Archive for April 2009

Building blocks

April 30, 2009

This building for the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, was apparently inspired by the famous mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, Egypt.

It’s a lovely modern design with distinctive shapes forming the overall structure (like the kind of blocks that kids play with) and its location surrounded by water allows it to stand out clearly in the landscape.

Museum of Islamic Art - Doha, Qatar

Museum of Islamic Art - Doha, Qatar - Image from Qatar Museums Authority

Ibn Tulun mosque - Cairo, Egypt. Image from www.wahyuinqatar.wordpress.com

Ibn Tulun mosque - Cairo, Egypt. Image from http://www.wahyuinqatar.wordpress.com

Looking at the images on their website, it is actually quite easy to see the evolution from the old design of the  Ibn Tulun mosque to this new design and yet the old still looks as grand as the new. And even though thisn ew building is not a mosque it does share some of the architectural features that are prevalent in most. For example the bridge that links the building to the land has a central oblong of greenery which is reminiscint of the water ways that lead up to many of the worlds famous mosques including the Alhambra and also the Taj Mahal.

Alhambra, Spain - Image from Wikpedia

Alhambra, Spain - Image from Wikpedia

Not to mention those mosques that are surrounded by water or lie on river banks such as this one in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur (below).

Mosque in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur

Mosque in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur - Image from http://www.stuckincustoms.com

Btw I think that’s some remarkable photography!

And here’s one more:

Mosque on water - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Image from Wikimedia

Mosque on water - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Image from Wikimedia

Looking back at the museum, there are also the two towers at the back which look very much like Minarets – the towers from which the calls to prayer are usually announced from Mosques. There are the windows and entrance ways which are mostly arched.

This deliberate choice of features forms a strong link to the history of Arab architecture, for the most part because Islamic and Arab architecture is basically known as the same thing and this didn’t really make a mark in history until the first Mosques were built.

A museum such as this will therefore need to reflect the movement of architectural styles through time and yet convey the origins from which is arises. By using the look of a mosque the building is given a higher status too as an important place for gatherings.

Luckily most public buildings in Muslim countries are built with prayer facilities so anyone who is mistakenly drawn to the building for this purpose will hopefully not be too disappointed.

You can see and read more about the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha here: http://www.mia.org.qa/english/index.html#about/build

And for those interested in seeing photos of 100 beautiful mosques from around the world here you go: http://muslimworker.com/2009/03/100-beautiful-mosque-pictures-around-world/

With the good comes the bad

April 24, 2009

…ok maybe not always but sometimes and certainly in this case. We’ve had half the carpet put in the house now; this includes my room and the two loft rooms that we added a few months ago.

It means I can finally move my stuff from storage back into my room and stop living out of bags. The down side is that I actually liked living up in the loft with the sun shining through the skylights. It meant that I was able to work with natural light for longer and also because there was no carpet I could do as much spray painted canvas art as I liked without worrying where it might disperse.

laser cut mdf stencil

laser cut mdf stencil

Using the MDF stencil that I had laser cut from my pattern a few weeks ago (above), I’ve created a new canvas piece. It’s been a bit difficult to decide when the painting is finished because it has a layered effect and I could just keep going but there’s always a risk that the next layer might make it look less pleasing to me.

I’ve stopped it here – I received some good feedback from family and friends so far:

16x16 canvas

16x16 canvas

Canvas close-up

Canvas close-up

The painting has a sort of pastelly/chalky effect with the spraying having gone a bit blurry at the edges of the patterns but this also allowed for a gradient fade effect where I’ve got two colours merging. I added white beneath the blue as an outline shadow effect to make the blue standout more clearly against the green. I think the bright colours work well together here. Originally it was just white on green and it looked too stark. So then I added the blues and yellows and I think it looks much better like that.

So yeh now I’m in a bit of a pickle because I want to do more of these but other than doing it on the pavement outside my home (clearly not ideal) there aren’t many more options. At uni there are limited rooms and although I could use the old play-ground or parking area I wouldn’t want to ship all my things there – I would need a minivan! Even then it would be useless as I’m only ever in once a week and would be left doing tiny bits at a time.

