Sufistic Motifs in the Art of Faizulla Akhmadaliev

Spiritual values of different religions have always attracted artists, helping them to find new themes, ideas and images. For the masters of brush of Uzbekistan the function of this spiritual «landmark» was performed by Sufism that played an important role in Oriental cultural tradition, deeply permeating literature and art. The original concept of Sufism is the idea of happiness that opens to the Absolute Spirit. An aspiration for the Absolute and the cognition of the divine in Sufism is akin to the search for perfect ideas in creative work. Alisher Navoi once wrote that the whole world around, its renewal, spring blossoms, fruits and bird songs are the manifestations of God, and the human beauty is the light of God. The notion of the world being the fruit of God's creation has become one of the key ideas in Sufism-inspired pictorial art and fiction.

Sufistic theme is one of the key subjects in the work of Akmal Nur, Mukhtar Oblokulov, Zebo Sharipova, Erkaboy Masharipov, Asliddin Isaev and Boboniyoz Kurbanov — all from Uzbekistan. The artists are trying to find new approaches to the implementation of ideas that stirred the minds of medieval Sufis, their world outlook and aesthetic notions. Using classical subjects and images and synthesizing them with new capabilities and themes offered by contemporary art, artists offer their own concepts concerning spiritual guiding lines of the ancient teaching.

One of the painters for whom Sufism became an ideological basis for creative search is Faizulla Akhmadaliev. In many of his works he turns to the theme of dervish-hood as a universal motif that conveys the primeval theme of searching for perfection, for one's own path in life, and of renouncing temptations for the sake of spiritual harmony. Such are his works «The Dervish», «The Life of a Dervish» and «The World of Dervishes». Akhmadaliev links the main essence of the image with the notions of modesty and humbleness. Dervish is a person who consciously adopted the path of Sufism, renounced material boons and dedicated his soul and his life to the service of God. The path chosen by a dervish is his faith. For Akhmadaliev the image of a dervish is s symbol of fidelity, of being true to one's choice, ideals and convictions.

Commenting on his works, Akhmadaliev recalls a parable by a famous Sufi poet Farid ad-din Attar. Once a poor dervish in ragged clothes walked into a shop and, majestically taking the honorary seat and turning his laughter and tears to the shop owner, began to beg for alms in the name of God. But the shop owner began to usher him away. Then the poor man said: «I will go away, my load is light and I can easily abandon this world, as I have got nothing but these rags. For you, however, it will be very difficult to quit this world, because you are rich and your pockets are filled with jewels, and many people help you in your shop. But I am going to die like that», and the dervish covered his head with pumpkin skin and passed away.

Everybody was amazed at this magical power, and, tearful, they buried the dervish appropriately. The shop owner, very depressed by what had happened, abandoned his trade he inherited from his father and put on dervish's rags. Later on he rose to become a sheikh and his award was acquiring faith in One God.

This is what the artist says about his work «The Life of a Dervish»: «When creating the picture, I tried to understand what is necessary to discover spiritual world of this eternal winderer. Long before I started working on it I had studied quite a lot of literature on Sufism and dervishes. I tried to show the spirit of the work not through the subject, but by means of symbolism of plasticity and colour». As a result, the canvas bears the image of a traveller created with different symbols. On the left side of the composition the symbols merge into a kind of an abstraction as a mystery incomprehensible for the uninitiated. When creating the image the artist employed earthen and ochre shades as the expression of a Sufistic notion that a man is made of mud and will turn into mud again. Dervish has got nothing, but the play of satin shades he emanates symbolizes the richness of his soul and, at the same time, the richness, diversity and controversy of life. By giving an active semantic emphasis to the colour in the canvas, Akh-madaliev is trying to represent the ideas on understanding colour that were characteristic of Sufistic philosophy.

The material world — spring-time, bird songs, flowers and fruits, the breath of life and its power as a manifestation of the divine — is portrayed by the artist in all the diversity of images and colour. Yet he remembers that the beauty of the material world can trap human soul. The material world is transient, but the essence of existence is eternal. Akhmadaliev is convinced that a human soul must aspire to this essence only. And it is not easy to come to understand this truth. That is why so dark is the face of the dervish who has rejected worldly gifts and is looking upon the world with only one eye, the spiritual eye. The life of a dervish is a hidden life of his inner world.

The artist, as a true spiritual wanderer, had been into a long creative search that led him to a wonderful discovery: the whole world in all its diversity and controversy can be represented in a much more comprehensive way with the help of symbols. It is through the understanding of symbols offered by the artist that the essence of his works is revealed. Meanwhile, Akhmadaliev as actively employs the language of parables and metaphors as did medieval artists and poets, by turning to the work of Alisher Navoi, Farid ad-din Attar, Jalaliddin Rumi, Kamoliddin Bekhzad, Mir Said AH, Makhmud Muzahhib, Murod Samarqandi…

The composition of Akhmadaliev's «The Life of Dervishes» is performed in graphic style. We can see barefoot traveling dervishes wearing rags. At the corner of the composition there is again a single eye as a symbol of spiritual vision of the ascetic; in Sufistic symbolism an eye represents a Sufi himself. In this work it was important for the artist to communicate the idea that the world is infinite and a man is just a particle lost in it. And only in the unity with God, Truth and the Absolute he can find his place in this world. And the dervishes' path through resignation is the only right way to finding Truth. And only on this path one can be blessed by angels — the symbols of divine purity, and be met with bird songs. The prize is a garden that symbolizes paradise and eternal blissful life.

«The Heart of a Dervish» continues the previous theme. The artist creates another parable employing the methods of installation. Unusual materials have been used. The entire composition, at the centre of which there is a figure of a dervish made of a mud-covered frame and wheat shoots, symbolizes unity between Man and Nature and man's state of being solved in the world created by God. Yet the main centre of gravity in the object is a candle burning in the dervish's chest, as a symbol of faith, love, spiritual warmth and hope. Sufistic philosophy is a philosophy of man's aspiration for self-perfecting. «Man's inner world is something that is presented before God's Judgment. Cleanse the inner world and the soul towards which the Eye of God is directed. Purification of soul will open inspiration and true happiness», Jalaliddin Rumi used to say. This idea that attracted many generations of searching minds remains key for Fai-zulla Akhmadaliev too. He tries to convey it in his works «Mashrab», «Wanderer», «The Wolf Mother», etc. The latter deserves specific attention. The painting sounds as a refrain to Chingiz Aitmatov's novel «At Day Time». The artist implemented the theme of majesty of motherhood by resorting to the scene from the life of beasts of prey. Poeticizing the image of a wolf-mother, he positions her above the Moon, as motherhood is higher than this majestic celestial luminary.

Faizulla Akhmadaliev is a prize-winner of the fourth Tashkent Biennale held in 2007. This major international exhibition presented his works «Dialogue with Bread», «Dervishes» and «Mundane Affairs» in which the artist continues to develop the main themes of his creative work. And today he is in the state of continuous search, creating new pieces worthy of being included into the anthology of the finest works of modern art of Uzbekistan.

Gulchekhra Eshonova