London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Journalists mixed with students and visitors at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts annual Degree Show. This is an exhibition of the work of this year’s graduating MA students and is akin to an art exhibition and a graduation ceremony all rolled into one. This art exhibition includes various forms of traditional art, including wood carving, stained glass, Indian folk painting, manuscript illumination and ceramics. Such traditional art forms can now only be found in museums and art galleries, having practically disappeared from everyday life.
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, is the founder and patron of the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, and he attended the grand opening of the annual Degree Show. Prince Charles wandered amongst the various exhibits, asking the graduating students questions about their work, and congratulating them on completing their post-graduate degree. At the end of his tour, Prince Charles delivered a speech to the students, in which he praised their “crucial” work in preserving the world’s artistic traditions. He also highlighted the outstanding work of three of the graduating students, namely Farkhondeh Ahmadzadeh, Dana Awartani, and Roya Souag.
Prince Charles said “I so look forward to coming each year to this degree show and to have a chance to meet the incredibly dedicated students and to see their work and to hear about their aspirations.”
He added “One of the great things the school has been trying to do for so long is to maintain the living traditions that have been passed down from one generation to the other for thousands of years, all around the world, which have tended to become abandoned. So it seems absolutely crucial to find a way of maintaining the golden threads.”
Each graduating student stood in front of their art work, with the Prince of Wales taking a tour of the gallery, stopping to converse with each student about the art exhibit in question, and the students’ post-graduation aspirations.
What was particularly noticeable among the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts graduates was the number of students from the Islamic world, who had travel to London in order to study Islamic art.
With an apprehensive smile, Farkhondeh Ahmadzadeh, welcomes those who have come to view her exhibit. Farkhondeh Ahmadzadeh graduated with an academic distinction, and was also awarded the Jerwood Prize for Traditional Arts, which is awarded to the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts graduate that shows a unique ability to apply the principles of traditional art. Farkhondeh Ahmadzadeh is from Iran, and she reveals that her decision to study at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts was made almost on the spur of the moment. She said “I studied biochemistry [in Iran], and I was looking for courses related to my course of study in order to continue my post-graduate education, however I found information about graduate study at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, and I found myself moved to study here!”
However Farkhondeh Ahmadzadeh’s shift from biochemistry to traditional art, particularly calligraphy and Persian Manuscript Illumination, did not come out of the blue, as she acknowledges that she had first begun to be interested in Persian calligraphy when she was 18 years old, and that this was her motivation to travel to London and study at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. She added that in her second year of studies, each student has to choose a specialization, and that it was only natural for her to choose Persian calligraphy and manuscript illumination.
One of Farkhondeh Ahmadzadeh’s art-works was an illuminated manuscript piece of a Persian poetry manuscript that she said she had worked on for between 80 and 100 hours. Manuscript illumination is the process of supplemented text with additional decorations such as decorated initials, borders, and miniature illustrations. As for what the future holds, Farkhondeh Ahmadzadeh says with a confident smile “this is only the beginning for me, I would love to continue what I have begun here [at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts] and I won’t be returning to chemistry.”
Dana Awartani is a Saudi citizen of Palestinian origin, she studied Modern Art at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, but she found herself drawn to Islamic Art which is what led to her studying at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. She also graduated with honors, revealing that “I heard about the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts from a family friend who was studying there, and when I saw the school’s website I decided to study there.” During her first year of study, Dana Awartani studied traditional arts and crafts, ranging from Arabesque to calligraphy to wood parquetry; however she finally decided to specialize in ceramics and painting.
Dana Awartani claimed that the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts two-year program allowed her to immerse herself in studying traditional arts, she says “I did not know much about this type of art, and I did not even know that there were artists still practicing this, but I am now [after graduation] one of them…and this has only increased my appreciation of this art form.”
As for her future art projects, she confirmed that these would be influenced by her studies in traditional arts. She also revealed that she wants to return to Saudi Arabia to work as a teacher there, adding that “this is our heritage and history, and I am certain that there are many who will benefit from studying this type of art.”
Dana Awartani’s graduating art-work is a large colorful ceramic piece that garnered a lot of attention from the art-gallery visitors, she said “this piece would traditionally be part of a fountain, but I wanted it to have a more contemporary feel, perhaps by utilizing it as an artistic center-piece.”
As for graduating student Roya Souag, she produced an exquisite, intricately-carved, authentic wooden box, as part of the traditional art of Islamic parquetry. This is a woodworking process in which the artist uses a chisel to cut very thin veneers into straight-line geometric shapes. The shapes are then fitted together to create beautiful and complex Islamic patterns. Roya Souag was awarded the Barakat Prize for outstanding artwork within the Islamic Art tradition for this work of art.
Roya Souag had previously studied Arab literature in her native Algeria, before deciding to move towards studying traditional art. She confessed that she did not have much experience in the arts before studying at the Prince’s School of Traditional Art, having previously worked as a gold and silver-smith.
Roya Souag revealed that it took her 6 months to research, design and carve her Islamic parquet, and she confirmed that she did not want to add colour to this parquet in order to better allow visitors to see the different patterns in this work of art. This parquet utilizes patterns from different traditions and cultures, and Roya Souag described her work of art as a “dialogue between different civilizations.”
The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts Degree Show will be held between 5 – 15 July in London. Seven students are graduating from this year’s MA programme, and the Degree Show includes examples of all their work. The seven MA graduates areas of focus include wood carving, stained glass, Indian folk painting, manuscript illumination, Islamic parquetry, and ceramics.