Geometric Patterns in Islamic Art

Visual Islamic Art excludes the depiction of realistic human and animal figures. Geometric patterns that transform one to another world often become the focus of attraction. Precise reasons for geometric pattern becoming so central in Islamic decoration remain intriguing to many minds. Predominance of aniconism within monotheistic Abrahamic religions could well be a clue towards an understanding of the prominence of such patterns.

While geometric patterns that are simple and pleasing to the viewer dominate Islamic art, calligraphy and the minimum usage of foliage patterns of the arabesque (Islamic biomorphic patterns are usually called arabesques) can be seen within private spaces of homes and palaces.

The need to defend the unique status of God’s position as the ultimate power holder against idols, which were seen as threat to the uniqueness, led to the spread of the practice of aniconic art.

Geometric patterns make up one of the major nonfigural types of decoration in Islamic art; other two being Calligraphy and subtle vegetal patterns. The extreme complexity of geometric patterns within Islamic art is generated from such simple forms as the circle and the square. These simple patterns are combined, duplicated, interlaced and arranged in intricate patterns extending almost infinitely.

Reiteration of Qur’an implies that the divine nature of God is experienced through the divine word. Therefore, the absence of icons within a mosque is justified. However, the words of Qur’an is often extensively depicted on the walls and ceilings of mosques, palaces and homes giving rise to the rich traditions of Islamic calligraphy as an elevated form of architectural decoration.

Calligraphy manages to combine a geometric discipline with a dynamic rhythm. In the Islamic world it takes the place of iconography, being widely used in the decorative schemes of buildings. Seen below is a benign wording written in Arabic.

Vegetal ‘arabesque’ compositions are as common in Islamic decoration as geometric patterns. Similar to the geometric patterns, these are found across a wide range of mediums from illustrations in books to plaster work both interior and exterior and even in carpets and textiles. Leaves and climbers are the closest one can find in this kind of art form as the depiction of any creation with a soul is forbidden.

The basic shapes, or “repeat units,” from which the more complicated patterns are constructed are: circles and interlaced circles; squares or four-sided polygons; the ubiquitous star pattern, ultimately derived from squares and triangles inscribed in a circle; and multisided polygons. It is clear, however, that the complex patterns found on many objects include a number of different shapes and arrangements, allowing them to fit into more than one category.  The basic shapes are then repeated in many ways – the process known as tessellation – to create complex patterns that are so simple at its core. A tesselation is a decoration of a two-dimensional plane using the repetition of a geometric shape with no overlaps and no gaps; generally it can be extended infinitely in all directions.

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Muqarnas (system of niches and projected ‘stalactites’, used as a transitional and decorative device in architecture), Mishkah (niche for a lamp), Lazo or Band-i-rumi (interlaced geometrical pattern) are some of the unique characteristics within Islamic art.

Other than stone, brick, wood and paper, stucco or plaster was widely used in Islamic Art. Plaster, a singularly useful material that lent itself to moulding and carving in a variety of ways, became a staple of Islamic architecture. Perhaps because of its plasticity as a medium it was less frequently used for purely geometric designs, and was more often used in vegetal-arabesque arrangements.

Stained or coloured glasses are used to create a heavenly experience within homes, palaces or places of worship. Designs the permit sunlight in the morning hours to enter the room from outside while providing a beautiful window view to an observer from outside during night time was mesmerising. The glass comes in four basic colours: red, blue, green and yellow. Movement of coloured patterns with the sun from dawn to dusk creates a dynamic ambience within the living space. Glasses are also used to decorate ceiling lanterns or wall lamps.

That the intricacies of infinite geometric patterns starts from a simple straight line, a point and a circle is perhaps the most unbelievable fact in the entire gamut of this marvellous form of art.

 

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Pièce de Résistance

Geographically, the beautiful island of Bahrain may be small. But the cultural and artistic events happening within its confines hosted by the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities – BACA – and other organisations, are many.

BACA itself organises several events throughout the year. Festivals and Annual Activities includes Bahrain Annual Fine Arts Exhibition, where space, colours, imagination and boundaries merge; Bahrain Summer, the journey of musical to theatrical; Ta’a Al Shabab, a month-long event involving youth in culture; Bahrain International Music Festival, an expression of musical talent from home and abroad; Spring of Culture, an opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences and learn about the intellectual underpinnings of different nations and Heritage Festival, taking the people from now to then.

