Ayesha Gamiet is an artist, illustrator and art educator, living and working in the South East of England. Her work is inspired by traditional arts of the world and the beauty of nature.
We talk to Ayesha about her connection to Islamic art, being awarded an ijaza and the inspiration behind her distinctive style.
What was your journey to becoming an artist?
I loved art from a very young age and have always been creative. I studied art at school, then went on to complete a BA in African and Asian Art History and Archaeology at SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies). This was my first formal introduction to Islamic art. However, my studies left me with many unanswered questions. My degree addressed Islamic art as a purely historical phenomenon with no discussion of Islamic belief and spirituality and the impact this had on shaping the creative and intellectual environment through which Muslim artists and craftspeople were inspired and could flourish. I felt there was a large gap in my studies. It was as though the essence was missing. By chance I found out about a practice-based Master’s program at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts.
Upon finishing my degree at SOAS, I applied and was offered a place. I spent two wonderful years immersed in learning all kinds of crafts from the Islamic world, as well as further afield. We studied traditional geometry, Islamic and Western calligraphy, Persian and Indian miniature painting, ceramics, woodwork… we had field trips to Granada in Spain, and Cairo in Egypt. Part of the ethos of the School is to teach with an awareness of the philosophy and spirituality that underpins Islamic and traditional art. I felt very much at home there. As though I’d found my niche!
During the summer holiday between the first and second years of the Master’s degree, I travelled to Istanbul to try the art of tezhip (Islamic manuscript illumination). It was there I met Master Illuminator, Ayten Tiryaki, who accepted me as a student. I continued to visit her in Istanbul and take classes long after I graduated from the Prince’s School. In 2018 I had the honour of receiving my icaza (traditional diploma, or apprenticeship) in the courtyard of the Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi (the Suleymaniye Mosque / Library complex). It was a very moving moment for me, as this represented the culmination of 12 years of study. The icaza signifies transition from novice to fully-fledged artist. It grants the artist permission from their Master to sign their name on their work, and to pass on knowledge of the craft to others. Gaining my icaza has been the foundation of my practice. It has helped me to hone me skills as a painter and given me a rich visual language through which I’m able to express myself. It has made me a more compassionate educator, but most importantly it is given me a place of peace and increased my love for the Divine Creator.
Why do you feel a connection to Islamic art specifically?
Initially, I was drawn to its external beauty: the magnificent mosques and exquisite manuscripts, the miniature paintings, calligraphy, and ceramics. But the deeper I explored, the more I fell in love with the meditative aspect that was unfolding within me and through my work. I was attracted to the aesthetic beauty of Islamic art, but fell in love with its inner qualities, and it’s that internal beauty that keeps me connected to it.
You were awarded an ijaza in Islamic manuscript illumination under Master illuminators Ayten Tiryaki and Çiçek Derman in Istanbul. What made you want to take up this level of advanced training?
I was encouraged to try tezhip (Islamic manuscript illumination) by my tutors and fellow students at the Prince’s School. I had a knack for painting fine details and patterns, so was naturally very drawn to illumination and miniature painting. On meeting my teacher, Ayten Hoca and her students for the first time, I was very moved by their kindness and caring. The more I dived into the traditional arts, the more I learnt about how an apprentice’s craft training went hand in hand with their personal development. The process is holistic in that it encompasses beautifying of an apprentice’s character and not just their craft. It struck me that if we neglect to practice these crafts we not only lose knowledge of how to make the manuscripts, but we also lose the inner qualities of peace, stillness, kindness, and creativity that are passed on in a subtle way, through example from student to teacher throughout the generations. I decided that I wanted to be a part of reviving this tradition, serving the craft, and nurturing the next generation of illuminators.
What was the process like and how has it affected your artistic practice?
The process was very long, very difficult, but also immensely rewarding! There are the obvious practical skills that are fundamental to my practice, such as brushwork, gilding, composition and design. Illumination has also given me a rich visual language that informs and enriches my work. I would also say that the process of learning to become an illuminator has made me a more compassionate teacher. The example of my Master, Ayten Tiryaki has been fundamental in this.
You also have a BA in African and Asian Art History and Archaeology from the University of London, and a Master’s Degree in Traditional and Islamic Arts. Do you think it is necessary to learn about art and artistic skills in order to be an artist?
I don’t think it’s necessary to have a degree to be an artist. However, I do think that aspiring artists benefit immensely from training, courses, and / or apprenticeships in the arts. Whether you do this through the structure of university education, through short courses, and / or apprenticing with a Master is down to individual choice and circumstances. Whatever stage you’re at in your practice, learning from others just enriches your craft. I have just returned from a 3-month artist residency in Tuscany with a children’s author and illustrator I greatly admire – Cornelia Funke. I have learnt so much - not only about the craft of writing and illustrating for children, but also about how she lives. How she’s built a creative life filled with people and projects that enrich her personally as well as professionally. Finding mentors and teachers is fundamental to artistic practice. The best way for an artist to go about this is up to the individual.
Where do you find inspiration to create your wonderful illustrations?
From the rich worlds of illumination and miniature painting, the natural world, and observing everyday life. I am also very inspired by contemporary children’s book illustration. Shaun Tan, Sophie Blackall, and Isabelle Arsenault are some of my favourite illustrators. For ‘The Clever Wife’, (told by Rukhsana Khan, published by Wisdom Tales) I had a lot of fun creating playful illustrations inspired by miniatures and Central Asian textiles. My second book (published by Tempar UK) is a contemporary story about the Syrian refugee crisis. It’s interesting to see a similar but different style developing for that story.
In 2018, you were commissioned by the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, to produce illuminated frontispieces for four volumes of poetry. One of these volumes was gifted to HM Queen Elizabeth II, and one to HRH Prince Charles. Your work is also in the Royal Library collection at Windsor Castle. What was the experience like creating a Royal commission and how do you feel gaining this level of recognition?
The most exciting part of the experience was visiting the Royal Bindery at Windsor Castle and meeting the Royal Bookbinders! I enjoyed meeting with them and discussing the papers and patterns we would use to complete the commission. It was an honour to be invited to work on such a project.
As an educator, you teach all over the world. What has been your most memorable moment?
Guiding students through the process of conceiving an idea, developing it, then creating something beautiful that exists in the world to be seen and shared by others is always the most memorable part.
What are your aspirations as an artist, what do you hope to achieve?
I hope to share my inner world with those around me, and to create timeless work that is well loved.
What do you think the future of Islamic art looks like and how do you think we can continue to keep the tradition alive?
I think Islamic art will continue to flourish in the future. I would hope we maintain the connection between the inner and outer qualities of the art – by that I mean sharing and appreciating not just its external beauty, but also valuing the inner qualities that the practice of these crafts helps to engender in both the artist and the viewer, those of stillness, unity, and love of the Divine.
For more information check out http://ayeshagamiet.com/
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