Jameel Prize: a sexy, scintillating vision of modern Islamic art
Source:The Guardian Author:Jonathan Jones Date: 2013-12-13 Size:
With eye-fooling carpets made of concrete, spices arranged to look like ornate tiles and opulent frocks, the twists on classical Islamic arts here are exuberant and brilliantly of our time...

Eye-fooling … carefully arranged spices are made to look like tiles in Laurent Mareschal's Beiti. Photograph: Tami Notsani

This year's Jameel Prize exhibition at the V&A is a thorough revelation in its hugely sensual and convincing reinventions of Islamic art.

A prize that rewards something so specific as contemporary art and design "inspired by Islamic tradition" might seem to be inherently limiting its own field – who defines Islamic tradition anyway? – and yet the terrific art here proves the Jameel prize is really on to something. The twists these artists and designers are perpetrating on classical Islamic arts are exuberant, unforced and brilliantly of our time.

The tone is set by Faig Ahmed's carpets for the digital age. If you want to remind yourself of the beauty of traditional carpets woven in abstract patterns in the Islamic world, check out the wonderful examples in the V&A permanent collection. Ahmed makes carpets that have all the detail, colour and elegance of the classics yet with a difference – their patterns break up into a field of pixels or are sucked into a cosmic vortex.

Concrete Carpet by Nada Debs. Photograph: Marino Solokhov

Everyone else here is similarly bold in remaking the past. Nada Debs's concrete carpet is a showstopper: the Arabic lettering inscribed in its vast surface is in a font devised by Pascal Zoghbi, who also shows other examples of his research into reinventing Arabic fonts for the 21st century. Meanwhile, Turkish fashion house Dice Kayek, which has won this year's prize, exhibits dresses whose bulbous lines recreate the world of the Ottoman empire in contemporary couture.

The wearable historicism of these frocks leads me to the most striking thing about this show – it is full of pleasure for the eye. The arts of Islamic courts in the past were rich and sexy: that opulence returns here with a vengeance. In India, Rahul Jain creates glittering golden silks. These are real recreations of former glory – not witty remakes – yet the project is modern in the same way William Morris is modern. With less reverence but similar dedication and love of beauty, Laurent Mareschal shows an eye-fooling installation of floor tiles that are actually made of spices.

Video calligraphy, Arabic abstraction – this prize has got it all, and yet my favourite work finds a source of modern art in ascetic spirituality. Waqas Khan, who lives and works in Lahore, makes ethereal drawings inspired by Sufism – and minimalism. Using techniques that go back to the minitiaturists of the Persian and Mughal courts, Khan draws fields of tiny dots that expand into dreamlike clouds of ambiguity. He is a truly powerful artist, who in my opinion deserved the prize. That's my one quibble – otherwise, this is a scintillating vision of how art can be made new with the irreplaceable resources of cultural memory.

[Editor] 孙雯