Patterns of the soul
The mosque at Katara Cultural Village is hard to miss. But have you ever taken the time to stop and study the intricate details that line the walls? The patterns are inspired by a form of art popular in the Islamic world – the Arabesque.
Arabesque art, also called “islimi” in Persian, is one of the three elements of Islamic art. The other two are Islamic geometry and Islamic calligraphy. Islimi is based on the concept of symmetry. “The symmetrical character of the islimi is a faithful reflection of the Islamic mind,” explains Nooshin Shafiei (left), a specialist in patterns and illumination in the UK who was in Doha last month to conduct an Islamic art workshop at Katara.
“Muslim philosophers and scientists alike always had a passion for order, tabulation and tidy arrangements. “Muslims in general, and the Arabs in particular, tend to be very passionate. Their entire history is a product of that passion, whether religious, martial or intellectual. The islimi, too, is the product of a strong passion; its very concentration and intensity would be inconceivable without passion. But this is not the unbridled passion of a romantic dream, it is passion perfectly mastered.”
Joining Nooshin at the workshop was Richard Henry (right), an artist and lecturer at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in the UK. Richard, a specialist in Islamic geometric patterns, thinks all geometric designs share a common underlying language that links different traditions of art in the world together. “Islamic art has a very contemplative quality to it,” he says. “There’s a beauty to working with it; it’s like meditation. You can see the forms unfold organically. People often say it’s healing, as you develop an intimate connection with it. It’s a form of visual yoga, I think.”
For Islamic art enthusiasts, it’s hard to find references in Qatar, as the country doesn’t have a very strong traditional setting, unlike other Arab countries. That is why holding such workshops is critical. “I think it’s important for people to find a way of recovering their heritage,” says Richard.
Currently the Museum of Islamic Art is the only place in Doha that houses beautiful artefacts inspired by this form of art. “The next time we hold this workshop in Qatar,” the organisers say, “we will tailor our workshops to the patterns available here, so that participants get a better idea.”
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