Category: Articles


Over a year ago, I was asked to write a short piece about The 99 Names Project for The Fountain Magazine, a US-based arts and humanities magazine.  I did, they were super nice, and I didn’t hear back.  Then yesterday a friend emailed me to tell me they had published my bit, with some truly wonderful editing.  Although only the first two paragraphs are available without a subscription, they were cool enough to include the full audio of the article, read by a truly wonderful narrator.

Please check it out here.

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Treasured Truths:  Exploring the Bridges Between Faith, Art, and Life

An exhibition exploring the ways in which LDS and Muslim artists have looked into the rich traditions of others as a way of finding resonance, beauty, and truth in the patterns of creation.  Curated by Dr. James Swensen, BYU, and Heidi Olsen

BYU Harris Fine Art Center – B.F. Larsen Gallery – September 20-October 12, 2012

Artist Panel Discussion, September 26, 2012 – 6-7 pm – MOA Auditorium

Opening Reception, September 26, 2012, 7:15 pm – Harris Fine Art Center

Christine ArmbrusterVal BrinkerhoffLisa DeLongAndrew KosorokNassar MansourSteven Waggoner

Article from the BYU Museum of Art about this exhibit

Essay in the exhibit catalog and on Alpha Omega Arts Blogspot

 

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Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Alpha Omega Arts

In 2008, two friends started a blog to document their efforts to learn and understand about different faiths through art.  The blog has grown to encompass faith exploration from multiple points of view–from the believer and the skeptic, the art builder and the art critic, from the minister and the congregant–and touches on art from all around the world.  Theirs is the continuing record exploring one of the things which makes us uniquely human, the desire to share or understand each others’ faith as we walk through the labyrinth of life.  A while ago, Ernest and Tahlib from Alpha Omega Arts asked about the ongoing 99 Names project, and the spiritual journey of which the project is a part (an article and mention are here and here); I’m grateful that such a caring and curious group of people are interested, and I hope their own work continues for a very, very long time.

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Images courtesy of Ernie Hale; glass mosaic painting Al-Khaliq by Hayat Gul

Michael Christensen, folklorist and curator, organized an exhibit of sculptures from the 99 Names project at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City, Utah.  In poignant resonance with the exhibit, down the road a bit in Sandy, Utah is the Healing Field of Flags–a thoughtful and peaceful reflection on the tragic loss of life of 9/11, a beautiful and healing memorial for the 10th anniversary.

The exhibit opening at UCCC was well-attended, due in large part to Cafe Mazza and Shahrazad Market and Restaurant, who provided amazing refreshments.  To give a bit of context for attendees to the exhibit, Michael asked me to write a short essay about visual cues in Islamic Art (here).  Friends from Alrasool Islamic Center, the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake, Pacifica Institute Utah, Salt Lake American Muslim, Utah Civility, and Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable were among those that came.  Lisa Schencker of the Salt Lake Tribune came, and we had a good visit (her article).  Aaron Crim of Deseret News wrote about the exhibit, as did Kimberly Martinez of West Valley Journal (her article), and folks at Radio Islam heard about the show, too.  Carole Mikita and cameraman John from KSL TV News did a video interview regarding the exhibit, also.

In addition to the sculptures and blueprints of the project, my friend Hayat Gul gave us permission to display one of her mosaic paintings, and my friends Peter Gould, Ithyar, Rafia Hussain Kamel, Amina Malik, Samir Malik, Dr. Fayeq Oweis, Mamoun Sakkal, and Teakster let us show a slideshow of their Holy Name calligraphy.  Also, several local families allowed us to display objects from their homes which bear the Holy Names.

Mindful of the anniversary of 9/11, my friends at Pacifica Institute wrote an open letter expressing their thoughts at this time–sentiments shared by the great majority of Muslims worldwide, and supported by the Qur’anMuslims in the US, alongside Christians, Jews, and many other faiths, are profoundly grateful for the freedoms of worship and expression afforded us, and the extraordinary freedom and responsibilities of the American democratic process–and pray with all their hearts, alongside every American, that 9/11 will never, ever happen again.

Michael Christensen and everyone at UCCC has done a wonderful job to make the exhibit a success.

99 Names Exhibit at BYU's Harold B. Lee Library, Special Collections

Alicia Moulton of the writing staff of Brigham Young University’s magazine for university alumni, BYU Magazine, wrote an article about the 99 Names project published in this quarter’s edition.  She is a very patient person.  She also brought a crew to produce a short video in concert with the article–my only concern was that they did not use Michael Sheen as my stand-in.  They all did a great job on the article and video, and they were all very pleasant people.

Several years ago I was a volunteer minister in Alabama.  Among the many people I met was a retired BME minister who always had time to visit with, advise, and counsel a young man whose heart (I hope) was in the right place, but who didn’t always have the knowledge needed.  This gentleman taught through his example that the most important trait which any person could attain was, simply, to be nice.  He showed that the Beatitudes for Christians are those traits which set humans apart from the animals, and bring out the best as we live among each other.

This lesson is followed, I believe, by the mission of Chasing Evil, its Editor in Chief Reverend Jim Sutter, and those of many faiths who work with him and give their time to find uplifting, affirming stories of faith, regardless of the path of that faith.  Rather than desecrating books of scripture, these people respect them and ask others to do the same.  When people hold to a faith it is their privilege to serve the truth they find, according to the dictates of conscience, and being nice about it greases the wheels of shared community.

ChasingEvil.org finds uplifting stories highlighting examples of differences overcome, and people of faith learning from each other.  I’m grateful they’ve become a friend of the 99 Names Project.

Philosufi

Neman and Deborah of Philosufi.com are building a virtual community of people who believe that worthwhile things, when shared among neighbors, can enrich our lives.  They find fun, informative, and uplifting events and information, and share it in an open forum, to build a positive and supportive community.  This image is from an article they recently did on the work of a friend of mine, eL Seed, a classic-style calligrapher who performs his work in urban settings–granting the environment with a grace much needed.   They also did a wonderful article on the 99 Names Project, and I am grateful they have become friends.

Cairo Cityscape

Jenna Krajeski, a transplant from the US to Cairo, is a writer for Al Masry Al Youm, Cairo’s english language newspaper.  She found out about the 99 Names Project, and did a wonderful article about it here.  Thank you, Ms. Krajeski!

A gentleman from the Harvard Divinity School, Alfredo Garcia, writes for RNS, a secular news service that specializes in coverage of ethics and religion.  He called and we spent a morning discussing the 99 Names Project; amazingly, he was able to condense my wordy responses to his questions down to a very nice article.  A very patient person, and very pleasant to work with.  I’m glad word about the project is getting out, and it’s most excellent that the people who have so far made it happen are of such high caliber.

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The Conference of the Birds

An Ismaili gentleman, Malik Merchant, approached me about doing an article on the 99 Names Project for his website of news on arts and the humanities, simerg.com (he also has a blog here).  The Simerg is a magical bird representing transcendance and spiritual fulfillment; the Conference of the Birds is a series of Persian poems symbolically addressing the journey to this goal.  The article is here, and Malik has presented it beautifully.  Many thanks to him and his interest in the Project, and I am grateful for his patience in working with me.

Another excellent Ismaili arts and culture blog has seen the article on Malik’s website about the Project, and the link is through ismailimail.

(Update–Readers of Mr. Merchant’s website had several questions about my process and the sculptures, so Malik has craftily edited the emails answering the questions into a background article here.)

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