It’s Not the Heat: It’s the Humanity

Whoever keeps you and me
from being we,
let his house cave in.
If I don’t become we, I’m alone.
If you don’t become we,
you are just you.
Why not make The East
arise again?
Why not force open
the hands of the vile?
If I rise,
if you arise,
everyone will be roused.
If I sit,
if you take a seat,
who will take a stand?
Who will fight the foe,
grapple the foul enemy hand to hand?

-from “Blue, Grey, Black” by Hamid Mosadiq (1969) translated from the Persian by Sholeh Wolpé and Tony Barnstone taken from Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the modern Middle East (Words Without Borders) Reza Aslan, editor

The Islamic wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, recently reopened after a long renovation. My daughter and I had been shopping in the fashion district for fabric and ended up walking all the way up to the museum to see it. She had suggested walking, I think out of ignorance of the distance. When we finally arrived we were quite warmed by the exertion. It was an unusually temperate fall day. We stood in the elevator, waiting for all the people to enter. We had both removed our sweaters. An elderly man with a smart looking cap entered the elevator with a woman. He stood in front of my daughter and brazenly stared at her chest. Eventually he must have felt my eyes burrowing into him because he looked up at me and I gave him a look that clearly said: I have a book in my bag and I will hit you on the head with it. That’s right Mister: it’s hardcover.

I had conflicting urges to cover my daughter up or go her several steps better and strip down to my underclothes in the stuffy heat. These were my thoughts as I exited the elevator into the Islamic Wing of the Met.

It’s the mastery of pattern and color that I love in Islamic art. Western paintings of similar periods can sometimes seem time sensitive with endless images of Christianity as seen through the controlling eyes of a pious male hierarchy. The Arab world’s favoring of abstract design over images created beautiful reflections in mathematical, artistic, and natural terms.  There is nothing stuffy or dated about the works on exhibit. Whereas with some historical art and artifacts it helps to understand the context of the time and culture, the pieces on display at the Met need no interpretation or relativistic explanations, they simply are. The language is universal. Religious and culturally warping influences cannot permeate the pattern. There are no conflicting urges to attend to.

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3 responses to “It’s Not the Heat: It’s the Humanity

  1. this was very informative for me,thanks

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