Heirloom Tech: The Ancient Pixels of Banna’i Brickwork by Goli Mohammadi from Make

Long before the first digital pixel, architects and builders were using bricks and tiles to create pixelated patterns on structures. The technique, which is still in use today, is known as banna’i and was developed in the Middle East in the 8th century. The brick, as a building material, dates back to around 7500 BC in the upper Tigris area and Anatolia. To display text in banna’i, artisans employ mostly the Kufi calligraphic style, known for transforming the traditionally curved lines of Arabic into straight lines and sharp angles, alternating glazed and bare bricks to write out prayers (like fancy bitmap fonts) or replicate geometric patterns.

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More: http://makezine.com/2016/12/09/heirloom-tech-ancient-pixels-bannai-brickwork/

The Mosaics of Khirbat al-Mafjar

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2016 Calendar: Mosaics

  • November/December 2015 PDF
    • Introductions by Hamdan Taha, Donald Whitcomb and Paul Lunde
    • Video by George Azar / The Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage of Palestine

A few kilometers north of Jericho, at more than 12,000 years old one of the oldest cities in the world, lie the ruins of a palace with the largest and most artistically accomplished mosaic floor to survive from the ancient world. Composed of 38 intricate panels covering a space over 30 by 30 meters square, the mosaics of the audience hall and bath at Khirbat al-Mafjar (“Ruins of Flowing Waters”; also called “Qasr Hisham” or “Hisham’s Palace”) are masterpieces of early Islamic artistic design.

Dating from the first half of the eighth century, the time of the Umayyad caliphate, about a century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the patterns are mostly abstract, but a few use pictorial elements. Drawing from both Byzantine and Sasanian (Persian) traditions, the artists at Khirbat al-Mafjar created a new, exuberant esthetic of intricate geometric and floral motifs. Many are based on infinitely repeatable patterns, a technique that later came to be characteristic of geometric art across the Islamic world; others are based on textile arts and fresco painting.

Until recently, few of these patterns had been published. In 2010 the Palestinian Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage uncovered, cleaned and assessed the state of conservation of these mosaics. The floor was comprehensively photographed for the first time. A small museum opened last year, in partnership with the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.

The ruins at Khirbat al-Mafjar were discovered in 1894 and first excavated in the 1930s and ’40s by the Palestinian Department of Antiquities under Dimitri Baramki and Robert Hamilton. Baramki identified the patron of the site as Umayyad Caliph Hisham ibn ‘Abd al-Malik, who ruled from 724 until 743 ce. This elaborate complex stood for only a few years, however, until the audience hall and bath were largely ruined by an earthquake in 131 ah (748 or 749 ce). In the 1950s and ’60s, further archeological work and some restoration were carried out under Jordanian rule, but the site was abandoned under Israeli occupation from 1967 to 1994. Beginning in 1996 the Palestinian Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage revived conservation and archeological efforts.

In addition to the audience hall, Khirbat al-Mafjar included within its 60-hectare complex a large, two-story palace, a multi-room bath, a mosque, a monumental fountain, a perimeter wall and residences. It served as an occasional winter residence for the caliph, and it was part of an array of such palaces (qusur) throughout Syria, Jordan and Palestine that served variously as caravan stations, royal or elite residences, trading posts and security outposts. Like Khirbat al-Mafjar, many developed irrigation systems that allowed them to continue as agricultural estates.

Among its ruins, the audience hall and bath of Khirbat al-Mafjar is the best-preserved and the most striking monument. The exterior walls have 11 semicircular mosaic-tiled apses (or exedra); these half-domed structures echo the interior’s larger and higher domes supported by 16 massive piers. This structure is unique for late Byzantine and early Islamic architecture. The walls and apses were richly covered with carved stone and stucco panels—the earliest known use of stucco in the region—and there may well have been panels of glass mosaics as well.

While the earliest examples of mosaics found in the Jericho region date to the Hellenistic, early Roman and Byzantine periods, the art of mosaic flourished particularly during the Umayyad period. Some of the finest Umayyad wall mosaics, sometimes made of glass tesserae, survive in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Great Mosque in Damascus. Khirbat al-Mafjar shows that the mosaic tradition continued with white mosaic paving into the subsequent Abbasid and Fatimid periods.

