Where is that unearthly immortal summer?


I dream therefore my art dreams with me, not excluding pain, but courting the light despite the tragedies that overwhelm our world.  I believe in the spiritual ennoblement of art.


2. Lectures and Speeches


From a speech delivered at SOAS of the University of London


…Since I owe allegiance to both East and West, and since as a questing questioning artist, I cannot attain spiritual health and maturity without reconciling these two principles in them and will continue to unite them, I must attempt to speak serenely and honestly.  I do find it quite daunting. I am an artist' not an archaeologist. I am not a scholar in this field and my knowledge of archaeology is mainly visual.  Indulging myself a little,

 I tend to describe myself as an archaeological potter, a potter who creates by digging up the past in order to  make all time contemporaneous. This evening in addressing you, I am going to use my own voice, for how else can I impart to you concepts and ideas which are very personal because they rule my vision and artistic entity.  If art has taught me anything it has led me to believe that when we are most intensely personal,, that is in    communication with our inner selves, the doors shutting us from our fellow human beings burst open.


I do not know when it started; I cannot exactly say when I set out on my journey towards and through times archaeological.  I have embarked on my journey in order to be enriched and endowed. As I travel back in time and  space, seeking the cradles of civilization, as I, overwhelmed with wonder, proceed in search of the treasures of our ancient earth, I find that I am enriching my own fragment of earth, and adding fresh layers of awareness to my experience.  It has become a compulsion.  I know that my artistic journey through time is largely a quest for meaning. Like many others, I believe that our contemporary existence is in need of rediscovering meaning. And we, each one of us, are travelers though we forget it.


 Perhaps we are not alone. Ancient voices and ancient faces are all around us. If we summon them, they make themselves seen and heard. Ancestral murmurings and whisperings are not voices of the dead, but life stringing Itself in eternal continuity. In his great Poem, The Waste land, T.S. Eliot summons up the ancient gods and these life giving forces in order to fight off despair, "These fragments I have shored against my ruin", he says.

 We conjure up the past in order to rebuild our houses and our lives. I go back to the past in order to search for our beginnings.  The earth was young the with humanity still in its infancy, spiritually, intellectually and artistically.  The joy of watching the dawning of civilizations is a unique experience, which could be achieved through leaps of the imagination.  Everything was still waiting to be discovered and made.


The human revolution occurring in the Near East in the Neolithic late, late Stone Age, between (9000 – 6000 BC)   might be considered the most important “single advance ever made by man”, since it allowed him to settle permanently in “one spot” and cultivate the land.  This in its turn led to the accumulation of material possessions promoting trade and encouraging craft specialization.  The remnants of these earliest villages are a common feature of the landscape in the Middle East. They form prominent mounds, the result of countless building or re-building.  The name in Arabic for these mounds is Tell as in Tell Halaf or Tell Brak.


 Civilization, is believed, began in Palestine, Syria and in Mesopotamia, the land of the two rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris.  Then it spread to Elam in Persia, the Indus valley and parts of Anatolia, Asia Minor and Egypt.  Pottery was among the first skills to be developed by early man.  Therefore, it will be forever associated with our beginnings. Wherever early settled man was to be found, he left the space behind him littered with shards. The   very fragility of pottery was to prove in times to come an unmatched gift to the archaeologist.  Each new find opens to the archaeologist another chapter in the greatest detective story of all times, the story of civilization.  Pottery constitutes one of the commonest finds in any archaeological site.  It can be read like an open book.  It preserves, encoded, the secrets of lost kingdoms.  Its cultural and social implications can be deciphered by the specialists who are trained to understand the idiom of clay.  Ceramic analysis can unlock he techniques and type of clay used for making a certain pot.  It can show whether the pot was hand-built, or wheel-made, whether it was modeled or coil-built.  The nature of its ware, ornament, firing and aesthetic value could  also  be defined.  In the story of early civilization, pottery writes most of the chapters.  Therefore, it is

easy to become obsessed.


Pots are the greatest time and space travelers despite their amazing vulnerability and ephemerality.  They have a kind of indestructible eloquence, which never falls to overwhelm.  Like us, they are shaped out of clay, out of the primordial formless mud.  Making a pot echoes the making of Adam.  Yet their clay is more durable than our clay, and they hold time still in perpetuity.  Ten thousand years old, as some of them are, and yet they are still with us.


