The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) happens to be one of my favoured larger London museums, but that’s not going to save this year’s Jameel prize. Whilst the Jameel Family and the Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives (ALJCI) have done very well to raise awareness about Islamic Art and Craft (including their substantial donation for the Jameel Gallery at the V&A), the Jameel Prize 2011 is money wasted – something that would be better spent on preserving some of the traditional Islamic craft, or for that matter, helping feed people in the Horn of Africa.
Whilst it is no secret that I don’t really like contemporary or modern art, some of the quality of work shortlisted this year is just bad – and that’s the best thing I can say about it. Such contemporary art, when claimed that it is inspired by the traditions of Islamic craft and design, is simply insulting to those master craftsman who created some of the worlds most stunning textiles, calligraphy and architecture at the height of the Islamic Empire.
Contemporary artists sometimes fail to realize that the very basics of Islamic Art are about beauty, and I’m afraid that some of the works at this exhibition were far from being beautiful. Aisha Khalid’s ‘Name, Class and Subject’ , Hadieh Shafie’s ’22500′ paper scroll works or Soddy Sharifi’s ‘Frolicking Women’ are among the works included in the exhibition, and these suffer from the classic case of deficient contemporary art – don’t focus on making it beautiful, but write a fancy description about it. In fact, if you read the description provided for the works, some of them are plain wrong. Of Hadieh Shafie’s work, for instance, the V&A states that therein ‘the notion of meditative process, repetition and time as found in Islamic art, craft and architecture is a constant element’. That’s actually quite inaccurate. Nothing about the Hadieh’s pieces in the exhibition represents this as it is done in Islamic Art. The application of the Breath of the Compassionate (or other such pattern) is representative of this meditative process and repetition, paper scrolls of varying sizes are not. Whilst I am not saying that the work is bad, it does not deserve any praise for its reference to a contemporary form of Islamic Art.
The exhibition wasn’t all bad, though. Some of the pieces were good – Aisha Khalid’s Kashmiri Shawl and Bita Ghezelayagh’s ‘Felt Memories’ tunic were some of the pieces that really stood out. Perhaps they were the least abstract of the lot and let their beauty and quality of work do the talking, which is what you would expect from a good work of art.
But don’t take my word for it – the exhibition runs until 25 September 2011. More information is available on http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/j/jameel-prize-2011-shortlist/.