THE Jameel Prize, currently on exhibition in an installation at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is an international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition. The museum describes the aim of the prize as “to explore the relationship between Islamic traditions of art, craft and design and contemporary work as part of a wider debate about Islamic culture and its role today”, a feat it certainly achieves.
The artworks on installation are thought-provoking and full of heart and intricacy, but that is not to say they lack a punch. Upon entering the installation you are greeted by the sheer expanse of “Concrete Carpet” by Nada Debs, a piece that plays upon heritage in fabric and font by writing into the arranged slabs beautifully, highlighting one word per panel in an arabic font redesigned for the 21st century.
Faig Ahmed’s work explores traditional Azerbaijani rug making to great effect, manipulating perspective in the fabric to make the rug appear distorted, as if the very fibres have been photoshopped or pixellated. This piece acts as a fascinating meld of traditional and modern, infusing traditional aesthetics with 21st century preoccupations with image.
Another artist has employed the image of textiles intimately within their piece, Laurent Mareschal’s work involves arranging spices into Middle Eastern patterns upon the floor, a system that speaks to themes of brevity and fragility. So much so that upon my visit, someone had run their finger across the pattern to see if it would lift, inflicting their own fingerprint upon the arrangement.
The winner of the Jameel Prize has already been chosen and is the work of Dice Kayek, a fashion house founded in Paris by Turkish sisters Ece and Ayse Ege, whose dresses speak to the materials and crafting techniques of the Ottoman Empires to create bold contemporary garments. The beauty and sophistication of these dresses is fantastic to behold, and is surely the reason for the choice of the victor ahead of the bolder and louder pieces that dominate the installation.
The projection pieces that compete with these works are disorienting and thought-provoking, forcing images of tradition and modernity together with sounds that deliberately isolate the viewer. Upon viewing these projections you are placed firmly within them, a claustrophobic experience that is as considered as it is throwing.
This installation is a genuinely affirming experience, one that resonates beyond the obvious observations that exhibitions exploring other cultures usually make. I left the exhibition knowing I had observed a fantastic palimpsest of cultures and design, an infusion of what has been before at the razor’s edge of the avant-garde, which is exactly what any exhibition aims to do.