The Ninety Nine Names

In Islam there is a tradition of reciting the 99 names of Allah or God. These names have certain attributes or qualities whereby the memorization of the names and their prescribed recitation has a spiritual dimension which has a benefit to the reciter. Other Traditions have similar practises when reciting prescribed words or phrases while using a string of beads to count and keep track of the number of times one is reciting a word or phrase. In the Catholic tradition the rosary is recited, similarly in Islam there are many remembrances or invocations that are recited.

My interest in the 99 Names (Qualities) of God and other signs that exist in our material world led me to consider not only the spiritual dimension but how to use signs or symbols to represent the names. I began with researches of the written words whether in Arabic or English. Of course traditional calligrapy has incredible merit and appeal as can be seen in so many examples both ancient and modern. This interest progressed from considering Islamic designs, to basic signs such as directional arrows, to using basic shapes and lines in repetition. In the example of the preliminary drawing below right, the placement of the arrows creates a linear pattern, a basic geometric pattern that is also seen in Islamic compositions.  This composition is the one I decided to use for future art works.

                                                              The detail of the large drawing at the left is an example of a composition using the linear grid of 11 rows and 9 columns to create 99 squares. Each square has a pattern of repeated lines scribed into the paper surface. Over each pattern a light grey value in pencil is applied to the surface which reveals the scribed pattern. The directional arrows are drawn on top of  each scribed pattern. Each scribed pattern is unique as are the 99 Names.

The following image shows the use of  symbols to represent the individual names of God. Each name is numbered in a numerical sequence from 1 to 99 beginning from the top left and proceeding to the right. The first name is The Beneficent and is number one.  The symbol in each square represents that name.

The Ninety Nine Names of Allah with Symbols

The painting below is one of a series using the symbols of 25 of the Names of Allah. The grid of squares is a 5 x 5 format. Each square has a numerical value based on a magic square, a mathematical principle based on a qualitative value. The numerical position on the magic square determines the placement of each symbol/name.

The Twenty Five Names of Allah

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The Tower of Babel

Detail at base

The idea for this drawing originated from the story of the Tower of Babel. The ziggurat of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia, present day Iraq, is one example of an ancient tower. The Book of Genesis mentions a Tower of Babil in Nimrod’s kingdom in the land of Shinar or Babylon. During the reign of Nimrod in the city of Ur the prophet Abraham lived there with his family. This story is also related in some detail in the Qur’an.  Only the foundations of some of these ancient towers or structures remain and entire cities lie abandoned as ruins.

Today in the Middle East in the city of Dubai the Burj Khalifa exists as the tallest building in the world. This structure dominates the twin Petronas Towers in Malaysia and the Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan. The competition to build higher structures continues from antiquity to present day.

Drawing, 21.5 x 27.9 cm

While working with the original idea I created drawings with different compositions of the jars. The final drawing continues the still life tradition of using symbolism similar to its use in previous times. However, in my drawing the symbols refer to modern technology. I stacked glass jars to represent the tower. The jars are different shapes and sizes and diminish in size as the tower increases in height. This creates the appearance of perspective as would be seen when viewing an actual building. Many modern and contemporary structures are constructed of steel and glass and the tower of glass jars represents this.

Inside the base jar is a light socket with a light bulb and wiring snaking upwards through each jar to the top. The discovery of electricity and the creation of the incandescent light bulb revolutionized technology thus enabling the means to create such large towers. The position of the light bulb at the base of the tower indicates the beginning of this technological revolution but also it is replaced by newer technology. In a sense it has become a relic. Perhaps in time all our modern cities will also become ruins as in ancient times.

The Great Ziggurat, Etemenanki, located in Iraq was rebuilt by Nebuchadanezzar II in the 6th century BC and Alexander the Great later destroyed it only to die before he could have it rebuilt. The destruction of the twin towers of the WTC happened in minutes. A reminder that history is always being repeated.

The Tower of Babel, 2012, drawing

Click on images to view details

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These next images were made after the 911 incidents in the USA and the lead up to the war in Iraq.  The first flag image alters the flag template with the addition of drawings of barbed wire and text.

Iraq March 19, 2003 - present, Mar 6, 2009, pencil on paper, 63.5 x 98.7 cm

Iraq March 19, 2003 – present, Mar 6, 2009, pencil on paper, 63.5 x 98.7

Iraq, detail

Iraq, detail








This drawing is a third flag image and continues the concern with the death and destruction in Iraq by US government armed forces. The names are of some of the dead who have been killed since the war began. The top row represents the names of only a few people killed in March 2003 when the war began and each following row below represents deaths in that month, so row two would be April 2003. Rows three and four are May and June 2004 and continues chronologically to March of 2009.                                                                            (click  on image to enlarge)

Names were selected from a published list of those killed, women, men and children and represent a small number from the tens of thousands who have died. They represent a cross section of Iraqi society both Muslim and those from other faiths.

