Sculptor Amin Gulgee is an innovator of tradition. His medium is metal, his inspiration the varied and rich spiritual history of his native Pakistan. In the more than fifteen years that the artist has been exhibiting, his work has followed many different directions. Although the artist’s essential form of expression is sculpture, Amin is also known for his innovative jewelry and performance work.

Well-established in Pakistan, the artist has exhibited his work extensively in the USA, Europe, the Far East and the Middle East. The artist’s forty-odd shows include “Open: Prima Esposizione di Sculture Installazioni” in Venice, where he showed alongside Cesar and ten other international sculptors; the Beijing Biennale; and a solo show at the IMF Gallery in Washington. Chief art critic of the Washington Times, Joanna Shaw-Eagle, wrote on January 1, 2000 in her review of his one-man show at the IMF: “Mr. Gulgee is an artist to watch both for the originality of his ideas and the sensuous, handsome quality of his work.”

In Amin Gulgee’s new exhibition, entitled “Body and Soul,” he has juxtaposed two strains of his past work in sculpture. One strain is the geometrically mathematical and structured. The other is the organic and fluid.

Amin Gulgee is one of the first to bring Islamic calligraphy into the three dimensions of sculpture. The art of Islamic-Arabic calligraphy quickly developed into a myriad of styles within a few decades of the advent of Islam in the 7th century AD. By the turn of the 9th/10th century, the writing of Arabic had been codified and standardized into 14 calligraphic styles. Traditionally the calligraphic inscription of ayat, or passages from the Koran, was confined to the two dimensional page. Eventually calligraphy also came to adorn functional objects as well as architecture, specifically in the form of carved stone relief. Never, however, did It come to stand by itself as sculpture. By carrying this long calligraphic tradition into the three dimensional realm, Amin is breaking new ground entirely. In Amin’s work, calligraphy is not used to adorn functional form, but to
create form itself.

Deriving its source from mathematics, the Moslem aesthetic has a great love for geometry and pure form. Some art historians have speculated that geometric pattern, logical in its derivation but infinite in its possibilities, might reflect the divine. Circles and squares and the interplay of the two are evident in some of Amin’s work. This motif finds its source in the iconography of Islamic aesthetics, in which the circle has often been thought to denote the divine, and the square human existence.

In his calligraphic sculpture, Amin often uses a certain line from the Koran in a particular script, for example the line “Which of the favors of God can one deny?” from the Surah-e-Rehman in Eastern Kufic. He repeats this line in different works over the years. It is the form that changes and evolves. Form, then, becomes as important as content in his work. Amin is not only interested in text but in its repetition. For Amin, repeating a certain line or a word from the sacred text over and over again defines the simplicity and direct quality of his relationship with the divine.

In the “soul” portion of this exhibition, Amin’s piece, “The Wall,” depicts the phrase from the Iqra ayat, “God taught humankind what it did not know,” in the Nakshi script. He imbeds this phrase, inscribed in the form of an oval, within a wall-like structure. Upon the copper skin of the wall, “Allah” in the Kufic script appears repeatedly in relief. “The Wall” is a reference to Islamic architecture. As Amin explains, “Islam doesn’t have a tradition of sculpture, but it does have a tradition of architecture. I wanted the feeling of a partition or wall. and the way it can define space.”

The “soul” portion of the show deals predominantly with the cube. Amin is fascinated by pure form and, through its dissection, he attempts to understand it. Amin has worked with the cube over the years. In the past, he has worked upon the surface of the cube. For this exhibition, he has explored the space within the cube. In the pieces entitled “Metropolis:’ “Habitat” and “Steps II” and “Steps III:’ he has tried to understand how the cube works by breaking it into smaller cubes. As he says, “Cubes can be broken into countless other cubes. The divisions are infinite.” ln these compositions, Amin plays with the negative and positive space of the cube and the other cubes that they create. By leaving the complete form of the greater cube incomplete, he engages the viewer, requiring him or her to not only contemplate the cube but to complete it, as it were.

In this new cube series, he has used the name of Allah and the phrase AI-hamdillullah, which means “Praise be to God:’ in the Square Kufic script of Arabic. AI-hamdillullah is a special phrase for Amin because it is often used in the vernacular. It is a phrase, he says, that brings God into the everyday. This phrase is repeated within the cube, creating its form. The viewer becomes an active participant in the completion of the cube by the act of “reading” it.

