Who Wrote The Book Of Love? Rumi Did!
Published on Wednesday, 25 September 2013 12:42 Category: Art at Aslan Media
For over 35 years, Salma Arastu’s art has been a celebration of both the human spirit and the human form. Anyone who strolls into the artist’s cozy Berkeley studio is immediately greeted by dozens of canvases and sculptures in every size and shape. It’s difficult not to marvel at Arastu’s artistic prolificacy–she also has over 40 solo exhibitions to her credit—or not envy her daily practice of working in her studio to create new art. Whether it’s acrylic, copper, paper, wood, clay or mixed media, Arastu is comfortable and proficient working with a variety of different mediums and thrives on experimentation. Arastu is also a skilled Arabic calligrapher who often incorporates words or verses from the Qur’an in her paintings.
Bold colors, lyrical lines, rich textures and constant movement are hallmarks of Artastu’s work, but universal love is the underlying message of all her pieces. “I want to give joy to people,” she remarks, “peace to people, hope to people.”
Arastu was born and raised in India and began painting at an early age. Her talent was quickly recognized by her parents, who encouraged her to paint. As a young artist, Arastu was moved by nature—particularly trees, clouds and waves—but her work took on a more spiritual dimension after marriage when she converted to Islam.
After moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, Arastu became very interested in Sufism, Islam’s mystical branch, where she found spiritual solace. She soon discovered the poetry and teachings of Rumi, the 13th century Sufi poet and mystic, whose message of universal love resonated deeply with her own beliefs. “Love is the only way to find God,” she says.
Arastu’s unusual experience and understanding of Hinduism and Islam, which both share the concept of divine love, has provided the artist with a unique lens from which to interpret the world and provides the foundation of her artistic philosophy, allowing her work to serve as a bridge between two religions that are often in conflict.
“As a young girl I was introduced to Meera Bai, who was a Hindu princess, a mystical singer and a devotee of Lord Krishna,” she explains. “She was from Rajasthan and one of the most significant figures of the Sant Tradition of the Vaishnava Bhakti Movement. I grew up singing her devotional songs and reading about her longing for Lord Krishna. And now at this age I have discovered Rumi’s poetry, which echoes the same longing for the Beloved and calls everyone to just immerse themselves in that eternal love and find peace, unity and freedom.”
Rumi’s words, which Arastu says “speak the human heart,” continue to inspire and inform her work and serve as the basis of her latest book Turning Rumi: Singing Verses of Love, Unity and Freedom. The visually-arresting volume features 50 of her pieces, paired with Rumi’s poetry, provided in both English and in the original Persian. It took Arastu two years to complete the project. She began in 2010 with three copper figures. By the end of 2011, she finished 20 paintings and by 2012, she added 30 more. She often works on 2-4 paintings at a time.
Arastu felt compelled to create this book as a way to illuminate the universal message of divine love that exists in Islam. “I want to bring Islam to the people,” she explains. “Rumi has made Islam a loving language. Rumi speaks the Qur’an.”
“In multicultural societies in many parts of the world, divisions are deepening, particularly between Muslims and non-Muslims, which are regrettable and sad as those divisions are rooted in ignorance and prejudice. In an effort to foster understanding and tolerance among people, I plan to create a series of new paintings that informed and inspired by Rumi…My purpose is to teach out to the wider community in the pursuit of peace, celebrate diversity and create positive inter-faith dialogue. Visual arts subtly penetrate deep into the human heart and combined with the powerful words of a great poet, who speaks the most beautiful and fascinating language of love and appreciation for life, will lead to a positive understanding and pursuit of peace.”
Salma Arastu’s work is currently featured in two Bay Area exhibits:
“Approaching The Quran” August 26- December 23, 2013 On September 29 from 1-4, a special event will feature an introduction to the Qur’an, presentations by the artists, “Islam and Art presentation” and recitation of the Qur’an verses. Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, 2301 Vine Street, Berkeley, CA 94708
“Paths of Seasons 2” (group show) August 26 – November 1, 2013 Malonga Casquelourd Center For The Arts Annex 1428 Alice street, Oakland, CA 94612
To learn more about Salma Arastu, visit the artist’s website: www.salmaarastu.com
By Farah Jahan Siddiqui Bullara, Aslan Media Contributing Arts Writer
*Photo Credit: Courtesy of Salma Arastu via Facebook