 Long before the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC, which launched the Bronze Age in the Near East, these early centers of population in Palestine and Mesopotamia, stretching between Syria and Iraq, had already made great leaps, accomplishing some of the greatest achievements of early mankind.  Some of the technical triumphs of these formative periods in the history of civilizations were the development of effective techniques of irrigation and metallurgy, not to forget subduing and controlling one of the most effective sources of energy: fire.  Fire was used for baking bread and brick, and for firing pottery. The smelting technology these early villages developed, which could not have been achieved without fire, led to the creation of cult objects and the manufacturing of useful tools, thus encouraging and boosting trade.  The need to defend themselves led to the building of fortified cities and the need for supernatural protection to the building of temples.  Then palaces began to rise and more sophisticated temples which evidence the beginnings of complex ritual.  Animal figurines, stone and metal artifacts statues of clay and stone and ritualistic pottery found their way to the temples which were decorated with various patterns. Further more, by the start of  the 3rd millennium  in the Near East, on The eve of the rise of the first empires in Egypt, Syria and  Iraq, accompanied by the  beginning  of writing, pottery- as a craft was in a position to boast of a long and accomplished history, spanning from three to four thousand  years.  During these very long formative periods, its technology attained some very

astonishing feats, which left to the potters o f the succeeding eras a considerably narrower scope for new achievements.


In exploring the ancient art of the potter, I am going to restrict myself to the pottery of the culture of Tell Halaf, to be followed by a short survey of the pottery of Tell Atchana.  Then I shall attempt a brief reference to the pottery of Minoan Crete and the geometric style, which marked the beginnings' of Greek pottery.  Why do I choose to start with Tel Halaf ? First, because I find some of the surviving decorated pots and shards very beautiful to look at, and because, due to their accomplishment, they fill me with great envy.  Secondly, for the reason that the culture of Tell Half which absorbed the cultures of Tell Hassuna, then Samara in upper Mesopotamia, lasting from about 6000 BC until the emergence of the new culture of Ubaid in Mesopotamia in the 4th millennium BC, is one of the earliest and the most important cultures of the Near East. Tell Halaf culture, which was succeeded by Ubaid culture and the civilization of Sumer, produced, in my opinion, some of the most elegant and refined pottery of the Neolithic ancient world.  The delicacy of the best examples of this pottery is breathtaking, the dexterity and intricacy puzzling and the craftsmanship of a very high quality.  The Halaf culture covered the geographical expanse between upper Iraq and Syria reaching as far as Ras Shamra, Ugarit, on the Syrian coast, and spreading its influence even further to Anatolia.  However, the main centers were to be found in Mesopotamia.


Before I go any further and in order to provide some relief I would like to digress in order to stress the kinship with, and affinity with clay, man has always felt.  The pot and the potter are not far apart.  Therefore, I cannot resist the temptation to quote from Fitzgerald's Translation of the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayaam.  There is something truly   fascinating about them, especially when we remember that the symbolism attached to pottery is very ancient indeed.


    This jug was, ages past, a doleful lover

    Like me - who had pursued a dream, like me. 

    This handle at its neck was once an arm

    Entwined about some neck he loved too well


    Yesterday in the market stood a potter

    Pounding relentlessly his batch of clay. 

    My inner ear could hear it sigh and groan

    Brother, I once was like you.  Treat me gently


    In the potter's workroom, shadowed by the wheel,

    I pondered, watching how the master made

Handles and covers for his jugs and pitchers

From clay - from hands of king's, from beggar's feet.


I wandered down the Potter's Row

Continuously they tried new skills on clay;

Yet some devoid of vision, never noted

The ancestral dust on every turning wheel.


I saw at least two thousand pots, last night

In Potter's Row, not all of which were mute,

And one cried loudly "Friends, where is the potter

Where is the salesman, where the customer?.....


The elements that constitute a bowl

Hate all besotted murderers of bowls -

Bowls deftly moulded for the love of whom?

Then dashed to pieces, as a curse on whom?...


The clay from which this human frame was moulded

Forewarned a hundred wonders for me; yet -

Could I be worse or better than I am

Who was, even before He fashioned me?

