What We Are Reading Today: A Wonder to Behold

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Updated 11 December 2019

What We Are Reading Today: A Wonder to Behold

Authors: Anastasia Amrhein, Clare Fitzgerald, and Elizabeth Knott

In the ancient Near East, expert craftspeople were more than technicians: They numbered among those special members of society who could access the divine. 

While the artisans’ names are largely unknown today, their legacy remains in the form of spectacular artworks and monuments. One of the most celebrated works of antiquity — Babylon’s Ishtar Gate and its affiliated Processional Way — featured a dazzling array of colorful beasts assembled from molded, baked, and glazed bricks. 

Such an awe-inspiring structure demanded the highest level of craft; each animal was created from dozens of bricks that interlocked like a jigsaw. Yet this display of technical and artistic skill also served a ritual purpose, since the gate provided a divinely protected entrance to the sacred inner city of Babylon.

A Wonder to Behold explores ancient Near Eastern ideas about the transformative power of materials and craftsmanship as they relate to the Ishtar Gate, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. This beautifully illustrated catalogue accompanies an exhibition at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. 


 “We Are All Things”: An ode to lost love 

"We Are All Things" by Elliot Colla. (Supplied)
Updated 29 January 2020

 “We Are All Things”: An ode to lost love 

CHICAGO: In a room in Cairo, a man sits alone surrounded by items that fill his house. His relationship has just ended and, as he laments, he doesn’t realize that he isn’t the only witness to his latest tragedy. The objects in his house that he interacts with every day but pays little attention to, all watch on as the remnants of moments fade away from the room but remain imprinted in them. In “We Are All Things,” a graphic prose poem written by Elliott Colla and illustrated by Ganzeer, ordinary objects are brought to life with their own opinions, memories, and quirks.

The first image is of a black lamp with a pink shade which illuminates the room as it “soaks up the shapes and colors of the rest of the room and wears them as a funhouse reflection.” Colla’s words and Ganzeer’s pink and black illustrations jolt awake objects to tell their side of the tale.

Each object has a special personality, the bed that harbors not only humans but also the weevils that have eaten away the cotton in the pillows. A stereo that plays Umm Kulthum’s voice from a cassette tape, her pink figure in the middle of the page passionately singing of a longing that has repeated itself in the room countless times. The oldest object is a mirror, which not only sees things but keeps images and memories, making the room seem as if it is “full of ghostly reflections and optical echoes.”

Colla’s words ignite everyday objects, giving them spirited personalities, such as the clock that must endure “obscure comments” about itself, such as: “Time standing still. Time flying. A stitch in time,” while it holds time together with its “wires, coils, and levers.” Ganzeer’s illustrations capture the moments and objects so intricately in a charmingly unique atmosphere created by a collaboration that is peculiarly delightful.

Ganzeer and Colla push readers to think beyond existence to where secrets can be held by the objects in their lives in this remarkable chapbook. Molly Crabapple sums up the book perfectly in the introduction: “This is Elliott Colla and Ganzeer’s nostalgic ode to a lost love in a city that for the last two millennium has been the focus of every variety of love, longing, and loss.”