99 Most Beautiful Names:
Following the terrible events of 9/11 one of the many faiths sheltered in the US, Islam, suddenly became a frightening mystery. Religious traditions help the faithful become better people, and lead them to build a better world; Islam is no different. 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. As I began to learn more about this faith, 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. These are attributes of God that help the faithful navigate their place in the universe relative to God, and provide direction 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. The sculptures are built with three primary considerations in their design: architectural form, medieval bookbinding techniques, and spatial geometry. 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 sculptures are symbolic abstractions rather than illustrations. In addition to recording my personal journey towards understanding, the project is designed to support a positive environment to learn about a significant and misunderstood portion of our American neighborhood and the world stage.
As the hundred works are completed (one for each Name and one as a final reflection), they are displayed in a variety of venues including churches, community art centers, and libraries as well as traditional galleries. Whenever practical, at the exhibits I speak about the genesis of the project and my intent, and an invited member of the local Muslim community speaks about the 99 Most Beautiful Names and what it personally means to be Muslim; after which, patrons are invited to ask questions. In parallel to the tradition of 99 Names, my goal is to have exhibits in 99 different towns and cities by the conclusion of the project. The exhibitions are documented online so members of the international community are able to see the progress of the project and interest in the ongoing process.
It is my hope that the project will help provide an environment of civility and sincere dialog, where differences are addressed with dignity. The sculptures are not for profit, but are sold at the cost 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.
For further information on the project or about the exhibits, please email me at email@example.com.
- 99 names of Allah (ladyzay.wordpress.com)