“It is no secret that the Earth is in trouble and that we humans are to blame. Just knowing these grim facts, however, won’t get us very far. We have to transform this knowledge into a deep passion to change course. But passion does not come primarily from the head; it is a product of the heart. And the heart is not aroused by the bare facts alone. It needs stories that weave those facts into a moving and meaningful narrative.”
“We need a powerful new story that we are a part of nature and not separate from it. We need a story that properly situates humans in the world — neither above it by virtue of our superior intellect, nor dwarfed by the universe into cosmic insignificance. We are equal partners with all that exists, co-creators with trees and galaxies and the microorganisms in our own gut, in a materially and spiritually evolving universe.”
This was the breathtaking vision of the late Thomas Berry. Berry taught that humanity is presently at a critical decision point:
“Either we develop a more heart-full relationship with the Earth that sustains us, or we destroy ourselves and life on the planet.”
Every day billions of people, including myself, take a breath of air that is sustained by Earth’s atmosphere. While I do not take my breath for granted, it is, unfortunately, not often that I pause to reflect on the deeper connection my life has to this planet.
However, several weeks ago, I did.
While walking through the departure terminal at Austin Bergstrom International Airport, I found myself in Moore’s Crossing Gallery.
As I pulled my suitcase and considered which coffee kiosk I would stop at, I noticed I was surrounded by art. Beautiful art. I looked to my left and saw a stunning oil painting of the Earth and for the first time in a long time, I paused.
I wondered, who is the person behind such art that inspired me to pause and reflect on deepening a heart-centered connection with our Earth?
It was Rubina Anjum, a freelance artist based in Austin, Texas. Rubina uses art to communicate her awe of the beauty of the natural world.
Working extensively with watercolors and oil paints, she is currently devoted to the completion of a series of large-scale oil paintings rendering the surface of the Earth from space.
The Planet Earth Series is inspired by images taken from the Landsat7 satellite of the US Geological Survey.
Here is my conversation with Rubina:
BJB: Spirituality is about transformation and being creative is transformative. When we create something that did not exist before, the process moves us beyond ourselves. Why do you describe creativity as a spiritual activity?
RA: Creativity is a spiritual activity.
When I exercise my artistic practice on a regular basis, I embark upon a journey of deep discovery. This practice enables me to unveil layers of meaning. As the layers open up, something magical happens. I spin new forms and colors in matter of seconds. These colorful shapes coalesce in a self- guided harmony of pleasing, comprehensible and unique artwork.
When my artistic practice becomes habit then something even more miraculous happens and I start seeing partial or full visions of artwork in my head. Then I can choose to bring the visions to life in their entirety or take inspiration from them. At times I do both.
In both instances, my artistic practice leads to new pathways of creativity. This creativity takes flight when the miracle of spontaneous art reveals itself and when unique artistic forms flash onto my inner sight.
These indeed are very spiritual experiences.
BJB: While the “Planet Earth Series is inspired by images taken from the Landsat7 satellite of the US Geological Survey,” what is your personal inspiration for creating the Planet Earth Series paintings?
RA: For a while, being an artist became secondary when my primary responsibilities were those of being a mother of three, a home maker and wife. However, I managed to keep in touch with art by teaching watercolor painting classes in the Greater Austin Area mostly on a volunteer basis in libraries, schools, and in my art studio.
During this time, I had training as an oil painter and was painting still life, portraits, landscapes, and abstracts for my own artistic development. As a serious artist with expertise, I needed to create a body of work.
Then, in 2011, my children gave me a book on Earth’s satellite imagery as a birthday gift. They knew I loved geology & aerial imagery. I was captivated with one image of the Nubian Desert. I immediately went on the USGS website, retrieved this satellite image and proceeded to make a realistic painting using oil on canvas as a medium.
After painting the Nubian Desert, I was compelled to paint one satellite image after another. I naturally moved from painting these images realistically towards expressing ideas and blending my imagination into the satellite images. Hence, the later paintings in the series are a combination of realism and expressionism.
