British illustrator Ayesha Gamiet discusses the art of Islamic illumination

British illustrator Ayesha Gamiet discusses the art of Islamic illumination
Ayesha Gamiet is a British artist, illustrator and art educator. (Supplied)
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Updated 19 November 2020

British illustrator Ayesha Gamiet discusses the art of Islamic illumination

British illustrator Ayesha Gamiet discusses the art of Islamic illumination
  • The British artist discusses the craft and spirituality behind her work

LONDON: The exquisite work of British artist, illustrator and art educator Ayesha Gamiet opens a contemporary window to the ancient art of Islamic manuscript illumination.

“I always loved painting and drawing,” Gamiet told Arab News. “My dad studied fine art and always encouraged me. My work ethic comes from my mum. My parents are from South Africa — they emigrated to the UK due to apartheid. My mum had a very typical immigrant mentality of working really hard. She set up her own business. Something of that came through to me.”

Gamiet studied and earned her ijaza (‘authorization’) under master illuminator Ayten Tiryaki in Istanbul. Gamiet holds a masters degree in Traditional and Islamic Arts from the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts, where she now teaches.

“Traditionally, the master craftsmen were spiritual masters as well and they would train their apprentices both in the craft and the development of their spiritual path and character,” Gamiet told Arab News. “We no longer have those guild systems in place, but there is still something of the essence of that mentoring relationship today. It’s fundamental to the practice of illumination and calligraphy. When I met Ayten Tiryaki, I was struck by how she wasn’t just looking at my artistic skill but at me as a human being. She was concerned for my welfare in a maternal way. The care she showed me and her etiquette — ‘adab’ in Arabic — were wonderful.”

Gamiet’s own teaching has taken her to several other countries, including Saudi Arabia, China and Egypt. “I teach in Jeddah and love teaching Saudi students because they are so hungry for knowledge,” she said.

Gamiet describes her style as “quite free-spirited” but says she is also “methodical.”

“I like to have a structure and plan,” she said. “In the future I would love to start writing and illustrating my own children’s books.”

Here, the artist tells us the stories behind some of her favorite works.

‘Ijaza 1’

The large circular panel in this close-up shows a detail of my hilye — a description of the moral and physical attributes of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It is a great blessing for an illuminator to paint a hilye, and it is traditional for illuminators to make one when they are ready to graduate from apprentice to full-fledged artist. The hilye expresses our love of the Prophet Muhammad, and our devotion to the craft. It should showcase all your skills. Each individual unit of pattern should be balanced in color and design, and also harmonize with the composition as a whole. 

It took 12 years to get my ijaza — it took so long because I did not go to live in Turkey. There was a lot of effort at the beginning — a lot of mistakes and struggle. The key thing is the brushwork. Once you have got that it unlocks a lot for you. After two years of practicing illumination the brushwork began to flow a lot more easily.

I remember my first meeting with Ayten Tiryaki.  She gave me some motifs to trace over and copy — traditional illumination and floral motifs — and I was so nervous that I kept cracking the fine nib on the pen. All she said was “Mashallah.” It was her way of making me feel comfortable because my work wasn’t very good but she didn’t want to embarrass me. Being around her throughout the years I saw that sensitivity countless times. It really inspired me because I came to the realization that this craft is not just about preserving a beautiful aspect of Islamic culture and the art of Islamic books – it is also about nurturing beautiful human beings.

‘One Song’

This is a really heartfelt painting. It is about the underlying unity of creation and how the differences between us are superficial as on the level of the spirit we are all united. It is inspired by a poem by Rumi that mentions bird song — all the birds singing together —  and sunlight. I thought it was such beautiful imagery.

I gilded the painting — all gold leaf in the background to represent sunlight — and I created an imaginary fantastical forest for the birds to inhabit. The birds are all different but are united through their song.


In 2018, I was commissioned by the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, to produce illuminated frontispieces for four volumes of poetry written by Imtiaz Dharker in response to an exhibition of Mughal art. This piece was gifted to the Queen. The poems and my frontispieces were handbound into four volumes by the bookbinders at Windsor Castle. It was really great to meet them and collaborate with them on the project. That was one of the highlights of the whole commission — going into the binding room.  They left the commission very open to me and I created designs that reflected the Mughal art.

‘Persimmon Tree and Parakeets’

Last year, I was invited by the German children’s author Cornelia Funke, to a residency on her avocado farm in Malibu. She writes children’s fantasy books and is very successful and also extremely generous. She has built four tiny houses around her farm for artist residencies. There was a persimmon tree with parakeets directly outside my house that was the inspiration for the painting. I felt as though I was in a fairy tale. It was magical. It was such a fertile environment for creativity and ideas. I think maybe that’s why I painted the ground in gold leaf.

