Islamabad: The centuries-old Islamic art of calligraphy is often found on the walls of mosques and has been incorporated into diverse media, including stone carvings, wooden inscriptions, paper, and silk.
Pakistani artist Samra Bashir has chosen a unique medium of painting calligraphy on glass. Her exquisite and multi-coloured art pieces masterfully capture breathtaking Islamic art and shine a spotlight on Pakistan’s extremely rich and diverse culture.
Samra’s artworks not only redefine traditional eastern art but also depict her feelings about her own culture. “My art focuses on celebrating my Islamic heritage and Pakistani culture, and the majority of my inspiration is derived from traditional Islamic art and architecture,” Samra Bashir said in an interview with Gulf News.
Samra usually paints on glass and plexiglass with glass paints and she considers light as a non-physical but essential medium of her work. “Light has the characteristic of having various colours, textures, and depths. The vibrancy and intensity of the light transport viewers to a new place and time.”
Intricate Islamic art
The glass calligraphy artist incorporates geometrical designs, biomorphic patterns, Arabic calligraphy, and also abstract designs into her work. A closer look reveals motifs from ceramics and tile work and intricate embroidered and block, printed patterns found in Pakistani architecture.
Floral motifs, geometric designs and calligraphy are the three key features of Islamic visual art since the depiction of humans and animal figures is not part of Islamic culture.
The kaleidoscopic geometric patterns in Islamic art can be seen in diverse forms and designs across the Islamic world such as in geometric patterns in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the Alhambra in Granada, Bibi Khanym mosque in Uzbekistan and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
Infusing Islamic art and Pakistani culture
Pakistan is also home to some of the most brilliant and intricate tile work and traditional Islamic art. The most remarkable form of art that infuses calligraphy, flower patterns, geometric patterns, and mosaic tiles, can be seen at the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Shah Jahan Mosque in Thatta (Sindh), Masjid Wazir Khan, Mahabat Khan Mosque in Peshawar and Bhong Mosque in Rahim Yar Khan (Punjab).
Influenced by Pakistani culture and heritage, Samra was determined to reinvent the tradition by painting it on glass. “If you appreciate art, you simply cannot avoid seeing the exquisite art and architecture found all around Pakistan.”
Samra who currently lives in Chicago, United States, says art she has always been influenced by art but more so after immigrating to the US. “It may have been my longing for Pakistan and a sense of nostalgia that compelled me to create artwork inspired by my rich cultural heritage,” she described.
The artist works in a range of media, including glass painting, ceramics, calligraphy, and oil painting. Her work has been exhibited at local community events and conventions and she has sold paintings all over the world. She also teaches glass painting workshops as she passionately believes in giving back to the community. The artist, who was born in Kuwait, spent most of her time in Karachi, Pakistan, where she completed her Bachelor's and Master's degrees. She later pursued a degree in painting from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago where she moved in 2009.
Incredible art of Arabic calligraphy
The Pakistani artist began working on glass paintings as a hobby in 2001 and later took online classes to improve her work. “I am still learning the art as Arabic calligraphy has been and continues to be a serious art form and demands unique expertise, strong devotion, and patience.
Calligraphy practice needs to be carried out through a sincere connection with a master” she believes. Her works mostly include drawing calligraphy rather than writing it but she aspires to be able to “apply Arabic Calligraphy in its authentic form” in her art one day.
Samra says she finds drawing and painting intricate Islamic geometric patterns fascinating and meditative. “It was during online learning from the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London that I understood the spiritual significance of these patterns. For instance, the complex geometric designs give the appearance of endless repetition, which helps a person understand God’s infinite existence. I associate these patterns with a phrase that speaks of God’s infinite blessings.”
Connecting with her roots
The artist exploring the unique medium of painting calligraphy on glass says her artwork is a means to connect with her own heritage while also supporting other immigrants to appreciate their own cultures and histories. Speaking about one of her most memorable calligraphy projects, she said that “it was the one I created for the Senator's office that represents diverse communities in our district, and my artwork represented South Asia.”
The glass painting was inspired by Islamic geometric design that represents infinity, and integrated calligraphy that states ‘Assalamualikum’ in Arabic with an English translation, she said describing the project.
Samra says she is grateful to Allah “for the opportunity to discover more about our Islamic heritage through the study of Islamic arts which has enriched and deepened my view of life in ways I never imagined.”
Talking about her future ambitions, Samra says she plans to continue experimenting with new techniques and conduct glass painting workshops to bring more attention to the incredible Islamic art in North America. She is also considering learning more traditional Islamic art skills from qualified teachers and institutions. Her goal is to make Islamic art more accessible to a wider audience and create opportunities for future generations to learn about Islamic art.