Looking again at Row one the first name is Imran, a male student killed in Mosul on March 22, next is Paul Moran, age 39, male and a cameraman who was killed in Khormal. The last name in this row is Valantina Yonas, aged 2 and was killed in Mosul on March 27.

Iraq, Sept 11, 2010 (detail), pencil on museum board, 57.8 x 101.6 cm







The justification for the carnage and destruction against the Iraqi people, which was  perpetrated by the US government, was based on a lie of weapons of mass destruction stored in Iraq and supposedly connections to Al Qaeda. Rather it was known before the war the agenda was to gain control of the Iraqi oil and continue US presence in the Middle East. The lie has also adversely affected the lives of thousands of Americans. This tragedy was unnecessary and should have never occurred.

Profiteers and opportunists have waged war to obtain huge financial gains creating misery and loss for the Iraqi people. Is the US flag a symbol of liberty, freedom and democracy or has it become a symbol of loss, foreign invasion, death and destruction for the sovereign state of Iraq?

The design of the flag is used as a template to create new symbols and meaning which is relevant to the ongoing war in Iraq and the Middle East. A font based on the traditional Foundational font is used to lend dignity and importance to each name. The initial letter of each name has a colour which continues the practice a seen in sacred illuminated texts. The use of engraving into the surface of the paper board and shading the surface creates a texture to contrast and highlight the names. Each star has a crescent moon, they are also engraved into the surface but they remain white. A cast shadow gives them definition. The stars now have a different identity and meaning. The drawing becomes a reminder and a memorial.

The conventional material for a memorial is stone or marble. Paper was used to reflect the fragility of life but also it is noted there are more art works on paper in the world and they continue to last for centuries. The will, dignity and strength of the Iraqi people will endure and prevail. Their names will not be forgotten.

This second flag image was created while recovering from surgery for cancer and news of a former student who was killed by an IED explosion while serving with the Canadian armed forces in Afghanistan in Dec 2009. These wars have created opposing perspectives and mixed emotions about our role as a nation in sending armed forces to other countries.

Afghanistan, Dec 12, 2009, Acrylic on paper, 44.4 x 76.2 cm

Afghanistan, Dec 12, 2009, Acrylic on paper, 44.4 x 76.2 cm

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The drawing, Revelation is an image showing the contrast between a secular world view, represented by the Roman alphabet and numerals with that of a traditional spiritual one, represented by an Islamic design and a translation of nineteen verses from the Qur’an. The alphabet and numerals are repeated four times and are organized on a linear grid with an orientation to the four cardinal directions of North, South, East and West.

Geographical positions of latitude and longitude are important in the Islamic faith due to the orientation to Mecca for daily prayers.

Detail of drawing

The letters and numerals are placed over a traditional Islamic design that originates from designs seen in tiles, carpets and other objects. The design is based on a mathematical system which often combines the geometric with an organic element.

I have used lettering in many art works since the 1960’s and continue to use it for a variety of reasons. In this drawing Included are the first nineteen verses of chapter two, Surah Baqarah, from the Qur’an in a script style to represent the organic element. The sacred verses written over the Islamic design is contrasted with the alphabet and numerals. The main idea is how the spiritual tradition of Islam contends with the flood of secular ideas and values that continue to occur through out time. The word, Qur’an means to recite thus the verses in the original Arabic would be recited and not just read. For English speakers I chose to use an English translation of the original Arabic to allow for meaning when read.

The drawing techniques include using a stylus to incise into the paper surface to create the grid, sgraffito and hand lettering. The sgraffito technique creates a texture to enliven the surface of the paper and also acts as a contrast to the bolder colours which originate from those used in traditional Islamic designs. The image may appear as an ancient tapestry or writing on a weathered wall. In Muslim countries I have seen thousand year old mosques with glazed tiles beside a market of shops with signs and posters using contemporary lettering and images. The drawing is a juxtaposition of the ancient with the contemporary, the sacred with the profane.

As the verses from the Qur’an have an in depth meaning even with the English translation, there is a commentary of the text one can access at web sites that offer translations and commentary of the Quran for chapter two, verses 1 – 19. (Click on the detail to enlarge).

Revelation, Feb 25, 2010, Pencil drawing on paper, 49.5 x 91.4 cm

Revelation, Feb 25, 2010, Pencil drawing on paper, 49.5 x 91.4 cm





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