Archive for the ‘Artists’ category

Emerald Art and Photography Exhibition

August 20, 2009

Last week (08-08-09) I attended the Emerald Art and Photography Exhibition at the County Hall Gallery in London.  There was to be the unveiling of the winner of a recent photography competition, and the ‘world debut exhibition’ of selective Islamic Artists. So I forked out the £35 knowing that these kind of ‘Islamic Art’ events don’t come round that often.

It was quite a formal and smart atmosphere and I just got straight into examining the art work. The work on display was being presented through the Elevation Arts Agency based in London. They explained that they were very much interested in promoting contemporary yet unique Islamic Art from here in the UK where a new generation of young Muslim artists are emerging.

All photographic entries for the competition were on display in the corridors and these were available as prints with donations going to charity. There were entries from across the globe and covering all forms of subjects, conveying varied cultures, traditions and landscapes.

From the main art work on show the first piece I noticed was by a female Moroccan artist named Wadia Boutaba.  Her use of vibrant colours to paint scenes of Morocco’s busy streets are eye catching and ask to immerse the viewer.  She also paints scenes of families, people interacting and entertaining. What is interesting is that some of these paintings depict figures with no faces and yet others clearly have full facial features.  I originally assumed all her work was sensitive to perhaps the Islamic ruling of not showing human figures and some artists choose not to have faces but just the body of the figure for this reason.  But having seen her other pieces I can only guess the variation is to appeal to a wider audience.  Unfortunately Wadia  Boutaba is currently in Morocco and so I was unable to ask her directly.  Feel free to have a look at some more of her work here: http://www.imagekind.com/MemberProfile.aspx?MID=71dbf57a-415a-49ff-a14c-522ad153780c

Here is a selection of Wadia’s work that was on show that night:

Painting by Wadia Boutaba

The Band by Wadia Boutaba

Moroccon City Colours by Wadia Boutaba

Moroccon City Colours by Wadia Boutaba

Gnawa by Wadia Boutaba

Gnawa by Wadia Boutaba

A Mother's Love by Wadia Boutaba

A Mother’s Love by Wadia Boutaba

The other featured artist, was Scotsman Grant Birse. His amazing work was a collection carvings in framed wood, vases and fine furniture. I was able to speak to Birse myself and learnt that his skills were self-taught. Looking at his work this was an extraordinary thing to hear as a lot of his pieces are intricately engraved or carved with Islamic Calligraphic phrases in geometric forms. Birse uses a combination of Kufic and Nastaliq calligraphy and does so in a unique form of presentation. His engravings are reminiscent of the wooden panelling found in some of the great mosques around the world.

Birse describes himself as an ‘Islamic Artist’ and tells me he became a Muslim five years ago. This gives him a unique position in terms of an artist that has originally grown up in very much a Western society and yet has engaged with and adopted ideals that go beyond boundaries or borders. His work has spiritual significance as it enthuses his beliefs. Words such as ‘Allah’ swt and ‘Bismillah’ (in the name of God) very much feature in his pieces.

You can visit his web site here: http://www.artworkinwood.com/

Here are some images of Birse’s work:

Hikma by Grant Birse - www.artworkinwood.com

HIKMAT by Grant Birse, carved in Walnut with Gold leaf (Qur’an 2- 269)

Art in wood by Grant Birse - www.artworkinwood.com

LOVE by Grant Birse – carved in Elm wood, “Eshq”. Contemporary composition based on Nastaliq style calligraphy.

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CREATION by Grant Birse – carved in Elm wood with a circular centrepiece composition of Suratul Ikhlas (Qur’an 112).

Detail of Carving by Grant Birse

Detail of CREATION by Grant Birse

Both artists have very different backgrounds and it represents something more than just who they are and what they believe in. It is an indication of the interaction that is happening between the East and West in the current Islamic Art scene. It shows that unlike in the past (from the 7th to 19th centuries) where the crafts produced in the Islamic world were defined by the ruler of that period and their geographic location, the artwork is now defined by the broader label of Islamic Art and expands beyond the geography. An artist can make a name and place for themselves within a developing and now better recognised art scene.

Carving by Grant Virse

AL – HAMD by Grant Birse – “Al-hamdulillahi Rabbil Alameen”, Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds – carved in Elm wood.

Detail of Carving by Grant Birse

Detail of AL – HAMD. The style is an abstract composition in Naskhi style calligraphy.

Carved vase by Grant Birse

AHAD VASE by Grant Birse, turned vase in Burr Elm carved with Suratul Ikhlas (Qur’an 112)

I think it’s really important to have more events that focus on showcasing Islamic Arts. There isn’t really a forum for discussion about these topics – well not one that I know of. There is, however, loads out there about the history of Islamic Art. And loads about the timeline of Islamic/Arabic Calligraphy. And Middle-Eastern art is making a name for itself too but the ambiguity that this invites is something that I feel still needs to be addressed.

