Organised under the theme of “Athar,” meaning ‘”Impact,” the 20th Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival brought together conceptually artists from the United Arab Emirates, neighbouring Arab countries and others from around the world.
The show covered the emirate’s art hotspots, forums and public squares. Organised by the Sharjah Department of Culture and Information (SDCI), it offered 270 activities, including exhibitions, lectures and workshops.
While the main show with 31 exhibits is showcased at the Sharjah Art Museum, ten parallel shows are being exhibited at the Al Majaz Waterfront, Al Majaz Amphitheatre, AWQAF Department, Al Qasba, Maraya Art Centre and the Calligraphy Square.
Mohammed al-Qaseer, director of the department of cultural affairs at the SDCI, said the multifaceted theme was reflected in the selection of artists and works that attempted to create new effects in the contemporary sphere from ancient Islamic concepts.
He outlined how the festival started with its focus on calligraphy and evolved through the creativity of the selected artists, most them now come from non-Muslim countries and with many participating more than once.
Representing the UAE this year were Najat Makki, Zeinab al- Hashemi, Khalid Shafar and Ammar al-Attar.
Makki has found a new medium — Bohemian crystal — and her installation titled “Visual-audio Flaps” is captivating with its engraved design, colour, light and sound. The spherical installation mimics the cosmic movement and the multidimensionality of the imagination.
“Sarah” by Attar, an acclaimed Emirati photographer and mixed media artist, represents an investigative series of self-portraits centred on the act of prayer in Islam and the underlying explanations for each micromanagement of the ritual.
In “Metamorphosis,” Hashemi delves into the geometric depth of Islamic art. The material used — the steel mesh seen at construction sites all over the UAE — is transformed into a decorative installation. “My work is indirect and is like a journey,” she said. “Metamorphosis” also reflects the material transformation in the region of constant evolution.
Saudi artist Ayman Zedani’s installation “Thalaatha” (“Three”) can be considered as a visual alphabet that starts with a formula and then takes on a two-dimensional form. Zedani said Islamic art seeks “to inspire the human mind.”
Textile artist Pia Jensen from Denmark creates functional items for the household that are done in a way that gives one “a sense of infinity.” Jensen has been inspired by Islamic art at a formative period through the mid-1990s work of Danish artist Niels Nedergaard and her own study tour to Morocco.
She incorporates the hexagon, which is repeated in an almost infinite pattern to create “Contemplation — A Room for Thoughtful Consciousness,” a place to sit on a bench and experience tranquillity.
American artist John Foster’s “Truth Ore” is composed of a cluster of icosahedral diachronic spheres embedded in a gypsum plaster matrix. Always fascinated by geometric pattern, Foster has been influenced by Islamic arts and architecture. His works are crafted for the domestic environment but seek to capture the temporal moment of wonder and beauty.
“I use light as the primary medium and manipulate it using acrylic film to play up the beauty of the daily life. The same forces that generate geometrical perfection have created us,” Foster said.
Daydreamers — Hong Kong, comprising the duo of Aden Chan and Stanley Siu, is participating for the second consecutive year in Sharjah with a large outdoor installation. Last year they explored the topic of structure by focusing on the evolution of the arch from the original round arch to the contemporary parabolic arch. The concept this year is the Islamic carpet, often a very personal object.
“We thought about how to transform it in a different way. Usually, the carpet is on the floor. We reversed the role and by looking at it in a new way, we formed a dome. We extracted the geometries from a key traditional carpet pattern — the Tabriz — and formed a dome. The wooden structure creates its own light and shade patterns that are different during the day and later at night when it is lit up,” Chan said.
Hitoshi Kuriyama, from Japan, in “1=0 — Reflections” has 300 pieces of mirrored glass tubes tied with transparent nylon strings to evoke the feeling of disappearance or non-existence, which is indicated through the title of his artwork.
Kuriyama’s inspiration has been the themes of repetition and infinity found in the arabesque of Islamic art. The glass tube is one unit that is repeated to construct something bigger and the resulting structure encompasses lots of reflections and images that come out endlessly.
The Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival will conclude January 23.
N.P. Krishna Kumar is an Arab Weekly correspondent in Dubai.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.