Category: 99 Names Exhibitions


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The Cathedral Church of St. Mark in Salt Lake City, Utah, is hosting this year’s national Episcopal conference, and they asked me to share some of the work from The 99 Names Project in their undercroft for the conference.  The also asked me to write something about the Project for this year’s conference:

99 Most Beautiful Names of God

In the Bible well over 100 names are used referring to God – like “Mighty”, “Counselor”, “Prince of Peace”, and many others. This is a uniting thread throughout most religions, the desire to draw closer to God through appreciating the many facets of Divinity. Respectfully learning the Names by which other faiths understand God can also help us to learn more about our neighbors and friends, and helps us gain greater perspective on the many things we share.

The 99 Names Project is one Christian’s attempt to learn about our Muslim neighbors through an honest and respectful examination of faith, using the tradition of Asma al-Husna or the 99 Most Beautiful Names of God. Islam and Christianity are different, but as with any two groups there are also many points of similarity and convergence – building on those points through an exploration of these Beautiful Names of God, we find common ground as well as areas of separation deserving of respect. Interestingly, this process also finds our hearts expanding to encompass our neighbors and a deeper appreciation of our own faith grows.

I am a Christian glass artist and minister, and I continue to learn about the faith of my Muslim brothers and sisters – expressing the beauty I find through glass sculpture. At times I wonder if my friends see my sincerity in exploration. Thankfully, the head of Islamic Studies at Duke University said about the Project, “In a sense what he has produced is Islamic art, while remaining a Christian. It is another reminder that there is a common Origin from which all beauty originates, and that origin is none other than God”.

God is the Creator of us all – what better way to celebrate this common Divine bond than work to discover the beauty He shares with our brothers and sisters? We all have the choice to either focus on that which separates or celebrate those things which bring us together. And if that celebration makes us better friends with our neighbors wherever they are in the world, so much the better.

–Andrew Kosorok, 2015

In October I was invited to speak at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah.

Starting in September DSU has been hosting an exhibit of some of the 99 Names sculptures, and in the last week of October (with the beginning of the Islamic New Year) they screened a number of films introducing Islamic themes.  The film I was asked to speak about was UPF‘s Islamic Art:  Mirror of the Invisible World.

Here’s the trailer and a couple clips:

Thanks to Teidra, Shane, Kathy, and especially Dr. Schultz, it was a great experience!

Last night the Utah Community Cultural Center hosted the UPF film Islamic Art:  Mirror of the Unseen World, and I was invited to give the introduction:

God is Beautiful and Loves Beauty:

An Informal Introduction to Art in the Islamic World

A man, consumed with the desire to find the right church to join, fasts and prays with all his heart because he learned that the Bible teaches we must ask our questions of God, and He will answer.  While he is alone one night, an angel dressed all in white appears – this angel recites a message meant for this man, then returns two more times repeating the exact same words.  In the morning the man stumbles home and falls into a ditch, the angel appears again and fills his field of view.  The message he heard three times the previous night is repeated, and the angel commands him to return to his family and share this important message.

Of course, I’m speaking of Gabriel’s visit to Mohammed in the opening of autumn, 610 AD.  All of Gabriel’s visits were accompanied by a command to recite and remember his words, because although Mohammed started a religion which is known as the single most literary faith movement in the history of the world, he himself never learned to read or write.

Mohammed brought a level of stability to life in the Arabic peninsula that had not been seen before.  As one example, women in this culture were less important than livestock, and up to her teenage years she could be buried alive in the sand if her family thought she was a burden or too big of a nuisance.  Her hair was a symbol of her health and breeding ability.  Mohammed put a stop to the practice of burying children in the sand, and invited women to wear a hair covering so men would be forced to look them in the eyes and acknowledge their humanity.  Mohammed was also invited to come to Medina and broker a peace between the many different religions there.  What resulted, and this was in spite of Mohammed’s inability to read or write, was one of the very earliest constitutions calling for a representational government, including provisions for the legal constraints of many different faiths to work together.  He acknowledged all the holy prophets from Adam, and expressed surprise when Jews or Christians could not see that all three faiths were fellow “Children of the Book” meaning the Bible.

