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Painter pioneers Islamicate impressionism with a watch for the common

7 min read
Painter pioneers Islamicate impressionism with a watch for the common

(RNS) — Artist Safia Latif doesn’t ceaselessly talk about the considering in the back of her lush, loosely brushed oil art work. 

However the day ahead of the Muslim vacation of Eid al-Adha, celebrated this 12 months in early July, Latif made an exception, sharing the muse for her newest piece, titled “The Sacrifice,” along with her greater than 16,000 fans on Instagram and Twitter. 

Eid al-Adha commemorates the tale, instructed within the Quran and the Bible, of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, however Latif characteristically widened its scope.

“The focus is the slain sheep, representing now not handiest the enduring sacrifice of Abraham filing his son to God,” Latif defined, “however the many different sacrificial lambs we discover in previous and up to date historical past, e.g., Christ, Imam Husayn, George Floyd and so forth,” regarding the early chief of Islam’s Shiite sect and Floyd, the person murdered via police in Minneapolis in 2020.

"The Sacrifice" by Safia Latif. © Safia Latif

“The Sacrifice” via Safia Latif. © Safia Latif

Latif used to be in the middle of a doctoral program in faith at Boston College when she bought her first portray, itself impressed via a category she’d signed up for at Harvard. The instructor, Ahmed Ragab, a historian, doctor and documentary filmmaker (now at Johns Hopkins), gave the category the choice of finishing a last undertaking with an artistic paintings. 

Latif, who had painted for excitement as a kid, rendered the fifteenth century Moroccan Sufi mystic Imam Muhammad al-Jazuli in a famed second of ecstatic union with the Divine. 

5 years later, Latif has left academia to color complete time and is understood for her distinctive, expressive taste, which she calls “Islamicate impressionism.” She spoke with Faith Information Provider lately about her paintings, about rising up because the daughter of a Pakistani Muslim immigrant and American Russian Jewish convert to Islam and about collapsing distinctions between secular and sacred artwork. 

The next dialog has been edited for duration and readability. 

Who selected the time period Islamicate impressionism to your paintings?

I got here up with it. I think my paintings is exclusive compared to the distinguished kinds of Islamic artwork dominating the visible panorama — calligraphy or hyperdetailed mosque art work. I’m drawing on Western impressionism to put across Islamic ideas and concepts. I wouldn’t bring to mind (my artwork) as “Islamic.” To me, that has a way of being hyperlegalistic or pietistic, and my artwork is certainly extra transgressive.

“Islamicate” used to be coined via early twentieth century Islamic historian Marshall Hodgson and it describes what I’m doing in my paintings completely. Hodgson used the time period to explain the social and cultural phenomena related to the Muslim global. I can contact on apocalypticism or Islamic futurism and on a regular basis Muslim devotional lifestyles. So I think love it used to be an excellent umbrella time period to seize what I’m portray. 

Are you intentionally being transgressive? Or does the best way you be in contact the custom merely strike some other folks as transgressive?

Perhaps it’s just a little of each. To a few other folks it might be observed as an intervention. But in addition I think I’m conveying a reality that already exists for such a lot of other folks. 

Artist Safia Latif. Photo courtesy of Latif

Artist Safia Latif. Picture courtesy of Latif

My father is historically religious and really pious, so, I’ll check it out on him. The very first thing he mentioned (about “The Sacrifice”) used to be, “Neatly, you already know, we don’t sacrifice the sheep in entrance of different sheep — that is going in opposition to Islamic slaughtering legal guidelines.” It used to be so humorous. I needed to remind him, that is artwork. I’m now not looking to say one thing about Islamic legislation. You roughly must assume past that. 

There’s an animal rights impulse in it. As slightly lady I visited Pakistan all through Eid al-Adha. It’s actually a massacre. You stroll down the road, there may be blood operating in all places, animals being sacrificed on the street. You’ll be able to scent that uncooked meat, blood within the air. I take note as a kid, I simply refused to devour all day. I didn’t wish to contact any meat. 

