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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 17th June 2016 > AU KORAN


Sandow Birk’s fearlessly political art takes on the holy book of Islam


IT IS AUDACIOUS for any artist to treat as his subject the sacred texts of a faith to which he does not subscribe. It is especially so if you’re an atheistic Southern California surfer who decided he would create an illustrated version of the Koran, despite the long-standing Islamic tradition of not depicting the human form. But that is precisely what Sandow Birk set out to do. And did. His American Qur’an, recently published, is an unbeliever’s tribute to the message of Muhammad.

A few years ago, it occurred to Birk—who lives in Long Beach, California—that Americans knew very little about Islam, even while many of his countrymen bore so much enmity toward it. His search for the perfect break had taken him to Muslim countries like Indonesia and Morocco, and left him with the awareness that Islam wasn’t the religion depicted on Fox News. He knew he wanted to say so with his art, but he didn’t know how. Then came a 2004 surfing excursion to Ireland and, while there, a visit to the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, where a number of illustrated Korans were on exhibit. There, in a Catholic country, Birk realized what his Islamic project would be.

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