Bahá'ís and the Arts: Language of the Heart

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Ann Boyles provides a basic outline of the Bahá'í teachings concerning the arts as well as a brief survey of some expressions given to them by members of the Bahá'í Faith, both historical and contemporary. This article appeared in the 1994-95 edition of The Bahá'í World, pp. 243-272.

"One of the names of God is the Fashioner. He loveth craftsmanship."1 These words of Bahá'u'lláh accord an eminence to the practice of arts and crafts that is unprecedented in any religious dispensation. His writings also allude to the central role of artists in society, stating that "...the true worth of artists and craftsmen should be appreciated, for they advance the affairs of mankind." 2 The distinction and significance of a number of professions are extolled, but Bahá'u'lláh's specific mention of artists and craftsmen as advancing the affairs of mankind opens a revolutionary perspective on their role in society.


Canada's Ballet Shayda performing 'Day of the Dawning', a dance depicting the heroism of Iranian Bahá'ís in the face of persecution.

`Abdu'l-Bahá reiterated His Father's teachings concerning the arts, saying, "It is the commandment of the Blessed Beauty [Bahá'u'lláh],...that whosoever engageth in a craft, should endeavor to acquire in it utmost proficiency. Should he do so, that craft becometh a form of worship." 3 `Abdu'l-Bahá also counselled parents to educate their children to become accomplished practitioners of the arts, as seen in the following passage:

While the children are yet in their infancy feed them from the breast of heavenly grace, foster them in the cradle of all excellence, rear them in the embrace of bounty. Give them the advantage of every useful kind of knowledge. Let them share in every new and rare and wondrous craft and art. Bring them up to work and strive, and accustom them to hardship. Teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of great import, and inspire them to undertake studies that will benefit mankind. 4

The mention of education in the arts in close proximity to phrases such as "matters of great import" and "studies that will benefit mankind" indicates that, in the Bahá'í view, the arts are not at the periphery of our existence but are rather at the very heart of it.

Contemporary Canadian painter Otto Donald Rogers has put it this way:

Art...has a fundamental role to play in the evolution of community since artistic form is not simply the ornament of society but is an important measurement of the progress made in reaching the ideal. The creation of models of profound beauty have, by their very order, educative effect; art becomes in time a common experience of unity in the culture of a whole population. 5

The "unity" of which Rogers writes is not the same as uniformity. One of the fundamental principles taught by Bahá'u'lláh is "unity in diversity," and for this reason the Bahá'í Faith has resisted the tendency to force creative expression into specific rigid or characteristic forms. If the universality of the Faith is to be safeguarded, it logically follows that there will be many different art forms throughout the world, shaped by varying cultural factors but all expressing a common faith. As one letter written on behalf of the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith by his secretary in 1957 states: "The believers are free to paint, write and compose as their talents guide them.... The further away the friends keep from any set forms, the better, for they must realize that the Cause is absolutely universal...." 6 It is exciting to contemplate the richness that such freedom brings to artistic expression.

This principle of unity in diversity also signals an acceptance of artistic contributions by community members who possess varying levels of skill and training. Rogers points out, "...the gift of artistic insight is not confined to the few whose talent has been recognized and educated, but it is generously spread by an all-loving Creator throughout the generality of mankind." 7 Once we recognize that we can all use this gift of artistic insight to enrich our communities, we can accept and welcome a wide diversity of artistic pursuits, at varying levels of sophistication, and benefit from the new dimensions they add to our community life.

In time, nurtured in an atmosphere where the arts are a central part of social life, the general population will become more receptive to artistic expression and new artists will arise with ever increasing capacities to give voice to their vision--a vision that will transcend many contemporary artistic expressions with their tendencies towards self-referentiality.

Since the inception of the Bahá'í Faith in 1844, the arts have played a significant role. Bahá'u'lláh Himself wrote beautiful poems. Adib Taherzadeh, in his history The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, describes an event that occurred during Bahá'u'lláh's two-year sojourn in the mountainous area of Sulaymaniyyih:

The divines of Sulaymaniyyih requested Bahá'u'lláh to undertake a task, which no one had previously accomplished, of writing a poem in the same rhyme as Qasidiy-i-Ta'iyyih, one of the works of the celebrated Arabic poet Ibn-i-Farid.