Though the various events fall in the same time of the year, the themes keep changing. This year’s Food is Culture event had Bahrain National Museum as the venue. Confluence of the minds of Chefs and Artists was the theme. MyRefractions visited one such event during the month of January 2017.

Meeting with Chef Brian and Chef Pierre was the highlight. The chocolate palm tree was the pièce de résistance of the evening.

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Date palms represented Middle-Eastern culture around the world. A drive through the palm-laned road leading towards the magnificent Ritz-Carlton hotel in itself is a memorable experience. Imagine a date palm that snaps at your touch, made with the most delicious, just-sweet, nutty, creamy and melt-in-mouth dark chocolate with real Dates. That was the experience presented by the Executive Chef Brian of re Asian Cuisine and Head Chef at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant “CUT” both at the Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain whose culinary inspiration began in his grandmother’s kitchen, and Pierre, professional Pastry Chef at Wolfgang Puck’s “CUT” restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain, whose love of pastries comes as an artistic medium which fuels his passionate creations and the Artist Somaya Abdulghani who is specialised in photography, collage and mixed media, seeking to promote Islam’s enlightening nature by creating rhythmic and organic patterns that combine forms of Islamic art.

In a higher conceptual level, one would find it hard to separate the space of cooking and that of art.

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The passionate audience had a casual enjoyable time interacting with the Chefs and the Artist. They also relished the chocolate palm tree and made it vanish into thin air within minutes much to the delight of the Chefs and the Artist who created it.

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The event brought to surface the complexities within the intermingling of the two seemingly different worlds… and a treat for the palate and the mind of the discerning intellect.

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Farmers’ Market

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Highway leading to Budaiya, the venue of Farmers’ Market 2017, got slower from almost a mile away. Typical of any event. Almost all the vehicles carried families with children. After finding a parking nearby, the place was a short walk away. It was a sunny and pleasant Saturday in January. Mild breeze among the many date palms lining the tiled walkways carried smell of vegetables. The botanical gardens in Budaiya, maintained by the Agriculture Ministry, hosted the Farmers’ Market as it did for past several years. Photographs were shot randomly while walking around the market…

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A mild climate conducive of growing vegetables in Bahrain starts from October typically. However, the summer lingered on till late November in 2016 and the weather turned mild towards mid- to end-December. Christmas really felt like that in Brisbane; warm. Farmers’ Market in Bahrain usually started in early December and lasts till the first few months of the following year. All Saturdays of the month, from 8 AM till 12 noon, Budaiya gets some extra action.

Breakfast Corner (actually it is an open space) visit was top on the list. Not that we three were hungry. The idea of tasting some authentic Bahraini food always appealed to us. Fresh vegetables were so appealing that from the moment we saw the first stall, the shutter was relentlessly moving up and down (or was it sideways? Should have paid more attention during the many photography workshops attended.) Tomatoes, Cauliflowers, Pumpkins, Chillies, Zucchinis, Cucumbers, all those leafy vegetables – that the family doctor always reminded to consume more, Beetroots, Bell Peppers, to name more than a few. Mint led the list of herbs. Those on sale were so fresh and untouched so unlike what is sold by the regular stores that it seemed to have made just for decoration and not for cooking.

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Flowering plants were on sale. Hyacinths and Pansies were more popular. Geraniums were rare. Bougainvilleas scattered themselves among others. As we walked forward, the air began to smell of waffles. Waffles would have been a complete misfit in such an atmosphere. We followed the waffles that led us to a stall where several people – women and children mostly – patiently waited for their turn to collect their favourite snack: pan-baked bread. Thin, crunchy, mildly sweet made up of batter.

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The best part of the Farmers’ Market was not the display of the local produce. It is about the people and the smile on their face. Met several families that included expatriates and the local ones. Business was casual with occasional bargaining (well, no one ever bargained in a super market) and tasting of the fresh produces.

Stall owners found time to chat about their farms in different parts of Bahrain. 17 years of stay made it almost possible to locate many. Children played as the sun rose while other wide-eyed ones kept wondering about the many colours of vegetables. From red, green, yellow and purple that is grown in their own Bahrain.

