Ilham Exhibition

This group exhibition took place at the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar, as a result of a collaboration between the British Council and Shape Arts.  It was a fantastic opportunity for me - with a three week residency in Doha to explore the 80,000 objects in the MIA (a lot of them, anyway!), and create new work in response to what inspired me.  Meeting and mixing with other leading artists such as Rachel Gadsden, Jason Wilsher-Mills, Juan delGado and Safiya Al Bahlani was an inspiration by itself, as well as making new friends from the Middle East, who I hope to work with again in the future. An excerpt of a documentary of the Definitely Able conference can be seen here. My special thanks go to Wasseem and his team at the British Council for all their support, and to Shape Arts who made it happen, including the curation of the final show. Read my blog



MIA houses a collection of artistic objects gathered from around the Islamic world with, as their website says, 'a mission to serve the cultural, artistic and social needs of our visitors'. As well as the heritage of the Islamic world, the museum aims to point the way to a future where new generations can explore their culture in an open and enquiring way, and my own residency was a part of this, assessing objects, values and various traditions and working out how they relate to myself, my own journey and history as a transient Arab woman (moving from Sudan to the UK), and how my artistic practice differs from them, and sometimes intersects.


The inspiration provided by the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) was, at the beginning, a little overwhelming. Surrounded by so many beautiful Islamic objects, I began my journey by reflecting on previous journeys to the Alhambra Masjid in Granada, the mosques of Istanbul; also journeys to Egypt, my birthplace in Sudan, as well as places closer to my home in London such as the Victoria and Albert musuem. All of the objects displayed formed a connectedness to this past and it was difficult to choose just one or two objects that would influence my art work. Hence I began to focus on recurring themes seen in the collection which led me to consider the use of calligraphy and particularly how it was used in the glass pieces chosen as inspiration.



In my practice as a textiles artist, I have many starting points which lead to the final product. In this case, through exploring my own connections with the works, I started to create some lines of poetry. I did not know where this would lead to exactly, but the words, in a semi- abstract form, can be seen threaded throughout the final pieces. I began with two separate written pieces, one connecting me with an expression of spirituality and peace. The words open a window to my past and absorb me through my imagination to feelings of love that connect ultimately to a sense of freedom. In the other piece I found myself using a meditation on the Arabic word ‘kun’, or ‘being’, and through this began to explore the complex ideas of identity and inner patterns. This is why I chose the wooden panels as one of the inspirational pieces. The geometry and symmetry displayed in these doors is echoed everywhere in Qatar – in architecture, in ceramics, in tiles and in everyday life – it is such a vital component. It absorbs the viewer and allows you to believe the pattern is never ending – it is eternal. 

The written pieces I made are part of a three stage process. Having originated in British Sign Language, the text was translated into written English, re-translated into written Arabic, and then finally reproduced as Arabic calligraphy. This process echoes the many stages of the textiles printing process, including hand-dying materials, screen printing the overlapping designs and use of the devoré technique.


Many of the museum objects are intricate and delicate. This is particularly true for the last object – the standard. This is reflected in my final work where many patterns are forged into the whole and create a sense of intricacy and complexity. The process I use allows the texture of the materials to play a part in the whole, giving the art the feel of three-dimensionality, and using calligraphy firmly roots the work in the context of the MIA collection.

Below are images of the exhibition and some of the people and locations involved:

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