What Does Islam Look Like?

From The New York Times:

Shazia_3 By far the most prominent exhibition of contemporary art on the subject yet seen in New York opens today at the Museum of Modern Art. You would never guess that subject, though, from its title — “Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking” — in which the word Islam does not appear.

All but three of the featured artists were born in some part of the so-called Islamic world: Algeria, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestine and Turkey. But they all live and work in the West and have made their careers in the mainstream international art scene, which means in Europe and the United States. Another example are the immaculately executed paintings of Shahzia Sikander, who was born in 1969 to a Muslim family in Pakistan. They combine courtly Mughal and Rajput themes — portraits of rulers and dancers — with images of fighter jets, oil rigs, mosque domes, predatory animals and paradise gardens, as if telescoping related, destructive histories.

Ms. Sikander studied miniature painting in art school in Lahore, and radically transformed the medium after moving to the United States, adding personal and political content. Her new work met with disapproval in Pakistan, where she was accused of, among other things, pandering to Western taste. Yet a number of younger Pakistani artists have recently followed her lead. (Also see 3quarksdaily posting on Ms. Sikandar by Sughra Raza here).

Six of them are showing at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Conn., (through March 12) as a collective called Karkhana, which the artists formed as an activist gesture in response to the political and religious aggression worldwide after Sept. 11. Only one lives in Lahore now. The others are in Chicago, New York and Melbourne, Australia.

They collaborate by mail, each artist adding new elements to paintings when they receive them. The images include Mughal dress patterns; New York subway maps; amorous couples; Western politicians as clowns and Islamic clerics as satyrs; outtakes from colonial photographs; images of nature (birds, flowers, trees) and of violence (daggers, bullets, guns), interspersed with calligraphy and scribbles. (Also see 3quarksdaily posting on Karkhana by Sughra Raza here).

More here.

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