My artistic practice, thus far, has not been craft based. My work, conceptual in nature, tends to focus on the interpretation of ideas through space, materials, and sensory perception. Perhaps that is why, my artistic journey over the last three months has been an enriching experience for my soul. The insights that I have made may not be novel – but to me they have been both inspiring and delightful.
Observational Drawing. Mosque of Ibn Tulun - Cairo, Egypt.
What is it about craft that is so enchanting? Is it the blend of culture, time, space, and expression of human aesthetic? Perhaps, through the process of making by hand, we are able to place ourselves at the center of all the confluences in our lives, and grapple with our relationship to these tides. I had the unique opportunity to spend one week with Ayesha Gamiet, teacher and student of tezhip, the art of illumination from the Islamic world. She took me on a journey through the entire process of creating illuminated works – from preparing the paper, to creating the shell gold, and the different methods of drawing and painting geometric and arabesque patterns.
River Thames - Windsor, England.
During our week together, we had many conversations in Ayesha’s quiet Windsor studio on the inherent value of creating one’s own shell gold and pigment based inks. There is a rhythm and preciseness to the process of grinding gold leaf with one’s fingers until the texture is just right to use it as ink for painting. Through this process, part of one’s own soul is poured into the material and eventually reflected in the sacred art, building a unique relationship between the maker and the work produced.
Ayesha Gamiet grinding gold leaf to make shell gold.
As I delved deeper into the process of illuminating, from creating the gold to outlining each stroke of the pattern with black ink, the relationship between the maker and the art deepened. More often than not, I found myself holding my breath as I gently moved the tiny brush over the smooth curves of a rumi shape. The process is magical to say the least, and I had never previously experienced such a level of focus and attentiveness while making.
The different stages of creating illuminated work.
Over the course of my studies of traditional Islamic art; the relationship between the part and the whole, the micro and the macro started to become more and more apparent. As one draws or paints arabesque shapes, one has to continuously be aware of the proportions of every curve in relation to its neighbouring curve and the relationship of one motif to the other. Engaging in this interplay between foreground and background makes one think about the connectedness of the natural world and in some ways one begins to view this particular art as a microcosm of the world itself. And then there is this idea of perfection; every shape, every line, every brushstrokes, aspires to be perfect - even though perfection can never be achieved.
Work in progress.
As the week and months progressed, I understood that the traditional arts are not only sacred in their physical form, but that the process of creating them, the relationship between the movement of the body and the rendered art are also equally sacred. The realization of this profound connection between the body, the mind and the work has been a beautiful reminder of the way one’s physical and spiritual relationship with a Divine Being is meant to be and has inspired me to mindfully reflect this relationship within my art-practice.
Work in progress; tezhip design by Ayesha Gamiet.
Thank you Ayesha Gamiet for an absolutely wonderful introduction to this beautiful art!