Looking at Concepts of Thresholds and Talismans in Islamic Art
to Create a Body of Work
Faculty Mentor: Peter Everett, Studio Art
I have been interested in systems of structure and calculation and how those systems
manifest visually. In Rosalind Krauss’ essay on grids, she discusses the function of a
grid to “map reality,” or using the grid as a tool to explain and interpret. When I first read
this I became intrigued by the idea that the abstract grid can transform information into a
literal object; perhaps, explaining the unknown. I thought about the prominence of the
grid and geometric systems found in visual culture. I had already been creating work
dealing with concepts of structures and patterns that refer to the specific. I had started
using a system by taking body measurements of people close to me to create
dimensions for objects and shapes in my paintings. I liked how using the specific
information in an abstract way created a way for the same material to exist in a new
world. I became increasingly interested in periods in history and art when visual
information appeared abstracted or was manipulated by geometry. Upon learning about
Islamic art and architecture, I was drawn to the idea of geometric patterns and designs
existing in place of representational iconography Westerners might be accustomed to
viewing in religious settings. Visuals found in Islamic art and architecture includes
simplified and repetitive forms that facilitate contemplation and meditation.
While creating work with elements related to those found in Islamic art, I wanted to learn
more about these systems and experience first-hand how they transform a space.
Starting in April 2016, I spent seven weeks total in Spain and Morocco visiting different
sites heavily influenced by Islamic visual culture. In Morocco, we traveled to the Hasan
II Mosque in Casablanca where non-Muslims were permitted to tour and see the interior
of the mosque. This mosque was completed in 1993 and is the largest mosque in
Morocco, and the 13th largest mosque in the world. I was stunned by the enormous
scale of archways and ceilings combined with the amount of small detail in the tiling and
yeseria, or plasterwork.
Another surprise in my research came a little further along the journey when we ended
up at the Great Mosque of Córdoba in Spain. Upon entering the Great Mosque, I felt
disoriented and overwhelmed. The perimeter of the Great Mosque is very dim, with
pockets of light streaming in through windows and lit votive chapels. As I walked
through the space, I noticed the architectural design and presence of geometry.
Horseshoe arches are stacked one on top of the other, creating an infinite passageway
along the peripheries of the space. I began to notice areas in the Great Mosque’s
construction that shifted from one period of time to another, as the structure was built
into a mosque by Moors in the 8th century and then was later transformed into a Catholic
Cathedral in the 13th century. As I moved further into the space towards the center of
the structure, I entered into the Cathedral. The change from one style of architecture to
another felt at the same time sudden and gradual and added this transitory sense of
entering into a new place or experience.
As I had exposure to the use of geometric systems and patterns within Islamic art, I
reflected on the concepts of thresholds and meditation in regards to my experience. In
the Hasan II Mosque in Casablanca, I was struck by the immense size of every element
found in the space; even the smallest of details were repeated so frequently they turned
into a larger construct. In the Great Mosque of Córdoba in Spain, I was struck by how
calculated the archways were and in how they created a feeling of an endless hallway
that I felt lost in. Yet, that feeling could be suddenly ruptured when entering the central
space where the Cathedral is.
While I traveled, I began work on over thirty drawings on paper ranging from 10” x 14” to
6” x 6”. I made adjustments to the system I had been using, and decided to be more
repetitive with my lines and shapes. I felt like I needed to charge the images with more
energy and with a deeper sense of focus, which was similar to the way I felt when I
studied patterns and spaces in my travels. At the same time, the rupture and confusion
I felt within the structure of the Great Mosque really resonated with me. So, after
creating a certain amount of shapes and lines in my drawings, I began to impose new
forms on top of those areas using mixed media like tape. I wanted to obstruct
information or create a sense of mystery similar to what I had felt in the spaces I had
traveled to study.
Upon returning to Utah in June, I prepared for a show called “Meditations,” on campus
in the B.F. Larsen Main Gallery in late July 2016. I prepared my drawings for
presentation and I finished a video piece in conjunction with the work I created on the
trip. The opportunity I had to travel to Morocco and Spain and learn about the visual
culture found there has continued to strongly influence my current work and will help to
inform future work.