Exhibit is a new take on Islam, West Africa

Published: Saturday, January 22, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 21, 2005 at 10:31 p.m.
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Moussa Tine, a piece in the "Saint in the City" exhibit, is an acrylics painting on canvas and plywood.

Special to the Sun


'Saint in the City'

  • What: 'A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal.' Exhibit explores the arts and culture of Islamic West Africa through a movement in Senegal known as the "Mouride Way."
  • When: Through March 15; Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday, 6-10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 1-5 p.m.
  • Where: Harn Museum of Art, SW 34th Street and Hull Road, UF campus
    n Admission: Free

  • With the seemingly endless stream of news on genocide, terrorism and civil unrest in the world, American perspectives on Africa and Islam tend to be tainted with sinister overtones. The exhibit, "A Saint in the City," now on display at the University of Florida's Harn Museum of Art, challenges the idea of Africa and Islam as a symbol of instability and violence.
    "You hear so many negative things about Islam, and this is a counterbalance to that view point. It can really be an eye opener for people," Harn Museum Director Rebecca Nagy said.
    The special exposition focuses on the peaceful Sufi sect of the Mourides. Immersed in a display of mystical, urbane folk art, visitors will see a vibrant presentation on Islamic West Africa from Dakar, the capital of Senegal.
    "The central idea here is that this is a very different form of Islam than what we usually see. People will walk into this exhibit and think: 'This is not what I thought Islam was.' But it is," said Fiona McLaughlin, University of Florida professor of African linguistics.
    In the economic disparity of Dakar during the 1980s, Sufi artists found hope and inspiration in the teachings of Mouride founder Sheikh Amadou Bamba. Using whatever resources available - from storefronts to unused planks of lumber, and even scraps of clothing - their art builds on themes of spirituality, community and the haunting, iconic image of Amadou Bamba wrapped in white robes.
    "The image of the Saint is considered so powerful that when you look at it, you will glean what the Sufi's call 'baraka,' taking you closer to God," said Susan Cooksey, curator at the Harn.
    Gainesville is the second city to host the exhibit, following its 2003 opening at UCLA's Fowler Museum of Cultural History, where the exhibit was organized and produced. Modeled after the Fowler's design, the Harn's exhibition is arranged in a way that guides the visitor through an experiential, cultural journey. Included among the paintings, glasswork and murals are numerous religious artifacts and the recreation of a Sufi devotional sanctum that exists in Dakar. Visitors are encouraged to remove their shoes, sit within the sanctum, and absorb the spiritual inspiration evoked by the surrounding portraits of Mouride holy figures.
    "When I walked into the exhibition, I was in a totally new world, a different perspective of life," Harn Museum Docent Joanne Lindbald said. "I felt that I was transported by how it was prepared, that I felt like I was walking into a new culture."
    Leonard Villaln, director of UF's Center for African Studies, said the exhibit, with its engaging and positive themes, will help people gain a new understanding of the diversity of Islam and Africa.
    "Part of this is Islam, and part is showing the vibrancy of West African culture in a stable, democratic nation," Villaln said. "The exhibit is helping to spread teaching and understanding of a functional, peaceful part of the Muslim world."

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