Archive for the ‘Developing connections’ category

Feedback from my Mid-point review

March 23, 2009

Can be read here: https://qunud.wordpress.com/mid-point-review/take-note-feedback-from-mpr/

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Back to basics – what is Islamic Art?

February 13, 2009

I’ve wanted to write a few posts that veer off from the topic of what people believe Islamic Art to be. But I realised that I haven’t actually done a very good job of defining or explaining what it means myself.

So let’s start with a few definitions from online sources:

Wikipedia says: Islamic art encompasses the arts produced from the 7th century onwards by people (not necessarily Muslim) who lived within the territory that was inhabited by culturally Islamic populations. It includes fields as varied as architecture, calligraphy, painting, and ceramics, among others.

World Images says: art that is produced in the cultural and religious tradition of those who subscribe to the tenets of Islam

The BBC web site says (http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/art/art_1.shtml) : Islamic art isn’t restricted to religious work, but includes all the artistic traditions in Muslim culture. Its strong aesthetic appeal transcends time and space, as well as differences in language and culture.

In response to the Wikipedia definition: this is quite true for the early examples of Islamic art. There were many non-Muslims residing within the Islamic territory and they paid a small tax in order to be protected by the Muslims. Many craftsmen from the new regions under Islamic rule used their existing knowledge and skills to produce work they were employed for – e.g. decorating new buildings or redecorating old ones. Their style from perhaps the Far East or far west would be combined with the resources available locally and to accommodate local requirements such as Masjids (mosques) and grand buildings for the Caliph’s residence (although this came at a later time where display of wealth became quite important to the new rulers).

In response to the World Images definition: This is more like what I would expect to read. But the inclusion of the word ‘cultural’ could throw a person off. Culture sometimes conflicts religion and sometimes becomes so entwined with it that it becomes hard to tell which is which.

And finally in response to the BBC definition: well they are telling it as it is – people include the cultural and the religious artefacts within the definition of Islamic art and that’s that.

So it seems pretty obvious from these definitions and others that the term ‘Islamic art’ is used to describe art produced by anyone in a location that has either some history of Islamic rule, someone who is a descendant of a Muslim, someone who may have been born into a Muslim family, and someone who is simply influenced by something ‘Islamic’ (and there are numerous other scenarios that could b included here). The work itself does not have to be Islamic. It could have the most remote connection to Islam, and possibly even no connection until the artist says so.

To be honest I find this annoying. Using this approach anyone living in England could say they were producing Christian artwork simply because they lived in a country that states itself to be a predominately Christian one. Does anyone ever do this? No I don’t think so – I certainly haven’t come across it  unless what we are seeing is truly work with some sort of Christian religious significance.

But then why is it widely accepted to use the approach in terms of labelling Islamic art?

Interestingly enough I found this article by Saudi Aramco: http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200901/a.global.guide.to.islamic.art.htm – written by Jonathan M. Bloom and Sheila S. Blair.

The article starts off in a similar vein to the point I’m trying to make – what is Islamic art? The following paragraph is highly relevant to my post:

“Even experts agree that the term ‘Islamic art’ is insufficient, misleading, or just plain bad –  until one considers the alternatives. While some types of Islamic art, such as Qur’an manuscripts, mosque lamps or carved wooden minbars (pulpits), are directly concerned with the faith and practice of Islam, the majority of objects considered to be “Islamic art” are called so simply because they were made in societies where Islam was the dominant religion. A few, like the Freer Gallery’s famous canteen decorated with scenes of the life of Christ and saints, were clearly made in a Muslim context (in that case, 13th-century Syria) for use by non-Muslims, while others, such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, were probably made for Muslims by non-Muslims, because few craftsmen in Jerusalem had converted to Islam by the end of the seventh century, when it was built.”

So basically the gist of it is that there isn’t really any other term that could better describe the umbrella under which all the examples of art work (architecture, carpets, pottery, crafts, etc.) can be encompassed, as the only thing that ties them together is their link to Islam – be it directly or indirectly. The rest of the article goes on to explain the types of artefacts you would be likely to see in an Islamic art collection. Some collections now include a selection of contemporary work to show that the chronology of Islamic art still continues.

I have to say I really enjoyed reading this article – but there is one point that I do not necessarily agree on that they have mentioned but I cannot dispute it or debate and question its correctness/wrongness until i firstly do some research and secondly find the evidence to argue against it (I will, therefore, only mention it in a future post – if I remember 😐 )

In conclusion, I think two types of art works need to be identified within the general area of Islamic Art. Perhaps we could call one Religious Islamic art and the other Secular Islamic art? Ok that just sounds weird. But the point is that one would have some religious significance and the other would only have cultural/secular significance. The unavoidable problem will arise when we encounter work that has a combination of both. And then again one might ask ‘Who am I and indeed who is anyone to restrict another from creating something of their own? And labelling it as they wish?’

‘Contemporary Middle Eastern Art’ for example is quite self-explanatory. It also allows for the chance that the work include some that relate to Islam due to the fact that it is the pre-dominant religion of that region. But at least it doesn’t state it outright. I think more exhibitions and galleries are taking this approach.