(End of quotation)

 Going back to the subject in hand, I would like to shed some light on the origins of clay.  Clay itself is a repository of accumulated time.  Most clay began as rocks, which were weathered and decomposed millions of years ago.  The most important quality of clay is its flexibility, which enables it to keep a given shape when handled.  Clay as it is dug is full of foreign bodies.  It has to be purified before use.  In ancient times, as it is today, this was done by mixing the clay with water and allowing the heavier impurities to sink to the bottom.  Once a pot is made, it is left to dry. Incised and Impressed decoration has to be applied while the pot is still damp enough to accept such treatment.  If desired, slip (diluted clay) can also be applied at this stage, because if the pot is too dry, slip will  not adhere and it might flake during fining.  Slip application is a taxing job even for the potters of today.  A pot cannot be safely used until it is fired, but first painted decoration should be applied, if desired.


The potters of Tell Halaf and Ubaid, after them, displayed great mastery of the techniques I have mentioned, developing them, as they acquired more skills in their widely scattered settlements and villages.  The pottery was hand-built, because the wheel was not invented in Mesopotamia until about 3400 BC, but it is thought  that a   primitive turntable seem to have been used, as Ann Louise Perkins points out in her detailed study of Tell  Halaf pottery.  In colour, the pottery was mostly buff or pinkish.  And whether slipped or not it was often burnished or water-smoothed.  In the early stages, decoration was exclusively monochrome and the paint a lustrous red-brown or brown.  The well-fired ware was decorated with representational designs of animals and   animal heads, especially stylized bull’s heads.  The animals included leopards, horned animals,, scorpions and birds  and   fish.  In addition, geometric design was applied like multiple zigzags, lozenges, and rows of stippling. However, the tentative early phase of Halaf, displayed in the middle and late periods considerable technical leaps.  The ware now is monochrome and of a finer quality, thin-walled and nicely shaped.  Kilns were discovered  with ashes and wasters.  Impressed and incised decoration was liberally used.  Many seal stones and pendants were found with fine geometric design some of which, I believe, were used for stamp decoration.


The final phase of Halaf culture, about 4900 - 4500 BC, displays an accumulation of skills learned and tested.  The  vividly painted ware using mainly red and black paint over the common apricot slip, enhanced by the use of details in white over darker paints, shows vivid reliance on balance and symmetry.  By now, the geometric design of Halaf has multiplied to include cruciform shapes, fish scales, dotted circles, wavy patterns, also double axe, herringbone and small diamond patterns.  In addition, multiple rows of hatching and cross hatching, a variety of ornament, including the very popular chequer design and many textile-like motifs were also in vogue. The splendid thin plates of this period are among the most beautiful products of the Tell Halaf kilns, probably the first of their kind in the world.


On a visit to the British Museum, I had the opportunity to see some of the pottery and shards of Tell Halaf.  What impressed me most was the

breath-taking quality of the brushwork.  How did they do it?  What methods of preparing and mixing the colours did they develop in order to produce

such consistency, and what kind of brushes did they use to achieve this complex, sophisticated quality which I and many fellow potters can only dream

of achieving. In describing the Halaf Pottery, Some archaeologists tend to emphasize qualities like static and formal in order to mean lacking in vigour

and inventiveness.  However, what I see is beauty of composition and a sensitive admirable control.  James Mellart comments, "Precise and neat,

minute but repetitive, the Halaf designs formed an overwhelming rich brocade'.



 In studying ancient pottery and its designs, we ought to bear in mind that many ornaments had their origin in ritual.  Decorated pots, carrying the

symbols of the deity, became cult objects because of their association with water.  Water, of course, was linked with vegetation and the fertility of the

land, hence with the fertility cults and the worship of the Great Mother Goddess, Ishtar.  As Ishtar's worship spread, East and West and countless

temples were built in her honour, her symbolism, names and attributes kept multiplying endlessly. Ishtar was worshipped for thousands of years.  She

was Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte, Isis, Aphrodite, Venus, the Arabian Al-lat and Al-Zuhara.  She was the goddess of the planet Venus.  She was the mother,

the virgin, the creator and the destroyer, goddess of nature and fertility, goddess of love and desire,, the protector of cities and crafts, the dreaded

one who ruled over fate, a force of life unbridled and untamed, and yet a law-giver.  In Greece the goddesses, Hera, Artemis, Athena, Demeter, and

Aphrodite strove to embody the omnipotence of Ishtar. The association of pottery with water as a receptacle and container of this life-giving force,

must have meant that the finest decorated pottery was reserved for sacred functions, as the many broken vessels found in temple rubbish-pits testify.