The entire floor of the audience hall is paved with colored mosaics. The carpets—as the floor panels are called—divide the hall into circular and rectangular spaces that appear to reflect the architectural superstructure, especially the majestic circular carpet under the central dome. It is likely that the hall served several purposes, from an audience or reception area (majlis) to a room for social events, including musical performances, to an extravagant frigidarium, or cool room, attached to the smaller heated rooms of the bath along its north wall.

Although many Umayyad mosaics are now known in the region, none surpass the mastery of art and craft at Khirbat al-Mafjar. Here, brilliant colors were woven into common motifs to fuse into a new fashion, one that was complemented by no-less-intricate wall coverings of colored stone and stucco carvings in paneled surfaces, columns and other architectural elements; above, there is evidence of painted frescos on upper floors.

When photography, film and conservation studies of the floor were completed, the mosaics were covered with Geotextile and sand for conservation until a permanent, protective shelter can be built over them. Meanwhile, excavations and research continue at other places in the Khirbat al-Mafjar complex. It is hoped that with suitable protection and conservation, the mosaics may one day be uncovered for public viewing, making Khirbat al-Mafjar a prime destination for tourists and historians.

http://www.jerichomafjarproject.org

More: http://www.aramcoworld.com/en-US/Articles/November-2015/2016-Calendar-Mosaics

AN INTERVIEW WITH ADAM WILLIAMSON AND RICHARD HENRY, FOUNDERS OF ART OF ISLAMIC PATTERN Islamic Art Hands-On Interview by Valerie Behiery, Islamic Art historian, Ph.D.

“Learning through doing is critical, it’s not simply about acquiring a critical analytical understanding of the designs. A sensitivity to the contemplative dimension of the work, both as a student and as a teacher, is essential.” (Richard Henry)

There is a resurgence of interest in the traditional Islamic arts. The difficulty for artists in Europe and North America who want to learn and master the arts of illumination, geometric design or arabesque is where to find such training. Adam Williamson and Richard Henry founded their London-based educational enterprise, Art of Islamic Pattern, with this challenge in mind. It offers a variety of courses catering to different age groups and levels in the London studio and around the world, as well as special study trips to cities like Istanbul, Fez, or Granada. Williamson and Henry are both skilled craftsmen who understand the practical and philosophical aspects of Islamic pattern and design. And between them, they have taught at Birkbeck University, Cambridge University, the British Museum, Central Saint Martins, the Slade School of Fine Art and The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts where they both studied. Artists in their own right, they have each received commissions from notable public and private clients.

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Portrait of Art of Islamic Pattern founders: Adam Williamson (left) and Richard Henry (right), Istanbul, Turkey 2014 / Courtesy of the Artists

You established Art of Islamic Pattern in London in 2008. The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts (PSTA) is also now based in London. How would you describe the specific aim and focus of Art of Islamic Pattern?

RH: Our courses have a specific focus upon the Islamic tradition. PSTA looks at the full sweep of world traditions. We are perhaps more with the public facing, in the sense that our courses are designed for the layperson, irrespective of background and we are not formally part of any academic institution. The PSTA is more academic in focus with courses for MA and PhD students. Many of our own students have gone onto study at PSTA.

AW: The courses are primarily practical in nature. There are contextual slide lectures, but the rest of the time students are drawing geometric and biomorphic patterns by hand or with a compass and straight edge. The final stages of courses and trips culminate with creating a work in a traditional medium.

LEFT: Adam Williamson, Sculptural Bench, large twisted oak with inset curving slate carved with poetry sitting on large Portland limestone semi circular feet, Oxford University (commission), England / RIGHT: Adam Williamson, ash sculpture, Geometric Moon Jungle, 2008 / Both images Courtesy of Adam Williamson

Both of you studied with Keith Critchlow, a master geometer and architect who believes in the universal or spiritual aspect of geometry. Is this also your approach?

AW: Keith Critchlow was a great teacher who appeared in my life at the perfect time to connect the dots. His teaching methods seemed purely inspired and intuitive which gave his classes an enjoyable, unpredictable and dynamic energy.

RH: Both of us regard the face-to-face teaching of geometry and traditional art as a form of transmission from master to student. We believe that there is a contemplative dimension to the practical work, which is embodied within the shapes and proportions used. These are the fundamental principles of sacred geometry.

