The inaugural exhibition presented by the Institute for Arab and Islamic Art (IAIA), EXHIBITION 1 examines how the geometry of Islamic architecture can serve as the cornerstone of an artist’s visual vocabulary. Featuring works on paper and prints by Dana Awartani, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Zarina Hashmi, and Nasreen Mohamedi, EXHIBITION 1 considers how these sacred geometries seep into an artist’s consciousness and affect her work.
With upbringings in Saudi Arabia, Iran, India and Pakistan, respectively, the artists in EXHIBITION 1 hail from vastly different regions of the Arab and Islamic world. They have all experienced distinct topographies and cultures, yet their art is connected by a reverence for the tessellations, patterns, and motifs that construct the majesty of Islamic architecture.
Many of the grand palaces, mosques, and tombs that comprise Islam’s architectural heritage have remained untouched throughout time. However, our perception of these seemingly eternal monuments changes constantly. As such, this exhibition explores how Dana, Monir, Zarina, and Nasreen uniquely perceive and interpret Islamic geometry’s universal principles. EXHIBITION 1 highlights these individual perspectives by presenting significant works on paper and prints by each artist, in addition to a selection of Nasreen Mohamedi’s photographic works, which underscore further her artistic relationship to architecture.
Dana and Monir start many of their drawings with the foundations of all Islamic geometry: the point and the circle. These fundamental components gradually evolve into complex webs of shape and form, resulting in two profoundly individual aesthetics. With extensive professional training in time-honored craft techniques, Dana reinvents traditional Islamic geometry, turning it over and exploring it from within. Her works incorporate archi-
tectural elements from landmarks like Alhambra in Spain and and Marrakech’s Koutoubia Mosque, reconceptualizing them as historically referential, but forward-looking.
Impacted by her experience of Iranian architecture, Monir’s aesthetic embraces the notion of infinite possibilities to create what she calls “geometric families.” Monir produces a distinctive style of mosaic, engaging vigorously with western geometric abstraction and the mirrored muqarnas of such monuments like Shah Cheragh in Iran. Indeed, both artists “transform geometric works that are deeply tied to architecture into an independent surface.”
On the other hand, Zarina and Nasreen continuously challenge the “Islamic-ness” of geometry by emphasizing a minimalist, spare approach to the content of their work. Zarina forges a relationship to architecture through her sensibility of space, in which minimal gestures, guided by a sense of nostalgia, accrue to become abstracted blueprints. Her work, which does not fully embrace Minimalism nor reject it, utilizes humble shapes and forms that serve as the bedrock of a built environment, caught somewhere between the past and present.
Nasreen approaches her work with delicate intricacy, reducing images and forms into lines that become rhythmic patterns. Although her work seems to parallel both Minimalism and Constructivism, her approach to geometry remains secular, resulting in an independent vocabulary of abstraction. The contemplative nature of these works is achieved through what is best described as, to borrow Nasreen’s own words, the “maximum of the minimum.”
By uniting these four artists, EXHIBITION 1 asks a series of questions about our relationship to architecture. How do we physically respond to spaces, and how does that differ from how we remember them? How do we share our memories and recollections of architectural spaces and the geometries that construct them?
In what ways do history, nostalgia, self-exile and solitude impact how we visualize our architectural memories? What, exactly, is Islamic about these geometries? And, how do these universal forms live beyond us?