The paradise garden and sacred Islamic art

Reflections on the Chalice Well Many Paths One Source Festival 2015

'...we were treated to a transcendent inspirational learning curve, at the start of which we learned about the idea of a Paradise Garden contained within Islam which surely echoed in our Chalice Well garden...'

All the planning and hard work that went into our ‘Sacred Arts of Islam’ in June was certainly well worth the effort. Our collaboration with the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts was a stunning step forward into what can be achieved and brought forth when the spirit moves behind an idea.

Practitioners of Islamic studies travelled from near (Wells) and far (France and Pakistan) to share their skills, philosophy and passion with talks, practical workshops and tutoring.

For five wonderful days we were treated to a transcendent inspirational learning curve, at the start of which we learned about the idea of a Paradise Garden contained within Islam which surely echoed in our Chalice Well garden, especially knowing that Tudor Pole had spent time in Persia and the Middle East from where he drew much inspiration.

On day one, Emma Clark described the wonder of the Islamic Paradise Garden and Tasleema Alam showed the beauty and detail in her fabric work. Wafa’ Tarnowska was described in our programme as ‘the real deal, a storyteller of heart and soul’ and so it proved to be with her Arabian Nights presentation that builds literary bridges between east and west. Her book ‘The Arabian Nights’ (2010) won the Smithsonian Institute magazine notable book for children in 2011. Later that evening we witnessed a sacred music recital by Bahman Panahi on Tar; a most moving display of meditative Persian music.

Then, over the next days, hands-on tutoring that fired the Imagination with sacred geometry, calligraphy, plaster carving, flower patterns and block printing. All the while the teachers from London, Paris and Pakistan found resonance with the ancient Well, flowing waters and beautiful gardens here as well as the stillness of Little St Michael's and the sanctity of the Upper Room. In the current world climate it was as though a great healing was taking place.

The Meeting Room too was transformed by the display of exquisite artwork assembled with loving care by Tom Bree and Nadia Alkatabi Diaz, some of it shipped from Pakistan (leading to an interesting day for Natasha trying to get it released through customs at Heathrow!) which stunned visitors with its intricate beauty.

The educational workshops in the marquee were fully attended and enjoyed. Sacred Geometry with Tom Bree, Daniel Docherty, Lisa de Long and Richard Henry happened each day, Sacred Gardens with Emma Clark and Tom Bree, Block Printing with Tasleema Alam, Flower Patterns with Ustad Saif-ur-Rehman, Calligraphy with Nuria Garcia and Plaster Casting with Pawel Niewski.

Their recognition of Chalice Well as a ‘sacred paradise garden’ underpinned a wonderful five days. 

Throughout, Waleed Zaman was working with the presenters and Natasha and the Chalice Well team to ensure things ran smoothly. We would like to publically thank him and his wife Fatima for all their efforts.

On the final evening we co-operated with the Red Brick Building on a live audio visual performance ‘A Hidden Order’ with Geometer Sama Mara and composer Lee Westwood that attempted to reveal the bonds between art and music, the sounds being translated into real-time graphics through a computer programme.

We hope both contributors and participants found the festival as ‘inspirational’ as we did, in the truest sense of the word. The original meaning of ‘inspirational’ links it to the breath as a symbol of spirit or soul so that by filling ourselves with the breath of the spirit we may come closer to the source. By understanding more about the complexity and harmony of the natural world, and indeed our universe, it may enable us to move through this present challenging period of evolution where we humans are impacting so strongly upon our environment, pushing us to the very limits of growth.

View the 'Exploring the Sacred Arts of Islam' gallery...

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