Islamic Art: Redoing the Alamo Nonviolently?

A trip up to San Antonio where I stopped to visit the Jameel Prize exhibit of Islamic art currently showing at the San Antonio Museum of Art.   Most of the art was quite deep.  There was a piece by an Egyptian artist called “Bridge”.

102_2622It’s a paper mache made from Western and Arabic newspapers with little modules of the letter “I”.  The artist, Hazem el Mestakawy, is trying to build something out of interlocking identities.  The common plane (bottom) is also composed of “I”s – and one struggles to understand whether pattern is a natural consequence of building with an object with 2 planes of symmetry (indeed a point of inversion) with a space-filling requirement.  The other I’s which elevate from the common plane are chosen asymmetrically, perhaps artistically.  Not all the same height, they form a bridge to elevation or visibility?   Furthermore, none of the “I”s is self-standing, the third dimension of the piece does not derive from the common plane through any property of the common plane, but rather from “the artist” alone.  The I is, and remains, subject even with elevation.

There was another piece by a Pakastani artist that was quite compelling from a cross-cultural point of view.  The artist, Aisha Khalid, hand-painted a bilingual ledger showing the way the rules are different on each side of the page, and included reflections on hierarchy and language.

102_2618She calls the piece “Name, Class, Subject”.  The rather massive tome, however, remains blank, as if waiting for both student and teacher to manifest with something documentably meaningful in a bilingually hierarchical context.  The artful protest of silence.

And then, there were some more paintings reflecting both despair and dualism.  The Iraqi artist, Hayv Kahraman, displays in two paintings connected identities – each almost identical, but slightly different with low resolution points of inversion.  These she calls migrants.

In artistic context, some of her migrant paintings have the 2 joined identities interacting in some way.  In this female painting, the woman who may be trying not to hang herself subjugates the blind woman whose hands are tied.   The subjugated woman is no longer threatened with hanging by gravity, but  still has a noose around her neck.  Both of them remain one.


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