I’ve now been making art every day for over a month. I fell into my current series of projects by accident, as is so often the way, and am now happily spelunking in the caves of altered books, maps, U.S. politics, and white supremacy.

It started when I wanted to find a book to (photocopy and) alter. I poked around on our nonfiction shelves and came upon The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, which I hadn’t even known we had. One of the benefits of living with a partner is that they spent decades accumulating books too, and even after 15 years together, I’m still discovering some. It is full of maps, and I love maps, so I pulled it out, found a couple of intriguing words on one of the text pages, and got to work.

The first word I noticed was “administration,” and another was “Nineveh,” which reminded me of a phrase about our future fate being like that of “Nineveh and Tyre” in some poem or other. Yeats, maybe.

The poem kept echoing in my head, until I had to look it up (ah, bless the internet) and re-discover it: not Yeats, but Rudyard Kipling, who had such a strange talent for reminding empire of its limitations even while proclaiming its glories.

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre! (“Recessional”)

Reading about these ancient cultures, and seeing all the maps showing the dominance of peoples whose names I’d never even heard of, like the Scythians, is like coming across the colossus of Ozymandias (Rameses II) in the desert–another poem that’s rattling around in my head. Some of these nations lasted for millennia. Ours hasn’t made it to its 250th birthday yet, and I’m wondering what shape it will be in when it gets there. So the words I’m highlighting as I draw my maps are about the collapse of our democracy from hostile forces, foreign and domestic.

I’ve also always been moved by the story of Nineveh in the book of Jonah. If an ancient city, one of the great ones of its time, could summon that kind of repentance and return to its ideals, can’t we?

Another theme that emerges without the author’s having intended it is the narrowness of his assumption that the “ancient world” consists of the Mediterranean, with forays as far as England to the north, western India to the east, and Ethiopia to the south: basically, the trading partners of the empires of the Mediterranean. The book was published in 1967. I showed it to my daughter as an example of the kinds of things I was taught in school, where our books were published around that time. It was a quiet, background kind of white supremacy, a constant hum informing us that nothing worth knowing about happened in sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, the Americas, or most of Asia until Europeans got there.

I saw with some excitement that there is a New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History: Revised Edition, published in 2002, but alas, it still only covers the same region. A grand opportunity wasted to, if not expand the book, then at least make the title accurate.

I’ll post a picture when I’m done with my new piece.

#100days