UPF’s Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World Aired by PBS
By Alex Kronemer
For the past 10 years, Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) has been working for peace and understanding through its documentary films and outreach projects. In its debut project, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, a large American audience was presented with the first feature length documentary on the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Subsequent national broadcast of other films included Prince Among Slaves and Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain.
In 2008, on the eve of President Obama’s Cairo Speech, UPF premiered Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, to an audience of Washington, DC, policy makers, including the former Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, who keynoted the event.
These were all serious films addressing the important topics of the day. Arguably, all of the films had much to offer the cause of better understanding, tolerance, and interfaith harmony. So why would we make a film on Islamic crafts and architecture? After all, what does art have to say to the important crossroads issues of our time?
Well, it turns out that in the case of Islamic Art, quite a lot.
On Friday, July 6, PBS broadcasted UPF’s newest film, Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World. A national audience embarked on an incredible journey, one that I believe they found quite remarkable, but not for just the reasons that were apparent.
At one level, audiences traveled to nine countries, spanning all the way from Spain to India, Turkey to Mali. It took people back in time and covered 14 centuries of history. In the process, audiences were transported inside some of the most beautiful and dramatic buildings in the world. They viewed objects, some of which have only recently been discovered. Others have been hidden away for centuries in palaces that opened their doors to our cameras.
But the most important thing might not have been what they saw on the surface of objects or the shape of buildings, but rather what lies beneath.
The film’s subtitle, “Mirror of the Invisible World,” reminds us about what great art really does. It gives physical presence to forces that the naked eye can’t see: the spiritual and religious impulse, the mysterious springs of inspiration and imagination, the invisible depths of the human spirit, and the power of ideas. These works capture the essence of the people who made them and speak for them. They tell us what is best in us, which is why we admire them.
As the world-renowned scholars in the film point out, there is a common thread that runs through the great diversity of Muslim patrons and rulers who commissioned all these various works, and the artists who made them. And that is that all of them lived and worked at the crossroads of civilizations.
Sometimes the context of that crossing was one of commerce and economic competition. Sometimes it was conflict and even, on occasion, a clash. But in all cases, it was the spirit of collaboration and the willingness to embrace the best in their fellow human beings that prevailed in almost all of them, from the Dome of the Rock and the first beginnings of Islamic Art, to works of beautiful calligraphy that are being produced today—out of all places—in a humble studio in Arlington, Virginia.
Whatever may have divided these various societies has long been forgotten. What endures is what united them, and that is why we made this film.
These objects, both great and small, speak to us across the centuries from so many different places, urging us to embrace the good, to enjoy the beautiful, and when, at a crossroads moment in history, as we stand at today, where we have to choose between conflict or reconciliation, destruction or life, to choose life.
That may be the most remarkable discovery of all on the July 6th adventure across the visible and invisible worlds of Islamic Art.
I hope you get a chance to view the film and enjoy the journey.
(Alex Kronemer is the Co-Executive producer of Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World and the CEO of Unity Productions Foundation, a nonprofit media foundation dedi cated to working through the media to create peace.)
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