Cross-Currents: Tradition and Innovation in Contemporary Art of the Islamic World

September 3 – October 24, 2012, IDEA Space
(closed September 26 — 30 for Colorado College’s block break)


What will Islamic societies look like in the twenty-first century? While political analysts make predictions, artists within the Islamic world also intervene in these debates, often with profound impact on cultural discourse.  As Robin Wright notes in the 2011 prologue to her book Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World, “The profound political stirrings are supported by a strong culture of change. … The social transformations are as pivotal as the political upheavals. Activists are not only adapting the technology of Facebook and Twitter to their causes. They are also experimenting with culture — from comedy to theater, poetry to song — as an idiom to communicate who they are and to end isolation caused by extremists within their ranks.” Focusing the lens on contemporary visual arts, Cross-Currents: Tradition and Innovation in Contemporary Art of the Islamic World presents the work of seven international artists whose work lays claim to and honors their varied and complex heritages, while simultaneously challenging accepted norms.

Part of a year-long series of exhibitions, performances, films, and events that explore the elastic capacity of the arts to challenge, expand, preserve, and disseminate aspects of global Islamic cultures, Cross-Currents examines the intersections between historical practices and contemporary artistic priorities. Employing a wide range of media, the seven featured artists each adapt or appropriate aesthetic strategies and themes from older Persian and Arab traditions to address contemporary issues including: the thin line between media coverage and war propaganda; the devastation of urban decay; the challenges of creating and maintaining sacred spaces within other cultural contexts; the experiences of exile and return; and the construction of gender identities in contemporary Islamic cultures.

The artists’ approaches to traditional themes and forms vary significantly: some engage directly with the past by merging traditional forms with contemporary media, while others merely hint at traditional aesthetic precedents. Yet while remaining culturally, aesthetically, and philosophically distinct, these artists commonly share the desire to probe the tension between the desire to honor the past and to subject it to intense interrogation. – Jessica Hunter-Larsen, Curator

Featuring: Azra Akšamija; Ayad Alkadhi; Shoja Azari; Reza Derakshani; Hayv Kahraman; Naiza H. Khan; Soody Sharifi.

This exhibition and associated programming is made possible by generous support of the Colorado College Cultural Attractions Fund, the Dean’s Office, and the NEH Professorship. Special thanks to: Leila Heller Gallery, New York; The Third Line Gallery and the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Shehab Gargash, Dubai; Rossi & Rossi, London; and Renaissance Creative.




Image: Ayad Alkadi
Will Not Be Silenced (I Will Not Be Silenced) 2011
Acrylic, pen & yarn on canvas (Courtesy of the artist and Leila Heller Gallery, New York, NY)





Cross-Fade: Music + Dance featuring Reza Derakshani
September 12, 4:30pm
Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center Main Space
Free and open to the public

An accomplished musician as well as visual artist, Reza Derakshani is interested in combining artistic traditions and media. Trained in classical Persian musical styles, Mr. Derakshani’s recent musical projects combine global and devotional styles with jazz, rock and other modern forms. He has collaborated with a diverse group of artists, including John Densmore of The Doors, Madonna, Branford Marsalis, poet-philosopher Robert Bly, author Deepak Chopra, and choreographer Bill T. Jones, among many others. Mr. Derakshani often performs in proximity to his own vibrant paintings, or works with dancers or poets on collaborative projects. For the performance at Colorado College, he will collaborate with dancers to present an improvisation-based performance. Mr. Derakshani’s paintings are featured in the exhibition Cross-Currents: Tradition and Innovation in Contemporary Art of the Islamic World. A public reception will take place in IDEA Space following the performance.  Sponsored by the Dean’s Office.


Cross-Currents Film Series presents Ten directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Monday, September 10, 4 – 6pm
Hosted by Scott Kryzch, Assistant Professor of New Media
Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Art Center Film Screening Room
Free and open to the public

Released in 2002, Ten focuses on ten conversations between a female driver in Tehran and the passengers in her car. The driver, an unusually independent Iranian woman, serves as a present-day Virgil, driving through Tehran in the company of various other women. Her exchanges with her young son, a jilted bride, a prostitute, a women on her way to prayer and others, shed light on the lives and emotions of these women whose voices are seldom heard. Every ride is a conversation, which range in topic from banal discussions of relationships to meditations on God and fate. Directed by one of Iran’s foremost directors, Ten was chosen by the French publication “Les Cahiers du cinéma” as one of the 10 best pictures of 2000s.

