The Jameel Prize is the result of a partnership between London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and Art Jameel, a collaborative arts organisation based in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Since launching in 2009, it has awarded £25,000 every two years to an artist celebrating tenets of Islamic tradition. This year it has shortlisted Iranian Kamrooz Aram; Iraqi Hayv Kahraman; Bahraini Hala Kaiksow; Iraqi Mehdi Moutashar; Jordanian Naqsh Collective; Moroccan Younes Rahmoun; Pakistani Wardha Shabbir; and Bangladeshi Marina Tabassum. The winner will be announced on 27 June, and all will partake in a special exhibition running 28 June-25 November 2018.
With nearly 400 nominations flooding in from Bangladesh to Jordan, this year reflects diversity, spanning architecture and painting through to fashion design. Each has a unique contemporary take on Islamic aesthetic values. The works challenge the Western idealisation that art history has traditionally endured and provoke a broader understanding of how Islamic visuals can be interpreted, presented and applied with a sense of timelessness.
Mehdi Moutashar. Deux carrés dont un encadré [Two squares, one of them framed] (2017). Wood, paint, elastic wire. Collection of the artist. Photo © Fabrice Leroux
There is also a prominence of female figures this year, a theme Kahraman addresses head on. “I’m honored to be considered as one of the finalists especially considering the immense talent in this year’s iteration,” says Kahraman. “I think what I bring to the exhibition is a voice that comes from the margins, both in terms of a migrant consciousness—such as a diasporic perspective—but also, and perhaps most importantly, as a woman. Gender issues and the female body have always been ingrained in my work and I feel hopeful that these ideas can be celebrated and acknowledged in our contemporary world. More female power.” Her stylised woodblock paintings additionally reference Japanese and Italian Renaissance traditions, and one of the two works on show recreate the forgotten history of an immigrant via the vehicle of Kahraman’s mother, a translator between refugees and aid workers in Sweden.
Kamrooz Aram, Ephesian Fog (2016). Multimedia installation. Photo courtesy of the artist and Green Art Gallery. Dubai
Kaiksow, founder of a sustainable womenswear label, transforms work wear and traditional garments into wearable sculptures with the aid of Bahraini artisans. She will present pieces inspired by Iranian shepherd coats from the 20th century alongside 19th-century Japanese farmers’ trousers with influences from Cypriot water bags and Islamic geometry. Sister duo naqsh collective pull from Levantine embroidery traditions, with specific reference to Jordanian and Palestinian motifs and techniques recreated in wood, paint and brass that reference from the region’s turbulence. Shabbir connects Islamic miniature painting with contemporary form, using the concepts around the Islamic garden to create symbolic flora and fauna compositions heavy with existential propositions. Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2016 winner Tabassum, the first nominated architect, has an architectural practice that resonates globally while simultaneously celebrating local materials, customs and techniques, as seen with her Bait ur Rouf mosque in Dhaka. Inspired by 13-16th-century Sultanate mosques, it manipulates light to incite spirituality and allow for sustained brightness. Focused on community engagement, Tabassum’s work has a personal story: her late grandmother donated the land on which the mosque was to be built, asking her to design the mosque in memory of her two deceased children.
Naqsh Collective. (Nisreen and Nermeen Abudail). Shawl (2015), detail Walnut wood, paint and brass. Images courtesy of naqsh collective. Photo: Nabil Qutteineh
Aram, meanwhile, has a body of work that is at once decorative and architectural. Focused on the formal qualities of design, it will show historical tropes in a modernist context in order to decode representation. Moutashar’s work reflects the abstraction of Islamic geometry and calligraphy translated into physics-bending angular sculptures, while Rahmoun’s practice intertwines Sufism spirituality and religion with geometrics and numbers. His installation will consist of 77 wool hats with light bulbs arranged in 10 connected rows that refer to the 10 main and 77 secondary branches of Islam.
Younes Rahmoun. Tâqiya-Nôr [Hat-light] (2016). Multimedia installation, here shown at the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, Viva Arte Viva. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Imane Farès
V&A director Tristram Hunt chaired the panel of judges, which included Salah Hassan, professor and director of the Institute for Comparative Modernities, Cornell University; Tanya Harrod, independent design historian; November Paynter, director of programmes at the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto; and Ghulam Mohammad, Jameel Prize 4 winner. “The works by this year’s Jameel Prize shortlisted artists will create a really textured and harmonious exhibition,” says Paynter. “Across disciplines and media, the artists play with form, pattern and structure often using traditional techniques to reveal moments of otherworldliness.”