“Night Swimmers-a voyage through geometry, mysticism and the female figure” By Rachel Spence

Antonello_da_Messina_-_Virgin_Annunciate_-_Galleria_Regionale_della_Sicilia,_Palermo 40

L’Annunziata: Antonella da Messina, Galleria Regionale della Sicilia

It’s often said that the measure of a great work of art is that it stands the test of time. But perhaps another criteria is that it stands the test of space. Not just then and now but also here and there. Would it be too estoric to say that Nasreen Mohamedi and Antonello da Messina are not only products of their time and place but also of each other’s? That this is the territory which Nasreen was seeking when she once enjoined herself to “See and feel primeval order”? [19]

She came from the east, he from the west, yet the geometry they share is universal. When the Roman Empire fell, so much of its knowledge would have been crushed in the rubble had not certain key classical texts been preserved in the Islamic world. For example, the great 10th- century mathematician from Baghdad, Ibrahim Ibn Sinan, translated Archimedes. Travelling through North Africa in the 12th century, the Italian mathematician Fibonacci discovered the Arabic numerals which he then introduced to the western world. Start to investigate and a myriad east-west synergies come to light; for example, the revolutionary cycle of numbers known now as the Fibonacci sequence actually originated in 6th century India.

Let’s recall too that Euclid lived and died in Alexandria, Egypt and Archimedes may have been educated there. The North African territory was part of the Greek and then Roman empires. How often do we find the borders between east and west so frail as to complicate such identities until they are barely holding?

As for me, I am still sitting on the floor. Looking. Writing. Outside my window is a world where women are still enjoined either turn themselves into objects of the gaze, or to retreat from sight as if exposure equals dishonour. Caught between the Scylla of Make Yourself Beautiful and the Charybdis of Cover Yourself Up. Still, too often, we are situated between the rock of motherhood and the hard places of spinsterhood or whoredom. But here in my room, Nasreen and Antonello – or the figure he created – quietly urge me to continue that inward turn.

“I cannot seek from without. It has to come from within.” [20]

That self-reflexive curve is, essentially, a non-objective gesture. Detaching itself from the figure – which is so often bonded with its historical and geographical moment – abstraction can take us to that state of origin which is close to rebirth. Or as Nasreen Mohamedi put it so acutely. “Out of chaos – form – silence.’ [21]

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