It is not supposed to be a regional affair. In fact, Salma Tuqan, the co-curator of the Jameel Prize, is quick to point out that this is "not an east-west dialogue" but a global contemporary art prize that simply has regional leanings because of its only stipulation: the art must be inspired by Islamic tradition.
But days after announcing 10 shortlisted nominees for the £25,000 (Dh139,200) award, Tuqan and her team were on their way to Dubai to host an informal talk and discuss the evolution of the prize.
Now in its third edition, the Jameel Prize is hosted by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, where Tuqan is also the curator of contemporary Middle Eastern art. The prize was conceived in 2009 after the redesign of the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art, which opened three years earlier and is funded by Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives from Saudi Arabia.
Every two years, a panel of judges selects 10 artists from nominations made by international experts and, upon seeing the works in the exhibition space, chooses one winner. This year, the art will be unveiled in the Porter Gallery in the V&A in December and, after four months, will embark on an international tour accompanied by an interactive and educational public programme.
Although the prize is still in its infancy, the curatorial vision, the selection of artists and the entire process exude maturity and transparency. The prize celebrates nothing more than exceptional art and, this year more than any other, a dedication to craft.
"It wasn't a deliberate move but most of the nominees have their roots in design this time. I think somehow that makes them more accessible and I'm happy with the selection that the judges made," says Tuqan.
Shortlisted artists hail from as far as Lahore in the east to Tangiers in the west. They represent the disciplines of furniture, fashion and jewellery design, miniature work, calligraphy and rug making. One, Laurent Mareschal, builds his practice around the painstaking arrangement of spices.
"They are all fairly well-known in their niches but would not normally be placed in an exhibition alongside each other," says Tuqan. "That's what we find particularly interesting."
The exhibition is where the underlying common denominators begin to show. When Mareschal's patterns made from turmeric, sumac, zaatar, ginger and white pepper are placed next to Pascal Zoghbi's Arabic typography, for example, or Mounir Fatmi's video installation, a theme emerges.
"In all the works there is concern with industrialisation and how it is engulfing craft," Tuqan says. This is perhaps most salient in Fatmi's work but is also clear in Nada Debs' Concrete Carpet, in which she uses the ancient art of mother-of-pearl inlay on a vast and imposing block of concrete, and in Florie Salnot's Plastic Gold, a necklace made from discarded plastic bottles that aims to empower refugee women in Algeria.
The work of the Pakistani Waqas Khan, who has taken the art of miniature painting to produce a series of spiritual line drawings, and Rahul Jain, whose silk patterns are created in a workshop of traditional Indian draw looms, are equally rooted in the deep traditions of craft.
"The process of creation is just as important as the end result," says Tuqan. "So this year we will be taking extra steps to underline that."
Those extra steps involve a video project that will be uploaded online at the V&A Channel between now and December, which will also become part of the exhibition.
Also this year, a Saudi Arabian artist is included on the shortlist for the first time. Nasser Al Salem is a 29-year-old calligrapher from Mecca who learnt his craft in the holy mosque surrounding the Kaaba. He has reinterpreted one of the most ancient Islamic traditions into a series of ink on paper works called Kul, meaning "everything" or "all".
Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès, the founding director of the Khatt Foundation Center for Arabic Typography, is one of the five judges on the panel, which also includes last year's winner Rachid Koraïchi. AbiFarès says comparing the 10 finalists is "like comparing apples to oranges" and that the judges will have a difficult task selecting a winner.
But, she says, this is a very positive thing: "As the general quality for this year's Jameel Prize was high and the work is very diverse, it gives a very hopeful image of the artistic, design and cultural production coming out of the region."
The winner of the Jameel Prize 3 will be announced on December 10. The work from all the shortlisted artists will be on display in the V&A from December 11 until April 21, 2014
Faig Ahmed, Hollow and Pixelate Tradition. Ahmed, from Azerbaijan, presents two woollen handmade carpets that he has made three-dimensional to present an ancient craft in contemporary context.
Nada Debs, Concrete Carpet. A prolific Lebanese designer, Debs displays her trademark minimal mother-of-pearl inlay within a concrete slab and Arabic lettering.
Mounir Fatmi, Modern Times, a History of the Machine. The Moroccan-born Fatmi uses video and drawings to create a dialogue between traditional calligraphy and urbanisation in the Middle East.
Rahul Jain, The Birds of Paradise and The Snow Leopard. In these two works, Jain, an Indian textile designer, weaves images from draw loom-woven silk and silver gilt thread.
Dice Kayek, Caftan, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. The Turkish sisters Ece and Ayse Ege are Dice Kayek, a popular Istanbul-based fashion label. Their couture pieces draw influence from architecture and craft.
Waqas Khan, Tranquil Pool and Dance in Retina II. Khan is from Pakistan and his ink on paper drawings are modern interpretations of the miniature painting tradition.
Laurent Mareschal, Beiti. The French national Mareschal lived for several years in Israel. He presents a detailed pattern made from ephemeral spices.
Nasser Al Salem, Kul and Kul I. Al Salem is the first Saudi Arabian nominee. His calligraphic work (seen on the cover) redefines the traditional process of this ancient art.
Florie Salnot, Plastic Gold. From France, Salnot is a social designer. Here she takes plastic bottles and reshapes them into a necklace using handicraft techniques. The project aims to empower refugee women in Algeria.
Pascal Zoghbi, 29LT Fonts Collection. A typographer and designer, Zoghbi is from Lebanon. He presents his unique Arabic font.
For full interviews with Nasser Al Salem, Nada Debs and Waqas Khan, check out www.thenational.ae/scene-heard
Follow us @LifeNationalUAE
Follow us on Facebook for discussions, entertainment, reviews, wellness and news.