A response to BlackFlash’s Fall/Winter issue “Infinities.”
By Nur Sobers-Khan March 24, 2022
Alize Zorlutuna’s Facing East (2019) evokes the question that echoes through much diasporic art—the interrogation of origins, place, and belonging. Or rather, origins in a now-imagined landscape, absence, and resistance to belonging. Facing East is simple but deeply evocative artwork: a prayer carpet from which the central mihrab design, upon which a Muslim would normally stand and pray, has been cut out; the carpet is draped over a monumental rock formation, which can be seen through the absent form of the mihrab. A many-layered work, Facing East brings to mind the hadith that the entire earth is a place of prayer. While the prayer carpet is the artifice of humans, the earth is God’s creation, and thereby pure by its very nature. The near-eternality of the rock stands in contrast to the fabric of the prayer carpet, ephemeral and destined to fray and unravel, hinting at the fragility of human prayers and human endeavours, and also at the hubris of humankind—why do we weave elaborate prayer carpets as a locus of piety when the earth itself is the original place of prayer? Alize Zorlutuna’s work speaks to our transience as physical beings as well as humankind’s vulnerability, expressed through the inventive, yet fragile, aesthetics and materiality of our religious rituals.