Nov 29, 2011

REVIEW | Without Boundary, Fereshteh Daftari, MOMA, 2006

Without Boundary, Fereshteh Daftari, MOMA, 2006

Islamic, or not?

Burka, Keffieh, Jihad.  Are you familiar with these terms?

Again, Islamic, or not?

That is an interesting question that the book Without Boundary questions.  This book is an examination of the work that is called contemporary Islamic art.  Without Boundary takes a look at the formal aspect of historic Islamic art along with the identity of Islamic art and the faith that is Islam.  The book takes a poignant look at the artists and their work and how they have made strides to separate themselves from the misconceptions about Islam.

Now I know that it is probably a heated debate to step into when talking about anything Islamic in the United State, or religion in general, but that is why I was drawn to this book in the first place.  I myself am a fairly religious person.  I cling on to my Christian faith because of the peace it gives me and the fact that I want to be an example of Christ to others.  Oddly enough at the same time I despise those others of the same faith who set a horrible example to the non-Christians of the world.  So naturally I was drawn to a book that would showcase works that are based on faith, history, and religion from a large portion of the world that is also deeply connected to their faith.

Shahzia Sikander.  Pleasure Pillars.  2001.  Mixed Media, 12" x 10"

In the book Without Boundary the works of several contemporary artists are looked at in an exhibition that was held in 2006 at MOMA.  The show and the book concentrate on the work from a point of view on how our origins affect our art and how we change as we move from the central locations of our upbringing.  The works of Mona Hatoum, Shirin Neshat, Shahzia Sikander, Kutlug Ataman, and Y.Z. Kami along with several others were setup to document the Diasporas of contemporary Islamic art from the point of view of individuals who have moved to places such as London, New York, and Paris. 

The art in this series takes the standard view of Middle Eastern art away from the typically seen works that involve straight calligraphy, carpet making, and the painting of miniatures.  The artists are seen from a different point of view in which they employ photography, video, painting, and mixed media to render their own view of Islam.  From the introduction, author Fereshteh Daftari says….

            We often think of artists in terms of their origins, even when much of their life and work takes place elsewhere.  This is problematic with artists from the Islamic world, particularly in light of the intense attention currently directed toward Islam from the West. 

I feel that we as the “West” have set a poor example in taking real steps toward trying to understand Islam, its customs and its people.  If we hear that a person is of Islam or mention anything Muslim, we tend to write them off as being part of the same fundamental, fanatic group as those we fear and hate.  If you know what a burka is, then you probably are familiar with the issues of women’s rights in Islam.  A burka being the most covering of the face veils worn by Islamic women has been shunned in many countries as being too degrading for women, and places such as France have even gone so far as to ban the burka because it is too oppressive and conceals people’s intent too well.  In the book there is an exquisite piece by Jananne Al-Ani(half Irish, half Iraqi) that depicts these veils by showcasing some of the women in her family in which some are wearing the veil, then they switch and those covered are revealed to look almost as ordinary Anglo women.  Oppressive though the veils may seem, in the various regions that make up Islamic culture the veil can have many meanings.  Although hijab (the Islamic code of modest dress) can seem restrictive, the veil can signify colonial or secular resistance, it can be neutral, or it can just be a simple expression of faith.

Jananne Al-Ani.  Untitled 1 and 2.  1996.  Photographs, 47 1/4" x 70 7/8"

Many of the featured artists use random subject matter to push themselves away from their Islamic background.  Kutlug Ataman uses everything in his artwork.  From Turkish opera singers to moth-collectors, he incorporates people’s lives and stories into his work to depict their unusual and interesting take on the world.  The painter Y.Z. Kami paints the souls of his subjects whether they are Islamic, Hindi, or Christian.  Marjane Satrapi has made a comic book called Persepolis that depicts her childhood growing up Islamic and trying to break out of the typical identity that goes along with it after going to schools in Paris.  The list goes on and on, and the book Without Boundary does a really good job of breaking down the artist’s stories and intentions in too short a format.  Half the book is writing and the other half is the picture of the work in brilliant, large colorful photographs.  The writing takes you into an in depth look at the artists and their cultural upbringings how they have evolved as artists.

Kutlug Ataman.  Beautiful No. 1.  2003.  Video Installation, DVD Player, LCD Flat-Panel, 17" X 19"

As an artist myself, I try also to convey my own messages and beliefs in my work.  I can relate to the artists in the series very well because there is a desire to get around preconceived, misconceived notions about religion and faith.  As Homi Bhabha writes:

            The age of terror that seems to have settled upon us like a chemical cloud disfigures our pictorial vision and encloses us in a harrowing chamber.  It is difficult, in the West at least, to invoked “Islamic” images without calling up the Abu Ghraib album, the televised beheading of an American businessman, and many other entries in the musée macabre of war and terror.

The artists in this book help to separate our schema on Islam from the personal intentions of the artists and how the world views Islam.  It allows us to see their work and their desires in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to envision due to our own blindness by customs and traditions.  I hope that others will read this book and try to find other books about artists from different cultures, religions, and customs and not allow fears and fanaticism to keep them from embracing the people who seek them out in good faith.

Shirin Neshat.  Untitled.  1996.  RC Print and ink, 47 7/8" x 33 3/4"

-James perkins


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