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Reason for Everything

Visited local stores for the best ingredients.
Shortage of mixed peel was unusual this year.
Not a single store carried them.
So
went and bought fresh Navel oranges; scoured and peeled and sliced the peels 1/4″.
Boiled them peels, rinsed and repeated thrice.

Candy thermometer. Sugar solution.
Latter tricky without the former.
Orange peels, again.
Got them candied, got them dried.
End result: better than store-brought ones.

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More photos follow…

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the kitchen.
A clean glass bowl.
Sultanas, Raisins, Black Currants, Glacé Cherries (washed, dried and halved) in St. Remy brandy.
Set aside after securing with cling film.
Mixed every other day and added more Remy if needed.

Mise en place seems to be the word, to begin with, from this point.
Everything in place before starting.
Preparing the baking tin to preheating the oven.
Glass bowl of dried fruits made succulent by the St. Remy for weeks.

Unsalted butter with lesser water content at room temperature.
One would do well if the stand mixer with balloon whisk attached is avoided for this preparation.
Hand mixer with whisker attachment is more suited.

All-purpose flour.
Mixed spice. Cinnamon.
Whole Nutmeg. Grater.
Pinch of ground, coarse, sea-salt.

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Zest of Oranges and Lemon.
Freshly squeezed juice of one orange.
Dark brown sugar. (Tried Muscovado?)
Treacle.
Five fresh, brown, medium-large eggs.

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Bowl #2 readied.
Measuring cups, spoons.
Wooden spoon. Wooden spatula.
Silicon spatula.
Parchment paper.
Walnuts Brazil nuts Almonds
Most chopped and some slivered.

1. Cream butter.
Kids will be around for a bit of taste.
Dark Brown Sugar and Black Treacle are also in great demand.
2. Whisk in eggs kept at room temparature, one at a time.
3. Spoon in flour, a spoon at a time.
4. Maintain 150˚C in the oven.

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Mixture looks curdled.
Keep paddling…
Gentle on the mixture, please.
Gluten, unwelcome.

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5. Scoop the cake mixture into the prepared bake-tin.
6. In goes the tin to the pre-heated oven for 3-4 hours.
7. At 2 1/2 hours, kids will start to visit the kitchen as the aroma arises and begins to fill the home.
8. First time the heated oven is open once the batter is in is after 2 1/2 hours.
9. Skewer comes out clean or not?

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Anticipation builds from the day the dry fruits are soaked in brandy.
(Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?)
That day would be almost a month before Christmas.
Day the cake is baked, hopes are high.
Who will eat what and how much and who gets to keep the decor-berry and ivy for the new year.
Thankful that the cake did not carry fancy, pastel pink roses and cloud-white, Royal icing.
(Editor: The kids’ Mama baked one with all the above accessories almost bringing the house down).

Mittens… where are the mittens?
(So much for the mise en place).
Cake out of oven on to a cooling rack.
Not so lovely as once thought.
Wait, kids, tomorrow we decorate the cake.
Excitement builds up again.

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Dusted confectioner’s sugar hoping to get a it-just-snowed effect.
Berry-ivy-leaf decor, one. Picked that from the local M & S.
Is that all? Kids asketh in chorus.
Yes, that’s all. Pâtissier replieth, solo.

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Tiny plates.
Knife, the sharpest.
Shouldn’t it cut through the nuts and dry fruits?
Serving time…

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Note: The orange peels, lemon zest and treacle make the cake a bit bitter. And the dark brown sugar and the mildly sweet sultanas and raisins brings in some sweetness. Nutmeg and cinnamon tries their best to add in the spiciness. A bitter-sweet-spicy cake? Yes, I would say. But you know it’s much more complex-er than that.

Now comes the best part…
Sharing the cake with others.
The cake is carefully sliced, wrapped carefully in parchment paper, tied carefully with strings and now ready to be shared.

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Spiritual part
The spirit of Christmas in the air filled with hope, felt by everyone around is perhaps the greatest gift of the season. Sharing the bounty of blessings showered on each one of us by the Almighty is the next best. Bondage between simple human mortals based on unconditional love comes a close third.

Change the order – hope share bond love
if you may,
but that is what
Christmas is all about.

Rest everything is just a reason.

Let us carry the remnants of Christmas spirit all through the New Year.