Accepting their request, Bahá'u'lláh dictated no less than two thousand verses as He sat in their midst. Amazed at such a revelation, those present were spellbound and lost in admiration at His performance. They acclaimed His verses as far superior in their beauty, lucidity and profundity to the original poem by Ibn-i-Farid. Knowing that the subject-matter was beyond the people's comprehension, He chose one hundred and twenty-seven verses and allowed them to be copied. 8

Many eminent Persian figures in the arts were attracted to the new Faith, most notably the poet Tahirih, whose works are still studied in today's Iran and elsewhere, in spite of her reputation as "heretical" to the fundamentalist Muslim regime. Other poets embraced this new Faith as well and gave voice to their beliefs in their writing, according to their individual talent. In His book recording the lives of distinguished early Bahá'ís, entitled Memorials of the Faithful, `Abdu'l-Bahá includes a number of poets: Nabil-i-Zarandi, often referred to as the `Poet-Laureate' of the Bahá'í Faith; Aqa Sidq-`Ali; Aqa Muhammad Ibrahim; Ustad `Ali-Akbar; and Mirza Aqa, Jinab-i-Munib. Of Nabil, `Abdu'l-Bahá wrote: "This distinguished man was erudite, wise, and eloquent of speech. His native genius was pure inspiration, his poetic gift like a crystal stream. His ode `Baha, Baha!' was written in sheer ecstasy." 9 Other Persian poets included Mirza `Ali-Muhammad, titled Varqa or `Dove' by Bahá'u'lláh, and Andalib.

But poets were not the only artists who featured in the early history of the Faith. One of Bahá'u'lláh's faithful followers into exile was the renowned Persian calligrapher Mishkin-Qalam, whose name means "musk-scented pen." He created exquisite calligraphic renderings of many of Bahá'u'lláh's sacred writings. The poet Jinab-i-Munib was also a fine calligrapher.

Western writers and artists were attracted to the romance of the story of the Báb from the inception of His Faith, learning of it through the sympathetic accounts of the French chroniclers A.L.M. Nicolas and the Comte de Gobineau. 10 The English poet Matthew Arnold mentioned the Báb in "A Persian Passion Play," his essay on Shi`ih Islam. Sarah Bernhardt was so enthralled with the story of Tahirih that she commissioned a play on her life, though no extant copy has yet been found. Tolstoy learned of the Bahá'í Faith and commented positively on it, and the Russian writer Izabella Grinevskaya penned a play on the life of the Báb that was produced in Paris in 1912. These were among the earliest Western artistic responses to this new religion.

During His travels in the West between the years 1911 and 1913, `Abdu'l-Bahá offered specific words of encouragement to Bahá'ís who wished to pursue projects in the arts, in statements such as the following: "All Art is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When this light shines through the mind of a musician, it manifests itself in beautiful harmonies. Again, shining through the mind of a poet, it is seen in fine poetry and poetic prose. When the Light of the Sun of Truth inspires the mind of a painter, he produces marvellous pictures. These gifts are fulfilling their highest purpose, when showing forth the praise of God." 11 From such passages, artists influenced by the Bahá'í revelation have drawn their inspiration and orientation. While Shoghi Effendi indicated in 1957 that there can be no distinctive Bahá'í cultural expression at this early stage in the Faith's history since fine music, literature, art, and architecture are the flower of a mature society, 12 one can certainly see development in the arts already. Throughout the twentieth century, Bahá'í artistic expressions have multiplied, have become increasingly representative of the vast cultural diversity of the planet's peoples, and have achieved greater and greater levels of sophistication. 13

One of the best known twentieth-century visual artists to become a member of the Bahá'í Faith was Mark Tobey. As a young portrait-painter in New York City in 1918, he was introduced to the religion by Juliet Thompson, another portrait-painter who was an ardent Bahá'í. Tobey remained a firm believer throughout his life, and the effect of his religion on his art was often noted, as in the following excerpt from William C. Seitz's essay for Tobey's Museum of Modern Art exhibition, where he wrote: "Without doubt this [acceptance of the Bahá'í Faith] was the crucial spiritual redirection of Tobey's life and of his development as an artist." 14

