The judges felt that both winning entries showed the “same combination of lucidity and sophistication” – Moutashar won with four minimalist sculptural pieces inspired by Islamic geometry and Arabic calligraphy, while Tabassum was recognised for her design for the Bait ur Rouf mosque built in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2012, a project that has been described as “visionary”.
Ahead of his co-win, I asked Mehdi Moutashar about the traditions that informed his work, which is crafted from wood, paint and elastic wire. “Islamic art and culture, whether calligraphy, arabesque or architecture, are based entirely on the notion of measurement: the square from the reed section for calligraphy, the segment and the framework for the arabesque, the module, like brick, for example, for architecture,” he explains. He continues: “The totality of my work, regardless of material or technique (wood, metal, brick, pencil, collage, elastic thread), and in whatever medium (mural works, constructions, installations), consists of an appropriation of space by measuring, using geometry as the alphabet of this measurement: doors, walls, ceilings, voids and skyline fall under the same unit. In other words, to consider geometry in its most literal sense: a measurement of the earth. In fact, my deep connection with Islamic art, stems from the idea that everything – space, feature, colour – eventually becomes material according to a certain logic.”
PICTURES: (HERO) PRAYER HALL, BAIT UR ROUF MOSQUEDHAKA, BANGLADESH (2012) BY MARINA TABASSUM. PHOTO BY SANDRO DI CARLO DARSA, MTA/SANDRO DI CARLO DARSA. (ABOVE) WARDHA SHABBIR, A CUBE, 2017. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE ARTIST USMAN JAVED
PICTURES: (L) UN CARRÉ ET TROIS ANGLES DROITS, 2016, (R) DEUX PLIS À 120°, 2012. IMAGES COURTESY OF THE ARTIST, MEHDI MOUTASHAR.
ART AS DIALOGUE
Ghulam Mohammad, a Pakistani artist and winner of the Jameel Prize 4, had a seat on the judges panel this time around; alongside London-based design historian Tanya Harrod, V&A director Tristram Hunt, November Paynter of Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Salah Hassan, professor and director of the Institute for Comparative Modernities at New York’s Cornell University. Speaking to Ghulam Mohammad before the ceremony, I asked how scooping the Prize had impacted his own career and work. “As a winner,” he explained, “one’s work is exhibited across various museums, galleries and platforms.This is an incredible opportunity for any artist and allowed me to communicate with a large and diverse audience.This in turn gave me the opportunity to engage with a substantial amount of feedback; something I might have been bereft of, had I not won.”
PICTURE: NAQSH COLLECTIVE SHAWL, 2015. IMAGE COURTESY OF NAQSH COLLECTIVE, PHOTOGRAPH BY NABIL QUTTEINEH
When asked if he had any tips for future winners, Mohammad said: “The only advice I feel qualified in giving, would be that it should serve as a means to deepen the relationship with one’s work and motivate one to excel at both the public and personal level; strengthening the ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ of devoting one’s self to the practice of art.”
Hailing from Jordan’s capital, Amman, sisters Nermeen and Nisreen Abudail make up the Naqsh Collective. For their exhibited entry, the siblings laser-cut intricate patterns into a piece of walnut wood, which they then hand-painted and inlayed with tiny pieces of brass. The piece draws inspiration from the shawls worn by Palestinian women, using the different heritage patterns and motifs as a kind of language. “We have been surrounded by this art all our lives,”Nermeen said. “At one point, embroidery was a detail we would pass by and not stop at and appreciate.”
PICTURES: (L) HALA KAIKSOW, WANDRESS COLLECTION, 2015, PHOTOGRAPHY BY SERGIO MIRANDA. (R)YOUNES RAHMOUN TÂQIYA NÔR (HAT LIGHT), 2016, COURTESY OF THE ARTIST NAD GALERIE IMANE FARÈS
CELEBRATION OF CULTURE
Nisreen explains further: “That made us recognise the obligation we had to take this treasure and put it in a setting where it would speak to us again, starting from our own heritage of Palestinian cross-stitch embroidery. Recreating the connections in these embroidery motifs and laying the artwork in a context not usual to traditional embroidery, using everlasting materials such as wood, stone and brass was like rubbing the lantern.”
With the Jameel Prize now in its ninth year, why is recognising Islamic culture and creativity so important, I asked Ghulam Mohammad. “In today’s polarising day and age,” he said, “the celebration of Islamic art and culture can be seen as an attempt at both responding to, as well as softening, hard-line stances that seem to permeate mainstream culture. I firmly believe that art as dialogue is at times more capable of bridging gaps than other means at one’s disposal.”