Islam now, 1400 years after Mohammed, is celebrated by an amazingly diverse rainbow of hues, by families all around the world.  Family traditions and understanding are fused with the faith, and there are as many variations of observance as there are in any other world religion.  One tradition I found that helped me learn was the 99 Most Beautiful Names of God.  Reading the Qur’an, visiting with Muslim leaders, scholars, and laity, and reflecting on my own beliefs, the sculptures I build of the 99 Names are celebrations of these many facets of Divinity – although the tradition is distinctly Muslim, the 99 Names are like the Beatitudes or Eight-fold Path of Buddha, and can be appreciated by anyone.

There are some points of departure between my Christian background and Islamic art tradition.  For Christians the Word of God was made flesh and lived among ordinary people in the body of Christ.  This goes a long way in explaining the rich history of figurative art in the West – depictions of God as Jesus were widely sponsored and sought after, and on some level every image of the human form is a reaction to that history.  In Islam, however, the Word of God was made legible as the Qur’an.  Rather than a human form symbolizing the Bridge between mankind and heaven, the written word became the Bridge.  So writing and the book arts become most important, for parallel reasons.

One common misunderstanding among Westerners is that figurative work has been forbidden Muslim artists.  Although it is considered inappropriate to limit God to physical form, depictions of people including Mohammed and Jesus were created.  In fact, when Mohammed cleaned out the Qa’aba in Mecca which had been filled with centuries of idols and pagan religious symbols, the only piece of art he left inside was a portrait of Mary and the baby Jesus.

There are a few other things to look for, that may help us appreciate Islamic art:  geometry, organic forms, the use of empty space, and color.

In Islam capital-T Truth is Divine knowledge.  Since God is infinite, this kind of Truth can never be adequately articulated by human beings, only alluded to; as a result of this perception, math and geometry became vitally important to the Muslim artist.  Using math the artist would develop a pattern with significance (using numbers like five and eight, for example – five being the number of the Pillars of Faith, and eight being the number of angels carrying God’s throne at the Last Judgment).  A tiling sequence would be distilled to a repeatable section, but an incredible effort was made so it was easy for a viewer to get lost in the expanding pattern.  As a person contemplates the intricate geometry, it became easier for him or her to become open to the spiritual meditation which should happen in a sacred setting.

Closely related to this fascination with geometry and math is the use of intricate organic forms and interlacing.  Although geometric “tiles” were also used in organic designs, the flowers and vines meant something a little different.  First, they serve to remind us of the promise of Heaven – bountiful, vital richness of growth and abundance.  Keep in mind that Islam started on the Arabian peninsula, one of the largest inhabited areas on the planet with no natural bodies of water which last all year around.  So displaying a rich network of plant forms is a great way to celebrate Paradise.  Second, the organic forms recall to mind the rich variety of Creation; God is bountiful and promises to provide the faithful with bounty in their obedience, and the universe is filled with richness and diversity far beyond our ability to comprehend.  And third, most of the organic patterns, as wildly complicate as they may grow, usually point back to a stylized vessel or starting point for the viney growths, whereas the geometric designs rarely have a strongly defined origin.

Have you ever heard the Buddhist phrase, “The sound of one hand clapping”?  Although this has been used many times to give an annoying student something to contemplate, it points to an important idea in Islamic art.  If there is no silence, we can’t appreciate music – without pauses, conversation would be very difficult to follow.  Without a moment to listen, we couldn’t hear anything truly important.  In art, we also use the term “negative space” to express the importance of the space around what we’re making, which helps to define the thing being made.  If we combine these two ideas we approach the purpose of the void (or emptiness) in Islamic art.  When looking at Islamic designs, also look at the space between or around shapes – often the artist is using this negative space to purposely accentuate what he is building.  This serves as a reminder that, although we cannot always witness the Divine Presence, It is still there, all the time.  And in the midst of the chaos of our living, the Divine is heard in the still small voice.  That silence, that presence, is what makes the experienced possible.