I think it’s still early days for contemporary Islamic Art to be seen as a straightforward obvious label. But I still have hope 🙂

LAPP – Light Art Performance Photography

August 9, 2009

I was sent this very interesting link from a friend and was compelled to share it. A combination of lights (LEDs, lasers, etc), choice locations and long exposure combine to create some great imagery. I’m not going to say much more and will let you see for yourselves: http://www.lapp-pro.de/

Screenshot from their site: http://www.lapp-pro.de/

Screenshot from their site: http://www.lapp-pro.de/

Some of the photos look almost completely computer generated but make sure you browse around the site and read up on their techniques so you can appreciate the efforts that go into creating such a unique style of photography.

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) 🙂

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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.

Hidden Geometry

January 28, 2009

I attended my second class of Arabic Calligraphy using Naskh Script yesterday. I signed up for these evening classes many months ago and have been looking forward to this opportunity for well over a year. The class is run by Mustafa Jafar, author of Arabic Calligraphy: Naskh style for beginners (Paperback):

Image taken from http://www.amazon.co.uk

Mustafa is himself an artist and examples of his work can be seen at http://arabigraphy.com

'Light upon Light' by Mustafa Jafar

'Light upon Light' by Mustafa Jafar

Anyway so in yesterday’s class we learnt to draw the first half of the Arabic letters using a traditional reed pen (looks a bit like bamboo but cut to a sharp nib on one end) and ink.

This interest in Arabic calligraphy was a personal one as well as a relevant one in terms of my project.

I will post a more detailed entry when I have gathered more informative details about the history and development of Arabic calligraphy. However in brief  I have these notes:

From its simple and primitive early examples of the 5th and 6th century A.D., the Arabic alphabet developed rapidly after the rise of Islam in the 7th century into a beautiful form of art.
http://www.sakkal.com/ArtArabicCalligraphy.html

– Arabic as a written language was used by few.

– Those who did use it were professional scribes and usually worked to produce important documents for legal and state offices.

– When the Qur’an was revealed and after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him ) to whom it was revealed, it became necessary to record the revelations. These were written and illuminated (decorated with intricate borders etc) to emphasise the beauty of the word of God.

– It is also important to note that the Qur’an never was and never is illustrated with imagery portraying humans or animals. This is because there are strict rules about the idea of recreating/reproducing the creation of God who is the only One who can create such things. It is also in order to prevent idolatry – which people can easily fall into if they are not careful. The biggest sin in Islam is Shirk which is to obey/worship/sacrifice for anyone or instead of God.

– Arabic as a written form became  standardised some time after the early centuries of Islam’s expansion and dominance.  One form was used for secular writings (the cursive script) and the other for sacred documents such as the Qur’an.

– The style of calligraphy used for the Qur’an also developed but always to a very high standard. It was imperative that the person copying the words got them 100% right and therefore they would train for many yrs under the masters of the pen before starting their own copies. There was no room for error. The Qur’an has remained unchanged since the day it was first recorded.

The significance of calligraphy? As it is used in so many forms of Islamic art and decoration and truly does look beautiful. It plays a large part in my project research. It is significant not only because of the words within the writing (usually excerpts or verses from the Qur’an) but also because of the visual effect they produce. So even if you didn’t know the words or know that it was a verse to be read and understood you could still appreciate the aesthetics of the calligraphy.

The words themselves being the words from God mean that not only do they carry an important message for mankind but they deserve to be elevated.

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In the class today with Mustafa Jafar, we learnt about the proportions of the letters. These proportions govern the size of the letters in accordance to each other and although not apparent to the viewer they produce the accuracy that leads to the perfection of the overall piece of writing. Whilst demonstrating the use of the dots within the alphabet as measurements for the letters, Mustafa used the phrase ‘hidden geometry’. A light bulb turned on in my head. I already knew about the proportions and accuracy required to make the calligraphy what it is, but I never connected it with geometry before. I wonder why? I guess I wasn’t thinking outside the box. It’s not just about lines and shapes the way I know them.

You will see in the image below that the height, width and empty space produced within and around the letters are all in proportion according to the dots. So no matter what size dots you start with you should have a certain number of dots making up the length and a certain number making up the breadth for each one:

This image is taken from: http://www.sakkal.com/ArtArabicCalligraphy.html where you can also find much better explanations about the history and development of Arabic in its written form.

Therefore the use of geometry comes about using this dot as a unit for measurement and it producing a proportionally accurate letter, leading to a proportionally accurate piece of writing.

Mustafa insists that Calligraphy is a form of art, not writing. I very much agree, except where it comes to the Qur’an. In the Qur’an it is both and more.