By Yasmin Darsot Cassim
In this issue of Irtiqa we explore the fascinating world of local, emerging talent in the field of Arabesque (Islamic art).
With a growing interest in art as an investment locally and internationally, Islamic artists have been given greater opportunities to showcase their works. Whilst the greater numbers of Islamic galleries seem to be located in the United Kingdom and the USA, there are a number of local art galleries that are more open to exhibiting the works of emerging artists in our community. In the spirit of showcasing our local talent, we speak to established artist Aziezah Essop and emerging artist Salima Soni. We focus on their role as an artist and their experiences thereof.
Please tell us a little more about yourself, where are you from and what do you do for a living?
Aziezah: I was born in Durban and grew up in Johannesburg. I am an Art teacher at St Andrew’s School for Girls’. I love what I do. I feel my purpose every day, which is to make a positive difference in the world. I get to encourage and change the perspectives of young lives which I find highly rewarding. Teaching through art is a powerful means of making people aware of how they think because it is a visual medium and we are visual people. Being more visually aware also changes the way you look at, and interact with the world around you. You appreciate detail and contemplate more. Lastly, I believe that transferring and building up on these skills for the younger generation will make for a better future and society.
Q: When did you start taking an interest in art and did you study to develop your skills. If yes, where did you study?
Aziezah: Ever since I can remember I have always been drawing and painting. It has always been a passion of mine. It was something that just came naturally to me. After school, upon the advice of a teacher, I studied engineering but did not feel fulfilled. My true passion came through in the end and I ended up studying Fine Arts despite the many people advising me against it. I have a Fine Arts Honours degree from WITS University. I have been taught by prominent South African artists like Penny Siopis, Gavin Younge, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Walter Oltmann, Anita Nettleton and Federico Freschi.
Q: What does art and in particular, Islamic art, mean to you?
Aziezah: Islamic art to me is largely about contemplation and a sub-conscious Zikr (prayer). I think every time you pass a painting you are subconsciously taking it in – its meaning and its influences. So it becomes a very personal and meaningful process. You have to think about everything that encompasses a painting very carefully from the color choice, to the background, to the inscription. All elements become equally important in Islamic Art. I am always very aware of the powerful persuasive nature of art or visuals on myself and others. In that sense, Islamic Art is very different to other styles of art which is more about a reflection or critical view or commentary on society or just simple personal indulgence.
Q: What techniques do you use in your artwork and have you used any computerized technology?
Aziezah: I have experimented a bit with technology but I think I am a very old-fashioned artist at heart. I prefer the traditional media and techniques as it provides a more natural feel and freedom of expression. Most recently I have experimented with ink dropping and love the chance element that comes with it. You cannot completely control the result so it seems almost as if the painting becomes what it is meant to be and I am just the means to the end.
Q: Islamic art is versatile and ranges from paintings, ceramics, rugs and carpets as well as glass work and mosaics. What do you specialise in and find the most rewarding?
Aziezah: I have always taken to painting and drawing. I have experimented with a bit of relief work but prefer two-dimensional formats. I experiment with inks, charcoal, acrylics, oils and polishes as I find them most rewarding.
Q: Where have you had your work showcased?
Aziezah: I have had my artwork selected for an Investec exhibition (which was later bought by a private buyer in Australia); a Rubicon exhibition in Rosebank, and a piece was selected for the 10 years of democracy exhibition that represented the different cultures in South Africa.
Q: Do you think that art is an expression of one’s true feelings or desires; does that come through on any of your images?
Aziezah: Yes, I think it does. It certainly becomes a reflection of oneself and I have seen it my art. At different stages in my life, depending on what is happening in my life at the time, I have seen my painting styles shift. Like when I was pregnant with my son, my color palette had become much lighter. Over the years as I have matured and become more confident within myself and my style has become more expressive and free. I don’t try to control the process anymore; I go with what comes from within, often not knowing what the end result will be. I am led by my subconscious. My friends who have witnessed the changes have said that my art looks far more integrated now.
Q: Please can you go through the motions of one of your favorite paintings and explain it in more detail to us. What inspired you to create it?