This screening of Ten is part of a four-film series that explores aspects of the Islamic world.  Offered in  September and October of 2012 and January and February of 2013, each film has been chosen and will be introduced by a Colorado College faculty member.  After the screening, the audience is invited to linger and participate in a discussion of the film.

Host Scott Krzych holds a B.A. in English from California State University-Northridge, an M.A. in English from the State University of New York-Buffalo and a Ph.D. in screen studies and English from Oklahoma State University. Krzych is  the first tenure-track professor of New Media at Colorado College. His various papers and publications address a range of subjects from digital cinema to video game studies to analysis of Glenn Beck’s television show. His dissertation examines evangelical representations of the apocalypse, including such films as “A Thief in the Night,” “Left Behind,” and “The Omega Code” and such prophecy-based cable programming as “The Hal Lindsey Report” and “Jack Van Impe Presents.”

Cross-Currents Film Series presents: Position Among the Stars by Leonard Retel Helmrich
Monday, October 8 Monday, 4 – 6pm
Hosted by Clay Haskell, Artist-in-Residence for Film Studies Cornerstone Art Center Film Screening Room

For 12 years, filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich followed an Indonesian family from the slums of Jakarta. This resulted in the trilogy “Stand van de zon”, “Stand van de maan” and “Stand van de sterren” (“Eye of the Day”, “Shape of the Moon” “Position Among the Stars”). Just like in the previous two parts, which received many international prizes, in the third part “Position Among the Stars” the maker shows us the underlying patterns of life in Indonesia. He presents both literally and metaphorically with his revolutionary camera work. The Indonesian Sjamsuddin family is, in a way, a microcosm in which you can recognise the most important issues of life in Indonesia: corruption, conflict between religions, gambling addiction, the generation gap and the growing difference between poor and rich.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country and has the largest Muslim population. Gran

dmother Rumidjah, a confessed Christian, has left the bustle of Jakarta to live with her friend Tumisa in the countryside. Her son Bakti, who has converted to Islam, takes care of her grandchild Tari. Bringing up his Tari is hard for him, so Bakti brings his mother back to town. However, Tari grows up in a time when young people have become much more open and she does not hide her opinions. This behaviour regularly brings her into conflict with the older generations. The problems faced by the Qatari family make the old woman decide to stay in town until Tari has finished her secondary school and can study at university. The whole family regards the bright Tari as their only opportunity of improving their own status and ever being able to escape the slums of Jakarta. Bakti’s job as district chief doesn’t earn him much money. As a result he trains fighting fish to gamble with them the side.

While the whole family does everything they can to collect enough money to pay the college fees for Tari’s study, Tari prefers to spend her time and money with her girlfriends in Jakarta’s nightlife. Her friends from secondary school also bring her into contact with the nouveau riche of Indonesia, which is miles away from her life in the slums. Will Rumidjah managed to allow her granddaughter to study in this economic crisis?

This screening of Position Among the Stars is part of a four-film series that explores aspects of the Islamic world.  Offered in  September and October of 2012 and January and February of 2013, each film has been chosen and will be introduced by a Colorado College faculty member.  After the screening, the audience is invited to linger and participate in a discussion of the film.

Host Clay Haskell holds a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University (1994) and an M.F.A. from American Film Institute (2000).  He was also awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in photography in 1997.  Haskellhas written screenplays for a number of Hollywood production companies; his scripts Happy Trails and The Wrong Brothers are currently in development. He shot and directed the award-winning short film The Chair and the short documentary Ascent to Mount Angel, and he documented the handover of Hong Kong in photographs as one of the first Fulbright Fellows to China. He is cinematographer of the forthcoming documentary The Hollywood Complex (2011) and director of the forthcoming documentary Mississippi Messiah (2012).