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Week 4: Response to “Myths and Legends of the Swahili”

In the reading titled “Myths and Legends of the Swahili,” the Prophet describes  his ascent to heaven, the Isra and Mi’raj. In between descriptions of the layers of heaven, the reading also painted images of hell. Descriptions of hell included “Fire was flaming in their intestines, their hearts were smouldering, and sparks flew out of their mouths” (Knappert 77). I found it incredibly interesting that the idea of punishment was so crucial to express to readers that Muhammad (PBUH) was shown the fires during his trip to God and the heavens. It made me wonder whether God was to be fear, or if punishment is depicted independent of God himself, or if it was a combination of both.

During our discussion section, this portion of the text was heavily discussed. For many, including myself, it was incredibly disturbing. Growing up whenever I heard of  hell, the first image that appeared in my mind was fire. The concept of hell fire was something emphasized by my Sunday school teacher and my mother. My mother described to me how the hell fire would stick to your flesh as you attempted to make up missed prayers in hell, how the fire would create a pain much worse than a burn on Earth. Though this description was terrifying, it pales in comparison to Swahili depiction of hell. In the hell described in this writing, the women who were unchaste or cheated on their husbands were actively hurting themselves. Opening themselves up, ripping out their intestines, in addition to feeling the burn of the fire itself. 

For my artistic response to this piece I decided to portray the common denominator in many different depictions of hell — punishment for sins with fire. I have a sheet of paper with haram written on it that is burning in fire. The idea is that any action that is haram or a sin is to be punished in the fires of hell. I decided against using actual phrases in the Qu’ran that are forbidding actions because I did not want the piece to appear to be burning the Qu’ran and be offensive. I used oil paint paper which was strong and would not warp. I ripped the edges to make it look like aged paper and then stained it with teabags to add to the aged effect. I painted the fire and the portions of paper that are almost in an “ash” like state with oil paint and used linseed oil for the medium. I had a lot of difficulty transporting the piece as linseed oil does not dry very quickly and this caused for some of the paint to smudge. If I were to do this over again I would consider using Liquin as a medium as it supposedly dries quickly.




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