Ergh…

Arabic Calligraphy – final curtain

April 20, 2009

I recently completed the Arabic Calligraphy Naskh script classes I was attending. These have been really insprirational, productive and enjoyable.

Mustafa Jafar did a great job of sharing the technique of traditional calligraphy using reed pens and ink and also a couple of inside tips for doing larger peices which became very handy for our final pieces. He also showed us many historial examples over the weeks of Islamic calligraphy and illumination (both secular and religious) from the famous eras of the Ottomans, Persians, Mughals, etc.

In our last class we were to present our final pieces and the only requirement was that we use the line provided by Mustafa and recreate it in our own way. Therefore there was a great emphasis on presentation and creativity through this.

I think we all got a bit competitive too with these final pieces but in a healthy and humourous way, or maybe it was just me and my sister trying to outdo eachother? Anyway as a result of this we ended up doing multiple pieces. Below are images of my three  (the second one Habibah my 9 yr old sister helped to decorate) 🙂

dsc00876

dsc00875

dsc00874

And here are images of the rest of the class’s work and Mustafa discussing each one and also encouraging us to pursue calligraphy further and also explore and experiment different ways of using it.

Before, during and after (pt3): Unveiled – Saatchi Gallery

April 17, 2009

This post is a continuation of the previous two parts:
Before, during and after – Part one
Before, during and after – Part two

After After much contemplation I wonder if ‘Unveiled’ was a deliberate choice of name intended to provoke feelings of negativity? The use of the word ‘unveiled’ means that something is usually bought to everyone’s attention – something that might have been hidden behind the veil? Posters using images from Shadi Ghadrian’s ‘Like Everyday Series’ seem to give the impression that the content of the exhibition is largely related to a Muslim’s way of life and therefore a truth is being uncovered.

As it is Muslim women that wear the veil, this is a direct link of association. However, unknown to the general public, not all women wearing a veil did so just because they were made to, or, as everyone is led to believe, because they are oppressed. The women in this country are a great example – they have no social, local or political pressure to do so. If anything, it is going against the social norm to do so and they are facing up to society’s criticism. So when someone then sees that poster of a large hijab (scarf) and only an iron, pan or knife in the middle where the face should be, what are they likely to think? That a Muslim woman has no identity and is only distinguished by her domesticity?

As a young Muslim living in this country I think it is so important to educate others and give them the opportunity to discover new things. There were a few items in this show that were great to see. Others I personally would have left out. If I could question one thing about the exhibition it would be if there was any thought about how the public would be educated about the cultures and roots of the artists and if that was done fairly? Art is a great form of communication and if we could use that to spread some understanding and not ridicule or scrutiny then it would be very useful to forming an open-minded society.

I wonder at the motivations of the artists I’ve discussed above and Andy suggested I try and contact them. This is not going to be an easy task but I think I’ll give it a shot. You never know – the stuff in the brochure might just have been written to provoke reactions and encourage visits to the exhibition?

I’ll keep you posted of any replies I get.

This whole exhibition has provoked many thoughts with me, and because of the many contradictory aspects of individual works, it has led me to question my own agenda in being an artist and my own reasoning behind what I produce. Does my work have to be Islamic? If I am Islamic, will my work not automatically be Islamic too?

Below are further images from the exhibition:

Before, during and after (pt2): Unveiled – Saatchi Gallery

April 15, 2009

This post is a continuation from the previous: Before, during and after (pt1): Unveiled – Saatchi Gallery

During my walk around the exhibition I was quite surprised by the vast amount of space and the room given to the work. There was also a very mixed collection of mediums – the first one I encountered was the large rubber map of Beirut on the ground floor. In a way this kind of sets the background to the rest of the exhibition – location and geography is a big issue and you can’t get more focussed on that than with this map. This subject is something that connects all the artists that were featured – their roots. They all seemed to have something to say about their origin and the cultures that came with them.