Some religious murals were discovered in the throne-chamber of the Royal Palace of Mari (Syria, end of 3rd Millennium B.C.) The murals depict, it is

believed, the ritual associated with the coronation of the kings of Mari. Two priests or priestesses are shown holding two jars overflowing with water,

parting to form four streams abounding in fish. The symbolism this mural projects is emphasized by the discovery of a statuette given the name "the

goddess of the fountain" or Urnina.  Urnina is another name for Ishtar.  She stands holding a jar, pressed to her naval.  She herself, who is a vessel

containing the source of life, is holding the same kind of jar overflowing   with water, depicted in the mural, but the stylized streams and fishes are

presented this time as part of the ornament of her dress.


Other symbols associated with Ishtar which appear on the pottery of Tell Half and other pottery, are rosettes, Four-lobed flowers and cruciform motifs in various shapes and patterns, ranging from a simple cross motif to what is described as the Maltese cross, in addition to some swastika patterns.  Cruciform shapes enclosed in circles, symbolizing the moon or the egg, represented the mother goddess as a fertility goddess.  Animals like lions, horses, cows, doves and snakes were also associated with her.  Tell Halaf pottery shows an obsession with bull's heads and the double axe, associated with a male-divinity, the consort of the mother goddess, whose names also multiplied with the passage of time so that he was known as Dumuzi, Tammuz, Adonis, Attis and Dionysus. The bulls’ heads in Halaf pottery are always stylized.


Now I shall make a time leap and move to Tell Atchana or Alalack, as it was known to the Hittites in its later phases.  Atchana occupies a

site beside the river Orontes in Northern Syria, which has revealed 17 building phases.  The site witnessed a succession of royal palaces and

temples, where a great number of the pottery was discovered.  Tell Atchana spanned the centuries between 3400 - 1200 BC, and is especially

important  because, owing to the evidence that it was in occupation for more than a millennium, the methods of decoration vary widely. I shall

mention a few. Tell Atchana is credited with the first glazed pottery in eviden    evidence so far, owing to the discovery of some glazed earthenware vessels ranging from the 13th Century back to the 17th Century BC, as Sir Leonard Woolley to whom I am indebted for this account states.  This

means that   glazed pottery became known in Syria before it became common enough in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Iraq  under the Persians. 


               One must also bear in mind that the Babylonian  and Assyrian period had polychrome glazed pottery, glazed bricks for example, which reached

               its acme in Assyria about 8th c BC. The glaze developed by the Atchana potters is a lead glaze, and the greenish tinge of the light colored body-clay is achieved by preparing the clay with a mixture of' copper and vinegar.  Woolley states that until the Syrian and the Assyrian potters discovered the method of adding lead to glaze, they found it very difficult to make the glaze adhere to the clay.


Most remarkable in the pottery annals of Atchana is the black impressed ware (c. mid 2nd millennium) created, some say, in imitation of metal prototypes.  The clay, which is fired in a reduced atmosphere  i.e. starved of air, is black and the design is not incised (scratched or engraved) but impressed using tools,  mainly chisels, wedges, tubes and pointed drills.  The patterns on the burnished ware were filled in with a white paste,

thus creating white and black effect.  Many of the motifs are simple and repetitive echoing the geometric    patterns developed so far everywhere in

the Near East. However, the way they are strung together give them distinction and show an ingenious sense of design.  The old motif of interlocked

or running circles, which also appear in Cretan and Greek pottery, adds a rhythmical sense of movement. This style, in addition to many influences streaming from Mesopotamia and Anatolia led to the development of what is called the Nuzu ware, coming into fashion about 1450 BC.  The Nuzu

ware is distinguished by its decoration, white on a black painted background.  Some of the most beautiful Nuzu pottery at Tell Atchana uses semi naturalistic motifs of whirls of water and waves, clusters of stylized papyrus plants and a tree with lotus flowers.  Some attribute these charming

designs to-the influence of Crete, but I tend to believe that the influence came from Egyptian design which in this respect influenced both Crete and Atchana. Tell Atchana, because of its convenient geographical position absorbed influences from Palestine and Egypt, from Mesopotamia and

