British artist Mohammad Abdul Aziz is a scholar in Islamic sciences, theology and jurisprudence. The initial stage of his Islamic studies began in Bangladesh, where he was mainly focussing on memorising the holy Qur’an. At the age of 9 Aziz had completed his memorisation, acquiring the title of Hafiz.
His early interest in Islamic art began when he was introduced to the two scripts of Nasta’liq and Naskh during his years in Bangladesh. This initial interest, motivated him to pursue his path in Islamic traditional arts, including the arts of geometry and Islimi. He later graduated from the Institute of Islamic Education, Dewsbury, having learnt the seven dialects of the holy Qur’an and Islamic sciences, receiving the title of Qari’& Alim.
He then went to study at the Princes Foundation School of Tradition Arts, London in 2018 where he focused in Islamic Geometry and the spiritual Aspect of the Art. He graduated in 2020 attaining the title of Master in Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts.
We talk to Mohammed about his journey as an artist, spirituality and finding inspiration through Islamic architecture.
What made you interested in Islamic geometric patterns?
Initially I was interested in Islamic geometry because I wanted to learn the fundamentals of Islamic art in general, but later on I realised I’ve always been interested in Islamic geometry, looking for symmetry and order in everything that nature provides from a very young age. Once I started practising Islamic geometry, the sense of meditation and worship of practice drew me in, to the point where I knew this is something I would stick to and practice for a very long time.
Did you take up any formal art training?
I’ve been practising Islamic geometric patterns since 2016, starting off with whatever I could find online, then in 2017 I attended a class presented by Samira Mian, that’s when I first tasted the sweetness of this art. Later through research and talking to friends I found out about the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts, I applied (thinking I’ll never get in because I didn’t have any formal art training prior to that), and was accepted for the 2-year Masters programme in 2018. This is when everything completely turned for me, I went in with the idea that the only connection I would have between what I’ll learn in PFSTA and what I had learnt in Dewsbury would only be the word “Islamic”, since art was visual and the study of Qur’an and Hadeeth wasn’t visual representations but physical practises, but I couldn’t have been more wrong, from the very first module everything just seemed to click and was fitting into Qur’an and Hadeeth like a jigsaw puzzle. How Allah has left signs in the seven heavens to see his greatness and how we shall return to earth where we came from, using colour as a form of communication to describe the horizon as a black and white line and how sin is represented by a black dot on the heart, the symmetry of flowers as everything originating from the centre and as it wilts it returns to the centre, I can go on and on, in short words most of what is taught at PFSTA is also represented in the Qur’an and prophetic traditions.
Can you tell us more about your process?
My process of work isn’t a long one unless the pattern requires a lot of time drawing. Ill start analysing the pattern and figuring out the construction, once I’ve done that, I will transfer the pattern to the material I’ll be painting on, and use shell gold, watercolour or gouache to add colour to the pattern. Sometimes the construction of a pattern is more appealing to me than the finished painting so I’ll either stop with only the construction, or make 2 copies, one with painting and one without.
How do you come up with your colour compositions?
I’ll take inspiration from the source and stick to the original colours with slight variations or I’ll take inspiration from nature, all of which requires a few tests of adding different colours together on paper and seeing what the combination of certain colours look like.
What do you hope audiences feel or think when they encounter your work?
I hope they feel a sense of creation from the centre point and a return towards it, now that can be spiritual as mentioned in the Qur’an that we are created by Allah and will return to him or can be visual, that the drawing starts with the needle of the compass right in the centre.
You find your inspiration in Islamic architecture, which are some of your favourite monuments?
My favourite has to be the Al-hambra in Granada, Spain. the thought process behind every single pattern is just extraordinary, other places include, Dome of the Rock – Palestine, Rustem Pasha Cami – Istanbul, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque – Iran.
Is there a spiritual element to our work?
Absolutely, the very practise of Islamic geometry means that someone is engaged in worship, by creating the pattern from the centre point and referring back to the centre as the pattern goes along, I am constantly reminded of the birth of the universe and to find meaning in life one must refer back to the centre, and once the pattern is repeated, it almost takes the form of some sort of visual Dhikr by repetition. Allah mentioned in the Qur’an many times to look to nature and see his signs, since this art is inspired by nature, I can’t help but be reminded of the creator.
Why is the preservation of cultural heritage important?
The preservation of cultural heritage is important because the masters in this field have worked too hard for it to be forgotten, also I like to call it Islamic heritage that has adapted itself into many cultures, so if this heritage is not preserved, it’ll be lost across many cultures.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on multiple small projects as well as one large geometric pattern inspired by the Alhambra, small projects that I work on are sudden bursts of ideas that I like to visit before I forget them, I’m also currently teaching art in 2 different secondary schools where I’m able to continue passing on the knowledge I have learnt about Islamic geometry.
What does the future of Islamic art look like to you?
The future of Islamic art looks better than I expected, the correct knowledge is a lot more accessible now compared to before and a lot more people are taking Islamic art very seriously.
Mohammad Abdul Aziz