London-based artist and researcher, Sara Choudhrey explores themes of space and place in her work through shapes and pattern. Sara’s practice involves the construction and application of patterns using a variety of media, where geometry and natural forms become reference points to site-specific locations around the world.
Sara is interested in human engagement with space, both natural and man-made, and considers their impact on each other beyond a specific time and place. Pursuing the concept of continuity, Sara has conducted practice-led research on visual culture from medieval Spain and Portugal, Mughal era sites in Pakistan and Islamic art in the British Arts & Crafts Movement. We talked to Sara about hybrid societies, how traditional Islamic architecture and pattern has influenced her work and the potential of using digital technology to create contemporary Islamic art.
Sara Choudhrey in collaboration with Pete Cleary and community groups in Milton Keynes and Bletchley. Between the Stars, commissioned by MKIAC.
Installation view at Bletchley Park, 2020, Photo: Pete Cleary.
Your work explores space and place through shapes and pattern. Can you tell us more about why this and the inspiration behind it?
I am intrigued about what spaces, and things within those spaces, can tell us about the world around us, about nature, people, and society. Visual culture is often inspired by nature and is manifest in the built-environment, allowing us to learn about our history, heritage and values. It also allows us to connect the past to the present and reflect on changes over time. Those changes might tell us about things we once valued or have come to neglect, or may evidence disruption, the movement of people (whether by choice or by force), changing political values, economic conditions and the make-up of local communities.
By analyzing and working with surface design within architectural spaces I am able to reference specific locations and consider not only the visual information, but the wider context in which that place is situated.
The material world is also a way in which we can see developments in artistic output, something that abounds in the Islamic world, and the cross-cultural, cross-regional influences of art and design.
Sara Choudhrey, DW05 (Driftwood Series), 2019. Photo: Will Noor
What does a hybrid society mean to you and how is that concept conveyed through your work?
Hybridity was a term I first encountered in cultural studies to refer to people who are a mix of more than one ethnicity, culture or heritage. However, it could be argued that the highly-connected, increasingly globalized world we inhabit is becoming ever more hybridized, and therefore the term’s application to identity studies is becoming more complex and nuanced.
The term also applies to numerous disciplines including art, crafts and design, where different materials, techniques and processes may be combined to lead to a new outcome.
In my artistic practice I take these ideas into consideration and also explore hybridity as a literal method for making and constructing my work. I enjoy experimenting with digital and non-digital making processes, for example laser etching my digital drawings onto wood and then completing the process by painting with washes of ink and gouache (as can be seen in my Driftwood series). As a result, it would be difficult to describe the works without also adopting hybridized terms: the term ‘painting’ would not suffice alone for these particular artworks. I have also dabbled with hybridized descriptions such as ‘digital Islamic art’ as one area of consideration for how terminology might address developing practices seen in contemporary Islamic art.
Sara Choudhrey, Siraat, 2021. Installation view at Southampton City Art Gallery, commissioned for Manifesting the Unseen 2021: Southampton. Photo: Joe Low Photography
Sara Choudhrey, Siraat, 2021. Installation view at Southampton City Art Gallery, commissioned for Manifesting the Unseen 2021: Southampton.
How does Islamic art and architecture influence your work including the construction and application of patterns based on geometry and botanical forms which are seen in your pieces?
The Islamic world is rich in some of the most splendorous examples of art and design, including in the masajid, palaces and monuments built over its 1400+ year timeline. One of the most celebrated aspects of this is the unity that can be seen in the varying styles and colours used to adorn these sites. That unity is referencing the natural world which presents a wondrous underlying formula attributed to Divine creation, signs from Allah SWT. We celebrate and acknowledge this in our manifestation of creativity – by using the same principles we see in the natural world in our art and design. These principles include geometric constructions which feature symmetry, proportion, harmony and balance.
I have been blessed to be able to travel to a number of places in the Islamic world (past and present) to see these sites first-hand, including Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Pakistan and parts of the Middle East. Being based in London, I have also had access to archives and museum collections which have a rich variety of artefacts originating from the Islamic world. Noticeably, these artefacts, much like the architectural sites, tend to be adorned with geometric patterns, calligraphy, and biomorphic or floral motifs.
I have a curiosity in understanding how these patterns have been constructed and enjoy the challenge of deconstructing and analyzing these. A further area of interest is the little historical documentation regarding how Islamic patterns and motifs were constructed in the past, as it was knowledge shared from one artisan or craftsperson to another in a face to face setting such as a workshop. However, by applying geometric principles of construction, it is possible to deconstruct and understand better how the artisans may have approached pattern-making to achieve the wondrous tradition of Islamic art we can still see today. In my work, I like to tap into this tradition but also provide continuity in a contemporary context, touching on themes relevant to our experiences today.