This month we have been working side by side with Adam Williamson and his art programme here in Andalusia. This September he does a week in Granada and a week in Seville. After the first few days in Granada, we decided to ask him a few questions.
What significance does Granada hold in the Islamic Art programme in Spain?
Each of our trips are custom designed for the location. The patterns taught in the Granada trip are patterns from the Alhambra just as we teach patterns from the Mezquita while in Cordoba and from the Alcazar in Seville.
How many years has it been running in Granada?
This is our twelfth trip and we have been running for eight years.
Why do you choose to use Al-Andalus Experience to manage your trips?
The partners are really important in every city and Al-Andalus Experience understand our concept and we are happy with everything they have provided for us. Other places we have had to change partners a few times, in Cairo for example. Spain is made easy with Al-Andalus Experience.
What is your favourite part of the course?
I enjoy the teaching part as they are patterns that I have been researching and find incredibly beautiful. I want to share the technical skills that are involved in creating the patterns and, I hope always, to instil some of the passion I have for this art and to give the students a deeper understanding and wonderment of the Alhambra.
How long have you been practising Islamic art?
I started when I was 17, around four years ago 😊, I was studying European illumination and Celtic knotwork, the late Renaissance, illuminated letters and goldwork at Reigate College. I then started doing some work in the print room at the V&A Museum in London where you could actually handle the manuscripts. This is where I began to expose myself to the frontispiece (the first pages of the Quran with gold illuminated patterns) created in the Mamluk style from Cairo. These frontest pieces were what really inspired me I would say. I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the gilding process which including trips to Moroccan, Turkey, and wood carving in Malaysia. I then went on to the Prince’s school. I was too young to do an MA at the age of 19 but they invited me to come because of all the work I was doing. They set up an Artist in Residence programme. I was there for four years doing commission work, I would drop in on some classes and even taught a few classes. When I left I worked for a few years on commission. Then Richard and I were teaching at the British Museum before we decided to run our own classes from our own studio almost nine years ago. They got really popular, especially for people who couldn’t travel to Istanbul or study for two years in the Prince’s school.
What different types of teaching to you do?
Now what we do, it has a more monumental focus. My commision work, now, is sculpturous mostly wood or stone carving. My interest in more in the monumental application of biomorphic and geometric patterns so I also teach wood and plaster carving on location in London. We teach the patterns, then we usually give the students a chance to apply the patterns. Like we are working with Munira today and when we go to Fez they work with the Zellige mosaic craftsman. When we go to Cairo we work with metal artists and in Istanbul, we work with Ebru artists.
Do the students choose the trip for the place, the application of patterns or the patterns themselves?
I think there is a cross-section of students. Some come for the mosaic, however, the majority want to learn the patterns of that place and want to learn on site. This is a growing trend, people want to travel and at the same time learn about the place, meet the locals and like minding people.
What do you like about collaborating with the Mosqu
e for this course?
The mosque have been wonderful, they leave us to it and have great facilities! It’’s a great place to work and a perfect location! It is nice also that the students can be close to the mosque and the local Muslim community with a beautiful view of the Alhambra. We have always used the mosque since we started doing the courses here in Granada. We enjoy working there.
What is the demographics of the students this year?
This year we have 23 students from a variety of different places. We always have a great mix, from 18 to 80, from all different backgrounds. We normally have from a third to half Muslim and about 80% women, from the US to Australia. I think we have had people from pretty much everywhere. We used to have a lot of people from London but now, as we do many courses in London, we find we have people that come from further afield so rather than coming to London they will join us on our field trips.
What are the main components of the course?
We have both biomorphic and geometric patterns within the Alhambra, so we explore the palaces after having a tour around the Albaicin, also looking out for patterns. Then we have the craft activity, joining them all join together. We get context from the environment we are in, learn the patterns for a couple of days in my classes, explore the Alhambra and how these patterns apply and can see them in the physical. We get a bigger appreciation of the Alhambra itself this way. Then comes the craft activity and that is an opportunity to apply the patterns, the students have learnt, to a material. It isn’t a masterclass, more like an experience. This also shows just how much work goes into this art.
What is the feedback from the students?
The students love the trip, people often are surprised by the content of the classes and provided by the craftsmen, like Munira, often people think we try it out at that’s it but we give them so many resources and try and teach as many patterns as possible.
Another thing people take away from the course are the connections amongst the students. I have WhatsApp groups for five/six years ago from Granada which are still going strong. That is a really nice byproduct of the courses that we do, some people never met before, or never met a Muslim, especially with what is going on in today’s world, it is definitely something positive!
Art is a bridge, that is fairly neutral. Most open-minded people canexperience it without any dogma and then in that experience and working alongside Muslims and people of different faith. We try to really to focus on the art and the history of the place rather than religion as we don’t feel qualified enough and we would never want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
These two workshops with Munira this time have been incredible! The students came out with such a variety of pieces and it is great to see their work over the week presented in such a different medium, leather. Thank you, Munira!
Here is a link to her website! https://www.munira.net/