Artist Salma Arastu’s life and work have been a project of bridge building between cultures, religions and art form. Drawing on her Indian heritage and Islamic spirituality background she combines expertise in Arabic calligraphy with contemporary painting methods she creates large, evocative canvases that invite viewers into quiet contemplation on texts from the Quran, the poet Rumi, and other sources.
In her paintings Arastu brings Arabic Calligraphy into dialogue with Western Modern art movements like Abstract Expressionism ( emphasizing spontaneous, gestural application of paint complete with paint drips) and color Field painting ( emphasizing muted, shifting color tones and intensities), Her use of thin washes of acrylic, geometric patterns and other elements results in a sense of deep mystery and profound color.
Founding Director, Museum of Contemporary Religious Art,
Saint Louis University.
Arastu’s flowing lines stem from the influence of Persian culture on Islamic script while her concentric compositions reflect rotating Indian mandalas as symbols of the universe. AS in other forms of Islamic art, her words can be monumental in their sweeping scope, while more diminutive lettering interacts with figures and shapes, showing her knowledge of how words and images can work together.
-Dr. Cathleen Fleck ,
Associate Professor of Art History at Saint Louis University.
Arastu’s art, with its joyous but generalized dancers (Sufi dervishes?), jewel-like colors and rich, layered textures, embraces the collective pursuit of union with the divine, which she sees in ecumenical, inclusive, non-sectarian terms.
If much contemporary art has largely abandoned any hope of influencing reality or elevating its audience, Arastu’s art pays us the compliment of assuming that we want a better world and will gladly and even joyfully do the work, spiritual and otherwise.
San Francisco Bay Area art writer andCritic, Curator of Stanford Art Spaces.
The work Salma has produced for this exhibition is elegant and arresting. She successfully melds traditional design motifs, contemporary abstraction, and the most exquisite calligraphy into works that can speak to anyone willing to listen and see. One need not be of the same faith, or any particular faith, to get the message. We are one. So I learn from Salma’s artful prayers.
Triton Museum of Art
Painter, sculptor, print maker, calligrapher, and creator of mysterious mandalas, Salma Arastu sees her work as inspired by the spirit of the divine. Born in the Hindu religion of India, she later converted to Islam, surmounting barriers of separation. Paramount in her life and her art is her faith in the unity of an all-embracing divinity and universal human values.
Having her work exhibited in many venues in the US as well as Europe, she lives and works in Berkeley, California. For many years now she has been occupied with
the creation of paintings based on calligraphy. In her series “Unity of Sacred Texts” she uses Arabic and Hebrew letters as well words in English and Sanskrit to write in free-flowing letters based on sacred texts which are set against grounds of subdued rust colors and variations of grays to announce that “God is everywhere”.
Arastu has also turned to the poetry of Rumi, the great 13th Century
Persian poet, musician and Sufi scholar, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, whose work has been translated into many Asian and European languages. Working with many layers of thin paint, her brush produces fluid shapes of joyful dancers set against abstract patterns, Arastu’s paintings correspond to Rumi’s poems of love and peace.
– Peter Selz
Art Historian and former curator of Museum of Modern Art and founder of Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, 2015
Salma Arastu is blessed with a fluent and lyrical visual language. She is a diverse and solid multicultural humanist. As a woman, Hindu and Muslim, her work reflects, as well as transcends, all barriers with compassion and creative elegance.
– Professor Ricardo Viera
Director / Curator, Lehigh University Art Galleries / Museum Operation Bethlehem, PA, August 2008
If these paintings attain their liveliness through a rubbing together of opposites at a conceptual level, a potent dynamism also operates within each composition in Arastu’s painterly style.Broad areas of wash are given counterpoint by devotion to fine, rhythmic detail which is more than embroidery. It is the mark of Arastu’s personal absorption of the stories she recasts.
— William Zimmer
Art Critic, New York Times New York City, February 1994
In her work, the bodies are blended together. It isn’t clear where one begins and one ends. Often all the figures are drawn with the same line. They are deliberately created as a whole, as a group, as an ensemble. The world Salma Arastu is helping us create is one in which the magic of communion plays a central role. Her subjects include people who, whatever they do, they do together. They initiate each other, they celebrate together, they grieve together, they pray together.
— Pana Columbus
Producing Artistic Director, Circle of Stones Ritual Theater Ensemble Emmaus, PA, September 2004
The passion of love and inner peace is what inspires her to create exceptional works that speak to the spirit of humanity in all of us.
— Ranjeet Pawar
Art Director, Monsoon Galleries Bethlehem, PA, January 2006
It is interesting, however, that the most recent work, structured to explore the contemporary artistic idiom, clearly displays elements encoded in the style of Indian miniatures. And indeed the works which recall this tradition are among the artist’s strongest pieces. The blending of traditional and contemporary imagery shows the artist striving for a unique personal expression. Visual elements from numerous cultures, traditional and modern, Eastern and Western, are her tools.
— Excerpt from a short essay, “Salma Arastu, Traditional and Contemporary Imagery,” by Charlotta Kotik, Curator of Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art. This essay introduced the paintings by Ms. Arastu, in a solo exhibition at the Art Heritage Gallery, in New Delhi, India in March 1998.
Ms. Arastu believes in the ultimate victory of human dignity and in the continuity of human cycles. The impenetrable forms that arise from the amassing of the figures speak to this end and act as a beacon renewing the desire of humans for independence and determination.
— Excerpt from an introductory note by Halide Salam, Curator of Non- Western Art, Radford University Art Museum, Radford, VA. This 2005 Salma Arastu exhibition was sponsored by the McGlothlin Family Endowment in support of the South Asian Cultures Festival in 2005.
