New exhibit weaves a musical bridge between two distinct cultures in Abu Dhabi

Made in Hungary exhibition introduces "soundweaving", where cross-stitching patterns used in Hungarian folk embroidery are transformed into sounds.

Cross-stitching patterns used in Hungarian folk embroidery are transformed into sounds. Courtesy Etihad Modern Gallery
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We all know music is a form of art. But can art also be musical? An innovative textile exhibit gives artworks a musical dimension, which is played by visitors to the Etihad Modern Art Gallery in Abu Dhabi.

This "soundweaving" exhibit is the centrepiece of the Made in Hungary exhibition, which showcases works by artists from the Eastern European country.

Hungarian textile designer Zsanett Szirmay and composer Daniel Vikukel came up with the concept of soundweaving, in which the traditional cross-stitching patterns used in Hungarian folk embroidery are transformed into sounds by a punch-card comb-music player.

The cross-stitch patterns of holes act as the musical score for a sound that resembles the chimes of a xylophone. The spooky, melancholy notes evoke childhood memories of wind-up music boxes and seem to encapsulate the spirit of the artists themselves.

“The basic idea behind this project is to use the acoustic form of expression to provide new realms of artistic experience,” says Kata Szeder, one of the exhibition’s two Hungarian curators.

For this Middle East edition of the exhibition, Szirmay and Vikukel took their soundweaving a step further. They produced new designs based on the traditional motifs on rugs made by women in Afghanistan, who were working as part of the Fatima bint Mohammed bin Zayed Initiative.

The ornate, auburn-and-cream rugs from Afghanistan are exhibited on the gallery’s floor. Although they contrast in colour with the long, crisp-white Hungarian lace-patterned clothes that hang from above, the feminine geometric and swirling patterns in each art form seem to mirror each other.

The designs also resemble the patterns of the punches in the rolls of tape hanging from the music boxes, which are interspersed around the room. Walking through the exhibition feels like strolling through a wardrobe full of delicately woven wedding dresses – or funeral shrouds.

Although Afghanistan and Hungary are separated by a wide gulf of distance, language and religion, the exhibition demonstrates how women in both cultures use similar patterns to represent beauty – in Afghanistan in their rugs, and in Hungary in the traditional embroidered shirts and pillows, which served as a basis for the original soundweaving patterns.

“By using typical patterns of Afghan rugs, the Middle East edition creates a bridge between the cultures,” says the exhibition’s co-curator, Zsuzska Petro.

In another room, jewellery designed by students at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest is exhibited on arms, ears and busts that protrude from the walls in a ghostly fashion. For those keen to find out more about Hungary, another room features scenic photographs intermingled with trivia titbits on the country that invented the Rubik’s Cube.

• The free exhibition runs until March 20 at Etihad Modern Art Gallery, behind Al Bateen Mall in Abu Dhabi. For more details, visit