I’ve seen a lot of calligraphy lately, between the Metropolitan Museum’s reopened Islamic Art galleries and the Morgan’s Islamic manuscript painting show. In both exhibitions, the artists interpret stories, poetry, and religious texts not just through illustrations but through the lettering itself. Natasha Bowdoin’s sculptural collages are also transcriptions of literature, though the words are illegible and her authors of choice include Lewis Carroll, Jorge Luis Borges, and Herman Melville.
Bowdoin’s current solo show at Monya Rowe Gallery focuses on Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Bowdoin made cut-outs of passages from the poems “I Sing the Body Electric,” “To a Stranger,” and “Roots and Leaves Themselves Alone,” layering and intertwining the words into new forms. It’s one way of interpreting Whitman’s celebration of form and sensuality: “if the body were not the Soul, what is the Soul?” Perhaps Whitman would have imagined the illuminated Leaves of Grass as something like Bowdoin’s riotous, three-dimensional collages.