Posted tagged ‘Qur’an’

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 🙂

Advertisements

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.

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.

Word into Art – Dubai 2008 (pt 1)

October 13, 2008

I was reminded of an exhibition I went to whilst in Dubai earlier this year. It was the Word into Art exhibition that had been on in the British Museum back in 2006. I was very glad to have been able to catch the one in Dubai and I was not disappointed when I got there.

I’ve shown some of the images below of the artworks that I found of interest and to my liking.

Kamal Boullata

Ana Al-Haqq - I am the Truth by Kamal Boullata

http://virtualgallery.birzeit.edu/media/photos/vw_115629/Kamal+Boulata+3?w=225

Nur ala nur by Kamal Boullata

http://virtualgallery.birzeit.edu/p/ps?url=exhibition/BMsacred/tour011

Read more on this piece here

I like the way the symmetrical layout and break down of larger square, with rotated smaller squares, has been combined with the kufic arabic calligraphy. The subject matter is the meaning of Nur – light in arabic. It is very symbolic and has many connotations in spirituality and religion – not just Islam but Christianity too.

A bit about the artist:

“Kamal Boullata :- PALESTINE
Born in Jerusalem in 1942. Works and lives in Washington, Morroco and Paris.
Boullata recalls sitting for hours on end as a small boy in front of the Dome of the Rock, engrossed in sketching its innumerable and unfathomable geometric patterns and calligraphic engravings. Those patterns he saw as a child still echo endlessly throughout his adult work. I keep reminding my self that Jerusalem is not behind me, it is constantly ahead of me. From an interview with the Artist”

http://www.daratalfunun.org/main/resourc/exhibit/bollata/bollata.html

Ahmed Moustafa

Moustafa uses traditional calligraphy to form the artwork and uses the old and classical decorative technique of repeating more text over the first layer but mirrored upside down. Therefore you are required to turn the work upside down in order to read the next line.

Where two oceans meet by Ahmed Moustafa

http://www.fenoon.com/portfolio/pages/0001p1.html

Sometimes the text is a mirrored version but flipped horizontally to add an almost mish mash type effect. The technique is used slightly differently below and looks particularly effective in this piece which produces a great symetrical design using the arabic names of Allah (God) – which represent his attributes as named in the holy Qur’an:

The attributes of divine perfection by Ahmed Moustafa

For more info on this piece click here: http://virtualgallery.birzeit.edu/p/ps?url=exhibition/BMsacred/tour008