A 21st Century Illustrated American Koran at Koplin Del Rio Gallery
Artist Sandow Birk has taken on a mighty task that is sure to provoke controversy and, hopefully, some thoughtful meditation on the nature of Islam, which is not only the principal faith of the peoples with whom our country is currently embroiled in the Middle East – it is also the fastest growing religion in America. But what does American Islam in the 21st Century look like? That is the question Birk explores in a new illustrated edition of the Koran on display at the Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Culver City, September 8 through October 30. Koplin’s vision is distinctly contemporary – but linking images of modern American life with this ancient text creates intriguing and sometimes surprisingly apt associations.
Unlike the Gospels of the New Testament – which relate narratives of Jesus’ ministry on earth – the Holy Qur’an is believed to be the verbatim words of God as communicated through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad in the 7th Century CE. Collected together and grouped generally according to length (rather than chronologically), the 114 chapters (“suras”) form a collection of sermon-like “revelations” that are the fundamental text of Islam, the fastest growing religion in America. At a time when the United States is involved in two wars against Islamic nations and declares itself to be in a cultural and philosophical struggle against Islamic extremists, American artist Sandow Birk’s latest project considers the Qur’an as it was intended – as a universal message to humankind. If the Qur’an is indeed a divine message to all peoples, he ponders, what does it mean to an individual American in the 21st Century? How does the message of the Qur’an relate to us, as Americans, in this life, in this time? What is this message that we have spent so much blood and treasure fighting against? And how can the message of the Qur’an be applied to contemporary American life? In short, what might the Qur’an mean to contemporary America?
From that starting point, Sandow Birk has spent the past four years creating a personal Qur’an. Following the traditions of ancient Arabic and Islamic manuscripts, the artist has been hand-transcribing the entire English-translated text of the Qur’an as was done in centuries past – following traditional guidelines as to the colors of inks, the formatting of the pages, the size of margins and the illuminations of page headings and medallions marking verses and passages. His hand-lettered calligraphy uses an American tradition of writing - that of the street letters of urban graffiti that he finds around his Los Angeles neighborhood. Once each chapter is transcribed, he then seeks to illuminate the text and its message with scenes from contemporary American life – investigating how the message relates to our lives in the United States today. Adapting the techniques and stylistic devices of Arabic and Persian painting and albums, his works blend the past with the present, the East with the West, creating an “American Qur’an”.
September 3rd through October 30
Koplin Del Rio Gallery
6031 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
310 836 9055
Gallery hours: Tuesday - Friday 10:00 - 5:30, Saturday 11:00 - 5:30