Wishing you a Bright & Happy New Year!

75b Rue d’Orchampt

The Man Who Walked Through Walls by the French writer Marcel Ayme begins:

“In Montmartre, on the third floor of 75b Rue d’Orchampt, there lived an excellent gentleman called Dutilleul, who possessed the singular gift of passing through walls without any trouble at all. He wore pince-nez and a small black goatee, and was a lowly clerk in the Ministry of Records. In winter he would take the bus to work, and in fine weather he would make the journey on foot, in his bowler hat.

Dutilleul had just entered his forty-third year when he discovered his power. One evening, a brief electricity cut caught him in the hallway of his small bachelor’s apartment. He groped for a while in the darkness and, when the lights came back on, found himself outside on the third-floor landing. Since his front door was locked from the inside,…”

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Set in Paris’s Montmartre district, the stories by Marcel have spawned a number of films, including Jean Boyer’s 1951 classic Garou Garou, le passe-muraille and Yvan Attal’s Les Sabines starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, as well as a musical, Amour, which won the Prix Molière in France before an English version conquered Broadway.

Today in Montmartre a sculpture of The Man Who Walked through Walls, created by the legendary actor Jean Marais, can be found in the Place Marcel Aymé, paying tribute to the great author and his work.

Someday

Cars always had thrilled people; young and old alike.
Muscle cars, more so.
From a gurgling Camaro to a roaring Mustang,
cars symbolises many things to many people.
Motor Shows displaying powerful and vintage cars often draw a good crowd.
Few could afford not to dream of owning one someday.

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Saint-Germain

Finding a parking always proves tricky in any city. More so in Paris.

For someone who memorises the local street maps and drives with a staunch dependency on the GPS, it is not quite difficult to locate proper car parks; paid or free. However, being able to park closer to the point of destination gives a strange feeling of achievement.

In this case the destination turned out to be Saint-Germain. Intention was to walk the alleys in a completely lost manner and to do some window shopping. A soft drizzle added to the depth of the situation. Hooded jacket came handy. In any case an umbrella would be the remotest option with a camera fitted with extra-battery compartment and a heavy glass. Drizzling made the already crowded restaurants more tightly packed. No one could enjoy the life drifting by from the wicker chairs on the pavement, casually covered with deep coloured awnings, thanks to the rain.

Missed out on the reflected lights on rain-drenched cobblestones the city is famously known for, this time. There will always be a next…

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Stranger to stranger, with kindness

Alleys of the village
may not have the flourish of sophistication
urban-dwellers often take for granted.

Instead
all you get would be a smiling face
of a complete stranger.

An invite to a cup of tea.
And more than a few helpings of kind words.

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Playful kids
that follow a wandering photographer
with an amusement
lacing their merry laughter.

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Babies that coo for no reason whatsoever
and jump to reach for the camera lens,
often with their lavishly-salivated tiny fingers,
wondering what on earth is going on
in a world so new to them.

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From one stranger
to the other.

Everyone, same-same
and
miles and miles away from their homes.
Homes, they call their home.

The Mall and the Shamal wind

Come evening and the multi-storied car parks of the mall becomes full.
The rows of cars approaching the mall never seem to end till late into the night.
From the car park heated by the summer sun and idling engines to the coolness that embraces you stealthily from all sides.
Walk into the mall with soft and bright lights…

Food courts overflow with long queue of families waiting for a seat in their favourite restaurants.
Movie theatres run in full capacity.
Boutiques with up to 70% sale got no space for another potential customer.
Children play in the designated space seen with their Nannies in pale blue or pink uniforms.

Paper-bags, huge ones, with thin rope-like handles, find it difficult to accommodate themselves in the hands of shoppers.
Occasional lost kids calling “baba, baba” looking for their Daddy, almost in the verge of a tear short of bursting out. Mall securities nearby with their crackling Motorola handsets.
Sales professionals getting busier by the minute at their kiosks of perfumes, white gold and silver jewellery, mobile accessories, spa promotions, teen watches and many more.

Credit cards rake up unpaid debts shaming the speed of light.
Notion of happiness is thus for the chosen few.
Who is sleepy?
It’s only 3AM.

Meanwhile, in another part of the city.

