12 rooms in In the Studio
Mathematical and mystical principles inspired the geometrical abstract work of the artists in this display
There are endless possibilities when you see the geometry in nature and your environment
This display brings together artists whose transnational modes of living and working allowed them to develop unique languages of geometric abstraction. Travelling extensively or living in different places, their work is inspired by diverse references.
Some people view geometric, particularly Islamic, patterning as purely decorative. The works shown here challenge this perspective, suggesting a deep engagement with geometric principles.
The artists share an interest in early mathematical practices and the geometry found in natural forms. Several of the artworks are also inspired by Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. In particular, they focus on ideas of infinity and interconnectedness. The repetitive and modular structure of poetry is important, as well as historic and modernist architecture.
Many of the artworks in this display evoke movement across their surface and the surrounding space. For example, Farmanfarmaian’s mirrored Pentagon and Arif Quadri’s Landscape of Longing create a sense of endlessly shifting perspectives. The multifaceted mirrors in Pentagonplayfully reflect the viewer’s image and the space around them.
In Choucair’s Poem Wall and Nahas’ Eclypse, the interlocking elements support each other in a delicate balance. Choucair created Poem Wall in Beirut. Its block forms suggest a cityscape, creating a buzzing energy between its lines. Eclypse depicts a growing web of interwoven shapes along different planes of light and colour.
Saloua Raouda Choucair, Poem Wall 1963–5
From the early 1960s Choucair created sculptures consisting of interlocking pieces. She was inspired by the modular structure of Sufi poetry. Individual stanzas have their own identity, while still contributing to the unity of the whole poem. Choucair thought of her works as ‘sculptural poems’. She explained: ‘I wanted rhythm like the poetic meter, to be at once more independent and interlinked, and to have lines like meanings, but plastic meanings.’ The title of this work refers to this idea of a sculptural poem.
Gallery label, June 2021
artworks in Infinite Geometry
Shirazeh Houshiary, [no title] 1992
These images are made from the layering of words inspired by texts by 13th century Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Rumi. Houshiary has said that the repeated words represent the act of breathing. For her, inhalation and exhalation through the lungs gives a feeling of absence and presence. The prints reveal language as a living organism. The repeated round forms convey a spinning movement, reinforced by the title ‘Round Dance’. For Houshiary, these centrifugal, whirling forces are present in all nature. Round Dance connects culture to nature, and words to biology.
Gallery label, April 2021
artworks in Infinite Geometry