Contemporary Crafts Essay

Pages: 10 (2991 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Architecture  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … people define themselves in many expressive and artistic ways. By their songs and their poetry. By their food and their clothing. By their literature and by their buildings. Each one of these cultural forms is the creation of a particular moment in time and place, for everything changes and is transformed. Even a society that as fundamentally traditional in many ways as is Saudi Arabia, change is a constant. And even in an art form as seemingly stable and untransformable as architecture, there is always artistic growth. Artists in all media are conduits for their culture and history (as well as reifiers of these). The architects of Saudi Arabia have, over time, reflected the changing nuances of Saudi culture as well as the aesthetic and environmental differences from one region of the kingdom to another (Saleh, 2001).

Some of the greatest works of art -- including architecture, poetry, painting, and music -- are those that are constrained in important ways. When we read a well-crafted sonnet, for example, we admire the beauty of the language, the metaphors, and the symbols as lovely in themselves. But we also admire the writer's ability to create beautiful (or terrible) imagery within the strict rules of the sonnet form. The same holds true for a minuet or for a building. For buildings must be well engineered, and beautiful buildings cannot be any less well constructed than ugly ones.

When we see a building that causes us to catch our breath because of its grace and balance, we should remind ourselves that not only are we being presented with a thing of beauty but also a marvel of human mathematical ingenuity. And when the constraints of severe environments are added to the omnipresent challenges of creating a structure that is both aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound, the result can be marvelous indeed.

Of course, it can also be disastrous. Each of us has seen buildings (or read sonnets, for that matter) that make one cringe from the sheer ugliness. Fortunately, this is rarely the case in Saudi Arabia, where architects blend traditional aesthetic elements with a range of building techniques and local building materials to create new structures that shelter people from the desert's harsh conditions and link the present to the past through the incorporation of traditional Saudi decorative elements.

Saudi Arabia is home to uncounted buildings that not only combine form and function, but have their form dignified and elevated by the way in which each building is adapted to its environment as well as its place in history. These buildings can seem austere, even grim to those who hurry by them. But a careful examination brings to light the curve that lifts the eyes heavenward, the lattice that suggests the play of sunlight through leaves, the painted geometries as magnificent as the dappling on a bird's feathers.

The complex aesthetics -- embodying so many vectors of culture and history -- of Saudi architecture will form the foundation of a practice-based research project. For this project I will explore the vocabularies and use of traditional architectural details from Southern Saudi Arabia to create a body of work that combines unconventional materials and the patterns and rhythms of this embedded Islamic practice. While being anchored in Saudi Arabia culture, these designs will be related to contemporary Western artistic concepts like expression from innovation, distinctive interpretation, freedom and rebellion. Together the two traditions will pave the way for a new artistic prospective in Saudi Arabia.

This project will allow me to deepen my long-standing interest in the traditional architectural decorative forms of Southern Saudi Arabia while also allowing me to explore ways in which traditional aesthetic forms can be reclaimed and transformed. Rather than abiding by the slow pace at which Saudi art usually changes, this project represents an opportunity for the kind of push toward innovation for its own sake that is a hallmark of Western art.

While Saudi art has tended to value the traditional simply because it is traditional and Western artists have validated the avant-garde simply because it is not traditional, an amalgam of the two will allow for a balanced honoring of the old and the new. This is, I realize, not an easy task, for Western and Saudi artistic traditions are antagonistic to each other in important ways. But while oppositional elements can be difficult indeed for an artist to bring together, when she can do so the work that is created will be powerful. Opposites in art do not attract each other but must be brought together by the artist's hands and heart.

Losing (and Reclaiming) Regional Difference and Texture

The quality of traditional architectural decoration in Saudi Arabia and the sophistication of the design were generally related to local factors as well as the standing of the owner. Traditional architectural decoration includes dry-stone constructions that are decorated with raw quartz stones placed in geographic pattern. The stone-and-mud houses that have historically greeted visitors across the southern regions of the country reflect the gray tones of the desert with wonderfully variegated facades, the buildings in each village a little different from those in the next. Each village has traditionally had houses that incorporate both the most local of materials and the personality and culture of each town. In this sense, Saudi towns were like towns all over the world before the Industrial Revolution made each place increasingly like its neighbor.

While architecture -- in the form of designing and building structures -- tends to be done by men regardless of the culture, Saudi women have traditionally held an important role to play in crafting the houses of the southern region of the country:

The clean whites and dozens of vivid colors that make the region's homes so distinctive have long been prepared by women. In the traditional home, women are responsible for plastering and painting the walls, corridors and ceilings after men finish building them. This practice has resulted in uniquely expressive interiors, as women often compete with neighbors and relatives in the development of elaborate geometric patterns and color combinations. Saudis from other areas of the country often find these colorful houses of 'Asir a source of wonder, an outspoken contrast with what have become the customary Saudi residences, which are decorated in far more uniform fashion, much like European and North American homes. (Nawwab, 1998).

Such traditional designs are one of the places that I am looking to as an artist. These designs are intrinsically beautiful but they are also attractive because they speak to the politics of gender in the region and how gender and the creation (as well as consumption) of art are related.

These highly regional differences are no longer relevant for the new industrial Saudi Arabia. Industrialization is bringing with it larger cities. People are being displaced from the towns and small communities where their grandparents once lived and believed that their descendants would always remain. The relationship between the Saudi people and the land has altered. This is probably inevitable, and such changes have some benefits to them. But there are important losses too.

Thoughtful Saudis work hard to hold on to this relationship that their families once had to the land by incorporating traditional architectural decorative elements. But such architecture can only do so much to maintain the continuity of art in Saudi Arabia. As valid and as valuable as such work is, there must also be other ways to put the contemporary art of the kingdom into historical context. One way of doing this is to take elements of one art form -- in this case, architecture -- and give it a new home in another medium, such as sculpture. This displacement demands new ways of thinking on the part of both the artist creating the work and her audiences.

Local designs and colors are disappearing not only from buildings but from clothing as well:

In modern times, oil wealth has swept away a great deal of traditional life. While to the Western visitor Arab clothing may appear both exotic and timeless, in fact it bears only superficial similarity today to its earlier origins. Over the past 50 years alone, for example, the introduction of synthetic fibers -- and air conditioning -- have led to slimmer cuts in both men's and women's attire, especially in the fitted sleeves. Men's body shirts now have both cuffs and pockets and women's dresses utilize zippers. Also, of course, men frequently wear business suits or jackets and their wives often turn to Western fashions beneath their outer cloaks.

Until recently, it was possible to find Bedouin dresses that were hand-sewn and hand-embroidered, and occasionally one would turn up which was made of homespun, locally-dyed textile. Today imports from textile centers such as Damascus and Bombay cater to the tastes of townswomen, while local tailors machine-stitch and embroider most of the tribal dresses found in the markets of Ta'if, Abha and Najran. Too often, the decoration is on a cheap and gaudy… [END OF PREVIEW]

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