As we look at Islamic art there is also a strong presence, many times, of color.  Although artists always express themselves with a certain level of freedom, generally blue, green, and red have meaning in Islamic art.  For Christians blue is associated with God the Father and Mary, green with the presence of God as Spirit, and red associates with the Blood of Christ.  For Muslims blue usually symbolizes the eternal life-giving qualities of the Water of Heaven, or in Christian terms, the Living Water.  We partake of eternal truth and our souls live forever.  Green accompanies the richness of abundant growth, both of our spirits as we submit to Divine Will and the infinite abundance promised the faithful in heaven.  And red is the color of the blood of martyrs – and NOT what you think.  The real martyr in Islam is the parent, teacher, or builder who gives their whole life in service to others around them, not to die horribly but to die peaceably after a good, long life; a long life well and truly lived, filled with expressions  of love to family, friends, and strangers, is the true meaning of Jihad.  Teaching, not terrorism, is the highest calling in Islam.

In the movie we’ll be watching, look for these aspects of Islamic art.  The importance of the Word, the intricacy of geometric and organic design, the presence of space or the void, and the use of color.  But rather than making a checklist, keep in mind the single most important aspect of Islamic art.

This art is made by people with a belief, a belief and hope for a better and beautiful world.  God made us to help take care of the earth, the Qur’an teaches, and when we in turn make something we are emulating our own Great Creator.  Objects of Islamic art are not just beautiful things, but are also objects of worship.  And heartfelt testimonies of the hopes, dreams, and faith of those who made them.  Muslims all around the world believe they have a responsibility to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, by building strong and responsible families, by teaching their children how to behave and make friends, and by bringing more beauty into the world.  Mohammed said, “God is Beautiful and loves Beauty.”  I believe regardless of our differences, this is something all of us can agree to.

–Andrew Kosorok, 2014

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In February the Utah Cultural Celebration Center is hosting screenings of several UPF films, introducing the NEH’s Muslim Journeys Bookshelf to Utah.  On February 10 starting at 7:00 I’ll be introducing Islamic Art:  Mirror of the Invisible World.  Each work of art in the film is the personal testimony of the artist and craftsman who made it, and the works are tremendous.  Dealing with aspects of traditional Islamic art such as The Word and the use of Space, Ornament, Color, and Water in creating an environment inviting to the Spirit, the film also recalls to mind Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr‘s excellent work, Islamic Art and Spirituality.

UCCC Muslim Journeys Exhibit Panorama

Several sculptures from 99 Names Project will also be on display.  Come by, watch the movie, and let’s have a great visit!

Thank you for supporting the 99 Names Project

In February and March, Utah Cultural Celebration Center and Utah Humanities Council are holding a series of discussions, readings, movies, and exhibits to share the addition of the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf to several libraries in Utah.  Yesterday, Michael Christensen (folklorist at the Center and exhibits curator) and I set up an exhibit of several sculptures from the 99 Names project series, and I’ll be speaking a number of times during the next few months about my experiences as a Christian learning about Islam, Muslims, and Islamic art, and they asked me to also introduce one of the films in the series, Islamic Art:  Mirror of the Invisible World.  The films shown at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center and the dates are:

Feb. 3, Prince Among Slaves

Feb. 10, Islamic Art:  Mirror of the Invisible World

Feb. 24, Koran by Heart

The screenings begin at 7:30 pm at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, and I’ll be posting more information on the Muslim Journeys series.