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No malls.
No car parks.
No sale on-going.
No small, rectangular, plastic cards with or without a cute chip.

Just plain talks and laughter, when someone makes a remark, mostly funny.
Laughter even when one opens his mouth to say something.
And then the beverages are served from a nearby tea shop.
A small break from roasted sunflower seeds.

No malls could ever give that feeling being with friends out in the open with the Shamal winds.
Or could they?

Songs & Prayers

Be not that far from me,
for trouble is near;
haste Thee to help me.

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A scene from the famous church of St. Mary (Marthamariam Cathedral) in Manarcaud, a place close to Kottayam, Kerala, India. The ancient practice of 8 day fast and the Feast of Virgin Mary’s Birth are celebrated between September 1st and 8th of every year at the cathedral.

Thatched Houses

Thatching was popular in early days as the walls were not designed or made to take enormous roof weight. While wheat straw was common in south of England, reeds were in East Anglia. As transport facilities became available, cheap slate could be brought in from where it was abundant and cheap to any part in Britain. Mechanised farming resulted in making wheat straw unusable for thatching. These beautiful houses were seen while passing a small village near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

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Hex nets can prevent some of the damages unknowingly brought in by animals and birds. But what about the natural effects? Repairing and maintaining a thatched house in a good state costs lot of money.

Baker

Succulant Chicken Tikka.
Freshly grilled Riyash (Lamb Rib Chops).
Tabouleh, the great salad made of Flat Parsley, Mint, Tomato, soaked Burgul wheat and Lemon.
Hummous, the chick peas and garlic dip with olive oil.
Kubooz from the Tandoor (a brick-and-mud oven) completes the list.

Kubooz bakeries comes alive as the sun sets.
The baker remembers who came first and what he had ordered.
No notepads and paper slips.
Everyone is served.

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White beads

Yes.
All those toys are hers.
But no.
Those are not for her childhood to play with.
And no, again.
This is not a great photograph.
Nothing to boast of.
No great shutter-speeds.
Nothing with the ISO.
Just like the little girl wearing that cheap beaded necklace…
She ain’t no great in sales, either.
Just helping her Grandpa – the balloon-man for the rest of us – sell those toys.
Silently.
No sales pitch.
No requests.
No sad stories.
But one look into her eyes is enough to make you buy
all those toys.
The depth of helplessness felt at that moment
is beyond any pictures
or words.

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The Royal Enfield and a short walk

The streets of Fort Kochi, to be fully savoured, must be enjoyed on foot. Saint Francis Church was chosen as the point where the walk would commence. A small sign board “Bikes For Rent” opened up the possibility of hiring a motor-cycle to explore Fort Kochi. Decided to keep the walking for another day and use the two-wheeler.

Went back to the street where the board was clearly written with all details. Yamaha, Honda and Enfield bikes were available on rental together with bicycles. Enfield came in two options: 350cc and 500cc.

Walked up the single flight of wooden stairs where a middle-aged lady greeted with a smile. Three other tourists were in the hall enjoying beverages, probably tea. The lady called someone on the phone and then handed the receiver to me with a subtle “Go on, speak” gesture. It was Ashraf. Yes, the bike is available, Ashraf confirmed. He politely asked me to wait for a few more minutes.

While awaiting Ashraf to finalise the renting out, a cup of coffee was offered. The two seats made on the wall next to the window facing the street provided ample privacy to the onlooker to watch the street life.

The unmistakable note of the bike could be heard from afar. Ashraf’s representative wanted only the Indian driving license. Kick-starting was old fashioned and gone. The bike had an ignition switch. Enfield has done away with decompression lever and the battery key. I believe the charm of the Enfield was the two key ignition, decompression with the tiny lever squeezed, making the ammeter read zero… Gear lever and brake positions were switched. Sorry, I digress. Exploration begins…

Vasco House, Fort Kochi Vasco house, located on Rose Street, is believed to be one of the oldest Portuguese houses in India. Vasco da Gama is believed to have lived here. This house features European glass paned windows and verandahs.

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A random drive through the many charming street with old European style architecture among some of the streets…

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One of the earliest streets of the area, this road has European style residences on both its sides. Located here is the Loafer’s Corner, the traditional hangout for the jovial and fun loving people of Kochi.

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One more coffee and its time to wind up the ride… walk, that is.

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