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Art award
by Muhammad Yusuf July 12, 2018
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Iraqi artist Mehdi Moutashar (b.1943, Hilla, Iraq) and architect Marina Tabassum (b.1969, Dhaka, Bangladesh) have been announced as joint winners of Jameel Prize 5. This is the first time the prize has been awarded to two finalists. Fady Jameel, President of Art Jameel, presented the winners at an evening ceremony at the V&A on June 27.

Moutashar received the award for his bold work of minimalist abstraction rooted in Islamic geometry and Tabassum for her visionary Bait ur Rouf mosque built in 2012 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Both the winners have been able to produce work of outstanding quality and contemporary relevance while demonstrating a profound understanding of the cultures from which they come, according to the jury. They felt that although working in very different fields, the joint winners had both shown the same combination of lucidity and sophistication in drawing on Islamic tradition.

Tristram Hunt, Director, V&A and chair, judging panel, said that “in this edition, selecting one winner proved extremely difficult, due to the very high standard of work in the exhibition. The joint Jameel Prize 5 winners are both in dialogue with contemporary global discourses on art and have produced exemplary work in two very different disciplines.

“They show an awareness of modernist practices of the 20th century, which have in turn drawn on traditions from around the world. At the same time, though, they are passionately rooted in and deeply learned about their own cultural legacies”.

Moutashar left Iraq in the late 1960s and settled in Paris where he encountered forms of minimalism, including geometric abstraction. It is acknowledged he has developed these ideas, integrating them with the Islamic traditions of his native land to create a powerful personal language that has depth, wit and urgency. The jury agreed that he should be considered among the greatest living exponents of a constructivist aesthetic. His current work reflects this language of abstraction but also draws on Islamic traditions of sophisticated geometry and elegant script. Deux plis à 120° (Two folds at 120 degrees, 2012) is made of two metal plates, which, as the work’s name implies, are both folded at 120 degrees.

It was inspired by a style of Arabic calligraphy called riqa and in particular by the angle at which a scribe holds the reed-pen (qalam) to write riqa. Other works, including Un plis à 120° et un carré (A fold at 120 degrees and a square, 2014) and Un carré et trois angles droits (A square and three right angles, 2016), are based on similar processes of abstraction.

In Deux carrés dont un encadré (Two squares, one of them framed, 2017), the lower, framed square crosses the line between the wall and the floor, with the meeting point between the two surfaces playing the role of the base line used in writing in Arabic calligraphy. He now lives and works in Arles, France. Tabassum’s Bait ur Rouf mosque draws on medieval Islamic architecture and celebrates the building traditions of Bengal. The jury found that the mosque in question wonderfully plays with geometry, abstraction, light, air and water, making it both an animated and contemplative space.

“Its functions answer the needs of the local community, and it is a composition of local materials and contemporary techniques, responsive to both its environment and to history. The building positions Marina as a contemporary architect of great insight and imagination”.

Tabassum is the first architect to be short listed for the Jameel Prize. She is the founder of Marina Tabassum Architects, a practice based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that focuses on architecture that is global yet rooted in its locality. Her entry for the Prize was the Bait ur Rouf mosque in Dhaka, built in 2012 in a densely inhabited part of the city.

Its design was inspired by the mosques built in Bengal in the Sultanate period (13th to 16th centuries); but she gives this historical form a thoroughly contemporary expression. Bait ur Rouf also celebrates local materials and building techniques, and local customs and climatic conditions.

The prayer hall is essentially a pavilion on eight columns, contained by walls of porous brick and with light streaming in through skylights, introducing a sense of spirituality and allowing the space to remain lit during daylight hours. Tabassum was born in 1969 and lives and works in Dhaka.

Others jury members were Salah Hassan, Professor and Director, Institute for Comparative Modernities at Cornell University, New York; design historian Tanya Harrod; November Paynter, Director of Programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto and artist Ghulam Mohammad, winner, Jameel Prize 4.

An exhibition of work by the winner and six other short listed artists and designers is on till Nov. 25 at the V&A. The short listed artists are Kamrooz Aram, Hayv Kahraman, Hala Kaiksow, naqsh collective, Younes Rahmoun and Wardha Shabbir. In Apr. 2019, the exhibition will tour the forthcoming Jameel Arts Centre, located in Jaddaf, Dubai (opening Nov. 11).

Awarded every two years, the Jameel Prize, founded in partnership with Art Jameel, is a £25,000 international art prize for contemporary artists and designers inspired by Islamic tradition. It was conceived after the renovation of the V&A’s Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art, which opened in July 2006, to present the rich artistic heritage of the Islamic world.

It aims to raise awareness of the interaction between contemporary practice and a great historical heritage and to broaden understanding of Islamic culture and its place in the world.

Launched in 2009, the winner of the first Jameel Prize was Afruz Amighi for her work 1001 Pages (2008), an intricate hand-cut screen made from the woven plastic used to construct refugee tents. In 2011, Rachid Koraïchi was awarded the prize, for his work Les Maîtres Invisibles (The Invisible Masters, 2008), a group of embroidered cloth banners which display Arabic calligraphy and symbols and ciphers to explore the lives and legacies of the 14 great mystics of Islam.

In 2013, the winner of Jameel Prize 3 was Dice Kayek, a Turkish fashion label established in 1992 by Ece and Ayşe Ege for their series Istanbul Contrast, a collection that evokes Istanbul’s architectural and artistic heritage.

This was the first time it was awarded to designers. In 2016, the winner of Jameel Prize 4 was Ghulam Mohammad, who trained in the Islamic tradition of miniature painting, for his works of paper collage.

Each edition of the Jameel prize has toured internationally. Most recently, the Jameel Prize 4 exhibition visited the Asia Culture Centre, Gwangju, Korea (2017) and A Kasteyev State Museum of Arts, Almaty, Kazakhstan (2017-18). Originating at the Pera Museum, Istanbul, Turkey and on tour in 2017 and 2018, the exhibition has been seen by 128,512 visitors.

The Jameel Prize 5 exhibition is curated by Tim Stanley, senior curator, V&A’s great historical collection from the Islamic Middle East, with Salma Tuqan, V&A’s Jameel curator.

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