One L(ove)

November 22, 2008

Islamic Calligraphy & Abstract Expressionism

Filed under: Uncategorized — galileehitchhiker @ 9:16 pm
Ismail Gulgees Allah painting

Ismail Gulgee's "Allah" painting

After a long and tiring day full of classes, a friend of mine and I usually go down to the undergrad Muslim Students Association (MSA) room, which is a five minutes walking distance away from the law school. Its comfortable mattresses, cushions, chairs, and warmth (also the delicious gumballs!) provide a great sense of stability and calmness after being stuck inside what seems to be a neverending whirlpool. While sitting on the mattress with my back against the wall and talking to Usman (and chewing on six gumballs at a time), I kept observing a couple of beautiful artworks posted on the wall. Both of them were created by someone who went to Hofstra and showed his tremendous skill in classical Islamic calligraphy. I told Usman that I should become an Islamic calligraphist which made him laugh because I have the world’s worst handwriting. I joked to him about becoming the abstract expressionist of the Islamic calligraphy world. I’m afraid, however, that such a move on my part would lead me not to an art gallery, but to a shooting gallery instead.

I’m a huge fan of Islamic calligraphy and have developed a strong interest in it — not in creating of course but purely from an academic standpoint (viz., its development, cultural and societal influences/expression of the art form, the relationship between language and art, evolution of various scripts, etc.). To my pleasant surprise, there has been an Islamic calligraphist who has been impacted by abstract expressionism. The late Ismail Gulgee, a world-renowned Pakistani abstract artist, was influenced by both Islamic calligraphy and American gestural abstraction. I think that the marriage between the two, what seem to be polar opposites, is an interesting one. The union is between an art form which on one hand focuses on form while the other focuses on the inner expression of an existential struggle. The union of the two give such an artwork both the elegance of Islamic calligraphy and the lively, colorful, full-of-life, self-aware, intense emotions of action painting. While it seems like mixing the two art forms would lead to an incompatible/disastrous result, it is in fact a beautiful harmony between the calm and chaotic – an awe-inspiring moment between the rise and crashing of a wave. A conversation between the sacred and the profane; a dialogue between the spiritual and the concrete. A story of life told within and without it. For a brief discussion of Islamic calligraphy’s contact with modern art, check out this essay by the Met.

Currently listening to: The Velvet Underground – Loaded


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