Our Greatest Gratitude

“To Contain and To Serve” is made possible in partnership with Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California (ICCNC) and is funded by a grant award from the Creative Work Fund (CWF), a program of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund and supported by a Generous grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

This project could not be possible without the tremendous help of our co-producer Raeshma Razvi of Silkworm Media who helped frame the inquiry, write the CWF grant and administer the project. As a documentary filmmaker, she has also helped to videotape and document the process of our work.  

We want to thank the scholars and curators who were the advisors of our project, especially during the research phase, including professor Sheila Blair, Norma Jean Calderwood University Professor of Islamic and Asian Art and Art History, Carol Bier, Visiting Scholar at the Center for Islamic Studies at Graduate Theological Union and one of the renowned researchers in Islamic patterns and decoration styles, as well as the Curators of Islamic Art at the Asian Art Museum, Qamar Adamjee and San Diego Museum of Art, Marika Sardar.

Collaboration with ICCNC

ICCNC is an independent, non-profit organization serving the Muslim-American and greater Bay area communities. ICCNC provides a dynamic space that cultivates an exchange of ideas about Islam through art, culture, and education. In existence since 1996, ICCNC provides religious services to Bay Area Muslims, a weekend Farsi school for children, and various cultural and social programs. Our arts and cultural activities (over 20 events each year) welcome the general public: Muslim, non-Muslim and secular people can come together, meet and dialogue. The arts and culture programs consists of ‘Islam & Authors’ readings, film screenings, musical and theater performances, and art exhibitions and workshops.

“To Contain and To Serve”  has enabled ICCNC to continue its already significant programming investments in calligraphy and sacred art, which last included “Calligraphies in Conversation,” an intercultural art exhibit of calligraphy from Islamic and Chinese/Japanese traditions held in March 2014. Through such work, ICCNC affirms and advances the core traditional practice of calligraphy while building cross-cultural bridges with its neighbors.

This project is also a way for ICCNC to explore a historical tradition (Nishapur), and convey ‘refreshed’ versions to diverse communities. We are interested in the larger question of how culture and art bring us together, and this project –in particular with its final event serving food on the ceramics inscribed with various thoughts in calligraphy—is a way of bringing ideas to the table, literally and metaphorically.  

Why This Project Matters

The contemporary practice of Islamic-inspired art is just beginning to sprout on U.S. soil, and there’s a need for young and old in our communities to see the tradition not as petrified in the past, but as organic and evolving into a diverse future. Both ICCNC and Arash have a deep demonstrated interest in this evolution, and adding Forrest to the equation has enhanced the partnership and the art. The use of space and craft in traditional Islamic buildings to create a sense of community and a connection to the divine source is a very deep and important part of traditional Islamic culture. ICCNC’s building –originally designed as a Masonic temple-- has great potential in this regard as it currently features decorative elements and symbols from different faiths and cultures. Bringing in new calligraphy-ceramic art pieces and tiles helps inspire its constituents, visitors and future generations. This is not a decorative project for ‘pretty things’ but a creative investigation into tradition and modernity, morality and conflict, hospitality and multiculturalism. Lastly, in a growing atmosphere of Islamophobia in the West, a project that emphasizes the beauty within Islamic art traditions is important for both Muslims and non-Muslims.