Tuesday, January 15, 2013

He who holds Paradoxes and the IMA Islamic art exhibit

The past few days have seemed quite culturally rich, and a blur.
I felt like sharing!

I still had a free pass to see the special exhibit at the IMA:

BEAUTY and BELIEF: Crossing Bridges with
The Arts of Islamic Culture

The exhibit was ending in only a few days, and I knew I wanted to see it, especially after a friend posted some (covertly taken) photos of ASTROLABES in the exhibit - and Dave and I both got very excited about the ASTROLABES, because we watch WAREHOUSE 13… and if you watch WAREHOUSE 13, you know what we are talking about! If you don’t watch Warehouse 13, the simplest explanation I can provide is that in the show, a special astrolabe was used as a very potent and very dangerous supernatural tool to reverse time and potentially released a terrible evil into the world.
Ahhh… the joys of science fiction and fantasy - they inspire us to get excited by and learn more about things in our own physical and natural world.

Astrolabes are very complex mathematical devices used for navigation and locating astronomical objects, and in the Islamic world, could be used to locate the Qibla direction and the specific times to pray.
They image I’m sharing is from about 1400, but they were also around as early as the 900s.

Astrolabe of Jean Fusoris, made in Paris, 1400
Check out the Wikipedia page for more info - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrolabe

I was compelled to share this because I am FASCINATED by early complexities, the use of mathematical devices as WELL as ANCIENT ROBOTIC SCIENCE … aka: AUTOMATA… One of the displayed illustrations was a depiction of an AUTOMATA by Al-Jazari (1136–1206)  (read about in at Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Jazari

A few other fun tidbits from the show:

The first piece of art we come across is a very looooong scroll. It looked like a combination of a sacred text such as an illuminated manuscript, a sketchbook or journal with writing in the margins, and a children’s activity book, as there were quite a lot of large bold designs with little writing inside - as if it were a game or a brain activity.

In the intro video to the exhibition, we learned some basics of the connection between the arts and the sacred in Islam. Some of the names of god were mentioned. I wrote down one of the names - but yet, when I search for the 99 names of god, or even this phrase online - NOTHING SHOWS up, and it seems all to appropriate and coincidental that the phrase I heard doesn’t actually seem to exist… but I wrote it down! “He Who Holds Paradoxes”  … I think I may have to paint something inspired by this descriptive. Again, I find it odd that this ‘name’ doesn’t appear anywhere. Perhaps I heard it wrong, perhaps it’s a message from god, perhaps its just my universe playing with me, I don’t know, but it makes me smile. And I have always perked up at the mention of paradoxes.

Most of the art in the exhibit was covered in beautiful writing. This is a major part of the culture. I’m not going to lecture here why it is or the relation to the culture  - as enlightening as that would be, it would take too long. Instead I’ll share some of the inscriptions I took note of:

“The taste of Wisdom is first bitter, then sweeter than honey”
(written on a Jug, IRAN, end of 12th century)
so TRUE! Same with KNOWLEDGE.  And Learning. Something that seems... 
difficult at first - I mean, the brain IS a muscle, and you have to think hard to pump it up
but after a while, learning becomes a craving. I should tell this to my students. 

“Beware of the Dream of the Horse”
(written on a horseshoe, 18th century Turkey - I love how the simplest of things can be personalized by such phrases)

“… It happened that he was wetting his face with the blood of his heart; he repeated this poetic verse with his spirit” (a snippit from a story, involving a Sufi watching a poet)

“There is no god but god” - Many of the inscriptions were religious in nature like this one - this being one of the more common ones… I normally gloss over references to god in religious art, but the phrasing of this caught me and got my brain thinking. Earlier in the exhibit, there were paintings that came from a specific place and time where many religious communities lived harmoniously without conflict - (Muslim, Christian, Jewish) - that combined with the phrase above got me thinking about the potential harmony people of faith could have if they took this literally - something so profound and simple at the same time. Rather than saying ‘there is no god but my god’ - if one truly believes that ‘god is everywhere’ and ‘god is in everything’ - then it would be without question that anywhere people encounter the sacred, then that is where god is. There is no conflict. Ever since college when I participated as the secretary in the student based organization ‘Earth Religions’, I’ve always been a bit interested in concepts where religion, spirituality and belief can combine with full acceptance of each other no matter the specific belief or region.

ANYWAY, (no, that's not an inscription) there was so much more and it was an amazing exhibit - also a lot about patterns and reflection of nature’s patterns and how that ties in with philosophy and belief etc - but these were the specific things I grasped onto during this visit. Too bad the exhibit is over now that I have undoubtedly inspired you to go visit. Regardless, I now want to learn more about Medieval Islamic culture, I want to write all over everything, and I want to paint a picture of a being that holds paradoxes.

Dave and I also went to see


An experimental Swiss mime troupe that have been around for a LONG time.
Dad took me to see them when I was a kid, and it had a huge impact on my playful spirit.
Dave had never seen them but was a fan, so that was his birthday gift. :)
See a youtube video of my favorite segment by Mummenschanz! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xe95sn0cN3k
Clay faces…. jealousy, humor… *grin*

I am feeling blessed.
Tomorrow I start teaching a new 16 week class at Ivy Tech (basically ancient - medieval art history and non-western cultures). I am not as familiar with some of the culture’s art so I am extremely excited to be delving in to the subjects myself so that I can teach! The best way to learn is to teach, so it is said.

Also, the illustrator in me is smiling big time. I think I found my ~author~
I always get an ache when I see an author and illustrator match that seem to work well together, and stick together for a while - like Gaiman and McKean for example.
I can’t say too much right now, and I don’t want to jinx anything, but we’ll see what happens after I get a few of these book covers under my belt!

-------- fin --------

Well, I have not much else to share here, most of my recent images I’ve shared on facebook.
 So... have a fuzzy picture of the cat Frankie who lives with dad. There was a cat door on the entrance to the basement, but after several attempts, dad gave up on training him to go through the door, and just removed it. Frank now has no inhibitions going through the HOLE in the door. Much Love, he's the snuggliest cat ever. I'm also allergic to him, but I still give him lots of love when I visit.


  1. This post reminded me of my own process of observing and gathering symbols and inscriptions, in galleries, scribbled on freeway underpasses, anywhere. I'm now interested in learning more about astrolabes and "He who holds paradoxes" is moving something inside me...gestating into a poem or a sculpture or who knows? Thanks for sharing! :)

    1. Thanks for the comment! I would love to see what happens if you create something inspired by 'He Who Holds Paradoxes'

      Inspirations are everywhere! And if we actively engage in them (as you seem to be great at) then we ingest them like morsels of food, to become a part of us. ;)