And here’s some beautiful photos of the exhibit taken by the incomparable Michael Christensen:

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Bismallah, Ar-Rahman, Ar-RahimImage from Wikimedia Commons

Bismallah, Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim
Image from Wikimedia Commons

For the first 2 1/2 weeks in April this year, Lilly Library at Duke University is hosting the exhibit Expressing Faith:  Islam Inspired Art.  One of my favorite calligraphers, Dr. Huda Totonji, will be displaying her work, Dr. Carl Ernst of UNC Chapel Hill will be giving a presentation on the intersections of faith, art, and Islam, and my friends at the Duke MSA invited me to show sculptures from the 99 Names Project (and did all the heavy lifting).  As I wasn’t able to make it, Pres. Nabeel Hyder of the Duke MSA picked up the bubble-wrapped sculptures and he and his friends set the whole thing up.

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Dr. Totonji is an educator, consultant, entrepreneur, researcher, fine artist, and amazing calligrapher.  The several galleries on her website include her work in calligraphy and painting to her public art and installationDr. Enst is a specialist in Islamic Studies, and his presentation will be insightful and engaging.  I’m grateful to Dr. Antepli for pointing Pres. Nabeel towards the Project, and I’m very happy and grateful the Duke MSA did all the work!

Wellspring of Peace (As-Salam)

Wellspring of Peace (As-Salam)

A couple years ago, I was contacted by a gentleman with questions about the 99 Names Project, and wanted to know if he could reference it in a festival he was putting together.  The gentleman is David N. Sterling–writer, volunteer, and master treehouse builder–and over time I have come to learn about the wonderful work he and his friends do building a better world in Minnesota, at The Mall of America.  Every Thanksgiving, he and his friends on the Mall Area Religious Council organize events celebrating the many paths of faith our neighbors share, and he took some time to answer some questions about his life journey, the Religious Council, and his continuing volunteer efforts.

1.                  What is the Mall Area Religious Council (MARC) and how did it start?

MARC is an interfaith organization formed to bring a spiritual presence to the Mall of America (MOA) in Bloomington, MN, initiated even before the MOA opened some 21 years ago. MARC grew out of an earlier ecumenical Christian organization called Workplace Ministries serving businesses on the “494 Strip” (part of Interstate Highway 494 surrounding the southern and western half of the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area). MARC too was originally an ecumenical Christian effort but within only a year or two of its formation it became truly interfaith in its intentions and outreach. Workplace Ministries has also since grown from being ecumenical of one faith (Christian) to interfaith (open to if not already including all faiths as active members).

2.                  What is your position on the Council, and why do you serve?

I became a MARC volunteer when I first learned of this group some 20 years ago and was invited to serve on its board of directors shortly there after. At that time I was representing both the Baha’is of St. Paul, MN, and the Twin Cities Chapter of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. I serve because I am committed to promoting and establishing understanding, mutual respect and cooperation between the diverse peoples of the world. Lasting and meaningful world peace depends on love and unity between all the people of the world. As a child born during the early months of WWII I sought the path to world peace from my earliest years. Witnessing other people of “faith” keeping themselves separate from folks of other faiths and condemning them I knew this was not the path to world peace. We all need to do the exact opposite of this and I have given support and membership to this (MARC) and a number of other interfaith organizations and efforts in the spirit of that conviction. Seeking the path to world peace is what brought me to the Baha’i Faith and the Baha’i teachings of the oneness or universality of all religions is what guides me in embracing all the major world religions and their Prophet Founders with equal reverence all of which leads me to associate with the followers of all faiths in love, concord, unity and respect. For me, as with all Baha’is, there is no other way. To read the Baha’i statement on “The Promise of World Peace” go to: http://info.bahai.org/article-1-7-2-1.html (Released Oct. 1985, on the eve of the UN International Year of Peace).

3.                  How many faiths are represented, and what kinds of things does the Council do?

Like many other interfaith organizations MARC has been open to and invitational to all faiths but has struggled to include and maintain full active membership of all faiths. At least MARC can state even those few faith communities that have not subscribed to full membership with us or maintained their membership they have still included themselves in nearly all of our activities and events over the years. We also struggle to keep our web-site (www.meaningstore.org) up to date. A visit to it would suggest that we do indeed have full active membership maintained with all faiths which otherwise does include all of the mainline Christian denominations, Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Unitarian-Universalist and Native American spirituality. Mormons call themselves Christian and we accept that (we have Latter Day Saints among us in Community of Christ).

