In just four years, the Jameel Prize has become one of the most important international awards for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic traditions. The Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum in London will announce the 2013 winner, who will receive £25,000 (Dh150,105), on Tuesday. We look at the nominees and catch up with four favourites.
Mareschal was born in Dijon in eastern France and lives in Paris, but a stay in Israel heavily influenced his designs. It may look like floor tiles, but, in fact, his fragile work is often made up of spices.
“The work at the V&A will be made up of spices arranged according to the patterns and Arabic geometry I found in Palestinian houses. People think I’m crazy working with spices that could easily blow away in a gust of wind – and they do. But the sense of smell isn’t really explored in contemporary art and it’s really moving when people tell me it reminds them of the souq of their childhoods.
“The impermanence is key to the work, too – I’ve never been anywhere in which the idea of home is so fragile as it is in Palestine. So there is a political element, but I also want people to celebrate the beauty of the spices, the geometry, the smells.
“I’ll have to kneel for four to five days to make this work at the V&A. With 800,000 people seeing it, I’ll be doing it small, so if the gallery needs to put it back together, they can.”
For her nominated project, Plastic Gold, the French designer worked with the displaced Sahrawi women of Western Sahara to create jewellery made out of the resources available in their refugee camps.
“Around 170,000 Sahrawi have been living in refugee camps since 1975 and there’s a lot of plastic bottles in their waste – so the initial idea was to devise a way of teaching them to make jewellery out of it so they could make some money.
“Initially, the jewellery wasn’t particularly interesting, but the process was and the women in the camps responded to it really well. So when I came home, I developed it much more and worked on ways to improve the end product. This was the challenge – how to let the Sahrawi express themselves while raising the quality. So I went back a second time and worked with some more women to create a collection that would be inspired by the traditional patterns we could see on leather goods.
“I’m happy, personally, to be nominated for the Jameel Prize. But I really hope it will raise the profile of the Sahrawi people and give their culture a credibility and confidence.”
Azerbaijan’s traditional carpets are given a modern twist by Ahmed, who plays with convention by adding new elements, such as pixelated designs, to age-old patterns.
“When you’re a child in Azerbaijan, you become accustomed to seeing carpets everywhere. Actually, once I started cutting into one and my father was very angry. But maybe that was the first step on the road to what I do now.
“It wasn’t the goal to ‘update’ these carpets – I’m just a modern man living in a traditional society, trying to connect the two. And it has been difficult: when I took my sketches to some of the old carpet makers, they were terrified of my designs and asked me to leave their studio. They couldn’t deal with the symbolism of any change. It was actually very hard to find a maker who would agree, actually.
“I wouldn’t say my corruption of traditions has a political element, but we still have a large generation that lived in Soviet times and this old generation don’t meld very well with the new. Still, this nomination is confirmation, for me, that my work is developing in the right way. I’m delighted.”
The Lahore-based Khan constructs large-scale drawings on an incredibly intricate scale – his dots, marks and lines forming captivating compositions that encourage the viewer to come up with their own interpretations.
“My work is like writing a diary, or like stitching. I’m putting marks on the paper and so I can’t be disturbed – sometimes you’re holding your breath. In that sense, it’s like a meditative practice.
“Everyone doodles. I’ve just taken it further and mixed it with the Sufi traditions from my part of Pakistan. And I know this because of the reaction I get when I show the work around the world: people have to see it, be in front of it and then they really get something from it – it’s like they’re reading my daily routine.
“Most people can’t believe I can do this meticulous work as a big, six-feet-two-inches man. I can’t myself, actually – it’s really painful; my fingers are shaped to the pen I use, I have backache all the time. But all things become secondary when you’re ‘in’ the work. And, for me, the image should be dancing, the viewer should be looking at it thinking it’s moving. When I achieve that, I feel like I really love what I do.”
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