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Behind the Scenes: Gould Explores Islaam Through Islaamic Art

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Peter GouldPeter Gould is a Sydney-born graphic designer and artist.

Since embracing Islaam in 2002 his travels and studies throughout the Middle East have inspired a unique cultural fusion that is reactive to a world of misunderstanding.

His photography and artwork has featured in several exhibitions locally and abroad including a solo exhibit at The Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, entitled “The Road Less Travelled” and a collaboration with international master calligrapher Haji Noor Deen, “Eastern Fusion” 

Some artists would say that art chose them while others would say that they chose art, did you choose art or did art choose you? Tell us about yourself, your background, and how you became interested in the arts.

I was born in Sydney, Australia and have spent most of my 25 years living here. I’ve always had a creative streak and a passion for the visual arts. I was particularly drawn to the possibilities of digital expression which led me to studies in graphic design and to my current position running a small design studio and as working as a part-time artist.

I explored a spiritual path in my late teens and embraced Islaam at the age of 20. In the years since I have been fortunate to travel through many Muslim countries and am now undergoing a process recording and expressing those collective experiences through art and photography. I recall being profoundly moved during my time in Andalusian Spain in 2003; the Alhambra in particular had a presence that awakened something in me and encouraged an investigation into the Islaamic arts.


Do you have a certain artistic style and what medium do you prefer to work with?

In addition to black & white photography I like to explore possibilities in the digital realm, often referencing traditional natural media styles and techniques. I love trying to interpret script into vibrant and contemporary styles also incorporating traditional Islaamic motifs and elements in unexpected ways. Recently I’ve been exploring oils and acrylics again which I did often when I was younger which is at once both liberating and challenging.


Who is in your mind when you’re in the process of creating an artwork? (the layman, the artist, etc)

I’ve often tried to photograph timeless scenes, so the viewer is sharing the same enchanted moment as someone else from centuries ago. There exists a deep beauty and visual unity in traditional Islaamic cities such as Damascus, Fes, Granada, Beirut, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Aleppo, Mecca and so on. Exploring these cities was something truly inspirational and something I’ve wanted to share with both Muslims and non-Muslims back home, so really there are many people I’m thinking about when creating.


What plans and dreams do you have for your art?

Eventually I hope to pursue my artwork at a more commercial level and collaborate with artists from all over the globe, from all different denominations and backgrounds. For now the sheer joy of creating and experimenting is enough to satisfy my creative urge. Ultimately however I’d like to encourage people to reflectandconsider the message and stories behind the images - this would truly make it a deeply rewarding and worthwhile experience.


What are the joys and challenges of being a Muslim artist and what is your view on working as an artist?

My graphic design business earns my keep day to day and artistically I’m just findingmyfeetinthecommercialrealm.
To date my artistic pursuits have been very well received and it’s encouraging to see people genuinely excited and intrigued (or confused!) by who I am and what my artwork explores.


How is your art different from the western genre in terms of its message, themes, style, tones, light and other features?

Perhaps my visual styles will be familiar to western audiences, but the presentation of Islaamic spiritual themes in this way is quite unexpected. For example I’ve attempted to interpret the 99 beautiful names and attributes in new and intriguing ways.


What is the relationship between your faith as a Muslim, your Australian identity, and your creative pursuits?

To be honest I ‘just do my thing’! I might carry several labels but I don’t actively set out to represent them. I feel like God has infused my heart and soul with certain qualities and one outcome of that is an expression of faith through art and colour, light and space.


How has your art been received in your community?

The Muslim community in Sydney is extremely diverse and vibrant, representing many nationalities. Al’humdu Lillaah (Thanks to Allaah) those that discover my work are warm and encouraging, and appear genuinely pleased to see an Australian born Muslim working in this fieldandevenattemptingto have a conversation in fus’ha Arabic. Sometimes it’s an educational experience too -to my surprise I’ve often been asked “Spain... are there Muslims there?” and the follow- on conversation about Alandalus has their shifted understanding of the faith and its historic importance.


What could the Muslim community do to promote and encourage Muslim artists? What advice would you give Muslims who are interested in pursuing the arts? With the internet, networking and interaction is easily facilitated, how do you think Muslim artists can take advantage of this and what possibilities would it bring?

I think there is general appreciation for the arts in our community but it has not been fostered. There are some talented personalities here and I believe there will be increasingly more events and exhibitions to expose them over time.
For now I have had to largely rely on international artists to discuss and nurture ideas. The U.K. for example has some brilliant pioneers in contemporary Islaamic art. There are a series of online networks which make collaboration and regular discussion possible - these should be a firsts top for any creative Muslim!


What would you like your art to offer the Australian community and the Muslim community in general? What is your perspective on the revival of Islaamic art in the West to make a positive difference in society and to carry a global role in bridging the East and the West?

We in the West live in societies largely driven by marketing, advertising, branding and status - a visual culture where perception is reality for people without the time or inclination to read between the lines. I believe we could harness this
opportunity through creative dialogue since art and music operate on a neutral platform unhindered by the bias or assumption that may come with traditional media. In shaa- Allaah the beauty of Islaamic art will continue to inspire, excite and touch the heart of man as it has done for many centuries, and be a catalyst for true understanding.

Peter’s work can be seen online along with information about his Sydney-based graphic and web design studio, Creative Cubed.

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