One of our proud accomplishments is that we have helped to establish a prayer and meditation space for MOA employees near their break room. We hope to one day create an additional prayer and meditation space for MOA shoppers and visitors which could well become a reality what with the Mayo Clinic coming to MOA with their holistic healing and alternative medicine (see Mayo Clinic Healthy Living at: http://healthyliving.mayoclinic.org which includes reference to spiritual healing).

As our MARC web-site suggests we hope/intend to establish a store relating to the meaning of life as seen/promoted by all faiths. Short of that we have had for half a year a kiosk we called Oasis back in 2000-2001.

Over the years we have maintained a display rack titled Where to Worship where visitors can pick cards of the different MARC members and their times and places of worship. MARC volunteers weekly re-supply depleted cards. The next phase of this Where to Worship display will be an electronic print-out kiosk.

In the past we have held a Youth Expo and an Elder Expo at separate times. These took extensive organizing and expense and though we have no current plans to repeat them we will likely do the likes of them again or something similar some time in the future.

We have had an electronic newsletter in the past and monthly gatherings at the Mall for spiritual reflection and sharing. There is every intention of reinstating these as some time. Once we have established a store front (The Meaning Store) and/or a mall shopper/visitor meditation/prayer room such reflection and sharings would return on a regular basis.

For 20 years we have held an annual Holy Days and Holidays of Thanksgiving Around the World event at MOA (described next in question #4).

4.                  What is the Holy Days/Holidays Festival?

On Nov. 17th, 2012, we held our 20th annual Holy Days and Holidays of Thanksgiving Around the World event at MOA. This event originally was a volunteer attended information table about MARC and its member organizations held for three days in Nov. or Dec., a Fri., Sat. and Sun., in Mall public spaces. Four years ago Mall management asked us if we would like to expand our Holy Days/Holidays event. In short order we were able to propose and organize a two day stage event with the addition of the sub-title of “Spirituality of the Visual & Performing Arts”. The first of these was held on Nov. 21-22, 2009, where we scheduled seven stage events each of the two days featuring Tibetan Buddhist monks chanting a prayer for world peace ; The Saint John’s Bible, “Illuminating the Word”; The Prodigal Son Art Collection of Jerry Evenrud; World Champion Fancy Dancer Larry Yazzie ; Partners in Praise Girls Choir; and a number of Christian church choirs. In 2010 we held a similar two day event. For 2011 we dropped to a one day stage event which included The Modern Indian Dance Academy; Indonesian musicians and Community of Christ choir.

In 2012 we featured Andrew Kosorok’s 99 Names of Allah art glass creations; Mark Ochu, a Baha’i concert pianist and lecturer; a Sufi whirling dervish; a Native American prayer and of course as with every year several Christian church choirs. Besides the stage performances I put together a panel display of diverse spiritual art representative of several faiths in 46 separate images. That display we intend to rework electronically for the MARC and other web pages with perhaps a dozen additional images.

Including Prof. Kosorok’s 99 Names of Allah art glass in our 2012 event deserves an additional comment. I used to work at the Mpls./St. Paul Intl. Airport assisting travelers with special needs but also was a volunteer to the airport chaplain by keeping the airport chapel neat and clean, supplied with prayer books and scriptures of all faiths and a current interfaith calendar on the wall. One of the wall hangings was of the 99 Names of Allah which inspired me to go on-line to learn more about them. That search brought me to Andrew Kosorok’s web site and I was so intrigued by his work that I e-mailed him about my personal interest and the work of the Mall Area Religious Council. Our communication has developed into a genuine friendship which I’m sure will now last a life time.

5.                  How has it grown over time, and who gets involved?

Some of our growth has already been described in answering the questions above. Otherwise we grow by inviting area faith communities to join us as members or just to take part in our activities. Others come to us on their own when they learn of us other than by an invite from us. We’ve also grown by successfully applying for financial awards from various grants.

