Islamic traditions reinterpreted at the V&A's Singapore show

French artist Laurent Mareschal (above) uses spices to create floor tiles which are based on Islamic geometric patterns.
French artist Laurent Mareschal (above) uses spices to create floor tiles which are based on Islamic geometric patterns.ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Frenchman's installation among works presented by London's Victoria and Albert Museum

An exhibition at the National Library, by way of London's famed Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), offers a compelling look at how Islamic traditions in art, craft and design inspire contemporary artists and designers around the world today.

The show features works by 10 artists and designers shortlisted for the Jameel Prize in 2013.

The international art prize worth £25,000 (S$54,428) was launched in 2009 by the V&A in partnership with Art Jameel, the arts community initiative of the Abdul Latif Jameel business group which has its international headquarters in Dubai.

Awarded every two years, the prize was established to broaden understanding of Islamic culture in the world today. Each edition of the prize includes an exhibition of works by the finalists. The show, which opens at the V&A, travels around the world.

This is the first time the Jameel Prize exhibition is showing in Asia.


  • WHERE: 100 Victoria Street, National Library, Level 10

    WHEN: Till Nov 30, 10am to 9pm daily


The winner of the third edition of the prize in 2013 was the Turkish fashion label Dice Kayek. Started by sisters Ece and Ayse Ege, the label won for a collection of clothes that drew its designs from Istanbul's architectural and artistic heritage.

Three Dice Kayek garments are on display at the Jameel Prize 3 exhibition here, including a satin coat with intricately handstitched embroidery and ancient glass beads; its design is inspired by Byzantine mosaics.

Other works include Saudi Arabian artist Nasser Al Salem's large-scale calligraphic works that are inspired by the Arabic script and French artist Laurent Mareschal's site-specific installation that uses spices to create patterned floor tiles which are based on Islamic geometric patterns.

Mr Mareschal, 40, who was in Singapore recently to install the work, says its title, Beiti, refers to "house" in both Arabic and Hebrew, and the ephemeral nature of the piece is influenced by his experience of impermanence and tension in Jerusalem where he lived in the late 1990s as a student.

Then, he took on odd jobs to pay his bills and it was from his Palestinian co-workers that he learnt "anything could vanish in a moment for them".

He says: "I never knew if I would meet them again the next morning. They could go back home from work and find that they did not have a house."

The exhibition here is presented by the Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) School of Art, Design and Media, with sponsorship from the S.M. Jaleel Foundation that supports charitable causes in Singapore, including education.

Assistant Professor Peer Sathikh of NTU's School of Art, Design and Media, who helped to bring the exhibition to Singapore, says the multi-disciplinary exhibition "elegantly presents thriving interaction between contemporary practice and historical heritage".

V&A senior curator Tim Stanley, who curated the exhibition, says that "cosmopolitan Singapore is a great venue" for the show because it mirrors the openness of the prize.

Artists and designers from all ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds are eligible for the award. Finalists in the Jameel Prize 3 include artists from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, France and Morocco.

Professor Alan Chan, dean of NTU's College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, says: "Importantly, this exhibition shows how art can be a powerful element that improves mutual understanding of various cultures and reduces the threat of cultural conflict."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2015, with the headline 'Fleeting 'house' of spice'. Print Edition | Subscribe