Cell Gallery: Constellationscape works by Asma Sultana
Our collective imaginations once connected the bright lights of the night sky in patterns meaningful to them: gods, heroes, and animals. Their lives entwined with mythologies and each culture since prehistory used these pattern to make sense of their lives in this vast universe. Modern astronomy now identifies eighty-eight constellations that mapped the celestial sphere with their continuous boundaries and with the calculus of a celestial coordinate system can specify the position of any celestial object within these constellations. Now we also know that from earth each of those objects are so far away that we need to use the speed of light to measure the distance and every ingredient in our body is made from the elements forged by stars, we are made of star stuff, as Carl Sagan once famously said or Rumi more poetically, we are stars wrapped in skin.
But without knowing these facts I fell in love with the mesmerizing beauty of night sky very early in my life. It appealed to me not only in aesthetics but also its power to remind us of our insignificant yet infinitely precious life. We all inherited this love and connections to the sky, later reinforced by rhymes, folklores and mythical stories through countless generations. I remember those nights watching sky in rural Bangladesh away from the pollution of city lights, the amazing feeling of discovering the patterns and recognizing the constellations with all their culture-specific nomenclatures. I used to gaze at the stars hours after hours and learned shapes and names of the constellation as many as I could.
I read the stories about them, the Orion, the hunter who lost his vision for love and later angered the earth goddess Gaia with his arrogance, or the insensitive Cassiopeia who decided to sacrifice her daughter Andromeda to appease god or the impossible fate of Perseus who later saved princess Andromeda or the great bear, known since prehistory, named after seven sages by the ancient Indian astronomers, once guided the ancient mariners to find pole star before the age of compass, and how the seven sad daughters of Atlas immortalized as the Pleiades and many more. These mythical stories of human lives with all its complexity opened a window for me. I could relate to those stories love, hate, abandonment, betrayals, despair and the wrath of gods as well as the indomitable human spirit resilient with an everlasting hope by seeing fragments of myself in them.
Another surprising fact reminded us that the imaginary lines creating patterns of connected stars that are located light years away from each other and also in a different plane and how they change their shapes over many thousands of years. But from the perspective of the earth, they seem close to each other like chalk lines connecting the dots in an immense blackboard. If we could shift our perspective and look at the earth from somewhere distant, like, at the end of last century, Voyager did, our planet is just a tiny speck of dust in the vast expanse of space, the pale blue dot. However here on this planet, we are oblivious to our cosmic insignificance and we pride in our self-importance. Instead of connecting we are all moving further apart from each other as well from nature.
So often in personal lives, we felt displaced and disconnected. At birth, we separated ourselves from the womb with a promise of life, and we made connections as we go through our lives. A life soon to be enriched by the myriads of relationships. We disconnect ourselves from our homeland and we connect ourselves with a different land, in this process of connection and disconnection, we live our lives. As if we are carrying a set of constellations within us and we can imagine and re-imagine the lines and create a pattern of relationships in our own internal sphere, locating anything on this perceived universe through a coordinate system inbuilt in our mind. When we look at the sky it also reminds us what Sagan once told, it is our responsibility to be kind with each other, preserve and cherish our pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.