Category Archives: Digital Art

Material Witness Programme – Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction

I was accepted on to the Material Witness Programme back in November 2013. The programme is AHRC funded and organised by Alixe Bovey from University of Kent. However, participants, of which there are approximately 60, come from the CHASE consortium providing a wide range of research knowledge in one network. The purpose of the programme is to provide training for PhD students through a series of workshops, lectures and site-based or industry specific trips where materials can be ‘witnessed’. In other words, looking at objects and artefacts from a variety of interrogative perspectives to understand these in new ways.

The workshops were based at a variety of locations throughout the year, including the Courtauld Institute and The British Library. The latter provided a bit of a ‘behind the scenes’ look at various processes involved with conservation and digitisation of manuscripts and rare books. I found it fascinating and felt my excitement was comparable to the odd school trips we enjoyed when in school.


The great thing about bringing people together from different backgrounds but with similar goals in research is the combined network of knowledge. I loved hearing about the variety of subjects being researched, all fascinating in their own ways and the expertise that was brought in was a privilege to be a part of.

Later in the programme I was asked to participate in the event The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction. This event was based on the essay by Walter Benjamin The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The event featured speakers such as Andrew Prescott (King’s College), Neil Cox & Dana MacFarlane (Edinburgh), and Michael Takeo Magruder(King’s College). Also speaking were fellow programme participants Sarah J. Biggs (Courtauld), Elinor Carmi (Goldsmiths), Alexandra Reghina Draghici (Goldsmiths) and finally artist Mark Leckey. (Full details of the event can be seen here:

I was honoured to be asked by the programme convenor to speak  in light of the topic of the age of digital reproduction from the perspective of my own research. It was quite relevant to mention that Islamic art is faced with it’s own age of contemporary reproduction if we consider that any art post-Ottoman era is considered differently to that produced prior to it, simply because there is no longer an ‘Islamic Empire’ as such, and the period since (approx. 1923) has seen much change in production processes. Islamic art has also been predominantly traditional arts and crafts based, therefore, adding the use of digital technologies to contemporary developments is likely to produce some very interesting results.

In my presentation I provided a little background to traditional Islamic art by way of examples as seen below:

Fountain In Rabat, Morocco. Photography by David Wade

Fountain In Rabat, Morocco. Photography by David Wade

Mosque of Sultan Qaitbay

Mosque of Sultan Qaitbay, Cairo, Egypt, 1474. Photography by David Wade

Flower-style wooden box

Flower-style wooden box with drawers
17th century, India. Wood (poplar); overlaid with ebony inlaid with wood and incised, stained ivory. Image provided by

Using examples of Arabic calligraphy, architectural features and geometric patterns I was able to show how traditional Islamic aesthetics have been re-produced using modern day digital technologies including 3D printers and computer programming.
Examples included those I have mentioned on my blog previously:

A Hidden Order by Sama Mara and Lee Westwood

Projection from a live performance of A Hidden Order by Sama Mara and Lee Westwood

A digital unfolding of the day can be found on Storify:

You can read more about the AHRC funded Material Witness programme here:

A Hidden Order

I had the opportunity to attend the private view and launch of A Hidden Order at the Princes School of Traditional Arts. The project is a collaboration between geometer Sama Mara and composer Lee Westwood who have created a digital method for producing Islamic geometric patterns using sound.

The design of the patterns were projected showing how the pattern built up further and further based on the composition of the musical sounds. Each key or note was interpreted by a program that would then convert the sound to form part of a colour and shape system. The programming was meticulously developed by Sama Mara but the development interface plays a hidden role in the final display of the artwork.

Read more about the project on the official website here:

Projection from live performance of A Hidden Order by Sama Mara and Lee Westwood

Projection from live performance of A Hidden Order by Sama Mara and Lee Westwood

Once the patterns have been generated they can be seen as standalone visuals. These were exhibited as digital prints along the walls at the PSTA.

Print generated from A Hidden Order

Print generated from A Hidden Order

Jameel Prize 3 exhibition 11 Dec 2013 – 21 April 2014

The Jameel Prize is an international award designed to highlight the production of contemporary art and design which has been inspired by Islamic traditions.

The Jameel Prize 3 winners, Dice Kayek, are a fashion house based in Istanbul whose collection of garments ‘Istanbul Contrast’, for which they won the prize, was inspired by the famous architectural sites of Istanbul.

Istanbul Contrast by Dice Kayek, Winner of Jameel Prize 3, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Istanbul Contrast by Dice Kayek, Winner of Jameel Prize 3, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The garments in Istanbul Contrast bring to mind the famous domes of Istanbul’s historical mosques and are an example of how Islamic artistic styles can be applied to a range of mediums. The cross-application of aesthetics from one medium to another is much like the methods adopted by traditional Islamic artisans in the vast history of Islamic art. Traditional artists were more akin to craftsmen who were known to decorate varying items of differing materials using the same stylistic designs including ceramics, metalwork and wood.