I feel very fortunate that my main body of work is of a unique subject matter that helps make art relevant in the twenty first century; a time in which technology reigns.
In my Planet Earth Series, art and technology meet to impart a vital message to humanity.
BJB: Art is imprinted with the consciousness of its creator, and the vibration held at the time the art was created is present for the observer to interact with. Can you talk about the importance of heart-centered consciousness in your work specifically “to make our footprints on the Earth sustainable so that it, in turn, can sustain us?”
RA: “Art is imprinted with the consciousness of the creator,” is true in my case because when I create art I pour my heart and soul into it.
I create art from what captivates me and in turn it seeps deep into my being to unveil forms, colors, shapes, and meaning that are visual interactions of the outside world; with only me as the receiver and revealer.
I search for meaning in my visual adventures and artistic output. My fascination for Earth’s satellite images compelled me to produce the Planet Earth Series One.
Other than its aesthetic quality, I want my work to be meaningful not only to myself but to the observer.
Highlighting Earth’s beauty through art inspired by satellite imagery invariably coincides with my desire to preserve this beauty for future generations. Thus, what comes from my heart has the potential of touching the hearts and minds of the viewer in a meaningful way that has the power to bring about change.
BJB: What has been the most surprising or unexpected part of how the conscious act of painting — being an artist — has impacted your spiritual growth?
RA: Being a visual artist has enabled me to see farther, wider, deeper and higher. The practice of observing and recreating on paper, or canvas, helps sharpen the ability to see and create in the mind as well.
My artistic practice sharpens my imagination. I am able to teleport — to travel in space and time in my mind.
Travelling in the universe is my favorite past time, it is a very calming, serene and spiritual experience.
BJB: Lastly, when people believe they are not creative, they don’t try to do creative things. How did you become creative — become an artist?
RA: I believe everyone has the capability to participate in creative activities. A school, we have to learn math, English and science. However, the arts are taught as secondary subjects of lesser importance. The arts provide a living and breathing space for creativity, which enables us to discover the inner and outer world through exploration in our minds eye. In exploration, layers of meaning open up and multiple universes smile upon us.
It’s also important to note my creativity springs from the following aspects that urged me on to the path of becoming a professional artist:
1. Creative Play in Childhood
Growing up with limited exposure to television, I had to come up with creative solutions to entertain myself and I did so with fiction and nonfiction books. Although I interacted with the outside world through play with other children, I also retreated from time to time to create worlds of my own. From the healthy balance created during my childhood, I continue to relish solitude for creative purposes, while on the other hand remain comfortable in social interactions.
2. Innate Ability
I’ve always loved to draw and color, it came naturally to me. I made my first oil painting when I was 11 years-old and without any guidance. However, no matter how talented we are we still have to develop, hone our skills, and acquire knowledge and expertise.
3. Reaction Against the Mundane
Despite the good fortune of being born in a place where I had time to pursue art as a hobby, in my 20’s I found myself in a repressive society with limited opportunities, especially for women. I was surrounded by shallow and archaic traditions and rituals. I became a non-conformist and rebelled against the imposed social and personal codes of behavior and thought. Art was a wonderful outlet that provided a route to freedom. With paint and brush strokes, I could create beautiful worlds in which I could escape the narrow restraints of the immediate world around me.
Practicing art and expressing my inner struggles helped me not only to survive that era but also emerge victorious. I practiced art, learned my trade, and had my first solo art exhibition at age 25. This was the beginning of building the foundation upon which I would build my art career years later.
4. Ambition and Feminism
Being ambitious and a feminist, I wanted a career that challenged the women’s role the society around me condoned. To do this, I chose to actualize my innate talent and embark on a journey to find a higher purpose in life. This search has led, and continues to lead, me to fantastical places which I can share with others to help them discover similar joy.