This approach is carried a step further in his sculpture entitled “1/3:’ In this work, Amin has also uses the name of Allah and the phrase “AI-hamdillullah.”In this piece, however, three cubes are stacked one on top of the other. The complete composition, though comprised of cubes, attains another geometric dimension entirely. It achieves a loftiness and grandeur that, again, make reference to architecture.

Amin moves in yet another direction in the pieces “Fragment I” and “Fragment II.” Both include elements of the line, “God taught humankind what it did not know:’ from the Iqra ayat, which appears in “The Wall.” However, in these pieces, he departs from readability. In “Fragment I,” he isolates a single letter from the Iqra ayat-the meem. In “Fragment II,” he refers to, although does not completely depict, the Arabic letter, noon. In contrast to Amin’s cube pieces, which strive to reflect the infinite, these works try to reduce the sacred line to its essential building blocks.

In the “body” segment of the exhibition, Amin also takes many novel approaches, both in form and content. For example, Amin has done two sculptures in an ongoing series called “Touching My Face.” These pieces are created out of cast brass and copper. In these compositions, hands tear and caress fragments of the artist’s face. Hands for Amin represent existence-the ongoing struggle to create and destroy.

Throughout his career, Amin has been intrigued by renderings of not only his own face but those of his father and mother. These began as a series of what Amin calls “inner masks,” revealing not the face we show to others, but the state of the soul within. These works were rarely serene, or even whole. In his very early portraits, the visages were wrapped and bound. Later they seemed to have been eaten away as if by psychic acid. Even later, hands-an increasingly important motif in Amin’s work-were introduced, and served, in one composition, to tear away at the face as it contorted into a scream of anguish.

All of these works seem to be metaphorical portraits of the artist. and his attempt to understand not only what is around him, but what is inside of him, too.

In his piece, “Growing in My Cube,” Amin repeats the cube shape that dominates his calligraphic contribution. In this piece, however, no text appears. Rather, he has used glass and leaves to both embellish and complete the composition. In another piece, “Portal,” Amin has used glass to define the work. Here again the artist makes a reference to architecture, as the glass composition suggests a gate-albeit one that only light can pass through. Amin has often used colored glass in his compositions. It is his homage to painting, he says.

Amin has used colored glass, among other elements, for both his jewelry and the pieces he has created for his many performances. The glass fragments he has used for “Portal:’ for example, were originally worn for a performance entitled “Alchemy” that the artist conceived and directed at the Moghul-era Lahore Fort in 2000. Since Amin never sketches any of his sculpture, the process of creating his jewelry and performance elements is also a process of experimentation in form and texture. There is a dialogue between these pieces and his sculpture, as they often inform his sculpture. Sometimes these pieces serve as models for larger works, in which issues are resolved and techniques explored. He also enjoys the change of scale. After working on a work many feet high, Amin says he finds it refreshing to decrease to an inch and work on a pendant.

Another piece in the body part of the collection that demonstrates the link between the artist’s sculpture and his jewelry/performance elements is “Eden Plant V.” The sculpture is composed entirely of leaves, and suggests a plant. petrified in the process of bloom. The leaves for this piece were originally created for a performance Amin called “Seeking Buddha” that he staged at the Expo in Nagoya, Japan in 2005. They were arranged upon a performer, who danced them across the stage. His piece entitled, “Necklace:’ was worn for a performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2003. As Amin explains, “To see my objects moved and danced is exhilarating. After these performances, these objects are sent to my storage room where they lie dormant. Sometimes these are retrieved and processed to be used for my sculpture. My objects are my palette and hopefully in their assemblage I do not lose their kinetic energy.”

For “Body and Soul:’ as for past exhibitions, Amin created objects, or had them created, and then let them incubate for a few years before actually using them. These objects, he says, are his palette. Sometimes he has a very definite idea about how he will use them, but often the image in his mind is fluid and there are many resolutions. At a certain time, this mental image is clear and he starts assembling his objects. “When it works:’ he states, “it is an exhilarating process in which I feel connected with everything and it seems as if it all happens by itself.”