Art Portfolio Items 4 & 5


Art Portfolio Item 4:

Art Portfolio Item 5:

My 4th and 5th portfolio items are part of a single piece. The two are meant to be compared and contrasted with one another. Together, they represent opposite parts of Islam that intend to convey the same message: purity. Item 4 focuses on legal doctrine and fundamentalism as “pure Islam” while item 5 draws attention to pluralism. The two works draw attention to the divide in local cultures of Islam. Item 4 represents the belief that culture should be stripped away and religious texts should be the central, defining component of Islam. Item 5 suggests that culture cannot be removed from Islam, nor should it be. The purity of Islam exists in the “coming together” of all the different cultures in which it is experienced. Where all the different interpretations of Islam intersect is the core of what it means to be Muslim. 

The comparison between these understandings of Islam was inspired by course material on the Serbian invasion of Bosnia. Michael Sells’ “Erasing Culture: Wahhabism, Buddhism, Balkan Mosques” discusses the role of Saudi Arabia in providing aid to Bosnia following the Serbian invasion. He explains that claiming to provide “reconstruction aid,” Gulf states along with Saudi Arabia bulldozed Bosnian monuments as part of a cultural war on Bosnian interpretations of Islam. As a condition for Saudi aid, Wahhabi groups were given control over Muslim monuments and sacral architecture during the reconstruction period. Classical Balkan Muslim interiors lost their distinct cultural taste. Instead of replicating the Islamic tradition stretching back to the 14th and 15th centuries, the Saudis created what has been referred to as “hospital white” boxes. The Wahhabi sect “sees all popular Islam (shrine veneration, local pilgrimages) as idolatry.” Anything that deviates away from the religious doctrine and hadith is seen as a deviation from Islam itself. Therefore, the Saudi government’s cultural battle in Bosnia was a concerted, state-funded effort to strip the country from its cultural past in order to promote strict adherence to the Saudi fundamental interpretation of Islam. 

Item 4 reflects the Saudi view. The piece has no colors besides black and white which corresponds to the legalistic approach used by Wahhabis in interpreting Islam. Islamic text is the centerpiece of the work surrounded by black. Nothing exists outside of the religious texts. Item 5 takes an opposite stance. There is no reference to religious texts. This is not to reject the importance of religious texts in Islam. Instead, it is meant to highlight the importance of other parts of Islam. It focuses on what religion looks like outside of doctrine, shifting the emphasis to religion in practice. 

Splatter paint was used because much like culture, it is spontaneous and does not follow strict guidelines. Sections mix with one another freely. Even destruction (depicted through red splatter paint that is covered in black spray paint) can demonstrate a country’s Islamic tradition. In Bosnia, the Saudi government had tombstones destroyed. Recognition of grief, death, and devastation are also important parts of a country’s history and its experiences with Islam. There is still religious meaning in those moments that contribute to the concept of Islamic purity. Within this interpretation, the Bosnian mosques and their figures and embellishments would not be seen as a violation of Islamic doctrine. Instead, they are an extension of Islam itself. The religion is not separate from the way it is experienced by society. The representations of Bosnian culture are an important part of the Islamic tradition, not just the religious texts and doctrine. 

Early education is an important part of formulating these opinions. The children’s video from China shown in class on October 17th is an example of the significance of early encounters with Islamic interpretations. The video teaches young Muslims that even though they live in a different culture with different Islamic symbols, they are just as much a part of the purity of Islam. For this reason, I tried to incorporate components of childhood into both works. The 4th piece relies on handwritten Quran as the centerpiece. In traditional Islamic schools, children are expected to memorize and recite the Quran. Writing out Quranic verses is a common memorization tool used by students. I chose to write my own name in the top corner of each paper using a child’s handwriting to make the papers look like an assignment submitted by a child (I used my regular handwriting to write the actual Quranic verses out of respect for the text). The pages are crumpled to show repetitive use and rehearsal. It also appears like something taken out of a young child’s backpack. The fifth piece uses colorful paints and glitter to give a childish feel to the work.


Michael Sells, “Erasing Culture: Wahhabism, Buddhism, Balkan Mosques” Turkish Times, Jan. 15, 2002.

Asani, Ali. “Islam in Local contexts;  introduction — Prophet as avatara” Gened 1087, 15 Oct. 2019, Harvard College.

Art Portfolio Item 3
Art Portfolio Item 6

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