And your Lord inspired the Bee by Laura Russell


Book One of my Show & Tell Chapbook Series was created for the Shadow and Light photography project curated by Beau Beausoleil, a project of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Coalition. This book honors Karem Mohsen, PhD lecturer at the Department of Agriculture, College of Agronomy, Basra University, Iraq. Beau told me that Dr. Mohsen was killed on 10 April 2006. He worked in the field of honeybee production. Lecturers and students called for a demonstration to protest his assassination. [Source: al-Basrah, April 11, 2006]

In my research I ran across the following “hadith” or record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Hadiths are revered as a major source of religious law and moral guidance, second only to the authority of the Quran.

And your Lord inspired the Bee, build your dwellings in hills, on trees, and in (human’s) habitations. Then eat of all fruits, and follow the ways of your Lord, made easy (for you).’ There comes forth from their bellies a drink of varying colour wherein is a healing for men. Verily, in this is indeed a sign for people who think. [Al-Quran 16:68-69]

This text made me reflect on the interconnected nature of insects, animals, plants and people and how we are all one, dependent on each—just as the Lord designed. How then could this Dr. Mohsen, who I imagined tending his beehives in solitude and prayer, be assassinated this work, his life’s passion? How could such work studying nature’s precious creatures be an offense? How much might we have learned from his continued research? When I think about the anguish his students must have felt I can only hope that their pain fueled their own passion to carry on with his research and to continue to be “a sign for people who think.”

The original poem I wrote to accompany the photograph reads:

And your Lord inspired the Bee.
So says the Quran,

a hadith by the Prophet Mohammed.

There comes forth from their bellies

a drink- of varying colour

wherein is a healing for men.

Verily, in this is indeed

a sign for people who think.

Bees are venerated in this hadith.
Diligence, sacrifice, knowledge,
an example for humankind,

the importance of collective.

Insects, animals, plants, people,
at once, related, dependent, endangered,
creatures of the Quran,
creatures of God.

Karem Mohsen, PhD, Basra, Iraq,
professor of the honeybee.
Always, always in the service of bees
tending his hives in solitude, in prayer.

For this, targeted, assassinated

10 April 2006.
Fellow lecturers and students rise up,
demonstrate, protest, honor. Anguish.

Again and again, academics, erased,
intimidated for lighting

the interconnected nature of life itself,
of knowledge and truth,

of shadow and light.

A sign for people who think.

Artist Bio

Laura Russell is a photographer and book artist who creates hand-bound, limited-edition artist books that incorporate photographs of our urban landscape and tell a story about our culture and our communities. She has participated in national and international book arts and fine art exhibitions. Her books are collected by individual collectors and are in major collections at museums, libraries, universities and corporations. Laura is also the founder of 23 Sandy Gallery, a fine art gallery in Portland, 2007-2020, which is now owned and operated by Erin Mickelson.

Artist Statement

My goal as an artist is to open our minds to the visual and graphic landscape we look at every day but never really see. If we pay attention, we find that our urban landscape has a story to tell about our culture and our communities. For many years I have photographed vintage neon signs, brick wall ghost signs, graffiti and other examples of language and graphics in our environment. Recently, I have since expanded my photography to our urban social landscape. I use these photographs to create limited edition, hand-bound artist books that are at once a celebration of the vernacular and my own small effort to preserve our social, cultural and commercial landscape.