As a child I spent a time living in Riyadh, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We moved out in the mid 1980s when Britain was still dealing with the fallout of a recession. There couldn’t have been a greater contrast between a northern pit town reeling from miners' strike and the opulence of this beautiful city. Fountains, chandeliers, marbled floors, lavish buildings and startling architecture set against the evocative backdrop of red sand dunes and desert plains. I’d never seen anything like it. It’s such a fascinating city full of wonderful contrasts - Bedouins with camels, princes and palaces, souks and luxurious shopping malls, unimaginable wealth and the observance of sober traditions.
Perhaps it is because of this that I have always found Arabic artwork to be uplifting and inspirational, the patterns and intricacies, the traditional craftsmanship and the mathematical precision. Whenever I visit V&A Museum I always love to visit the Islamic Middle East gallery and soak up the atmosphere – there’s something incredibly calming and yet awe-inspiring about the immense rich tapestries and the subtle colours. I’m really thrilled that the inaugural Jameel Prize - a new prize for contemporary artists and designers inspired by the Islamic traditions of craft and design - is bringing such beautiful work into the spotlight. The winning piece 1001 Pages (2008) by Iranian born Afruz Amighi is absolutely stunning.
If you haven’t experienced any Arabic artwork then I urge you to come along to the Arabic Weekender which is being hosted by the Bluecoat and other venues across the city. At World Museum there are displays, talks, music and craft activities while at the Walker we have ‘The Art of Halima Cassell’. Halima was born in Pakistan in 1975, brought up in Manchester and is now living in Blackburn, Lancashire. Her ceramic work has been inspired by traditional forms of Islamic art and architecture but ‘juxtaposes established styles with a more modernist approach’. I have strong memories of Riyadh’s King Khaled International Airport and for some reason these beautiful creations remind me of the architecture. When you take the intricate and complex forms of traditional Islamic art and turn them into three dimensional structures something really special happens. Halima Cassell will be talking about her work at the Walker on Friday 17 July (tomorrow) at 1pm.