In the 1930s, as he was teaching art at Dartington Hall in England, Tobey encountered Bernard Leach and Reginald Turvey. Leach was a well-known potter who had heard about the Bahá'í Faith initially in 1914 from Agnes Alexander, an American Bahá'í who had settled in Japan. Leach and Turvey, good friends from their days of study together at art school, both investigated the Faith and became members. For Leach, it seemed a natural progression of his desire to fuse the aesthetic and spiritual values and visions of the East and the West, a goal of his since his early years. Turvey, too, had long had an interest in spiritual matters, and he was sustained throughout his artistic career--a career in which his talent was not widely recognized until very late--by the Bahá'í teaching that artistic expression is a form of worship and service to humanity.

Contemporary Canadian painter Otto Donald Rogers has also drawn inspiration for his work from the Bahá'í writings. Over 1,000 pieces of the work of Saskatchewan-born Rogers, a professor of Fine Arts at the University of Saskatchewan from 1959-88, can be found in public, private, and corporate collections throughout North America. In 1987 he was invited to the Triangle Workshop hosted by Anthony Caro and the City of Barcelona. Attributing the influence of his beliefs on his work, he has described art as "our human response to a voice from on high." 15 Critics have commented that his paintings portray "spiritual quest" and convey a sense of "mystic prairies washed by spiritual rains." The year 1992 saw the release of a one-hour video documentary, Approach to a Sacred Place: The Art of Otto Rogers, that explores the connection between Rogers' faith and art. Produced by Film Crew Productions of Regina, Saskatchewan, it was shown on the Canadian national television network in 1993.

On the literary front, American poet Robert Hayden received such honors as the Grand Prize for Poetry at the first World Festival of the Arts in Dakar, Senegal, in 1965 and was appointed as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, between 1976 and 1978. He also sought to express his spiritual vision, informed by his beliefs as a Bahá'í, through his poetry. Of his work, he wrote, "I think of the writing of poems as one way of coming to grips with inner and outer realities--as a spiritual act, really, a sort of prayer for illumination and perfection. The Bahá'í Faith, with its emphasis on the essential oneness of mankind and its vision of world unity, is an increasingly powerful influence on my poetry today--and the only one to which I willingly submit." 16 Hayden, who died in 1980, is now recognized in the literary world as a poet of outstanding technique, and critics are beginning to appreciate the extent to which his poems are shot through with symbols informed by his religious convictions. In 1984 the first full-length exploration of the influence of the Bahá'í Faith on Hayden's work, From the Auroral Darkness, appeared, authored by poet and critic John Hatcher.

Canadian Bahá'í Roger White, who died in early 1993, was a prolific and much-loved poet. Versatile in a number of literary genres, he produced four substantial volumes of poetry and poetic sketches, numerous chapbooks and monographs, poetic sketches, a novel, and critical essays. His works have been widely read and performed throughout the Bahá'í world community. American writer Michael Fitzgerald, himself a prolific poet, has also written of spiritual themes and edited a 1989 volume of essays on the arts, entitled The Creative Circle: Art, Literature, and Music in Bahá'í Perspective. 17

The Association for Bahá'í Studies in North America has encouraged the arts, not only through artistic presentations at its conferences throughout the years, but through a creative writing award given annually in conjunction with the Association's essay contest. It has also produced a number of publications on the arts, including a monograph of poems in honor of the Bahá'ís persecuted and martyred in Iran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and another volume containing both poetry and articles by critics and writers such as Bahiyyih Nakhjavani and Geoffrey Nash. The Bahá'í Association for Arts, based in the Netherlands, is another organization that has actively supported the development of Bahá'í artists.

