Islamic Motifs in Contemporary Indonesian Painting and Calligraphy.

Making Islamic Art: The Work of A. D. Pirous

What makes a work of art “Islamic”?
How might Muslims think of art as a religious practice?
How do Muslim artists mix traditional and contemporary themes, patterns, and images?

Students will read about modern Indonesian artist A. D. Pirous, learning how the artist uses Qur’anic calligraphy and emblems of Islamic spirituality to express his identity, which is ethnic, religious, national, and cosmopolitan at the same time. Students will practice visual skills
by examining and analyzing the paintings by Pirous and investigate additional examples of Islamic calligraphy from other countries.

Students will be able to:

  • Identify elements of Qur’anic calligraphy and emblems of Islam as found in contemporary art.
  • Describe meanings of works of art by analyzing how specific works are created and how they relate to historical and cultural contexts.
  • Reflect analytically on various interpretations as a means for understanding and evaluating works of visual art.

Two class periods

Visual Arts, Literature and Performance
Laurie J. Sears,
See especially the section on “Writing Systems and Manuscripts” on incorporation
of Arabic script into local writing systems.

Religious Practices and Cultural Expression
Michael Laffan

  1. Background essay by Kenneth M. George
  2. Seven visuals in color on p. 171 (five visuals by Pirous and embroidery by Pirous’s mother, two additional for comparison of use of color, including gold, design and
    • “Sura Isra II: Homage to Mother” 1982
    • Kasab (embroidery by Hamidah, the mother of A. D. Pirous, 1941)
    • “For the Sake of the Sparkling Morning Light,” 1982
    • “When the Earth Quakes,” 1982
    • “The Night that is More Perfect than a 1000 Months,” 2000
    • “Meditation toward the Enlightened Spirit I,” 2000
    • Page from an illuminated Qur’an from Indonesia: Tafsir Al-Quran, verses in praise of the Prophet. Arabic and Bugis languages and scripts, p 178
  3. Qur’anic verses from paintings with annotations for visuals (#1 and #2 are combined)

  1. Display the six paintings by Pirous for the class. Before telling the students the titles of the paintings or what the calligraphy means, ask them to come up with their own titles, in order to engage the students directly with the works of art.
  2. Share the background essay with students, to provide context for the visuals.
  3. Divide students into five groups and provide each member of the group with the appropriate Qur’anic verses and Annotations worksheet (include #2, the piece of
    embroidery by Pirous’s mother, with #1, “Homage to Mother”). Ask each group to do a “close reading” of one painting each. Ask them to choose one representative of each group to be a “docent,” or museum lecturer, and give a short presentation on the group’s painting to the class following the group discussion.
  4. Have students from each of the five groups make brief docent presentations to the whole class. Conclude presentations with a whole class discussion and reflection, including the following points:

    Comparing the six works of art
    • What, if anything, do these five paintings have in common? (All but one include Arabic calligraphy. All include geometric shapes. All use gold or golden yellow somewhere in the painting.)
    • In what ways are the paintings different from one another? (Four use geometric forms, triangles or squares, and one does not. One is figurative. One does not use calligraphy. Four use borders painted on two sides or more of the paintings.)

    Calligraphy as an art form

    • In a work of art which incorporates calligraphy, is it necessary to understand what the calligraphy says in order to appreciate the beauty of the artwork?
    • Does it change your point of view about any of Pirous’ paintings to find out what the calligraphy says and consider the meaning of the text?
    • The text is in a language many Americans do not understand: how important do you think it is for the viewer to understand the text?
    • If you were the curator of an exhibition of the works of A. D. Pirous, would you include for the viewers the translations of the calligraphy in each painting that incorporates it?

Students will be assessed on participation in small group work, docent presentations, and full class discussion. Formal assessment of extension exercises provide more in-depth evaluation of underlying concepts.

This unit utilizes several modes of learning/assessment to address the strengths of diverse students. Heterogeneous grouping may provide additional support for diverse learners.
Provide students with copies of the Unit Glossary for scaffolding reading comprehension.

  • Researching Islamic Art
    Have students research and report on other works of calligraphy from other parts of the Islamic world. Each student should select one to three images to study and compare with the three paintings of Pirous that incorporate calligraphy. What are the different media used by the different calligraphic artists? What were the purposes of the different art works? Note whether the calligraphy was used in Qur’anic manuscripts or in other books or illustrations, in royal seals, in architecture, in objects such as rugs or lamps, or in works of graphic design, that, like Pirous’s paintings, have no other use as objects than to be studied as works of art and religious meditation.

    Note when the selected calligraphic works were made and where. What are some of the most common colors you see in works of calligraphy? Why do you think those colors were selected? How do Pirous’ paintings resemble the other works of calligraphy you found? In what ways are they very different? Pay special attention to Pirous’ brilliant colors, and the shapes he uses within his compositions. Also consider the titles Pirous selected for his
    paintings, which are very poetic and not just functional. Do these help you to understand the paintings, or make their meanings seem more complex to you?
  • Calligraphy as an art form
    Calligraphy is not only an important part of art and literature from the Islamic world; it has played a vital role in European art, especially during the Middle Ages, East Asian art (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean), Tibetan and Jewish art. It is often, but not always, related to religion. Using reference and museum sites such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have students research calligraphy in different traditions and have each choose
    a piece of non-Islamic calligraphy, or art incorporating calligraphy, that he or she particularly likes. Have students write a brief in-class essay comparing a painting by Pirous that includes calligraphy with the non-Islamic piece of calligraphy. How are the letters arranged on the page in the different traditions? How do the different calligraphers
    make use of space? What kind of text is used in the non-Islamic calligraphy (religious, philosophical, literary/poetic)? How is the non-Islamic calligraphy combined with other forms of art, if it is (such as landscapes or other elements in East Asian painting)?
  • Ideas for a studio arts project
    Students should then choose a secular or religious text that is particularly meaningful to them to use as part of the studio art project. It could be a favorite short poem. The first step is to have students practice writing their text as a decorative element. They could use calligraphy markers or the traditional nib and penholder, or sumi ink and brush. Students can use whatever language they want to express their text. Next students will design a context for the calligraphy text. This context should integrate the text with the design as Pirous does. The design can be abstract or realistic.

    Students will create a collage on which the text will be written. Students should consider color, form, symmetry, etc., when they create their works. The collages should be on heavy stock paper or illustration board. Some materials to consider are tissue paper, rice paper, paper that has been painted, and fabric. Once the collage is complete students should write their chosen text in the area of the collage they have left for this purpose. They could write the text on another piece of paper, which they then include in the collage.
    An extension of this project would be to create the text as a print medium, for example, as a linoleum print. Various collages could be created and the student could then
    print the text over these collages. This would give the student an opportunity to see various ways the text can relate to an image, The result would be a series of pieces
    which all have the same text but different ways of using this text as part of an image.