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The Cultural Lens

Project Name: ______ Is Where The Heart Is

Medium: Digital collage

Summary: One of the biggest takeaways thus far in the class is the notion that there is no one homogenous, monolithic Islam. Instead, culture acts as lens. Various groups around the world have adopted Islamic beliefs and practices, but in a way that are still cohesive with their own ways of seeing and inhabiting the world. I wanted to capture this spirit of differentiation via a very basic aesthetic component – color.

These collages lift surface and interior colors from mosques across many Islamic cultures. The mosque is central to Islamic worship, and the colors are central to creating an environment in which to be grateful and in awe of God. Additionally, analyzing color palettes is shorthand for not only the overall aesthetic of the design, but also points to the regional specificity in the designs and materials used. For instance, the Chinese mosque relies on wood (and therefore wood tones) along with the traditional deep, bright red that generally symbolizes prosperity in Chinese culture. The palette of the Iranian mosque, on the other hand, is dominated by the soft gray of the stone as well as the almost neon-like colors of the ceramic mosaics.

The most interesting takeaway about these color palettes, however, is that no single one has a more cohesive scheme than the others. They are vastly different from each other, but each one balances at least one extremely eye-catching tone in addition to darker tones. In the context of the larger themes in the class, it is clear that cultural lenses are crucial to understanding how different people experience Islam. There is no one way to do so, and that is the key for us to generating a more accurate picture of the whole of Islam.

Note: collages are linked below due to technical difficulties with WordPress – I’m working on embedding them for easier viewing! 

Great Mosque of Xi’an, Xi’an, China

This mosque is a unique mixture of both distinctly Chinese architectural elements (captured in the bright red) and Islamic touches (the blues are from the mosaic on the ground). Like other Chinese traditions, the inclusion of the color red evokes the good fortune to be found in submitting to Allah.

Nakhoda Masid, Calcutta, India

These colors are oddly reminiscent of the Indian flag and puts the mosque in harmony with the streets of Calcutta. The exterior is warm and inviting while the indoors is cloaked in cooler colors and tiles, separating the busyness outside from the contemplation inside, but also keeping worshipers cool in the stifling Indian heat.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

The subtle colors of the Hagia Sophia’s exterior – sun washed shades of beige, lavender, and pink – belie the grandeur of its soaring interior, which is covered in imposing gold and dark stone. There is no question about whose authority reigns within the mosque, with the large calligraphic inscriptions and the placement of the luminous gold in the upper half of the building.

Sultan Suriansyah Mosque, Indonesia

The colors and structure of this mosque are very befitting their tropical environment, offset by the dark wood (perhaps teak) and the practical ceiling fan. The sloped roofs call to the shape of minarets but are limited by building with wood and also the need to let rain flow away.

Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, Iran

In the bright sunlight, which in this climate would be most of the time, this mosque looks washed out in tones of whites and grays. Upon closer inspection, however, the brilliant colors of the mosaics begin to emerge – hot pinks, canary yellows, and a surprisingly pure royal blue. This structure could easily be very overwhelming, but the abundant use of white space spares some delicacy, keeping the viewer in a state of awe extremely befitting a place of worship.


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