A modern twist on traditional Islamic art

A look at some of the works in the exhibition

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The works of nine artists short-listed for the Saudi-sponsored Jameel Prize have been exhibited in venues throughout the Arab world, underlining a new cultural collaboration between countries and boosting interest in contemporary interpretations of traditional Islamic art.

The exhibition was launched at London's Victoria and Albert Museum in July and has since travelled to Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and now Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Suleymaniye rings by Sevan Bicakci Sevan Bicakci's ring contains a representation of Istanbul's Suleymaniye mosque

All of the finalists' works - now on display at Sharjah's Museum for Islamic Civilisation - are rooted in the traditions of Islamic art.

The winning entry, 1,001 Pages by Iranian-born New York artist Afruz Amighi, is made of material used for refugee tents that is stencilled, hung and illuminated to cast a complex pattern of light and shadow.

The intricate hand-cut designs reflect patterns alluding to carpet design, miniature painting and traditional architecture.

Fresh interpretations

While the number of works on tour is modest, the impact of the tour is considerable.

Start Quote

The diversity of the work is really striking, as well as the range of countries from which the artists hail”

End Quote Tim Stanley, Senior curator V&A Middle East Collection

"The prize doesn't aim to create this type of work, but it is there to highlight it," says Tim Stanley, senior curator of the V&A's Middle East Collection.

"The diversity of the work is really striking, as well as the range of countries from which the artists hail."

Among the most popular pieces with visitors to the exhibition are the intricate, bejewelled rings by Turkish artist, Sevan Bicakci.

Another is Salon by Moroccan-born artist Hassan Hajjaj, in which he gently mocks the traditional tea shops found throughout north Africa by using "product placement" and recycling items connected with the Maghrebi mint tea ritual.

Countless objects in the permanent collection of the Sharjah museum are echoed in the contemporary Jameel exhibits.

Brilliant, hand-decorated Iznik plates in the museum's ceramics section find resonance in Kuwaiti Hamra Abbas' subtle and beautifully executed collage, Paper Plates, in which he balances Arab hospitality, global consumption and its accompanying waste.

'Two-way street'

"Coming to a museum like this, expecting to see the same sort of objects from the past but finding instead something fresh and different - you realise its relevance to today's world," says one visitor, Ian Shears.

Le Salon by Hassan Hajjaj Western logos appear on traditional items in Hassan Hajjaj's installation

"It shows how strong the continuing influence and impact of Islamic art still is," he says.

Aisha Deemas, the curator of Sharjah's Islamic art museum suggests that Islamic skills are likely to spill over into Western art.

"We know that the West influences our local artists - but it is a two-way traffic and the Jameel Prize is open to all creeds - the only requirement being that the work is inspired by Islamic traditions," she says.

The British Council in the UAE runs an extensive educational programme in collaboration with the museum.

It is aimed at getting emerging artists to explore how to produce original artworks while respecting age-old traditions that are the cornerstone of art in the Muslim world, says the council's project director, Michel Beshara.

Although the display in the Museum of Islamic Civilisation works particularly well, Sharjah has at least half a dozen other galleries and museums that are of international calibre.

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the travelling exhibition isn't just the collaboration between Arab states - with Morocco and Turkey still to come - but the increase in modern, well-run spaces that adapt themselves to the demands of contemporary art.

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