Contemporary Norwegian composer Lasse Thoresen is a musician whose work has been intensely affected and directly shaped by his belief in Bahá'u'lláh. Responding to an interviewer's question about inspiration, he commented:

As a Bahá'í and an artist, my ideal is of course to convey some spiritual insight through my music, hopefully without my own ego too much in the way. To purify the mental sources of inspiration, to open the right channels, so to speak, one has to submit oneself to some spiritual discipline, and the Bahá'í Faith has offered me many means and opportunities to do that. It still does--this process never ends. 18

Thoresen's work has been commissioned by the Norwegian Philharmonic Orchestra and French National Radio, and has been critically acclaimed for its innovative incorporation of different modern media. In early 1994, well-known Norwegian vocalist Anne-Lise Berntsen performed several of his vocal works at the opening of the first Norwegian exhibition of Mark Tobey's paintings. In March 1995, she performed two Bahá'í prayers set to music by Thoresen at the opening of the Non-Governmental Organizations' Forum at the United Nations World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, Denmark. Thoresen's symphony "Carmel Eulogies" also premiered with the Oslo Philharmonic in November 1994. 19

Tolibkhan Shakhidi, former Vice-Minister of Culture and more recently Artistic Director of the Opera in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, is a renowned Tajik composer who has also found ways to incorporate his belief in the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith into his work.

Eminent jazz trumpeter John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was an active proponent of Bahá'í teachings from his acceptance of the Faith in 1968 until his passing in 1993. His "United Nations Band" was in its diversity a model of the principle of racial unity. In his memoirs, he wrote, "Becoming a Bahá'í changed my life in every way and gave me a new concept of the relationship between God and man--between man and his fellow man--man and his family. It's just all consuming. I became more spiritually aware, and when you're spiritually aware, that will be reflected in what you do." 20

Seals and Crofts, a popular music duo in the 1970s, represented Bahá'í-inspired art on another front. With songs such as "Summer Breeze" receiving wide airplay on radio stations in the US and Canada and with sell-out concerts across the continent, Jimmy Seals and Dash Crofts made no secret of their adherence to the Bahá'í Faith. More recently, Dan Seals, a popular performer in country music circles, has written and performed songs that reflect Bahá'í-inspired ideals.

In 1973, Michele Danesh, a former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Washington, DC, and the American Festival Ballet, established Ballet Shayda--the first ballet company to present Bahá'í ideas through the medium of dance. Based in Ottawa and operating for over ten years on a semi-professional basis with eighteen dancers, the company toured Canada and the eastern US, appearing before large gatherings of 10,000 people as well as at more intimate settings such as schools, hospitals, community centers, and camps. Ballet Shayda's repertoire, which consisted entirely of original works based on universal themes, was choreographed by Danesh in both classical and contemporary styles of dance. Two of the company's pieces were "Earth Moves," a classical ballet dedicated to the preservation of the environment, and "Day of the Dawning," a modern drama-in-dance inspired by the situation of the Iranian Bahá'í community and focusing on the themes of heroism and martyrdom. Responding to this last piece, one critic described it as "gripping dance-drama replete with highly original touches."

On the African continent, a multidimensional theater group named Afrika Bikonda was formed in Côte d'Ivoire in the mid-1980s, incorporating theater, poetry, dance, and drumming. Its works have been broadcast by television stations in Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, Guinea, and Mali, and one of its original plays, La Demande en Divorce, won third prize at the First Festival of Popular Theater in Abidjan in 1992.

As individual artists increasingly felt inspired to express their faith in their creative pursuits, Bahá'í administrative institutions began to offer more specific encouragement and direction with regard to the development of arts in the Bahá'í community. The Universal House of Justice has repeatedly emphasized that Bahá'í youth around the world should "consider the best ways in which they can use and develop their native abilities for the service of mankind and the Cause of God, whether this be as farmers, teachers, doctors, artisans, musicians, or any one of the multitude of livelihoods that are open to them." 21 In anticipation of the International Year of Peace in 1986, the Universal House of Justice wrote that National Spiritual Assemblies should encourage Bahá'í artists and their non-Bahá'í colleagues to give expression "through the various arts to important themes relating to world peace." 22 During the Six Year Plan for the expansion and consolidation of the Bahá'í community, the Universal House of Justice called once again for increasing use of the arts--particularly drama--in the Bahá'í community.

Such encouragement has borne fruit. In Canada, for example, the Bahá'í community sponsored two successful national Bahá'í arts festivals in 1988 and 1989, and similar ventures have been launched in other countries around the world. Arts forums and institutes have been founded in places such as Wienacht, Switzerland, and Atlanta, Georgia. Theatrical and musical groups have formed in locales as diverse as Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Northern Ireland. The first International Music and Drama Festival in southern Africa, held in Zimbabwe in December 1994, was hugely successful and promises to become an annual event in the region.

