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A Creature of Mystery

Project Name: Burdah of My Bits and Bobs (view it here, again due to technical difficulties)

Medium: 3D collage

Summary: The burdah is a mythical creature that appears in the mir’aj – it is a being with the body of a horse and the head of a man, and it plays a central role in the story of The Prophet’s pilgrimage by carrying him up into the heavens, where he then meets the prophets of old and eventually Allah himself. It is no doubt a mythical creature, however, and so some readings have interpreted it as a metaphor for love- it is telling us how true submission to Allah requires unconditional, unbridled love for the divine.

While the burdah’s role is well-established in this lore, the creature itself has been a channel for artistic creativity for centuries. As demonstrated in our readings for this class, some see it as a creature of the heavens and thus treat it as a mythical, foreign object; they emphasize the material being, embellishing the burdah almost more than the remainder of the story. Others focus on its relationship with the Prophet – it can be stubborn or a mute being, closer to either a fellow human or a horse. Despite these differences, the end result is definitively a product of each author’s imagination, and I wanted this project to capture the openness of interpretation that these sorts of stories in Islam allow for.

And so I created my own version of the burdah. In an attempt to highlight how important love is to this story, I composed the piece with things that mean love in my life, whether it be items or experiences. The body of the being is made up of mini vinyls found in my friend’s room, symbolic of both my appreciation of items of the past and also of the times we’ve spent congregated around a record player, Spotify playlist, or the sounds of a city. The front leg is my passport, my basic tool for wandering and discovering what this world has to offer. The pouch with faces is a souvenir from those travels, and the Ecuadorian artist of the faces, Oswaldo Guayasamín, reminds me of the time when I learned how much someone could love their country, something much bigger than themselves. The back leg is my phone case with the phrase “bien fait”, or French for “done well” – I have deep respect for craftsmanship and art, and also strive to bring that depth of thought to my everyday. Finally, the halo is a necklace from my collection, a symbol of my love for curating fashion. \

By thinking through what these items mean to me, I found that my burdah became less about me and the materials and more about what they stand for, whether it be other people, other places, other ways I can contribute to the world. It was a small experiment in the pursuit of egolessness, I’d say, and I’m curious to know what my burdah will be down the road.