Journeying to God
The time of Hajj is upon us, the ultimate pilgrimage, expected of us at least once in our lifetime. Whether we make the physical journey or not, it is incumbent on us to reflect upon the ultimate journey through life towards God.
In the Spotlight
The artist Idris Khan studied fine art at the Royal College of Art and was recently awarded an OBE. His work is based on references to art, music, literature and weighted with religious or philosophical symbolism. An earlier work ‘The Creation’ was influenced by the classical composer Hayden and his musical rendition of the same name. Hayden was known to have found this work difficult to achieve and used his religious practice to give him the strength to complete it. And it is this feeling of religious fervour which is often referenced in his work.
Khan’s work, for the most part, is abstract minimalism, a contradiction in terms when one considers the potency of his use of appropriation and metaphor in relation to other works of art that he often refers to. With his layering of symbols and meaning his work invariably adheres to a monochromatic palette or earthy muted tones, something that reminds me of the visual language of Anselm Keifer and Pierre Soulages.
Of Islamic heritage, Khan’s work reflects his responses to art in the main. A recent piece was influenced by his late mother’s favourite piece of music. Another reflects his thoughts on mark making. What distinguishes Khan from many artists of Islamic heritage is his ability to adeptly move from secular notions to religious symbolism.
Whatever the subject matter, his work is conveyed through layers, an aesthetic which he uses whether working in photography or with charcoal. And it is this layering that adds an indubitable depth to his art making by providing a reflection of the many moments, thoughts and actions that make up each finished piece.
‘Seven Times’ also follows the same theme of layering but in an isolating form with the use of multiples. It is made up of 144 steel cubes evenly spaced across the floor to reflect the exact footprint of the Ka‘ba in Makkah. Like the Ka‘ba, each cube is inscribed with Arabic, repeated words superimposed on one another five times to reflect the daily prayers. The words themselves are a metaphor for the wearing away of the steel on which they reside and by which they weave a tale of the power of words to overcome hardness.
Khan’s installation is a pastiche of artist Carl Andre’s work; Graphite Silence, which is graceful in its referencing, intelligent and in its development of an idea. If art is the opportunity to convey ideas then Khan deserves credit for the brilliance of his conceptualisation.
“When you really think about it we start on the floor, then we stand then walk. So when I make art, I just return to where I started.” – Carl Andre
The artist Carl Andre has changed the way we think about art. The American sculptor, born in 1935, is known for defining the minimalism art form. His work, made up of elements, is calculated and precise and has, in the past, been criticised for not having a creative quality.
As an artist, Andre’s practice begins with an idea and unlike other artists Andre does not feel that he needs to manipulate the material in order to be recognised as the artist of the piece. He believes observation of the material placed in a space qualifies the work as art and him as an art maker.
“Works of art don’t mean anything, they are realities. My work is an expression of some of my earliest experiences.” – Carl Andre
Open again after a major refurbishment, the gallery showcased the work of British and international artists including Ai Weiwei last summer.
The gallery has just announced a three-year programme of exhibitions, commissions and cultural exchange between the gallery and 10 art organisations in the North of England and South Asia. The collaboration will celebrate the shared heritage across continents and develop artistic talent as well as encourage the commissioning and exhibits of artists from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the UK to new in Colombo, Dhaka, Lahore, Karachi, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.
This Art Network marks a new way of building bridges across cultures and a new approach to engagement in the arts for public, practitioner and patron alike.
The installation ‘Seven Times’ by Idris Khan was on display at the Whitworth earlier this year.
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This astrolabe is typical of the first-rate productions of the celebrated ‘Abd al-‘Ali of Isfahan in the late Safavid period, c. 1680-c. 1715. This is one of the smaller astrolabes made by the pair, who are best known for the monumental astrolabe which they made for Shah Hussayn and which is now in the British Museum. At least five other works bearing the name of ‘Abd al-‘Ali are known.
The rete is a particularly fine piece, with approximately 40 star-pointers. There is a gazetteer for 73 localities on the mater with the longitudes and latitudes, and also the directions and distances to Makkah.
The data was compiled near Samarqand in the fifteenth Century and was incorporated on Safavid astrolabes in different arrangements, the back bears standard markings: a trigonometric quadrant; a solar quadrant showing solar meridian altitudes for latitudes 28-40 and solar altitudes in the direction of Mecca for Baghdad, Tabriz, Qazvin, Isfahan, Astarabad, yazd, Meshed, Shiraz and Herat; a double shadow square and tables listing the twenty-eight solar mansions and giving basic astrological information. (Text courtesy of Christie’s)
My Favourite things
On the theme of Journeying towards God, the poetry of Mawlana Jalal Ud-Din Rumi has always inspired me. I was recently asked to share a poem that had had a lasting impact on my life, and his poem ‘The Reed’s Song’ came to mind. It tells the story of a reed being separated from the reed bed and living a life of yearning to be returned to its source. For me, life is that, a journey back to our true source. And as cautious awareness is a valid aspect of the spiritual journey, I felt that this poem ‘Be Suspicious of Your Self’ was appropriate as a reminder of our accountability along life’s journey.
Be Suspicious of Your Self
Everything you do has a quality
which comes back to you in some way.
Every action takes a form in the invisible world.
which may be different from how you thought
it would appear. A crime is committed,
and a gallows behind to be built. One does not
look like the other, but they correspond.
Accept the results of what you’ve done in anger,
or for greed, or to elevate your ego. Don’t blame
fate! That dog lies in the kennel
and will not respond to anyone’s calling.
Be suspicious of your self! Inquire
about your hidden motives. It takes courage
to repent, and more courage to change.
But realise this: just as dust grains shine
in the sunlight coming through the window,
so there’s a light of reality, within which ideas,
hidden hypocrisies, and the qualities
of every action become clear. All you’ve done
and will do, will be seen in the light of that sun.