Anatolia and in its later phases from Crete and Mycene.  In turn, Atchana, I believe, owing to the advances it achieved in clay  technology and

design must have influenced its neighbors. The elegance of the Nuzu Atchana Pottery and the  cleverness of the artwork inspired me to create a series

of black and white pots which taxed all my ingenuity.    One of  the hardest things in decorating pottery is to achieve successful light-on-dark effects.

I have used the Tell Halaf and Atchna pottery to demonstrate that there was continuity in the development of the art of the potter. Althoug fashions

and styles kept changing endlessly, the accumulation of experience and knowledge spread geographically from one site to the next and from one

culture to another.  As for the journey, even of the earliest techniques through time, the greatest proof I can offer is that they have reached us.  No

tradition, no culture and no civilization is born fully-fledged, in isolation, and without a relation to the rest of the world it inhabits. It is because of the incredible ability of pots to travel that a constant flow of evolvement marks the achievements of the potters of the ancient world, especially in the

Near East, despite the disruptions and the destruction caused by the rise and fall of empires.


The geometric traditions, among others, which were developed in Syria, Anatolia, Iraq, Persia, Palestine and  Egypt   crossed the Mediterranean

mainly via Syria, carried by the Phoenicians, the great mariners of the ancient world to  Crete and mainland Greece. The Phoenicians, descendants

of the Canaanites, inhabited the coastal plain of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.  From their chief cities, Ugarit, Tyre, Sidon and Byblos; they were able

to play a great part  in the history of the ancient world. Even after incorporation into the Babylonian Empire in the fifth century BC, they continued

to influence world politics, in the Near East through their fleets, and in the west through their powerful  colony of Carthage.  The Phoenicians, born seafarers, dynamic, restless, perpetually riding the waves, forever seeking distant shores, colonizing building, trading, not only helped to spread their

own culture, but the cultures of the peoples they encountered and mixed with. They fulfilled their destiny in the role of distributors, carriers and

enhancers of civilization.  Their maritime adventures took them across the uncharted seas to very distant lands after they had developed the

oceangoing sea craft. Not only did they explore the shores of the Mediterranean, including those of Cyprus, Crete, Italy, Spain, Egypt, Libya and the

rest of North Africa, but they are also credited with having circumnavigated Africa and sailed as far as Britain, even Further to America, where

some Phoenician inscriptions seem to have been discovered. The commercial and cultural relations between Syria, -via the

Phoenicians and the Aegean World, accelerated in the last half of the second millennium and the start of the first. This resulted in the transmission, largely by sea, of the artistic and religious traditions of the East to the Aegean World. Commercially, the ships

carried the wealth of the East to Crete and Greece and carried back all that the Aegean World had to offer, especially artifacts and pottery.

The Phoenicians were among the peoples who settled in Cyprus, Crete and Greece. The Greeks themselves regarded Cadmus, the Phoenician

prince from Sidon, as an ancestor. The legend states that Zeus abducted the sister of Cadmus, Europa, who was destined to give her name

to Europe, in the shape of the bull, who rose from the sea. He carried her to Crete where she gave birth to Minos, the legendary King of Crete.

Cadmus, looking for her, came to Greece where he settled down and built Thebes. There he married Harmony and his daughter Semele

was destined to become the mother of Dionysus. However, what is not a legend, although the Greek legend echoes it, was the fact that the Phoenicians

handed down their alphabetical system of writing to the Aramaeans and the Greeks who passed it to the Romans, thus forming the

basis of the modern European, as well as the Arabic scripts.

The Minoans in Crete created a highly accomplished and distinctive pottery, combining formal geometric and naturalistic elements, achieving in the process a sensitive balance between the precision of stylization and the freedom of the naturalistic. They created a vivacious dynamic style, employing sea-motifs, which specialists like to describe as the `maritime style'. When I visited Heraklion Museum in Crete, I saw some stunning examples of the art, or the craft of the potter. Though some pots show excesses either in the design or the form, the best projects an overwhelming ideal.

The 12th century BC witnessed great upheavals and mass-population movements. The so-called lea-people, hitherto unidentified clearly,

invaded bringing terrible destruction to the Mycenaean and Cretan world, and wreaking havoc along the Phoenician coast of

Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. The Mediterranean plunged into chaos until the Egyptians eventually managed to defeat the Peoples of

the Sea. But the Mediterranean world soon sprang to life again salvaging what could be salvaged. Starting again was not a novel experience to

 the peoples of the Near East. They have learnt how to survive and keep civilization ticking. Haven't they always managed to civilize their

conquerors? The first millennium BC, which saw the emergence of Greece, was rapidly becoming a hot cauldron of cultural interchange

and exchange, encouraged greatly by the displacement of peoples. Perhaps the upheavals of the 12th Century BC ushered in a

new intensity and the desire to recapture what was lost to the powers of darkness. The return of stability to the Greek world saw the emergence

of a geometric art largely devoted to pottery. Some scholars tend to believe that, in comparison to the achievements of the

Mycenaean artisans, the potters of the geometric period, which flourished between the 10th and the 8th Centuries BC, produced lesser-in-

quality pottery. They also tend to think that the same value judgment applies to the Greek geometric pottery in comparison with the

black-figure style pottery, which succeeded it. But I am inclined to believe that the geometric period, not only produced an idiom

which, when no longer largely used in decorating pottery, was to influence architectural ornamentation, and created some very

distinguished pottery as well. In addition, it left a legacy of ideals; accuracy, rhythm and balance which were to govern the Greek aesthetics in years

to come. Some specialists too, it seems to me, tend to divorce the period of Greek geometric art from the geometric art of

its neighboring Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Anatolia. However, the idiom of Greek geometric art was considerably related to

the idiom of geometric art which had developed in the Near East over the past millennia. Not only the grammar of ornament belonging

to each craft was constantly enriched by additions generated by other crafts, but also by a more general language of design which

continuously enlarged its vocabulary by borrowing from foreign and imported elements. To carry my speculation even a

little further, I also believe that the combined legacy of Greece, Egypt, Assyria and Persia in the field of geometric art, met

to re-emerge in Byzantine art despite the individual and unique character each achieved. Later, all these influences combined again to create

an intensification a concentration, and a system of endless multiplication and regeneration which, under the Arabs and Islam, resulted

in the creation of the geometric art of Arabesque which blossomed on the walls of the Al-Hambra and the mosques of Isfahan and

Samarkand. Culturally, Islam achieved a similar kind of miracle, which Hellenism before had achieved in the Mediterranean and the adjacent

Eastern world. Both created a magnificent cultural lake where the confluence of the knowledge and the learning of the ancient world forged

an awesome fusion. Both fulfilled the role of repositories of civilizations and treasure house of diverse cultures.  


And here I would like to point out that, in as far as I know my work in this field is pioneering because of the manner and the reasons I have

chosen to pur­sue my aim In every thing I am doing, I am trying to link the past to the present or to a past that is nearer to our present, like bringing

forward the geometric art of antiquity to the Islamic arabesques . I also would like to point out that all the designs I have created are

original. Yes, the vocabulary is as old as humanity, but the composition is my own except when I deliberately choose to quote from the

past in order to pay homage to, or celebrate a certain design. Nevertheless, always, what is very important to me, is never to impose a design on a

pot, The pot chooses the design, and I obey. The pots, which are most dear to me, are those ones, which reflect the marriage of ancient

design to the geometric art of arabesque, thus condensing about 5000 years of decoration.