Is it not the responsibility of the artist to label their work correctly and semantically even? And then others may critique their choices (as I am now doing about the subject in general).

I think I’ll leave that there. I am going to be looking at this topic closely from now on though – as I think it is an important aspect of my research. Not only do I need to know what is out there already in terms of Islamic art but also where I can place my own work amongst it all. If I don’t think any of them are ‘labelled’ correctly then how will I ensure that mine is ‘labelled’ correctly and therefore understood in the right context? This topic may also prove to be a good one for my essay (which is coming up some time in the future – i really should pay more attention to my deadlines).

Over and out 🙂

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.

——————-

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.

To infinity and beyond

January 25, 2009

In response to my previous post I would like to quote a section from page 6 of Daud Sutton’s book ‘Islamic Design – A Genius for Geometry’ (yes, I found the book!!) which addresses the subject of infinity as represented in Islamic patterns:

“Conceptually a repeating pattern can continue forever, but in practical applications Islamic patterns are generally cropped to form rectangular sections with corners in the centre of key pieces, often stars. Framing a pattern this way maintains a geometric elegance at the same time is clearly implying that it could repeat indefinitely, as it were, under it’s borders – the perfect visual solution to calling to mind the idea of infinity, and hence the Infinite, without any pretence of being able to truly capture such an enigmatic concept visually.

This framing also usually gives a single central piece which ensures that the total number in the rectangle is odd – a numerical quality traditionally said to invoke, and find favour with, Divine Unity.”

Well I have to say that makes sense to me. But I have a feeling there may be differing views on this so will have to look into it further.

Non-stop yapping

January 25, 2009

I had my second tutorial on Wednesday (21st Jan). It was with the Online students’ tutor, Jonathan, who I have met only once before.

I usually find it had to give an overview of my project whilst conveying every aspect of my research and ideas for the outcome, and all the influences that come into play, and my background, and why I chose the subject in the first place. But Jonathan seemed to ask all the right questions and even though I felt like I was chattering on the whole time I also realised that he actually understood what I was saying and what I meant! It was great because it allowed me to answer some of my own questions that I had kinda left at the back of my mind to linger I guess.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember everything from the 45 mins tutorial so I wrote it out in my note book a few mins later – I treat that notebook as more of a journal because I can jot down ideas and thoughts as they come to me on public transport. There is also the knowledge that no one will see the silly things I write in there either – and believe me I come up with some crazy ideas sometimes which I know I could never do in a million yrs!

Anyway, here is the content of that entry word for word (minus the silly bits) and I warn you now it jumps about a bit and can be totally random at times:

“covered many things – was useful to discuss an overview of the project.
The questions asked by J enabled me to see the project from a high level view.

Interestingly J raised the question of Infinity after seeing on my blog that I head read up and seen documentaries by Marcus du Sautoy.

J asked how I would use the idea of Infinity in my work and if it had a place in Islamic Art. The answer was yes it does in a symbolic form – the idea of an ever-existent God can be said to be represented through the everlasting forms and shapes that can be created from geometric and symmetrical patterns. How I would use the concept of Infinity – well I’m not sure. It becomes quite philosophical and would certainly not be a clear and easy idea to convey to an audience. I guess I have not looked into it as much as I could and this is what J suggests I do – add some depth to the background of the subject area. Add that extra bit of meaning behind the work. I agree and will definitely look into it soon.

J also suggested I set myself short term goals and a timetable so that I have targets to work towards. He said my current level of work is fine but the use of the timetables could prove to be handy especially when things don’t work to plan and you can look back at how to organise and allocate time to certain things. I had actually thought about doing this before but wasn’t sure how to break down my time. Being part-time is like being in this other dimension sometimes (can’t imagine what it’s like for the online students!). I mentioned that with my attendance being only once a week and not having many deadlines meant that my project goals weren’t really concrete.

J says that doing a fort-nightly structure could work better for me and then even if things change I can change the week ahead’s targets because I can use the one day of attendance as a marker for seeing what progress is made before the next week commences.

I will be going away on holiday (God willing) in a few weeks for a few days in mid Feb (Muscat and Dubai 🙂 ) I want to have something significant done by then in terms of practical work.

J liked my project idea and the way in which I wrote my posts. The positive feedback is good motivation to keep going. The interest he showed in my prototype idea was another motivation to start practical work sooner rather than later. He mentioned active research and how useful this can be for artists.

We discussed the issue of time – using the two years of my course to my advantage by learning from failures and successes.

I ended up explaining the historical, religious and artistic relevance of my research and approach to this project. It felt a bit unusual going into this much detail about things which I usually am careful to address. I find that the average (non-religious?) person doesn’t understand why someone would be driven to certain extents by their religious beliefs. I have experienced this on many occasions and even with peers I feel I have to explain what my religious motivations are so that they have a better understanding of it – but it’s just not something they are familiar with. Ok it’s hard to explain what I mean.

It was refreshing that J was very open to what I was expressing and asked me questions that gave me the impression that he was very interested in hearing more and gaining a better understanding of where I was coming from. it also made it easier for me to discuss ideas and the things that influenced these ideas and then the way they would be implemented.

