Artistry, Features

Join Susan Sarandon to Explore the Depths of Islamic Art

By: Hyacinth Mascarenhas

From the exquisite mosaics lining the walls of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to the majestic grandeur of the Taj Mahal in India, Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World does more than just a general run-through of the history of Islamic Art.

Serving as a “window to Islamic culture and art,” the 90-minute documentary by Unity Productions Foundation explores the contributions and significance of Islamic art and architecture that have stood the test of time. The film takes the viewers through 1,400 years and nine countries diving into the intricacies and even simplicity of Islamic art.

Narrated by acclaimed actress Susan Sarandon, the film goes through a series of themes – The Word, Space, Ornament, Color and Water, each highlighting the significance, intention and motivation of the Muslim craftsmen behind these works of art.

Michael Wolfe, one of the documentary’s executive producers and president of Unity Productions Foundation, says it gives the film an “organizing principle” to take the viewers through centuries of collections of architecture, calligraphy, ceramics and textiles within the Islamic Art world.

“It felt dynamic and released the material, the art itself, from historical and even cultural categories that tend to drag when you try to elucidate them on screen,” Wolfe said.

Narrated by actress Susan Sarandon, the film features captivating footage shot on location from West Africa and Iran to Spain and India, often contrasting simplicity with grandeur to note the differences and similarities between the various cultures of Islamic art.

“Western civilization is somewhat obsessed with the Middle East. But the Islamic lands wrap right around the world, in both hemispheres,” said Wolfe. “It’s a much larger proposition that many Americans conceive. So, we wanted to offer some point of contrast to the usual interpretation.”

The film also follows the journey of Islamic art and architecture across continents to point out the developing juxtapositions and fusion of cultures characteristic of its history and evolution through the ages.

Gently woven into the details about the luxury, refinement and sometimes minimalism of Islamic art, the film also illustrates the relationship between the art form and the religious teachings of Islam, a connection which Wolfe says one cannot separate.

“Even in its most modern expressions, often produced by skeptical ‘post-modern’ Muslims, there remains such a base note of Muslim manners and culture that it’s foolish to pretend they are not related,” Wolfe said.

The documentary does, for example, cover the importance of geometry not only in the proportions and precision of pattern designs but in its religious significance like orienting mosques towards Mecca or designing architecture to capture the idea of the afterlife and paradise on earth.

“In the case of Islam, the world it most consistently mirrors is the spiritual world, the world of things we cannot see – ideas, belief, emotions, the imagination itself, and that this specialty has been its particular gift,” Wolfe said.

The film is produced by non-profit organization Unity Productions Foundation aiming to “create peace through the media.” In addition to producing documentary films, UPF also “implements long-term educational campaigns aimed at increasing understanding between people of different faiths and cultures, especially between Muslims and other faiths.”

Islamic Art is the ninth film by Executive Producers Michael Wolfe and Alex Kronemer and UPF, and will air on PBS as part of the PBS Arts Summer Festival, a new weekly series showcasing films on international arts.

“Islam is not one language, one country, or one culture. It’s a hundred countries, dozens of “cultures,” and a dizzying array of languages,” said Wolfe. “Something unites them, but it’s a challenge to art historians and critics to say exactly what. That’s always interesting – when the experts are stumped.”

Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World will be broadcast nationwide in the U.S. on July 6 at 9pm EST.



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