Archive for September 2009

Jameel Prize 2009 – V&A

September 30, 2009

N.B – I started writing this post on 23 August 09 but due to the essay, finishing and publishing this was delayed.

Surfing the net I discovered that the V&A had opened a small gallery with work on display from the finalists of it’s Jameel Prize 2009. You may have heard of the famous Jameel Gallery which holds some of the world’s most famous Islamic artefacts. This prize is supported by the same guy who commissioned the Jameel gallery:

The Jameel Prize is a new international art prize launched by the V&A and supported by Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel. The Prize will be awarded to a contemporary artist or designer for work inspired by Islamic traditions of craft and design. (Taken from V&A’s site:

So on Wednesday (19-08-09) I went along to take a closer look.

Firstly we come across some of the other nominated work. The most eye-catching being Le Salon by Hassan Hajjaj.

It appeared that the corner of a cafe had been cut out from some foreign arab town and planted in the middle of the gallery. The vibrant colours made it stand out and the combination of prints on different textures encouraged an exploration of the ‘environment’. On close inspection I noted the Louis Vuitton covers on the seats sewn to the top of tin containers. As with every other object in this ‘salon’, the seats, tables shelf unit, all were made from everyday items. Most of which are heavily branded. It reminds me of Pakistan where, for some reason, nearly every bit of outside space is covered with advertisement and branding of popular products such as Coca-cola and Pepsi.

Le Salon by Hassan Hajjaj

Le Salon by Hassan Hajjaj

On the sign next to this peice installation it said ‘Interactive Installation, Multimedia’ I was a bit confused by this because having sat on the seats and moved around the objects I could not see nor hear anything happening in response to my movements. Later it came to me that perhaps what was meant by ‘multimedia’ was the traditional concept of multiple mediums in use. And the ‘interactive’ element was perhaps the fact that you are able to sit within the environment created by the work and are able to move some of the objects around.

Having studied a BSc in Multimedia I had developed my own understanding and opinion of what Multimedia is but only after coming across varied definitions and interpretations from researchers and practitioners alike. From what I have read and seen most people would regard multimedia to consist of either digital or electronic content that responds to an action. Therefore it is reactive to it’s surroundings or to something that is done to it.

In this example I believe that the term multimedia was referring to the combined elements of print, graphics, photography, textiles and crafts that were used. Nevertheless, I think it fulfilled the interactive purpose it was intended for as, visitors felt able to sit and take pictures on the provided seating.

Next was a large piece that was very familiar to me. I had seen it at the Word into Art exhibition in Dubai a few years ago. Ana by Susan Hefuna is a wooden structure made from pieces that form a pattern in its structure. Seeing from my picture this peice also plays with the light and dark with shadows being cast by the breaks in the patterns formed by the joint pieces. The combination of arabic text and pattern make this a memorable artwork for me.

Ana by Susan Hefuna

Ana by Susan Hefuna

Moving round the gallery there is a selection of different mediums in use and all with different themes too. It gives a clear impression that there are artists who are using their specialist areas of skill allowing them to create their artforms in unique styles.

A great example of this is the work of Sevan Biçakçi a Turkish Jewellery Designer. In this collection we have 5 rings which look very ornate from the regular viewing distance. However, on closer inspection (and you can only really get so close because these have been encased behind a glass enclosure) you can see that the large gem/stones that form the centre-piece of each ring actually holds something within. One looks to be the famous mosques of Istanbul, the colourful domes being the notables features of the buildings. The rings are quite large but it still must have been a painstaking process to create the miniature scenes on an within the rings.

Two of the five rings at the V&A by Sevan Bicakci

Two of the five rings at the V&A by Sevan Bicakci - Image from Nafas art magazine:

Another of the rings looks to be painted with the tiniest of mosaic murals – and if you look closely you can make out the image of a figure within this. The accuracy and detail is quite amazing and makes this entry more fun to gaze at just because you’ll be trying to spot something new. For detailed images and more information about Sevan Biçakçi you can visit his website at

The next entry was a recognisable name from the stylistic features of the medium you may also recognise a familiarity in it (see older post in which Abbas’s ‘Paper plates’ were mentioned: Hamra Abbas’ ‘Please do not step’ was stuck to the floor with an angular pesperctive to give the impression it was projected from above. It was position between the two rooms that make up the gallery and so it was impossible to pass through without stepping on the words spelt out by tiny peices of paper.

Please Do Not Step by Hamra Abbas

Please Do Not Step by Hamra Abbas

The words were constructed with Islamic patterns made from the tuck together pieces of paper, linked to form geometric shapes. On these papers were the words ‘Please Do Not Step: Loss of a Magnificent Story.’ repeated continuously. Looking on Abbas’s web site you can see that she has actually used the same method and medium in her other works and these have been presented in galleries in different ways. I still like the idea of all the small pieces being used to create a larger overall work.

