Arts and Culture
For cultures throughout the world, doorways and portals hold great meaning in their roles as gateways—for protection, to keep outsiders out, to shield or hold insiders in. A doorway or opening as a definitive physical space often represents a distinct point of transformation or transition: a threshold, or even a place of danger. Artists have long applied inscriptions, decorative elements, texts, patterns, and other visual markers to these crossover points as a way to manipulate space and to harness protective powers. In this paper, traditional delineations of culture, geography, and history are set aside in order to allow for a more fluid comparison of the uses, relationalities, and connections found across a sampling of these talismanic devices in the Indian Ocean World. The transmission and abstraction of patterns, their applications, and their messages travel from Asia to East Africa, from North Africa to Europe and beyond, in a diverse range of mediums. This method of comparison is a focus on what Finbarr Barry Flood refers to as the “talismanic potential” of transnational and cross-cultural motifs and patterns, and especially their performative dimensions at the spiritual and meaningful point of the threshold.