I’m now not distinctive on this. There are different Muslims who really feel the similar factor. Will we want to kill as many animals as we’re killing or sacrifice as many? In order that used to be one message I used to be sending out. After which past that, reflecting in this thought of sacrifice.

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Is your artwork ever regarded as ‘too spiritual’ for the pro artwork global? 

Oh, certainly. I’ve considered that so much as a result of I’d like to go into the gallery scene. Different artists I observe, Christian artists, are doing identical issues. Gary Bunt’s paintings is astounding. Any artist who dabbles in faith or spiritual issues of their paintings goes to run right into a hurdle as a result of maximum of what you spot within the gallery global is “secular” artwork. 

However Sargent, Rembrandt, even Picasso had spiritual art work. Andy Warhol had spiritual art work. However for those who’re a spiritual artist, that’s by some means other from being this “secular artist.” I believe there’s a strategy to marry the sacred and profane. 


“Box of Poppies” via Safia Latif. © Safia Latif


“Past due Evening Tawaf” via Safia Latif. © Safia Latif


“Joseph within the Neatly” via Safia Latif. © Safia Latif


“Vacationer” via Safia Latif. © Safia Latif


“Atonement” via Safia Latif. © Safia Latif

How have your folks’ backgrounds formed your working out of your religion?

I grew up very Muslim, going to the mosque each weekend. My neighborhood used to be predominantly South Asian and I used to be observed because the white lady. I don’t see myself as a white lady, or a purely South Asian lady both. However to them I used to be white. I had my foot in that global, however one foot used to be outdoor of it. My mother, a Jewish convert to Islam, had my older sister (in her first marriage). That older part sister is Christian. I’ll sign up for her for Christmas. She used to be simply right here for Eid. She celebrated with my in-laws and we exchanged Eid items. 

While you input academia, you understand that such a lot of what we imagine about our spiritual traditions is socially built. (That’s) to not say that what we imagine isn’t true, however I believe it lends itself to this concept of human cohesion — like, we’re all people on the finish of the day, we’re all in search of the reality. 

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Your House sequence options Black Muslim icons Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. Early American Muslims seem to your Prayer on Plantation sequence. How did those two tasks come about?

"Space Mosque" by Safia Latif. © Safia Latif

“House Mosque” via Safia Latif. © Safia Latif

One among my educational advisers in my grasp’s program (in Center Jap research on the College of Texas at Austin) used to be the student Denise Spellberg, who wrote “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an.” Her direction on American Islam began me serious about the primary American Muslims, who had been African slaves. That’s what began my Prayer on Plantation sequence. 

After I bring to mind a Muslim icon that formed my teenage years, that might be Malcolm X. Muhammad Ali, he used to be successful fights and gave Muslims everywhere the sector such a lot hope, particularly in a time the place, you already know, they had been struggling socio-politically. 

Numerous occasions once I’m portray I’ll concentrate to documentaries, numerous area documentaries about NASA and such things as that. I suppose that spilled into my paintings. And it simply grew to become out that Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, they had been the very best topics. I don’t assume I’ll ever become bored with portray them.

How do you hope your artwork is preferred?

I’d hope that I’m conveying one thing common — this feeling of attractiveness, similar to any just right piece of paintings, however then additionally this reality about human beings and about ourselves and our historical past. And I wouldn’t like for it to simply be this artwork that handiest belongs to the Islamic global. I’d hope that it might be preferred via others, non-Muslims as neatly. 

For Muslims, I’m hoping it broadens their working out of Islam. Islam can’t simply be decreased to legislation, which such a lot of it’s these days. In the event you glance past that you’ll be able to have a extra open view of Islam and you’ll be able to be extra accepting of various expressions of piety and religiosity and alternative ways of being Muslim and inhabiting the sector.

"Epilogue II" by Safia Latif. © Safia Latif

“Epilogue II” via Safia Latif. © Safia Latif

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