I will be creating a page on which will sit my mini timetables. They will be broken down by months and should ideally be updated every two weeks. It would be cool to have a dynamic calendar of some sort – similar to the one used on the MA Digital Arts wiki site. Should look in the current list of widgets and plug-ins available on WordPress to see if they have anything that will fit the bill.
————————-
Equipment needed for prototype:

– soldering iron?
– white super bright 5mm LEDs (100pcs) aprox. £7.50
– equipment wire at least 2m of each black and red
– two boards (mark grids out in pencil and allocate spaces beforehand)”

I hope the above conveys how useful that tutorial turned out to be. I hope I am able to fulfil my short term goals as a means to fulfilling the long term ones.

Another idea

January 16, 2009

I’ve been thinking about how I can take my experimentation and pattern-making to the next level. I have my mid-point review coming up in March and need to start making some significant progress otherwise I won’t be making the most of it. Plus the way I see it, the more work I do now the more I can develop my ideas and learn from my mistakes and early prototyping which should then lead to something much stronger at the end.

In the next few weeks I’m planning to make a small interactive installation which basically consists of a circuit of lights (LEDs) on a grid where the user can switch them on and off to then produce a pattern. The control of the lights would be through another grid of buttons that correspond with the lights on the other board. Each button would control the corresponding lights – turning them on or off.

I was trying to imagine how the user would react to this piece. Would they know what to do with the buttons/lights? Or would they need to be told. Then I realised that the user is not going to have a clue what this grid of lights is and will just start playing with it. What if they create any type of image out of the lights, random doodles, shapes, anything? Why would they assume it had anything to do with patterns? And how would I restrict their use of the device and therefore make it related to my actual subject of Islamic patterns?

Well, whilst discussing the practicalities of making the piece with Kenji (full time student) who knows a bit about electronics, I realised there was a way to not only restrict the user from doing something completely of their own accord, but also make them aware of some characteristics that make up an Islamic pattern. I don’t want to give the game away just yet though as I want my fellow students to figure it out for themselves when it comes to the mid-point review. I’m hoping to have this ready by then.

I’m really looking forward to this! Let’s just hope that it actually works when the time comes!

Justification

December 14, 2008

This is a bit of a difficult one to express.

I will make random statements here but they will be relevant to the main title in some form or another so bear with me.

In my first tutorial with Andy (Course Leader) I was encouraged to express and relate to my religious and cultural background within my project. At first I didn’t think I would do this and definately not in an obvious way. I wanted the subject of my work to be a subtle hint to the viewer or anyone reading up about my work. But then I thought ok let’s just see where this goes. I won’t try hard either way to make it obvious or unobvious.

Progression in life, as a person, is very important. You don’t want to look back at yourself 5 years down the line and realise you are the same person you were then. Not having learnt anything. Not bettered yourself. Not improved in some way. For some people it might be as simple as having a better job, be earning more money, being married, having a family. For me it’s to be a better person and to do something to help others. This has a religious significance.

I think I have progressed – at least I hope I have. I’ve been doing a lot of reading, researching and learning. Not just for this project but for myself. One of the tenants of a Muslim’s belief is to gain knowledge. It is only through this seeking and gaining that one can then say they believe in God, as they cannot know what God is until they learn who God is. Once they have gained this knowledge they are required to act upon that knowledge. Which leads me to my next point(s):

I believe in One God and I believe he sent us Messengers to guide us and I believe that Muhammad was the last of those messengers. I believe the Qur’an is the word of God (the holy book revealed to the Prophet Muhammad). The Qur’an (in God’s words) tells us that not only is it important to believe in one God and that He created everything but that we must worship Him and one form of worhip is to do good. For this we shall be rewarded.

To put it simply – One of my mottos is that ‘there is a reason for everything and everything has a reason’.

So basically I want to do good and encourage others to do good. Not just because I need to get to heaven but because I want to be a good person and also because I want it to be rewarding for everyone who is inspired by that goodness.

Why am I telling you all this?

I find that through all this my priorities have slightly changed. I now feel that if something isn’t helping me make progress in my life in a good way then there is no room for it. I need to do good so that others can be influenced by it. They might not even want to do ‘good’ but maybe I can subconsciously influence them.

Subliminal messages? I don’t think so. I prefer to make things more open and clear and fair. Not like some secretive hidden agenda.

I want to make it obvious now. I want my work to be striking and I want someone to know that it was a Muslim that created it. A Muslim who was inspired by the teachings of their peaceful religion (not the violent one it is portrayed as). That a Muslim created something that anyone of any religious or non-religious background can appreciate. It would just be an added bonus for me if it works. At least my intentions would be good.

So this is my justification. I needed to justify the purpose of my project. I needed to justify my MA. Not for anyone but myself I guess. To know that my intention is to do something good with this.

I can only hope it has the right effect. I can only ask for God’s help and leave it to him in a way, and try my best in the meantime.

But this doesn’t change the project’s theme or line of enquiry. It may have influenced the journey though.

We’ll see.