The Cloud العماء

The Prophet was asked: "Where was our Lord before creating his creatures?"
He responded: "In a 'amâ' with no air either above or below."

Acrylic and interference medium on aluminium. 120x120 cm.

Date28 January 2017
Category, ,

The word ‘amâ’ عماء means a “thin and subtle cloud” (or “heavy clouds” according to other sources) and is closely related to the word for “blindness”: it evokes a mist, real or metaphorical, in which nothing is clearly visible. The Cloud corresponds to “the first dense, transparent, luminous mass,” the “vapour of the Compassionate” البخار الرحماني exhaled by God, in other word the divine Breath. This Breath is the first of two steps of creation: By breathing out, the Divine releases the realities of the world, confined in a state of potentiality, into the divine imagination, before the second step — the utterance of the creative Word, Kun — gives them forms and an outer existence.

The Breath is therefore the prime matter الهيولى الاولى that allows formless potentiality to be expressed into formal actuality: the transcendant substance present in all things.

How this translates into this art piece:

It so happens that the divine Breath is linked to the letters of the alphabet: they are said to be none other than “divine creation revealed in human speech”. This refers specifically to the uttered letters rather than the written: the sounds, carried by human breath, reflecting the divine Breath on the human level. The phonetic sequence of the letters differs from both the numeric sequence (abjad hawwaz) and graphic sequence (alif bâ tâ thâ): It proceeds from hâ’ ه, the innermost sound, to wâw و, the outermost sound. The progression, reported by Ibn Arabi, follows very accurately the origin of each sound, from deep within the chest to the tip of the lips. The letter alif is not present here, having no existence as a sound, but is represented by its “other half” the hamza, glottal stop, itself not considered a sound, but the preliminary to sound, the moment between silence and speech.

The phonetic sequence is represented here, from to wâw, with a single hamza at the centre. The scale of the letters is minute and they are executed in interference medium, which, depending on the light, can appear almost as dark as the prussian blue background, or shine brightly. In this way they create the feel of a fine misted gradient when seen from a distance.

While not the first I made, the Cloud is actually the first in the sequence of cosmograms initiated with Heavenly Spheres, itself the last of a sequence of five (and possible first of another sequence). The Cloud was not part of my plans for this series, but dropped in unexpectedly on a December morning, derailing all else till I could give it form.

Creation Process

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