Would you tell me a little about how you create these images?
* Dear Jay, The art of Ebru (also known as paper marbling) dates back to the 15th century. It involves sprinkling natural pigments on the surface of thickened water. Paper is then placed on the surface of water thus capturing the painting.
Ebru encompasses a combination of controlled and uncontrolled. The paint drops fall where they may, but then they can be manipulated in a very controlled way with specialized tools to create distinct Ebru patterns. After all this, the true painting remains mysterious until that paper is lifted from the water and the painting is revealed. From practicing patience to losing control to wonder and then humility. Ebru definitely invokes all these feelings in me personally. This art also has a meditative dimension-the mesmerizing affect of paint pigments floating on water is instantly uplifting and calming. You are working with water and it feels like nature is at work and you are merely an observer!
In experiencing all of these emotions, I feel that connection with the Divine when practicing this unique art form. Additionally, I believe in connecting this very old and traditional art form to the here and now. That's how the Moon lander piece came into being!!! It was also strongly inspired by my husband: a rocket scientist who happens to work for NASA!!
Thanks you for sharing this. It inspires me. As I look at the images, I’m so impressed with the particularities of the patterns (very controlled by the specialized tools) as combined with a sense of the uncontrollable mystery (lifting the paper and the painting is revealed.) I think of this sense of mystery as one way of experiencing the Divine.
Like you, I’m sure, I think there are many ways of experiencing the Divine: attention, beauty, compassion, connections, devotion, enthusiasm, faith, forgiveness, hospitality, hope, humility, imagination, justice, kindness, love, listening, meaning, nurturing, openness, playfulness, questing, reverence, silence, teachers (learning from), unity, vision, you (self-respect), and zest for life. These ways form a universal spiritual alphabet of sorts, certainly found in Islam and also in other religions. Our work in interfaith reveals this to both of us, I imagine.
You’ll note that in my list I neglected “x.” For me, “x” is for a sense of mystery and surprise, a sense that something good and beautiful can emerge in life, as in art, when we are not in control.
That’s why I’m so struck by Ebru. It requires human control to some degree, but also includes openness to surprise and to what cannot be fully known, much less controlled, in advance of it happening.
Along with you, I think we experience the Divine in the surprise: in the humility of being open to surprise and the faith that something can come in the surprise itself.
I realize that people can understand the Divine itself as being ‘in control,’ as if the future is already decided by One who contains all possibilities. I know that most Muslims believe this. God both knows the future in advance and ordains what happens. Of course I accept the fact that people think this way. This may be true! But I hope it’s alright if I have a different view based on an emerging tradition called open and relational theology or process theology.
I know a few Muslims who embrace this view, but I well realize they are in a minority. They call it Open Islam. Along with these Muslims, I think that there is a spontaneity, an openness to surprise, within God such that even in God there is an open future. God knows what is possible in the future, and in this sense God is all-knowing. But God doesn’t know what will actually happen in the future until we ourselves act or, as it were, lift up the paper. I think Ebru invites a consideration of this idea, albeit in a gentle way.
The general idea is that we are co-creators with God of new futures, the precise outcomes of which are not known in advance, not even by God, who does indeed know all the possibilities. Thus faith is not a conviction that everything that happens is God’s will; some things happen that are not at all God’s will, so we process theologians believe. Faith is a trust that, no matter what the outcome, God is steadfast in mercy and compassion, never giving up on us or anyone.
Which take me to Ebru. God helps bring about the surprise. But we do, too, by lifting up the paper. Always, moment by moment, we are lifting up the paper. And doing a little designing ourselves, sometimes in beautiful ways and sometimes tragic ways. Ebru is a beautiful way.
And it is a way that is itself in process. I’d like to celebrate the way you contemporize the practice by having new and novel themes: e.g. the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Your willingness to be receptive to novelty, in art and in life, is for me a dimension of faith. We are faithful, not simply when we repeat the past, but when we are inwardly open to new futures – as were you in curating the Islamic Arts exhibit and doing your interfaith work. In a way, they, too, are Ebru.
I thank you for sharing your art and sharing the process of creating it. And I thank you for your willingness to hear my way of interpreting it, even as I respect alternative ways.
In the house of faith, as in art, there are so many rooms. I learn from my Muslim friends that the Divine helps bring forth all the diversity, so that, as the Qur’an says, we might know each other. In our knowing there is a connection that is simultaneously freeing us to be ourselves in our different faiths, personalities, and outlooks on life. A creative connection, itself Ebru-like with a sense of mystery and love.
I am grateful for the opportunity to share this special art form with you Jay. Ebru can definitely invite a spectrum of thoughts and feelings. It encourages dialogue through friendly conversations between individuals and communities. I was so excited to know that in 2014, UNESCO declared Ebru to be on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity!