MUQEEM: settling the mind in Ehab Mamdouh

4116At a time when the world is flooded with often confusing images of Islam, Alāan Artspace is proud to introduce the artist Ehab Mamdouh and our current solo exhibition Muqeem, Series I. This is the first-ever exhibition of the artist. Muqeem, Series I combines a reverence for that which is spiritual and universal, though distinctly Islamic, with contemporary ideas about art that results in a thought-provoking and profoundly beautiful body of work.

The show opens to the public on October 23rd.

The word ‘muqeem’, the title of Alāan’s newest exhibition, is used by the artist to suggest not the mere physical performance of prayer, but rather to express the idea of entering into prayer or ‘settling’ into the spiritual place of being before Allah.

The prayer figures or ‘prayer vectors’ in Muqeem, Series I represent a surprising departure in the world of Contemporary Islamic Art, which more often than not employs contemporary forms of calligraphy as the artistic focus. Mamdouh’s work is a notable exception. The artist’s use of the human figure to express an aspect of the Islamic faith goes far beyond what we have been seeing, comments Alāan’s owners Neama and Mohammed A. Alsudairi, who immediately recognized the importance of Mamdouh’s work.

The graphic impact of the work, which the artist worked on during a three-year period, is heightened by the use of a stark predominantly black and white palette, while a select few works “pop” with colour—a pomegranate red or turquoise backdrop creates a sense that the human figures are emerging from the picture plane. One stand-out piece, out of the more than twenty pieces in the exhibition, features black figures surrounded by hand-applied gold-leaf. These limited edition works are printed on German-made Hahnemühle fine art paper and were specially produced for Alāan in the US, in Philadelphia, at the acclaimed Silicon Fine Art Press.

Alāan Artspace invited Maha Al-Senan, PhD, to be the first to write about Mamdouh’s work. In her essay, included in the accompanying exhibition catalogue, Dr. Al-Senan notes:

“Mamdouh uses prayer as the symbol to represent himself in his art, though he uses it in a unique manner, employing both modern abstraction and the abstract art used by ancient Arabs to conceptualize God, religious arts, and symbols.” His artistic style, she continues, merges the Islamic milieu of the artist’s upbringing in Saudi Arabia and Egypt with his deep knowledge of the region’s history and architectural heritage. The element forming method he used was inherited, as is the case with all Egyptians, from artistic characteristics dating to the second millennium BCE. This is the result of his constant exposure to the ancient Egyptian style of sculpting and portraying, characterized by an unambiguous technical methodology for depicting living beings, according to beliefs long associated with the region and its ideologies.”

Ehab Mamdouh, a film and video maker professionally, is Egyptian by birth, but has lived most of his life in Saudi Arabia. The catalogue essay, which includes a comprehensive biography of the artist, gives credit to the artist’s mother, a specialist in Islamic studies, as one of the artist’s most important influences.

According to Dr. Al-Senan, Mamdouh artfully merges the five postures of prayer, within repetitive patterns of geometric designs derived from classical Islamic art, in order to portray one of the fundamental duties of the Muslim faith. His interest in visual arts, combined with a deep historical knowledge of religion, helped him frame his universal ideology and apply it within a modern context.

The artist draws his prayer figures or ‘prayer vectors’ digitally, and multiplies them, creating rhythms and patterns suggestive of the infinity of geometric designs seen on traditional Islamic wall tiles. Each work in Muqeem, Series I demonstrates the flexibility, variation and experimentation that is a hallmark of the digital medium.

“Like all great art, the work engages on several levels simultaneously: visually, emotionally, and intellectually,” said exhibition curator, Mary Teeling. “ Mamdouh’s powerful and contemporary portrayal of the human figure in the five gestures of prayer in Islam have a clarity of vision and a pristine graphic beauty that engages the viewer no matter what one’s belief. Muslim and non-Muslim, and those with no faith background at all will appreciate this work.”

This past summer, the work was received with great interest among those fortunate enough to view the artist’s proofs during a private preview exhibition at a gallery in the US. Alāan Artspace is certain that Mamdouh’s work has the power to engage audiences across the globe positively.

The exhibition runs from 23 October to 12 December.

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