Saturday 12 December 2009

Promoting Islamic cosmopolitanism through the arts

This week's newsletter has two items on artistic initiatives seeking to promote a cosmopolitan take on the Islamic heritage.

In Berlin Ha'atelier - Platform for Philosophy and Arts is involved in the exhibition TASWIR -- pictorial mappings of modernity and islam, organised in conjunction with Berliner Festspiele. In an interview with Qantara reporter Nimet Seker, the platform's director Almut Sh. Bruckstein Çoruh -- who is also curating the exhibition --explains that:

'the exhibition renounces any "regional" definition of what is "Islamic." It is not chronologically ordered. In no sense does the exhibition aim to provide a sketch of the history of so-called "Islamic art" from its beginnings through to the present day. And it is not conceived in terms of regions – the more than 50 participating artists are names on the international art scene. The exhibition doesn't try to show how contemporary artists from the so-called "Islamic world" come to grips with their own roots. It isn't meant to be a dialogue between cultures, which perhaps seems somewhat surprising'.

The exhibition's objective is to connect contemporary art with classical Islamic art, says Bruckstein:

'We posed the question as to the visual form of calligraphy. It manifests itself as one of the most paramount art forms, especially in valuable Koran manuscripts, Persian quatrains, and in Ottoman calligraphic arts. There is a visual dimension to the script. In the Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Istanbul, I saw Picasso's lithographic work for Pierre Reverdy's "Le Chant des Morts" and the question arose as to the connection between Picasso and the phenomenon of the line in Ottoman calligraphy. In the "Picasso and Koran" room, we are concerned with the phenomenon of the line in visual, acoustic, and melodic form'.

Through what it calls the workshop's 'encyclopedic curriculum', Ha'atalier seeks to pay special attention to cosmopolitan Jewish and Islamic traditions and create a 'portable pictorial atlas':

You can read the full interview with here. TASWIR is hosted by the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin until 18 January 2010. For more on contemporary art in the Muslim world see the earlier posts from 29 November 2008 and 24 January 2009.

The merging of Islamic and Jewish cultural influences is also explored in SIWAN, the new musical album resulting from a collaboration between Norwegian jazz pianist and composer Jon Balke and Moroccan-born Amina Alaoui, in which they try to capture 'the spirit of Al Andalus' or Medieval Muslim Spain.

'Behind this remarkable musical integration is a web of philosophical, historical, and literary interconnections, as Balke and Alaoui set texts from Sufi poets, Christian mystics, troubadours and more and – inspired by the tolerant and creative spirit of medieval Al-Andalus – ponder what was lost to the bonfires of the Inquisition. Setting new standards in transcultural music, Siwan shows what can be made today when artists of the most divergent background pool their energies'.

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