(Special to Simerg)
[Editor’s note: Before reading the following explanatory piece related to Mr. Kosorok’s works, we recommend viewers to his preceding article Part I: 99 Most Beautiful Names – A sculptural presentation of the Names for God from the Qur’an – includes artist profile]
It is difficult sometimes to say exactly why an image or a shape feels appropriate as a response to a specific Name, and if I could accurately articulate the “why,” I think I would be a much better writer! To give some context to viewers of the works, I write a short paragraph for display beneath the title card which includes some traditional explanation for the Name as well as my own response. I am happy to try to trace my thoughts on one of the sculptures, Compeller (Al-Jabbar).
When I started meditating on Compeller, my thoughts kept circling one of my favorite prophets, Jonah. He is a prophet that seems to really like procrastination, and did everything he could think of to put off going to Nineveh (I personally think a big part of that was his desire not to see Nineveh destroyed), but God kept revealing His hand and pushing Jonah in the direction he had to go. It occurred to me that this was also a message that God is intimately aware of us and our unique needs wherever we may be in the world, and however far we may try to go. The 20-sided ball (icosahedron) is the Platonic solid symbolizing water, and served as a good analogy both for Jonah’s journey on the ocean and our own travels. Each panel is etched and painted with intricate vine motifs, which came to mind as I was thinking about how easily we get caught up in the mundane intricacies of everyday life, and how that can separate our hearts from God. Barely visible through the glass are shapes that are fishes in the bottom of the sculpture – the seven fishes represent the “Seven Seas,” another metaphor for our earthly journeys. And of course, the orange shape inside is Jonah’s giant gourd that was going to crush the Ninevites.
In the end, Jonah did everything he was supposed to, and so did the people of Nineveh. I’m not completely sure why this story was “whispered” to me as I worked on the sculpture, but I think it’s because God finds ways of showing us, boldly and undeniably, what He wants us to do – when we have set in our hearts a desire to serve Him, and don’t know quite how to do it.
The whole structure is tied together with techniques learned from traditional medieval bookbinding, as a symbol and reminder that everything is ultimately held together by the Word of God.
Note: Click on each image to view its enlargement.
Inspirer of Faith (Al-Mu’min)
Inspirer of Faith: The behavioral trinity in Islam is: God acts on us, we react to the blessing or chastisement, and the ensuing change informs our behavior towards God – God then responds in His actions on us, and the cycle continues. This three-point cycle is a reality that highlights the personal attention and desires of well being which God has for each of His creations. Each blessing, beginning with the basic ability to live, is a starting point of this cycle of personal spiritual growth. The worry stone suspended in the center reminds us that many times, trials and hardship begin a personal cycle of belief and change when blessings may not have had the same dramatic affect.
Compeller: The prophet Jonah was called to teach the people of Nineveh the error of their society’s ways; in the process of putting off what he may have felt was a hopeless cause, Jonah found himself in situations that consistently led him back to the will of God. The twenty-sided ball is the Platonic solid symbolizing water, and reminds us that regardless of where Jonah traveled – and wherever we may go, as well – he was still subject to the will of God. When charged with a sacred task, when trying to improve oneself, or when being the vehicle to answer the prayers another has offered, it is always beneficial to respond with a helpful attitude to the promptings and compulsions of the Divine Will.
Greatest: The universe is filled with created things, from the stars in the evening sky to the meanest clod of earth – specifically made by the hands of God for our benefit. As humans we possess the gift of perceiving this reality, and the capacity for discovering the order and Divine purpose in each bit of creation. The facets of this piece show constellations hidden in a field of evening blue; the inside faces of each panel carry symbols representing the different methods humans have used to help understand the immensity of creation. The amazing realization is that all things are made for our benefit, that we may fulfill the potential inherent in our own created selves.
Reliever: The Arabian Peninsula presents no natural bodies of open water which last the whole year. A symbol, then, of God’s mercy and grace is the miracle of a life-saving oasis, and the cool healing of the water sheltered there. This work houses a bottle of burn ointment, made from traditional remedies for healing and spiritual clarity, reflecting on the gift of God to heal the broken hearted, and to save – ultimately- the faithful.
