Zaha Hadid brings stunning Arab art to London

Published April 15th, 2014 - 10:44 GMT

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Dice Kayek
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Image 1 of 10: Jameel prizewinner and Turkish fashion label Dice Kayek (by sisters Ece and Ayşe Ege) evoked Istanbul’s rich architecture with lamé brocade Caftan (recalling luxurious Ottoman robes); Hagia Sophia (a beaded and embroidered satin coat inspired by Byzantine mosaics); and Dome 2 (a sheer cotton blouse folded like the ribs of Istanbul’s roofs).

Mounir Fatmi
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Image 1 of 10: Moroccan Mounir Fatmi uses Arabic calligraphy in his video Modern Times: A History of the Machine. Text in traditional circular compositions become wheels in a locomotive that plows relentlessly forward. The work depicts a dystopic Middle East where growth is uncontrolled and massive buildings are erected as power displays. Hmm...sound familiar?

Rahul Jain
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Image 1 of 10: New Delhi-born textile artist Rahul Jain works in Varanasi, India recreating magnificent silk fabrics of the past. He guides local Muslim weavers in complex techniques similar to those used for Mughal emperors in the 17th and 18th centuries. Worked in silk, gold and silver thread, his designs reinterpret historical pattern structures.

Faig Ahmed
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Image 1 of 10: Faig Ahmed designs carpets based on Azerbaijan’s ancient weaving tradition and conventional designs, but reconfigures part of each pattern. He says that disrupting traditional forms shows how “ideas that have been formed for ages can be changed in moments”. In Pixelate Tradition (image above), the pattern disintegrates into digitized pixels.

Nada Debs
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Image 1 of 10: Designer Nada Debs blends Middle Eastern craftsmanship with Japanese minimalism, combining light-weight concrete with Arabic font in a 28-panel Concrete Carpet that recalls Japanese tatami mats. Each panel features an Arabic letter, highlighted with mother-of-pearl inlay. Born in Japan, Debs lives and works in Beirut, Lebanon.

Waqas Khan
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Image 1 of 10: Pakistani Waqas Khan paints in miniature, but does it large! He says it’s architectural; like building something brick by brick, his marks are precisely assembled into deceptively simple compositions. The practice reflects Sufism, or mystical Islam. He usually draws at night, holding his breath and exhaling only when the ink is on the paper.

Laurent Mareschal
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Image 1 of 10: Laurent Mareschal focuses on the ephemeral, acknowledging in particular the impermanence of Palestinian lives. He creates fragile site-specific works from soap and food and invites his audiences to actively transform the pieces – by eating the artwork! His carpet (image above) is made of spices patterned on old decorative floor tiles.

Nasser Al Salem
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Image 1 of 10: Saudi calligrapher Nasser Al Salem exploits one of the most dramatic forms in Arabic script – combining letters kaf & lam to spell out the word kull, meaning ‘all’. In Kul (image above), he repeats the word on a diminishing scale to create a perspective that suggests infinity and all-inclusiveness, complementing the word’s literal meaning.

Florie Salnot
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Image 1 of 10: Designer Florie Salnot tackles social issues. Working with Sahrawi women living in refugee camps in Algeria, she devised a craft they can practice with their limited resources. Her Plastic Gold project uses hot sand, simple tools and spray paint to transform discarded plastic bottles into gorgeous necklaces and bracelets based on her own designs.

Pascal Zoghbi
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Image 1 of 10: There’s currently a limited range of Arabic typeface, but font design is now exploding! In 29LT Fonts Collection, typographer Pascal Zoghbi has created new font styles for printed media, architecture, signage and software. Zoghbi, who lives in Lebanon, stays faithful to the conventions of the Arabic script while meeting contemporary needs.

There’s a stunning show of Arab artwork currently on exhibit in the world’s largest museum- a compact display by ten artists that’s grabbing the spotlight from the 144 other galleries inside London’s Victoria & Albert! The work of the shortlisted artists for the Jameel Prize - 3 is on view until 21 April 2014. Can’t get there before the exhibition hits the road for its international tour?  Sit back and click as we turn you on to the finalists - see what all the buzz is about!

The Jameel is a biennial award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition. It invites a wider debate about the global impact of Islamic culture and it’s got star-packed backing with Dame Zaha Hadid, one of the world’s most innovative architects, as its primary patron. She conceived of the prize after the 2006 redesign of the V&A's splendid Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art as a means to give modern Arab art a higher profile and promote Islamic-inspired design to new audiences. We love that she shines her uber-celebrity onto emerging Arab artists!

The diverse list of finalists must demonstrate direct inspiration by sources rooted in Islamic traditions. Those influences cross-pollinate these works in strokes of outrageous imagination.  Final artifacts range from new Arabic typography to fashion inspired by regional architecture; from calligraphy-come-alive through video to archaic floor tiles rendered in spices. While sidestepping politics, there is a clear nod to social responsibility.

About 270 nominees from countries as diverse as Algeria, Kosovo, Norway, Brazil and Azerbaijan were invited to submit samples of recent work for judging by an independent panel. A shortlist of best submissions was created and finalists then showed their work in a special exhibition at the V&A. The judges selected a winner, this year awarding £25,000 to Turkish designers Dice Kayek for Istanbul Contrast, a collection of garments that evoke Istanbul’s vibrant architectural and artistic heritage.

The V&A was the first museum to purposely collect art from the Islamic world, beginning in the 1850s. The Museum's mission was to reform design, believing that Islamic ideas about pattern structure and matching decoration to shape and function could improve British design (as indeed they did). The Jameel Prize emphasizes this link between the Islamic art of the past and contemporary practice worldwide.

The first Jameel Prize exhibition in 2009 travelled to venues in the Middle East and North Africa, and the 2011 series toured Europe and the United States. Future prizes will travel to new regions, increasingly opening the world’s eyes to the inventiveness of Arab artists as they demonstrate that ancient traditions can be vividly relevant to the contemporary world.

Sit back and enjoy the slideshow, and meet the new wonders of the Arab art world! 

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