Posting Date: March 06, 2013
KSU Art Professor makes appearance on AIB television
Sandra Bird discussed Islamic art and its meaning
By Delain Climmons
Ever since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, organizations across the globe have been working to improve relationships and cultural understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West. In hopes of healing inter-cultural wounds and correcting misconceptions in the aftermath of the 9/11 assaults, the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters—in partnership with the Islamic Speaker’s Bureau of Atlanta—has been airing a series, “Meeting Your Muslim Neighbor” since November 2012. Show times are Mondays at 10:30 p.m., Fridays at 11:30 p.m., Saturdays at 6:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.
Kennesaw State University’s Professor of Art Education Sandra Bird appeared on the show during the week of January 7, 2013, during a segment titled “Islamic Art.” Bird explains that, “ ‘Islamic art’ refers to the people who are creating this art and represents the various territories from which they, and the art, originate.” She says there are several factors that determine this diverse category. “First, one should consider whether the artists in question are practicing Muslims working to sustain themselves. Secondly, are the artists communicating ideas and concerns appropriate to people living within Muslim jurisdictions? And thirdly, does the art have a sacred character, is it consistent with the religion of Islam?”
Some of the sacred aspects of Islamic art can include images and colors, many of which have a history steeped in Muslim and other Semitic traditions. For example, the color green is a symbolic reference to the Prophet Muhammad. Frequently, the dome of a mosque will be tinted, or a brass or metal surface will be allowed to form a green patina in honor of this prophet. “Although Muhammad is considered to be the highest prophet—the beloved—he is but one prophet among many others,” Bird explains. “Islam teaches that all of the prophets of Judaism and Christianity should be regarded with great respect.”
Water is another poetic allusion that is often integrated into Islamic art and architecture because it is a central component of the ablution process conducted before the Muslim canonical prayer. "Typically, there will be a fountain in the courtyard of a mosque,” Bird says. “The free flowing water is used to cleanse worshippers before they enter the sacred space; it is a way of preparing oneself to enter holy ground.” References to water in poetry or architecture reference God’s free flowing grace and mercy.
In the Bible’s Old Testament, scriptures forbid the worship of idols, or “graven images.” Those parameters are echoed in the Qur’an and the Hadith tradition (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), prohibiting artists from using living figures in art. “In accordance with the Hadith, it is believed that on the Day of Judgment the artist will be asked to bring their paintings of living figures to life,” Bird explains. “If the artist is unable to do so, the artist will be condemned to hell.” Bird says this view is still prevalent today in places like Saudi Arabia, but less obvious in territories further away from the Arabian Gulf. “Due to the continued discrimination against using living figures within some areas, Muslim artists tend to rely on a creative use of geometry and abstraction, rather than re-creating realistic imagery. Also, to get around this aniconic tendency, some artists may depict live figures but stylize them to the degree that they appear as an ‘impression’ of life rather than a realistic capture.”
These same topics of Islamic art and aesthetics are discussed in detail in the recently published book, “The Middle East: Its History and Culture,” which includes a chapter written by Bird. The book, which took five years to complete and edit, is designed to serve an academic environment as well as the general public interested in Islamic topics. Various professors who are members of the Middle East Council of the University System of Georgia also contributed chapters to the project. A brainchild of the editor Dr. Jason Tatlock, the book was sponsored by the University System of Georgia and printed by the University Press of Maryland.