Appreciating Islamic design

Author Mary  Beardwood,

The history and global legacy of past Islamic designs and architecture have been the subject of a series of talks by author Mary Beardwood who has toured schools in Dubai and spoke at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

The writer and teacher who compiled The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Arabia has been addressing young people on her latest work Discovering Islamic Art.

“I wrote this for young readers, parents and educators to share the joy and beauty of this art with a wider audience,” she said.

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“It deals with the three strands of Islamic art, geometric pattern, arabesques and calligraphy and the ways that these are used in the decoration of mosques, buildings but also many artefacts. I also go into miniature painting and look at the spread of knowledge through the illustrations of books and manuscripts.”

Beardwood spent more than two decades in the Middle East including spells working a teacher in Dubai and Oman.

In 2000 her book A Children’s Encyclopaedia of Arabia was published as a new resource for children living and studying in Arabia. It was later republished as The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Arabia.

She has long been fascinated by Islamic art and in 2005 took a study course at the British Museum and built up her own library of books.

In recent years collections of Islamic art have been the subject of much renewed interest and museums all over the world have refurbished their displays. In addition, new Islamic art museums have opened in the countries of the Arabian Gulf, reflecting these countries’ desire to preserve their heritage.

When Beardwood visited these collections she noted how little there was in the bookshops for children and their parents to enhance their experience of a museum visit.

“When I started to look at Islamic art I was fascinated as to how they achieved what they did and now it is very important to me to give access to Islamic art to a wider audience – to enable young people to appreciate what they see in Dubai and the Arabian peninsula.

“At one time these designs could be seen all the way from Spain almost to the borders of China as craftsmen and women explored similar themes. I find that fascinating.”

The author also spoke about her impressions of Dubai and its architecture.

She said: “Buildings here are incredibly creative and innovative. The old part of Dubai has been renovated very stylishly, but in addition the new architecture has put it in the forefront of modernity throughout the world.”

The Literary Festival – which included a performance of the play War Horse – also featured a talk by designer Eric Broug who said: “I love the ambition of Dubai and how its architecture reflects that. It is of the main cities in the world where excellence and ambition are given free reign.”

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