HIPSTER TIP OF THE WEEK
California native son Shane Guffogg is back in the southland at the Manhattan Beach Art Center (until June 11th) for his first solo show of new work since his triumphant exhibitions in St. Petersburg and Baku, Azerbaijan. While those shows were huge symphonies of images (75 and 73 paintings respectively), "The Dance of Thought" is more like a chamber concert, with 20 paintings plus some drawings and a series of sculptures in marble and glass. While this art may be at a gallery near the beach, this is anything but beach art, folks. Guffogg, in his early 50s, is a world-class artist who studied at Cal Arts and worked for years for Los Angeles-based painters Joe Goode and Ed Ruscha. He is that rare contemporary artist who is also a student of art history, and you will see in his work an admiration for many painters, both European and American - from Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Picasso and Kandinsky to Jackson Pollock, De Kooning and Cy Twombly - along with a strong influence of Eastern spirituality. Guffogg has subsumed these styles into visual metaphors that are both personal and universal. One room of his paintings is titled "Amor Fati" - love your fate - something that Guffogg has clearly done, and which accounts for the emotional depth of his work. Shane Guffogg is an artist on the verge of worldwide art stardom. Angelenos who can appreciate a visionary image-maker and want to say "I knew his work back when" - make that pilgrimage to Manhattan Beach and take in the sweep of a modern master in this intoxicating show. (1560 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Manhattan Beach 90266; Wednesday-Saturday 10 AM - 9 PM; Sunday 10 AM - 5 PM; FREE)
BACK ON EARTH - OR, RATHER, URTH
"One of the most tragic parts of this journey for me is that people in Hollywood are not as liberal as they would like to believe they are," Kamran Pasha tells me while sipping tea at Urth Café in Santa Monica. "They are what I call LEFI - Liberal Except for Islam. Bill Maher typifies these so-called 'progressives' who support Gay Rights and want to help Tibet, yet have no problem with Muslims being profiled, detained and deported for no other reason than we are Muslims."
Kamran, 45 years old, has been in Hollywood for several years, having worked as a writer/producer on such shows as Sleeper Cell on Showtime, The Bionic Woman revamp on NBC and Nikita on the CW. But before Hollywood, Kamran seemed headed in a very different direction. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, his family moved to Brooklyn when he was three, and he grew up in the largely Hasidic neighborhood of Borough Park. An excellent student, he went to Dartmouth, studying Comparative Religions, then got a Law Degree from Cornell and an MBA from Dartmouth Business School. He worked as a journalist for the Knight-Ridder chain, interviewing such world leaders as Shimon Peres (Israel), Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan) and Alberto Fujimori (Peru). He worked briefly as an attorney at the powerful New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, where he wrote a screenplay in his spare time and sent it to six agents he chose from a source book. Five said no, but one said yes, and he was on a plane out west, where his agent sold the script to Paramount, and Kamran soon landed a job as a staff writer for the revamp of Twilight Zone at UPN. He's also written two novels since he's been out here, Mother of the Believers (relating the birth of Islam from the point of view of Mohammed's wife Aisha) and Shadow of the Swords (a love story set amid the Third Crusade), both published by Simon & Schuster.
"The most uncomfortable that I've seen Hollywood people get is when I talk about Islamic Spain, since that doesn't align with their current opinion of Muslims, who they think have always been this way - which just isn't true," Kamran told me. "The same thing with Muslims and Jews, who actually got along very well for most of the last 1300 years because we are cousins, children of Abraham, Semitic cultures which both arose in the desert. This idea of Muslims and Jews as "natural enemies" is a false paradigm promulgated by Europeans post-World War I and then repeated by Israeli leaders like David Ben-Gurion. But if that were indeed the case, then why did the Turkish Muslims save the Jews when the Moorish empire broke up rather than save fellow Muslims? The Jews were the Intelligentsia in Moorish Spain, and the Turks valued that above religious ties - and that's simply a fact."
