Ubiquitous Voice

An artistic reply to "the Love of God and His Prophet"

Week 6: Mutual Magnification – The Art of Mosques and Cultural Fusion

Filed under: Uncategorized March 18, 2016 @ 9:39 pm

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(photography) In Topkapi Scroll, Gulru Necipoglu describes 19th-century Orientalist conceptions of architecture in the Muslim world, based on the “view that architecture and the decorative arts were determined by climate and racial character,” (Necipoglu 62). Intellectuals at the time observed what they characterized as a unique racial style of Arabs: “The innate spirituality and mysticism of the Arabs made them favor abstract ornaments capable of expressing transcendental beauty… The spiritual essence was embodied in the arabesque, with its rhythmically interlaced variants, vegetal, calligraphic, and geometric,” (Negipoglu 62). 

Modern understanding would, of course, dismiss the notion of racial propensities in art as pseudoscientific nonsense, but even the 19th century holds powerful examples of cultural blending that counteract these Orientalist claims that architectural styles necessarily reflect regional or racial predispositions. Necipoglu writes that “the European fascination with Islamic ornament had its roots in the medieval and Renaissance periods, [but] it reached its peak in the nineteenth century,” (Necipoglu 61). At just this time, here in the United States, Connecticut constructed its new and current state capitol, begun in 1871 and completed in 1878. The exterior features French architectural style with Victorian, Eastlake Movement influences, which allow it to harmonize with the architecture of a New England city. However, the interior decor is inspired by arabesque and mosque architecture, featuring pointed domes, rows of narrow pillars, and vegetative and geometric pattern designs. These Arabian-inspired features mingle artfully and compatibly with the building’s European influences, and despite Connecticut’s prevailing White/European majority, its cold and wet temperate climate, and its vast distance from Arabia (making the region and ethnic composition hugely different from that of Arabia), the arabesque-inspired features of Hartford’s capitol are well admired by Connecticut’s population and lend magnificence and authority to the state government without appearing foreign or out-of-place.

In my photography, I have aimed to depict these features so as to emphasize their resemblance to a mosque, for example by showing the light coming through the pointed arches and by showing the repetitiveness of the pillars and resulting allusion of space or infinity. This cultural and artistic harmony serves to discredit the Orientalist claims described by Necipoglu, since the art manages to suit the regional character and traditions using elements originating from a very different cultural region.

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