Next to be mentioned is Seher Shah’s Jihad Pop. This is a massive wall piece framed behind glass but completed as a print on a very large paper. The detail is immense and the content slightly overwhelming. Taking the work in as a whole is almost impossible as you cannot see all the details from one vantage point. You can however, appreciate the work that has gone into it. You can also gauge that there are a few different topics being expressed within the peice. Firstly there is the perspective provided by architectural elements. There is then the geometric shapes that come through from this and the obvious cube formations which having been coloured black are reminiscent of the Kaaba (place of Muslim pilgrimage in Mecca and the direction to where we face when praying). Then there are all the smaller petal like shapes that conjoined look like a swarm clouding around different parts of the image.

Jihad Pop Progression 4 - Interior Courtyard 1 - by Seher Shah

Jihad Pop Progression 4 - Interior Courtyard 1 - by Seher Shah (image from

After walking from one end to the other a couple of times I then noticed some Arabic within the details around the Kaaba. This was  ‘Bismillah-ir-rahman-ir-raheem’ which translates to ‘In the name of God, the Beneficent the Merciful’. This is a very well known sentence from the Qur’an which is mentioned at the start of every new chapter. It is also used regularly as an invocation by Muslims on a daily basis before performing any act (mundane or otherwise).

As there are no human figures, or any un-Islamic elements to this work, the inclusion of the above sentence says to me ‘This is Islamic Art’. With a lot of other peices in the gallery there is a link or connection to perhaps an aesthetic familiar in Islamic Art or the cultures connected to Islamic countries. But this work displays the Kaaba as well as holy words from the Qur’an. On top of this, the piece is named Jihad Pop. Jihad is an Arabic term that translates to ‘struggle’, be this internal or external. What struggles is Shah referring to? The ones faced in Islamic countries? Or by Muslims in the West?

There is a slight chaotic nature to the piece and perhaps that was intentional. Is it an indication of how Islam is misunderstood? Or maybe it is the artist’s personal reflection of it?

Regardless of reading too much into the work – I do like this piece a lot. It incorporates many different stylistic features which seem both organic and synthetic at the same time but don’t conflict with eachother.

Now on to the winning piece – 1001 Pages. When I described this to a fellow student/friend at uni she knew why this was significant. The work, on the surface, sounds very similar to what I wanted to create myself at some stage of this project, if not as the final outcome.

1001 Pages by Afruz Amighi

1001 Pages by Afruz Amighi

Some of the similarities are the use of:

  • Light
  • Shadow
  • Patterns
  • Projection

‘1001 Pages’   is made from a thin sheet of white plastic which actually seems like fabric (this sheeting is used for making tents) that has been hand-cut by a stencil burner and hung from the ceiling. It is quite large and so comes down close to ground level.

It greatly reminds me of the windows and archways found in mosques and palaces that have cut-out designs for letting light and air in – similar to what you see in the image below taken at the Grand Mosque in Muscat:

Decorative window - Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman

Decorative window - Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman

The design that has been cut into the sheet is a combination of geometric shapes, vegetal patterns, birds and arched windows with further patterns within. A light is then projected through the sheet to produce a replica on the wall directly behind. The shadows cast from the patterns and intricate details that have been cut produce a lovely mirror image of light playing with dark. Opposites in colour as well as atmosphere – light contrasted to dark creates some brilliant effects.

Afruz Amighi created her work as a static piece – although with it hanging in midair you wonder if a slight breeze coming through the hall will have an interesting affect on the shadows being cast on the wall.

Detail of 1001 Pages - by Afruz Amighi

Detail of 1001 Pages - by Afruz Amighi (image from

This winning piece is probably an ideal example of where Islamic art has evolved. It is a contemporary piece that utilises current technology but combines hand-crafted skills too with the traditional look of Islamic patterns as used to decorate buildings and ornaments throughout it’s history. The combination of the two allow for the work to also seem timeless but with the added knowledge that geometric patterns go beyond cultural associations because it has a connection with universal aesthetics – i.e. nature and proportion, golden ratio, etc. Then there is the fact that this work could be termed as ‘digital art’ and is moving with the trends – keeping up with the latest form of artistic expression or perhaps just presentation. Whatever the purpose, it doesn’t detract from the look and feel that is generated, if anything it seems approriate to have a projector within a gallery space. And a gallery space which is dedicated to current art work rather than antiques. Islamic Art is alive and thriving!

And to prove this I am aiming to create an installation that is interactive, so hopefully with the incorporation of my chosen design and technical elements the work will be of interest to those viewing it, and possibly fun too. And as we all know this should make it more memorable too.

For more information about the Jameel Prize please visit the official V&A page:

And for further imagery and reviews please see Nafas Art Magazine’s article:

Essay is done – or is it?

