Abul Hisham, Hidden Obstacles (19th Trap), 2018, soft pastel on paper, 60 × 75".

Abul Hisham

Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke

The mostly pastel-on-paper paintings in Abul Hisham’s “Recitation” are full of narratives presented in medias res. On a small, scrubby island in Recitation 3 (all works cited, 2018), a snake coils around a tombstone. Its head disappears into the accordion-pleated murkiness that stands in for both sea and sky; its tail tapers to an elegant figure eight. Recitation 5—A hundred lights depicts the same grave, but water levels have risen, and we seemed to be observing it from the mouth of a cave, behind a screen of incense sticks. The works invoke a pair of eschatological Islamic concepts, the barzakh, a liminal, watery space between death and the afterlife, and the “torment in the grave,” wherein unbelievers are tortured by serpents. Koranic recitation becomes a safeguard against this latter fate.

Some scholars believe that only animals can hear the torment in the grave. Perhaps that’s why

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