While many artists devote their practices to formalist iterations on line, contour, color, and surface, others have a deeper thematic orientation verging into the realm of the visionary. Salma Arastu is one such artist, a passionate advocate for cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue, committed to the precept that art can bridge what political discourse alone cannot. In We Are All One, she calibrates several unique series toward this mission. Copperplate images of dancing forms hold forth in in a stripped-down iconic style, jubilant and child-like, inspired by the poems of Rumi and speaking to ecstatic states of insight and transformation. In a lyrical series of calligraphic tableaux, sometimes mounted like tapestries, she incorporates mystical symbology and texts in Arabic, Sanskrit, Hebrew, and East Asian scripts, many of them intermixed, a manifestation of diversity and mélange. Another body of work posits a link between spirituality and ecology, a Gaia-based paradigm in which humankind is knitted inextricably into the fabric of nature, a connection uniting “soil and soul,” to use her poetic phraseology. Collectively, this is a rapturous, High Romantic conception of nature, culture, and spirit enmeshed, concretized in artworks that marry pictorial dynamism with meditative serenity. Arastu believes that an active engagement with aesthetic forms can alter consciousness and indeed change the course of current events. Her mixed-media paintings, so rich in their layering of materials and meaning, invite a gentle revolution in attitudes, challenging viewers to push a reset button within our preconceptions and, in so doing, to impact the wider world for the better.
—Richard Speer is an art critic, curator, and author based in Portland, Oregon. His reviews and essays have appeared in ARTnews, Visual Art Source, Art Papers, Artpulse, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Salon, and Newsweek, and he is the author of more than two-dozen books about contemporary artists. He has curated exhibitions in California and the Pacific Northwest. For more information, visit www.richardspeer.com