Refining the Fine Arts – Part OneShare
By EC Blogger Sarah Mostafa
A few years ago, I was sitting in a large, darkened lecture hall with tens of thousands of people at the RIS conference in Toronto. Dr. Sherman Jackson was giving a talk and I was jotting his words down frantically, trying to figure out a shorthand way to capture all his genius ideas. My pen stopped when he got to this phrase that still rings to me now:
‘We need to redefine a new culture for ourselves. We need a new definition for Muslim fun. A new Muslim cool. A new Muslim chic. A new Muslim sexy.’
Did he just say that?
Dr. Jackson is surely not the first Islamic leader to urge American Muslims to create a culture that is original. But his bluntness caught my attention.
And now, Elevate Culture is going to try to tackle it right here, right now. Because it’s time to face the music. What exactly do we have in mind when we say Muslim art? For many, if not most people, Muslim art conjures images of beautiful calligraphy and stunning arabesque style masjids and cultural centers.
But that’s not all what art is. It’s not even a small part of it. Art is what happens when you pick up a pen, or paintbrush, or mold things with your hands in an attempt to express what you’re feeling, raw and uncensored. Art can be a joke, a monologue, a poem, or a photograph. And art digs deep into complicated topics. Like relationships, desires, hate, temptations, racism, doubt, and depression.
Like a middle-aged couple unable to find fulfillment in their marriage. Or a young teenager struggling through depression because he could swear no one in the world understands him. Or a person facing an uncomfortable budding attraction to the co-worker in the cubicle next to theirs. Topics we’re at a loss on how to express among other Muslims because we’re too worried we’re going to offend someone, somewhere out there. Our response, unfortunately, has been to run away from art altogether and hide behind less controversial, but also less meaningful, quarters.
And then there’s the problem with mainstream art.
As the stereotype stands now, art is about the taboo. The less clothes it has or the more vulgar it sounds, the more artistic and deep it is. Unfortunately, many valuable messages are presented in ways that are self-destructive to the message itself. When a movie wants to show love between individuals, it uses a scene that reveals more skin than meaning. When the goal is to depict freedom or liberty, uncontrolled bursts of passion are idolized. When fashion wants to depict elegance, a slinky short black dress and black pumps usually does the trick.
But just as fast food looks and tastes great but ends in very little that is meaningful for our bodies, art that relies mainly on carnal representations leads to short-term satisfaction and little meaning for our mind or soul. Anyone can take a picture of someone sans clothes or film an explicit scene and call it ‘a representation of burning passion’. But how many can use the non-sensual to represent the sensual in a way that doesn’t distract from the original message? How can we show love and romance without needing to be explicit? How to get past the tabooness that intrigues the child in us and use art to send real messages, not cheap thrills? How to think outside the obvious? That is true genius and art.
Muslim art should always be about the bigger purpose. The objective is that you walk away a better, deeper, and more inspired person. And yes, some challenges are presented. As Muslims, we have boundaries. In the world of Muslim fashion, modesty is the axiom. In the world of music and lyrics, respect and refinement is the boundary. In the world of visual arts, provocative dress and scenes won’t cut it. But there is endless opportunity within those boundaries to express ideas we haven’t even thought of through ways we’ve completely overlooked. We just need to put our heads together and think.
And that’s what Elevate Culture is here to help you do.