Beirut Caoutchouc by Marwan Rechmaoui

Beirut Caoutchouc by Marwan Rechmaoui

I liked the larger pieces and am always pleasantly amazed at how artists manage to produce work at such large scales, for example the towers by Diana Al-Hadid. These are not exactly pleasing to the eye and you need to look closer to see what they are made up of. ‘All the Stops’ was made with piano keys and tubes and various other musical references, structured like an organ and made from random bits of paper, card, styrofoam and painted to look almost like a grotesque organic form. According to the brochure this intentional appearance contributes to highlight the destruction of globalisation.

An 'Impossible structure' by Diana Al-Hadid

An 'Impossible structure' by Diana Al-Hadid

There were three such towers – “impossible architecture” – all similar but completely different in structure and parts. ‘The Tower of Infinite Problems’ lying on its side in two parts, was the one I preferred due to the way you had to walk around the whole thing in order to see it properly and to see how the two parts made a whole. Walking right to the far end of the room and viewing it from that side gave a completely different view. From this end it looked like a tube that gets narrower and made up of layers of hexagons getting infinitely smaller and smaller. There were also beehive like patterns on the outer layers which are quite obscurely cut and arranged in no particular way other than the need to create the basic structure. This produced quite a contrast to the inner layers, the outer looking a bit destructive but the inner with straight edges and hexagons forming neat and regular lines.

The Tower of Infinite Problems

The Tower of Infinite Problems

I have to say I dwelled more on the ones that held instant appeal for me. But gave enough time to the ones that didn’t in order to ‘give them a chance’ to ‘set an impression’. For example I would look closely at the work, suss out the techniques used and the message being conveyed if I could. It was definitely a good thing that I chose to buy the ‘brochure’ as I don’t think I read art at all the same way that others do. I guess i’m more of a literalist – in the common/contemporary sense of the word.

It was definitely a good thing that I chose to buy the ‘brochure’ in the end as I don’t think I read art at all the same way that others do. I guess I’m more of a literalist – in the common/contemporary sense of the word.

This post is already getting very long and in order to prevent this taking another month or so I cannot comment on all the pieces I saw, many of them were impressive, maybe only because of the sheer size of them, use of colours, shapes, forms and sometimes subject. I cannot claim to understand all the pieces I saw but there are a select few I must mention.

Ghost by Kader Attia. This one took up a whole room and as can be seen it looked like a room full of women kneeling in mid prayer. These women look to be covered in shawls made from tinfoil. But you walk further along and realise that the women are hollow shells, the foil being the only thing to convey their shape. The technique is very cool. In trying to guess how the realistic forms were produced you’d imagine that the artist got someone to sit in the position required and wrapped them in the foil and then pressed it down to make it compact and tight and then somehow got them to come out of the binding without tearing the whole thing apart. Obviously there must have been a more efficient method but it highly interesting to contemplate it. Especially as each ‘woman’ looks unique and individual with a slightly different pose.

Ghost by Kader Attia

Ghost by Kader Attia


Ghost by Kader Attia

Ghost by Kader Attia

Now in this brochure it says the figures “synthesise the abject and divine” possibly because when in prayer a person is in their most humble state before God. The divine is not represented in this piece but the belief in it is. So where it goes on to say that this work questions “modern ideologies – from religion to nationalism and consumerism – in relation to individual identity, social perception, devotion and exclusion” it’s almost like the person who is writing this is trying to tick as many boxes as they can. I don’t know if this is what the artist supplied but until I do know I agree that issues of identity and social perception are the key elements communicated through this. Religion is the big one. How the women represent devotion to the Divine is clear to see and something I can relate to as a Muslim. This is something that poses many questions for me too as an artist – something I will be discussing in future posts.

I would also like to mention that I find it intriguing that in this work Attia decided to leave the faces invisible. I would be interested to know if this decision was in any way related to the idea that some Muslims believe it is not correct to portray living beings in Islam (unless completely necessary – e.g photos for ID cards etc) and especially when it comes to distinguishing facial features within art work.

