My Prayer for the Hour
This is one of the rare paintings I have come across in all my trips to the US art galleries, at least for me. It’s titled ‘The hour of prayer at Moti Mashid’ and is in the American art section of the VMFA located in Richmond Virginia.
Before I explain why I find it so unique for me, I must confess that I am not a professional art critic and I don’t pretend to be. What I find appealing about paintings is the context and linkages of the paintings more than their esthetics. I like to learn about the social and political surroundings when the painting was made and how it influenced the artist. I also try to attribute my interpretations based on my feelings and experience of the world today.
Most of the US artist paintings of the 19th and early twentieth century in the US museums that I have come across are influenced mostly by other European art including paintings and a handful by Japanese art. This painting on the other hand is made by an American artist Edwin Weeks in 1888 of an Indian architecture design. This is a painting of Pearl Mosque (Moti Mahal) in Ahmadabad, India. It’s also interesting that the frame for the painting is made by another American artist Lockwood de Forest, in a shop in partnership with an Indian merchant banker. Lockwood was an early business colleague of artist Louis Tiffany. The latter is famous for his stained glass windows and lamps.
I like that the painting is of a Mosque, that underscores the multi-religious nature of Indian society and the fusion of disparate architectural forms. Finally, the location and ambiance of the painting including people in the painting remind me of the famous renaissance era painting, ‘The School of Athens’. Certainly, the characters painted here are not well known philosophers like those in the school of Athens. But they seem to show the same desire for knowledge of the world and the divine with activity like reading from an open book.
With part of my identity as an Indian and part American, I see a lot that is familiar to me in this painting and a lot that I can interpret of its multifaceted nature. But I also recognize that my identity is highly intertwined with the painting when I say that the painting is unique. Others may not have the same experience or feeling. I therefore must also reflect on what that means.
Because of rapid globalization and technological change in our ever integrating world, we should expect exponential rise in unique experiences. In other words, no two individuals will perceive the world the same. As yet, our lives are getting highly intertwined and our interdependence can’t be easily disentangled. US seal has the Latin phrase ‘E Pluribus Unum’ on it. It roughly translates to ‘Out of many, One’.
And that is the prayer for the hour for me!