The Doug Adams Gallery at the Center for the Arts & Religion. Photo: CARe

In a time when Islam is under attack and certain elements equate all Muslims with radical fundamentalist terrorists, the exhibit at a recently opened art gallery at the Graduate Theological Union serves as a balm to that rhetoric.

The walls of the Doug Adams Gallery at the Center for the Arts & Religion (CARe) are decorated with spectacular contemporary art inspired by traditional Islamic visual culture. There are intricately folded pieces of paper; silk that has been pleated and lit from beneath to expose geometric shadows; laser-cut birch plywood that forms an architectural feature known as  “muqarnas;” a star and flower acrylic sculpture shaped and cut by a laser; a headless female form connected by red string to poems on a wall; drawings and mixed media.

The exhibit, “Reverberating Echoes: Contemporary Art Inspired by Traditional Islamic Art,” was curated by Carol Bier, an art historian and a visiting scholar at the GTU’s Center for Islamic Studies. The show, which runs through May 26, features the work of seven artists. They are not all Muslim nor are they all born in Muslim countries. But they all were inspired by traditional Islamic art and their works “echo historic aesthetic concerns, often advancing human knowledge and understanding by experimentation with new technologies,” according to CARe’s website.

Infinity Flower IV, 2016, Digital print on aluminum by Phil Webster. This is a fractal iteration of a traditional Islamic geometric design of a rosette with ten petals. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Shadowfold Whirlspools, textile: folded and pleated silk, uncut and undyed by 1997, by Chris Palmer. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
100 Destinies by Nazanin Heydayat Munroe. A headless female figure wears a silk garment hand-painted with the Persian word “destiny.” The figure is connected by a series of red threads to 100 poems written by Hafez, a Persian poet who wrote in the 14th century. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“Contemporary art may serve as a prism through which to peer at other cultures as well as our own,” Bier wrote in the catalog accompanying the exhibit. “Art offers an opening to an awareness of diverse values and beliefs, as well as insights into how similar concepts are expressed in different ways in diverse contexts. The prevalence of pattern in traditional Islamic art offers particularly significant possibilities to bridge differences and explore similarities.”

The gallery is open Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is located at 2465 Le Conte Ave.

The participating artists include Nazanin Hedayat Monroe, Chris Palmer, Phil Webster, Manzar Rassouli, Hooman Koliji, and Nathan Voirol, and Mamoun Sakkal.

The art show is only the second one at a new Doug Adams Gallery. For years CARe (then known as the Center for the Arts, Religion, and Education), as well as a previous incarnation of the gallery, were housed at the Pacific School of Religion. Started in 1987 by Adams, a PSR Professor of Christianity and the Arts who died in 2007, the center operated as an independent non-profit for 29 years. CARe moved to the GTU in the fall of 2016 to become a unit of the graduate school, which allowed it to adopt a more academic focus, as well as to build a new gallery. Its mission is to examine the intersection of art and religion.

“Talking about contemporary art and religion in the same breath is taboo at most art institutions,” Alla Efimova, a CARe advisory board member and the founder of KunstWorks, told Currents, a publication of the GTU. “It is encouraged and taken seriously at the Center for the Arts & Religion…. CARe is poised to become a vital arts center in the East Bay.”

Elizabeth Peña, the director of CARe, (dressed in black) discusses the current exhibit with Deborah Kirschman (l) a development consultant, Alla Efimova, owner of Kunst Works and a board member, and City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Elizabeth S. Peña, the director of CARe, wants to make CARe more of a center for cultural understanding in Berkeley. With its airy gallery and comfortable reading area, the space lends itself to both formal lectures and informal gatherings. CARe is starting that conversation with a series of “Galley Dialogues,” open to the public. Bier will talk with various members of the Graduate Theological Union community.

The upcoming dialogues, which are held from 2 to 4 p.m, will present:

  • March 5, Munir Jiwa, the director of the Center for Islamic Studies and an associate director of Islamic Studies.
  • April 9, Rossitza Schroeder, an associate professor of Art and Religion at the Pacific School of Religion and CARe.
  • May 21, Robert Russell, the director for Theology and Natural Science and the Ian Barbour Professor of Theology and Science.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...