That sounded right, and the more he thought about it the more right it sounded. Schools teach you to imitate. If you don’t imitate what the teacher wants you get a bad grade. Here, in college, it was more sophisticated, of course; you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of the instruction and going ahead with it on your own. That got you A’s. Originality on the other hand could get you anything – from A to F. The whole grading system cautioned against it.
―Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
Nature is a great source of inspiration for creatives of all types. Lina Cofán takes a whimsical look at cacti.
Lina Cofán was working as a performance and theater based artist in Berlin when she decided to move back to Spain and pursue an interest in ceramic sculpture. The majority of her pieces are plants, specifically cacti. Cacti come in a wealth of textures and shades of green to which Cofán adds her imagination and skill. The result is simply enchanting.
Cofán’s creations are life size, rendered with playful ridges in glowing greens that delight the eye. From barrel shaped to tall saguaro, from prickly pear to pincushion, these quirky cacti have an astonishing amount of personality.
Please check out Lina Cofán’s website. I hope to see and learn more about this talented artist in the future.
A few years ago, Houston Grand Opera sponsored a magical program called Houston Artists Respond. People from community centers in Houston, Texas, made videos in which they shared moments that shaped their lives. These were made available to artists, poets and composers who were asked to respond using their particular art. I chose three videos of Latin American women who had immigrated to the Unites States and wove them with my own feelings to make three poems. This is the last of those poems, and tells the story of a woman who grew up with nature in Guerrero, Mexico. Despite her poverty and lack of opportunities, she was blessed with a connection to the earth that continues to give her life meaning today.
This message resounds deeply with me. I grew up on a ranch in central Texas without plumbing, central heating and air conditioning. Our house was unfinished and the resources to make it so were never there, but the riches we found in the land itself were beyond price. When my father died and it grew too difficult for my mother and me to continue living there, I was torn. I have never found another place that was as much home to me and I long for it still, knowing I can never go back to visit. Doctors have given me little help with my gluten intolerance issues, so I understand that, too. Without the foundation built in my early days, I do not know how I would have dealt with that illness or the flooding of our home in 2009. Growing up there made me resilient and gave me faith.
We are accustomed to seeing stylized imitations of plant and rock textures and forms decorating our homes, workplaces and just about anywhere we go. Cave stalactites have found their way into architecture as well, in the ornate form called mocárabe or muqarna. Also known in Arabic as al-halimat al-‘uliya, or the overhang, mocárabe is an ornamental design that originated in northern Africa and Iran in the 10th Century, consisting of sculpted geometric shapes projecting downward from a surface.
Perhaps the most famous use of this beautiful decoration in the West is in the Alhambra palace of Granada, built under the direction of the Nasrid dynasty in Spain. Above is the domed ceiling of the Sala de los dos Hermanas, the Room of the two Sisters, reaching down like an exquisite, lacy flower. The regularity and mathematical precision of the mocárabe are hypnotic, somehow soothing.
Nearby is the star shaped dome of the Sala de los Abencerrajes, the Room of the Abencerrages, with its stunningly placed windows throwing patterns of light and shadow over the fantastic mocárabe, which resemble images in a giant kaleidoscope.
The name of the room stems from a legend in which an unnamed sultan slew the entire Abencerrages family for an unsolicited affair between one of their number and a royal lady. He reportedly had them shut up in this beautiful room, then ordered his men to kill them. There is an evocative red rust stain in a fountain at the center of the room which may have inspired or at least given given credence to the story. Perhaps it was a fable, someone’s idea of discouraging hanky-panky in the court. One can see how imaginations might run wild in such a fantastic place.
Looking into a corner in the Sala de los Abencerrajes
The invocation of the cave is so strong in some of these rooms that I can imagine some vampire hanging about as a bat, living it up Dracula style.
Another of Nasrid work can be seen at the Corral del Carbòn in Granada, a simple storehouse originally used for foodstuffs and later for charcoal. The work here is less delicate and fine, but it is still pretty impressive, especially considering the function of the building.
Mocárabe became so ingrained in Spanish culture that it was incorporated into the Palacio Real de Aranjuez in Madrid, the residence of the King of Spain, commissioned by Philip II and finished in the mid 18th century.
Islamic craftsmen and artists have been extremely creative in their use of texture and patterning in decoration, partially because figures of humans and animals were not permitted for their use on religious grounds. To portray any being which contains the breath of life can be seen as an affront to God, an attempt to create like He created, but to focus the mind in patterns is recognized as a centering and meditative practice.
Islamic geometric patterns are second to none in their mathematical elegance, complexity and beauty. The mocárabe itself may have spiritual significance, perhaps symbolizing the cave in which Mohammed received the Koran.
Mocárabe was originally introduced to Spain and the rest of the Iberian Peninsula by the Almoravid dynasty of Morocco, centered at Marrakesh, who ruled over southern Spain and were instrumental in defending the Islamic kingdom of Al-Andalus (Andalusia) against the Christian army of the Castilian and Aragonese. Much of the richness of southern Spanish culture is due to the influence of the highly advanced Islamic civilization which flourished there from 711 to 1492 AD. You can read more here. There is much more beauty to be found.