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New Paintings

conference of the birds 2


The Art of Tom Block

jiwar exhibition

Jiwar Exhibition Installation View

jiwar exhibition 2

Jiwar Exhibition Installation View

conference of the birds panels

Conference of the Birds II — Panels

conference of the birds 2 detail

Conference of the Birds II — Detail

conference of the birds 2 detail

Conference of the Birds II — Detail

conference of the birds 2 detail

Conference of the Birds II — Detail

conference of the birds 2 detail

Conference of the Birds II — Detail

conference of the birds 2 detail

Conference of the Birds II — Detail

white noise seating

Conference of the Birds II — Detail

white noise set

Conference of the Birds II — Detail


Conference of the Birds II (2012)

Conference of the Birds II is based in the 13th century mystical treatise, Conference of the Birds, by Farid ad-Din Attar. In this work, Attar explores the mystic quest, utilizing an allegory of a "conference of the birds" who set off on a hazardous and terrifying journey through valleys and mountains, to meet the "simurgh," or the divine ground of all being. In the end, only 30 featherless companions arrive, and lose themselves in contemplation of perfection.

This piece concerns the journey, not the consummation of the quest. Mystical realization is, I believe, a goal accessed by only a very few, if by any — that which should concern the rest of us is the journey of life. What does it mean? And how do we live here together? The imagery in the piece has been inspired by the Flemish painters, Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel, whose paintings captured the totality of human interaction with the world around them — the vast majority of Attar's "birds" who never arrive at the end of their quest, but most certainly die trying!

I utilize the visual arts, writing projects and scholarship to explore the interaction between the spiritual life of humanity and our sometimes-sad shared reality. My work is hardly religious, but it explores humans' attempts to make sense of this world and our shared struggle to develop and live by a moral code. At the very best, I hope that my art will have an activist influence, causing viewers to question their own personal roles in making the world a better place to live.

I work in series: I begin with a philosophical and activist impulse, proceed through reading on the subject, writing, drawing and then, finally, to creating a body of work in response to the particular issue at hand. I have undertaken a series of projects as part of this ongoing inquiry. I painted three bodies of work based in the highest impulses of the Abrahamic faiths - the Sufi masters of Islam, the Baal Shem Tov of Judaism and Meister Eckhart of Christianity. I followed this with my Human Rights Painting Project, in conjunction with Amnesty International. This series of portraits highlighted human rights advocates from around the world and the vital work of Amnesty International. I have also undertaken a project entitled Shalom/Salaam, based in a virtually unknown tale of mystical intermingling between Jewish and Muslim mystics over nearly a thousand years of human history. I created a series of paintings entitled Response to Machiavelli, which looks at the small-minded, self-serving state of our current political system and uses the philosophy of great social thinkers from the past few millennia to propose another, more caring way. Lastly, I have explored the lie of classical mysticism through my series In the Garden of the Mystical Redoubt.

In addition to writing and painting, I partner with well-known individuals and non-profit groups working on the same issues; present my ideas at conferences; sponsor interfaith events in conjunction with my exhibits and reach out through the mass media with my ideas, all in the hopes of effecting positive change in the society at large.

Tom Block is an artist, writer and activist best known for the development and implementation an activist art theory, “Prophetic Activist Art.” His activist work includes the Human Rights Painting Project (, Shalom/Salaam Project (, Response to Machiavelli Project and Cousins Public Art Project (www., which includes the Heretical Paintings. His most recent activist endeavor was to develop and produce the first ever Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival (, an international event that took place April 2010 in Silver Spring, MD.

His art has been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the United States and Europe. He has been awarded monetary grants and other support from the Norman Lear Family Foundation (CA), Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation (NY), Sugarman Foundation (CA), Nelson Talbott Foundation (MD), Puffin Foundation (NJ), New York Foundation for the Arts (NY), Maryland State Arts Council (MD), William and Mary Greve Foundation (NY), Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County (MD) and Amnesty International (NY).

He has spoken about his theories of using art as an activist tool at conferences and universities, including: Al-Azhar University (Cairo), Irish Centre for Human Rights (Galway, Ireland), Depaul University (IL), Villanova University (PA), Xavier University (OH), University of Arkansas (AR), Ohio University (OH), Fetzer Institute (MI), Manhattan College (NY), Vanderbilt University (TN), University of Calgary (Canada), Institute of Art (Birmingham, England), Emory University (GA), Grand Valley State University (MI), American Popular Culture Association, Mid Atlantic Popular Culture Association, International Peace Research Association and at other universities and conferences around the world.

His first book, “Shalom/Salaam: A Story of a Mystical Fraternity,” which traces the influence of Sufism (Islamic mysticism) on the direction of Jewish spirituality over the course of 1000 years, was published in Fall 2010 in the United States (Fons Vitae, Louisville, KY) and Turkey (Bilim Artı Gönül Yayıncılık Ltd. Şti., Istanbul, Turkey). “A Fatal Addiction: War in the Name of God” was published this fall by Algora Publisher (NY) and his novel “The Fool Returns” will be published in Turkey this fall, as well. His first play, “White Noise” was produced in Washington D.C. last June, and will travel to NY (Theater for the New City) next summer. His second play, “Butterfly,” will have its world premier in February, 2013.

To view more of Tom's work, please go to: Tom Block

To read a review of the play, please go to: White Noise

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