Wednesday, February 24, 2010
"Call of prayer" by Raziqueh Hussain in the Khaleej Times Online
19 February 2010
Iranian artist Pouran Jinchi’s art attempts to capture the act of prayer on paper
Prayer has always been the foundation of every faith in the world. Imagine sitting in a room full of people praying and the feeling that you get is calm, peaceful, reassuring and sometimes, overwhelming. One gets the same feelings when looking at ‘Ritual Imprints’, an exhibition at the Third Line gallery (Dubai), on show till February 25.
White calligraphic marks and yellow accents of concentric circles float down over a black canvas; lyrical lines form a field of blue crescents hovering over atmospheric white; abstractions of Farsi letters cluster in circles and form dark lines which loop across a blonde surface. These are Pouran Jinchi’s paintings.
A contemporary artist born in Mashad, Iran, educated in the United States and residing in New York, Jinchi borrows from her home culture’s traditions of literature and calligraphy, and more broadly from the entire history of painting, to pursue her own aesthetic investigations. Trained as a calligrapher in Mashad, the holiest city in Iran, which is home to the shrine of the 8th Imam Ali Raza, Jinchi’s work incorporates traditional aspects of her culture and the beauty of calligraphy.
Her paintings are divided into four series aptly called Dawn, Morning, Noon and Night, signifying the time of prayer. The paintings progress from misty and chalky white in the Dawn collection to deep black and silver hues in the final collection.
The delicately crafted drawings of patterned textures and traditional calligraphy with Islamic geometric design detail the implications of prayer and ritual. The circles and rectangles are decorated with the word ‘Allah’ and inscribed as well as prayers for peace directed to Ali ibne Musa Raza, the eighth apostle in the Shia line of spiritual succession.
“What would you do if you were asked to draw or paint prayer?” she asks. “All I know is that in the past decade, money and consumerism have overshadowed everything else and have become rituals in our lives. Now, with world economies melting, people have started wondering how to get their lives back on track in these difficult moments. That’s when people resort to their faith and begin praying. It is faith and religion that helps fill that void in you. That’s how powerful religion can be and my drawings depict the role of religion in a secular age,” she says.
The drawings are, in fact, rubbings, made by scratching charcoal on thin paper over prayer stones called mohrs — it’s made of special clay brought in from Karbala in Iraq where the Prophet’s grandson Imam Hussain was martyred and the belief says that it has healing powers. She has a display of coloured mohrs on the table. “These prayer stones are placed on prayer rugs. It’s a part of the ritual of prayer as the person places his/her head onto the prayer stone as he or she bends down to pray. Mostly, Shias use the prayer stone. The objects that we use to practice rituals have always fascinated me so I’ve used it to create my form of art,” she adds.
It takes about two months to do a large canvas. “Art is like my child. I try to better it and bring in new details daily. If I make a mistake, I let it go, because that adds to the beauty of the creation as the error remains. It’s imperfectly perfect,” she smiles.
She employs an unusual matrix while retaining the tradition of Persian calligraphy of writing repeated letters to produce abstract compositions. The practice was especially strong in Qajar Iran, a time when calligraphers writing in the Shikasteh script would fill entire pages with repetitions of certain letters without literal meaning.
There’s an element of Sufism also in her works. “That’s true as circles are a representation of life, the day-to-day rituals that give structure to life. The connection here is that Sufi mystics encompass a circular sense of logic and even their trance-like ritual is going round in circles,” she reveals.
She knows the exact purpose of her creations. “I’m not propagating anything here, in the sense that one should become more religious. I’m just drawing attention to what’s already happening in society and to the ritual of prayer,” she says.
The artist has her work displayed at the FBI headquarters in New York. “It’s very interesting how it got there,” she says, adding, “Once a month, the employees are asked to select any art piece that they love and the FBI buys it for them. My painting got a high number of votes and so, I’m up there on that wall,” she says, happily.