The Art of Ramadan

Published June 11th, 2017 - 01:08 GMT
Some of the beautiful artwork on display. (Mona Biswarupa Mohanty)
Some of the beautiful artwork on display. (Mona Biswarupa Mohanty)

The Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (DUCTAC) is celebrating Ramadan by hosting an exhibition titled, Ramadanization, featuring works that look at various facets of the holy month. In an open call to all UAE-based artists, DUCTAC had invited them to submit original works and concepts expressing what Ramadan means to them, and the works in the show have been selected from among the submissions, by a panel of art experts. The show also presents works by tutors and students of the various art courses at DUCTAC, including an important series by well-known Egyptian artist, curator and art educator Mohammed Abouelnaga.

The artworks include paintings, sculptures, collages, ceramics, glass mosaics and a video installation. They speak about how the observance of this month of fasting upholds Islamic beliefs and traditions across the globe, and influences the daily lives of the people living in this region. In the true spirit of Ramadan, DUCTAC will donate a part of the proceeds to charity.

“We want to show how observance of Ramadan holds deeply personal meanings to each individual. Through these artistic expressions, we are capturing this range of interpretations, and bringing attention to the local artists and their individual voice,” Richard Evans, general manager, DUCTAC says.

Above: "Moods of the Moon" - acrylic on canvas. (Mona Biswarupa Mohanty)

While some works evoke the spirituality of the holy month, others express the artists’ personal feelings and memories associated with Ramadan, or explore the socio-cultural aspect of this important period in the Islamic calendar.

Bushra Malik’s paintings of a woman feeding birds, and an old man reading the Quran in a mosque capture the beauty of the intricate decorative patterns on the walls of the mosque, as well as its peaceful, tranquil ambience. “Doing these paintings took me on an enjoyable journey of learning about the basis of geometry, and its deeper significance in Islamic art. I believe that the overpowering embellished architecture of the mosque demands greater concentration and is a medium to transcend to a higher level of thought,” the Pakistani artist says.

Zaahirah Murthy, an artist from Mauritius, and founder of the UAE-based ZeeArts Community, has also captured the spiritual, mystical ambience of a place of worship bathed in the vibrations of prayers whispered generation after generation, in her painting Hasbun Allahou, featuring a verse from the Quran that has always inspired her and given her the strength and energy to face the struggles in her life. Similarly, Abeera Atique’s gold leaf embellished painting, The Verse of The Throne, speaks about one of her best memories of Ramadan in the UAE, which is reciting her favourite Quranic verse in the majestic and tranquil Shaikh Zayed Mosque.

Ria Sharma’s cubist painting of a whirling dervish offers multiple perspectives about Ramadan. “I depicted the subject from multiple viewpoints to reflect the many aspects of the holy month such as tolerance towards a diverse society, restraining ourselves from worldly comforts, submission to God, self-purification, patience, mercy, gratitude and forgiveness,” she says. On the other hand, Sarab Jokhdar’s colourful, lively painting is inspired by her memories of Ramadan in her hometown Damascus, and maps out the homes of family and friends, the mosques, souqs, and other places she visited during the holy month, through the colours, forms, and elements she encountered across her neighbourhood.

Above: "Rhythmic Cubism 2" by Ria Sharma - oil and acrylic. (Ria Sharma)

Indian artist Mona Biswarupa Mohanty’s black and white painting, Moods of the Moon, depicting different phases of the moon recalls her memories of Ramadan and of home. “Ten years ago, I landed in Dubai during Ramadan, feeling as if I was a little plant uprooted, and being planted in a strange land. The future was obscure, but the one thing that connected me to my roots was the moon, which looked to me like my mother’s comforting smile. I knew that the same moon was lighting up the skies of my hometown at the very same time, so it became the mirror that reflected my thoughts to my family at home. Ramadan brings back those old memories, and I feel a sense of positivity in the air as if everything around me is going through a cleansing process,” she says.

Renee Tauro has also focused on the moon in her work, Spell. She has used pins and over 2000 golden sequins sown by hand, to create a crescent moon shining in the night sky above the desert. “By creating a single work comprising multiple individual parts, I wanted to explore each experience of observing this holy month, and the relationship between religion and wars, and between one and many,” she says.

Above: "Stories" - Sarab Jokhadar. (Sarab Jokhadar)

Jasmina Tomasevic offers an unusual perspective on Ramadan based on her experience of working in a tailoring atelier. The artist from Belgrade has created a mixed media work featuring representations of the abayas she cuts, and the tools she uses. “I have never seen more beautiful traditional dresses, embroidery pieces and fabrics than the ones created for Ramadan. Making these dresses has been an extraordinary learning experience for me technically and artistically. It is amazing that Arab women are keeping these traditions alive, especially during Ramadan, when they start with simple dresses and move on to richly embroidered pieces in preparation for Eid. It has inspired me to use traditional Arabian motifs in a modern composition,” she says.

Pakistani artist, Shabir Mir has combined calligraphy and sculpture to create a series of delicate, graceful metal sculptures featuring special verses from the Quran. The beautiful shapes reflect the meaning of the verses, and the interplay of the curved Arabic and Urdu letters and the shadows that complete the words highlights the idea of self-reflection associated with Ramadan. Irma Vaiciuleviciute has expressed her fascination with calligraphy and Islamic art by hand embroidering a verse from the Koran on canvas in her piece, The Merciful.

Above: "My Early Morning Escape" - Bushra Malik. (Bushra Malik)

Abouelnaga, is showing a few pieces from his well-known series Book of Secrets, comprising handmade objects that look like ancient books, decorated with gold foil. Explaining the concept behind this series, the artist says, “This closed book, apparently full of many pages, and covered with gold that gives it a sense of holiness, is a book of secrets, which is held inside every person, hidden from the world. It is the book of the past, the present and the future. In Islamic as well as ancient Egyptian heritage, and most other religions, it is believed that there is life after death and each person will carry their book to meet God for judgement. This book, where the good and bad deeds of the person are recorded, is the self within every human being.”

The works by tutors and students at DUCTAC include calligraphic works by artists taking the Arabic Calligraphy and Islamic Borders course, a mosaic by tutor Priti Kakkar, ceramic pieces by students doing pottery courses, and spiritual paintings of mosques by tutor Jivan Hovhannisan and his students. Well-known Emirati artist Ammar Al Attar has captured the spirit of Ramadan in a photograph of a multicultural mass of people gathered for Eid prayers outside a mosque; and the video by Abeer Abdelmonaim, Altamash and Mohammed Bakheet features a variety of images taken on the streets of the UAE during Ramadan, such as the firing of the canon in Sharjah, charity iftars, and prayers at various mosques. One wall has been dedicated to portraits of different people by tutor Maria Peat and her students, highlighting the fact that Ramadan is a time for getting together with family and friends. The show also includes a live painting demonstration by Keenan DAbreo, who will be in the gallery every day during Ramadan, working on a monochrome painting of a mosque that he began on the opening night.

Ramadanization will run at the Gallery of Light, DUCTAC, Mall of the Emirates until June 27.

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