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LEFT: Richard Henry, Damascene Variation, mixed media collage on paper, 120×75 cm / RIGHT: Richard Henry, Working Drawing: Progressive drawings of decagram and Girih motif, 70x50cm / Both images Courtesy of Richard Henry

What is important for you in the teaching and learning of Islamic geometry?

RH: Learning through doing is critical, it’s not simply about acquiring a critical analytical understanding of the designs. A sensitivity to the contemplative dimension of the work, both as a student and as a teacher, is essential.

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Richard Henry, Doha Girih, mixed media collage on paper, 100×100 cm / Courtesy of Richard Henry

Richard Henry, Girih Composition, wooden tiles (oak, cherry, walnut) with incised pattern, 50x50cm / Courtesy of Richard Henry

Many people who want to learn the Islamic art of pattern might be afraid to start for a variety of reasons. What would you say to these prospective students?

RH: Our introductory courses and study strips assume no prior knowledge of Islamic art and are open to everyone. We generally have a mix of abilities on all of our courses and study trips. Our students come from a range of backgrounds and have a broad range of interests and motivations. Some are professional artists or designers seeking to develop a particular aspect of their work, others are from non-art backgrounds who are driven to explore the art and culture of the Islamic world more deeply and there are others who find themselves at a professional crossroads, and wish to change careers to something more creative and more personally or professionally fulfilling.

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LEFT: Adam Williamson, White Sculpture, Hannah Peschar Sculpture Park, England, height, pine, 2008 / RIGHT: Adam Williamson, Stained glass window, Cambridge Muslim College (commission), England, 2012 / Both images Courtesy of Adam Williamson

You and the two other tutors, Lateefa Spiker and Sama Mara, are all practising artists who integrate Islamic pattern into your art in different ways. How do modernity and tradition come together in your art?

AW: We don’t see tradition as something historic but view it as constantly growing and developing, a way to pass down skills and knowledge. This would have been the same view held in antiquity when various structures were developed to teach, for example the guild systems used in both east and west. With the industrialization of much of the world, these systems were lost. People today have an interest in understanding and experiencing these skills, which are now difficult to access. Maybe this is why there is a lot of interest in the courses we facilitate.

imageSama Mara, Installation view of A Hidden Order, Exhibition at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, London, 2014 / Courtesy of the Artist

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Sama Mara, Installation view of A Hidden Order, Exhibition at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, London, 2014 / Courtesy of the Artist

Education is at the heart of what you do. You, Adam, have been involved with PSTA’s outreach educational projects, most recently –in partnership with Lateefa- , with the Ahousaht community on the coast of British Columbia in Canada. Could you say a few words about this project?

AW: Yes, it has been a pleasure to teach on a series of outreach programs for PSTA. It was a particular highlight to work with the First Nation community of Ahousaht. I have been interested in West Coast art, especially the cedar carving, since I was a teenager.

The aspiration for this project was to allow a wider and deeper sharing of traditional knowledge through the direct language of nature, which informs art, number and geometry. The First Nations have an active relationship with nature. Experiencing and hearing about their rituals and remedies and how they are successfully applied to daily life has been an uplifting education for both myself and Lateefa.

The practical outcome of the three trips was a series craft projects, all using cedar. Cedar has always been seen by the locals as the tree of life. It is used to make cloth and rope and used in house building as well as for artwork. For the first project, we created a series of paintings on woven cedar bark. For the second project, we built a 14×24 foot cedar dome and, for the final project, we carved 50 cedar boards that were installed as part of the Flores Island Wild Side boardwalk trail.

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Lateefa Spiker, Geo Moon Wave, gold leaf on board, 70×70 cm / Courtesy of the Artist

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Lateefa Spiker, Whirling Arabesque, 1×1 m, gouache, acrylic and oil on canvas / Courtesy of the Artist

Students at Work

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Richard Henry and students. In the Hackney studio / Courtesy of Art of Islamic Pattern

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LEFT: Student (Alan Griffiths) at work, Fez, Morocco, 2013 / RIGHT: Student at work, Istanbul, Turkey 2014 / Courtesy of Art of Islamic Pattern

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Adam Williamson and students. Granada, Spain 2010 / Courtesy of Art of Islamic Pattern

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Students at work. Dar Seffarine Fez, Morocco, 2013

http://islamicartsmagazine.com/magazine/view/islamic_art_hands-on/