I have never really thought about a favorite painting, but if I had to choose I think perhaps the triptych that hangs in my dining room would be my choice. I was given a challenge by my husband to paint something that reflected our marriage and at first I thought, how do you capture something that abstract? It took nearly three years before I was able to do the painting, but when I started everything flowed and it was done in a matter of hours. It is an ink drop with acrylic brushmark painting of an orchid. The Arabic words intertwined in the orchid are: Harmony, Peace and Love. It’s the words my husband, Haroon, and I have chosen to inscribe on our wedding rings. And I think all three concepts are captured in an orchid. Orchids are highly coveted ornamental plants which are seen to represent luxury, love, rare and delicate beauty and strength. For me this is an extremely personal representation and perhaps that is why I feel a particular affinity to it.
Triptych Artwork by Aziezah that encapsulates her marriage
Inspired by an eastern scene
A classic: The Holy Mosque in Mecca and the Kaabah in black and white
Painting name: Isa, inspired by the beautiful colors.
Floral design –Rose with beautiful ayaat of Haa meen La Yunsaroon
I met Salima at her beautiful home, fully decorated by her art. I was astounded by each artwork that I came across.
Salima, who is originally from Johannesburg,Fordsburg, recently moved to the beautiful suburb of Emmarentia with her husband and kids. A dedicated housewife and mother, Salima has always had a passion for creativity, but was not as privileged as today’s school kids arewho attend art classes in school, and she also did not have much exposure to it until the year 2000, when she decided to attend ceramic classes.
A few classes is all it took for Salima to start creating beautiful ceramics, some pieces displayed the beautiful words of Allah and Muhammad (p.b.u.h); some very modern pieces can be used just as centre pieces and bring out any space. Her work was also chosen to be displayed at the PTA national art gallery. After some time the intense hand-use and building technique that is required to create ceramics took a toll on her and she stopped.
She then attended art classes at Cameron’s Art School and has never looked back. Something inside her was awakened when she started painting, and Salima immediately picked up that painting is her true passion. She learnt the technique quickly and started creating abstracts, which built up her confidence. “Nothing specific inspires me,” she says, “Art is everywhere and in everything.” Salima has been lucky enough to travel internationally and has visited many historical sites which she portrays in her paintings. The Alhambra palace in Spain is one of her favourites. The palace displays Moorish architecture which fascinates her. The palace is truly inspirational and displays so much of our history and dates back to 1238 and 1358. There are many paintings of Salima’s that reflect the rich architecture of the palace and encompasses the visual arts of the 7th century.
Salima specialises in oil paintings. She has also had her work exhibited at the Art Gallery on 6th Avenue in Parkhurst. All her art is influenced by Islamic history, Islamic architecture, and the multicultural society we live in.
She has recently taken an interest in the artwork that is shown on the tiles which adorn many mosques and ceilings, and finds that it displays a lot of geometric designs. “Geometric patterns are the most recognisable visual expressions of Islamic art,” she adds “and I find it very therapeutic to create these designs. I get lost in the painting. Painting cannot be rushed, it takes months to perfect the image, especially since it’s a slow medium. But true art lovers do not put a price on a masterpiece.”
Whilst walking through her beautiful home looking at all her paintings, her passion for art is clearly displayed in each piece of work. From abstracts to images that were inspired by her travels, her attention to detail is exquisite. A really unique painting caught my eye; it was a textured painting which she created with a pallet knife. This painting was modern and she found it very fulfilling to create.
Salima is very talented and believes that art is a true reflection of her personality and she feels complete in expressing herself through painting. She is grateful that she has the opportunity to express herself through this medium. An inspiring woman, Salima made me feel that finding our passion is something we should all invest in as it is rewarding to one’s soul.
A Moorish entrance inspired by Moorish architecture
Black and White, this abstract was created with a pallet knife and brush, it has a texture but is very defined.
Persian carpet, an abstract inspired by a Persian carpet that she saw in an antique store
Inspired by Islamic geometric shapes from a Turkish mosque
Name of Allah, Inspired by carvings on the Alhambra Palace wall