Moorish Spain is something of a touchstone for Kamran Pasha, who is currently developing a TV series based in 15th Century Spain called Andalus. As he tells me, that reign spanned almost 750 years (750-1492) and represents a time of (mostly) peace, harmony and goodwill, an open society with open flow of information. During this period, Muslim scholars translated the works of Plato, Aristotle and other Greek authors into Arabic. This was around the same that the Catholic Church was burning these same books as heresies, until there were no copies to be found in Europe - except at the Moorish library in Toledo. It was there that European scholars went to re-discover these works and translate them back into Romance languages, which then sparked the Renaissance - something conveniently left out of most history books.
"It amazes me that many people have this sentimental idea of Queen Isabella - the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, and all that. The fact is that there was this beautiful multi-cultural Moorish society which thrived for hundreds of years, only to be supplanted by a Fascist state with ten years of nightmarish violence (the Inquisition) and hundreds of years of pure terror. It's Queen Isabella who killed or expelled all the Jews, not the Muslims. And most residents of Spain are not even aware of their Moorish heritage or what a Golden Age it was. This has simply been wiped out by the Fascist regime which lasted into the 20th Century."
Kamran adds that Islam is historically the most liberal of the Abraham-derived monotheistic religions - not the most conservative, as Bill Maher and other commentators on his show insist.
"Incompatible with democracy - that's how Bill Maher characterizes Islam, but that's historically ignorant. And far from being inherently misogynist - as Bill Maher and other progressives have claimed - Islam is the religion most respectful of women. It was the first to give women the right to own property, to testify in court, and to inherit property. When Napoleon invaded Egypt, he imposed the Napoleonic Code on the populace, which robbed women of all these rights. But the Prophet constantly preached respect for women, reminding men over and over that they come from a woman, that they owe their lives to a woman. Female circumcision is not in the Koran, far from it. Mohammed preaches that a man has a moral obligation to bring his wife to orgasm, since physical pleasure strengthens the bond of marriage."
So where did all these negative views of Islam come from? How did it come to be identified so closely with terrorism?
"It's all the Saudi's fault," Kamran tells me, "They have been poisoning the world for the last hundred years with this extremist view of Islam which is in fact False Islam. The Saudis are a fanatical minority, not representative of the norm any more than the most right-wing Israelis are representative of most Jews."
Kamran goes on to relate how the Saudis were a hated tribe - "they were gangsters who made their living by robbing pilgrims on the road to Mecca and Medina" - until the British armed them to help in the fight against the Ottoman Empire in World War I. As a reward, they gave the Saudis control over these Islamic holy centers. Until then Mecca was under the governance of King Abdullah of Jordan, whose family were direct descendants of Mohammed. While the British were occupying Arab territories, they discovered oil, so they weren't giving it up. Instead they made a deal with the devil. "The Saudis commenced their takeover by raping and pillaging the populace, and since then their rule has been characterized by sadistic cruelty. They built a massive clock above the holy mosque, almost a thousand feet high, which was a monument to the British, who are their real God."
Kamran - who has been cited as one of the 10 most famous Pakistanis - tells me that he has dedicated his career as a writer and producer to addressing these issues about "False Islam" and to spurring on people to examine how they draw their conclusions about his religion. He says that business is good for him right now under Trump, and he is involved in developing several TV projects - while still worrying about where Trump's racist policies will lead.
"Americans are a wonderful people on the whole," he says, "but they have within them a two-pronged Original Sin - the genocide of Native Americans and the institution of slavery, by which the country was built. This has left behind a legacy of guilt and a lot of denial - an unwillingness to look deeper into oneself, almost an anger about having to think.
"But I have found that Americans are basically good-hearted, and if you point out their lack of knowledge, then they will try to expand and adjust, to learn and accept. But it is the opposite in Europe, where they are very knowledgeable about the Middle East and what is going on - and they hate it. There is much less tolerance for Muslims in France than there is here, and a much deeper racism."