by Andrew Kosorok
I am a Christian glass artist, living in Utah. Startled at how media depiction of Islam and Muslims is generally so negative, I determined to learn what the faith is really about—using the Qur’an and talking to Muslims, rather than relying on internet blogs and discussion groups. The 99 Most Beautiful Names of God is an ideal subject for coordinating research—and I can use the information I learn to strengthen my own faith, too. As the sculptures are completed, I have been displaying them in libraries, galleries, and online; local Muslims are invited to come to the openings and talk about what the Names mean for them personally, and to answer questions about their faith in a relaxed environment of learning and art enjoyment. The first exhibition was a bit nerve-wracking, and we were all hoping that people would appreciate what we were trying to do—no demonstrations or protests happened, and those who came, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, ended up really enjoying the exhibit. As the project has continued and more sculptures have been completed, they are being displayed in real locations and online; most who view them have come away enjoying the artwork and, at best, determined to learn about a faith not so very different from their own.
Muslims in our community have expressed appreciation that someone is asking questions and treating their faith with respect. Utah was settled by Mormons, a Christian group with a history of being victimized by both media and political sensationalists. A number of Muslims have told me that the people in Utah, of whatever persuasion, still remember this persecution and are sympathetic to the Muslims living here. The sympathy hopefully will be tempered by understanding, and become friendship; I was recently invited to a celebration of a wedding in a Muslim family, and the best man was the groom’s next door neighbor—an LDS Christian. The sculptures and the ongoing project are for me to heal my own ignorance, but have also helped provide a door to learning about another culture, both for members of the community and my children.
I have been working with stained glass—designing, building and restoring—for over twenty years. My fine arts degrees are in sculptural stained glass, with minors in comparative religions and humanities. As a person of faith, I believe that when we build or create, we are showing reverence to our Creator, and can draw closer to the Divine through the process. The sculptures made are constructed as responses to what I am learning, to share the ongoing effort of overcoming my own ignorance. For the series of sculptures responding to the 99 Most Beautiful Names of God, I use bookbinding techniques (a reference to the Qur’an), geometry and hermetic construction (acknowledging Islam’s support of scientific exploration and learning), and architectural elements (symbolic of the charge to the faithful of building the Kingdom of God). The project is to overcome my own ignorance, share what I am learning with others, and to let Muslims know that there are many who respect their faith.