Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the eminent Iranian scholar in his lecture at the National College of Arts (during the nineties) described the divide of sacred art in East and West. According to him, making a beautiful and functional fork is also work of art, as great as Sistine Chapple, only because fork is used by a huge population, whereas visitors to Michelangelo’s masterpiece are less in comparison.
Human societies have separate and distinct concept of sacredness when it comes to art. Actually, these differ in their understanding of art too. However, in the beginning probably there was no separation between art and scared. From the caves of Lascaux to the naves of medieval cathedrals, human beings have been depicting sacred entities in multiple forms, scales and mediums. May those be African carvings, Buddhists statues, Chines figurines, Christian mosaics, Tantric manuscripts, Islamic calligraphy, Aboriginal patterns, Jewish miniatures, or Pre-Columbian totems, each is a visual manifestation of a divine being.
Allama Iqabl in his famous poem, Shikwa, reflects on human nature: not believing in god, without seeing a physical substance. Historically art contributed in presenting a tangible object for imagining, concentrating and connecting to spiritual being. Those can be beautifully inscribed words of God, crudely shaped features of a holy character, immaculately painted figures of holy personages, or unhewn stones with a bit of pigments placed on road sides.
It was only in the age of Enlightenment that art, along and instead of serving religion, acquired a status not dissimilar to religion. Modernism made artists enjoy a privilege, prestige and position earlier was reserved for sacred entities only. Today destroying a painting by Vincent van Gogh would be as sacrilegious as desecrating a place of worship. With the establishment of museums and art galleries, a new religion – of art – has emerged. Now people, instead of going to church, visit houses of art, every Sunday, in their best clothes. The quietness of these halls reminds the silence of sacred structures.
Thus in contemporary times, the concepts of sacred, spiritual, and art have gone through multiple metamorphoses. Art Now Pakistan in present issue offers views on these ideas – rather positions through essays, photo-essays and book review. Profile/interview of two artists who have approached the idea of sacredness and spirituality in their individual and unique manner, are insightful addition into the understanding of sacred in the context of art.
One realizes that these debates – even if in the realm of art, are crucial in these critical times, because in some instances art has the power, potency and pleasure to suggest a solution that otherwise is hidden from us, even though it is right in front of us.