Monday, 10 March 2014

What is precious now and for how long will it remain? Noura Bouzo, popcorn and technological hypnotism. How built-in obsolescence is an agent of change

Contemporary culture moves quickly.  Built-in obsolescence, updates and the adjective ‘new’ are significant agents of change.  What was iconic and precious one moment is appropriated, replaced or simply discarded the next. The art world too is not immune for this constant exploration, this restless search for what Robert Hughes termed ‘the Shock of the New’. Where do we go from here? Are we actually in the end state of art? asked Grayson Perry in his 2013 Reith Lectures.
The artist Noura Bouzo is well aware of this shift in perception and uses traditional Islamic glass and bronze basins to underscore difference by placing them in a contemporary context. She also subverts their original use. What was once a precious object is now portrayed as just an everyday vessel for popcorn and seemingly as disposable.
The viewer is prompted to shift their expectations, their assumptions about otherness, difference and the western concept of ‘Orientalism’. Her work is much more complex than this, however. In the pieces “A Profile Pic Culture” 1 and 2: not only are the once precious Islamic basins, now being used as popcorn pots. The popcorn, in turn, has morphed into a contemporary viewer, whose “profile pic” have now become our focus. It is as if we are forced to consider just what we now deem important. What is precious now and for how long will it remain so? What may have stayed constant for millennia is likely to shift in a moment. Therefore where are society’s foundations if everything is so ephemeral and transient?
These works are also situated within the gaudy artificiality of a fairground. In “A Profile Pic 1” the text reads: “I carry the sound of your voice in my heart and soul”. Here Bouzo makes reference to the bleeps and dings, the flashes and icons that underpin the world of avatars and online alter egos. It is a hypnotic world that almost prevents contemplation, yet humanity is almost desperate to seek meaning in what has been created.
What Bouzo offers is an investigation into the very heart of what this new technological experience actually means. How do ancient culture, history and the past, fit into something which moves so fast the world actually almost appears to be blurred.  Are we simply receiving impressions, approximations, précis?
In the group of paintings entitled A Miniature (Af)fair of which A Profile Pic is a part, Bouzo incudes intricately illuminated figures from Islam’s Golden Age. Characters, which held such weight and significance, look anachronistic amidst the modern plastic toys that are eminently disposable. The characters’ garments, which in the past would have been illustrated in treatises complete with intricate arabesque patterns, have been replaced by colorful bubble wrap patterns.  They epitomize transience, a product used to protect objects on journeys. Calligraphy no longer plays a primary role as it once did in Islamic scientific treatise and assemblies. Religious calligraphic symbols appear to be just another font, stripped of significance for many in this global fairground.
Brief Biographical Detail
Noura Bouzo was born in 1985 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and was educated at Central Saint Martins, University Of The Arts
London, UK where she studied for an Art & Fashion Degree. This was followed by an MA in History Of Art & Archaeology at the School Of Oriental & African Studies, University Of London. Then a BA in Fine Arts at the Lebanese American University
Beirut, Lebanon. 
She co-founded Oasis Magazine: an arts & culture magazine highlighting the Middle East and Arab World’s artistic scene, and the progress being made by the creatives, entrepreneurs, and those challenging the status quo. She has exhibited at The Globe Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, UAE, Lebanon, Tehran, Oman, Tunisia and Bahrain. In addition her work has been featured this year in the May and June Exhibitions entitled Art Below (Tube Stations), London, UK 

Monday, 3 February 2014

Hend Al Mansour asserts her identity as an Arab artist from within the veiled spaces of the sacred feminine- Artist of The Month

Think of a palimpsest. You might be imagining a manuscript of some kind, maybe papyrus or parchment. Certainly it is an object that has been used more than once to convey a message. For some reason, now lost to us, the previous message is still partially visible and speaks unexpectedly once again.
Hend Al Mansour screen-prints, draws and paints on large sheets of fabric or paper. Like a palimpsest she uses her designs within spatial architecture. It is a subtle and sometimes not so subtle way of commentary of challenging the dominant hegemony. She says: ‘ My images examine Arab’s social values and cultural ideals. I explore the veiled spaces of Arab women, and juxtapose that with the deeply seated belief of the sacred feminine. I do this through celebrating the Arab aesthetics.   
She brings culture with her, it leaches into her work showing the journey but with a focus on the present. ‘I make art by drawing upon traditional aesthetics’ both literally and metaphorically but expectation is swept away in powerful installations of breathtaking colour and design.
‘ I make drawings of stylized figures and faces integrated with Arabic patterns and calligraphy.’ These drawings are then transformed into screen-prints on fabric using a combination of dye, ink and henna. Fabric too is a traditional choice but it’s also malleable, free, and traditionally an important Islamic medium. 
‘I lay my treated textile over solid frames to make spaces akin to mosques, tents and palaces, with chambers, corridors, domes, and arches completed with ceilings and rugs. The sensory experience of being inside the art is my way to claim Arab art as a valid and contemporary form of art. With a vibrant palette of reds and golds, I assert my identity as an Arab artist. Homage to oriental rugs, Arabesques, Arabic calligraphy, Arab mosaics, and tile design is a commentary on Arab art.’
The cross fertilization between the ancient and traditional, the contemporary challenges and a rapidly transforming aesthetic is central to Hend Al Mansour’s work. She has been exhibiting for ten years now both in small shows and with groups of artists and has shown in places such as  Saudi Arabia and Minneapolis . The artist is also a Member of Tomouh, a group of leaders in various disciplines from the Gulf Countries Council; board Member of Arab-American Cultural Institute (AACI); founding member of Arab Artists in the Twin Cities (AATC) and also organizes and curates group shows for Muslim and Arab artists. 

