Ruh al-'Alam, a graduate of the world renowned Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, talks with us about his recently launched project, Visual Dhikr, which aims to develop contemporary Islamic art in Britain.
Why have you chosen the project title 'Visual Dhikr'?
We wanted a name that reflected the inspiration behind our work God and the commands in the Qur'an that instruct us to remember Him. Thus, the term Dhikr (remembrance). 'Visual' is similarly appropriate as we concentrate on reminding people of the Creator through graphic artwork.
What prompted you to take on an initiative like this?
As Muslims we are always looking back at our history and praising the achievements of our forbearers. Their amazing artistic and architectural achievements are a source of pride, as well as a valuable contributor to our unique cultural heritage, but are becoming a thing of the past.
Visual Dhikr aims to help nurture the revival of Islamic art in a contemporary fashion that compliments our lives, in our home, in the modern age. We as Muslims have an identity that is unique, defined by everything from faith, fashion, food to literature why should we forget art?
Is this an art movement in its own right and how many designers and artists work on this project?
Maybe it is, maybe it should be. Islamic art is very unique, people from all walks of life can relate to Islam through the expression of love, knowledge and beauty the art can portray. Islamic art is not only 'seen' but also 'read'.
We have several talented young Muslim artists working in different disciplines including traditional calligraphy, canvas work, digital art, photography, film and audio, ceramics, textiles and fashion.
As a Muslim designer and artist does it frustrate you that there is an evident lack of emphasis on developing and nurturing creative talents in the community?
It can be frustrating at times, but the perception that artistic and creative professions are 'less respectable' professions stem from cultural influence. The lack of emphasis is due to the lack of understanding of the powerful, educational and constructive qualities of the creative arts. The Muslim community needs to encourage and nurture the youth into different career paths so that we contribute to all aspects of civic life.
What inspires your work?
Our inspiration is Islam, the Qur'an and the Prophet's (pbuh) sunnah (traditions). Like many Muslim calligraphers, architects and artists throughout Muslim history, we also take good inspiration from other cultures, including western and eastern concepts.
An acute problem that is especially evident in the South Asian community is that any studies other than science are seen as a waste of time. Did you have to overcome similar mindsets?
As I have already mentioned, it is due to the lack of understanding of the constructive, educational and communicative qualities of the creative arts that leads many Muslim parents to discourage their children from pursuing careers in this industry. I wasn't discouraged as my parents were, and still are, very open to this area. As long as I fulfilled my duty as a Muslim, they have faith in my decision, I am grateful to God for this.
What advice would you give to young brothers and sisters who want to exercise their artistic abilities?
If one seeks to use their creative abilities and pursue a career they need to consider several things:
- Parents must understand the profession and its role in society so they can fully support you and your decisions, this way you wont disobey them.
- Be clear in how your talents will be used and how it will affect people. Creative arts can be used constructively and destructively and you must choose what is within Islamic rulings.
- Look to other artists and designers for inspiration and try to develop your own style and creative process so that you can build a unique portfolio.
Where can we view and buy Visual Dhikr art?
Visual Dhikr is currently online at www.visualdhikr.com where work can be purchased. We intend to launch a full catalogue, God willing, of selected works which can be purchased as stretched canvases. Ten percent of profit from every artwork sold is donated to charity. You can find us at most major national events. Exhibitions are also planned in conjunction with new and upcoming Muslim artists working in the Islamic context.