Wherefore Art Thou?

Alice Nadeau, a junior at Grinnell College, is studying with AMIDEAST in Amman, Jordan for her spring 2012 semester. She recounts some of  her experiences in her traditional Islamic art class. This post was originally published on February 27, 2012.

I’m talking a course on traditional Islamic art, and it is one of the best classes I’ve ever taken (and my favorite in Jordan).  The course is taught at the Institute for Traditional Islamic Art and Architecture (ITIAA), which I visited with my program during orientation.  The instructors are incredible; they are extremely passionate about their art and want you to share in their passion with them.

The course is studio based so instead of learning about Islamic art, I get tocreate Islamic art.  After only five weeks, I’ve already learned a great deal and progressed so much.  The first half of the course focuses on geometry in Islamic art (yay math!); we have learned how to create patterns, outline them, and color them.  Some examples of my work:

Geometry that a pattern is built on

Fully colored design of the above geometry

Inspiration of the above coloring (Ixtapa, Mexico)

A "pathway" coloring


Another "pathway" coloring

Another "pathway" coloring

The second half of the course focuses on a specific craft of Islamic art.  We were able to choose from calligraphy, illumination, miniature painting, wood inlay, zillige, or gypsum carving.  Calligraphy, illumination, and miniature painting are taught at ITIAA in Amman, but wood, zillige, and gypsum are taught at ITIAA’s workshop in Salt.  Three students and I chose crafts taught at the workshop and this past week was our first time at the workshop learning the craft.

Besides a small misunderstanding on our way up to Salt1, the trip was amazing.  We are learning the crafts from Masters in the craft, and since I’m the only one learning zillige, I get one-on-one instruction.  My Master is extremely patient with me; it took me half an hour to sketch the outline of my project and when I made a slightly major mistake on the first real line I tried to make, she helped me start over from the beginning.  I’m so mabsoota (مبسوطة: extremely happy) for my future trips to the workshop.

Creating my first zillige mould


At ITIAA with the zillage instructor.


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