V&A’s prestigious Jameel Art Prize celebrates Islamic design

For the first time, the museum's international award for contemporary art and design was held in Istanbul. Ben East reports on the shortlist 'revelling in creativity'

When the Pakistani artist Ghulam Mohammad won Jameel Prize 4 last week for his five intricate works of paper collage, it summed up an award created in 2009 to raise global awareness of contemporary artists interpreting traditional Islamic influences.

After all, as Fady Jameel of Community Jameel International put it, Mohammad’s collection of cut up Urdu script pasted on layered paper (called wasli) creates “new meanings and celebrates the great heritage of Islamic art, craft and design”.

Encouragingly, he could easily have been describing any of the other 10 artists on the astonishingly diverse shortlist. In previous years, the winners have included a New York-based Iranian (Afruz Amighi’s current show, Mangata, closes this week in Dubai), an Algerian living in Paris, and a Turkish fashion label. And in 2016, window coverings from Brazil, animations from Egypt and textile work from the UK all further the idea that the Jameel Prize not only scours the planet for interesting work, but just as importantly shows the world that art inspired by Islamic traditions can go in countless intriguing directions.

The globe-trotting feel to the Jameel Prize is summed up by the inclusion of Lara Assouad on the shortlist, a Canadian working in Dubai

Ben East

All of which was underlined by the location of the prize’s exhibition: usually Art Jameel (whose head office is in Dubai) invites people to London’s V&A museum to see the shortlisted artists’ work before arranging for it to tour around the world. But this year, The Pera Museum in Istanbul has the honour of the premiere, confirming the international intentions of this contemporary art and design prize.

And the globe-trotting feel to the Jameel Prize is also summed up by the inclusion of Lara Assouad on the shortlist, a Canadian by birth but living and working in Dubai. She takes on the tradition of calligraphy and geometry in Islamic art for her nomination: Assouad’s project began as a typeface she’d designed for some children’s books, which slowly developed into woodblocks removed of the more ornate flourishes of Arabic typography. Rounding or squaring off the shapes, the final work has an almost toy-like impression.

That Assouad didn’t win almost doesn’t matter in terms of the awareness afforded to a Jameel-nominated artist exhibited around the world. Some, of course, don’t necessarily need the oxygen of publicity – Egyptian artist and film-maker Wael Shawky’s entry has already enjoyed a high-profile exhibition in London. But for Assouad and Mohammad, still in the early phases of their careers, a Jameel nomination is not just recognition but validation that they’re on the right track. When the Turkish fashion label established by Ece and Ayşe Ege, Dice Kayek, won in 2013, their collections steadily began to pick up international notices.

And with the former director of Art Dubai, Antonia Carver, taking over as director of Art Jameel in September, the Jameel Prize is certainly developing into a credible art competition that revels in creativity. 

The Shortlist

V&A’s prestigious Jameel Art Prize celebrates Islamic design

Lara Assouad (Canada)

Born in Montreal but living and working in Dubai, Assouad is a graphic and type designer nominated for a series of modular Arabic letters that exist as a set of wooden blocks and stamps.

 

 

V&A’s prestigious Jameel Art Prize celebrates Islamic design

David Chalmers Alesworth (UK)

Alesworth has spent large parts of his career living and working in Pakistan and here he re-embroiders carpets of Pakistani origin with patterns of famous gardens, to show how West and East can intermingle.

 

 

V&A’s prestigious Jameel Art Prize celebrates Islamic design

Rasheed Araeen (Pakistan)

Known as a minimalist sculptor in Britain, for the Jameel Prize he offers a colourful piece bending the tropes of Islamic calligraphy and geometry into fascinatingly modern outcomes.

 

 

V&A’s prestigious Jameel Art Prize celebrates Islamic design

Canan (Turkey)

A feminist artist, Canan’s update on the miniature painting tradition sees her making comments on the political situation in Turkey over recent years using colourful, almost comic-book imagery.

 

 

V&A’s prestigious Jameel Art Prize celebrates Islamic design

Sahand Hesamiyan (Iran)

Hesamiyan usually makes huge metal sculptures that nod towards Iranian geometry - one was memorably debuted at Third Line in Dubai. For Jameel he presents a paper version of his most famous work, Kalvat.

 

 

 

V&A’s prestigious Jameel Art Prize celebrates Islamic design

Ghulam Mohammad (Pakistan)

The winner of this year’s Jameel Prize impressed with – as the judges put it – his “intricate collages of paper cuttings of Urdu script [which] celebrate the great heritage of Islamic art, craft and design”.

 

 

V&A’s prestigious Jameel Art Prize celebrates Islamic design

Shahpour Pouyan (Iran)

Represented by Lawrie Shabibi gallery in Dubai, his series of ceramics using traditional Islamic pottery explore architectural domes and what they say about power, wealth and culture.

 

 

V&A’s prestigious Jameel Art Prize celebrates Islamic design

Wael Shawky (Egypt)

Shawky’s jaw-droppingly intricate animations about the history of the Crusades use marionettes made by the artist himself – Cabaret Crusades is the second of an amazing trilogy.

 

 

V&A’s prestigious Jameel Art Prize celebrates Islamic design

Bahia Shehab (Egypt)

Art historian and graphic designer Shehab collected all the shapes of the word “no” in Arabic through history and hung them on a plastic curtain to make a statement about world politics.