Recently I was asked by a valued client of mine to create a unique canvas that she could gift her dear friend who was fascinated by Sufi poetry. Having little familiarity with Sufism, I was pretty excited to get started with my research on this Islamic denomination. The centre of the canvas accommodates a poem by well known Sufi mystic Rabia Basri. Much of her poetry was based around the theme of Divine Love, Basri is said to have been amongst one of the first to initiate this notion. She expressed that God should be loved and treasured for God’s own sake and not out of fear (in the way former Sufi’s did).
She prayed: “O Lord! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,
and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
But if I worship You for Your Own sake,
grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.
One of the main themes running through this particular piece of text is the concept of heaven, thus the design of the canvas was established around this idea in order to truly capture the spirit of the poem. In the Holy Qur’an, the gardens of paradise are mentioned in many verses. Gardens are most often associated with greenery and foliage, so I arranged this piece to consist of mainly vegetal patterns. The patterns are largely inspired by Persian, Turkish, Arabic and East African styles of art.
The background of the canvas is painted with Emit Gold. Gold is mentioned alongside heaven in several verses of the Holy Qur’an.
Sahih International: “[For them are] gardens of perpetual residence which they will enter. They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold and pearls, and their garments therein will be silk.” 35:33 ~ Surah Fatir (The Originator)
Metallic green was used to fill the henna painted designs. Green holds a strong association with Islam; it’s often used in the decoration of Mosques, the bindings of the Qur’an, the silken covers for the graves of Sufi saints and on the flags of many Muslim countries. The significance of Green is not widely known by Muslims, although it is said in the Holy Qur’an that the inhabitants of paradise will adorn green garments of fine silk.
I named the canvas ‘Behesht’ which translates to the word ‘Paradise’ in Farsi. This also happens to be the name of one of my favourite restaurants in London!