700 years ago, Rumi, a Sufi poet, power wrote such a statement. Nur Shkembi, curator, has used Rumi’s words to frame her selections of art by 16 women artists with cultural backgrounds in Islam. The exhibition is at Bendigo Art Gallery from October through November.
It’s a powerful title. It combines the transformative power of these works, if not the soul, with a reckoning towards a sense wonder and the reality of artist experience. They live in a world that is often resistant, according to Cigdem Aydemir, to their culture.
Spirit And Heart
The entrance to the exhibition is magical. Shireen Taweel’s golden circles are perforated with intricate patterns that create arcs of light. The Australian outback echoes a call to prayer. The room ends with Eugenia Flynn’s poem, a First Nations (Tiwi Larrakia), Muslim woman. It is half lit behind the wall.
Combining art and video can do what only galleries can: It brings down your heartbeat while simultaneously lifting your spirits. Subliminally, the clever staging of the entire show reminds us of the ease of slipping between static artworks, video and music as well as poetry and the space of Islamic sensibility.
Simply put, Islamic art aspires towards bringing us closer to God. It transcends the mundane of daily life and encourages us towards a more pure state of mind. To understand many of the cultural influences from the Middle East or to enjoy their beauty and rhythms, you don’t need to believe in an Islamic God.
Persian Miniatures Power
Think Persian miniatures, the Taj Mahal, and ghazals, spoken and sung, as well as flourishes of calligraphics, the turquoise and green tiles of Isfahan, and the amazing spaces of the Haggia Sophia, Istanbul. It’s in colours that float in the air at the Newport Mosque in Melbourne.
These traditions are reflect in many of the works found in SOUL Fury. Nusra Latti Qureshi’s “miniatures”, which are precise and bright, is a result of this traditional technique. However, they also contain the stings of colonial (often gendered!) politics.
Shahzia Sikander’s video Singing Suns’ hypnotic rhythms of golden orbs exploding in the air transcend terrestrial humdrum. Bombshell is a Cigdem Aydemir video. Its name comes from Marilyn Monroe’s footage of her wearing a dress that swirls over an air vent. The figure of an ethereally floating young lady is surround by rhythmically billowing clothes. However, her veiling is often equated with oppression or restriction.
Exclusion And Power
SOUL Fury is about culture and the way women experience this religion today. Jessica Bridgfoot, gallery director, says that this exhibition represents a disruption in entrenched power in public cultural spaces. It is understandable that this exhibition was chosen for Bendigo because of its fragile Islamic relations and the recent building of a new Mosque.
The key to this success is that, while visitors are aware of the issues, they will be inspire by the stories and the work. It is about confronting adversity head on, if only with defiance, but with strength and humour, as well as a refined sensibility of greater humanity.
One example the filigree delicacy MehwishIqbal display in his personal refugee accoutrements. Another example is Hoda Afshar’s serious humor: Hoda Afshar photographs women wearing heavy veils and sporting very cool sunglasses. Artists win, people win, and women win.
Their Power At Its Peak
Half of the 16 women included live in Australia and half were born there. Although artists who are or have lived in Bangladesh, Somalia, and Cambodia are include, most are Iranians and Pakistanis. Nearly all of them respond to the entrancing traditions and techniques of art from Iran, including miniature painting and intricate carving, style, content, or all three.
In Western eyes, the image of Pakistani women is one of violence and subjugation. Many of the Pakistani artists, such as Shahzia Sikander or Nusra Latif Quereshi, have their work from institutions in Lahore, and in Karachi, run by women. Formidable artists-teachers-writers Salima Hashmi and Durriya Kazi have nurtured students there who have since gained enormous international reputations.
The majority of artists are in their 30s or 40s, when they are at their peak. And making their opinions and views clear. These artists are not at the fringes of the art industry.
Some of them, such as Sikander and Qureshi, Hadieh Shafie and Shadi Ghadirian and Naiza Khan, were include in major exhibitions and institutions. From the Venice Biennale, the British Museum, and the Queensland Art Gallery’s Asia Pacific Triennial.
These artists are not being neglect, contrary to common belief.
This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see how the webs of sympathy weave. Between great works within a particular cultural context. It is a tour-de-force experience that should seen all over the country.