Lubna’s piece “Sinai (Sīnā)” from the Exploding Shamsas series is a black, white and gold tour de force that really encapsulates the whole series. The piece features a couplet by Faiz (d. 1984) rendered in Lubna’s characteristic abjad typography reminiscent of glass shards—sharp and delicate inky black marks.
The text swirls downward towards the shamsa’s heart, towards a large carved gold and black octagonal tile. The octagon is a favored shape in early muslim art and architecture because it was considered a union of two perfect forms: the square and the circle, the temporal and the cosmic.
The most widely-recognized octagon in Islamic architecture is the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a site revered by Muslims as the locus of Muhammad’s vision of all other prophets of all other peoples: Moses, Jesus and Enoch to name a few. The title of the piece “Sinai” derives from rhyme-word in Faiz’s verse that encircles the octagon: “Once again lightning streaks over the valley of Sinai”.
The “valley of Sinai” at the foot of Mt. Sinai is, much like the Dome of the Rock, a place strongly associated with prophecy in the Muslim imaginary, as in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and appears in Faiz’s verse perhaps to symbolize tension and conflict around a shared symbol.
Faiz is rumored to have written the 16 verses while watching the streaks of rockets being fired from Israeli gunboats in the Mediterranean into areas south of Beirut, where Faiz lived in exile in the late 70s [see below for poem] . Lubna’s piece is a beautiful translation of a haunting text. She has synthesized to dramatic effect, long revered symbols and long cherished texts in her flagrantly modern brushstroke. It is, like many pieces in the “Exploding Shamsas” series, complexity and balance teetering on the cusp of chaos.
Once again lightening streaks over the vale of Sinai,
O witnessing eye—prepare your mind
Maybe now on those stone-tablets
a directive anew will come to come down to us
now that a regimented kind of grief
passes for wisdom among the land’s elite
now that an insistence upon this grief
is the only opinion rendered
by the jurists
Maybe now to amend this aeon of deference
a directive of mutiny will come down to us.