Iraqi artist and Bangladeshi architect become first joint winners of the Jameel Prize

Mehdi Moutashar and Marina Tabassum received the award in London last week

Marina Tabassum has won the Jameel Prize for the Bait ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh
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Iraqi artist Mehdi Moutashar and Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum have become the first ever joint winners of the £25,000 (Dh121,000) Jameel Prize, a biannual award, which was launched in 2009 and celebrates art and design inspired by the Islamic tradition.

Moutashar and Tabassum received the prize from Fady Jameel, president of Art Jameel, an organisation that promotes contemporary art across the Middle East, at a ceremony at London’s Victoria and Albert museum (V&A) last week.

The pair may have been joint winners of the award, which is a collaboration between the V&A and Art Jameel, but their work is strikingly different. Moutashar, who was born in Iraq but has lived and worked in France since the 1960s, was recognised for four exceptionally bold pieces, which combine eye-catching elements of western abstraction with more traditional Islamic geometry.

Mehdi Moutasha's Two squares, one of them framed, 2017

Tabassum, who is based in Bangladesh, won the award for her design of the Bait ur Rouf mosque, which was completed in 2012 on the outskirts of Dhaka. The mosque, for which Tabassum also won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2016, challenges notions of what a mosque should look like.

It is an angular, solid building with perforated brickwork, which causes light to dance across the floor of the prayer room. There is no dome, minaret or mihrab. “Symbols are not the essence of devotion or faith,” Tabassum explained in 2016. “I find symbols a distraction and I wanted to focus instead on the sense of spirituality.”

Director of the V&A and chair of the judging panel Tristram Hunt said: “Selecting one winner proved extremely difficult, due to the very high standard of work in the exhibition.


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“The joint Jameel Prize 5 winners are both in dialogue with contemporary global discourses on art, and have produced exemplary work in two very different disciplines. They show an awareness of modernist practices of the 20th century, which have in turn drawn on traditions from around the world. At the same time, though, they are passionately rooted in and deeply learned about their own cultural legacies.”

The five-person judging panel also included November Paynter from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto and Ghulam Mohammad, the winner of Jameel Prize 4.

From over 400 entrants, only eight artists were shortlisted for the prize. Works by all eight of these artists – Kamrooz Aram, Hayv Kahraman, Hala Kaiksow, the Naqsh collective, Younes Rahmoun and Wardha Shabbir – are on display at the V&A until November 25 before the exhibition tours to other parts of the world.

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