Zainub Verjee (@zainubverjee): Connecting to Spirit through Art

As part of Ramadan spirit, Zainub Verjee was invited to speak to Jamat across US and Canada as part of the Critical Conversations: Connecting to Spirit through Art, with more than 500 members logged in onto zoom. It was exciting to talk over an hour on art and invoked: Abbas Akhavan (Variations of Garden); Anila Quayyam Agha from Rice University Texas (Intersections) Christo & Jeanne-Claude’s (Wrap in, Wrap out); Shahid Akhtar (from Hunza Valley), Gulzar Quintino (Refugees) and my work écoute-s’il-pleut. Through these works, I invoked the Islamic iconography of Garden, Light, Water . . .towards connecting to Spirit through Art. The presentation was moderated by Nausheen Hoosein, an art historian from Dallas, Texas.

Exclusive Excerpt for Ismailimail from the Presentation:


Art and culture are deeply embedded in our daily lives and imperative to our identity and our way of being. At this time of the pandemic and Ramadan – we have an opportunity to pause, reflect and connect to our spirit.

Today living under the pandemic in a lockdown, we are also seeing that our connection / experience of the arts has been more valued and called upon.

But I would like to draw your attention to the idea of the centrality of artists in our society.

A text, sound or an image can be a very powerful instrument of resistance, or hope, or enlightenment.

Have you noticed that at any time we have experienced crises in our societies — be it war, a coup, take overs, natural disasters that artists and their works are the first to be targeted. We either call upon them or simply abandon them to the powers. Why? Hold that thought for a moment.

In this video (Danatum Passu) we see through the honoured poet Shahid Akhtar tell the story of the region, the passing on of culture, respect for the ancestral wisdom, the music, the engagement of young people particularly women – all this to say that the identity of the community is deeply embedded through art and culture. For these people art and culture is not something that is to go to for consumption, but it is what they live. Hence this what I call the embeddedness of art and culture.

Danatum Passu from UmangPoetry on Vimeo.

Also, what you heard in this video is the Wakhi language. The language of the Pamir mountains! It’s an international language. Do you know there are only 40000 speakers left.

Language is a key carrier of culture — from generation to generation–of humanity.  A language is not a single life system. It is a very large symbolic system. When the symbols collapse they do not do so in a single moment. The collapse is felt over a large time. A given language only has a certain kind of ability to narrate the world, and the consciousness can enter the world only to the extent that language can allow it to enter the reality surrounding it.  That’s why storytelling is one of the primary acts of humans. Be it a song, a painting, or cooking!

The core point I am making here is that we have lost our connection to this embeddedness of art and culture.

If you wear saris then think of the entire civilization that was built on the idea of Unstitched Cloth: The role of drapery in civilization; Role of the Textiles.

Similarly, if you are into food, think of recipes as cultural text. Think of food cultures!

Be curious to know why the humble pottery or ceramics are powerful artefacts!

Art is the deeper philosophical quest.  It is not consumption — getting a fancy big designer bag!  It is not Entertainment!!

Art is around you amongst you. And so is the artist.

Artists are brilliant in understanding the civilizational pull and they draw it into a gallery setting to address contemporary conditions. They are connectors. Actually, artists are very engaged with the link to our ancestral and civilizational histories and contemporary conditions. What happens is that the art gallery becomes the site where new knowledge and understanding of our contemporary conditions is produced.

Here I am going to show you another beautiful work of art to enable you to grasp the complex process that artist put in place yet their final work appears to be a simple idea but with profound meaning.

Anila Quayyum Agha: Intersections from Walley Films on Vimeo.

Civilizations are preserved through languages and art.

Artists take the greatest risk to expose oneself in utmost vulnerabilities to take you there to that deep space. And Art is that deep space. Art allows you to connect to your spirit!

Finally, there cannot be more opportune time to speak of artists than today.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of The Status of the Artist ”the declaration made in the 21st session of the UNESCO at its meeting in Belgrade recommending the adoption of the Status of Artist in Oct 1980. Apart from ensuring their social and economic wellbeing, the legislation attempts to place artists on an equal footing with other professionals in the labor market.

Artists our national treasures and jamati treasures. Respect Art, Respect Artist  and always pay artists for their work – and let art connect you to your spirit.”

Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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