6.  Could you share an anecdote or two about how your work has directly impacted other people, not of your faith?

(Coming soon)

7.   How has your work with so many different faiths impacted your own beliefs—is your faith diluted or strengthened?

My own beliefs have only been confirmed and strengthened by my work with people of other faiths. As a child I was turned off to all religion by the hypocrisy of some believers and the perversions they held of their claimed faiths. Today wherever I re-encounter that same hypocrisy and perversion only encourages me to be all the more loving and accepting of all of humanity and the original truths of their religions before the man-made changes of dogma, superstition, miscon-ceptions and misinformation corrupted their understanding and outlook.

8.        Where do you see your work, and the work of the Council, going into the future?

As a Baha’i I see the Promised Day of All Ages unfolding before us. The old world order of man-made laws and institutions are either falling away of their own weaknesses or they are being transformed into divinely inspired ones of true justice, fairness and equality of all people. Surfacing is the ending of wars and poverty and the coming of the wellbeing of us all. This is a slow coming but it can be brought about all the sooner the more that people come to believe it is possible and diligently work toward it with loving patience. MARC as well as all other interfaith organizations can be and are a significant part of that growth, maturation and transformation. The other interfaith organizations that I have given my time and energy to focus individually or separately on such issues as world peace, environmental protection, racial justice, human rights, economic equality or simply respect and understanding. All of these are equally important and the North American Interfaith Network in particular helps each of them to be aware of all the others and to be supportive of each other. The Baha’i Faith as a single organization works on all of these issues and more: universal compulsory education; equality of women and men; the harmony of science and religion; elimination of all forms of prejudice; elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty; agreement of a universal auxiliary language; protection of cultural diversity. These are all required to bring about peace and unity in the world and need to be worked on equally and simultaneously to achieve the world peace promised by and waited for by all of the world’s religions. It’s all about the oneness of the entire human family. To read “The Principle of Oneness” by Shoghi Effendi in “The World Order of Baha’u’llah” go to: http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/WOB/wob-22.html.

Photography of Artwork by Hawkinson Photography

 

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Images courtesy of Hawkinson Photography, Wikimedia Commons, Fordson:  The Movie, and Zaytuna College

My friend Safi Safiullah is an event coordinator at the Salt Lake Public Library.  His specialty is putting together fascinating events on civility and pluralism.  This past August at the close of Ramadan, he organized what has become an annual event, the City Library Eid al-Fitr Festival.  There are events ranging from crafts and magicians for the kids to more cerebral presentations for the adults, and this year he brought two remarkable people, Dr. Mahan Mirza of Zaytuna College, the oldest accredited Muslim University in the country, and Principal Imad Fadlallah of Fordson High School.  Safi also asked if I would take a few minutes and introduce the 99 Names project to festival attendees.

Dr. Mirza is a professor at Zaytuna College, and is very used to discussing Muslim principles in interfaith settings.  He was also an assistant editor for Princeton’s Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, and is an enlightening, entertaining speaker.

Principal Fadlallah, now retired, spoke about the trials of being the principal of a public high school with a 90+ percent Muslim student population.  The movie he shared, Fordson:  Faith, Fasting, and Football, follows the ups and downs of the title-winning Fordson football team, and was absolutely fascinating to watch.

And there’s me.  The volunteers from the U of U MSA helped me set up a few sculptures, and I shared the following:

99 Most Beautiful Names:

A Sculptural Presentation of the Names of God from the Qur’an

            Following the terrible events of 9/11 one of the many faiths sheltered in the US suddenly became a frightening mystery.  In our grief, we accepted the reaction of the media–to vilify the beliefs of one and a half billion because of the horrific actions of nineteen.  In the tumult of coverage following this tragedy, it was largely forgotten that religious traditions exist to help the faithful become better people, and guide them to build a better world; when terrible people claim religion justifies their inhumanity, it is because they have distorted and abused the tenets of belief.  I am a Christian, not a Muslim, and I determined to learn about a faith so misrepresented as to no longer be recognizable to its faithful practitioners.

