The idea for Seeking Al-Tawhid came to me while thinking about the longstanding nonacceptance of depictions of humans and animals in Islamic art, and the resulting development of the Arabesque in which abstract geometry and stylized organic motifs are used to symbolize, within our manifest realm, that which is beyond manifestation.
I pondered about a possible connection between the invention of this visual language, which leads the eye back and forth between the second and third dimension, and the practice of photography, in which the representation of three-dimensional subject matter is rendered on a flat surface.
I discovered that the infinitely extensible designs in Islamic art, that are themselves made up of individual, self-replicating units have been interpreted as visual demonstrations of the singleness of God and his presence everywhere. They represent ‘unity in multiplicity’ and ‘multiplicity in unity.’
Technically the term for this ‘Oneness’ is Tawhid—a belief in God’s uncompromised unity and transcendence. The best-known expression of this Divine Unity is ‘La-ilaha-ill-Allah,’ (Quran 112:1): ‘There is no god but God.’
With these thoughts, I embarked on a journey that began in Andalusia, where in the words of British orientalist and archaeologist Stanley Lane-Poole, “Whatever makes a kingdom great, whatever tends to refinement and civilization was found in Moorish Spain.”
Colour is the first element that seduces in an Akim Monet photograph. Molten oranges, rich blues, lurid greens and purples that a Fauvist would envy, saturate the visual field. Then the sheer ornamented exuberance of his subject matter teases the eye with its baroque textures (…) Monet presents all this in reverse—that is, he prints directly what is on his negatives rather than inverting them into positive images. Doing this appeals to him both aesthetically and conceptually. First off, it’s how he’s able to achieve such an unexpectedly painterly and heightened palette. It’s also for him the most direct transfer of how the light of a particular place and moment burns into sensitised film. Looking at these photographs you do indeed viscerally sense the energy—the colours, smells, music—of his subjects.
While Monet had taken photographs in college and as a dealer documenting the installation of shows, it wasn’t until a trip to India in 1992 that the medium got under his skin. He was deeply affected by the power of the ancient temples and monuments that are still a vital part of daily life there, and used photography as a way of processing what he was feeling. Yet when he saw his pictures developed and printed, he was disappointed by their snapshot quality. He found looking at the negative strips, though, much more akin to his actual experience of the places and became obsessed with finding a way to print them as negatives. With no formal training in photography, Monet cobbled together a homemade process—with tools picked up along his travels—of re-photographing projections of the negatives, so the final print would match the original negative.
What the pictures share is an interest in duality that is underscored by the way Monet plays with idea of positive and negative in his printing technique.
Hilarie M. Sheets, The Space Between (excerpts), Infinite Point Press, New York, 2003 For more information, please visit seekingaltawhid.com