‘They Fluttered Like Two Butterflies’

I went on a short course on children’s illustration and I had this idea for a story about a child who journeys through the world of Islamic art. So I created this illustration of a child with her friend the Hoopoe. I wanted to bring my knowledge of illumination and miniature painting into the books. This was an experiment with that — so although it’s a children’s illustration, the patterns are quite fine. You can see gold leaf and there are hints of Islamic illustration and miniature as well.

‘The Dancing Princess’

This was for my portfolio when I started approaching publishers about 10 years ago. When I attended my course on children’s illustration we had to illustrate a fairy tale. I chose “The Princess and The Pea” but I made all my characters African and Asian and set it in an imaginary place that has hints of the Alhambra and Morocco. This is the princess who goes dancing in the forest and gets caught in the rain and takes shelter in the prince’s castle.

REVIEW: Super-sport meets SUV — The Lamborghini Urus

Arab News' resident car reviewer Frank Kane tested the Lamborghini Urus on the streets of Dubai. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Arab News' resident car reviewer Frank Kane tested the Lamborghini Urus on the streets of Dubai. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Updated 24 February 2021

REVIEW: Super-sport meets SUV — The Lamborghini Urus

Arab News' resident car reviewer Frank Kane tested the Lamborghini Urus on the streets of Dubai. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • The Italian manufacturer has made a car equally at home on the school run or the racing circuit

DUBAI: It’s confession time: I’ve always been a bit scared of Lamborghini.

The flashy super-sports cars in shocking colors that you see on Dubai streets and on the forecourts of five-star hotels look so downright aggressive and fast that I’ve always had a sneaky feeling that a man of my advancing years would look slightly ridiculous getting in and out of a Huracan or Aventador.

But the lure of the magical Lambo name was too much, and when the opportunity arose I was excited to step into the rather more sedate Urus, Lamborghini’s move into the super-SUV segment.


This section of the luxury car market is smoking hot at the moment, especially in the Middle East, which just loves its SUVs. Rolls Royce, Bentley, Porsche, and Maserati have all produced fantastic multi-terrain vehicles recently, and even Ferrari is working on its own thoroughbred.

But the Urus is the sportiest and sexist of the elite SUVs so far and Lamborghini says it is the most powerful. Gulf drivers have taken to it with relish, judging by the numbers on the roads, many of which are being driven by Arab women. Interesting phenomenon.



The name of a type of bull, similar to Spanish fighting bulls, maintaining Lamborghini’s link with the powerful animal.

I said “sedate,” but that is not really the appropriate term for a vehicle that will get you from 0-100kph in 3.6 seconds with a top speed of just over 300kph. This is all thanks to a four-liter V-8 twin-turbo engine that gets all that power to a 4WD system the techies say is among the most advanced around at the moment.

If you want to emulate the archetypal Lambo-head by popping and cracking the engine at the signal, you can do that, but during normal driving the engine thunders rather than screams. You can hear yourself think and have a decent conversation in the cockpit, though you may have to shout for the benefit of rear-seat passengers — not a problem Lamborghini encounters in its sports cars, of course.

I had been told to expect superior road handling, and was not disappointed. This is a two-ton car that can take the kids to school in style and safety, or do some dune-bashing at the weekend, but the way it hurls itself out of sharp corners, or sticks flat to the road on hairpin bends, is a marvel to behold.

A lot of that is down to the ultra-sophisticated four-wheel steering that has the effect of elongating and shortening the wheelbase depending on speed and road orientation.

With such handling, it really is hard to believe you’re driving an SUV.



The original Mr Lamborghini also produced farm machines, and you can still buy a Lambo tractor — although that company no longer has anything to do with the sports-car manufacturer.

The interior screams “Italia,” and not just because of the driving modes — including Strada, Corsa, and Terra — that are flagged up on the center console. The others are Sport, and — a nice touch for the Middle East — Sabba (sand). I doubt the Neve (snow) mode will get much use in the region.

And of course you can personalize your own driving experience, in the Ego mode — again, how very Italian.

The cockpit technology is extremely sophisticated, with everything you’d expect from an Italian manufacturer now owned by a German company, VW. A lot of the hi-tech features seem heavily influenced by Audi, which is a good thing of course. Vorsprung Durch Technik, after all.

Lamborghini took a long time to design and unveil the Urus, perhaps while pondering whether it was really possible to mix a super-sports car with an SUV. But it has done it. At times you have to remind yourself that this is a multi-terrain vehicle, rather than something you want to throw around the F1 track on Yas Island.

