The Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (Ductac) is presenting the third edition of Ramadanization, an annual exhibition that showcases the talent of UAE-based artists and brings together the local art community during the month of Ramadan. Ductac invited all artists living in the UAE to submit artworks depicting what Ramadan means to them and a panel of art professionals selected the ones to be displayed in the show. These include paintings, sculptures, collages and installations by artists of various nationalities and cultural backgrounds highlighting different aspects of Ramadan.
Participating artists include Shazia Jaffrey, Amal Mahmoud, Reham El Sharaky, Marcin Brodowski, Bushra Malik, Nour Saied-Ahmad, Shabir Mir, Esra Olgun Mustafa, Humaira Hussain, Sonu Sultania, Ria Sharma, Shadab Khan, Cathy Deniset, Nafisa Sayed-Motiwala, Rafah Abdulrazzak, Abeera Atique, Yulia Verigina, Charlie Villagracia, Mona Biswarupa Mohanty, Reema Asnani and Eduard Alvarez. The show also features works by well-known Egyptian artists Mohamed Abou El Naga and Zahed Taj Eddin loaned by Mojo Gallery.
Egyptian artist Amal Mahmoud has created a colourful, glittering collage of various motifs related to Ramadan in the Arab world in her mixed media work titled The Happiness of Ramadan. The motifs range from tannoura dancers and rituals associated with Ramadan to traditional Ramadan clothes and iftar gatherings. “I want to show the happy, welcoming and celebratory soul of Ramadan,” she says.
A painting by Filipino artist Eduard Alvarez shows a father and son kneeling in prayer side by side in the desert with a mosque visible in the distance. “I want to show the importance of Ramadan to all generations of Muslims and how it connects them in worship,” he says. Zahed Taj-Eddin’s ceramic sculpture titled Motherhood also speaks about Ramadan being a time for families to come together and the way these traditions are passed down by parents to their children.
Charlie Villagarcia from the Philippines has created a composition featuring a mosque, calligraphic verses and hands folded in prayer to portray the idea of meditation and introspection during Ramadan. Indian artists Shadab Khan, Rima Asnani and Nafisa Sayed-Motiwala and French artist Cathy Deniset have also captured the spirituality of Ramadan through paintings of mosques and a hand holding prayer beads.
Turkish artist Esra Olgun Mustafa has used the ancient marbling technique of Ebru to create her painting of a rose with calligraphic words wound around the stem. “The rose is an important symbol of Islam. It is known as the flower of Heaven and represents divine beauty. Each year during the Haj pilgrimage, the covering of the Kaaba is sprinkled with rose water and the lamps are filled with rose oil to spread the fragrance. Sufi poets such as Rumi have referred to the exquisite flower with its long thorny stem and sweet smell as a symbol of the mystic path to God,” she says.
Pakistani artist Humaira Hussain’s vibrant paintings featuring Islamic geometric patterns and the names of God surrounded by flowers and birds are inspired by a verse in the Quran about the harmony between human beings and nature. Her compatriot Shazia Jaffrey says she can see Arabic letters and words in the shapes of cactus plants. She has created her own calligraphic script based on various cacti to write sacred verses and the names of God in her paintings. Other artists whose works are inspired by Islamic geometric patterns, verses of the Quran and the 99 names of God include Reham ElSharaky, Rafah Abdulrazzak Al Rahman, Abeera Atique, Bushra Malik and Marcin Brodowski.
Indian artists Ria Sharma and Sonu Sultania have focused on the whirling dervishes. In her cubist paintings from a series titled The Search Within, Sharma has used the meditative movement of the Sufi seekers as a metaphor for the spiritual rhythm of Ramadan, when people remove themselves from worldly comforts to enter a meditative state and connect with their inner selves and with God.
Sultania’s installation, A Spiritual Bliss features paintings of whirling dervishes on a large circular canvas surrounded by six smaller ones. “This arrangement reflects the movements in the universe from the smallest atom to the solar system, which are reflected in the mystical whirling of the dervishes. It also alludes to the fact that Ramadan is a time of spiritual bliss, when we celebrate our closeness to the Divine as well as to the family and community,” she says.
Russian artist Yulia Verigina’s painting of a woman with her eyes wide open is titled Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder. “I want to tell people to keep their eyes open during the month of Ramadan in order to see heaven in the beauty of everyday life. During this month we should strive to make life for others also heaven on earth. The beauty is everywhere around us and we just need to be able to see it,” she says. Mona Biswarupa Mohanty has also expressed the happiness, positivity and divinity she feels during Ramadan with her painting of a joyful woman in a blissful universe.
Mohamed Abou El Naga’s painting of Azar street in Cairo recalls his memories of Ramadan at home, and Finnish-Palestinian artist Nour Saied-Ahmad’s paintings depicting well-known Arabic proverbs through imagery and calligraphic letters refer to the television quizzes popular during Ramadan.
Pakistani sculptor and graphic designer Shabir Mir has captured the intrinsic beauty and essence of calligraphy by laser cutting the letters on metal to create unique three-dimensional sculptures. Although the words in his series, Unscripted, are not legible, the polished, reflective sculptures have a spiritual feel. The artist has also created a sculpture titled Zayed that pays tribute to the founding father of the UAE through the words of well-known Emirati poet Zainab Al Balushi carved on a titanium sculpture.
Together the artworks highlight different facets of Ramadan and the participation of the entire multicultural community of the UAE in celebrating this holy month.
Jyoti Kalsi is an arts-enthusiast based in Dubai.
Ramadanization will run at the Gallery of Light, Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, until June 17.