Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

Jameel Prize displays the huge variety of Islamic art and design at its new centre in Dubai Creek

The biennial prize comes to Dubai for the first time in its 10 year history

Geometry is a major theme at the exhibition, currently on display at The Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai Creek. Courtesy Art Jameel
Geometry is a major theme at the exhibition, currently on display at The Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai Creek. Courtesy Art Jameel

For the first time in its 10-year tenure, the Jameel Prize has a place to come home to: the Jameel Arts Centre on Dubai Creek.

Saudi organisation Art Jameel established the biennial prize in 2009 to honour Islamic art and design, launching it at the V&A museum in London after its renovation of the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art. Following how the foundation then operated, which was to promote Islamic and Middle Eastern art primarily via partnerships, the prize debuted each year at the V&A, and then toured to a number of venues. Over the years, it went to 16 venues globally, from the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation to the Asia Culture Centre in Gwangju, and honoured 48 artists and designers.

But now, Art Jameel has a base for its art activities in the Jameel Arts Centre – and soon two, when it opens Hayy: Creative Hub in Jeddah next year.

“This is the first time that Art Jameel has been able to host the Prize exhibition ourselves – as the Jameel Arts Centre just opened last November,” says Antonia Carver, director of Art Jameel.

This will be the Jameel Art Centre’s second major exhibition, and has been expanded from its initial presentation at the V&A, where Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum and Iraqi artist Mehdi Moutashar were announced as the winners last year. The galleries, painted in muted colours and crowded with work in Murtaza Vali’s first, thesis-making exhibition around the influence of oil on art of the region, seem transformed by the presentation of the artists nominated for this year’s prize. As always, the exhibition covers a variety of works, from ruminations on Palestinian embroidery in carved wood to fragile miniatures painted by Pakistani artist Wardha Shabbir, rendered with a paintbrush made of squirrel hair. The former is made by naqsh collective, a duo of two sisters, one a graphic designer and one an architect, who live in Dubai.

“We thought of embroidery as a social code,” says Nisreen Abu Dail about the work they made, which partly resembles a computational device. “And in a way it was. Women used the patterns to say whether they were single, married, a widow, the number of children she had, or her social status. A golden thread indicated higher social class. Blue meant a widow. And red means love is entering into life again.”

Geometry is a major theme throughout the exhibition. But how the matter is addressed underscores the multifaceted way Islamic art is currently understood: from naqsh’s more conceptual take to Hayv Kahraman’s use of geometry for the dresses of her figures to the literal use of geometric patternings in the Berber-inspired clothes made by Bahraini fashion designer Hala Kaiksow.

Measurement for me is the origin of the discovery of Arabic calligraphy. The diamond square – the nuqta – forms the length of the alif, of seven nuqtas, for example. It’s a way of finding an alphabet, building a logic.

Mehdi Moutashar

Iraq-born Moutashar, who has been working with geometry since the 1970s, emphasises the importance of measurement to his abstractions, which are made with geometric cut-outs and elastic bands, stretched out on a wall to form shapes. “Measurement for me is the origin of the discovery of Arabic calligraphy,” he explains. “The diamond square – the nuqta – forms the length of the alif, of seven nuqtas, for example. It’s a way of finding an alphabet, building a logic. My logic is the square and the straight line. I am trying to build another plastic logic. I believe we can’t build anything – not a language, not music not in any aspect of our practical life – without a measurement, without a language for it.”

Last year marked the first time an ­architect claimed the prize: Tabassum won for her Bait Ur Rouf, the community-run mosque that plays with water, light and reflection in Dhaka, where the architect lives. Bait Ur Rouf has already become famous for the beauty of its design.

“This is also a particular moment of reflection and debate around the influence of Islamic art and design on contemporary visual culture, illustrated by the Burda initiative set up by the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development,” notes Carver. “Prizes allow for a particular tracking of a scene and accompanying debates – turn back the clock to 2009, when the Jameel Prize first launched. Audiences in London were just becoming aware of the dynamism of contemporary art from the Middle East and South Asia, and of the significance on a broad community of artists globally who, regardless of their faith and background, were influenced by Islamic art and design,” she continues. “Now, in 2019, the level of awareness and understanding has undergone a seismic shift.”

The Jameel Prize exhibition is at the Jameel Arts Centre on Dubai Creek until September 14

Updated: April 29, 2019 12:53 PM

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