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Islamic tiling as art

Anna Chupa, a photographer, considers the space around and between the subject of an image to be as important as the subject itself. Chupa, who explores the distinct areas of ornamental horticulture and Islamic architecture, has spent the past year developing a series of iThe exhibit was the result of a nine-month effort that started with a photographic project last August. Supported in part by Lehigh’s Center for Global Islamic Studies, Chupa, an associate professor of art in the department of art, architecture, and design, spent a week in Spain capturing source material to make girih, an ornamental patterning technique in which a set of five tiles are used to create tiling patterns for the decoration of buildings in Islamic architecture.
Shooting in Granada, Seville and Cordoba, Chupa captured i“The design makes use of negative space,” she says, “and that’s what I tend to be drawn to in creating my own work.
“With this form of architecture, it’s less about the structure of the architecture than it is about the design, the ornament. Underlying the ornament is this concept of the infinite. The patterns could go on infinitely. “
Chupa is also drawn to the density of the surface design, which is so compact that one loses sense of the structure underneath. The lighting, reflections, plasterwork and tiling all contribute to the dissolution of form.
“To Islamic artisans and their patrons, the infinitely expanding patterns of star-fields and symmetric tessellations [formation of small squares or blocks in a checkered or mosaic pattern] were an expression of the spiritual or royal authority within an ornamental canon that deliberately avoided direct imitation of nature from observation,” she says.
“In the azulejo mosaic and plasterwork skins that ornamented mosque and palace architecture, figure-ground relationships and pictorial illusionism are suppressed in favor of an aesthetic in which negative space is completely filled.”
The Lehigh exhibit ties into Chupa’s other work in which she photographs flowers in a pattern similar to the Andalusian style.
“To these I add fungus, lichen, seed heads and insects,” says Chupa. “I generally try to use a short depth of field to make it easier to extract the object from its background. I then begin to rearrange the flowers to make individual girih inspired by Islamic tiling. The photographic details of the flowers retain their visibility on screen and close up, but at a normal viewing distance, edges blur and the abstract geometric forms created by different arrangements of five uniquely shaped girih dominate.”
Rob Nichols
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