Papering over: Pakistani artist wins prestigious Jameel Prize

Papering over: Pakistani artist wins prestigious Jameel Prize

By BHUMIKA POPLI | | 25 June, 2016
Gunjaan by Ghulam Mohammad (R).

The winner of this year’s Jameel Prize — a biennial award set up by Art Jameel, an independent Saudi-based arts initiative, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London — is Ghulam Mohammad, a Pakistani artist known for his intricate paper collage work.

This was the fourth edition of the Jameel Prize, which involves a monetary sum of £25,000 awarded to the winner.

Martin Roth, Director of the V&A and chair of the panel of judges, says, “As in previous prizes, selecting the winner was extremely difficult, given the very high standard of the shortlisted work. Over the four cycles of the Jameel Prize so far, the award has been made to artists and designers at every stage of their creative lives. I am pleased to see that Jameel Prize 4 has been won by such a promisıng young artist at the beginning of his career.”

The V&A asks leading curators, designers, artists and cultural figures from across the world to nominate artists and designers whose work fits the criteria for this award. A shortlist of artists and designers is then chosen by the panel of judges. The curators create an exhibition based on the finalists’ work, and when the exhibition is installed, the judges choose the winner.

Speaking to Guardian 20 about the award, Mohammad shed light on his artistic process. “Mostly I use the medium of paper collage on wasli (traditional hand-made paper from the Subcontinent). I have always enjoyed reading and writing poetry and my work is a kind of meditation and inspired from calligraphy and miniature. Mostly we read and write different languages — graphic writings are calligraphy and this diversity and richness fascinate me and requires passion and lots of patience. I have tried to take an old tradition and turn it into a contemporary visual language.”

He mostly uses pages from old books of language to supply the typographic element to his art. He says, “Language fascinates me. I take the books from old shops, street sellers and then I choose different paragraphs and cut out the letters, every single letter, manually with a cutter. After that I rearrange them. Mostly I don’t title my works.”

His work takes inspiration from the Islamic tradition of miniatures in illuminated manuscripts and works of art. He says, “I form the compositions by carefully cutting and building collages and by layering each of these words over each other. This builds a calligraphic effect and creates a three-dimensional object of these words. It’s an extremely delicate process and each composition can take about a week to complete.”

A fine arts graduate from Beaconhouse National University, located in the province of Punjab, Pakistan, Mohammad says the course has helped him a lot in shaping his art. “In all these years, I have learned so many things that later inspired my practice. It gave me an opportunity to express myself, who I really am, the acceptance has truly touched me, it gave me confidence under great mentors, who encouraged experimentation and applauded my efforts,” he says.

Multiplicity of form, and making use of diverse elements to create artworks has always been at the heart of the artist’s enterprise. He says, “My art doesn’t talk about a single aspect but there are multiple thoughts and stories moving along, so I am always glad to hear how people associated to this common language they see with entirely different and original feelings. In the end, that is also one of my motivations to hear them all connecting differently to my work.”


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