Moving on I would like to mention – ‘Men of Allah’ by Ramin Haerizadeh. This is one that stood out for me – and not for the usual reasons. The images were an array of colourful, digitally manipulated body parts, small patterns and ‘tattoos’ entwining on a very dark background – therefore clear and focussed. I read the title of the work ‘Men of Allah’ and what struck me first was the amount of flesh being displayed in the work. Now the average person may not know why this is significant. But I shall explain this in just a minute.

Looking back in my ‘handy’ brochure there are several paragraphs about this collection of these images. They are based on Taaziye theatre, “a historic genre” in which very often only men are allowed to act in telling the stories of the life of the Prophet Muhammad (May peace and blessings of God be upon him). “In these photos Haerizadeh draws upon this religious ritual to stage scenes with the surreal dynamics of computer animation…” I could appreciate this work for just the medium and techniques used but that would be impossible. The method of producing as well that the intention for producing, the communication it involves and its impact are what makes a work of art what it is.

‘Allah’ is the Arabic word for God. It is used in the Qur’an as the word for God and therefore is used by Muslims. ‘Men of Allah’ therefore translates to ‘Men of God’. In the usual sense what does this mean? Perhaps someone who devotes themselves to God, the belief in Him and everything involved in the worship of Him. So far no problem right? Well let’s carry on.

Back to the brochure: “Haerizadeh’s men evolve as bacchant gods, conveying a literary mysticism in their carnal revelry…Haerizadeh reworks the codes of gender, body and sexuality. Intimately grouped and provocatively posed… in a perverse harem…epicurean and exotic”. So for anyone wondering if I was being over the top, there’s the proof from the brochure itself.

Now with this religious context in view and the use of the selected title a person who knows about this is going to wonder why the actual work holds no respect to the teachings to which it is connected.
Ok finally to the point I’m trying to make. If you’re going to even consider doing work that has any connection with the divine, spiritual, and sacred it is only right to do so with the utmost respect. I know artists who work with words/letters/poetry, producing the most beautiful artwork and even though they do not use the human form in any way they do not even go near the religious side of things. Hearizadeh clearly chose to convey an aspect of Iranian religious culture (as performing arts is not traditionally endorsed by Islamic belief) through a not so sensitive approach and as a result I find this offensive and would not be surprised if others did too.

Another collection of work in the exhibition which I can safely term as ‘controversial’ would be the ‘Tehran Prostitutes’ by Shirin Fakhim. There are a number of these life-sized puppets scattered about the room. They are made up of an array of household items and fabrics, for example knitting needles, yarns of wool and bits of lace. The body parts look to be made from sacks of cloth stuffed with more fabric, very scarecrow like. They are very scantily dressed in women’s underwear and some have abayas (long black covering worn by Muslim women) draped over the shoulders in a dishevelled manner with the revealing and vulgar and ill-fitted lingerie on full display. The impression of ‘ladies of the night’ is definitely achieved using a stark ‘in your face’ approach. I didn’t want to look at these for longer than I needed to. I know it’s a reality of life – women around the world are involved in this illicit behaviour but I was slightly confused by the artist’s choice of addressing the issue?

I guess exhibiting this kind of work in a Muslim country would have been very risky for the artist. Therefore this kind of exhibition offers them a level stage where there will not be as much judgement and scorn towards their work.

Flesh on display is taboo enough let alone an underworld of prostitution which the average and common public tend to ignore. Then there are the additional signs of other illegal and black market activity:
“Issues such as female genital mutilation, transgender orientation, homosexuality and cross-dressing are all awkwardly broached through her vulgar approximations of stitched crotches and mismatched private-bits, confusing the brutal, illicit, forbidden and desirous.” There is something of a shock-value here, right?
There is an underworld of prostitution even in Muslim countries where fornication and adultery are against Islamic law let alone this array of activity. But it still thrives because there are women – and according to the above even men – out there who need money and as long as there is demand there will be supply.