On 26 May 1992, an event called "Live Unity" took place at the venerable Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada. Conceived by Canadian musician and composer Jack Lenz as a celebration of music and entertainment from around the world, it brought together performers of diverse cultures and talents before an audience of approximately 2,000. Singers Seals and Crofts, Dan Seals, and Buffy Sainte-Marie, children's performers Red Grammer and Douglas John Cameron, East Indian dancer Nova Batticharya, Russian tenor Renat Ibragimov, Brazilian vocalist Flora Purim, Native American dancer Kevin Locke, and Chinese singer Ming Ying Zhu were some of the artists on the program. A "Live Unity" concert for children was given the same day, attracting some 1,200 young people. YTV, a national television network aimed at youth, taped the entire evening concert and aired it numerous times in the following months.

The role of arts in the Bahá'í community was highlighted in November 1992, with the second Bahá'í World Congress in New York City, where music and drama formed a key part of the main program. Dramatic sketches of early Western believers and their encounters with `Abdu'l-Bahá moved the 27,000 participants and taught them in memorable fashion about that era of Bahá'í history, as well as about spiritual principles underlying the dramatic pieces. The original music, performed by a 400-voice choir, had precisely the effect on the audience that `Abdu'l-Bahá indicated when He said, "if there be love in the heart, through melody, it will increase until its intensity can scarcely be borne...." 23 Drama played a key role in the youth activities held at the Congress, and evening concerts comprising dance, drama, and every musical genre, from classical to jazz to folk to country to rap to gospel, and music drawing upon traditions from various parts of the world, were also featured Congress events.

Phillip Hinton, one of the actors in the drama that was performed in the main Congress sessions, wrote afterwards of the experience, "I think we all felt that our training, all our skills as artists had been for this unique occasion. We each felt the power that is released when the dramatic arts are harnessed to express the Bahá'í message." 24 He also commented that the event "seemed to represent a shift in thinking, a new attitude on the part of the Bahá'í community towards the arts and artists and the role they must play in the unfoldment of Bahá'u'lláh's World Commonwealth." 25 This "shift," as Hinton terms it, is really the fruition of long years of encouragement from Bahá'í institutions.

The Bahá'í International Community has also been active in promoting the arts at NGO Forums connected with major international conferences and summits, such as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 and the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in March 1995. At both gatherings Bahá'ís organized evenings of cultural entertainment that were extremely well received by participants.

1994-95

During 1994-95, the number and range of Bahá'í artistic endeavors in all parts of the world increased markedly. Drama, visual arts, music, and a host of arts events--large and small--were in evidence, as seen in the following survey of highlights.

Drama

`Abdu'l-Bahá gave great weight to the dramatic arts. He is reported to have said, for example, that "drama is of the utmost importance. It has been a great educational power in the past; it will be so again," 26 and "The stage will be the pulpit of the future." 27 In 1912 `Abdu'l-Bahá also gave an outline of a play, entitled Drama of the Kingdom, to Gabrielle Enthoven, a Bahá'í who was interested in drama. This original outline has been developed by several different writers over the years, beginning with Mary Basil Hall whose version was published in 1933. In 1994 an ambitious production, also based on this outline, premiered at the Nexus Theatre, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia, from 30 September to 3 October. Titled The Face of Glory: A Musical Rendezvous with the Soul, the original musical work involved a cast of 34 and an off-stage crew of twelve. Featuring 20 original songs by Greg Parker written over a three-year period, the play used symbolism to develop the themes of spiritual awakening, development, and the mystery of martyrdom.

Approximately 1,000 people attended the five performances, and many were profoundly moved by what they saw. As one young man wrote afterwards to the director, "...`enjoyed it thoroughly' is something that might happen when I have a good meal. It doesn't begin to describe the manner in which experiencing the musical touched me.... If there is a more soul-wrenching experience to be had, I'm not sure I can face it.... I have no doubt that the memory of The Face of Glory will become more dear to me than any other."

