Rumi, an 13th-century Persian mystic and spiritual teacher, is also an oft-quoted poet and philosopher who promoted unity among people of faith 800 years ago.
Rumi's reflection 'Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart,' describes the work of artist Haydar Hatemi, whose exhibit 'Stories of the Messengers' will be on display at the Headley-Whitney Museum starting today.
A native of Iran, Hatemi lived for many years in Turkey and came to the United States in 1997 on a special worker visa and settled with his wife, Shams, in Lexington because his sons were attending the University of Kentucky.
In 2001, Hatemi began studying the Torah, the Bible and the Koran, finding similar stories in each text.
'Most prophets are mentioned in all three,' Hatemi said through his son, Lachin, a medical student at the University of Kentucky who interprets for his father.
'Those prophets came to the world for a purpose,' Hatemi said, 'and it was time to listen to what they have to say.'
The local exhibit is the result of Hatemi's research. The 27 paintings, he said, are intended to 'bring people of faith under the same umbrella, so they will start listening to each other.'
The exhibit is Hatemi's first in the United States, but he has royal fans elsewhere. Hatemi works under the patronage of Prince Al-Thani, the crown prince of Qatar, and much of the work that Hatemi produces in the studio of the basement of his Lexington home is shipped to the palace and parliament of Qatar
The collection at Headley-Whitney includes portraits of Jesus and Rumi, and such scenes as Adam and Eve in the garden, Noah's ark, and Joseph in the well, and are described by verses in both the Old Testament and the Koran.
To create the paintings, Hatemi used his signature technique, tezhip, a method of ornamentation that uses 24-carat gold, applied with hairline brushes to create detail that has been described as 'breathtaking.'
'Through his art, Hatemi depicts the similarities rather than the differences in world religions, using sacred texts,' said Sarah Henrich, executive director of the Headley-Whitney Museum. 'We're very excited to have his first American exhibition.'
He is completing work on paintings of Mecca, Medina and the Dome of the Rock, the three holiest sites in Islamic tradition, that measure 12 feet by 15 feet.
'My father doesn't work only in miniatures,' said Lachin.
Hatemi loves to give his paintings as gifts, and many examples of his work, gifts he has given his wife and sons, adorn the walls of his home.
Hatemi paints on many surfaces in addition to canvas and displays work on an ivory comb and wood. He works in watercolors, oils, and tempura and is also an accomplished sculptor. His sculpture of birds can been seen at Tehran's Argentina Square, but he calls his work in miniatures as 'my specialty and my favorite.'
'Sometimes he doesn't work at all, and sometimes he works for 24 hours straight,' Lachin said. 'But he works on many things at one time.'
Said Hatemi: 'When I paint, I'll get an idea and move on to another painting, then get another idea and move again. And sometimes I'll finish that new idea before I go back to the painting I was working on first.'
Although he considers 'Stories of the Messengers' to still be a work in progress and would like to exhibit the collection in other galleries in other cities, Hatemi looks forward to the interfaith dialogue that the paintings will generate and hope people of many faith traditions will attend.