Los Angeles artist Sandow Birk’s expansive multi-media projects and murals have dealt with contemporary issues of urban angst, war, prisons and politics, but his new “American Qur’an” project challenges his audience in new and dangerous ways. In this courageous work, Birk writes and illustrates Qur’anic verses, drawing from traditions of illuminated manuscripts, calligraphy, graffiti and graphic novels. You can see the project in its entirity at the PPOW Gallery in NYC from September 9 to October 30th.
Here’s what Birk has to say about his project:
“The Holy Qur’an is arguably the most important book in the world right now. Our nation is in the midst of two wars in Islamic nations, hundreds of thousands of our troops are involved, our political landscape has been altered, and our daily lives are all affected by events connected to the Qur’an, and yet I knew nothing about it. I had no idea what was in it. So I decided I should find out for myself what the Qur’an is and what its message might mean for an average American like me.
As an artist, the project is my personal attempt to create an entirely hand-written and hand-decorated illuminated manuscript in the 21st century. An attempt to make something entirely by hand, based on traditional techniques and styles, but which still is about life in America right now. When completed, my project will be an entirely hand-transcribed English language adaptation of the Qur’an, illuminated with scenes of contemporary life in America that relate to the message of the text.
I create the images in my own style of illumination, which is drawn from traditional Islamic book decorations, as well as Western illuminated manuscript traditions, and the very “American” calligraphy of the cholo graffiti from my neighborhood in Los Angeles.
The images are my own personal reflections about the message in the text of each chapter, or surah, and my pondering what that message means to me in my daily life. The images are metaphors for the imagery of the text. I try to think of things in our lives that are symbolic or emblematic of the text, things that present the message in a more easily graspable way, things that average Americans can relate to.”