years ago in the deserts of turkistan
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“She thought botanomancy, or the art of predicting the future through plants, was trickery. Still, she knew how it worked, and once she explained to a third-rate healer the different branches of the divinatory art of botanomancy, namely: floromancy, or the study of the shapes, movements, and reactions of plants, subdivided in turn into cromniomancy and fructomancy, the reading of sprouting onions or fruits, and also dendromancy, the interpretation of trees, and phyllomancy, the study of leaves, and xylomancy, or divination using wood and tree branches, which, she said, is lovely, poetic, but has more to do with laying the past to rest and nurturing and pacifying the present than predicting the future. Then came cleromantic botanomancy, subdivided into favomancy, practiced with several white beans and a black bean, as well as the disciplines of rhabdomancy and belomancy, in which wooden rods were used.” —Roberto Bolaño, 2666, translated by Natasha Wimmer
I’m in the process of scanning my lab notebooks and other research-related documents because I’m leaving my lab after ~3.5 years*. Pictured above is the cover of my first lab notebook, from 2011. 
*During which time I have managed to learn lab techniques from the bottom up, work on at least 6 projects, be frequently harassed by the creepy researcher from hell (who tried to sabotage one of my projects recently), train 3 (!) students, discover that good scientists are’t always good mentors, realize that I really do not want to work with viruses anymore, and become rather bitter because of some of the things that have happened to me in this lab . 

I’m in the process of scanning my lab notebooks and other research-related documents because I’m leaving my lab after ~3.5 years*. Pictured above is the cover of my first lab notebook, from 2011. 

*During which time I have managed to learn lab techniques from the bottom up, work on at least 6 projects, be frequently harassed by the creepy researcher from hell (who tried to sabotage one of my projects recently), train 3 (!) students, discover that good scientists are’t always good mentors, realize that I really do not want to work with viruses anymore, and become rather bitter because of some of the things that have happened to me in this lab . 

Sarah Al Abdali, Mecca Street Signs, 2012 (source).

Excerpt from Rosie Bsheer’s interview with Sarah Al Abdali in 2013, which can be read in its entirety at Jadaliyya

Rosie Bsheer (RB): Can you tell us about your background and how you entered the world of street art in Saudi Arabia? What artistic and cultural forms have most influenced your style and work?

Sarah Mohanna Al Abdali (SMA): I come from a graphic design background, having studied and worked as a graphic designer for about two years. The work I have thus far produced reflects my longtime interest in both history and politics and seeks to spread awareness of issues that play a central role in shaping everyday social life. These range from encouraging reading as a habit amongst the youth and visualizing the politics of heritage construction to spreading knowledge about the Palestinian struggle through online magazines. Free artistic expression is a challenge in some parts of the world, and in Saudi Arabia, both the authorities and certain sectors of the population work, together and separately, to limit and control cultural production. They attempt to censor work that addresses issues they consider to be taboo, such as religion. Many continue to avoid such critical work out of fear of the attendant legal repercussions. However, I have been able to take advantage of my design background—with the discipline being inherently solution-driven—in order to overcome the host of socio-political challenges and experiment with various channels of expressions and communication.

I was eager to express my thoughts on and critiques of the politics of development, architectural landscapes, modern aesthetics, historical amnesia, and socio-political inequalities, among others. This sense of loss, coupled with a desire for a different future, compelled me to share these ideas with the wider public on the walls of my city, Jeddah. I was therefore inspired by critique first and foremost, and the artform consequently followed. Informed and inspired by the Hijazi culture and aesthetics, I have since experimented with various genres, artistic traditions, and mediums, including oil painting, film, photography, and illustration.  

[…]

RB: What are the major events and processes that shaped your artistic trajectory and its politicization?

SMA: The ongoing destruction and construction schemes in Mecca have intensified my sense of political and cultural marginalization. In Mecca, Masjid al-Haram [Grand Mosque], the holiest site in Islam, is a place where all Muslims are supposed to be equal, a fact that is highlighted during the hajj season. Yet, the upscale King AbdulAziz Endowment Project (Abraj al-Bait Towers) overshadows the mosque on one side, while the Jabal Omar Development overshadows it on the other side. Other five- and seven-star megaprojects consisting of more skyscrapers, apartment buildings, and hotels geared for the comfort of the upper classes, are sure to ring in the mosque in the years to come.

In order to construct Mecca based on this new, “modernizing” vision and under the excuse of accommodating the ever-increasing number of pilgrims, old sites, some dating back to the time of the prophet, have been demolished. What little is left of the Meccan/Hijazi identity and its material culture is being completely destroyed. What once was a cultural and economic entrepôt that prided itself on the diversity of its cultural and social traditions is today no different than any other commercial metropolitan city. 
Recent acquisitions from Prairie Lights, a bookstore in Iowa City at which I see myself spending a lot money in the future. 

Recent acquisitions from Prairie Lights, a bookstore in Iowa City at which I see myself spending a lot money in the future. 

"In the English language use of the word donation with respect to property exchange is of long standing, but use of the word donor in connection with the anonymous release of body tissues and parts commenced only in the 1960s. Individuals who sign “donor” cards, some of whom eventually become organ donors, are in effect acquiescing in a form of depersonalization that is integral to the system of national and international organ-sharing networks. In my opinion this depersonalization constitutes a form of “euphemized violence” (Bourdieu 1990a:85): a form of exploitation in which vital human organs are assessed as invaluable until the moment that culture intrudes, in the form of a skilled transplant surgeon. Organs are then transformed into precious commodities. I am not categorically opposed to the sale of organs, although I am opposed to human organs being placed on the open market, but I question why those who make “gifts” of their organs, and their families, should receive neither recompense nor recognition of any kind. Some donor families cannot even be sure their gift has not ended up in the slop bucket.”

— Margaret Lock, from “Boundary Transgressions and Moral Uncertainty,” chapter 1 of Twice Dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death

Excerpt from “The Morality of Self-interested Exchange Rituals of Intercession,” chapter 4 in Performing Islam: Gender and Ritual in Iran by Azam Torab. 

Excerpt from “The Morality of Self-interested Exchange Rituals of Intercession,” chapter 4 in Performing Islam: Gender and Ritual in Iran by Azam Torab. 

Excerpt from “The Morality of Self-interested Exchange Rituals of Intercession,” chapter 4 in Performing Islam: Gender and Ritual in Iran by Azam Torab. 

Excerpt from “The Morality of Self-interested Exchange Rituals of Intercession,” chapter 4 in Performing Islam: Gender and Ritual in Iran by Azam Torab. 

Snippet from the table of contents of Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Snippet from the table of contents of Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

I’m feeling a bit sad because this will be my last Norooz at home.

I’m feeling a bit sad because this will be my last Norooz at home.

Images: Silver shrine lock, 15th-16th centuries (top); steel shrine lock, 16th-17th centuries (middle); detail of the grillwork surrounding the tomb of Imam Reza in Mashad, Iran, c. 1974 (bottom). All images are from the Tanavoli collection.*

Besides providing security, locks are important for Shiʿite Muslims. Locks on the doors of holy places such as shrines, public water fountain (saqqāḵānas), and mosques, especially those on the transenna or grillwork (żariḥ) enclosing the tomb of Imam Reżā in Mashad, are believed to have special power. Pilgrims grasp the tomb lock and make vows and seek help from the Imam. Some pilgrims bring their own locks as a symbolic reminder and fasten them to the grillwork around the tomb. By attaching the locks to the grill, they believe the holy shrine will unlock (resolve) their problems.”

— Parviz Tanavoli, from the article "Locks and Locksmiths in Iran," in the Encylopaedia Iranica

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