Posted tagged ‘opinions’

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.

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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/

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 🙂