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Through photomurals and video visits, Passport to Paradise will offer glimpses of the domes, towers, elaborated fašades, and labyrinthine layout of a building complex in Senegal that is made entirely of straw, reed, and sticks. The structures are aesthetically stunning. As first encountered by the curators in 1994 (and illustrated in the photographs to the right), straw, reeds, and sticks of yellow and red hues were bundled with baling wire and juxtaposed in harmonious patterns across walls rising to seemingly perfect domes of straw. Triangular and bar motifs marched across the walls. The compound is the inspired creation of a holy man (marabout) named Serigne Omar Sy, accomplished by a group of young men living a monastic life with him. Amadu Bamba has come to Serigne Sy in dreams, explaining that he should recognize and venerate the reed pen (qalam) with which one writes the Word of God. Sufi poetry bears many references to a writer's intimate relationship with the pen, for with diligence and devotion, one can become "a pen in the hand of God." Serigne Sy and his men have realized this sense through what can be justly called an architecture of the Word. The fretwork of triangles and other forms are holy "words," Serigne Sy says, in an arabesque that conveys the rhythms and intentions of writing. The layout of the 1994 compound was a geomantic device ("magic square") that concentrated healing energy toward its central chamber. As construction proceeded, repairs were needed for earlier portions, making the place a monument to Bamba's philosophy of never-ending work for the glory of God. Serigne Sy is a controversial man, however, and the compound has been burned to the ground twice by those opposed to his visionary practices. The place's vulnerability must be an important aspect of its message, and without entering such an unfortunate fray, visitors to Passport to Paradise can easily appreciate the spiritual and artistic achievements of this wondrous architecture of the Word. Most intellectually staggering of all is the fact that Serigne Sy and his followers live in a sacred text as literally as can be imagined.

--------------Introduction : Rise of Islam : Life of a Saint : Mass Produced Imagery : Mouride Work Ethic
---Devotional Sanctum : Healing Prayers : Architecture : Apostles : Sainted Women : Global Networks : Pilgrimage