Every once in a while, I feel the need to return to my art history roots. I was thinking about this today and wondering exactly what that means. What are my art history roots? The first art history I studied was that of the Italian Renaissance, like so many of us, but I’d say that my roots actually go back to the year I spent in England when I was 10 years old. I think that even at that point, it was in my blood. It was certainly already in my environment: My dad was a historian who always included art in the classes that he taught, and my mom was also an art lover, particularly interested in the Impressionists. So when we went to England, we hit as many cathedrals, museums, and historical sites as possible. One that really sticks in my mind is Verulamium — Roman ruins that were so nearby, we went there repeatedly.
I am totally in love with the mosques from Mali. Check this out — here’s an example from Djenne, Mali:
They’re so beautiful! But wait! There’s more! They’re made out of mud, which is what they’ve got, right? Not a lot of trees in Mali. Not a lot of stone. It’s the Sahel (between desert and grasslands). So they use what they have. Which is dirt, basically. And they build these amazing structures from it. It gets even better. Some of them have been around for hundreds of years. Made out of mud. Which collapses in the rain. But they don’t let this happen. In Djenne, they recover and repair their mosque every year as part of a city celebration. Every year the whole mosque is recovered in mud and repaired. I love this. And I love that these buildings are so different than what we often think of when we think “mosque.” They’ve combined Islam with their traditional culture and come up with something practical that works for their climate and their lifestyle.