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In Houston, FotoFest offers a lens on the Arab world

HOUSTON — Lana Kesbeh, a 23-year-old nursing student, admired a photograph of a young man in hot pink shades, velvet slippers and a vibrantly patterned suit sitting on a colorful box before an equally eccentric background of turquoise zigzags. “It’s really hip, it’s really chic, it’s really cool,” she said of the photo, by London-based Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj.

That portrait, “Joe Casely-Hayford,” is one of hundreds of images on display as part of the biennial FotoFest, the oldest and largest photography exhibit in the United States. This year’s exhibition, “View From Inside,” showcases works by Arab artists from the Middle East and North Africa that explore, along with lighter topics, religion and faith, the status of women, social and environmental change and recent political events, including the Arab Spring. Some in the art world say it is the largest display of contemporary Arab art ever.

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Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. Since the dawn of time, roughly a hundred billion human beings have walked the planet Earth.

Now this is an interesting number, for by a curious coincidence there are approximately a hundred billion stars in our local universe, the Milky Way. So for every man who has ever lived, in this Universe there shines a star.

But every one of those stars is a sun, often far more brilliant and glorious than the small, nearby star we call the Sun. And many - perhaps most - of those alien suns have planets circling them. So almost certainly there is enough land in the sky to give every member of the human species, back to the first ape-man, his own private, world-sized heaven - or hell.

—Arthur C. Clarke