Archive for the ‘Research areas’ category

Excitement begins

October 3, 2009

I am experiencing a surge of brainstorming (I am told this is no longer a P.C word but I can’t remember what the new term is so no offence to anyone) in relation to the work I must complete by December for my assessment.

We’ve been told we should have something along the lines of a proto-type complete for that stage in our course but with all these new and exciting ideas I want to have more than just one project outcome.

I am very excited about creating the physical pieces that reflect the research I’ve been doing for the last year and have been particularly thinking about the space in which my work will be displayed,shown or installed.

There are many different ways a person can present their work and these have inspired me to think of all alternatives – not just as Plan B’s in case my main work doesn’t turn out how I wish but also as accompaniments.

At the moment I am contemplating having 3d shapes with patterns either on, around or made up from the patterns. It’s hard to explain this so I’ll leave it to when I have some pictures once I get experimenting with the shapes.

I have been doing some very bad sketches in my notebook in order to consider how lighting needs to be placed within a rectangular room for example. There also the need to consider where a person might enter from and how they may navigate through the space according to what first comes into their sight. This is very important because I am planning to have my work illuminate itself based on the viewer’s movement into the space. They need to be able to see where to go for safety reasons but it also needs to be dark enough for the light to make the right kind of effect when it comes on. I also need to consider if my work will be one large focul piece or made up of three or four pieces.

Page 1 of sketches and notes

Page 1 of sketches and notes

Page 2 of sketches and ideas

Page 2 of ideas

These sculptures/shapes also need to fit to either the walls, floor or ceiling but with the light source either pointing towards or from behind them. Once again I won’t know which is best till I try it out. The light source itself is also something I am looking closely into. In my last tutorial Andy and I discussed sensor activated lighting and he agreed this may be the right thing for me to use. I’ve had a look at PIR lighting products and am trying to find something wireless which would be less of a safety concern as well as less shabby looking once up. Pricing is also a factor and how it might be fitted to walls/ceilings.

Another really cool idea I had was to have a sort of very large 3d hollow shape, perhaps made from card or papier mache (or maybe something a bit like stiff canvas or whatever is used to make lampshades), hanging from the ceiling but high enough off the ground to allow someone to pass under it. As they would come closer it would light up and then they would be standing beneath it. When they look up into the work they would see layers of shapes cut into the material and these would overlap so that the shadows and holes would create an ever complicated pattern. What I imagine in my head certainly looks quite spectacular. I wonder if I can actually achieve it.

It reminds me of the Muqarnas found in many mosques around the world, some of the most famous being at the Al-Hambra in Spain and at the Imam Mosque in Isfahan, Iran as seen in the image below. It is a very interesting architectural feature which I will just show you instead of trying to explain:

Muqarnas at the Imam Mosque in Isfahan, Iran. Image from http://www.musliminventionsthailand.com

Muqarnas at the Imam Mosque in Isfahan, Iran. Image from http://www.musliminventionsthailand.com

And yet at the same time what I have imagined also reminds me of a kaleidoscope. As my youngest sister was sitting next to me as I jotted this down I asked her if she knew what a Kaleidoscope was. She’s ten years old and, well, her generation is quite different to mine so I can well imagine that they aren’t likely to be as familiar with a non-electronic/digital toy such as a good old kaleidoscope. And I was right, she didn’t know what it was so I did a quick search and had a look through google images as I explained it to her. I then came across this very interesting image of a human mirrored kaleidoscope:

These kids are clearly having fun, and it means they are engaging with the space too. The effect is brilliant and I think if I could adopt this in some way but have my patterns in there too then it would just be sooo good. But I’m not sure if it would be over ambitious for me to go down this route, least of all because I’d have to actually build an enclosed space with mirrors inside. Or maybe I could make a cheap and tatty/plasticky version? We’ll see. But the use of mirrors is certainly worth keeping in mind.

All in all I am really getting into this and I knew it would be the stage I would enjoy the most. I may be thinking about some of the aspects of the installation a little to early but this is how I have always worked – I like to get down to the nitty gritty much in advance so that I have contingency time as well as other work in place if needed.

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: http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/jameel_prize/index.html)

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: http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/nafas/articles/2009/jameel_prize_2009/images/07_sevan_bicakci

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 http://www.sevanbicakci.com/

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: https://qunud.wordpress.com/2008/10/29/routes-waterhouse-dodd/). 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 http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/nafas/articles/2009/jameel_prize_2009/images/14_seher_shah)

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 http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/nafas/articles/2009/jameel_prize_2009)

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: http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/jameel_prize/index.html

And for further imagery and reviews please see Nafas Art Magazine’s article: http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/nafas/articles/2009/jameel_prize_2009/

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.

grant_birse3a

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.

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/

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.

Make-a-flake – flash game

March 24, 2009

My little sister, who is 9 years old, loves playing games online. I’d say she was addicted really, so I try scaring her into thinking she’s going to become square eyed (based on a school book I once read) if she spends too long on the computer.

Anyway, so she was very excited the other day about this new site she came across where you can basically make your own snowflake. The flash game is very clever as it prepares a ‘sheet of paper’ for you all folded (animated) up before you and then provides you with a pair of scissors with which to cut!

The below screenshots show the various stages from creating the snowflake, submitting it to the gallery with the thousands of others on there and the options to email your design to a friend, downloading it to your computer, and choosing which format – including EPS – allowing you to make changes using Illustrator or Photoshop.

Start cutting the paper

Start cutting the paper

Preview your creation

Preview your creation

Add it to the gallery for all to admire

Add it to the gallery for all to admire

Download your snowflake

Download your snowflake

This is quite a coincidence, as referring back to my notes from the Mid point review, ‘snowflakes’ were mentioned whilst discussing the patterns. They are all unique, so the idea of infinity is conveyed through the continuous individuality of the snowflakes and yet the opposite of infinity by the fact that no two snowflakes are the same? Not sure if that makes sense.

The main points I’d like to make about this game, is that it not only engages the user through advanced interactivity but also uses an interesting subject with which to do it. There are some very intuitive elements such as the angles you can use the scissors to cut with and it knowing you can only cut from the edge and not through the middle of the paper. I suggest you give it a go so you know what I mean: http://snowflakes.barkleyus.com/index.html
And don’t blame me if you get hooked!