Al Mansour also lectures and publicly speaks about artists in Muslim societies and women in Islam

These interests demonstrate Al Mansour’s breadth and philosophy which is transferred to her work. With a background in medicine where she is highly qualified and a Masters degree in Fine Arts the artist shows her passion for intellectual enquiry, spirituality and creativity.

Lahd Gallery is delighted to show a dynamic artist who produces such a diverse range of work from smaller paintings like Facebook to a stunning installation, The Habiba Room, whose palette and intensity is breathtaking. There is no doubt Al Mansour’s work has the power to excite and represent the past, challenge both prejudice and expectation and make us look again. Do not miss this exciting opportunity to see an artist working in her prime!

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Ancient and The Modern – Shukor Yahya Artist of the month

‘The amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful.’ 

PaulValery, Pieces sur l’art

The Malaysian artist Shukor Yahya has combined a love of graphics with ways to represent the Kufic Square and this has become an important motif in his work. Having been born in Kluang, Johor he now resides in Petaling Jaya Malaysia having studied graphics there and then at Leicester University, UK for an MA

As both artist and graphic designer he has been working for 30 years and has been exhibited all over the world. We were excited to host such innovative work at Lahd Gallery.


Some may know little of  Kufic Calligraphy. However, if you are unfamiliar with the name, you may well have seen examples, without realizing, as it is a modified form of a 7th century script called Nabataean script.

Its name stems from its birth place: Kufa in Iraq. But what makes this form of calligraphy so important? It was actually used for four centuries as the principle script when copying the Qur'an. Those employed professionally, to reproduce the Qur’an,were known for their very specific type of Kufic form.

There is actually evidence of this craft all over the Ottoman Empire within books and on coins. 

Yahya’s work is highly individual and he has gained a reputation as an innovator. This is ironic perhaps, when you consider the long history of the chosen form. Yahya’s use of the ancient has metamorphosed into a graphic which exudes contemporary nuance.

Visual language, where the meaning is made by the visual appearance of an image and the text is one aspect. Verbal language, on the other hand,is the word itself, and often becomes enmeshed with other emotions in a viewer.

Yet no one would doubt there is a profound relationship between the message words convey and their transmission through their visible form. Yahya is acutely aware of this interplay. 

The implications of his choice of ‘typography’ do have a significant impact on meaning. Or at least, it does, in the framing of the narrative arch through which his work is viewed. 

Cultural and religious background can affect perception too and therefore Yahya’s Kufic Squares are still embedded in uncontrollable aspects such as pre-existing knowledge, religious expectations, preference and culture. This is what makes these paintings so provocative and exciting on many levels.

Yahya’s choice of Square Kufic is a contemporary simplified form of that used often in Iranian decorative tiling. The words spell out sacred names for Muhammad and the effect achieved is almost unnerving as they appear in Yahya’s choice of form.

Two of his works Al Ikhlas Rhapsody and As-Shahadah joined the Lahd Gallery during the London Olympics 2012 and attracted a massively diverse crowd of visitors.

The first, AlIkhlas Rhapsody is acrylic on linen in a 100x100 cm square and re-introduces the attribute of God as explained in the Qu'ran with the following meaning:

“He is Allah, One, Allah, the Eternal Refuge.
He neither begets nor is born,
Nor is there to Him any equivalent.”

The second piece is called As-Shahadah which  is the same size as Rhapsody and also acrylic on linen and directly linked to the first piece. 

The Shahadah’s meaning is a verse which states: “I bear witness that there is no God worthy of worship but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”. The verses of the Qu'ran are represented in a Kufi Square font, which gives the painting a contemporary and geometric style. These forms interfere with the transmission of the text by the feeling of ‘now’ they promote.

For More Information on Shukor Yahya visit us at