(English) Conversing with Fátima Az zhara
LC: La Cultivada advocates establishing bonds between people that transcend the divisions created by different countries and which at times do not represent personal feelings between human beings. It is possible to fight against the abuse of force, against sexism, against ignorance which can be found at any time and at any place; in ourselves, in our societies, in our country and in our beliefs. However, this fight should be undertaken with subtle arms, ones that are useful to humanity, the opposite in fact of firearms.
Fátima Az zahra is an artist, Sevillian by birth and a Muslim. She is 23 years old and is in her penultimate year of studies at the School for Fine Arts, Seville. What follows is an excerpt from our conversation about her series of paintings entitled ISRAHELL. I hope these words make her work (previously showcased in this category) easier to comprehend for those who are seeing it for the first time.
LC: What do you wish to tell us by your new expression “Israhell”? Where is hell?
FA: Israhell is disorientation and exile to Babylonia. It is a wound that has been opened once more, which bleeds again and pains us. Particularly those of us who have suffered colonisation, who have had our lands stolen, been cast off them and made to live in ways which are not are own. Those of us who have had our identity erased and who are wrongfully prevented from expressing ourselves as we know and wish to.
In order to right this imbalance, we must choose the path which compels us to be coherent, at every moment, in every decision we take. It is a return to integrity, to the roots of the virtues which make us human beings. Finding our own identity, strengthening it and enhancing it with dignity. It is the first step towards being free and sovereign once again. It is a revolution in terms of values, which makes us conserve what it healthy and oust what is not. Reuniting yourself with reality, recognising yourself in Allah. Being humble in our human condition and not demanding more than belongs to us by nature.
LC: Art and the Cultivation of the land both serve as examples of “subtle arms”. It is worth recalling that well known story of Greek mythology: the hard struggle between Athena (Roman Minerva) and Poseidon for the sovereignty of the city of Athens. Poseidon (Roman Neptune) struck the ground with his trident and produced a fierce and stunning horse with which he intended to defeat Athena, who had also struck the ground, but gently, and brought forth an olive branch and presented the noble fruit. The Olive asserted itself over the Trident.
Athena was the Goddess of Wisdom and the Arts; patron and defender of the weak, farmers and craftsmen. Nowadays she is seen to represent the woman of intelligence (having emerged from the head of Zeus), invention (innovation) and pacifism. While it is true that she led battles – she was indeed born a fully grown armed warrior – she did not use violence, but rather encouraged peace and the betterment of the human race.
Tell us in a few words what is art for you and the main reason why you have chosen a path which is not exactly easy.
FA: Art is beauty, beauty is pure expression and the result will always be all too human. It reflects how we are in the here and now. It is not just a whim, it has been a valuable constant in all civilisations, be they now decadent or flourishing. Since it mirrors the very essence of human beings, free expression will always a survivor of humanity. The first step towards finding ourselves is to express ourselves in order to find out who we really are.
LC: Greek mythology was not a collection of fables as some think but rather the religion of the ancient Greeks. What led you to Islam? Your parents are not Muslim and you were born in Seville…
FA: inna allah yamil wa yuhib yamal / Allah is Beautiful and loves beauty, as expressed by Rasul Allah (sas).
LC: I should like to take this opportunity to look back on the very moving experience I had a few months ago in a theatre workshop run by Eduardo Kofman. An Argentine and a Jew, Eduardo moved to Nazareth 15 years ago where he works with Jews, Muslims and Christians – teenagers, young people and adults alike. He initiated experimental work with adolescents on a Kibbutz (a Jewish agricultural community) and others from a Kfar (a village populated by Muslims), both places physically separated by a main road. The workshop I am referring to was called Theatre for Peace and was much more than a simple theatrical experience. I would think that of the thirty or more who attended, not one of us left unchanged. This is for me an example of a pacifist struggle, transformative of human beings.
Be it little or much I know of the practice of Islam, I do think It remarkable for the beautiful way of life it encourages and its coherence based on the constant and continual giving of thanks to the Creator. Thank you Fátima. It has been a pleasure. Your talent is palpable. I wish you success in the future. God willing. Insha’Allah. Thank you for this delightful cultivated portrait.
(From a conversation between Elena Vecino and Fátima Az zhara in Seville, 26th December 2011)