The Write Stuff
When I teach art appreciation, I always make sure that I spend plenty of time on Middle-Eastern art. Students, particularly in the military-base town where I teach, often don't have ANY positive images of Islamic culture. In particular, I am fascinated by historical Islamic calligraphy. Language, religion, and devoting a lifetime to the study of the craft produce some of the most compelling images to have emerged from art history. More recently, calligraphers have entered the fine-art world, combining their traditional craft with an awareness of contemporary art. Recently, MoMA's Without Boundaries: Seventeen Ways of Looking explored this synergy.
Today on NPR, Morning Edition carried a story about Aba Dhar Muhammad Salih, an Iraqi calligrapher who used to make a living making commercial signs. Because nobody wants to invest in an elaborate sign for a business that could be torn apart by a car bomb at any time, calligraphers have adapted, making the bulk of their living from banners commemorating the dead. Aba Dhar spoke about how hard it is to have to make one's living from tragedy--the difficulty of memorializing people you know and love. Most of the patrons that commision these banners are poor as well, making it even more difficult to make a living. The radio piece brings home the difficulties of reconciling craft (and pride in craft) with tragedy. LINK