Elisabeth Bolza was born in 1968 of Italian and Austro-Hungarian descent. She was raised in Germany and studied interior decoration at the Instituto di Arte e Restauro Palazzo Spinelli in Forence. In 1990 she moved to Seville and began her career as a visual artist. Inspired by the cultural tradition of medieval Spain (al-Andalus), she added modern literary Arabic to her command of English, French, German, Italian and Spanish and she plunged into the artistic traditions Ottoman Turkey, Safavid Iran and Mughal India.
As she has become known for her modern interpretation of those great traditions, Elisabeth Bolza has participated in cultural projects in various Middle Eastern countries, has been invited to exhibit in museums and had her works taken up in art foundations and private collections in Europe, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, India, Australia, Mexico, Canada and the United States.
This is how she describes her motivation :
The "candle" I light is to illuminate the many centuries when Islamic – Arab, Persian, Indian, Turkish and Spanish – artists, poets, philosophers and scientists were regarded by our European ancestors as their guides out of the Dark Ages that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. For me, it is not an anachronism but a humane mission to attempt in my chosen medium to recover the obliterated values of a rich and refined civilization, one to which we owe much and from which we can still gain much. So my "candle" is not only aesthetic, although I hope the viewer will find it beautiful, but also spiritual. I intend it to be one of united prayer, an appeal to our common humanity, and a shared quest for eternal values.
Since I am neither Arab nor Muslim, one might ask what has inspired me, what is it that I am trying to say? On first impression, the viewer might see my work as a collection of ornamental images and colors assembled to delight, but I intend it to be more than that. I am inspired by the residues of the civilization of al-Andalus -- medieval Spain – among which I live and work, although contact with historic buildings and manuscripts is only the starting point. I try to capture the inner grace, beauty and “balance” of that civilization. Al-Andalus was a moment of history when the social, intellectual and aesthetic forces of Jews, Christians and Muslims, peoples of Europe, Africa and Asia, created an environment in which an enjoyment of diversity within an overarching sense of humanity led to a shared concept of beauty. The peoples of this fragile culture took time to enrich their lives with delights, that today we often overlook, or short-circuit in the ever-accelerating, ever more interconnected rush and tumble of the age of the Internet. I celebrate their long attention span on matters of beauty and I seek to derive from their artistry, memories of their delicately balanced civilization, manifested as it was in a great variety of forms, textures, colors, values and thoughts.
I am concerned with inter-cultural discourse as a unifying force, based on universal human and spiritual values. Through the use of architectonic elements, my layering or juxtaposing of often contrasting elements and the use of transparencies, my work also references the inter-connection of historic heritage and how it relates to our contemporary world.
I see my work as a voyage. It began with the old cities that can still evoke memories, such as Florence, where I first studied, and Seville, my present home and the vibrant center of al-Andalus. I came to these experiences with an eye already honed by the less tangible but real musical, literary and artistic heritage of my Austro-Hungarian and Italian family roots, although these influences were only the "port" of departure. As I have explored, my experience and my lust for learning have grown, both open ended, never aimed at a final or single destination. My artistic expression has evolved as I have put together a coherent pattern of my heritage and my personal experience. My work has deepened into a celebration of a time in history when, at least in the part of the world that I have made my home, Christians, Muslims and Jews found a way to live and thrive together, creating the most refined and sophisticated civilization of the Middle Ages. It is also a journey to seek out the interconnections between cultures and peoples, the subtle layering of influences and sensitive formation of human ties. Thus, I seek also to contribute toward bridge building in our sadly divided world.
My journey has taken time. As I studied and experimented, lived and matured, I have filled my bags with the elements I need for my work. From my very first experiments, I realised that the tools and the materials must not be allowed to dominate the message, so I have grounded my work in what my subjects had in medieval times: paint, paper, ink, wood or metal are my materials and visual images, poetry and calligraphy my means of expression. I have gone back to al-Andalus to find a rich tradition and have viewed it, as a modern Westerner, with recognition and respect.
At the same time, my work is intrinsically spontaneous and intuitive, a personal and intimate means of expression. It is something I need to do for myself. I look for harmony and equilibrium, maybe to counterbalance the fractures and destruction of our divided world, maybe also to retain my own equilibrium. But I have also found that I must bridge the gap between a “moment” of cultural balance and pervasive xenophobic violence, between idealised and artistic views of civilization and the actual tendency to destroy. These are not just modern themes. They run through history. I found a tension – as did Freud, Jung and others – between something like the "life principle" and the "death principle." Balance is fleeting, beauty fragile, and the challenge of catching and recording it demands both skill and respect. In my art, I am inspired by the words of the former Secretary General of the United Nations, U Thant: "it is not tolerance, which after all is condescending, but enjoyment of difference that is the only sure road to peace in the world."
I hope that the observer will see that enjoyment in my works.