Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fes Forums - Visions of the Bird of Wonder

This afternoon, in the cool of an air conditioned conference room at Palais Jamaï, Michael Barry gave a presentation on his book, Visions of the Bird of Wonder, reports Vivian Nguyen.

Alpine swift above Fez

Visions of the Bird of Wonder is co-authored with French professor, Leili Anvar, who was not present for the lecture.

The book focuses on how the image of the bird has travelled across religious and figurative borders, and is based on the work of Shaykh Fari Attâr's Canticle of the Birds to Saint Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the World's Creatures.

Barry, (pictured, left), who is American-born and French-educated, is a professor in Persian at Princeton University. He presented images from the book in a slideshow, while explaining the bird's significance in a series of Persian miniature paintings.

He first explained how the image of the bird in Persian texts was linked to the Christian tradition, but also to the Buddhist and Hindu religions as well.

Barry also put a few myths to rest in regard to the Taliban's ban on girls attending school by showing images featuring schoolgirls in 18th century Afghanistan. Contrary to popular opinion, he also emphasised that the images were important to Muslim culture not only in Asia, but also in the Shia tradition which is dominant in Iran, as well as the orthodox Sunni Islamic tradition as well.

One of the major points that Barry made focused on how the bird represents the soul's aspiration to move to and be closer to God. Additionally, its ability for flight represents the soul's desire to aspire to a higher sense of self.

This sentiment of the bird is a universal one, he said. The bird also adopted a male and female form in Barry's work, representing different aspects of divinity. Often, the bird represented the female form.

Overall, Barry wowed his audience with erudition and beauty, and kept the crowd spellbound for two hours. Outside on the terrace of the Palais Jamaï, the birds did not seem to be listening to the lecture, but rather, were singing.

Barry's lecture was a great example of how the Festival is not just about music or debates, but also serves as a great site for art exhibitions and history, showcasing beauty in all its forms in the Muslim world.

For more information about the lecture, please visit

Waddick Doyle contributed to this report.


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