Inspiration from the architecture of Istanbul is not new. A previous nomination in the 2009 short-list of the same prize included the work of jeweller Sevan Biçakçi who created miniature scenes of Istanbul in the form of rings.


Saray Burnu (Seraglio Point). 2005 Umut Kapısı (The Gate of Hope). 2007 Sevan Biçakçi

Saray Burnu (Seraglio Point), 2005
Umut Kapısı (The Gate of Hope), 2007
Sevan Biçakçi

All shortlisted nominations are featured in the current exhibition at  the Victoria and Albert Musuem, London on show until 21 April 2014.

Some of the featured work includes pieces which are digital in form such as the multi-media installations by Mounir Fatmi – Modern Times: A History of the Machine and Technologia. These installations are animated videos projected on to the walls supported by static noise audio.

Still from Mounir Fatmi's Modern Times: A History of the Machine, Jameel Prize 3 exhibition, V&A, London, 2013

Still from Mounir Fatmi’s Modern Times: A History of the Machine, Jameel Prize 3 exhibition, V&A, London, 2013

Another artist who made use of digital technology was Faig Ahmed who designed his carpets using computer software before having them hand-made in the traditional weaving method of Azerbaijan.

Hollow, Pixellate Tradition by Faig Ahmed, Jameel Prize 3 exhibition, V&A, London, 2013

Hollow, Pixellate Tradition by Faig Ahmed, Jameel Prize 3 exhibition, V&A, London, 2013

To see more of the striking artworks on show visit the V&A before the exhibition ends on 21 April 2014.

To learn more about the current exhibition:

To learn more about the Jameel Prize:

3D HADAR Table Lamp by Cyril Afsa

The Muqarnas is a feature of Islamic architecture that has inspired Cyril Afsa’s 3d Table lamp.

3D Hadar Lamp by Cyril Afsa


3D HADAR Lamp by Cyril Afsa

The muqarnas reminds me a little of a bee hive, as it appears to be a tessellation of geometric shapes that form a cave like structure with spatial depth. But the shapes used to form the muqarnas are a little more complicated and have what appears to be an infinite depth due to the various shapes used to form the pattern.

Cyril Afsa’s lamp design is a modern day realisation of the crafts based link to traditional Islamic art. An every day, and therefore very practical, object to which the Islamic aesthetics of the muqarnas is applied. Traditionally, elaborate patterns and designs would have been applied to nearly every kind of object encountered in the daily life of a resident in an Islamic land including but not limited to decanters, vases, plates, jewellery boxes as well as architectural monuments.

HADAR Lamp from Cyril Afsa on Vimeo.

The merger of the traditional application of an Islamic design with the modern process of 3D printing is an example of how digital technologies are entering the sphere of contemporary Islamic art. As can be seen in this example by Cyril Afsa, the results have amazing potential. The most significant aspect of utilising digital technology in producing these art works is the ability to attain a high level or accuracy – an accuracy that is required for implementing the various patterns that have become well-recognised in Islamic art.

There are some beautiful examples of  Muqarnas to be found in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, as well as the Shah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran. Have a look at this page on wikipedia for more information and images of the above mentioned examples:

Very interestingly, a fairly recent discovery has found that the muqarnas feature was incorporated in the archway over one of the entrances to the Divrigi mosque (Turkey) in such as way as to cast a shadow of a man.

Shadow of man reading cast by design in Divrigi Ulu mosque, Sivas, Turkey

The shadow of a man reading and another of a person standing in prayer are cast in accordance with the sun’s changing position in the sky. Therefore, a combination of mathematics, architecture, art and astrology were combined in the design of this mosque which was founded in 1228. Find out more here: New Discoveries in the Islamic Complex of Mathematics, Architecture and Art

Blossom – Richard Clarkson

Blossom is described as an inflatable 3D print, the first of its kind.

As it makes use of both rigid and flexible material, air can be pumped into the piece allowing it to inflate, therefore giving the impression the flower is blooming.

Blossom - inflatable 3D print by Richard Clarkson

Blossom – inflatable 3D print by Richard Clarkson

The piece has been displayed as a flower box with multiple 3D printed inflatable flowers within. There are air pumps along the front allowing the user to manipulate the blooming of specific flowers thereby making the piece an interactive installation.

Here is a video of Blossom in action:

Blossom from Richard Clarkson on Vimeo.

And here is a link to Clarkson’s web site for further information: