My Individual Blog

AI 54
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Introduction to Blog:

Filed under: Uncategorized May 9, 2014 @ 3:53 am

Coming into this class with no prior exposure to Islam, I remember two of the first things that I learned in this class, one being that there are 99 names of god and secondly about the Shahada. Each of these 99 names for Allah represented a quality and attribute of god. The Shahada is the declaration of the oneness of god and the acceptance of Muhammad as his prophet. I feel that my experience with my blog post has been a journey, as I remained trying to wrap my head around god simultaneously being in everything, which is the impression I got at first from him having so many names and qualities, while at the same time just being “one.” I became particularly fascinated with the relationship between good and a human individual. What was this relationship like? To what extent was Allah to be feared? Exalted? Submitted to? These are all questions that I found myself wondering about quite a bit. Throughout the semester, I placed particularly close attention in readings and discussions, and attempted to explore this relationship of the individual and god as well the relationship between the individuals and the Islamic religion as a whole through my blog post and responses.

Many of my projects revolve around where and how an individual could go about finding god. It seemed to me that you could find him all around, but that at the same time these was some sort of journey associated with “experiencing” the divine. Many of the pieces that we saw in class illuminated that god could be found everywhere, in nature, in all that is good, in the light for example. I found this communication between the Muslim and god and the power dynamics throughout time and culture created by those who mediated this communication (such as Imams and rulers) is something that I highlight in my blog. Because I wanted to explore the relationship between the divine and the Muslim individual, I also considered how institutionalized religion changed the experience an individual had with the religion. However most of my efforts focus on the individual and god and the dynamics of this relationship.

I noticed that a big part of my experience learning about Islam and ways of expressing it through art in whatever context was to show love and respect for god. What then is the role of the individual in the world as a part of the religion? The Shahada for me appeared to clearly separate god from humans in some ways. I saw God was higher, much higher than humans. Since for many the goal is always to be more like the prophet Muhammad, the perfect human, to attain enlightenment and a relationship with god, then it must mean that as a Muslim you are the other when it comes to god, or the Muslim in other words is something different from god. I play with this idea in my blog post. I enjoyed through my own artwork, emphasizing this “journey” to experience the divine. Was this journey one to perfect the self? Well, I will return to this idea of the journey later in my introduction. Additionally, another theme that inspired many of my pieces is how Muslims communicate with god and with themselves within the religion. Some of my pieces highlight and discuss the importance of communicating with god. I wanted to explore how personal and natural this interaction and communication between the individual and god could be.

Throughout the course I also appreciated learning about different interpretations of Islam across time and cultures. I was fascinated by the adaptability of the religion in different environments. I enjoyed the cultural studies approach because I feel that it is crucial to take context into account when trying to learn and study Islam. Ultimately, what is going on during a specific time and place for a person and group determine a lot about how they interpret, practice and experience religion and spiritualism. It was beautiful to see how the same religion could manifest itself so differently in different context and I really hope that my blog pieces convey my wonder and respect for this quality of the religion. I thought a lot about how many rituals went into practicing the religion and how because of this quality, it might be important for Islam to incorporate itself seamlessly into someone’s life, culture and everyday customs. We can see another example of the seamlessness of the incorporation of religion into daily life and environment through the architecture of the mosques that used local materials and methods to blend in with the surroundings.

I gathered throughout the course that Islam really values the individual. It appears to go beyond asking of Muslims to only praise god and pray or in other words, to just go through the rituals. Through the many pieces I read in this course, I realized that Islam does not have to be in contrast or direct opposition with individual freedom. By individual values I mean things such as education, knowledge, activism, revolution, and social justice. It is refreshing to consider the idea that not only can both Islamic values and individual values coexist, but also they complement each other. The religion seems to value the individual instead of only focusing on his role as a devotee to Allah. Through my pieces I want to convey the sense that one way to think of the religion is as one in which the individual is empowered and has power to engage herself in all things good. For me, this was very important to convey in my blog because as someone learning about Islam for the first time, I came into the class with the idea that Islam and religion in general are oppressive and attempt to limit and “blindfold individuals.” On the contrary, I discovered that it could be viewed as allowing one to connect to him, nature, different dimensions, and new possibilities of truths. These things are all things greater than us.

In my projects I explore revolutionary Islamic art and movements expressed using Islamic values and how this sparked conversations within an individual. Many of my pieces explore the role of Islamic values and an individual’s relationship with Allah. I felt, toward the end of the class, that many aspects and interpretations of Islam encourage the individual to be not only an active member in his or her religious community, but in the larger context of the world as well, to stand up for others and treat others as equals and copies of themselves. Again personally this was something very different from what the ignorant me came into this class thinking: that religion wants individuals to be passive and submissive. I realize I could not have been more wrong and I hope I get this idea across in my artwork and responses.