The geometrics are a highly popular form in Islamic art, whereas a cube relates to the “Kaaba,” the sacred place for Muslims all over the world. Brilliantly she archives the childhood memories of story telling, music lessons, family meals, leisure times within a square; unconsciously she has saved these happy memories. The “Cube” relates to the spirit and there are several nuances relating to the “Cube.”
— Excerpt from an essay, “Art Scene, Illumination: Salma Arastu” by Fatima S. Khan, art curator, in Pakistan Link, first Pakistani newspaper on the internet since 1994, Wednesday, May 30th, 2007.
With her suggestive and suggested miniatures, so modern and respectfully reinterpreted, we feel the emotion of a present immersed in the past and yet projected into the future. Evocative and refined, Salma’s miniatures are totally fresh and enjoyable.
— Excerpt from an essay, “Admirable Fusion of Grace and Energy,” by curator of “A Gallery” in New York City, in The Asia Observer, January 29, 1998.
This was a solo exhibition by Salma Arastu. Whether figuratively narrative or purely abstract, Arastu expresses, especially through paint handling and color, a spiritual joy not commonly found in most contemporary art.
— Excerpt from an art review by Isadore La Duca in The Irregular, The Easton & Two River Area, June 1998. This was Salma’s solo show of paintings at De Arte Magick Galleria in Easton, PA.
Arastu’s new work is a unique spin on folk art and miniatures, blended with western techniques.
— Excerpt from an art review, “A Bite of the Big Apple,” by art critic Lavina Melwani in India Today, February 23rd, 1998. This review was for Salma’s solo show at the “A Gallery,” New York City.
Salma’s paintings are an admirable fusion of grace and energy. They are delicate and yet so powerful. Her abstract works are a charming explosion of light and shapes.
— Excerpt from an art review, “Kamlesh Arastu’s Exhibition at ‘A Gallery,’” New York City, in News India-Times, page 28, February 6, 1998.
This series of paintings is a procession and progression of our life. Salma connected us to the circular spiral. She gave us another look into life with paintings done in groups, family and friends, holding and touching and gathering.
Again Salma commands the movement, prevailing each time at the clear sweep of the stroke. Hurtling and engaging us in a balmy, intimate closeness.
— Excerpt from a poem, “Dance of Life,” by Deborah Rabinsky, independent art curator and arts activist, Allentown, PA, June 1998.
The people on artist Salma Arastu’s swirling canvas are always faceless, interchangeable figures by action and movement… For decades, Arastu has transcended boundaries, depicting indistinguishable people together on colorfilled backgrounds…With works such as Hope the Moon and Spiritual Ecstasy, she incorporates themes of prayer and praise.
— Three excerpts from an essay, “Art aiming to bring diverse people to one God,” by Kristin E. Holmes, staff writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, January 11, 2004. The essay, which appeared in the Faith Life section, was based on an interview the writer conducted with the artist
Arastu’s new paintings are beautiful orchestrations of color and are done with a seemingly choreographed movement that mesmerizes and draws the viewer into the celebration.
— An excerpt from an essay, “Salma Arastu,” by Diana Cercone in Art Matters, October 2002. The essay, which appeared in the Featured Artist section of Art Matters, was based on an interview the writer conducted with the artist in her studio at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Art Matters is an art paper that is published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Salma Arastu paints pilgrimages. Re-creating rituals in her native India, the Bethlehem Township resident creates processions for marrying, worshipping, galloping the galaxies. Her works now displayed at Open Space Gallery, are equally grounded and ascendant.
— Opening paragraph from a review, “Lyrical pilgrimages, rituals are Arastu’s palette,” by Geoff Gehman, art critic of The Morning Call, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, May 2002.
This work, very much like Pablo Piccaso’s Guernica, captures the phenomenon and horror of people unwittingly caught in an inexplicable tragedy and by inescapable peril. Ms. Arastu’s canvas has a palette that runs from sanguine backdrop into black, silver, gray, red and white. What I find most remarkable about this artist’s work is what seems to be her attempt at a continuous line. For it is in her fluidity and by way of her integrity that she begins to tell a tale whereby the story which unfolds is not an open and shut case. Furthermore, as this canvas unwinds she carries us across in a sweep of pictorial action. By way of this free range cosmography, there seems to come a creative unwinding out from within.
— Excerpt from an art review, “This is the One,” by art critic Lee Klein, NY Arts Magazine, New York City, May 31, 2002. This review was for a group exhibition in response to the tragedies of September 11th for the Arts Community of Easton, Pennsylvania.
K.A.: There are some mystical elements in your expressions. Do you feel yourself close to Islam’s mystical sides? Can we describe you as a modern dervish or sufi?
S.A.: I feel quite close to Islamic mysticism. Spirituality is my main source of inspiration. Spirituality comes from deep inside my heart. My sole purpose is to reach ecstasy by painting and help people reach this state.
— Excerpt from the interview “Modern Dervesh [Modern Bir Kadin Dervis]” with artist Salma Arastu [S.A.], by Kubiley Akman [K.A.], in the Turkish language art magazine, Gencsanat, published in Turkey, May 2004. This is a translation from the original Turkish language.
Though her paintings have a more universal impact, Arastu feels that everything she does is art.
— Excerpt from an interview in Dharma World by Jacqueline Ruyak, freelance writer for the magazine published in Japan. Vol. 33, October – December, 2006.
…and even a casual glance at her work shows that it has the weight of a person who takes her art seriously indeed, the freshness of one to whom art is an adventure and the sincerity of an artist who is really involved in her work.
— Excerpt from a review, “Solo Exhibition,”by an art critic for The Statesman, a leading newspaper of India, Calcutta, India, April 2, 1973.