Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Interdisciplinary Arts Conference: PART I

This past weekend, I attended and participated in The Interdisciplinary Arts Conference, held by Wilfrid Laurier University's Religion and Culture Society. My experience with the students and staff of WLU reminded me of the fact that academic institutions can be collaborative, warm and open. We often associate universities with authority, but forget that learning is also interactive.

I first met Helen Reid, President of WLU's Religion and Culture Society, in Meena Sharify-Funk's Islamic Mysticism class. I was conducting a guest lecture on Sufi Poetry, and Helen had a keen interest and understanding of Sufi philosophy. Since then, Helen and I have chatted on the phone, discussing Jung, the state of the world, reality vs. non-reality and of course, the IAC Conference.

Let's just say that Helen knows how to get a job done. Her passion, dedication and chutzpah secured beloved childhood icon, Fred Penner, as the guest of honour for the conference. She also invited sitar maestro, Irshad Khan, to play for the finale concert. I was recruited as the opening act for Irshad Khan.

When I arrived in Waterloo, I was greeted by Professor Meena Sharify-Funk, a true sufi soul, and her beloved family including her bearded collie, Sami. We were invited to Helen and her partner Rob's house for a welcome dinner. Helen and Rob's house is the kind of house you dream of having. Coloured glass vases, tapestries, bookshelves, instruments, artifacts and ornaments from Greece and India, brightly coloured textured walls, windows with intricate stained glass designs-- each room in their house seemed to be transported from another country. I met some lovely people including Zabeen, a fellow Ismaili who had just returned from India, stylish Laura, Vice President of the Religion and Culture Society, and Fred Penner, who was frantically looking for a pouch he had left behind in rehearsal.

After the croissants were eaten, the homemade calamari was consumed and the pouch was found, we sat around Penner and discussed our childhoods, the pressures on youth today, spirituality and activism. Helen spoke about the sacred circles in Sufism, likening them to the dance of the universe. Penner spoke of himself as an anarchist, stating that artists are anarchists, because they see the world for what it is and refuse to accept the status quo (I hardly think he was referring to himself as the kind of anarchist that wears all black and spray paints government properties and corporate buildings).

The next day, Saturday, was a day of seminars, presentations and performances. Helen presented her paper on Sufism, her voice heightening with excitement and newfound revelations. At the end of the presentation, she played a youtube clip of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing a qawwali. A lady stood up from her seat and began to whirl.

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