The 2021 version will cost you around $272,257 for starters, but options can raise that significantly. To get the super-sport SUV of your dreams, you’d better start $354,000 and be prepared to go higher.

The car I drove was in a reassuringly traditional shade of British racing green, but now that I’ve overcome my Lambo-phobia with the Urus, look out for me on the roads of Dubai in a bright lime-and-day-glo-orange Huracan.

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi to explore new theme amid COVID-19 setbacks

The virtual event will take place from Marcg 8-10. Supplied
The virtual event will take place from Marcg 8-10. Supplied
Updated 24 February 2021

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi to explore new theme amid COVID-19 setbacks

The virtual event will take place from Marcg 8-10. Supplied

DUBAI: “The Cultural Economy and the Economy of Culture” is the theme of the upcoming digital-only Culture Summit Abu Dhabi, set to take place from March 8-10. 

The fourth edition of the virtual forum, which will be open to the public, will bring together cultural leaders, practitioners and experts from the fields of art, heritage, museums, media and technology to generate new strategies and thinking, and identify ways in which culture can transform societies and communities worldwide.

There will also be a curated selection of artist talks, film screenings and performances all taking place during the summit.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the culture and creative industries were one of the fastest growing sectors in the world economy. But the sector was one of the hardest struck by COVID-19.

Mohamed Khalifa Al-Mubarak, chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, in a statement” “The global challenges of the past year have truly demonstrated the vital power of culture to improve our personal and collective wellbeing. Yet, cultural institutions worldwide continue to struggle to achieve funding structures to continue operating. It is now more important than ever to shed light on the critical role that the culture sector plays as an essential driver of sustainable economic and social development.

“We are proud to collaborate with top global cultural partners to convene renowned professionals from a variety of fields, ensuring the level and breadth of expertise needed for fruitful discussions and effective, goal-oriented outcomes.”

TV wildlife star Robert Irwin on keeping dad’s legacy alive as show set to launch in Middle East

Robert Irwin pictured with a tiger cub at the Australia Zoo. Supplied
Robert Irwin pictured with a tiger cub at the Australia Zoo. Supplied
Updated 24 February 2021

TV wildlife star Robert Irwin on keeping dad’s legacy alive as show set to launch in Middle East

Robert Irwin pictured with a tiger cub at the Australia Zoo. Supplied

DUBAI: The family of the late Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin, known as The Crocodile Hunter, has been keeping the television personality’s legacy alive.

His wife Terri and their children Robert and Bindi run the Australia Zoo and their work there is featured in the popular reality TV series, “Crikey! It’s the Irwins.”

Irwin died in 2006 after receiving a stingray injury in a freak accident, but his family has followed in his footsteps by taking care of animals from around the world.

And now season one of their hit TV show has launched on discovery+ via Starzplay in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The Irwin family is passionate about nature and Terri, Robert, and Bindi have dedicated their lives to promoting wildlife conservation and inspiring the next generation of young people to take an active part in protecting and preserving the natural world.

“Dad’s passion and enthusiasm and love for wildlife was just absolutely contagious,” Robert, 17, told Arab News.

“That’s why I am so passionate about wildlife conservation. It’s hard not to be passionate about wildlife when you had a dad like mine. So, I definitely think it is a really big honor to get to continue that legacy.”

Robert Irwin photographed with his mother Terri Irwin and his sister Bindi Irwin. Supplied

Growing up at the Australia Zoo, Irwin’s son has been surrounded by animals for as long as he can remember. “When I was young, my parents nicknamed me The Moth Hunter. I was just super transfixed with chasing and catching moths,” he said.

Now in his late teens, the wildlife activist and award-winning photographer is responsible for a string of diverse and equally important tasks that include traveling around the globe to advocate for conservation, feed saltwater crocodiles, and check up on the zoo’s injured koalas at the family’s wildlife hospital.

“Life in the Australia Zoo is absolutely 100 miles an hour every single day,” he added.

When the Irwin family originally opened the Australia Zoo, it was a small reptile park, but it has since grown into a vast conservation area.

“We’ve really broadened our conservation reach, helping to support wildlife protection programs all over the world. We’ve secured over half-a-million acres of natural habitat and it’s become a really big, big program and a big hub for conservation,” Robert said.

When the family was forced to shut down the zoo for 78 days due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, a change in focus was required.


“The pandemic had a really big effect on what we do here in Australia. We had to close our doors for the first time in 50 years. It was a really challenging and very stressful time for all of us, my whole family and for our whole routine.

“We had about an $80,000 a week food bill just to feed our animals alone. And, of course, no money coming in with no patrons. And so, it was really tough for a while there,” he added.

