American Qur’an, which opened at the Catharine Clark Gallery earlier this month, is one phase of Southern California artist Sandow Birk‘s ongoing project to hand-transcribe the 114 suras, or chapters, from the Holy Qur’an. Birk juxtaposes the text with images from contemporary American life to create a narrative which addresses the misconceptions of Islam by U.S. culture by posing the question: how did two religions that originated out of the same region of the world end up in such polarized states? Birk comes the closest to presenting an answer with the works American Qur’an/Sura 47 (A-B), 2005 and American Qur’an/Sura 44 (A-B), 2003, where he illustrates Sura 47 titled “Muhammad” with images of American soldiers in Iraq; and Sura 44, titled “Smoke” with images of the destruction of the World Trade Center. Here Birk captures the chasm between what both religions, Islam and Judeo-Christianity, purport to teach and what has actually been manifested at the hands of men. American Qur’an is being concurrently exhibited at the Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Los Angeles and another installment of the project will be exhibited at PPOW in New York in 2010.
Sandow Birk received his B.F.A in painting from the Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles. His work has an emphasis on social issues and his past work has included Los Angeles barrio life, inner-city violence, graffiti, prisons, surfing, skateboarding, Dante’s Divine Comedy and the War in Iraq. Birk has received an NEA grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, a Getty Fellowship, and a City of Los Angles Fellowship. His most recent project, The Depravities of War, was published as a monograph by HuiPress, Makawao, Hawaii and Grand Central Press, Grand Central Art Center, California State University, Fullerton. Birk often collaborates with his wife who is also a practicing artist, Elyse Pignolet. Birk has exhibited with Catharine Clark Gallery since 1994.