Dana Awartani uses Indian craftsmanship to explore Arab poetry in Sharjah
On the sidelines of the Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival, Jeddah-based artist Dana Awartani showcased her work in an exhibition called “The Silence Between Us” at the Maraya Art Center in the emirate. “The Silence Between Us”, that brought together pieces from the artist’s repertoire, is a prime example of her unique use of layering. Poetry and light are key elements in her work and the exhibition in Sharjah — her first in the Middle East, according to the gallery — is evidence of that.
Curated by Laura Metzler, the exhibition was laid out in a cyclical pattern and showcased Awartani’s recent installation, “Listen to My Words” (2018), which features seven screens of hand embroidered silk panels inspired by the “Jali” screen — an architectural form common in traditional buildings in the Indian Subcontinent that allows airflow in buildings, but prevents onlookers from being able to gaze in. Each screen is associated with a line of poetry from female poets of the Arab world throughout history.
Other pieces featured in the exhibition include “Love is my Law, Love is my Faith” (2016), which was inspired by the love poems of Andalusian Muslim scholar Ibn Arabi and a fascinating drawing from her “Caliphates” series that shows the evolution of the tradition of illumination throughout the history of the art.
Awartani, who was educated at London’s Central Saint Martins, lives and works in Jeddah and draws inspiration from Indian textile, woodwork and glasswork production processes. In addition to the artist’s works on show, new pieces were created in collaboration with craftsmen in India over a four-month period leading up to the show.
The piece “To See and Not Be Seen” (2018) — an embroidered-textile piece that expands on her interest in female poets in the Arab world — is one of those. Another installation piece by the artist, “All (heavenly bodies) swim along, each in its orbit’” (2016), is on show at the Sharjah Art Museum and is an important part of the wider Islamic arts festival as it was inspired by a Qur’anic verse.