I wondered around the Museum Für Islamische Kunst (Museum of Islamic design) in Berlin and I was immediately in awe of this world of detail. In the same way that there is an awe in the vastness of space, I felt an awe in the opposite: a universe of small, intricate detail.
Much of this work originates from the Middle East during middle of the last century.
Who paid for these artisans, I thought?
I could just imagine sultans and emirs relaxing in their hot dusty carpeted majlis, fanned by palm leaves, tired after eating a hefty rich dish and then, as pre-arranged (but whenever it suited him) to being shown a new piece of artwork from a courteous merchant. Maybe such a gift would be as part of an offer to access a new market for the trader’s goods. Or perhaps it would be a gift in return for using a trade route, safely. Perhaps it was an offering as an apology for something.
The intricacy of the work!
What’s more, the years of devotion required to achieve such skill, like painting the every detail of a peacock (which in total is no bigger than my fingernail) and using the finest brushes made from sable hair. Or the months of gentle hammering with a small hammer to achieve the engravings and the regular patterns. The work is incredible and the slight imperfection augments its realness.
I felt amazed that something of such detail could have been achieved hundreds of years ago by civilisation we often consider to be more primitive than our current. In fact, nowadays I wonder how many artisans we have to display such skill? People seem to be out of time.
Who would invest weeks into making an illumation for a painting of a hunter on an elephant in the jungle? Or small metal case to hold a signet ring?
When reflecting on my own skills, I feel that I have no skills which have taken a lifetime of dedication to hone. Of course, there is still plenty of time – but what kind of skill? To what what purpose? Perhaps: the feeling of loving dedication and spiritual devotion into his work that gave the artist a spiritual experience and connection with the vastness of the universe and God.
Lost in his work.