Overall my projects combine all these themes to mainly focus on the individual and god as being one. I experimented with the idea of portraying the individual, not as having faith or devotion, but as actually being faith. I want to think of the individual not as being Muslim, but as being Islam itself, which is an idea that we talked about in class. Portraying the journey to experience god as an inner journey instead of an exterior journey was also a goal of my blog pieces. I played with the idea of nothing being secular because Islam could seamlessly become a part of your daily life, and thus everything was Islam and you, at the same time.

I experimented in many of my pieces using reflections. I wanted the individual to have conversations with himself through journal entries. Also, in some pieces I used mirrors to show Islamic values of individualism and to show a person seeing him or herself, and through that, seeing god at the same time. I really wanted to blur the lines in my artwork between what defines Islam, who was the divine and who was the individual because the way I first interpreted was not so clear cut. What I wanted to convey was that for a Muslim he is god and god is he. This has been a message that many of the Ghazals have expressed. For example, my favorite example is the reference to Jamshid’s cup in Ghazal 24 where one is looking for this special cup which the heart has the whole time. Similarly, many of my pieces show how individuals seek feelings of fulfillment and signs of the divine, when in reality; god is all around them and all with-in them.

Going back to Shahada and the 100 names of god, one way which I made sense of these 2 ideas in the blog when trying to reconcile the experience was that these qualities of god are what an individual should aspire to become by looking with in through a very personal and internal journey within themselves to finally experience the divine.

It was very important to me to use different materials and play with different time periods and adopt with different points of views and medias in my creative post. I wanted to play a lot with interpreting discussion from different points of views in order to appreciate the different dimensions of possible interpretations, another theme with-in the class. Finally, in my own pieces, I wanted to embody this quality and leave room for different interpretations of my own works.

This class have really given me the tools, inspiration and space to think out of the box and think critically about Islam This process has made me very curious about different aspects and interpretations of parts of the religion. I am by no means an expert on the religion so my statements and readings are very personal.

 

Enjoy J

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Conference of the Birds Dance Rendition

Filed under: Uncategorized May 9, 2014 @ 12:49 am

Conference Of the Birds

For this piece I recorded a dance rendition of Farid Attar’s “The Conference of the Birds” to Kanye West’s “Runaway.” I chose to record in a dance studio in order to have access to the mirrors. The dancers start out all doing different things and are meant to look very confused and sad. One of the dancers was assigned the role of the Hoopoe, leading the others through learning different dances (and physically teaching them 7 different dance moves that represent the 7 valleys that the birds in the poem must overcome.) I try to depict the Hoopoe as a very insightful and wise bird that is very good at calming the fears of the other bird dancers. As the song goes on, I wanted to show that the birds become more and more united gradually, by directing them to move together and dance in sync. Finally, the birds reach enlightenment, which I represent with the part of them connecting with themselves through the mirrors. In the final part of the dance, at the end of the spiritual journey, the birds are mesmerized and fulfilled as they realize that what they were looking for (like the birds in the story who were looking for the king) could be found in their collective selves. Mirrors were an important part of my idea for this piece because in the poem, at the end, the birds realize that what they were looking for was within all along. And not with- out. Throughout the course, as a dancer, I have been very intrigued by self-expression through dance as well.

In conclusion, in my piece I wanted to convey inner self-discovery of god and truth and highlight the strength of the spiritual and individual journey of the Islamic doctrine using mirrors.

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Mirrors

Filed under: Uncategorized May 8, 2014 @ 1:35 am

SultanaJlo

 

Here, I created a composite image of a scene from Puerto Rican pop artist Jennifer Lopez’s new video “ I love you Papi,” and a picture of the front cover of a version of the Bengali science fiction short story “ Sultana’s dream,” by Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain which we read in class. Despite the fact that both pieces are of different medias, and are created by different women from different ethnicities and time periods, I saw many similarities between the themes that the two artists were trying to convey. The parallel approach that each artist chose, was meant to surprise the audience, and as a result gets their message across very efficiently. Through shocking role reversals, both pieces expose the stark inequalities that women face in society. The reason why I chose to seamlessly overlap these images representing each piece, onto an image of mirrors reflecting light, is because both pieces aim to accomplishes their goal by reversing roles and forcing men and women to see the truth in reflection, or in other words, forcing them to see themselves in the other sex.

 

After doing a little research about how each piece came about, I learned that Sultana wrote the story to practice her English, which her husband had taught her, since she came from a very conservative family. After she showed him the book, he laughed and said that it was a sweet revenge on her part as a woman. Similarly, Jennifer Lopez expresses in an interview about the video, that her producers and directors felt uncomfortable as they were shooting the video scenes where instead of women being objectified, as sexual decoration as is the trend with-in her industry, women were instead in the position of power treating men as sexual objects. Even through the creation of each piece, there are tensions between the sexes as a result of the role reversals and “ the light was too much for them to bear.”

 

In Hussain’s feminist utopia, an army of women scientist win a war against men by using mirrors that reflected light toward the men: “the light was too much for the men to bear,” she writes. After the women won the war, they forced men to stay indoors while women ran a successful world. Analogously, there is a scene in Jennifer Lopez video where she uses a camera and “flips over the screen” to take pictures of the men that reminded me a lot of what “Sultana’s dream” does with the mirrors, which is to flip the roles in her imaginary world.

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Dusting off

Filed under: Uncategorized May 8, 2014 @ 1:33 am

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My Art piece was inspired by Muhammad Iqbal’s poem “ Complaint and answer.” The background of the piece is a picture of a dust storm that is supposed to be cause by the words coming out of a mouth which I drew in with pencil.

After reading and talking about both poems, I was very interested in revisiting the complaint after reading the answer. In the complaint the speaker expresses the faith crisis of him and his people. He uses very strong language to express his confusion and disappointment over why god is helping “them” (referring to the non-muslim westerners) and “ us,” the devout Muslims. In the complaint the speaker expresses his feelings of powerlessness and frustration in a very aggressive and powerful way. It was very surprising for me, as I bet it was for the audience of the time for whom Idbal wrote the poem for, to see poetry used in this way. Here, at first glance, it seems that the poetry was used to complain to god, rather than to exalt him as we’ve seem poetry used throughout the course in the different ghazals where poetry seems analogous with prayer. It seems very controversial to me for someone to speak “against” god using poetry. I wanted to convey this by using a sand storm and superimposing a drawing of a mouth and words on top.

 

Through my piece I choose to highlight a phrase found at the beginning of the complaint that reads “dust fills my tongue/against Allah I make complaint.” I chose to depict this phrase using a dust storm and the act of someone speaking out for two reasons. The first of these two reasons is because I think of art, such as this piece that speaks out, as one stirring tradition and society like a dust or sand storm, disrupting the current order of things. This piece takes a risk and shows the power of voicing an individual’s opinion through art, specially against god who is supposed to be always right.

 

The second reason has to do with god’s response and what I feel Iqbal’s message has been through the compilation of the complaint and answer. In his answer god expresses that Muslims are being punished while other non-Muslim Jews are being rewarded because Muslims have lost their way, they have become stagnant. He urges Muslims to be more like the Jews because they are devoted to their religion and synonymously place high importance on knowledge, education, progress and nurturing their minds as individuals. God responds that Muslims are asleep, falling behind. They are dusty and stationary, lacking energy and vitality. This answer in combination with the complaint portion of the poem shows Iqbals’ message that Islam is progress and pushes the nurturing the individual mind. He shows that modernism and Islam are not two contradicting ideas and cant exist together. In conclusion, through my piece I wanted to play with this idea of Muslims waking up and dusting off and being fresh and active minds. The way they can do this is by blowing away the dust!

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Persepolis

Filed under: Uncategorized May 8, 2014 @ 1:32 am

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One of my favorite stories in the class so far has been the comic novel, Persepolis: Story of a childhood. I really enjoy the medium through which the story is told, which is through an autobiographical comic novel. The story is told through the voice and eyes of a child. For me, this approach was very touching, personal, and effective. It was the first time in the course which not only did I see a revolution through the eyes of a child, but the first time that I connected with a character and with their personal relationship with god. My favorite part of the novel, which I hope to have captured in my piece is the part where Persepolis says, “I really didn’t know what to think about the veil. Deep down, I was very religious, but as a family we were very modern and avant garde.” The illustration that goes with this line is one where an image of her is divided into two parts, one that represents religion and respect for traditions, and one that represents education and progressivism and modernism. It seemed that before religion became enforced and institutionalized, Persepolis felt whole as an individual, like she could be both modern and devoutly religious. Persepolis goes on to talk about how she was born with religion and had a very intimate relationship with Allah. She convinces me that she is not only a passive Muslim, but also one that wants to take an active role in her faith. An example of this is when she innocently dreams to be a prophet. To Persepolis and the author, the Individual is Islam and Islam is the Individual. I loved the message that I got from the story: that Islam is equality and social justice, and that each person must take an active role in Social Justice and religion and these two things compliment each other very well.

