I was recently commissioned by the owners of Ziryab, a San Francisco Mediterranean restaurant located at 528 Divisadero Street (between Fell and Hayes). I was given carte-blanche and upon doing my research discovered some fascinating things about Islamic history. The more I learned about Ziryab, the more I was amazed at how insane it was that we were never taught anything about him. I understand the inclination to be northern european in historical focus, but some historical figures should transcend that kind of narrow thinking. Let me introduce you to the man whose accomplishments inspired Leonardo d'Vinci; Abu I-Husan, better known by his nickname: Ziryab.
Born in Baghdad 789 AD, Abu I-Husan ‘Ali Ibn Nafi’ quickly rose to fame for his superb oud (a stringed instrument he later modified to become the lute, and eventually the guitar) performances and his ability to recount over 10,000 songs from memory. His nickname, “Ziryab” means blackbird in Spanish, and was given to him for his black skin and beautiful voice. When he was 24 years old, Ziryab traveled 3,100 miles along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to his final destination, the enlightened city of Cordoba Spain where he became the court musician for Abd al-Rahman II. He revolutionized the court at Córdoba making it the stylistic capital of its time. His inventions include: the fork, multi-course dining, operatic style singing, the lute, asparagus as a food, fashion seasons, wearing different clothes at different times of the day, hair styles, shaving the face, and the first form of the piano. He opened the first school of music in Cordoba and is considered the founder of Andalusian music traditions. Ziryab life transcended music and style making him an important revolutionary cultural figure of 8th and 9th century Iberia.
Concept: I gathered antique imagery with a map of the Mediterranean to visualize Ziryab's journey. This map shows his 9 year 3,100 mile journey from Baghdad, his birthplace, along the Mediterranean coast and across the sea to Spain, where he spent the remainder of his life in the enlightened city of Cordoba.
The images framing the map include; Baghdad, Morrocco, Tangiers, Gibralter, Damascus and Cordoba.
Singing Ziryab with medieval lute and fork
Concept: Ziryab, as a blackbird, holds two of his inventions under his wing, the lute and the fork. I used a William Morris textile pattern as a background. The one I selected was from his medieval inspired series which features birds. The fork is based on a medieval fork similar to the one Ziryab invented in 800AD, I added the third tine to make it easier to understand as a fork. The lute is also similar to the first lute which Ziryab invented by modifying the oud.
Wall Lamp | Ziryab flying over a sea of music
Concept: Ziryab, as a blackbird, flies over a sea of music. The sheet music I selected is Dire Straits hit "Sultan's of swing. I selected this song because Mark Knopler identified the guitar method as Andalusian (which Ziryab is credited with being the "grandfather of..."). Ziryab was famous for being able to recall 10,000 songs from memory. He opened the first school of music in Cordoba Spain and is also considered the inventor of opera and operatic singing method. I also incorporated sea monsters commonly found in medieval maps from that time period.
Tree of life
Concept: Ziryab, as a blackbird, sings from his perch in the tree of life. The tree is based on the famous mosaic which was created duringZiryab's lifetime. The mosaic is located in the ancient city of Jericho. The different color leaves represent the four seasons; winter, fall, summer and spring.
Ziryab flies from Cordoba Spain to San Francisco
Concept: Ziryab, as a blackbird, flies from Cordoba Spain, across the ocean, past the Golden Gate Bridge, to take residence in the Alamo Square neighborhood.
The newly renovated restaurant re-opened August 31st, 2013 and was an instant hit. The newly returned chef made fantastic food and the new mixologist created wonderful drinks. The illuminated art lamps were well received. I am proud of my work and hope that in some small way it helps bring to American conscience the amazing creativity of the Muslim artist- Ziryab.