Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival offers viewers a transcendental experience

The festival’s 22nd edition attracted 108 artists from 31 countries.
Sunday 05/01/2020
Sharjah ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi at the inauguration of Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival at the Sharjah Arts Museum. 	                      (Sharjah Department of Culture)
Undiscovered realms. Sharjah ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi at the inauguration of Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival at the Sharjah Arts Museum. (Sharjah Department of Culture)

 “Prospect,” or an imaginative journey to undiscovered realms, is the theme of this year’s Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival, which showcases Islamic art from the region and the world in the emirate’s art and academic institutions and public squares.

Organised by the Cultural Affairs Department at the Sharjah Department of Culture, the festival’s 22nd edition attracted 108 artists from 31 countries. Artworks are being displayed in 55 exhibitions around the city, including the main venue at the Sharjah Art Museum, the Calligraphy Square, Al Majaz Waterfront, Al Majaz Amphitheatre, Maraya Art Centre, Al Qasba Sharjah University and University City.

The month-long event, which ends January 21, will be celebrated across the emirate through 253 exhibitions, lectures and workshops.

“The theme prompts contemplation and venturing into a journey towards visual realms that exist beyond the limits of space. It is the practice of imagination that can invoke the absent beautiful and undiscovered realms,” said Mohammed al-Qaseer, director of Cultural Affairs at the Sharjah Department of Culture.

At the Sharjah Art Museum, the artists impressed viewers through the sheer scale of the vision and choice of the medium to express their creations.

“Soliloquies” by Ahmed Askalany, from Egypt, comprises three giant symbolic rosaries of varied sizes, hanging from the ceiling and coming together on a pedestal of white and light brown crystals, illuminated by a green light from below.

The rosaries are made of palm leaves and threaded by rope, the texture and colour evoking a soothing, spiritual atmosphere. The work embodies the link between creature and the creator and emphasises the importance of patience and tolerance.

“Study in Pattern” by Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen, from the United States, activates the common visual vocabulary and collective imagination of the local community, including the audience in the process of shared seeing. Made of wooden strips of different lengths woven into a giant structure, the subject matter for “Study in Pattern” is drawn from the rich pattern at the foundation of historical Islamic art.

“Infinitum” by Antonio Pio Saracino, of Italy, invites viewers to discover arches common in mosque design. Rows of columns and arches are a metaphor for the progress of human civilisation and the possibilities of human life.

The paper installation “Infinite Ocean and Sky” by Nancy Baker, of the United States, is inspired by the 13th-century poet and mystic Rumi’s meditative poem on nature. The artist draws inspiration from the cloud and the sea and community. Three smaller works lead up to the 7-metre-wide creation. All that one sees are floating components of paper. Shapes, patterns, structure and colour are balanced to create a floating feeling as in Rumi’s poem.

At the Al Majaz Waterfront, two installations are designed to captivate the public.

“The Art of Du’aa” by Emirati artist Moaza Matar is inspired by the artist’s recent haj. Using fine stitching on cloth, complemented by paint, it portrays stories of people during haj raising their hands in prayer.

“Horizon to Horizon” by Sinta Tantra, a British artist of Balinese descent, is inspired by Rumi’s poem on moonlight. The work is a celebration of light and colour, bursting with energy and life as well as featuring Islamic motifs and colours.

“I am open to developing a unique colour palette in response to Sharjah,” said Tantra, who has used classical Islamic gold paint for certain geometrical elements to make the work glow vibrantly during the day and the moonlight in the evening.

“Pray/Play” by Kaz Shirane and Kaito Sakuma, from Japan, aims to connect all religions through art. Their outdoor installation is inspired by mosques and Islamic geometric patterns and embodies what the place to pray/play is all about -- connection with all people. The music played inside is inspired by several religions.

At the Maraya Art Centre, Beijing-based sculptor Li Hongbo is presenting “Bloom,” which uses paper sculpture and traditional Chinese craft practices in a work that metamorphoses in a manner that challenges viewers’ expectations from this bright field of colour.

Hongbo brings a unique vision to an age-old honeycomb technique seen in paper gourd making in China. He finds inspiration in the proportion and symmetry of Islamic patterns and motifs.

Thousands of objects transform from paper guns to flowers and unfold in full bloom. However, when viewers step back, they see that the shapes amass into the form of guns and artillery. While this practice originates from folk tradition, it allows Hongbo to allegorically propose that weapons must be disarmed for peace and shows how we can all experience beauty within the darkness of the world.