Noha Al-Sharif — an expert in Islamic sculpture

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Updated 24 April 2014
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Noha Al-Sharif — an expert in Islamic sculpture

Saudi sculptress Noha Al-Sharif is known for her Islamic inspired sculptures that reflect both, religion and lifestyle. The concept of modern art attracted her to this medium where she majored in Porcelain and Textile. She is interested in Islamic Art and she loves to read about Asian Art" Indian Chinese and Egyptian Art.
Al-Sharif has an interest in the representation of groups and the sculptural history of how different figures relate to each other. In 2011 she studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London where she obtained a diploma in Asian, South Asian and Islamic Art and developed her interest in the relationship between sculpture and faith. She is currently undergoing a Ph.D. in Islamic Art from Winchester University and is writing her thesis on the history of Kiswat Al-Kaaba, Arabic for mantle of Kaaba.
The sculptress created figurines of groups of women conducting the Islamic prayer ritual, made from clay or marble aggregate and polyester resin. Displayed all together on a large white plinth at knee level, she presents “Jamaa”. The group of miniscule figures, sculpted from marble and resin, ranging from 5cm to 15cm high creates an overwhelming aura of peace, focus and cohesion.
Al-Sharif eliminates any facial details and abstracts the organic dark sculptures into representations of female figures that have been described as evoking similarities to fingers reacting in harmony as part of the same body or entity. The artist feels strongly that her sculptures are not intended to offend nor be turned into sacred objects, as she is all too aware that religious representation is traditionally discouraged in Islam. Instead Al-Sharif clarifies: “This work is my expression of the power of prayer. My intention here is entirely pure”.
Al-Sharif finds inspiration in Muslim women’s life. “My sculpture so far has been essentially autobiographic, my life in Makkah. To make sculpture out of this background is controversial, but for me it is based in faith and religious and deeply personal. It is that which I explore in my art, out of my experience of life in Makkah where I have lived for much of my life,” she said. “My sculptures come very precisely from my religious life in the Holy City, even if what I do is not at all conventional in terms of Islamic art and in fact, quite the opposite.”
The black color is the only color that the artist uses in my sculptures representing the black covering Abaya for women. The color is part of the concept in her work, according to Al-Sharif. “My ideas reflect my love of the way the cloth and textile inherent in traditional dress envelopes the women around me who are all wearing black. Neither I nor anyone else can see who they are. More often than not, I have no idea of the identity of those of whom I make sculptures.”
Al-Sharif’s sculptures reflect her response to women’s gatherings in the Holy Mosque. “To me, they are like anonymous sisters. They are like sisters standing together with me and we are all dressed the same. The black veil for me is not a covering form; it is a personality and togetherness. It is that religious feeling that my sculpture addresses. What has been striking to me when exhibiting my work in London, Istanbul and Shanghai is that other women from my background in Arabia identified and recognized what I was trying to convey,” she said.
Hamla (pilgrimage) is a name of one of Al-Sharif’s sculpture and concept of this work comes from the group of women performing the process of Haj in Holy Makkah. “I took this photograph after I performed my prayers. I sat around them and watched them from a distance and to me they looked really beautiful. They all wore white which is the traditional dress for Haj, they attached bright color tags made of cloth on their backs so they can be identified of the groups name and nationality,” she said. “Most of these groups are foreigners, they do not know their way around the city and the tags on their backs help them find each other when one is lost. This looks stunning to me because I love walking around by myself and I love watching how they walk in groups carefully so they don’t lose each other but I produce my sculptures in different colors in one group because I think about all of these individuals within the group, people are the same, but they are different at the same time, all coming to Makkah to be closed to Allah,” she added.

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Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s first solo US show set to open

Farah Al-Qasimi’s ‘Living Room Vape’ (2017). (Supplied)
Updated 16 July 2019
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Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s first solo US show set to open

DUBAI: Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s first solo exhibition at a US institution is set to open on July 30 at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Working in photography, video, and performance, Al-Qasimi’s work explores themes of gender, nationality and class. Her photographs subvert ingrained expectations of how images are constructed and understood and she is known for borrowing conventions from various sources, including documentary photography and Renaissance paintings.

Um Al Naar (Mother of Fire) (still), 2019. (Supplied)

Camouflage and concealment play a central role in the artist’s work. In a recent series of portraits, Al-Qasimi obscures the faces of her subjects while capturing intimate images, despite the lack of a clear, engaging face. Various compositional strategies hide identifying features — behind plumes of smoke, a well-placed hand, or sumptuously patterned textiles and drapery — while she still manages to accentuate the opulent interiors her subjects inhabit.

Alongside a group of recent photographs, the exhibition will include a screening of Al-Qasimi’s new film, “Um Al Naar (Mother of Fire)” (2019), which was recently unveiled at Art Basel Statements.

M Napping on Carpet, 2016. (Supplied)

The 40-minute video is structured like a television documentary following a jinn — a ghost-like entity in Islamic tradition. Delivering a confessional, reality TV-style monologue, the jinn appears on camera beneath a patterned sheet. The video interweaves her thoughts on centuries of Portuguese and British colonial meddling in the modern-day emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah in the UAE. The video also explores the influence of the European presence in the region and the use of Euro-centric practices for the display of historical artifacts.

Curated by Henriette Huldisch, the director of exhibitions at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, the exhibition marks the first time Al-Qasimi’s work has been shown in a solo exhibition in the US — it is set to wrap up on Oct. 20.  

The artist lives and works between New York and Dubai and has seen her work exhibited in The Third Line gallery in Dubai, Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai and the San Francisco Arts Commission, among other locations.

Al-Qasimi received her MFA from the Yale School of Art and has participated in residencies at the Delfina Foundation in London; the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine; and is a recipient of the New York NADA Artadia Prize and the Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship.