The prestigious Jameel Prize Exhibition of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London opened this week to much critical acclaim as the winners were announced. The eight finalists were short-listed from more than three hundred and fifty nominees. For the very first time, the prize was awarded to two winners Mehdi Moutashar (b. 1943, Iraq) and Marina Tabassum (b. 1969, Bangladesh).
Each of the prize winners and the nominees have profoundly special stories behind their work. The two finalists were selected by the judges because of this deeply personal connection with the art of their particular culture. Mehdi Moutashar, one of the winners this year, studied in Baghdad and Paris. His uniquely personal style is a combination of Western and Islamic artistic traditions, modern abstraction influenced by Islamic geometrical patterns. Each of the artists exhibiting has a portion of the gallery, and the vivid blues of his works glow within his space, drawing in visitors.
Marina Tabassum was the other winner, and the first architect to have been shortlisted for the prize. The work that she submitted was a model of Bair ur Rouf Mosque, which she designed and built in Dhaka Bangladesh. It was commissioned by her deceased grandmother who donated the land upon which the Mosque was built. Tabassum’s architectural projects are always carefully selected and planned. She chooses to create spaces that are at one with local architecture, culture, environment and geography. The red brick, airy and light filled mosque has already become a beautiful landmark visited by people around the neighborhood. Deliberate patterns amongst the bricks in the ceiling let in natural light and create moving light spots on the ground. Similarly, the direction of the Kaaba is also marked by a shaft of light. The Mosque was awarded the Aga Khan award for architecture in its 2014-2016 cycle.
The other finalists have created works ranging from paintings to installations and to design pieces. Each presented artwork is thoughtful, and captivating – they remove preconceptions about what contemporary art and design should look like. Although each of the finalists had created original and outstanding displays, three of the artists stood out in particular. Trained as a miniature artist, the extremely talented Wardha Shabbir (b. 1987, Pakistan), is well known for her creative arrangements that push the boundaries of traditional 2D works and allow her to delve into the space around canvases. Shabbir is the ninth artist from Pakistan to have been selected as a finalist since the inception of the prize. Her delicate works are captivating, deliberately dark lighting draws viewers in closer as they use provided magnifying glasses to admire Shabbir’s detailed creations, painted against a background of vivid orange and yellow, echoing the colours of her home-town, Lahore.
Younes Rahmoun (b. 1975, Morocco) and Naqsh Collective were two other artists that had exceptional displays. Younes Rahmoun, presented 77 unique handmade woolen hats, placed within groups of Islamic numbers and lit from underneath. Naqsh Collective, made up of sisters, Nermeen (b. 1980, Jordan) and Nisreen (b. 1976, Jordan) explore the craft of weaving, using non-traditional methods such as wood and metal to create beautiful large scale pieces, with painstakingly hand carved patterns.
Organized by curators Tim Stanley and Salma Tuqan, the Jameel Prize exhibition at the V&A is of the highest calibre. The Jameel Prize, held biennially at the V&A and supported by Art Jameel, is an award celebrating contemporary art and design that has been inspired or is connected to Islamic art and culture. The prize seeks to encourage conversations regarding Islamic traditions, contemporary art and the modern world. The exhibition which also showcases the works of other finalists Kamrooz Aram (b. 1978, Iran), Hayv Kahraman (b. 1981, Iraq) and Hala Kaiksow (b. 1990, Bahrain) is on view until Sunday, 25 November 2018 at the Porter Gallery in the V&A.