 

Through my piece I want to convey the inner conflict within Persepolis, which I really identified with. I wrote a journal entry from the point of view of young Persepolis. I ripped a page out of my own journal (to try to make it more authentic and real), and tried to write with the handwriting of a child and put myself in her shoes. To be honest, this was very difficult for me as I found myself reverting to my own writing style throughout. In other words the creation itself seemed like a journey for me, trying to fit into someone else’s shoes to convey a message.

 

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Calligraphy on Roses

Filed under: Uncategorized March 27, 2014 @ 1:19 am

My Calligraphy piece was inspired by the importance of the Quran as an eternal text in preserving God’s message. In addition, I hoped to emphasize the central role that Karim (generosity) which I symbolize using flowers, as well as Dhikr (Remembrance, usually involving the recitation), which I symbolize in the preservation of the flowers and the calligraphy symbol of the name of god in the center. In my piece, I also hope to convey, as M.Sells suggests in his Introduction to Approaching the Quran, the idea that “The Quran refers to itself as a reminder to humankind.” (pg 40).

 

The background made of natural elements (preserved roses and flowers) attempts to give life and meaning to the Calligraphic text that reads Allah in Arabic. This idea to use actual materials from everyday life like roses, was inspired by the fact that central to Islamic everyday life is the Quran and Allah, who are preserved, eternal, present, beautiful and alive to Muslims, like the flowers. From what we have learned in class and the readings, the Quran is so much more than a sacred text to Muslims; it is a powerful and beautiful preservation of the word of god revealed to the prophet Muhammad, just like the flowers, a preserved symbol of love. In using preserved flowers, which symbolize love, gentleness, and kindness, instead of another natural material to create the background, I attempted to capture the importance of Karim “generous hero,” a primary Quranic value and popular name of god to many Muslims (M. Sells).  At the right bottom of my calligraphy I put the symbol for “Al-Karim,” which translates to “the generous one.” Finally, commonly, people preserve flowers in books. The Quran is a text, a book, preserving the flower that is the word of god, one that is gentle, generous, powerful, and beautiful.

 

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Collage:Change for or by the beggars?

Filed under: Uncategorized March 26, 2014 @ 1:08 am

 

 

I made a collage inspired by the piece Aminata Sow Fall’s “ The Beggar’s Strike.” I used black and white pictures of money, change, and hands. I was very interested in Zakat, one of the five pillars that states that it is mandatory for Muslims to give alms, or charity to the poor. The author illuminates the important role of the beggars in this West African society and ultimately, the importance of having a social structure, where some are at the bottom of the social ladder. With out the beggars, there are no hands; basically there is no one to give the change to, no Zakat, no way of purifying yourself (which is what Zakat translates to). I tried to highlight this idea in my collage by putting a lot of hands and pictures of beggars and money on the left side of the collage and no hands on the right to show a contrast. The collage has a light green background, I chose this color because it symbolizes nature, or in my piece the natural order of things in this society, where Muslims can give their change to the beggars who hang around on the street. You cannot see much of the green, until, after (my collage is to be followed from left to right as a narration of the events in the story) there is some red. Red is in direct contrast to the green,; the color red in my piece symbolizes protest, the beggar’s strike, and change. As you move toward the right, passing the red, there is more green, no pictures of hands, only money in a circle, and abstract patterns. Only after the beggars leave, do people start to realize how crucial they are to society and Islam’s Zakat: only after the red (protest or a change in the order of things) can we see and appreciate the green (what makes up the natural order of society, basically the beggars).

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Merengue For Muhammad

Filed under: Uncategorized March 25, 2014 @ 11:43 pm

 

Merengue for Mustafa

This piece is a merengue song; merengue is the native music of the Dominican Republic (where I am originally from.) I was inspired by one of the videos on the i-sites: Music video Yu Mustafa “O Chosen One” by Sami Yusuf (English-Turkish) and many of the reading expressing devotion to the prophet Muhammad and his family (Salawat.) After reading the discussion readings from week 4, especially the Turkish poem, I was interested in the important role that Muhammad plays in the daily lives of Muslim’s and how they incorporate Salawat into their local art. This sparked my interest, in combination with both the Movie on architecture, and Necipoglu’s views on the origins and meanings of Islamic architecture being influenced by the context and local culture immensely.

I translated some of the lyrics of the video on the i-sites to Spanish, the language that most people speak in the Dominican Republic. I did some research on Islam in the country and found that there is a small but growing population in the Capital, Santo Domingo, and 4 existing Mosques in which prayers are led in Spanish. I didn’t find any “Islamic art” in the Dominican Republic while researching online, so I created what I imagined could it could be. Merengue and music in general are integral to Dominican culture. In my piece, I used an important aspect of the Dominican Republic, merengue, to imagine how it could be used to express devotion to the prophet.