Preserving Palestine: The Art of Islamic Pattern, Tasneem Afaneh

Tasneem Afaneh is a Palestinian self-taught artist who lives in Jerusalem. Although she received a bachelors degree in computer programming, working in this field has never been her ambition. It has always been her aspiration to create art.


We talk to Tasneem about how her heritage has influenced her creative practice, the tools and techniques she uses to create her work and her future aspirations.


How did your journey as an artist begin?


Since my childhood I was interested in art. I had a great passion to learn everything about arts. In my early years I started simple drawing, then moved to learn sewing, embroidery, handicrafts and many other types of arts passing through Arabic calligraphy.

About five years ago, one day during the month of Ramadan. I was searching the Internet for an inspirational artwork, and suddenly I came across a video of someone drawing a complex geometric pattern. Then, I brought my tools and started following his tutorial. This process took me 3 hours until I was able to draw my first geometric pattern. It was a complex set of lines and shapes.


The next day, I started searching online classes for this art. I saw a lot of pictures and videos of how to draw these patterns. From that day on, I fell in love with these patterns, and I had a great passion to learn more. I was completely fascinated by the way they were drawn and directed. Also, I did not imagine that behind these lines and shapes are a set of strict rules that govern this art.



How has your heritage and identity influenced your creative practice?


I inherited my inclination, my artistic sense, and my skill in handicrafts from my mother. She used to do traditional Palestinian embroidery in addition to crochet and other arts.


I think that my upbringing in Jerusalem has a great impact on me, too. Also, My constant visits to Al-Aqsa mosque have always been a great joy. I have contemplated the decorations and design of the mosque with great admiration. The way the architecture in which the mosque and its Great Wall were built always impress me.



Your patterns are constructed using traditional tools and methods. Can you tell us more about your process?


It is amazing to imagine that these intricate patterns are constructed from only a straight line and a circle by using only a ruler and a compass. The first stage in creating your design is to analyze these lines and understand how they overlay and collaborate to produce the pattern. Also, your lines should be as accurate and clean as possible. After completing the design, I transfer it to the transparencies. I suggest to use a soft lead pencil; this means B, B2, or HB pencils. The next stage is to transfer the design to watercolor paper. Then, you can start painting.



How do you come up with your color compositions?


Choosing your color palette is One of the most important things in making your design. It seems simple at first but it is really a difficult task.


Studying colors and how they blend together will be useful in your choices. Also, I think that visual feeding through looking at nature helps you to imagine how colors will be on your design. However, I sometimes try to emulate the original colors of the original design, especially if it is a historical design.


Finally, I think that the best tip here is to practice as hard as you can and experimenting many color combinations until you are satisfied.



What has been the most challenging work you have created to date?


I think it is an analysis of a group of geometric patterns that were found on the Burhan al-Din minbar in the outer courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is a very unique experience, trying to follow the footsteps of the artists who built and sculpted these geometric patterns. So, you feel their creativity and intelligence, since these patterns are carved on stone. Drawing patterns is a delicate process in itself if it is on paper, and to think about the level of skill required to draw and carve it on stones.


You are also an educator, has teaching the traditional artform improved your artistic skills?


I think the best way to maintain what you have learned in any field is to teach it. So, teaching process helps you to continue reviewing what you have learned, enables you to identify weaknesses, and to develop your skills in general. Moreover, This process gives you the satisfaction that any educator needs.



Which artists inspire you?


There are many artists out there, but I think I am very impressed with Sandy Kurt's artworks.

Her delicate designs have always caught my attention and fascinated me. There is also Samira Mian, I was following her page with interest when I started learning Islamic geometry. Also, I love her colors very much and her beautiful and simple style of explanation. However, I always advise anyone who wants to take their first steps in this art to follow her and try to apply her teaching methods to their work.


What do you hope audiences feel or think when they encounter your work?


I hope that my work will motivate people to discover the beauty of Islamic art. Also, I want to change their opinions about it from just a group of beautiful lines and shapes to understand that it reflects the genius and mastery of former Muslim artists who created and built it, as it is evidence of the vastness of their knowledge and advances in engineering

The importance of this art that it increases the connection between people and their great islamic heritage and history. The early artists left us a great treasure, which we must continue to discover and preserve.



Is there a spiritual element to your work?


Art in general affects the artist’s soul, as it comes from the spirit of him/herself. So, I feel that many of my paintings are an extension of my soul. Moreover, my view of things is special because it captures the hidden secrets in art that others cannot capture, and turn them into a beautiful lines and colors that raises the sense of beauty in the soul.

Finally, I think that the artist's job is to create beauty everywhere.



What are your aspirations as an artist?


I want to continue learning this art. There is still a lot to learn. You can never reach perfection in this field. Islamic art is full of secrets and mysteries.


At this stage, I am very much looking forward to make a mark in the field of preserving decorative arts in Al-Aqsa Mosque. Also, I aspire to do an analytical and documentary study of the geometric decorations that fill the sides of Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to preserve them from the environmental and political factors in particular, especially at this critical stage that Palestine is going through.


Moreover, after doing several researches, I found that we do not have a detailed archive, nor any studies for the design and decorations. So, I feel that this is my duty as an artist from Jerusalem.



What does the future of Islamic art look like to you?


My of view, I think that people have begun to realize the beauty of this art and these designs. Moreover, we have seen the entry of these designs on many pieces of furniture, buildings and many things around us. So, this will keep reminding people of the value of these decorations and the need to study and document them to protect it. Also, the artists’ continued dissemination of these arts will help change the stereotyped image of Islam in this world that views Islam in a racist way. And the beauty of Islamic art and Islamic architecture will appear more widely.


For more information check out @tasneem_afaneh on Instagram.


The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.