Art Review: Salma Arastu at Commonwealth Club

Let Faith Rise

I'm happy to be back blogging again after a little break!  Major things have been afoot for me in the volunteer and career worlds, so expect to see these changes reflected in the blog.  More career news will be out in a week or two, but I did write last week about my new involvement in The 1947 Partition Archive.  I also recently started docent training at the Asian Art Museum- we've got a fabulous lineup of South Asian art to learn about this fall, so be prepared to see posts on that after our Friday trainings.  And if you've left a comment on a post and I haven't gotten back to you yet- I will!

But today I'll talk about the lecture I attended Monday night at the Commonwealth Club.  Salma Arastu spoke about her paintings and sculpture in a talk entitled "Sacred Heritage:  A Merging of Islamic and Hindu Traditions."  

We Played While Ama Took a Nap
Born in Rajasthan, Arastu was raised Hindu and converted to Islam when she married.  Her work is influenced by scenes from her childhood, her residence in Kuwait and Iran before coming to the US, and her study of Arabic calligraphy.  Her work has been shown in galleries around the world and is held in several private collections.  Recently settled in California, her studio is located in Berkeley.  If you'd like to see her work up close and personal, several pieces are currently on display at the Commonwealth Club's San Francisco office, on the 2nd floor at 595 Market Street.

Around the Tree III
Arastu's work is shaped by her quest to portray beauty.  She sees beauty both as a way to access God and as a way to share the peace and love God has bestowed on her with others.  Her major artistic themes are unity and relationship:  unity with God and the spiritual, and relationship between people.  The unity of God is often expressed in her work as circles of light, and by the blue form of Krishna in some pieces.  Relationships between people are represented by figures looped together in lyrical lines, often shown touching one another.

Alhamdulillah I
Her art straddles the worlds of Hindu and Muslim, Indian and American, western and eastern.  In Iran she became transfixed by Arabic calligraphy.  Calligraphy is now a major theme in her work, and she blends calligraphy and painting with digital editing (she seemed quite pleased to have discovered the endless wonders of Photoshop).  At times she repeats calligraphic phrases or words over and over within one of her works; at times they stand alone, suspended against a whirling backdrop.

I don't consider myself an art critic (although that may change by the end of docent training!), but I am certainly moved by her work.  It is simple, direct, heartfelt, and generally quite positive.  Her art is also attractive to look at.  I believe this is mostly due to her continuing exploration of beauty.  It's an interesting thought:  when you create art, do you recreate that which you find most beautiful?  Or do you attempt to give meaning to that which most of us find ugly or repulsive?   Most modern art to me is interesting, but not generally attractive.  I'm interested by the fact that modern art often explores the underbelly of popular culture or reveals social hypocrisy, but most of it isn't something I'd necessarily want on my walls.  Arastu's work, in contrast, is something I'd happily live with at home.  Is the point of art to educate or to inspire?  To reflect that which is noble, or to reveal that which is base?  Arastu's work is a deep reflection of her mind and spiritual practice.  It's a reflection of traditions and human qualities that are honored, blended, and cultivated.  That certainly should have a place in the modern art world as well.  
The Blue God V