Sharjah transforms streets into open exhibits for Islamic art

“The festival has put the name of the Sharjah emirate on the map of the international art movement," said Mohammed Ibrahim al-Qusair, Islamic Arts Festival director.
Sunday 20/01/2019
“Mi’raj” by Emirati artist Fatma Lootah. (Islamic Arts Festival)
A tribute to Palestinians. “Mi’raj” by Emirati artist Fatma Lootah. (Islamic Arts Festival)

SHARJAH - Artists from around the world showed their work in the streets of Sharjah, creating paintings and murals for the Islamic Arts Festival.

The festival, the largest of its kind in the Arab world and the Middle East, brought together 63 artists from 20 Arab and foreign countries. They produced 377 pieces in traditional and contemporary art.

The event, which took place December 19-January 19, featured 55 exhibitions, 144 art workshops, 11 experimental films and training workshops in Arabic calligraphy.

The Islamic Arts Festival, organised by the Sharjah Department of Culture under the patronage of Sharjah Ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi, is an international event specialising in the Islamic arts. It celebrates the vitality and expressive depth of Islamic art as a universal artistic language.

The festival, established in 1998, is devoted to Islamic art in both its civilisational and contemporary dimensions. Each year, it showcases a rich collection of Islamic art varied in space and time. The festival reflects Sharjah’s and the United Arab Emirates’ vision to consolidate and revive Islamic art and to establish its presence in the contemporary global visual arts landscape.

Artists and supporters of Islamic art say the festival has restored the sheen to ancient Islamic art and given it a respected position among the world’s arts traditions. It has contributed to the discovery of new talents and to creation of excellent art projects.

Visitors to Sharjah said they were impressed with the murals and paintings that adorned the streets of the emirate, covering more than six major art sites, including the Sharjah Art Museum, Al-Majaz Waterfront and the Maraya Art Centre

“The festival has put the name of the Sharjah emirate on the map of the international art movement,” said festival Director Mohammed Ibrahim al-Qusair. “It attracts art lovers and creators from all over the world, as well as photographers and television cameras streaming pictures of the city’s streets, which are transformed over a 30-day period into open exhibitions.”

Qusair said the latest festival brought together artists from Brazil, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Their work — from murals to frescoes — reflected “the artistry of their creations and highlight[ed] the busy visual worlds they produced in a creative moment through their imagination and intuition,” Qusair said.

He indicated the exhibitions blended the “spirit of light, the beauty of colours and the symbolism of sound.”

An exhibition titled “Road Map to the Hidden Treasure” by Egyptian-British artist Ahmed Moustafa showcased 12 works, including a fresco called “Al Israa, Al Mi’raj and Beyond Sidra Al-Montaha” and paintings inspired by Quranic verses in which colours fused with free-flowing waves of geometric shapes and Arabic letters.

This year’s festival hosted a forum for Gulf women calligraphers, organised in cooperation with the Emirates Association for Arabic Calligraphy and Islamic Ornamentation. Twenty-one female artists from the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman participated in the forum, which featured 42 works in bold calligraphic variations and included training sessions in Arabic calligraphy.

One of the most notable contributions this year was “Mi’raj,” by Emirati artist Fatma Lootah. It was erected at the centre of the Majaz Waterfront Square and was a tribute to the Palestinian cause.

Saudi artist Zahrah al-Ghamdi exhibited “The Circle of Moderation,” in which she transformed Islamic ornamentation into an abstract language.

“The work emphasises circular ornamentations, which is one of the most pronounced geometric ornamentations and represents the sun disk. The work highlights the characteristics of Islamic ornamentation such as balance, extension, complexity, repetition and intertwining,” Ghamdi said.

Khalid Zahid from Saudi Arabia and Ali Chaaban from Lebanon presented a collaborative piece “Mehrab” at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Art. The two artists dissected components of a mosque and individualised the functions of each component.

The Maraya Centre for Art was the site for an exhibition by Palestinian artist Dana Awartani. One piece, titled “Love is My Sharia,” consisted of eight embroidered pieces with intricate inscriptions inspired by the poetry of Ibn ‘Arabi. The artwork is a meditation in visual form.

Through “Listen to My Words,” Awartani attempted to deliver a holistic artistic experience through an installation combining hand-embroidered silk panels and emotional voices of women reciting poetry from the past. The artist said she wanted to highlight the issue of women’s exclusion from art, politics and science. Her piece used poetry by radical female Arab poets from the pre-Islamic era to the 12th century.

The halls of the Calligraphy Square of the Arts Area of Sharjah were decorated with calligraphic paintings that constructed a beautiful image of the Arabic alphabet through poems, idioms and Quranic texts.