M y two visits to new shows by Middle Eastern artists in London could not have been more different, yet both are rooted in similar sensibilities and come from the ordered vocabulary of geometric constructs.
Iranian artist Bita Ghezelayegh’s show at Leighton House Museum with its ornate rooms and extravagant Arab Hall topped by the golden dome, surrounded by intricate mosaics and priceless Islamic tiles, projects a distinct Middle Eastern, Islamic feel. She addresses the grand themes of courtship, kingship and the arts of war, while at the same time celebrating the small stories that weave into our current lives.
With masterful and inventive use of materials such as velvet, silk, felt, and carpet fragments (which she collects) she creates a panoply of charming tableaux, where metal pen nibs adorn a black felt cloak, and recycled scrubbing bags with overlaying silk embroidery complete a handmade patchwork. Somewhere between the arts of the maker and a conceptual artist, Bita defies any simple category, using her highly individualistic inspiration to add a distinctively modern layer, elevating humble items such as discarded rugs to upcycle into a statement about our age of casual disposal. Known for her collection of textiles as modern art, Bita offers a remarkable and fresh approach to an artistic practice that is highly regional yet immediately universal.
By contrast, a new show at London’s Saatchi Gallery by Bahraini artist Rashid Al Khalifa displays a spectacular play on geometrics and parametrics coupled with shadow projections and optical illusions. Entitled ‘Penumbra: Textured Shadow, Coloured Light’, a series of installations in a variety of colours – from bright red to stark white – engage and captivate the viewer. His curved aluminium surfaces are sculptural contours which project any number of optical effects, leading the viewer to try one angle, then another, gaze at one colour palette then try another.
The physics of the movement and undulation of these parametric creations made by cutting steel and extracting small protrusions, offer tides of illusory waves on a wall-mounted sculptural surface. “Kinetic, emotive, and vibrant”, as the catalogue states, Al Khalifa has succeeded in creating “a sinuous lattice of shadow and planes of colour shifting, changing and flowing, depending on the angle at which they are viewed.” To add to these works, there are also a number of open-grid installations that create shadow play, reminding the viewer of the mathematical and geometric laws of the universe – both of which underlie the fundaments of Islamic art and architecture.
Even if it is to draw your own comparisons, both shows are highly recommended.