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The 'art' of contemplation.

Bahrain's Andaluciat specialises in creating interiors modelled on the Moorish style of Islamic art and architecture

Spanish Andalucia or Al-Andalus, ruled for over half a millennium by the Moors during the Middle Ages, has provided inspiration to many a modern interior designer.

The magnificent Moorish landmarks of the period, such as the Alhambra Palace in Granada, represent the zenith of Moorish culture and design, featuring some of the finest and most elaborate tile, wood, and plaster ornaments ever conceived.

Bringing Andalucian art and architecture to Bahrain in all its pomp and style is A Wahab A Alkhaja, who started the interior design firm Andaluciat in the kingdom 10 years ago.

"Andalucian art is the richest form of Islamic art, which we try to emulate in our works," he says."We also enrich them through a myriad of colours using stained glass," he says.

"Andaluciat presents the most exclusive and comprehensive selection of handcrafted Moroccan and Arabesque designs, ranging from contemporary simplicity to traditional complexity," he says. Andaluciat's interiors are all created from gypsum -- the gracious material that has inspired the human imagination throughout the ages, says, Alkhaja, manager of the firm, who has graduated in arts and specialised in Moroccan art.

"You can now fully explore this glorious pillar of Mediterranean design and capture the ethereal beauty that has been hidden away for so many centuries. What many believed to have been lost has finally been rediscovered and revived," he says.

"Gypsum has been such a versatile material that still stands testimony to the grandeur and creativity of the human imagination," he says.

Throughout the centuries, gypsum has been used to embody extraordinary visions of art, bearing the fruit of aesthetic inspirations, and is still used today to shape every instance of artistic intelligence. "That is what I try to do when designing an interior with gypsum-carved walls and roofs. It gives the room an elitist stature," he says.

No wonder gypsum, this thousand-year-old material is now being widely applied throughout the construction industry. Not only is it easily available, it also possesses features like pliability, incombustibility and durability. And most important of all it does not pose any health or safety risks when used in living areas.

Mingled with glass fibres, vegetable fibres or other construction materials to obtain solidity, gypsum is, as it has always been, the best means for decorators everywhere to deliver stunning and beautiful shapes and forms, says Alkhaja, who has a team of about 20 craftsmen, including Moroccans, translating his designs into reality.

Alkhaja says the art that he is propagating is simply called Arabesque. Explaining, he says the arabesque is an elaborative application of repeating geometric forms that often echo the forms of plants and animals. To many in the Islamic world, they in fact symbolise the infinite and, therefore uncentralised, nature of the creation of the one God. Furthermore, an Islamic Arabesque artist conveys a definite spirituality without iconography, he says. "In Morocco, this type of art is called the art of contemplation. No wonder most villa builders in Bahrain want at least one 'Moroccan room' in their homes," he says. For the Muslim craftsman or artist who has to decorate a surface, geometrical interlacing doubtless represents the most intellectually satisfying form, for it is an extremely direct expression of the idea of the divine unity underlying the inexhaustible variety of the world, he says.

Interlaced designs express 'multiplicity in unity' but it is in yet another respect that it recalls the unity underlying things, namely that it is generally constituted from a single element, a single rope or a single line, which comes endlessly back upon itself, he explains.

Alkhaja says Arabesque in its broadest sense includes ornamentation in stylised plant forms and strictly geometrical interlacing work. The first kind of ornamentation is a perfect visual transcription of rhythm, whereas the second is crystalline in nature. In this domain, we discover the two poles of all artistic expression in Islam: the sense of rhythm and the spirit of geometry.

"You can find these aspects in the works that we undertake," he says.

Pointing out a piece of gypsum art, he says the arabesque in plant forms seems to be derived from the image of the vine whose interlacing leaf scrolls and branches winding back on themselves lend themselves quite naturally to stylisation in undulating and spiralled forms recalling the theme of the "tree of life".

It is clear even so that the arabesque combines very varied plant forms. It is found together with acanthus and the palm. It occasionally bears pomegranates, pine-cones or flowers. Its abstract style, made up from a series of spiralled and alternating curves, is certainly far more ancient than its relatively naturalistic from, he says.

A continuous series of spirals twining and untwining like waves on the sea may be translated into a line of animals in pursuit, it can just as well give rise to a plant like composition, and it is here that we are brought back to the history of the Arabesque.

On the other hand, ornamentation in the Islamic art works out a synthesis between the broad current of archaic forms, which flourish in popular art. It assimilates archaic motifs by reducing them to their most abstract and general formulae, and levels them out by endowing them with a new lucidity almost, one could say, with spiritual elegance, he continues. A journey through the return to the beginning, and that this return shows itself as a restoration of all things to unity. The design does not need to be symmetrical, but to make up for this it always has certain repetition. Strictly speaking rhythm belongs not to space but to time, of which it is not the quantitative measure but the qualitative one. It is by the mediation of movement that rhythm is re-established in the special dimension, he says.

But how popular is the art? Alkhaja says: "When I started off the market for gypsum carvings, Moroccan art was limited. It has grown since then, and although slow, demand is picking up." The projects executed by Andaluciat in Bahrain include the Al Abraj restaurants, CafE[umlaut] Lilu, the conference hall of the Al Bandar Spa and resort, and palaces, mosques and villas.

The Saudi projects include the Marina Mall in Dammam and the Rashid Mall in Al Khobar.

Islamic art Arabesques are an element of Islamic art usually found decorating the walls of mosques. The choice of which geometric forms are to be used and how they are to be formatted is based upon the Islamic view of the world. These forms, taken together, constitute an infinite pattern that extends beyond the visible material world.

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Publication:Middle East Interiors
Date:Aug 1, 2009
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