Monday, 3 September 2007

Mughal Art, Animals and Humans

BBC Radio Scotland – Thought for the Day - Amanullah De Sondy

The Emperors Terrapin has arrived in Glasgow. I had the pleasure of viewing this beauty loaned from the British Museum at a reception in the Burrell Collection last week. It’s made from jade, no it’s not a big brother breed. It was found in the grounds of a fort in Allahabad in Northern India in 1803. It is associated with various Muslim royal figures from the Mughal Empire who are known for their elaborate forms of Islamic Art and gardens.

As I watched this well carved, female terrapin, I began to ponder the various messages it was trying to convey. That quite possibly the human-animal dichotomy is reversing its roles if we peer closer at the state of our world today. A world where we still have issues with race. A world where we still abuse the environment to the extent that we are now the endangered species. A world where we quite happily seek the ugly within religion and turn a blind eye on its beautiful. A world where the slowest are left behind and the fastest lose sight of their ultimate goal in their haste.

Interestingly, I noticed the terrapin didn’t have a clear smile on its face, but then again neither did Mona Lisa, or did she? In all cases, art conveys a message which texts cannot control. Most Islamic texts assert to curb figurative art in Islamic culture; for fear that it may promote idolatry. But when I was last in Jordan, I could not help notice the figurative frescos, albeit rather erotic at times, lining the walls of an 8th century Islamic palace in Jordan. Art has the power to liberate and challenge our minds in thinking about issues at our own mental level. That is probably why art means something different to us all, adding to the talent of the artisan. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “It is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection; through art and art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.”

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