With the green light from the Australian government, the family was able to re-open the zoo’s gates with COVID-19 health and safety restrictions in place.

“We’ve now got social distancing signs everywhere and we have had to change our wildlife experiences to make sure everything is completely COVID-19 safe. But still, when people come into the Australia Zoo, they can still have a really fun and exciting day. You can still cuddle with koalas and rhinos – you just can’t cuddle with each other,” he said.

In addition to re-opening the wildlife sanctuary, the family is looking forward to welcoming the arrival of Bindi and her pro wakeboarder husband Chandler Powell’s first child, a baby girl.

Bindi, 22, announced her pregnancy to the world in January by recreating a maternity throwback photo her parents posed for while they were expecting Robert. Her family discovered she was expecting in an equally special way.


“After she called my mom and I and told us she was pregnant, Bindi wanted to share the news with the rest of the family and team. We were actually on our annual crocodile research expedition in remote bushland in northern Queensland, which is a three-day drive from the zoo and many kilometers away from any sort of civilization,” her brother said.

“We were sitting around a fire and Bindi just got up and told everyone about this exciting news. It felt very poignant because where we were is actually where dad used to catch crocodiles. It was his favorite place in the world, so it was very special.

“I just want this little girl to have the most fun, awesome, exciting life. Growing up in a zoo, it’s going to be pretty hectic. And I don’t know if she is ready for what’s about to come, but I want to get her in there, wrestling crocodiles and wrangling snakes and doing all the awesome things that we get to do. I might have to wait until she’s a little bit older, maybe until she can walk,” he added.

Egyptian film ‘One Night Stand’ to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris

Egyptian film ‘One Night Stand’ to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris
Updated 24 February 2021

Egyptian film ‘One Night Stand’ to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris

Egyptian film ‘One Night Stand’ to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris

DUBAI: Egyptian short film “One Night Stand” is set to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris on Wednesday.

The screening will be part of the “Les Rencontres Internationales Paris” event, which started on Feb 23, that explores contemporary art and new movies.

“One Night Stand” is directed by Palestinian filmmaker Nour Abed and Egyptian director and producer Mark Lotfy.

The film is based on the directors’ real-life encounter in Beirut with a European man who was about to join the Kurdish militia to fight Daesh in Syria. 

The conversation was secretly recorded on a mobile phone and serves as the script for animated modeled situations and performative reconstructions of that night. 

“Les Rencontres Internationales Paris” will be streamed online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Visitors can watch the livestream, that will also feature films, hosts discussions and performances, here

Bella Hadid, Dua Lipa inspire Hugo Comte’s first photo book

Bella Hadid photographed by Hugo Comte. Supplied
Bella Hadid photographed by Hugo Comte. Supplied
Updated 24 February 2021

Bella Hadid, Dua Lipa inspire Hugo Comte’s first photo book

Bella Hadid photographed by Hugo Comte. Supplied

DUBAI: French fashion photographer Hugo Comte released his first career photography book this week. The new monograph shines the spotlight on all the women who have inspired him along the way, including part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid, British-Albanian popstar Dua Lipa and Russian supermodel Irina Shayk, among others.

Comte collaborated with art director David McKelvey on the 200-page-book and focused on featuring existing and never-before-seen portraiture of his muses in the new tome.

The book, which is self-published, celebrates the first five years of his photography career. 

In addition to previously published portraits, the book also features never-before-seen works — special pieces made in collaboration with airbrush artists to repaint his imagery, as well as unique computer-generated pieces.

Dua Lipa photographed by Hugo Comte. Supplied

“I really wanted to create an object that is the symbol of my first years of work. I started to really feel that people created a sort of identity around me from that time period,” he said to WWD.

“I feel (portraiture) is the most intimate part of my work and where I express myself the best. Group shots don’t allow such intimacy. When I shoot an image, I always try to give the feeling that the woman is not being photographed but that she is looking through the camera, which gives a direct contact between the viewer and the muse,” he added.

The prolific imagemaker’s newly-released tome is untitled, instead the photographer wants to let his work speak for itself.

After arriving on the scene not long ago, he has quickly ascended to being one of the most-followed photographers on the Internet.

A page from the new book. Supplied

He is known for working with some of the world’s most-photographed women, such as Kendall Jenner, Vittoria Ceretti and Adut Akech. 

Memorably, he lensed Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” album artwork.

The launch of the book is accompanied by an exhibition at Los Angeles’ Tase Gallery, where Comte will have a one-week show from Feb. 25 – March 3 of seven selected works in the brand new gallery space. 

The Book is also available for sale on It is limited to 2,500 copies, the first 50 of which have been signed by Comte.