The drama group In-Theatre also had a number of successes during 1994-95. Taking the experimental play A Strange Bit of History by Annabel Knight and Omid Djalili's one-man stand-up comedy show to the 1994 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, they walked away with "The Spirit of the Fringe Award." Reviewers called the first piece "an intelligent and stylish piece of theatre on an unlikely theme," "a witty and informed production," and "`World Class.'" Of the second they said, "this is a bravura, hilarious, physical performance." The message of the comedy piece, entitled Short, Fat Kebab-Shop Owner's Son, is that, in Omid Djalili's words, "it's not what you look like that matters, but an awareness of the reality of Man as `a mine rich in gems of inestimable value' that will help oppressed individuals to ultimately throw off the stigma of outwardly looking like a short, fat, Iranian kebab-shop owner's son whilst inwardly feeling like Sebastian Flyte from Brideshead Revisited." A Strange Bit of History parallels the Messianic fever in the West in the mid-nineteenth century with the executions of 20,000 Bábis in the East, "capturing the spirit of the times and making the claim that the Messiah normally associated with the return of Christ did in fact come."

Aside from performing at the Edinburgh Fringe, In-Theatre toured and performed in the Czech and Slovak Republics, the Netherlands, Copenhagen, Prague, Berlin, and Brighton, England, premiering a new piece called Sweet Dreams on the Metro in Copenhagen in January and February 1995. This two-person play takes its inspiration from the Peace Statement released by the Universal House of Justice in 1985. Set in a time of "post-calamity," the piece mixes film, dance, and theater to tell of a couple on the underground lines. Omid Djalili also performed his one-man show at the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in March.

In Trinidad and Tobago, a Bahá'í performing theater company was formally launched at the Creative Arts Center in San Fernando in November 1994. Some 130 people attended, viewing highlights of a performance called Celebration of Life and witnessing the premiere of a production entitled Blendings.

The Los Angeles Bahá'í Arts Council produced Prisoners of the Heart in the fall of 1994, performing it in the Los Angeles area, the Santa Cruz area, and in Sacramento and San Francisco over a period of several months. The play recounts the story of ten Bahá'í women in Shiraz, Iran, who were executed in 1983 for their belief in Bahá'u'lláh. It also deals with issues such as the equality of women and men and freedom of religious expression.

Also in the US, Touchstone Theater produced a one-man play by William George, entitled The Kingfisher's Wing: The Story of Badi`, during the fall of 1994. Using puppetry, shadow work, and incorporating humor, the piece tells the story of a young Persian man who journeyed to meet Bahá'u'lláh and was entrusted by Him to act as a messenger for a special tablet to the Shah. George uses allusions to numerous literary sources throughout the play, including the Bible, Shakespeare, Greek tragedy, and twentieth-century poet T.S. Eliot to convey the play's message, "that we are all carrying something. The meaning of sacrifice is that we all have some sort of burden to carry, we are all like Badi`, we are no different from him."

In Australia, the Wildfire World Theater ensemble, formed in the late 1980s, continued to perform Bahá'í-inspired dance and drama at home and in other nations throughout the Australasian region. Wildfire has also inspired many other groups to form, including the New Era Singers in Perth, the Farsight in Tasmania, and O.N.E. in Brisbane. In 1994 O.N.E. received an International Year of the Family grant to perform its show promoting the family at several high schools in the area.

A group of 27 Bahá'ís, ranging in age from seven to 45, in Québec, Canada, who call themselves Québecarche devised a multimedia production in French, called La Promesse ultime [Ultimate Promise], that was performed in four different cities throughout the province during the summer of 1994. The piece chronicles the quest of a spiritual seeker encountering the various religions revealed progressively throughout history by God's messengers such as Noah, Abraham, and Christ. The search ultimately ends with the seeker's discovery of Bahá'u'lláh. Public reaction to the production was very positive, with one audience member commenting that the presentation was much more than a "show": "It is love and we can feel it, we feel the unity between you."

Visual Arts

The Native Heritage Center in Duncan, British Columbia, Canada, was the venue for "Spiritworks 1995--Art and Belief," a fine arts show that featured the works of 20 visual artists, including sculptors, watercolor and acrylics painters, and a papermaker, as well as ten performance acts involving a further 30 artists. Workshops and three staged shows were also featured. "Spiritworks" arose from the monthly forums of a Bahá'í arts institute that seeks, through discussion about the Bahá'í sacred writings on the subject, to develop participants' understanding of the true purpose of art and the role and responsibility of the artist in society.

