Ajlan Gharem’s ‘Paradise Has Many Gates’ wins the 2021 Jameel Prize

Selected from eight finalists from across the globe, Saudi artist Ajlan Gharem’s work stands out because it spoke to the global events and is built on the legacies of Islamic architecture.

by Devanshi ShahPublished on : Oct 22, 2021

The influence of Islamic art and Islamic architecture is a growing discourse, irrespective of whether we are looking at the past or our current times. The discourse was particularly captured in Diana Darke's 2020 publication Stealing from the Saracens: How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe. While the book illustrates the past, the Jameel Prize looks at our present day. Conceived after the renovation of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art, in partnership with Art Jameel, the prize aims to draw attention to the sphere of influence of Islamic art and design. The Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art presents the rich artistic heritage of the Islamic Middle East. The Prize was conceptualised as a means to raise awareness of the thriving interaction between contemporary practice and the historical legacy of the region.

  • Installation view of Jana Traboulsi's, Ajlan Gharem's and Kallol Datta's projects in 'Jameel Prize Poetry to Politics' | Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics | Jameel Prize | STIRworld
    Installation view of Jana Traboulsi's, Ajlan Gharem's and Kallol Datta's projects in 'Jameel Prize Poetry to Politics' Image: Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Installation view of Ajlan Gharem's, Jana Traboulsi's and Kallol Datta's projects at 'Jameel Prize Poetry to Politics' |  Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics | Jameel Prize | STIRworld
    Installation view of Ajlan Gharem's, Jana Traboulsi's and Kallol Datta's projects at 'Jameel Prize Poetry to Politics' Image: Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum

Now in its sixth edition, this year’s edition marks a new era for the prize by introducing a thematic focus, with the 2021 iteration dedicated to contemporary design. In an official statement, the Jameel Prize jury chairperson, V&A Director, Tristram Hunt, said, “Now in its sixth edition, this year’s Jameel Prize is the first iteration to focus on contemporary design and attracted a record number of entries from around the world. From poetry to politics, those on the exceptional and diverse shortlist were selected for their innovative and imaginative projects, with strong links between Islamic traditions and contemporary design. The V&A is delighted to continue its partnership with Art Jameel with this Prize, and celebrate contemporary practitioners inspired by Islamic traditions.” Eight finalists from India, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the UK were shortlisted from over 400 applications.

  • Installation view of assorted Samosa Packets from Sofia Karim’s Turbine Bagh project, in 'Jameel Prize Poetry to Politics' |  Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics | Jameel Prize | STIRworld
    Installation view of assorted Samosa Packets from Sofia Karim’s Turbine Bagh project, in 'Jameel Prize Poetry to Politics' Image: Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Installation view of assorted Samosa Packets from Sofia Karim’s Turbine Bagh project, in 'Jameel Prize Poetry to Politics' |  Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics | Jameel Prize | STIRworld
    Installation view of assorted Samosa Packets from Sofia Karim’s Turbine Bagh project, in 'Jameel Prize Poetry to Politics' Image: Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum

While the eight finalists were announced earlier this year, the official winner was announced when the exhibition featuring the work of the finalist opened in September 2021 at the V&A. The presentation, titled Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics, is earmarked to tour internationally. It is important to note that this is the first international exhibition to focus on an innovative contemporary design inspired by Islamic tradition. With diverse practices spanning graphic design and fashion, typography and textiles, installation and activism, the finalists engage with both the personal and the political, interpreting the past in creative and critical ways. The works were selected because they address global events and lived realities, and build on the legacies of language, architecture and craft that are associated with Islamic art and architecture.

  • Ajlan Gharem, Paradise Has Many Gates - Daytime, 2015 |  Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics | Jameel Prize | STIRworld
    Ajlan Gharem, Paradise Has Many Gates - Daytime, 2015 Image: Ajlan Gharem; Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Ajlan Gharem, Paradise Has Many Gates - Nighttime, 2015 |  Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics | Jameel Prize | STIRworld
    Ajlan Gharem, Paradise Has Many Gates - Nighttime, 2015 Image: Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum

Ajlan Gharem‘s Paradise Has Many Gates was announced as the winner when the exhibition opened at the V&A gallery. Gharem is an artist and mathematics teacher. His work explores the changing nature of society in Saudi Arabia. Gharem’s installation Paradise Has Many Gates has an architectural quality to it. While the form of the installation replicates the design of a traditional mosque, it is made of a cage-like mesh or wire. The materiality of the work draws an aesthetic parallel to those of border walls and prison fences. It offers two narratives, one of persecution and one of transparency. While one can read the installation as an uninviting and frightening enclosure that speaks of the rising discrimination, it also renders the mosque transparent and open perhaps even welcoming. With this duality, it is no surprise that Gharem’s work was awarded the winning title.

  • Golnar Adili, Ye Harvest from the Eleven-Page Letter, installation, 2016; Hadeyeh Badri, Layt Al Lathi Bayni Wa Baynaka, 2018n | Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics | Jameel Prize | STIRworld
    Golnar Adili, Ye Harvest from the Eleven-Page Letter, installation, 2016; Hadeyeh Badri, Layt Al Lathi Bayni Wa Baynaka, 2018 Image: Golnar Adili, Hadeyeh Badri; Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Kallol Datta, Ghost Object, Volume 2, 2019; Farah Fayyad, Kufur typeface, 2021 | Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics | Jameel Prize | STIRworld
    Kallol Datta, Ghost Object, Volume 2, 2019; Farah Fayyad, Kufur typeface, 2021 Image: Parak Sarungbam, Farah Fayyad; Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum

Some of the other highlights include Golnar Adili’s homage to her father. While currently based in New York, the artist and designer transformed one of her father's letters from her childhood in Tehran into an installation. Hadeyeh Badri also refers to personal writing in her work which incorporates Arabic writing into the dense and delicately woven fabric. The text is taken from the diary of her late aunt, and integrates poetic tropes into the weaving. Kallol Datta, a clothing designer from Kolkata, presented contemporary clothing based on rigorous research on the form and shape of the abaya, manteau, hanbok, hijab and the caftan. Farah Fayyad, a graphic designer and printmaker, evolved his work during the 2019 uprisings in Lebanon. Fayyad and a group of friends installed a manual screen-printing press at the heart of the Beirut protests. They printed artworks and slogans by local designers onto the clothing of protestors, bringing Arabic typography into the public and political sphere. Equally passionate about Arabic typography, her contemporary typeface, Kufur, is based on historic Kufic calligraphy.

  • Assorted Samosa Packets from Sofia Karim’s Turbine Bagh project; Bushra Waqas Khan, Untitled, 2019 | Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics | Jameel Prize | STIRworld
    Assorted Samosa Packets from Sofia Karim’s Turbine Bagh project; Bushra Waqas Khan, Untitled, 2019 Image: Sofia Karim, Rafay Anwer Creative Studio; Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Jana Traboulsi, Kitab al-Hawamish (Book of Margins), 2017 | Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics | Jameel Prize | STIRworld
    Jana Traboulsi, Kitab al-Hawamish (Book of Margins), 2017 Image: Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum

Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics will showcase the works by the eight shortlisted designers, namely Golnar Adili, Hadeyeh Badri, Kallol Datta, Farah Fayyad, Ajlan Gharem, Sofia Karim, Jana Traboulsi, and Bushra Waqas Khan. The exhibition is on display at the V&A, London, running from September 18–November 28, 2021.

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