The New York Times. By Jori Finkel
THE last time that the artist Sandow Birk found himself concerned about responses from Muslims was in 2006. He was developing a film using puppets, inspired by his illustrations for a three-volume English-language version of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” when riots broke out over the Danish newspaper cartoons representing Muhammad.
The outcry prompted Mr. Birk’s film team to reconsider its own representation of the prophet. “We had Muhammad in our film because he was in Dante’s poem,” he said. “Dante put him in ‘Inferno’ as someone who supposedly created schisms.” He argued at the time for respecting Dante’s treatment of Muhammad, as artists like Gustave Doré had done before him.
But the film’s producers were spooked, and Muhammad disappeared from the film. “I thought it was wrong to act out of fear,” Mr. Birk said from his studio here.
“But I was upset for another reason too,” he admitted. His film collaborators didn’t know at the time, but quietly — privately — he had already embarked on another potentially controversial project: an effort to make by hand what he called a “personal Koran.”
Curious to learn more about the book at the heart of Islam and the center of so many global events, in 2004 he began transcribing English translations of the book’s 114 chapters and painting alongside them contemporary American scenes (though with no representations of Muhammad).
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