The Pick - The Jameel Prize 2011

July 28, 2011




The Jameel Prize 2011

London

A mirror mosaic inspired by the feathers left behind by sparrows on the artist's balcony in Tehran; what looks like a piece of brown cloth lying on the floor, but turns out to be made of tiny terracotta bricks; a Kashmiri shawl, its delicate paisley pattern created from 300,000 gold-plated pins; a psychedelic blast of colour created from thousands of tightly rolled strips of paper bearing Sufi texts.

All these are among the 10 shortlisted entries for the second Jameel Prize, supported by Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives, which is awarded biennially for "contemporary art, craft and design inspired by Islamic tradition". They can be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum until 25 September (the winner will be announced on 12 September), with some on display in the Jameel Gallery, in dialogue with objects from the V&A's extensive Islamic holdings.

The artists range in age from late twenties to late eighties. Almost all were born in Muslim countries, although several are now based or partly based in Europe or North America. Some are clearly making subtle adjustments to Islamic traditions from within, whereas others use the tools of conceptual art or vividly address cultural clashes between East and West.

Soody Sharifi, for example, takes digitised versions of Persian miniatures and introduces contemporary figures to transform them into what she calls "maxiatures". In the original 14th-century illustration she uses in Frolicking Women in the Pool (2007), the participants are naked: today's descendants are covered from head to toe. Elsewhere, a fashion parade strides straight through a hierarchical court scene.

In Iran, austere handmade felt shirts are often worn in battle or for burial, covered with religious symbols to offer talismanic protection. Bita Ghezelayagh has created her own secular versions by embroidering or painting on motifs from popular culture: blue tulips; 1,001 keys; little metal images of a hero of the Iran-Iraq War.

Perhaps most striking of all are the huge playing cards painted on wood by Hayv Kahraman, who left her native Iraq at the age of 11, in response to the "archaeology awareness" cards issued to American soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The latter incorporate fairly obvious messages about artefacts (diamonds), digs (spades), preserving heritage (clubs) and winning hearts and minds. Kahraman, by contrast, wants to explore the lives of Iraqis at home and in exile.

The queen is a great sinuous curve, with a hanged woman reflected above and below, the latter with a blindfold across her eyes. The lower half of the king is a traditional turbaned and bearded figure. In his reflection above, he looks like a sad clown, the tip of his nose and the area around his mouth stained bright red, either with lipstick or with blood.

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