Fakhim, however, has chosen to treat this serious subject with humour and uses the situations of the ‘characters’ and the lives they portray as one big joke – ok maybe that is a bit harsh but it’s certainly not sensitive; “Fakhim ironically stages this menagerie as a source of ridicule, provocatively placing items such as alms baskets and air fresheners to illustrate public scorn and social stigma.” So in the end the purpose of this work is simply to highlight the situation and how it is placed within a strict culture but as the majority of people will agree it is something unwanted in general society – is there not a better message that can be conveyed? If we were made to feel sorry for these people and be led to think of how they could be helped instead of laughing at them – perhaps that would be more effective? Utopia doesn’t exist but there’s nothing wrong in trying to make this a better world.

Before, during and after (pt1): Unveiled – Saatchi Gallery

April 14, 2009

I’ve spent so long writing this post and procrastinating over it too – it’s been in my draft posts section for almost a month and for some reason it has conjured a lot of questions in my mind. At the same time I’ve been discussing these in the last two tutorials with John and in informal and brief chats with Andy and even a couple of my peers. The visit to the Saatchi gallery basically coincided with my personal exploration of what Islamic Art is. I think this is one topic I’ll be addressing continuously throughout my MA.

This has led me to question whether I need to make sure I just stick to what I know to be Islamic Art? But then seeing what other artists out there call Islamic Art is necessary – after all this is where I will be placing my own work, amongst today’s Islamic artists.

There have been many other issues related to all this and my personal beliefs that have kept me from being able to complete this post in the usual hour or so that I would take. I think it’s mainly due to the array of work in this exhibition but I will try and explain how seeing the work triggered certain thoughts for me.
Btw – Due to how lengthy this text has become I will divide it in to three separate posts to make it easier to digest.

Before I went to this exhibition I thought I’d read up on it first. I don’t usually like having my first impressions influenced by reviews and other people’s opinions but this time I wanted to know more about the work and the artists in order to determine if it was worth going to – for some reason I had doubts. This could be because recently work from the Middle East has been more ‘out there’ and of a European/Western influence rather than something connected to its own roots as is evident in more traditional Middle Eastern art. I think there is something special about the traditional styles that have dispersed in more contemporary work. But this is just my opinion as is everything I say in this blog of course (except where I’ve quoted). I would like to take this opportunity to remind my readers that many of my posts are heavily opinionated and are no reflection of any other individuals or groups.

Having seen a couple images and articles about the exhibition I almost disregarded it. I thought ‘well none of this looks Islamic so how is it relevant?’ Well yeh that sounds really narrow minded because although it might not fit my definition of ‘Islamic Art’ it doesn’t mean it isn’t – right? And even then it isn’t being labelled as Islamic art so why should I object to the content. The cultural background could be relevant as they come from Islamic countries.

Then I found this article and it convinced me to take a look: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/reviews/unveiled-new-art-from-the-middle-east-saatchi-gallery-london-1522227.html

Unveiled is an exhibition of contemporary Middle Eastern art, Rahbar being Iranian. Or rather, like her flag, not quite. Born in Tehran in 1976, she has been in exile in Britain and America for most of her life, which means she is both a victim of Western domination and complicit in it. She is not alone in this. Only eight of the 19 artists in this show actually live in the Middle East, and only two of the seven women. (For them, presumably, “unveiled” has a more specific meaning.) The rest – notionally Algerian, Lebanese, Iraqi or Palestinian – make their art in Paris or Berlin or New York.

Some very relevant points were made in this article – touching on issues I’ve considered myself. I wonder if, like these artists I am greatly influenced by the pulls of two different cultures. My parents are Pakistani but I was born and bought up her and have lived here in London my whole life. And yet I don’t see those things as being what defines me. I don’t feel that I need to belong to any of those places – as long as I’m not rejected from either 😐 And more importantly I don’t think anyone has the right to say one way or the other.