Exploring themes of Islamic art and architecture at Sharjah festival

January 22, 2017
Sheikh Salem Bin Abdulrahman al-Qasmi (R), chairman of Sharjah Ruler’s Office, at the opening of Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival with artist Ahmed Keshta. (Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival)

Sharjah - Sharjah has long been in­volved in exploring Islamic influences in art as evi­denced by the successful run of the Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival. This year, the 19th edition of the festival features 64 artists and 364 activities, including art displays, lectures and profes­sional workshops.

The focus is on exhibitions at the Sharjah Art Museum, Al Majaz Waterfront, Al Majaz Amphithea­tre and Noor Island. There are also calligraphy workshops and exhibi­tions, film screenings and lectures on Islamic art and architecture.

Elaborating on this year’s theme, Mohammed Ibrahim al-Qaseer, cul­tural affairs director and general coordinator of the festival, said: “‘Bunyan’ is the Arabic word for ‘standing structure,’ or ‘forming construction’ or ‘man-built crea­tion’, which sets it apart from the word ‘architecture’.

“The concept of architecture is about meeting certain social functions and human necessity, whereas the ‘art of architecture’ is an exploration of creativity, com­position, and motifs to create an unambiguous identity, whether re­ligious or social. In this edition, we deconstruct the concept of bunyan to rebuild a discourse through visu­als in the realm of contemporary Islamic arts.”

The festival has attracted artists and architects from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Jordan as well as participants from other parts of the world — from the United States to South Korea, which were clearly influenced by the distinctive artistic language of Islamic aesthet­ics and its various components.

“One of the most significant ob­jectives of this edition is not only the recovery of historical memory or to celebrate past achievements but also to secure a future for these arts, one that is shaped in line with the evolution of life and its accel­erated pace,” said Nada al-Jasmi, senior editor at the Sharjah Depart­ment of Culture and Information.

“The emphasis is on the scientific features of Islamic architecture, its different functions and forms, through a series of questions relat­ing to aesthetics, to claim a visual discourse that is both innovative and contemporary.”

The artists responded to the theme with much variety, apply­ing various traditional and modern visual techniques, from painting, sculpture and ornamentation.

Sharjah Pavilion, by Josh Hay­wood from the United Kingdom, at the Al Majaz Amphitheatre is a fit­ting gateway for the event, blend­ing traditional and modern Islamic design. Soaring vaulted ribs draw the gaze heavenward and uplift the spirit, while sunlight filters through the symmetrical motifs of the tes­sellated canopy.

Haywood, who has specialised in parametric design and digital fab­rication, achieves patterns that are suggestive of infinity and hint at paradise.

Italian artist Edoardo Tresoldi’s Sacral at Al Majaz Waterfront repre­sents a visual rhythm of solids and voids that are determined through light and shadows that affect the wire mesh, where the solid materi­al transparency holds within it both the landscape and the architecture. The work alludes to a material and spiritual duality within a dialogue between ancient and contempo­rary.

The installation Simplicity in Rep­etition, by Ahmad Angawi of Saudi Arabia, uses the geometrical unit called the flower of life, which can expand by holding on to one an­other and grow in space like a living tree. Made of walnut, the multiple, evenly shaped, overlapping circles form a flower-like pattern with a six-fold symmetry like a hexagon. Angawi’s work aspires to confer industrial design with the status of craftsmanship.

Egyptian artist Hamdy Reda’s Shelter of Time and Light envisions the Arabic tent as a shelter and as a distinct form of housing that is moveable like a camera where the angle can be changed. Reda focuses on the relationship between this primitive form of housing and oth­er forms of architecture and struc­tures.

The role and historical value and the evolution of the arch in Islamic architecture inspired the work of Daydreamers of Hong Kong titled Spiral Arches at the Al Majaz Wa­terfront. The pavilion consists of 100 layers of arches, forming a long arcade guiding into the courtyard. The arcade begins with the modern parabolic arch and leads back to the ancient horseshoes arch, the first Muslim adaptation and modifica­tion of the design of the arch.

For Antonio Santin of Spain, the carpet represents a metaphoric analysis of reality, where each per­son ponders whether to stand on top of the carpet or hide under­neath it. Santin weaves together marvellous Oriental designs and oil, as a sculptural material in his hands, becomes a highly expressive tool.

Entwine, by artist Lianne Clark at Al Noor Island, is made from curv­ing plywood beams, intertwined together and held in compression by tensioning the boundary, form­ing an octahedral-shaped module. Similar to Islamic geometry, the nature of the design results in each viewing angle appearing entirely different.

The annual Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival began in 1998 under the supervision and organisation of the directorate of art in the Department of Culture and Information, with the intention of exhibiting various kinds of traditional and contempo­rary Islamic arts. The current edi­tion runs through January 24th.