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Words Of Wisdom: Uzma Mirza
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
It is a rare thing to find someone who can transition between multiple pursuits, and find ways to merge them all together, compounding their impact on the culture and environment which they are part of. Uzma Mirza is one of those rare people. Growing up between Eastern and Western cultures, she has gained a unique perspective on spirituality, creation, charity, and the ways which we inhabit our world. A certified LEED architect, principal of her own firm, accomplished visual artist, and founder of a charitable foundation, Mirza has woven her skills and insights into an impressive body of work ranging from a large group of intricate watercolors, to a Library in Sudan, Africa.
Mirza's professional accomplishments prior to forming her own firm are many, including working at such notable architectural firms as Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill in Chicago, Centerbrook Architects and Planners in Centerbrook Connecticut, and RSA Design in Indianapolis. During these times working for other firms, Mirza added her voice and hand to many notable projects including the NATO Headquarters green roof in Brussels, the Indiana University School of Business, and various high rise buildings in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and China.
Mirza's work on the NATO building while with Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill makes perfect sense with her philosophies and ideas about unity and peace which are reflected in all of her projects. NATO Headquarters building is designed and plotted out to form what looks like, from an aerial view, the fingers of two giant hands clasping together, with multiple green roofs filling the gaps between the "fingers". This massive 100 acre site, seven story, two million square foot building will not be completed until 2012, and represents a changing of NATO's mission from protection to unification. These same ideas can be seen in Mirza's fine art and philanthropic ventures as well.
Now living in Fort Wayne, Uzma Mirza's fine art takes the form of delicately rendered, amazingly intricate watercolor works on paper. These works take directly from the very old tradition of Islamic calligraphy. However, while being rooted in a very traditional form, many of Mirza's works burst forth with vivid colors, and sometimes unconventional twists and turns implying and creating new images out of each letter. Many of these pieces also convey Mirza's intense dedication to living sustainably, like "A Green Note", or "Green Notes: A Goodly Tree" both images working natural elements into the sometimes schematic designs of letters and words.
"The Divine Notes" a triptych of three notes ("Al-Ghafur", "The Forgiving" : "Al-Latif", "The Gentle"; "Al Hafiz", "The Preserver") also conveys Mirza's deep set spirituality, and represents a new and fresh take on the idea of Islamic art. Many times in contemporary art history, it is easy for the art market at-large to jump on the trend of one cultural subset or another, and elevate it into the spotlight. This has happened since Pcasso and the Cubists began tapping African artifacts to paint for their Parisian patrons. In more recent history this has happened with Islamic art, Aboriginal art, etc. Mirza's work is impressive in that she begins a third conversation with her work. She is not sensationalizing her Islamic faith and culture into a distilled product. She is not defending her culture through staunch traditional media, techniques, or concept. Mirza is finding her way, through these intimate, powerful works on paper to express her own views on everything from religion, music, and environmentalism. She so effortlessly speaks about Eastern and Western issues by realizing that both categories are stifling and that we should recognize their global implications. She stays political without being too political, she stays feminine without any overt gesture. Her art is as unique as it is universal.
In addition to Mirza's fine art and architectural endeavors, she has also founded The Pen and Inkpot Foundation, Inc (or Pi Foundation). The goal of this non-profit is to "promote a balance between the natural and built world, society and the human spiritual and physical self to build a sustainable world. " Pi Foundation will accomplish these goals through education, the built environment, and the arts. The scope of Pi Foundation is global, while the focus is on helping the individuals through education and inspiration.
No matter which medium Uzma Mirza uses, be it a brush and watercolor, core-ten steel and bamboo for architecture, or a form of business, the results are beautiful, sustainable, and inspirational. She has the rare ability to produce value out of such a variety of efforts. Hopefully we will be hearing more about her art and her philanthropic efforts in the future.
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