Jameel Prize exhibit in Dubai showcases ‘breadth of the legacy of Islamic design and visual culture’
DUBAI - The works of Iraqi artist Mehdi Moutashar and Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum, winners of the Jameel Prize, the only global award for artists and designers inspired by Islamic design and visual culture, are being shown at the Jameel Art Centre in Dubai.
The exhibit showcases the works of shortlisted participants Iranian artist Kamrooz Aram; Dubai-based Jordanian graphic designer and architect duo Naqsh Collective; Iraqi-born painter Hayv Kahraman; Bahraini fashion designer Hala Kaiksow; Moroccan multimedia artist Younes Rahmoun; and Pakistani painter Wardha Shabbir.
Begun in 2009, the prize received 1,193 nominations from more than 40 countries, exhibited the work of 48 artists and designers and toured 16 venues globally.
The Jameel Prize shortlist was most diverse featuring, for the first time, architecture among its disciplines, while sources of inspiration ranged from calligraphy to embroidered shawls.
“When the Jameel Prize was launched in 2009, it was really something revolutionary,” said Antonia Carver, director of Art Jameel. “That is to showcase contemporary artists from all over the world and from any background or faith, whose work was inspired or influenced by the principles of Islamic design and art and to show their work in the heart of London’s museum world, at the V&A.”
“Of course, now international audiences are far more aware of artists from the Middle East and South Asia and of the great legacy of Islamic art but the prize still remains the only one of its kind,” Carver said.
While promoting Islamic art and artists from the region, Carver said: “Our primary focus is on presenting high quality, discursive exhibitions and programmes that engage the broadest audiences. Most of our programmes are based in the Middle East itself but we also work with international partners, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and in London, the V&A and Delfina Foundation, to enable exchange between the arts community of the region and those elsewhere and to make sure that Middle Eastern artists have their place in these incredible, encyclopaedic museums, among the most visited in the world.”
“We hope that visitors to those museums encounter the dynamic, thought-provoking work of ‘our’ artists and perhaps rethink any assumptions they may have about this part of the world,” Carver added.
Moutashar said the guiding principles of his work — geometry and the rejection of illustration — have their origins well before the beginning of his artistic journey.
“My constant dialogue with nature, during my childhood and adolescence on the banks of the Euphrates, observing palm trees and the light and shadow effect they produced, drawing in the sand using date seeds, playfully adding paint to the nooks and crannies in the corners of brick houses, all these activities have defined my relationship with space,” Moutashar said.
Moutashar left Iraq in the late 1960s and lives in Arles, France. The basis of his work is a line, which he develops into constructions, drawing on Islamic traditions of sophisticated geometry and elegant script.
Moutashar said his discovery of abstract geometry and minimalism in Paris and exposure to Western artists’ perspective on Arabic and Islamic art made him “aware that arabesque art, calligraphy and architecture have a long scholastic tradition and contemporary approaches to space and especially the experience of using the full available space.”
Tabassum who lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh, was declared the winner of the Jameel Prize for her project Bait ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka, for which she also received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2014-16. Light is a core element in her design. The mosque is naturally lit and ventilated with open courts on four sides.
In the film directed by Steven M. Fisher featuring the shortlisted artists that are part of the exhibition, Tabassum said: “There is a sense of spirituality. The lighting is even, enhancing the sense of equality among those using the space.”
Carver applauded the winning artists, saying: “We were thrilled to see an architect win for the first time (Tabassum) alongside a mature, renowned yet under-known artist (Moutashar).”
“The reaction to their work and that of all the finalists in the exhibition from the audiences here in Dubai has been fantastic. We’ve also had thousands of schoolchildren visit the exhibition and take tours with our education team and they’ve been truly wowed to see the breadth of the legacy of Islamic design and visual culture,” Carver added.