In the US, Islam is poorly understood through ill-informed assumptions and inadequate information.  I turned to the Qur’an and asked questions of Muslim clergy and laity from around the world.  Imam Karim Abu Zaid at this year’s Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake banquet said, “Our neighbors have a right to not be afraid of us,” and I found this sentiment is shared by the vast majority of Muslims around the world, as thoroughly horrified by terrorist actions as are the victims.  As people responded to my requests for information, I realized that faithful Muslims have much in common with faithful Christians (and the faithful of every religion):  we want to live peaceably with our neighbors and build a better world for our children.

It is always helpful to discover something in another’s faith which can be applied to one’s own beliefs–this allows us to take in something of our neighbor, and helps to dissipate the rift of misunderstanding.  As I began to learn more about Islam, I discovered the tradition of the 99 Most Beautiful Names from the Qur’an; the 99 Names are an index of God’s infinite characteristics, abridged for the benefit of mortal minds.  Divine attributes which help the faithful navigate their place in the universe relative to God, they provide focus for worship and emulation.  They form a practical point from which to start the exploration of another faith, because they represent ideals and aspirations common to many faiths.

My personal response to each of the 99 Names–a synthesis of research and discussion with members of many Muslim communities–is sculpted with cold-worked flat glass, a traditionally Occidental medium.  (One of the first organizations that sent me a letter of support and encouragement was Zaytuna College, the oldest accredited Muslim Institution of higher learning in this country.)  As an artist I learned in Islam, rather than in my own Christian tradition, it is inappropriate to represent God as having human form, so the works are symbolic abstractions rather than illustrations.  The sculptures are built with three primary considerations in their design:  architectural form, medieval bookbinding techniques, and spatial geometry.

The architectural references in the sculptures reflect the building of something truly worthwhile among the faithful; from the earliest days of Islam, the commitment to make the world a better place, to bring–as much as possible–the kingdom of heaven to earth, has been taken seriously.  Just as in the Christian view this is realized through living a constructive life, looking for ways to help instead of hinder, and in spending energy to build instead of tear down.

The  bookbinding techniques used to construct the sculptures refer to the importance of scripture in Islam.  The Holy Qur’an is the capstone of God’s communication with man, and was recited to Mohamed by the Angel Gabriel in the language closest to that spoken in God’s presence.  All books are sacred because they are symbolic of the most holy of books, the Qur’an.

The use of spatial geometry is a reference to the Muslim view of Truth.  Islam teaches that all Truth comes from the same Ultimate Source, and reverence is shown the Creator whenever truth is respected.  Throughout the Muslim world, scientific methodology was applied to everything from cartography to the understanding of scripture, and math was used as a way to help the seeker appreciate how God constructed the Universe.  Modern understanding of many fields is derived directly from work done by Muslim scholars intent on practically applying their faith.

In addition to recording my personal journey towards understanding, it is my hope that the project nurtures an environment of civility and sincere dialog where differences can be addressed with dignity.  Twenty sculptures are completed, and at an average of 100 hours each, it may take a while to finish the project.  As works are completed they are displayed in a variety of venues, to provide an environment to foster communication within communities. The sculptures are not for profit, but are sold for the costs of production or given to individuals and groups who share the underlying drive of the project—that we work together in building the open community we desire for our children and our future.

Earlier this year, Arun Gandhi spoke here at the Salt Lake Library and related that many times his grandfather Mohandas was asked his religion.  The answer (Arun said) was always the same.  “I may be Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew, or Buddhist, but I can be none of these without first and foremost being human.”  In the Qur’an God declares He made us into nations and tribes that we may know each other through learning about our differences (49:13).  We are different because God made us to be different, and we are together because God placed us together.  Regardless of the many gulfs which divide us, the simple reality is that all of us share our common bond of humanity–whether we call Him Eloi, Allah, or God, we are all of us children of the same Creator.

–Andrew Kosorok

 

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