Humbler: The universe was created through measure, weight, and number according to many traditions. The infinities of space, the complex interplay of ecosystems, the miracle of life itself, all have been provided for the benefit of us, the thinking creatures. Each face of this work is a window of reflection on the universe, built beyond our ability to comprehend, but for our benefit. None of us have earned this in any way – but to all of us, the universe is given freely.
Merciful: The hand of God – not His literal hand, but symbolically represented here with an image from a Fremont petroglyph – is spiritually extended to all, bond and free, rich and poor, whole or ill, who wish to partake of His infinite, eternal Mercy. Every individual who desires it may ask in faith for, and receive, Divine Mercy. The facts of the air we breathe, the world we have, and our very lives, are proof of the undeserved mercy of God, extended to us in the Divine hope we ourselves will improve. In our own interactions with others, and at every opportunity provided, we need to remember to extend that mercy we desire to receive (and know we need) to those around us; this improves the world we share, and can only serve to make us better, ourselves.
All sculptures shown above: Etched and Fired Glass
Five questions for Andrew Kosorok
Q1. On the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre in Lisbon. The Centre also features 99 Names of Allah on the two interior walls and a glass panel at the main entrance.
The photos are inspiring, and of course I am drawn to the glass* over the door. The centre reminds me of something an early Mormon leader said, in respect to building holy sites – “Only the very best is almost good enough.”
Building the Ismaili center so beautifully and with beautiful embellishments and art, it reminds me that such care and reverence is necessary for such an undertaking. Being human, nothing we make will be truly perfect, but when constructing a holy site like the Center, I feel that God bridges whatever gap may exist, and the site becomes an extention of our hearts’ intent – and reflects a portion of our hopes of Paradise. God reaches towards the works of our hands, and transforms them into something holy. I have no idea how that works, the transformation of our mundane effort into something more than human, but I see plenty of evidence that it happens.
*Editor’s Note: The attribute etched on the glass is Al-Ali’ (the Most High). See it at Ismaili Centre Glass: Name of Allah, and view Names of Allah on one of the entrance walls at Ismaili Centre Wall: Names of Allah.
Q2. On the future Aga Khan Museum for Islamic Art in Toronto
With your news about the Aga Khan’s museum, I got rather excited. That will be another beautiful site, and you have given me something to aim for. Given the Aga Khan’s tremendous and very understated – I don’t think I’ve ever heard or read of him pointing to himself, unlike other world leaders – efforts towards peaceful global community and pluralism, displaying the Project there would be the ultimate Opus.
Q3. On calligraphy in the sculptures
I can’t read or write Arabic yet, so I don’t use calligraphy in any of the sculptures. The term “book arts” refers to the bookbinding techniques I use with the glass which are based on traditional techniques learned from a rare books curator. The forms etched in the glass are designs I draw developed from images I have found in tiles, architectural embellishments, and traditional Islamic text illuminations, taken from a broad range of locations and periods. The sculptures are my personal, non-representational responses to the Names; they are what happens when I reflect on the Names and “listen.”
Q4. On the size of the sculptures
The size of the sculptures are based on fractions of my own cubit, either 5/8 or 8/13. The size is meant to draw people in, and to show how personal the work is; I thought that making them bigger would be intimidating in a gallery setting – I think they would be excellent 10 feet across in a public space, however. The fractions are personal reflections on the pillars of Islam, and the number of angels which will carry God’s throne at Judgment – those fractions end up being about 11 1/2″ (about 30 cm), and I use my cubit to make it personal.
Q5. On how long it take to complete each sculpture
Each sculpture takes about 80 to 100 hours to complete, but that’s hours in the evenings (until 2:00 am or so) and on weekends, because I work full time at a stained glass studio (Glass Images and Creations, http://glassimages.biz/) and teach adjunct at Brigham Young University. Thankfully, some of the work can be done simultaneously – I will usually lay out 3 to 5 drawings and “blue prints” on an evening, and put glass for several sculptures into the kiln for firing at the same time. The hours reflect time on each piece (unfortunately), even including the overlapping. Some days I can only get an hour or two of work on a sculpture, and other days I will get into a “groove” and plug away for a stretch of 6 to 8 hours. Weekends are really productive.
Article Publication date: July 31, 2010
To learn about this Web site, click About Simerg. Please also visit the Simerg Home page, and click What’s New for links to articles posted on this Web site since its launch in March 2009. Comments may be submitted in the REPLY box below.