An art exhibition entitled "Art: An Act of Worship" was opened in October 1994 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, touring throughout a number of towns and cities until December and being viewed by between 500 and 1,000 people during those months. One work was also included in a "Symbols" exhibition, organized by the Cultural Traditions group, which seeks to explore religious, political, and social symbols in Northern Ireland. Also in Northern Ireland, the work of well-known Belfast artist George Fleming, depicting Orange Day processions in Ulster, has encouraged a less prejudiced and more informed look at the Orange Order. Significantly, the exhibition was launched at a college where Roman Catholic priests are trained. Viewers initially attempted to determine whether the artist was Protestant or Catholic, but the program clearly identified him as a member of the Bahá'í Faith attempting to bring understanding to different traditions in the country.

In August, at one of the most important cultural centers in Uruguay, the National Library in Montevideo, the paintings and sculptures of artist Sima Baher went on display. Cosponsored by the Bahá'í community of Uruguay, the Cultural Circle of Literature, and the David Beresnitzky Foundation, the 71-piece exhibition, entitled "The earth is but one country," was inspired by the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, particularly the statement, "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens."

Ten thousand people passed through the Taipei City Zoo in Taiwan between 8 and 17 July 1994 to view the First International Children's Art Exhibition, sponsored by the Bahá'í Office of the Environment for Taiwan. The exhibition's main theme, "Our Fragile Environment," featured 220 children's paintings selected from among 2,250 entries submitted from 38 countries, including the US, Taiwan, Japan, Canada, and various countries in Africa and South America.

Unity was the theme of the fifth Bahá'í art exhibition held during the annual National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa 1-9 July 1994. Three thousand people viewed the paintings, weaving, wood sculpture, and calligraphy contributed by twelve artists. One painting by Reginald Turvey was displayed, as were paintings by the two winners of the Reginald Turvey Art Bursary for 1993 and 1994. One newspaper article noted that the exhibition focused attention on what the artists consider to be "the next phase in the reconstruction of South Africa" and that "the unity of self, family, races, the world, with nature and God, unity in diversity, are represented." The exhibition was also shown at the National Bahá'í Center in Johannesburg during "Arts Alive" month in September.

Cluj, Romania, was the site of an art exhibition organized by the Association of Amateur Physician-Artists in November 1994, to which a Bahá'í contributed calligraphic renderings of the Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh done in Nasti`aliq style. Each piece also contained a Romanian translation of the text. Displayed in the first room of the gallery, the works were seen by hundreds of people during the month-long event, and two were included in another exhibition the following June in Budapest.

Well-known Bahá'í painter Ashraf Geibatov from Azerbaijan, living in Moscow, visited Luxembourg in the summer of 1994, and the Bahá'í community there was able to organize an exhi-bition of his work at the Bahá'í Center. Tschingis Aitmatov, former Russian ambassador to Luxembourg and internationally known writer, introduced the painter, lauding him for his work that "perfectly combines Eastern and Western cultures" and mentioning the universal character of the Bahá'í Faith.

In Nuuk (Godthåb), Greenland, the Bahá'í community sponsored an art exhibition called "Nearness Drawing Closer." Held at the National Museum, the show featured works by Canadian artist Gary Berteig and Greenland resident Linda Milne. First-day attendance was 380, and the opening remarks made it clear that the figure of Bahá'u'lláh was the animating force behind the artists' work and the exhibition itself.

Local Bahá'í artists in Portimão, Portugal, contributed paintings and materials to an exhibition on the life of Bahá'u'lláh and on The Hidden Words, held in the fall of 1994. More than 3,000 people visited the display.

Seventy-five photos on the theme "The earth is but one country" were exhibited in the library at Bergambacht in the Netherlands during January 1995. The show, arranged by two Bahá'ís, was opened by the mayor and depicted the seasons of the earth, children, people, and external forms of religions.



