Is there a place for Islamic Art in the western Domicile?
What is Islamic Art?
Islamic art does not copy nature but conveys what it represents.
Islamic art is a mirror of a culture and its world view. Islamic art is a vibrant and distinctive form of Art. Unlike Christian art, Islamic art is not constrained to religious work, but includes artistic traditions in the Muslim culture.
Because of the strict ruling against drawings of human or animals which might result in idol worship, Islamic art developed a distinctive character makes use of primary forms, geometric arabesque, floral and calligraphic.
Muslim art has reflected this balanced, harmonious world view.
Through its brilliant use of colour and balance, Islamic art creates an immediate visual impact.
In Islamic art, painting and sculpture are not thought of as the finest forms of art. Crafts and decorative arts are regarded as having full art status. Books, on the other hand are a major art form and Writing has a high status in Islam as writing is considered significant decoration for objects and buildings.
Islamic Art seeks to illustrate the meaning and essence of things, rather than just their physical form. It focuses on the spiritual representation of objects and beings and not their physical qualities.
How is geometry seen to be spiritual?
Because circles have no end they are infinite and so they remind Muslims that Allah is infinite. Complex geometric designs create the feeling of un-ending repetition; this helps the person get an idea of the infinite nature of Allah.
Repeating patterns also indicate that in the small you can find the infinite, a single element of the pattern implies the infinite total.
The use of patterns is part of the way Islamic art represents nature and objects.
Repeated geometric pattern often use plant motifs, there are called Arabesque. Arabic lettering is also common.
Art: It is one of the purest and most significant forms of human communication. Where language often fails us, art can cross divide what we sometimes erect due to differences in race, ethnicity, religion and culture. Specifically, Islamic art, perhaps more than any other, presents a beautiful mirror of a culture and its world view. More than being just representative of a singular religion (as is often the case with Christian art), Islamic art deepens understanding about Muslim culture, at large.
It is for this reason that Islamic art should not only be tolerated when found in a western domicile, it should be encouraged and celebrated as a mechanism for the west to build a new respectful, productive and healing relationship with the East.
On September 11, 2001, the west was devastated by a series of coordinated suicide terrorist’s attacks organized by an Islamist fundamentalist group called Al- Qaida.
After getting over the initial shock, pain and horror of this incalculable loss, the west was left with one profound sentiment – absolute confusion. We, in the West, simply had little understanding, not only of the motivation for the terrorist attack, but also of Islamic beliefs systems and principles, in general. And it is not a criticism, but simply an observation to note that the profoundly individualist mindset of the West, particularly America, had left us very isolated and without much understanding of global, philosophical, religious and cultural principles which differed from ours.
It is now almost a decade after the horror of September 11, 2001, and although the West is still much insulated and lacks the full understanding of Islam which is so critical to secure a more peaceful global environment, we have made significant strides. The attack was not only a source of great suffering in the West, but also a wake up call to remind us of our insularity and the fact that there is a huge global community out there of which we are only a small part. And, Islamic artists have made huge contributions to furthering the understanding of Islamic culture and religion.
Some may view bringing Islamic art into one’s home as inviting argument and conflict. Narrow minded people may view Islam as the enemy of the West. However more and more Westerners are coming to the understanding that Islam is not the enemy of the West, but rather a potential partner and friend.
Art has been a powerful tool in aiding the West to come to this conclusion. Through art of all varieties, Westerners are able to learn about not only the Islamic which may differ from many of ours, but also about the areas where we have something in common.
There are so many contemporary Islamic arts and ways to incorporate it in to a Western home. Of course, the immediate thought one has when the word ‘art’ is mentioned, is probably visual art. Painters like Ali Omar Ermes, an Islamic artist based in the United Kingdom, introduce Western eyes to the beauty of Arabic lettering. Ermes work is significant in it’s exploration of the beauty of the written word or symbol. Writing, in the Islamic tradition, is highly regarded for its’ aesthetic beauty, and often utilized in architecture for its’ decorative effects, in addition to its’ simple meaning. Noura Sadaka, a Dubai-based talent, paints, draws and creates unique wooden and metal sculptures through which she tries to communicate the many ambiguities and struggles of being a woman caught between both Western and Islamic identities. Noura is typical of many contemporary Arabic artists in this way. So many Islamic creators have shed new understanding about the ways in which many of the Islamic community feel great ties, love and respect for their peers in the West. Contrary to initial beliefs about Islam being the West’s enemy, such artists bring to light a much more complex and subtle truth about the relationship between Islamic peoples and their Western counterparts.
Visual art is definitely not the only way to bring Islamic creativity into one’s abode. We may not normally think of magazines, television and the internet as sources of fine art – so often it is full of mindless content that could not be qualified as creative, by any stretch of the imagination. However, television shows like PBS’s ART: 21, magazines like Brown Book and a variety of modern websites are exposing the West to Islamic artists whose work not only delights the senses; it also educates and helps expound understanding. Even the HBO series, Def Poetry Jam, did much to change stereotypes of Islam, by showcasing young, Islamic slam poets, especially in the early years which followed the terrorist attacks.
It is clear that Islamic art has an essential function in furthering human understanding and connection. It is a bridge to create a dialogue when the traditional means are inadequate to express the subtle complexity of thoughts, emotions and ideas which drive us. By exploring the meaning an essence of things beyond their physical form, Islamic artists communicate sometimes unique, sometimes universal ideas about the spiritual questions with which all human beings grapple, regardless of their particular faith. For these reasons and more, Islamic art can hold a vital place in the context of a Western home – expanding dialogue and understanding and, ultimately, promoting more peace and tolerance.