Sadaf Farasat, who recently exhibited at Artkaam Gallery, Karachi, is a self-taught artist based in Malaysia. She has been painting for 20 years, and has her own gallery in that country. Though she is basically self-taught, she has received some informal training from the renowned artist Saed Akhtar, of whom it has been said that his works are comparable to those of Gulgee and Jamil Naqsh. After this time with Saed Akhtar, she launched herself as an independent artist – mystic at heart – working mainly with the concepts of Sufism, though she has also worked on different philosophies and phenomena. The Sufi way of life, she feels, helps one to banish ego and selfishness, and to be eager to work for the happiness of others.
She feels that art is a way of meditating, and connecting with the Almighty, the Supreme Power. The submission, the whirling in devotion and passion are a very important part of the Sufi dance, expressing desire for union with the beloved – i.e. the Divine. Clearly describing this love are Rumi’s words, “You dance within my breast/ Where no-one sees you/ But sometimes I see you/ And that sight becomes this art.”
Asked, “Since Sufism is your inspiration, do you think that art is also a way towards our spiritual awareness?” she answered, “Surely it is. I have chosen Sufism as my subject so that my work inspires people to study it, and consequently to practise it. If we all did so, the world would become a beautiful place. And as to feedback, the best is to know that Sufism has helped bring peace in people’s lives. This is my biggest achievement.”
Studying Sufism, as Sadaf has hinted earlier, is a continuous striving to cleanse oneself, and to acquire virtue, and thus one’s work as a painter is a reflection of the personal spiritual journey. In the words of the great Rumi, “This is love: to fly towards a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First, let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.”
Although it is common these days to see dervishes painted in a variety of colours, Sadaf has presented 2 of her dancers in white. It’s interesting to compare them, as one is in a plain white costume against a plain background, and is titled, “You that turn stones into gold, change me.” His face, like those of so many dervishes, shows no features, and this is a sign of the pure intention to forget the ego and unite with the divine. The second of these pictures is untitled, and shows a dervish whose untitled image is again in white, with a black cummerbund, while his bearded face has very clear features.
Each piece of the dervishes’ clothing has its own meaning. For example, the conical felt cap (known as a sikke) signifies the gravestone that will one day stand at the heads of their graves – the tombs of their egos – while the white robe symbolises the shroud of the ego. The black cloak, when discarded at the start of the ritual, represents their liberation from worldly attachments. And just as the face of the dancer is not often shown, neither are the feet, since the physical aspect is immaterial.
Whereas some of Sadaf’s paintings have a rustic touch, her piece showing 2 daintily composed dancers in pale yellow, dancing before a window and accompanied by 2 birds, inspires many thoughts. The window itself suggests a portal through which the soul can travel, can find new beginnings, above all through which the darvish hopes to find the way to union with the Divine. The birds underline this, being messengers from the Divine, and thus a potent symbol of the link between earth and sky. Meanwhile, the sky itself in this composition gives extra life to the picture through the cleverly managed wash, while the design of the window gives added symmetry to the piece.
Elsewhere, two dancers express their joyful search for the Divine in the mysterious rain that falls upon them, and upon the several domes which surround them. Rain represents spiritual rebirth and cleansing – both qualities desired by those who follow Rumi’s teachings. Also it is crucial that the clouds are cleared away from the sun during this rain, as the sun is synonymous with truth. Yellow is the dominant colour in this composition, and has stood for wisdom and intellect throughout the ages, as well as being full of creative energy, a quality essential to those searching for the spiritual truth in the path of Rumi. All domes here are yellow, the dome being a powerful symbol of the vault of heaven, and considered also to be a symbol of the universe and the gateway of the sun. So there are several auspicious symbols guiding the dancers towards the one they search for.
Concerning shadow and light, Rumi tells us, “Sometimes the shadow stops next to the light. Sometimes it disappears into the light.” Along with this the artist has presented 2 dancers in black, within a black space, the one in front having stopped next to the light, the one behind him disappearing into the light. One asks, “Who is the more fortunate?” Both whirl as they raise their arms, in a gesture expressive of their earnest search for the beloved. Are they lost between shadow and light, seeking release so that at last they may join the beloved, having escaped from the place where the shadow prevents this? Many opinions have been expressed regarding shadows. It’s interesting to read what psychologists say about this phenomenon. Carolyn Kaufman, for example, wrote, “In spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness, or perhaps because of it, the shadow is the seat of creativity.” And Jung says, “The shadow sometimes overwhelms a person’s actions. For instance, a man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light, and falling into his own traps.” But it is more encouraging to read the words of Rumi, who said, “Light surrounds all shadow,” and “Both light and shadow are the dance of love.” With his thoughts and earnest belief in the power of love, he is the great teacher, and as his philosophy spreads further and further over the world, more and more artists are inspired, like Sadaf, to take up their brushes to illustrate his teachings.