The Jameel Prize: Art Inspired by Islamic Tradition

About the 10 Artists Shortlisted for the 2011 Jameel Prize


Noor Ali Chagani is showing Life Line (2010) and Infinity (2009); two sculptural works made from miniature terracotta bricks. Chagani translates his training in the principles of Mughal miniature painting into sculpture by using miniature hand made bricks to imitate large building blocks. Both works refer to the fundamental desires of man to provide a house for shelter. The curves and movements of the bricks in Life Line are like a piece of cloth, serving as protection, as clothes provide a second skin, yet made of brittle and hard bricks they define the toughness and hardships of life’s daily struggle. Infinity continues Chagani’s interest with bricks creating the illusion of an endless series of walls each made from hundreds of handmade bricks. The work reflects a view of history, the broken walls and homes of an ancient civilization and the endless hurdles and obstacles faced by man. Noor Ali Chagani was born, lives and works in Pakistan.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian is one of Iran’s most celebrated artists with a career spanning more than five decades. She is exhibiting Birds of Paradise (2008), a work that demonstrates her distinctive style of adapting and combining Iranian traditions of mirror mosaic and reverse glass painting techniques with a modern aesthetic. Mirrors are cut and set in geometric patterns and integrated with colored glass, referencing a range of influences in Islamic art, architecture and science. This particular work is inspired by the many feathers left by sparrows on her balcony in Tehran. Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian was born in Iran, spent many years in the U.S.A., but currently lives and works in Tehran.

Bita Ghezelayagh works in the traditional Iranian craft of felt-making. She is showing three pieces from her Felt Memories series (2007–2009), inspired by the Islamic tradition of talismanic coats, worn to protect the wearer from misfortune. Ghezelayagh uses metal keys, crowns, tulips (symbols of martyrdom), machine guns and other street symbols combined with printed Persian phrases to cover the surface of her pieces. The juxtaposition of urban imagery with a rural craft tradition creates a new visual language which embraces both tradition and modernity. Bita Ghezelayagh was born in Italy and now lives and works in London and Tehran.

Babak Golkar is showing a new piece entitled Negotiating the Space for Possible Coexistences No.5 (2011). Golkar’s multi-disciplinary work often examines socio-cultural issues experienced from living in both the Middle East and Canada. This work is part of a series that uses the pattern of Persian carpets as a blueprint for architectural scale models. The model sits on top of the carpet so that the relationship between the two forms is accessible to the viewer, creating a conceptual connection between the traditions of Modern and Postmodern architecture and the traditions of nomadic society. The work also challenges the spatial economies of the two traditions, offering a space for cross-cultural dialogue. Babak Golkar was born in the U.S.A. and now lives and works in Canada.

Hayv Kahraman is showing two paintings from the Waraq series, Migrant 8 (2010) and Migrant 1 (2010) and Asad Babil (2011), a new work from a series based on Assyrian Lion Hunt relief sculptures. Kahraman’s work is inspired by her experience of living in Baghdad, Europe and the U.S.A. Waraq means ‘playing cards’ in Arabic and references a popular Iraqi pastime. Kahraman has invented a suit of cards to explore the lives of people who personify the Iraqi Diaspora and their stories of assimilation, alienation and discovery in their new homes. The work also references the so called ‘Archaeology awareness playing cards’ - 40,000 decks of cards which were sent to American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 to highlight important archaeological sites and to discourage illegal trade in artifacts. Asad Babil depicts an injured life-sized lion painted in Islamic geometric patterns and black and red paint. Instead of blood, a set of ‘diasporic’ playing cards gushes from the lion’s mouth, referencing the fall of Iraq and the wounded people as its victims and prey. Hayv Kahraman was born in Iraq and now lives and works in the U.S.A.

Aisha Khalid is showing Name, Class, Subject (2009), an artist book inspired by the exercise or ‘copy books’ used by government schools in Pakistan to teach writing in Urdu and English. The book draws on Khalid’s experience as a child growing up in a society shaped by a bilingual culture. Khalid has painted each of the 280 pages of the book in the Mughal style of miniature painting, to look like a ruled exercise book. There are ‘errors’ in the Urdu pages, reminders of the mistakes Khalid used to find in her printed text books in Pakistan, such as missing text and lines or badly cut margins. In the middle of the book both English and Urdu page lines are blurred and overlapping, referencing the tensions underlying Pakistan’s past and present. She is also showing Kashmiri Shawl (2011), a subversion of the popular pashmina shawl. On one side the delicate embroidery of the gold-plated steel pin heads form a traditional Kashmiri paisley pattern and on the other side the pin ends are menacingly visible, referencing the struggle of generations of Kashmiris. Aisha Khalid was born, lives and works in Pakistan.

Rachid Koraïchi is showing a selection of embroidered cloth banners from a series entitled Les Maitres invisibles (The Invisible Masters, 2008). Koraïchi uses Arabic calligraphy and symbols and ciphers from a range of other languages and cultures to explore the lives and legacies of the 14 great mystics of Islam. The work aims to show that the world of Islam, in contrast to contemporary perceptions of crisis and violence, has another side entirely, evident in the tolerant and sophisticated writings of great Muslim thinkers and poets such as Rumi and EI Arabi. These ‘masters’, whose fame has spread even to the West, left an imprint on successive generations and their message is just as relevant today as when first written down. Rachid Koraïchi was born in Algeria and now lives and works in Tunisia and France.

Hazem EI Mestikawy is exhibiting a sculptural installation made from recycled cardboard, newspaper and glue entitled Bridge (2009). EI Mestikawy has created an intricate and geometrical sculpture by reusing equal extracts of Arabic and English newspaper to form 7 movable units which can be arranged to form ‘bridges’. The work is a continuation of his exploration of the socio-political issues of North versus South and East versus West. EI Mestikawy defines the space between different regions, both geographically and metaphorically. His practice assimilates ancient Egyptian and Islamic art and architecture, as well as contemporary and minimal art philosophies. EI Mestikawy was born in Egypt and lives and works in Egypt and Austria.

Hadieh Shafie is showing two new works, 22500 Pages (2011) and 26000 Pages (2011) which are a continuation of her signature paper scroll works. Made up of 22,500 and 26,000 strips of paper, each scroll is marked with printed and hand-written Farsi (Persian) text, and then tightly rolled into concentric circles, concealing or revealing different elements of the text. The concentric forms of both text and material take their inspiration from the dance of the whirling dervish. Shafie’s paper scroll works demonstrate a constant element of her work, which is the significance of process, repetition and time, all rooted in the influence of Islamic art and craft. Hadieh Shafie was born in Iran and lives and works in the U.S.A.

Soody Sharifi is exhibiting two prints, Frolicking Women in the Pool (2007) and Fashion Week (2010). Her work often explores the accommodation of modernity within a traditional society, particularly referencing Muslim youth culture in Iran and the United States. In these collages from her 'Maxiature' series, Sharifi has enlarged scans of traditional Persian miniature paintings and interjected them with her own photographs to create layered narratives which reflect either her own personal experience or the storyline of the original miniature painting. Soody Sharifi was born in Iran and lives and works in the U.S.A.

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Rachid Koraichi, The Invisible Masters, 2008. Courtesy of October Gallery. Photo by Jonathan Greet


Hayv Kahraman, Migrant 8, 2010. Courtesy of the artist. Collection of Tarek & Lina Damerji

Soody Sharifi, Fashion Week, 2010. Courtesy of the LTMH Gallery, New York