Ajlan Gharem announced as winner of Jameel Prize

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Ajlan Gharem announced as winner of Jameel Prize
Installation view of Ajlan Gharem's project at 'Jameel Prize Poetry to Politics' at the V&A, 18 September-28 November 2021 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

LONDON.- Ajlan Gharem has been announced as the winner of the sixth edition of the Jameel Prize, the world’s leading award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition. The £25,000 prize was presented to Ajlan Gharem by Fady Jameel, Chairman and Founder of Art Jameel, at a virtual ceremony on Wednesday 15 September 2021. Gharem was chosen by an esteemed, independent jury for his architectural installation Paradise Has Many Gates, 2015, which was commended for its boldness and ambition.

Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A and chair of the jury, said: “We were incredibly impressed with the work of all finalists, selected for their innovative and imaginative projects with strong links between Islamic traditions and contemporary design. As this year’s Jameel Prize winner, Ajlan Gharem’s work speaks to global conditions and the experience of migrants, as well as being particularly resonant in its local context. This edition of the Jameel Prize celebrates contemporary design and Gharem’s work is notable for its innovative use of material and ambitious scale. The transparent wire frame references border fencing but has the effect of demystifying the mosque for non-Muslim viewers. We also commend the use of the installation as a space for cross-cultural connection and community gathering.”

Antonia Carver, Director of Art Jameel commented: “We are excited to be witnessing a new era for the Jameel Prize, with its thematic focus this year on contemporary design. Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics welcomes both the personal and the political as drivers of change. This year's finalists have presented works that engage with this theme critically and deeply, all while paying great attention to aesthetic consideration. Our partnership with the V&A is an extension of the work Art Jameel does in the region and the world to bring forth critical conversations on the relationship between contemporary practices and historical movements. We are incredibly proud of all the finalists’ contributions and thank Jameel Curator Rachel Dedman for her work daily on a broad, dynamic programme across the museum. Lastly, a huge congratulations to Ajlan Gharem whose work continues to spark conversation and inspiration.”

Ajlan Gharem is a multidisciplinary artist and mathematics teacher based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. His work explores how Saudi communities understand and articulate their culture amidst globalisation and changing power dynamics. Ajlan’s installation, Paradise Has Many Gates, is true to the design and function of a traditional mosque, but is made of the cage-like chicken wire used for border walls and refugee detention centres. Such material provokes anxiety, but also renders the mosque transparent and open to the elements. The installation’s transparency challenges the political authority that can underpin religion; the installation also seeks to demystify Islamic prayer for non-Muslims, tackling the fear of the other at the heart of Islamophobia. The mosque is welcoming to everyone, and the installation is usually accompanied by a public programme that invites people of all backgrounds to meet and spend time together.

The sixth edition of the Jameel Prize marks a new era by introducing a thematic focus, with this iteration dedicated to contemporary design. Eight finalists were shortlisted for the prize from over 400 applications: Golnar Adili, Hadeyeh Badri, Kallol Datta, Farah Fayyad, Ajlan Gharem, Sofia Karim, Jana Traboulsi, and Bushra Waqas Khan. Their work will be on display in the exhibition Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics at the V&A, 18 September – 28 November 2021, before touring internationally. Ajlan Gharem’s Paradise Has Many Gates is represented in the exhibition through large-scale photographic prints, video, and a recreation of the mosque’s dome.

The eight finalists are from India, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the UK. With diverse practices spanning graphic design and fashion, typography and textiles, installation and activism, the finalists engage with both the personal and the political, interpreting the past in creative and critical ways. The works in the exhibition address global events and lived realities, and the legacies of language, architecture and craft.

The international jury for Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics, which selected the shortlist and chose the winner, includes V&A Director Tristram Hunt as jury chairperson, the joint-winners of Jameel Prize 5, Iraqi artist Mehdi Moutashar and Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum, as well as British author and design critic Alice Rawsthorn and Emirati writer, researcher and founder of Barjeel Art Foundation, Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi.

The Jameel Prize was founded by the V&A in 2009 in partnership with Art Jameel. Through the past five editions, the Prize has received applications from more than 1,000 artists from over 40 countries, exhibited the work of 48 artists and designers, and toured to 16 venues globally. The first five iterations of the Jameel Prize shaped an overall understanding of the role that Islamic tradition can play as an inspiration for both art and design. As the V&A seeks to promote different aspects of this burgeoning field, Jameel Prize: Poetry to Politics is the first devoted to a single discipline. This edition also welcomed submissions via open call for the first time, alongside its traditional nomination system.

Currently, the Jameel Programming at the V&A includes the inaugural Jameel Fellowship, inviting artists Nour Hage, Dima Srouji and Babak Golkar to take up residencies in the museum in 2021/22, facilitating artistic research in conversation with the V&A’s collection. Additionally, Beirut Mapped, an editorial project on the V&A blog, invites reflections on the city of Beirut from the perspective of artists and writers who live there, in the wake of the devastating explosion of 4 August 2020. This project is organised in partnership with the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut.

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