Born in Mecca, 1984, to a family whose trade was tent making, Nasser Al-Salem went on to train as an Architect in His practice pushes the boundaries of this age-old Islamic art by re-inventing it in non-conventional mixed media forms and by exploring its conceptual potential.‘He grew up amongst the pilgrims visiting the Haram Al-Sharif in Saudi Arabia, and would spend his time helping family sell tents to the visitors performing Hajj. Salem showed a keen interest in calligraphy from a young age, so his family went on to send him to classes actually within the Haram Al-Sharif. This influence is apparent in his work, which incorporates the tradition of calligraphy with Quran as a context in association with contemporary issues, ‘
Examples of his work are displayed as followed:
And Whoever Obeys Allah, He Will Make For Him A Way Out [65:2] (2013)
‘In these sculptures that have been shaped intentionally as a Maze, Al Salem seeks to relay the message of verse 2 from Surat Al Talaq. The verse highlights that fear and obedience of God الله will eventually lead the person towards finding the solution or the correct path for their troubles and needs. Nasser’s employment of the maze structure here emphasizes the need to actually do work and reflect upon oneself’s actions in order to acquire the guidance she or he might have been seeking in their lives, even at moments of loss and disorientation that might hinder ones mind and soul. Nasser stress’s that even though this work is inspired by a verse from the Quran, which is an integral aspect of its message, the other side of is a universal plea of self-reflection, action, and work through our journey of life.’
In addition to these sculptures, there is a selection of other, thought provoking pieces, in particular I found quite moving, translated ‘Guide Us Upon The Straight Path’ “Quran 1:6” (2013). When considering our relationship with Quran and it’s implications on our very existence, the use of the heartbeat resonates with the knowledge that whilst we have life, we can ask for guidance and forgiveness until that very heartbeat is extinguished.
“He Likes Not Those Who Commit Excess” Surat Al-Araf:31
Wooden Installation (2012)
In this piece we are reminded of our increasing reliance on consumerist consumption, lives dominated by barcode access to items which we use to define our identity and project an idea of social status, hierarchy or worthiness. These elements of modern society encapsulated particularly well in the simplicity of this recreation of Quranic verse.
‘Nasser’s work seeks to apply traditional Islamic themes into modern and more relatable visual concepts, including the transformation of verses from the Quran into visual art pieces:
“I try to draw attention to the things that I find astonishing and awe-inspiring. These are usually things that people don’t notice, or pay attention to, so I try to bring them to life and to give them importance. Although you could say my work is very much inspired by my religion, I by no means have a specific audience, and hope that my messages have a spiritual or historical significance for everyone.”‘
You can view short clip by the V&A, of Al-Salem here