My journey through time, in order to make all-time contemporaneous which I began by describing as a quest for meaning, enrichment, aesthetic development, and a desire to return to our beginnings, was also trigged by intellectual restlessness and the desire to interpret history and

art for myself. I had grown so dissatisfied with the interpretations modern history offers us that it became imperative for me to try and find out for

myself, despite my human limitations. Half truths, distorted and prejudiced truths, biased stereotypes, the manipulation of history and the past

to create divisions and absurd political absolutes made me doubt. I doubt, therefore, I must re-examine, re-discover,

re-read evidence and data in order to find my way back to comparative certainty. In the maze of political, ethnic, religious, cultural and

social divisions, which deform our modern civilization and pose deadly dangers to it, I decided to embark on a journey to the past in search

of the underlying unity of humanity and all civilizations. If we can excuse past civilizations for, some times, their lack of enlightenment and

broad-mindedness, how can we excuse our modem contemporary civilization which has at its bid inexhaustible sources of knowledge and the collective

learning of humanity, past and present. When I speak of unity, I do not mean unity as a destroyer of diversity but its very life force. A

garden full of roses is a garden full of roses. But a garden full of all sorts of flowers and blooms is the kind of garden that liberates us

and ensure Our mental and spiritual health because of its profusion and perpetual changes. We all need to make history integral and

civilizations chapters in the one book, in order to become wholesome enough to give a chance to all the peoples of the world, whoever they are,

the chance to breathe and mature in safety. If there is an underlying unity, we can speak as one voice and we are not afraid to face

the challenges posed by other cultures and religions. Words like alien, foreign, esoteric and outlandish will lose their threatening

connotations, enabling us to glory in alternative ways of life and patterns of thought and, in alternative arts and aesthetics. We can then celebrate

their differences without suspicions and fear. How can the West live without the East. Think how impoverished the world

would be without the Arabian Nights or better still, think how utterly boring the world would be with

one dominant master civilization.


The myth of two irreconcilably separate and opposing principles as alien to each other as fire to water, the Orient and the Occident, with the

first, culturally, historically and racially inferior has created terrible and untold suffering to the peoples of the Orient. This myth is also responsible

for having helped to spawn such disastrous concepts as Indo-European versus Semitic, created by 19th century Oriental scholarship and adopted

by many scholars. The intellectual nightmare, which was the inevitable outcome of such reasoning, has plagued archeological thought ever since,

and is still plaguing it in diverse ways. The artificial severance of Asia and the Near East, historically and culturally from Europe, not to forget

the arbitrary, despotic racial classification of the peoples of the ancient world, have dealt, in my belief, a sever blow to world civilization and

its future. Western, in historical, cultural, and artistic terms has come to mean, to put it simply, that attributes like original, imaginative, dynamic,

explorative, and creative are inherent qualities of the Western mind, while static, repetitive, stilled, dogmatic, traditional, passive as opposed

to dynamic, and lacking in the spirit of creativity, innovation and imaginative visualization and regeneration are the qualities that best describe

the Oriental mind. Asia, the cradle of civilizations is Europe's otherness, its anima, its cultural and intellectual counterpart and competitor.

Only the people who share so much are liable to engage in the deadliest of combats.


We ought to free archaeology whose contribution to human knowledge cannot be overestimated  from the constant need to issue value judgments and make rigid assessments, from the irresistible temptation to prove ourselves right and our theories infallible. What we most need is

humbleness. Drunk with our own cleverness, we fail to realize that the miracle of early Civilizations does not need our attempts to make them after

our own image. We ought to free archaeology from the compulsion to determine and finalize the past, crowding it with our artistic and

political ideology. How can we pronounce certitudes in our study of the past when what we know is far less than what we do not know, when

recent finds are constantly throwing doubt on the absolutes we like so much to indulge in. Besides, we must always remember that we cannot

even describe events that took place, say, five years ago with any measure of conclusiveness. The history of the ancient world should

remain tentative and speculative, owing no allegiance but to knowledge with its overriding principles of honesty , integrity and impartiality, which

many historians and archeologists do uphold.



           If there are any students among us to-night, please doubt and question the ideas I have expounded above. I would like to strike a Gestalt note

          And leave the last words about time past and time present to T. S. Eliot, because poetry can say in few words what otherwise takes us an

           eternity to articulate.



Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is irredeemable…

….say that the end precedes the beginning,

And the end and the beginning were always there

Before the beginning and after the end.

And all is always now


Khairat Al-salsh

Copyright ©Khairat Al-Saleh


Some sources:

Sir Leonard Wooley, Alalach: An Account of the Excavations at Tell Atchana, (Oxford, 1955).

Ann Louise Perkins, The Comparative Archaeology of Early Mesopotamia, Cambridge, London, 1957).