one to one
I recently met with Amber Khokhar to discuss ways that we can collaborate as artists. Amber completed her Masters in Traditional Arts at the Princes School for Traditional Arts with a specialism in floral motifs and pattern design.
She currently teaches at VITA (Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts) at the Prince’s School and has just returned from a brief artist’s residency in Cairo.
How you describe yourself artistically?
I explore the contemporary within the parameters of Tradition through education and artwork, teaching internationally and locally, in London, at The Princes School of Traditional Art where I am a senior tutor on the MA degree. Through education projects I endeavour to guide and inform students and spectators in what I would describe as an emerging narrative of the Muslim diaspora. Likewise in my work, whether painting using natural pigments on handmade paper or painting with oxides on earthenware clay – I aspire to create artworks that celebrate something of the beauty of creation.
What your most popular pieces of work?
My large floral paintings and large geometry paintings plus ‘Entwined’, a series of individually hand painted prints.
What has been your favourite project?
A project with Syrian children in which I designed some templates inspired by Damascus tiles. These were printed and handed out with a short film. Children in Syria were able to adapt and decorate them to create a wall panel. The images of children working on their tiles that I have seen from this project, organised and supplied by amazing aid workers ‘on the ground’ make this my absolute favourite.
You have quite a strong connection with the Prince’s School, what impact has this had on your artistic work?
His Royal Highness saw some paintings and samples for rugs I was designing ‘Gardens under which Rivers Flow’ and suggested I design a carpet for the Picture Gallery in Buckingham Palace. It is a 40-metre long carpet, and the first time a contemporary carpet design has been commissioned for the Palace, so it was a real honour, as usually carpets are replaced with ‘like for like’ copies. A superb brief ending with the words …’do what you normally do’. Really thoroughly enjoyed the commission as everyone was so keen to maintain design integrity, – from my initial concept paintings – right through to very specific details of the flower motifs that I drew to scale. I spent time at Kidderminster working closely with the manufacturers at Brintons. The design included fragrant wild roses and an allusion to the fragrant narcissus and the buttercup. The flowers emerged from unfurling foliage to evoke a feeling of softly undulating, rolling pastures.
What are you currently working on or developing?
A series of very personal paintings and prints exploring the complexities of surviving the barrage of the temporal.
For more information go to http://www.amberkhokhar.com/ You can also follow Amber Khokhar on Facebook
Brass Candleholder with silver inlay
Origin (possibly) Egypt 1260-1309
This densely ornamented candlestick features a bold inscription on the base naming the owner, one Rukn al-Din Muhammad ibn Qaratay al-Baghdadi, who was an official of either Sultan Baybars I (reigned 1260–77) or Baybars II (reigned 1309). This inscription is repeated in smaller letters around the candleholder proper.
My Favourite Things 150
There is not a painting by Amira Rahim that I don’t like. This one serves to explain why her technique does not reflect the style of any traditional artist as far as I am aware. She has carved out her own niche as far as painterly style is concerned using colours in a joyful, exuberant way. What I like most is her brushwork, strokes which create a conversation on the canvas. Primary, secondary and tertiary tones reside side by side with harmony. Anyone who has worked with colour in this way will understand how difficult this can be.
Whilst recently visiting Hamburg, I experienced a very interesting exhibition at the local gallery. Entitled ‘Warten’ [Waiting]. The presentation consisted of fifteen curated artists who each presented photographs that depicted individuals in a waiting state, in a car, on the street and at government offices awaiting the outcome of applications for social and financial assistance. Whatever the context, they remained in a state of suspended animation, in the hope of a change which would affect their lives.
The exhibition took Greek literature as its basis, in particular the Odyssey, a poem by Homer which focuses on the journey home of Odysseus after the fall of Troy. The concept of waiting in ‘Warten’ refers to the plight of his wife, Penelope, who remained loyal and chaste despite her husband’s long absence. What I found interesting was the use of this narrative as the basis of a contemporary piece which is hinged on capturing the mundane, not only because the story of Penelope reflected noble qualities such as patience and fortitude [Penelope is still lauded as the symbol of marital fidelity], qualities which cannot be construed from such activities as waiting for a bus.
And what impresses me is how the curator had taken a mundane, everyday act and used it to encourage deeper thinking. For those on a spiritual path, waiting can be likened to being. Being in a state of presence and witnessing life from a higher state of awareness. The more I explored the exhibition, the more deeply my thoughts were nourished by these ideas, ideas of thoughtful meditation, using each (mundane) moment to engage with life in a deeper sense. Whilst I write this, I can’t help but stop and listen to the birdsong outside. So I stop for a moment and just listen. Whilst I am not waiting, I am in the moment. Witnessing the truth of it far beyond what I would, were I not still.
This exhibition gave me the opportunity to reflect on the notions of stopping, waiting, expectations and outcomes, whilst holding these concepts in the frame of noble character. I came away from it more aware of my faculties to reflect and witness. If Art is capable of enriching life in this way, then we need Art.
Do try this at home
Visit your local gallery. But, before you go, do a little research to see what is on display. From what is available, decide what is of most interest to you. Spend some time with the piece(s) and try to consider its meaning. All art is based on symbols or metaphor and reflecting on its meaning gives us a chance to use our imagination and develop our insight. Just as sacred text rests on parable and allegory, art as a language can be understood through its inner meaning. It is a perfect opportunity to do as Allah instructs us; to reflect.