Fling your arm wide, up and around. The shoulder is the only human joint that rotates 180 degrees. I asked Joan, a dancer, to do this after I’d tied a string, wetted with paint, under her shoulder. After she’d completed her task, the wet paint made complex swirls. I found the design intriguing, resembling, to my eye, a whirling galaxy.
I found a medieval Islamic passage written by astronomers of the day. For seven hundred years, the Islamic world was a scientific Mecca, preserving original Greek scientific knowledge which would have been lost without their guardianship. Centered in Baghdad, Arabs built many astronomical observatories and created university curriculums in this subject. Most of the stars we see have Arabic names that originated in this intellectual medieval era.
In all areas of science, medicine, and technology Arabs added astounding discoveries of their own invention: algebra, algorithms, alkaline – all Arabic words. While Europe slumbered in the Dark Ages, the Arab world flourished from 700CE to 1400CE. With the fall of the Byzantine Empire, scientists and philosophers moved to Florence, Italy, where Medici wealth offered new support that funded our western Renaissance. Our science today couldn’t have happened without seven hundred years of Middle Eastern innovation and preservation. This science is a legacy passed to the west to evolve our modern innovative scientific culture that allows us to live longer and healthier lives than ever before in history. I remind myself of how much I owe distant and committed scientists of yore in this art work: Shoulder Arabic. In everyday life, most of us barely notice this sweeping joint, the shoulder that shelters the lowly underarm beneath it. This conjunction makes literal revolutions and can reflect a galaxy and, in my art, honors Arabic astronomy.