Conference of the Birds

Collaborative paintings, installations and multimedia, inspired by the mythical Persian poem The Conference of the Birds or Speech of the Birds written by Farid ud-Din Attar (c. 1145 – c. 1221).

In this poem, the birds of the world gather to decide who is to be their king, as they have none. They begin a journey finding the legendary Simorgh to be their king, a mythical Persian bird equivalent to the western phoenix. Eventually only thirty birds remain as they finally reach the dwelling place of Simorgh but find only a lake in which they see their own reflection.

Si-morgh means “Thirty Birds” in Persian.

Wikipedia says:

” […] The story recounts the longing of a group of birds who desire to know the great Simorgh, and who, under the guidance of a leader bird, start their journey toward the land of Simorgh. One by one, they drop out of the journey, each offering an excuse and unable to endure the journey. Each bird has a special significance, and a corresponding didactic fault. The guiding bird is the hoopoe, while the nightingale symbolizes the lover. The parrot is seeking the fountain of immortality, not God, and the peacock symbolizes the “fallen soul” who is in alliance with Satan.

The birds must cross seven valleys in order to find the Simorgh: Talab (Yearning), Ishq (Love), Ma’rifat (Gnosis), Istighnah (Detachment), Tawheed (Unity of God), Hayrat (Bewilderment) and, finally, Fuqur and Fana (Selflessness and Oblivion in God). These represent the stations that a Sufi or any individual must pass through to realize the true nature of God.

Within the larger context of the story of the journey of the birds, Attar masterfully tells the reader many didactic short, sweet stories in captivating poetic style. Eventually only thirty birds remain as they finally arrive in the land of Simorgh – all they see there are each other and the reflection of the thirty birds in a lake – not the mythical Simorgh. As the birds realize the truth, they now reach the station of Baqa (Subsistence) which sits atop the Mountain Qaf. […]”

I was inspired by this story for MAFA’s first exhibition. I felt a strong connection in using birds as a metaphor for describing asylum seekers and explaining the perfection through unity of diversities. And also for beginning the journey.

The exhibition was launched at The Sandpit Gallery, 148A Barkly Street, St Kilda, Melbourne on Sunday 9 November 2014. It is now known as The Laneway Artspace St Kilda.

For the complete poem see: Conference of the Birds poem by Attar

For images of the opening day and postcard see: Conference of the Birds