One hundred years ago the world's perception of Islamic art forms suddenly changed: thanks to the exhibition Masterpieces of Muhammadan Art, staged at the Theresienhöhe in Munich, objects that had been seen (dismissed, even) as Orientalist exoticism or folkloric decoration were reconsidered - many being transformed in the mind of both scholars and the public into masterpieces.
To mark the centenary of that show, Munich's Haus der Kunst museum invited contemporary artists, designers and photographers to contribute to a new exhibition (September 17, 2010 to January 9, 2011).
Among those exhibitors is The Khatt Foundation, an Amsterdam-based cultural organisation dedicated to advancing Arabic typography and design, which will also be hosting workshops and talks during Abu Dhabi Art next weekend. The foundation in turn commissioned seven leading female designers to contribute to its exhibit, which focuses on letters, texts and their ubiquity in our lives.
Concrete Carpet is the work of Beirut-based Nada Debs, best known for her furniture and decorative objects that combine her Arab identity and Japanese upbringing to reinterpret timeless tradition in elegantly modern ways.
She takes that a huge step further with this piece: the old represented by the hand-inlaid mother-of-pearl accents; the new by concrete; Islamic tradition by the rug itself; Japan by the tatami-like collage of different modules. Instead of the riotously colourful mixing and interweaving of Persian carpets, Debs's geometric and monochromatic work harnesses Japan's more minimalist aesthetic.
The text is executed in a font that Debs developed in collaboration with the typographer Pascal Zoghbi as part of her design company's branding, with echoes of both Arabic script and Kanji calligraphy. Each of the carpet's 28 panels contains a Haiku-like poem, dedicated to a different letter of the Arabic alphabet, with which all of the words begin. Those words are arranged to create an arresting visual rhythm, which also has a musicality when the words are sounded out.
It is a stunningly original and beautiful piece - and I can think of no more fitting object of desire as we look forward to Abu Dhabi Art in the coming week.