The Veil of Knowledge

No. 20 in the Dead Feminists series By Chandler O'Leary / Jessica Spring Tacoma, Washington: Anagram Press / Springtide Press, 2014. Edition of 125.4.*

10 x 18"; single-sheet broadside. Printed letterpress on archival 100% rag (cotton) paper. Handset wood type. Illustrated by Chandler O’Leary and printed by Jessica Spring. Signed and numbered by the artists.

*Chandler O'Leary, Edition numbering: "Every broadside has a symbolic edition number, but this piece is extra special. This number is the solution to an equation we devised out of numbers that are highly symbolic in Islam. Arabic culture is credited with the invention of algebra—a term derived from an Arabic word meaning 'the reunion of broken parts.' We arrived at our edition number by multiplying 66 (the number that represents Allah in Islamic numerology) by 19 (considered by some mystics to be the 'Key to the Q’uran'), and then dividing the result by 10 (ten-pointed stars are common elements in Arabesque patterning, as well as our broadside design). The '.4' in our edition number represents four artist proofs that exist outside the numbered edition, and set aside as gifts for four important women in our lives. These four women mirror the four 'Women of the First Rank in Islam' (Khadijah, first wife of the Prophet; Fatimah, the fourth daughter of Khadijah and the Prophet, and the wife of the Fourth Caliph; the Virgin Mary; and Asiya, wife of the pharaoh and stepmother to Moses)."

Colophon: "Fatima Al-Fihri (c. 800 – 880) grew up in Fez, Morocco with her sister Miriam, daughters of a wealthy Tunisian merchant. The daughters were well-educated and devoted to their community. After the death of their father, Fatima vowed to spend all her inheritance in building a mosque, both a place for worship and a center of learning. In 859, she founded Al-Qarawiyyin, which offered courses in grammar, rhetoric, logic, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, history, geography and music — drawing scholars and students from all over the world. (Gerbert of Auverge — later Pope Sylvester II — studied there, and was credited with the introduction of Arabic numbers and the concept of zero to Europe.) This important spiritual and educational center of the Islamic world, one of the largest mosques in Africa, is considered the oldest university still in operation. As a woman with such generosity and vision, Fatima is remembered and honored as Oum al Banine, 'the mother of the children.'”

Chandler O'Leary: "The Veil of Knowledge —a piece that has been weighing heavily on our hearts and minds. Our journey began in April [2014], when over 200 girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. Since then the media has been filled with accusations leveled at Islam—a culture we know to have a long history of valuing education, innovation, and knowledge. We also know that the danger of extremism knows no cultural boundary—and that it would benefit us all to build a world where every girl has the opportunity and security to obtain an education.

"So after months of exhaustive research, we decided to go back in time to some of the earliest days of higher education, and to the life and work of Fatima al-Fihri … . Because Fatima lived in the 9th century, no direct quotes have made it to the present era. Instead, the piece highlights Fatima’s honorific title: Oum al Banine, or 'Mother of the Children.'

"The phrase weaves through the piece like the mortar between stones, repeating again and again like a mantra. The design mirrors the Arabesque decorative style, as well as the common practice of decorating Muslim houses of worship with text (often phrases from the Qur’an). Because it is forbidden to depict the Prophet in Islam, architecture is usually adorned with text and geometric patterns instead.

"Our 20th Dead Feminist broadside, The Veil of Knowledge, is an ornate tribute to Fatima’s world and the institution she founded. The composition, structured like a Persian manuscript page, features an illustration based on the architecture of Al-Qarawiyyin, with its angular rooflines and sweeping curved arches. Interspersed throughout the piece is a hand-drawn geometric pattern that mirrors the tilework throughout the university and mosque. Wrapping around the 'walls' behind a pair of columns is the Basmala (the phrase that begins every sura or chapter of the Qur’an), lettered in Arabic script.

"To help ensure the safety and quality of girls’ education worldwide, we are donating a portion of our proceeds to Girl Up — a nonprofit campaign of the United Nations Foundation that assists some of the world’s hardest-to-reach adolescent girls."