MOCRA Exhibitions

Drawing on her Hindu and Muslim background, and combining expertise in Arabic calligraphy with
Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting, Arastu creates large, evocative canvases that invite
viewers into quiet contemplation on texts from the Quran, the poet Rumi, and other sources.

Salma Arastu: Painting Prayers exhibition logo

September 13 - December 6, 2015

by appointment only through December 18
contact MOCRA via e-mail or call 314-977-7170 to arrange a visit

free public opening reception with the artist
Sunday, September 13     1:30 - 3:30 p.m.

Wondering where to park for the opening reception? Click here.

Painting Prayers info sheet thumbnail

Download an informational brochure with sample images.

General Exhibition Information
Hours:  Tues - Sun, 11 am - 4 pm
Admission:  free, with suggested donation of $5/adults, $1/students and children

Directions and Parking information

Please note that a campus construction project currently impedes access to MOCRA from Laclede Ave and Spring Ave.  Click here for more information.

Group visit information 

Salma Arastu, Healing Prayer, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

Salma Arastu
Healing Prayer 
acrylic on canvas
52 x 80 in
image courtesy of the artist

Who listens to the (soul) distressed when it calls on Him, and who relieves its suffering. Al-Quran 27:62


About the artist

Salma Arastu was born in Rajasthan, India, and graduated with a Masters in Fine Arts from The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India. She presently resides in the San Francisco Bay area. Arastu works in a variety of media, including painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture. Her works are found in numerous private and public collections, such as the 9/11 Memorial Museum, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, Hyderabad, India; the National Gallery of Art, New Delhi, India; the Islamic Museum of Australia, Melbourne; and the State Museum of the Arts, Harrisburg, PA.

Salma Arastu, Peace - Greeting from the Beneficent Lord, 2013. Courtesy of the artist.

Salma Arastu
Peace - Greeting from the Beneficent Lord 
acrylic on canvas
52 x 72 in
image courtesy of the artist

Peace! ― a word (of salutation) from a Lord Most Merciful! Al-Quran 36:58


About the exhibition

Raised in Hinduism, Arastu later embraced Islam through her marriage. While living in Iran and Kuwait, she was fascinated by the beauty of Arabic calligraphy and began incorporating passages into her work. MOCRA will display works from two of her most recent series. "Celebration of Calligraphy" harmoniously blends traditional Arabic calligraphy with Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting, featuring lyrical, dynamic passages from the Quran flowing across dense layers of rich color.

Salma Arastu, So that you know each other III, 2014.

I paint to express the prayers of my heart, and intend for the energy of the calligraphy, powered by the positive messages from the texts, to reveal the joy and celebration that I experience while creating them. Each verse I portray gives me strength and peace, and I hope to instill these feelings in my viewers.

Salma Arastu

Salma Arastu
So that you know each other III 
acrylic on wood
15 in diameter
image courtesy of the artist

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). Al-Quran 49:13


“Unity of Sacred Symbols and Texts” comprises several distinct elements, including circular mandala-like paintings; works by texts of thirteenth-century Persian poet Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi and sixteenth-century Hindu saint and mystic poetess Meera Bai; and paintings invoking four major faith traditions through texts in Arabic, Hebrew, English, and Sanskrit.

Painting Prayers is a timely exhibition, for through her lyrical and spiritually rich art, Salma Arastu is a bridge builder among the world’s religions. MOCRA is pleased to introduce her work to St. Louis audiences.

Salma Arastu, No one understands my pain of separation (Meera Bai), 2015.

Salma Arastu, No one understands my pain of separation (Rumi), 2015.

      Salma Arastu
      "No one knows the pain of my separation . . . "
         (Saint Meera Bai)

      acrylic on board
      20 x 20 in
      image courtesy of the artist

      Salma Arastu
      "No one knows the pain of my separation . . . "
         (Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi)

      acrylic on board
      20 x 20 in
      image courtesy of the artist

The development of calligraphy using Arabic script is tightly woven into the fabric of Islam. Over the centuries distinctive artistic forms of Arabic letters have been developed both to honor the holy texts and as a form of creative expression. Arastu continues this tradition by employing passages from the Quran in many of her works.

MOCRA's staff worked with Dr. Susan L’Engle and the staff of the Saint Louis University Libraries Special Collections, and Dr. Cathleen Fleck of SLU’s Art History program, to create a companion display of manuscript leaves from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. These exquisite manuscripts give visitors a sense of how Arastu’s work relates to the grand tradition of Arabic calligraphy.

Salma Arastu, God Is One, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

My purpose is to reach out to a broad community in the pursuit of peace; to celebrate diversity, and create a positive interfaith dialogue through art that subtly penetrates the human heart to evoke response.

Salma Arastu

Salma Arastu
God Is One 
acrylic on canvas
48 x 72 in
image courtesy of the artist

Verses from Christian, Jewish, Islamic, and Hindu sacred texts about the Oneness of God: Deuteronomy 4:35-39; Bhagavad Gita 10:30; Al-Quran 24:35


Additional links

Meet Salma Arastu in this biographical video:

Artist's website

Painting Prayers in the media

     Listen to an interview with Salma Arastu on the St. Louis Public Radio program "Cityscape"

     Read a review of Painting Prayers in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

     Watch a PBS "Arts America" segment on Painting Prayers


BBC introduction to Islam

Islamic Society of North America resources:

Introduction to the Quran (Wikipedia)

The Quran in multiple translations

Quran Explorer with spoken audio


Introduction to Rumi (Wikipedia) - includes links to his poems

Introduction to Meera Bai (Wikipedia) 

Samples of poems attributed to Meera Bai


Introduction to Arabic calligraphy

Explore works featuring Arabic script at the British Museum

Explore the NPR series "Muslim Artists, Now"

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December 6, 2015   1 p.m.

A program exploring historic and contemporary approaches to Islamic art, from perspectives both within and outside of Islam.

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Higher purpose. Greater good.
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