Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Mysticism of Islam

For years I've been interested in Islamic art forms. I've always thought the Muslim and Hebrew values and traditions to be closely related, and I've spent many hours looking at illuminated texts from both religions. The more I see Islamic art, the more I become aware of its richness, density, and systematic underpinnings that adhere to mystical narrative. For instance, consider this passage from Keith Critchlow's Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach:

Once the enclosing circle is completed, a unity is obtained; this reflects the unity of the original point. The circle is not only the perfect expression of justice—equality in all directions in a finite domain—but also the most beautiful “parent” of all the polygons, both containing and underlying them. Outside the concept of time, the circle has always been regarded as a symbol of eternity, without beginning and without end, just being. As a symbol within the limits of time, or rather subject to that condition of existence, it passes around just as the active compass point returns to its first position it necessarily passes over it and in principle establishes a helix—the expression in time of the circle. The circle expresses “threeness” in itself, i.e. center, domain, periphery; and “fourness” in a manifest context, i.e. center, domain included, boundary, domain excluded.

I've been working with circles within squares in various forms, most obviously in my series Aureola

I was thinking about crop circles, too. Flying back and forth from east to west, you can't help but be struck by the patterning of circles and squares that stretch across the landscape below. 

When I was in New York recently, I visited the Metropolitan Museum's fabulous new Islamic wing, now called Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia. Imagine that on a wall text! Artisans from Fez were brought in to do the carving in a recreation of a Moroccan portico:

The galleries are really exquisite and full of wondrous things. I took a few photos (not enough, I realize now.) I saw a lot of Islamic manuscripts while in New York. There was an exhibition of them at the Morgan Library as well.

This page is at the Met. It illustrates an episode in the mystical Sufi poem, "The Conference of the Birds." Here is the wikipedia synopsis: 

The Conference of the Birds (Persian: منطق الطیر, Mantiqu 't-Tayr, 1177) is a book of poems in Persian by Farid ud-Din Attar of approximately 4500 lines. The poem's plot is as follows: the birds of the world gather to decide who is to be their king, as they have none. The hoopoe, the wisest of them all, suggests that they should find the legendary Simorgh, a mythical persian bird roughly equivalent to the western phoenix. It is an allegory of the quest for God (The Simorgh). The hoopoe respresents a sufi master and each of the other birds represents a human fault which prevents man from attaining enlightenment. When the group of thirty birds finally reach the dwelling place of the Simorgh, all they find is a lake in which they see their own reflection.

I took that photo with my phone so it's not the best, but if you check that wikipedia entry there is a better one, though it's not the full page with the beautiful border. You can see the hoopoe on the rock towards the right side. He's not the biggest bird, but he apparently knew how to work a crowd. I never saw a hoopoe and wondered what they look like, so here is a photo of one:

Quite a snappy little fella! I love this story for many reasons, and have a wonderful book of it published in the UK last year. The Sufis believe that the deity is within each of us, and I think that's a great concept. Back in the day I used to go to Kripalu, the yoga retreat. After each yoga class the instructor would make a praying bow to each of us and say, Jai Baghwan. I bow to the light within you.

It's a new year. Let's acknowledge the light within ourselves.


misha Janson said...

Very nice story! I'd be quite happy if I could see your work in detail. Is this possible?

donna said...

Hi Misha, yes, if you look at my website there are details of some of the burn drawings and installations. There should be a link that says detail if there is one. Thanks!