Posted on January 21 2017
In the name of the Source of Beauty, al-Jameel
For some time now I have been searching for a convenient representational plot for the internal forces that shape Islamic Aesthetics. I am particularly interested with the emerging artistic forms and representations in what others name Modest Fashion and what I call Hijabart.
Now, as is with all human acts, hijabart is a product of give and take between cultural forces and personal creative potentials of hijabartists. Islamic art is not divine; it is as human as the artists that blew life to it. It is contextual. It is historical.
I have read hundreds of articles attributing emergence of hijabart to “millennial forces” that gave birth to the Generation M. Cool, but what are those millennial forces? And are the millennial forces that gave birth to the emergence of fashionistas same with the forces that produced hijabistas? If yes, there shouldn’t be anything Islamic in Hijabart!
Apparently, there are global forces inducing the Millennial Muslim ladies towards artistic production in what they wear and how they wear, but there is also something deeply Islamic in Hijabart. And no, it is not modesty. Modesty is universal. What we see, or perhaps what we would love to see in works of hijabartists is a strong rootedness in traditional Islamic artistic form and principles.
I have detected certain principles and oft-repeating forms that acted as carriers of Islamic Art throughout its history. These may be seen in non-Islamic Art also, but they have their peculiarities to Islamic cultural milieu. Here come the participants of any meaningful dialogue on hijabart:
Imitatio Dei: I will write extensively about “imitating God’s art”. Suffice it to say here that this concept in Islam, is radically different than the Theosis of the Eastern Christian theology, which looks for a kind of “divinization” of Man on this world. Muslim understanding is imitation of the ratios, colours and patterns God has put into work in the divine art that we call “Nature”. The aim of this imitation is not becoming like God. On the contrary, it is difference that is being underlined by way of imitating.
Abstraction: Muslim art has always been non-representational. In fact, all forms of art are non-representational. But the Eastern Civilization is inclined towards equation of representation with what is represented and hence the Islamic prohibition of drawing pictures of God or of prophets. So, non-representational here means art with a stress on the fact that what is represented is not the same as the representation. I have heard from my father a story about an art critique looking at Picasso’s fish painting. When asked by Picasso what he thought of the work, he suggested that it didn’t look like a painting. “But my dear sir,” said Picasso, “It is not a fish, it is a painting.” I couldn’t find a credible source for this story, but the moral is quite credible. Muslim artists’ solution to this misconception of representation in art was abstraction. There is almost a consensus among Muslim jurists that Islamic art is abstract art. I have my reservations about this claim, but still, abstraction is a force that resonates at the artistic productions of hijabartists.
Oceanic feeling: This is the quest for infinity. Islamic architecture and calligraphy has produced amazing patterns giving a sense of infinity. In literature the oceanic feeling was produced by a combination of literary devices like missing text, cyclical references between texts, lengthy and repetitive paragraphs of logical inferences and so on. In geometric designs patterns like lines approaching to each other but never uniting or uniting in infinity are examples. We will come to the search for oceanic feeling in hijabart.
Symmetry: This is what it says and is mostly a result of the Imitatio Dei principle. God’s art is vertically symmetric and horizontally asymmetric; so should have been the artworks of hijabartists.
Geometry: Geometrical shapes is the result of the abstraction principle; the shapes being abstracted from the nature. Arithmetic was an extension of this abstraction and Pythagoreans, who believed in logic being the ordering principle of both the nature and the language, suggested that abstract concepts could have been further abstracted into number. Justice, for them, was a square number, for example. Islamic decorative arts are populated with amazingly sophisticated geometric patterns which are rarely replicated in the works of hijabartists. A primary explanation lies in the fact that hijabart is still at the consuming end of apparel production. Hijabartists are yet to enter into designing fabrics for their own.
Arabesque: Though a continuation of Roman floral decorations, Muslim artists excelled in arabesque. Arabesque is a form of decorations based on repeating linear patterns of scrolling and interlacing foliage, tendrils of plain lines. Though arabesque patterns used leaves and some of the fruits mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, the overall idea of interlacing, scrolling, spiraling and repetition is an extension of the third principle: quest for infinity.
So, we have three underlying principles and three embodiment of those principles as the chronotopic forms of Islamic art.