Poetry and Light in the work of Dana Awartani
Under the patronage of HH Sheikh Dr. Sultan Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member, Ruler of Sharjah, the Cultural Affairs Department at the Sharjah Department of Culture has organized the 21st edition of the Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival (SIAF). The exhibition ‘The Silence Between Us’ is the second collaboration between the Maraya Art Centre and the Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival, and the first institutional solo presentation of Dana Awartani’s work in the Middle East.
The exhibition opened as part of the Festival’s 21st edition, in the presence of Mohammed Al Qaseer, Head of Cultural Affairs and General Coordinator at the Department of Culture and Marwan Al Sarkal, Executive Chairman, Sharjah Invest and Development Authority (SHUROOQ), the respected guests, the artists and the media.
‘The Silence Between Us’, curated by Laura Metzler, brings together pieces from the artist’s practice through her use of layering and the evocation of time through different materials to open channels for new interpretations and experiences of her practice. Poetry and light become key tools to both figuratively and (at times) literally reading her work, holding central roles in her exploration of the civilizational legacies that inspire her.
Awartani lives and works in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and has developed a practice by blending her conceptual training at Central Saint Martins with her traditional craft study at the Prince’s School of Traditional Art, thus creating a dialogue between the past and the present. She does this through a combination of textile, woodwork, and glass production methods that are particularly still active in India, as well as her manuscript illuminations. Through these mediums, light activates, distorts or reveals at different turns throughout the gallery space as the viewer encounters each piece.
Laid out as a cycle in and of itself, the exhibition opens and closes with Awartani’s recent installation, ‘Listen to My Words’ (2018), which consists of seven screens of hand embroidered silk panels inspired by the ‘Jali’ screen, an architectural form allowing airflow in buildings but also preventing unwanted views into them. Each screen is associated with a line of poetry from female poets of the Arab world throughout history. Other pieces include ‘Love is my Law, Love is my Faith’ (2016) and a progressive drawing from her Caliphates series that shows the evolution of the tradition of illumination throughout the history of the art.
In addition to these works, new pieces have been developed in collaboration with craftsmen in India over four months leading up to the show. These include a new hanging installation in glass, ‘To See and Not Be Seen’ (2018) and an embroidered-textile piece that continues her interest in the history of female poets in the Arab world.
The exhibition at Maraya Art Centre also extends to the main festival presentation at the Sharjah Art Museum with Awartani’s ‘All [heavenly bodies] swim along, each in its orbit’ (2016). This piece was inspired by a Quranic verse which gives the work its title, and is one of only two palindromes in the Holy book. Pulling from the intellectual tradition of the science of letters (‘Ilm al-huruf) that has spanned generations of Sufi scholars, Awartani seeks a new method of expressing the power of this linguistic arrangement and property of Arabic Alphabet by applying her Abjad Hawaz system (alphabetical order and numerical value) to create a symbolic form.