- Ayyam-i-Ha is a Baha’i festival that is joyously celebrated in countries and territories all over the world. It is a time of hospitality, generosity, and caring for the needy. This year Ayyam-i-Ha runs from February 26-29.
I relished in seeing the diversity of artistic expressions around Australia in honour of the centenary of the Passing of Abdu’l-Baha and one piece in particular really moved me:
Although unnamed, a little sleuthing led me to the artist, Khashayar Salmanzadeh, whose work is arresting and profound. I asked Khashayar a few questions about his art and he very graciously responded with thoughtful and insightful answers. Before we get to what he shared, here are few more of his pieces:
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi! My name is Khashayar but everyone just calls me Khash. I was born in Shiraz, Iran in 2001 and my family moved to Perth, Australia in 2008. Last year I finished my Bachelors in Fine Art and this year I am starting my Honours at RMIT University in Melbourne. I spend a lot of my time listening to music and when time permits to also read a book. My music taste is a bit everywhere, jumping from Kendrick Lamar to Beethoven to Daft Punk. Currently I am reading Gems of Divine Mysteries by Baha’u’llah which I find to be a great companion piece to The Seven Valleys as it elucidates on many similar themes.
Could you please tell us a little about your art?
In my creative practice I utilise large scale portraiture and oil paint to explore the spiritual reality of the human condition. I play with realistic representation and abstracted figures intertwined with religious symbolism and calligraphy to raise insights on human nature. This may manifest as a visualisation of a particular virtue such as love, or an exploration of a particular literary work such as The Seven Valleys. I think for all time humanity has been interested in its own self, continuously seeking to understand itself. And yet, despite the ancient nature of this theme this is a discourse that still has a long way to go considering the materialistic conception of human identity held by most of the world’s populations.
In this regard, I want to create an environment for people of all backgrounds to reflect and meditate on what makes them human. Regarding the Bahaʼi conception of human nature, Baha’u’llah states “I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.” 1 This idea of man’s nature being made in the image of His Creator finds its echo in another statement by Baha’u’llah Who states, “and also in your own selves: will ye not then behold the signs of God?” And yet again He revealeth: “And be ye not like those who forget God, and whom He hath therefore caused to forget their own selves.” 2 In this light, it seems that as humanity advances in its understanding of its own self it is in parallel advancing in its knowledge of God, for the divine qualities exhibited by the soul of man are ultimately reflections of the light of its Creator. Thus, at least for me, the act of artmaking is also an act of teaching however direct or indirect. Through the humble medium of paint on canvas, I am teaching the knowledge of man’s reality as enshrined in the Revelation to Baha’u’llah.
What inspires you to create?
Besides engaging with the works of other artists, I find a lot of my inspiration comes from reflecting on the Writings and the study of nature.
Baha’u’llah Himself testified to the significance of reflection in the generation of art when he stated, “the source of crafts, sciences and arts is the power of reflection.” 3 I find the Word of God inexhaustible in its ability to promote creativity and visual inspiration, as well as its capacity to condition the artist to a state of prayer in the process of making art. Thus, for me reflection on the literary works of the Manifestations of God provides an ocean of creative inspiration.
Complementary to this is the boundless inspiration found in nature. It is no coincidence that nature, whether in human subjects or landscapes, has preoccupied the minds of artists for all time. Bahá’u’lláh reconceptualised the reality of nature when He declared that “nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator” 4 and that “were anyone to affirm that it is the Will of God as manifested in the world of being, no one should question this assertion.” 4 In this regard, engaging and being with nature is inherently a spiritual act and one which personally facilitates creative inspiration.
What words of encouragement would you like to share with other artists?
It is not an easy thing to be an artist, especially in today’s age. But with grit, determination and trust in the confirmations of God it is certainly possible to be a successful artist. However, I would also like to encourage all peoples endowed with artistic talents to consider their gifts as a sacred trust. Indeed, as the Gospel of Luke illustrates, “for unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” 5 And undoubtedly the gift of art making is a priceless bounty, one that necessitates an equally great responsibility.
Regarding the act of art making, Abdu’l-Baha exalts its station to that of prayer and worship:
“I rejoice to hear that thou takest pains with thine art, for in this wonderful new age, art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer wilt thou come to God. What bestowal could be greater than this, that one’s art should be even as the act of worshipping the Lord? That is to say, when thy fingers grasp the paintbrush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the Temple.” 6
Whilst in parallel, the Universal House of Justice envisions the Bahaʼi artist as a moral leader in society:
“Baha’i artists are free to apply their talents to whatever subject is of interest to them. However, it is hoped that they will exercise a leadership role in restoring to a materialistic society an appreciation of reverence as a vital element in the achievement of true liberty and abiding happiness.” 4
In this respect, it stands clear that artists hold a divine occupation, in which the very execution of their job is one of worship. However, such a precious bounty given by God is not without the expectation that it be directed towards selfless service to humanity.
Thank you, Khash, for taking the time to share these profound thoughts with us!
Follow Khashayar on Instagram to see more of his visual art.
(Thumbnail photograph for this post courtesy of Bo Wong.)
Footnotes & Citations
- Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words
- Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan
- Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah
- Luke 12:48 King James Version
- The Importance of the Arts in Promoting the Faith
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