Before seeing anything, one can hear the voice of the narrator in Mystic Iran: The Unseen World, directed by Aryana Farshad. The voice is both understated and seductive. This runs true throughout the exhibition titled Light of the Sufis: The Mystical Art of Islam, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
The Sufis follow a path of increasing renunciation to seek tawhid, a mystical union with God. The ritual use of rhythm, pattern and repetition through drums and dance, calligraphy, color, shape and text are a constant throughout the exhibition. The other constant is the elusive quality of text.
One of the most moving works is by contemporary artist Afruz Amighi (b. 1973). This haunting installation of four hanging rows of chains with sequences of beads creates a three-dimensional calligraphic pattern based on the practice of dhikr. Dhikr entails repeating the common name of Allah as well as the other ninety-nine names of God, like the merciful, the compassionate, the creator, and other holy phrases (Akbarnia & Leoni). The use of chains and beads makes reference to the silent act of praying using the rosary, which also relates to Christian ascetics, and Buddhist, Hindu and Jain meditational practices. The work requires the active participation of the viewer, since the different names, written in angular Kufic script are revealed only as one moves throughout the space. The views are fragmented and interrupted, creating an unlimited number of potential readings with the intention of reminding the viewer of Islam’s complexity and rejecting attempts to reduce its cultural expressions to rigid models (Akbarnia & Leoni).
Denitia Smith once quoted Jacques Derrida’s definition of text, and it provides a good approximation to what it is like to experience this work: “…I often describe deconstruction as something which happens. It’s not purely linguistic, involving text or books. You can deconstruct gestures, choreography. That’s why I enlarged the concept of text… Everything is a text; this is a text, he said, waving his arm…” (as cited in Rawlings, 1999).
Rawlings, J. Jacques Derrida. Stanford Presidential Lectures in the Humanities and Arts. http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/. 1999. Dated visited: 7/19/10
Akbarnia, L. & Leoni, F. Light of the Sufis: The Mystical Arts of Islam. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, by Yale University Press, New Haven and London. 2010