Long, Winding Journeys: Contemporary Art and the Islamic Tradition presents a focused look at a group of artists of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent whose work engages the diverse forms of Islamic visual tradition to explore religion, culture, and socio-political issues today. It takes its title from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar’s essay, The Breath of Miraj, a response to artist Shahzia Sikander work, Portrait of the Artist. The text speaks to the manner in which Islam and its history can inspire creative life to become a “long, winding journey.” It simultaneously serves as a metaphor for the travel of a visual tradition through time and its ability to nimbly adapt to an ever-changing world.
Long, Winding Journeys brings artists’ voices to the fore as they mine links between the seemingly distant past and contemporary experience. The works in the exhibition draw from centuries-old forms—such as calligraphy, miniature painting, geometric patterning, textiles, and architecture—that have come to define historical Islamic art. Employing this lineage, the artists explore the intersection of visual traditions and other kinds of inherited histories: the rich meaning and complex constraints of religious and cultural customs; rituals of spiritual practice; political upheaval and violent conflict; and diaspora’s effect on identity and belonging. Art of the past acts as a lens through which to view present-day experience.