Islamic art
Artist: Sacrylicco by Sara Mir Title: “Honeycomb” Year: 2023 Style: Contemporary Islamic Fine Art Dimensions: 14 inch hexagonal stretched canvas Medium: Acrylics, 24K genuine gold Image Credit: Supplied

I touched the flowers carved on the white marble, it felt touching freshly stored water in an earthen pot, serene as it was, it soothed my hands!

A little later I was glancing at an octagonal marble screen made with slabs of carved marble panels indescribably beautiful with surfaces inlaid with gemstones representing local flowers like lilies, lotuses and poppies. I pulled my hands back in a gesture of respect for the demised. That grand screen enclosed the cenotaphs of empress Mumtaz Mahal and emperor Shahjahan.

Twenty-five years later the experience of standing at the heart of an illuminated funerary complex which took ten years to be completed, representing every principle of Islamic architecture- Taj Mahal is hard to put together in words.

A man takes picture of historic Taj Mahal as the Yamuna river overflows following heavy rains, in Agra, India July 18, 2023
A man takes picture of historic Taj Mahal as the Yamuna river overflows following heavy rains, in Agra, India Image Credit: Reuters

The glowing white marble structure monumentalised in its design, was to create an out of the world effect, symbolic of paradisiacal mansion and garden — an ever blooming garden of flower beds, closest to the description of ‘bihist’ (heaven in Arabic) in Islamic aesthete. Taj Mahal replicates it in its naturalistic decoration.

That was my first adult wholesome experience of Islamic Art and Architecture. Something that day changed in me, as I saw Taj, its pietre durra and marble dados. I felt most of all that this was an aesthetics representational of love, remembrance. That Autumn I was filming my first documentary on Embroidered Art of India, and my Agra schedule was barely of three days.

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Many seasons later coming across Sara Mir’s distinct, stunning, symbolic Islamic art was like a déjà vu compelling to look back at the unforgettable experience of seeing the flowery marble dados, the elegant pietre durra, the lattice work of Taj Mahal for the first time.

In so many ways Taj Mahal holds the essence of what Islamic art is all about; an artistic imprint of the earth and heaven, a narrative of reverence and communication with God, his manifestations as shown through paradisiacal garden house or flowers, charbagh — the quadrilateral garden layout, water front gardens.

Artist: Sacrylicco by Sara Mir Title: “The Illusory Door” Year: 2021 Style: Contemporary Islamic Fine Art Dimensions: 19 inches x 24 inches Medium: Watercolours, 24K genuine gold Image Credit: Supplied

Lines and strokes

Away from the symbolism with a stunning structure representing Islamicate aesthetics. Islamic art and architecture by and large is an open, interpretable form of creative expression reflecting the relationship between the mortals and their Creator, much like a poignant Sufi poem (qalam). At its core lies reverence and awe of the Universe, the oneness created by God. Mir’s paintings fit perfectly in that creative, spiritual casing.

In historical terms Islamic Art encompasses all forms of visual art conceived, created from seventh century in places dominated by Muslim demography. Manifested in variant forms, it often represents the non-figurative art that may have elements of calligraphy, geometric patterns and arabesque emerging from cultures where Islam had spread.

With the different styles of Islamic art in vogue, Mir, a contemporary fine artist based between Toronto and New York chose the style conspicuous in its absence of human figures but representational in lines and strokes.

And because history tells us that Islamic art often has been expressions of calling, solace or reverence Mir’s transformative journey from a Chemical and Biomedical Engineer, to a self-trained practitioner of religious art is fascinating. It’s a testament that this school of aesthetics still represents spirituality often the artist’s quest for his or her Creator.

Artist: Sacrylicco by Sara Mir Title: “Cross-section of Creation” Year: 2021 Style: Contemporary Islamic Fine Art Dimensions: 24 inches x 24 inches Medium: Watercolours, 24K genuine gold Image Credit: Supplied

In her own words, “I always felt a draw towards creating art,” tells Mir on a confessional tone. “Sacrylicco (the name of Mir’s art feed on Instagram) came in to existence in October 2019, when I was in the thick of my life challenges. The name itself was a play on the words “Sacred Acrylic Contemplations” because the initial works of art were all created with acrylic paint medium and as it still stands today, are deeply inspired by my faith, Islam.”

Unknowingly it was a colossal moment of self-search for Mir that would result into an enriching creative journey laced with devotion, “There were noise of thoughts, concepts, words (both scripture and literature), images of art that swirled in my mind, needed to be released on canvas. The challenges I faced as untrained artist instead became catalysts, helping me focus to see, feel and stand witness to Al-Haqq (The Absolute Truth). I subsequently willed myself in creating an art — an attempt to radiate an iota of it. “

Islamic art
Artist: Sacrylicco by Sara Mir Title: “Punjab” Year: 2022 Style: Contemporary Islamic Fine Art Dimensions: 12 inches x 16 inches Medium: Four layers of 24K genuine gold (hand-engraved), watercolours, variegated blue metal leaf Image Credit: Supplied

Mir smiled elegantly, and then quipped “With life as short as a half taken breath, don’t plant anything but love, Rumi’s words kept coming back, I decided my art would be about love and peace. In this way, Islamic art may also be seen as a tool for peace dialogues for in its grandeur and beauty, its awe-inspiring scale and endlessly continuing almost dizzying patterns, anyone is obligated to reflect how we are all created by a Higher Power, who is unfolding the Universe precisely as it needs to be since the beginning until the end of Time itself.”

The artist who defines her work as Islamic Fine Art has been drawn to art and architecture of Islamicate cultures as would be the flow of events her upbringing, education and professional carrier as an engineer would take her across regions and cities like Toronto, Chicago, Qatar, Puerto Rico, Dubai, London, Germany, New York and Bangkok.

Times spent in these multicultural places affirmed her understanding of shared humanity and Oneness of the Universe and lead her deep dive into major elements of Islamic Art; including calligraphy, geometry and naturalist patterns as diverse as the lived in experiences of Mir herself.

Mir related these experiences to developing her artistic voice, “The process from idea to execution varies, sometimes I see a pattern and within that pattern, sometimes I can “visualise” the work of art I wish to create, and other times sparks a potential painting blooms from something I may have read like a poetry, a scientific fact or a Quranic quote that. In both cases I am aware that I am simply a vessel, a medium and all praise is due to Him who is Al-Qayyum “The Sustainer of All Existence”, Al-Haqq “The Absolute Truth”.

These are thoughts and contemplations of Mir but how has been the actual act of painting, what were the materials that Mir used given the fact most of her work are so stylistically distinct. Interestingly they also appear illuminated, “I began my practice by using the tools all artists use, paper, different paint mediums (acrylics, watercolours, gouache), brushes and gold guilding. What may be a piece of cakewalk for a trained artist, was a struggle for me, I had to persevere to learn and then practice not to mention my multiple failures whether it was a geometric pattern, a vegetal border or Arabic calligraphy, until I reached a semblance of what appears as a successfully completed work of art, a piece of sacred geometry”, Mir spoke in a gush.

“Feeling confident how to work with those elements, I recently decided to experiment with my art materials. I wanted to see what would be the creatives, if I use mirror tiles, diamond dust or even sand in my works of art.” Perhaps it is her experimental mind and use of these enthralling materials that make her paintings luminous, metaphoric to the essence of ‘love and peace’ that Mir has been so wanting to encapsulate in her art.

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Artist: Sacrylicco by Sara Mir Title: “Hidden Luminescence” Year: 2023 Style: Contemporary Islamic Fine Art Dimensions: 24 inches x 24 inches Medium: Watercolours, 24K genuine gold, genuine platinum Image Credit: Supplied

Recalling the Divine

An extension of this thought was Mir’s recent effort towards art philanthropy. The artist was impacted by the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Sharing an anecdote that lead to the philanthropic aspect of her art, Mir sounded audibly emotional, “I was numb with grief, a mix of emotions when I saw the photograph of a father from the earthquake affected areas of Turkey who was holding on to the hand of his daughter who has just passed away. I wanted to share their grief, to be of some help, and as I mentioned earlier, my understanding of being a Zaria (vessel) re-emerged.”

She decided to support communities affected by natural disaster, and the best way in which she could is by holding the paint brush exclusively for the needy, “I listed one of my important works titled “Hidden Luminescence”, and decided to support the communities with 100% of its proceeds”. For Mir it was new beginning for her future, “I will continue art philanthropy steadily. I want my art to help those who need support be it in Pakistan my native country or anywhere else.”

The artist sounded energised, as she returned to her unfinished work signing off, “I aspire to create art as a form of worship and remembrance that will not only provide comfort and hope for the seen and unseen challenges we all face in our lives all the time, but also make the viewer pause, reflect and wonder upon the Power and Mercy of The Omnipresent Divine One”.

I think, I now know why in the autumn of 1998, as an onlooker of the Taj I was enthralled may be I was witnessing the aesthete of remembrance that mortals had erected to recall the Divine till times to come. That’s what Islamic Art is about for Sara Mir, the artist and millions who soak themselves in sensing it as viewers.

Nilosree is an author, filmmaker