Daily Prompt: Abstract

Today’s word prompt led me to a story from the Washington Post. It’s about an exhibition called “Caravan Kingdoms: Yemen and the Ancient Incense Trade” in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian.

And it’s an ONLINE exhibit! So you can see examples of abstract art in ancient Yemen.

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The exhibit and article take a look at ancient artifacts. While we might be more familiar with Egypt and Rome when thinking of ancient civilizations, Yemen’s ancient Saba left its mark too. The kingdom of Saba, with its capital Marib, was ruled by the Queen of Sheba.

The Queen of Sheba’s throne at Barran Temple, near present day Sana’a. National Yemen

The ancient South Arabians also carved altarpieces that mimicked the architecture of their temples. These have a surprising affinity with architectural styles we might recognize from Vienna in the early 20th century, a rectilinear cleanliness and symmetry reminiscent of the Secession or Art Deco.

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It’s hard to say that any culture so removed from ours would consider its representations abstract. And the reason abstraction appeals to us is that we sense in it qualities of innovation, distillation and intellect that are entirely our projection on artists who worked within the bounds of tradition and instinct.

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Abstract art, it’s more than Picasso paintings. How fascinating to see abstract elements in temples and artifacts thousands of years old, dating back to the time before Christ? Just like how other ancient civilizations come time mind first, Yemen has much to offer when thinking about the abstract.