Bahá'ís and the Arts: Part II

  1. Bahá'u'lláh, from a tablet translated from the Persian, cited in "Extracts from the Writings Concerning Arts and Crafts," in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 1 (Mona Vale: Bahá'í Publications Australia, 1991), p. 1.
  2. Ibid., p. 3.
  3. `Abdu'l-Bahá, from a tablet translated from the Persian, cited in "Extracts from the Writings Concerning Arts and Crafts," in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 1, p. 4.
  4. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978), p. 129.
  5. Otto Donald Rogers, "The Moral Circumstance of Artistic Intent" (unpublished essay).
  6. From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, 20 July 1946; cited in "Compilation of Extracts from the Bahá'í Writings on Music," in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 2 (Mona Vale: Bahá'í Publications Australia, 1991), p. 81.
  7. Otto Donald Rogers, "Expanding and Consolidating the Cause of God: The Contribution of the Arts," in Bahá'í Canada (Kalimat, B.E. 151), p. 36.
  8. Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh: Baghdad 1853-63, vol. 1 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1974), pp. 62-63.
  9. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Memorials of the Faithful (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1971), p.35.
  10. For further details, see "The Mission of the Báb," pp. 193-225.
  11. Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1954), p. 167.
  12. From a letter written 21 September 1957 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States; cited in "Extracts from the Writings Concerning Arts and Crafts" in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 1, p. 8.
  13. See William P. Collins, Bibliography of English-language Works on the Bábi and Bahá'í Faiths, 1844-1985 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1990) which lists published references to a number of well-known Bahá'í artists.
  14. William C. Seitz, Mark Tobey (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1962), p. 43.
  15. Otto Donald Rogers, introduction to the catalogue of his exhibition at the Canadian Art Galleries, Calgary, Alberta (1991).
  16. Quoted in The Bahá'í World, vol. 18, 1979-1983 (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1986), p. 717.
  17. Michael Fitzgerald, ed. The Creative Circle: Art, Literature, and Music in Bahá'í Perspective (Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1989).
  18. "Ladder of the Soul: An Interview with Lasse Thoresen," with Trym Bergsmo, in The Creative Circle, p. 194.
  19. See p. 264.
  20. Dizzy Gillespie, with Al Fraser, To Be, or Not...To Bop: Memoirs (New York: Doubleday, 1979), p. 474.
  21. From a letter written by the Universal House of Justice to Bahá'í youth in every land, 10 June 1966; in Wellspring of Guidance: Messages 1963-1968 (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1969), p. 95.
  22. From a letter written by the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies, 23 January 1985.
  23. `Abdu'l-Bahá's words to Mrs. Mary L. Lucas, as quoted in "A Brief Account of My Visit to Acca" (Chicago: Bahá'í Publishing Society, 1905), pp. 11-14; cited in "Extracts from the Bahá'í Writings on Music" in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 2, p. 79.
  24. Phillip Hinton, "Art a gift of the Holy Spirit," Herald of the South (April-June 1993), p. 23.
  25. Ibid., p. 23.
  26. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Star of the West, vol. 19, no. 11 (February 1929), p. 341.
  27. `Abdu'l-Bahá, quoted by Loulie Mathews in The Magazine of the Children of the Kingdom, vol. 4, no. 3, (June 1923), p. 69.
  28. `Abdu'l-Bahá, cited in "Extracts from the Bahá'í Writings on Music," in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 2, p. 74.
  29. Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 51.
  30. Many other Bahá'í youth dance groups, known as Youth Workshops, have formed around the world. For a more detailed look at some of these, see pp.172-177.
  31. The passage cited is from Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978), p. 176.
  32. Glen A. Eyford, "Aesthetics and Spiritual Education," in World Order (Fall 1979), pp. 48-49. Cited passage from Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: Selected Letters, 2d. rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974), p. 163.
  33. `Abdu'l-Bahá's words to Mrs. Mary L. Lucas, as quoted in "A Brief Account of My Visit to Acca," pp. 11-14; cited in "Extracts from the Bahá'í Writings on Music," in The Compilation of Compilations, vol. 2, p. 78.
  34. Cited by Arthur Dahl in "The Fragrance of Spirituality: An Appreciation of the Art of Mark Tobey," in The Bahá'í World: An International Record, vol. 16 (1963-76), p. 644.

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