The Enduring Appeal of Geometric Shapes

By Roxane Zand

I f there is one shared motif in all known artistic canons across the world, it would be that of geometry. From early tribal art, to pre-Islamic mysticism and the concepts of the Ikhwan al-Safa, from Bauhaus and European modernism to South Asian aesthetics, we see manifestations of a preoccupation with the basic human impulse for order, harmony and proportion.

Some say this relates to the salutary effects of geometric compositions on the human psyche; others relate it to spiritual and mystical reasons, while yet others look to science for why we are drawn to notions of repeated patterns, grids and minimalist shapes. Whatever the reasons, there is a remarkable presence of geometric tradition in a wide variety of artistic practice.

In a landmark selling exhibition, Crafting Geometry: Abstract Art from South Asia and the Middle East, bringing together an unprecedented intergenerational dialogue between contemporary artists from across South and West Asia (and their respective diasporas), Sotheby's invites collectors to explore the shared, enduring language of geometry. Artists like Rasheed Araeen, Steven Naifeh, Tarik Currimbhoy and Anish Kapoor sit alongside Iranian artists Sahand Hesamiyan, Nima Nabavi and Monir Farmanfarmaian, demonstrating the different ways in which geometry is interpreted.

Some use strong, often bright colours, dynamic structure and intricate patterns to inject complexity into their works. A shared conceit is the orthogonal grid, a structure well-used within histories of 20th century abstraction. While Araeen’s floor pieces build upon zigzags of colour, Naifeh rotates the geometric field to create a tilt and other means of visual play. Kapoor has long manipulated ocular physics to powerful effect with his signature deep colours, distortions of the viewer’s reflection, and a sense of scale.

Younger artists such as Rana Begum and Sahand Hesamiyan are equally adept at crafting geometry in layers of forms and multiplicities. Hesamiyan defines prismatic surfaces that refer to the ‘muqarnas’ structures of Islamic architecture, while Monir Farmanfarmaian re-interprets the mirrorworks of mosques. Chowdhary’s practice returns geometry to a craft it was historically closely associated with: ceramic tilework which embellished traditional interiors, yet here transformed to whimsical, playful levels.

Though also evoking traditional craftwork, Prabhavathi Meppayil and Kamrooz Aram are more restrained, emphasizing the role the hand plays in the formation of geometric forms. Each work delivers a delightful story based on the core assumption of a shared stylistic concern. Importantly, these varied artistic approaches position the production and perception of geometric form as an integral aspect of exploring the language of abstraction. Being a universal visual language, geometry orders our environment, and in the case of this show, offers a strong and irresistible selection of artworks for the discerning collector.

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