September 28, 2009

I think I’ve finished my essay but I have this uneasy feeling that it could be better. Actually I know it could be  but I’ve already done wayyy too much and I am in danger of turning it into a book, maybe not a bestseller but still a book.

Admittedly the first couple of thousands of words are mostly to do with historical background, the rise of Islamic art and its early influences. This is the part that I’m not sure about in terms of writing style. I seem to find it easier to do descriptive and analytical writing rather than structuring historical facts in an interesting way. I know what’s it’s like to be bored from reading things and I wouldn’t want to be the cause of it for someone else.

The rest of the essay is focussed on the rise or emergence of contemporary art in the Middle East and the rest of the world. I have divided Islamic art into four categories and then go on to discuss the work of four artists/practitioners, each of whom fits one of the categories.

I would love to get the essay proof-read by someone but not only is there not much time (it’s due tomorrow I think) but I also know that it’s a lot to ask of someone. Too late now anyway.

Anyway, although it was hard to get off the ground at first, once I knew what I was doing I really enjoyed conducting research for this paper. I could happily continue in this subject and explanding my ideas for the rest of the year whilst producing the practical side of the projects outcome.

Tutorial – 23/09/09

September 28, 2009

Camberwell College of Arts

MA Visual Arts Course (Digital Arts)

23rd September 2009


Issues discussed/Subject:

– Still wondering about the suitability of the title of my essay

– Andy had a quick look at my renewed abstract and was pleased with the questions raised in this, especially that of whether common perceptions of Islamic Art being bound by the religion are true.

We also discussed how it could be slightly restructured to allow for the conclusion to suggest what I will prove by the end of the paper.

– Discussed practical issues related with exhibiting my art work later in the year. Electronic aspects such as lighting solutions and the kind of sensors I could use in a safe way to meet my needs.

– Discussed the importance of light in different cultures – spiritual relevance in its use

Actual notes taken in tutorial:

In regards to abstract: move last questions up a bit – possibly add on to the first about assumptions and remove very last question.

Is the the didgital era bringing in more to the Islamic art scene? Add to the first question about assumptions: ‘as the digital era is maturing, is this really the case?’

Conclude with ‘this paper will set out to prove/illustrate the relationship between Islamic Art and theological thinking…’?

In the last paragraph expand on what may be concluded from studying the subject and in trying to find the answers – although it is not always the case that an answer is found, or that it was found to be what you thought it would.

Eletronics and hardware – use of sensors that will be usable in the kind of installation that I would like to construct: PIR motion sensor lights. Need to look into which products are available, pricing, set-up and safety/compatibility. Can they be plugged straight into a regular socket?

Consider the sculptural aspects – what will they look like? 3d shapes – of what kind?

How will the light source affect the patterns cast from or projected by the sculpture? There will be some distortion but this will be a play on space and physical perception. The viewers interaction with the space will also have an affect on this.

|-> how does this effect the concept of geometry and related themes?

The distortion can be said to be related to human sense of order being disturbed – the patterns becoming irregular after actually being constructed and displayed on a flat surface as being very much regular and ordered. Move closer to the light source – does the pattern change? in what way? does this relate to a person moving closer to something in a spiritual sense?

Light means a lot to people in different ways but has a very significant role in most cultures and religions and so seems apt to use this in this installation to encourage people to explore the patterns as well as it’s symbolism.

Calligraphy results

September 13, 2009

I found out the results of the short course I completed a few months ago in Naskh script – Arabic calligraphy (which I mentioned in a previous post: Arabic Calligraphy – final curtain)

I got 60 out of 100. I think that’s a pretty fair mark for the effort I put in and my hand-in for the final piece. I probably would have been disheartened if I got anything lower than that though. According to general academic grading that’s just about a B grade so I’m happy with that.

My next practical short course may be starting in a few weeks but I don’t want to elaborate till the ball is rolling so more to come on that (InshAllah).

Quick update: September 09 begins

September 10, 2009

Busy busy busy, Ramadan is in full swing, which means a month of fasting for Muslims, extra prayers and reading the Qur’an – or at least trying to do these for extra blessings. Then there are the social gatherings for the purposes of breaking fasts together (with friends or relatives). This also means my daily timetable is packed and therefore the day passes very fast. But I must make the most of this blessed month.

Amongst this I’ve been quite caught up trying to complete my essay. For some reason I’ve gone ahead and done the maximum word limit of 5,000 words but then it means I can cut out the parts that don’t make sense.

Once I’ve got this out of the way I’ll be able to concentrate on more practical work as well as finishing off an interesting post I started a couple of weeks ago but once again it is a post trapped in draft mode.

The new academic year has also started and our next major deadline (other than the essay hand in at the end of the month) is in December by which time we should have substantial project prototypes completed. Will I succeed? I have no idea, but the challenge is one I’d like to meet.

Now back to my essay – for which the title currently reads as: Islamic Art – the identification of a global art. This may change again in the next week or so.