Viewing Emirati designer Jawaher Al Khayyal’s exhibition.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
1971 – Design Space, the multi-functional design space in Sharjah dedicated to the discussion of all forms of design, working under Sharjah Investment and Development Authority “Shurooq,” has opened an exhibition titled We are the Imprints, showcasing the work of Emirati designer Jawaher Al Khayyal (June 5 - Nov. 30).
The exhibition deals with the science of Physiognomy. We are the Imprints invites visitors to discover Physiognomy through a spatial experience. It represents the conclusion of a research initiative by Al Khayyal, based on a book titled Ilm Al-firasa ind Al Arab (The Science of Physiognomy among Arabs), dating back to the Medieval Islamic Period, authored by renowned Arabic philosopher and scholar, Fakhr Al Din Al Razi.
It discusses the Science of Physiognomy, which has become an almost neglected science in the modern world, perhaps due to its mystic and intuitive aspects, which may not fit contemporary rational and scientific frameworks. The exhibition addresses various aspects of this science as the designer has translated intangible concepts into modular designs. It is sure to motivate visitors to ask broader questions on Physiognomy. For example, is Physiognomy still relevant as a discipline today or is it simply a gift that a person is born with? Do studies of modern concepts of Physiognomy exist, and do they keeping pace with our times?
Physiognomy is the practice of assessing a person’s character or personality from his outer appearance — especially the face. The term can also refer to the general appearance of a person, object, or terrain without reference to its implied characteristics — as in the physiognomy of an individual plant or of a plant community. No clear evidence indicates physiognomy works; but the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning for facial recognition, has brought a revival of interest, and some studies that suggest that facial appearances do “contain a kernel of truth” about a person’s personality.
Physiognomy was developed by the Greeks, and perhaps also independently by other ancient people (for example, in India and China). There are fragments of it in Hippocratic writings too. Greek writings were soon translated into Arabic and they stimulated the production of new Arabic treatises. It is possible – indeed probable – that Arabs already had some traditions of their own on the subject; for every man dealing with men practices, consciously or not, some kind of physiognomy. That is, as he talks with them and aims to influence them, he tries to divine and appraise their character from their traits and behaviour. A shrewd observer will gradually accumulate pertinent co-relations and a “science” or “art” will be born as soon as those observations are put together and systemised. The new science or art (ilm or fann) was first called “qiyafa.” A qaif (plural qafa) is one who is able to deduct the interior of a thing from its exterior, and a physiognomist is just that, as far as men are concerned.
The later term “firasa” is more comprehensive, and it received its final extension from the great mystic teacher Ibn Arabi, who distinguished between the natural firasa and the divine one, granted to a few saints and seers who are thus enabled to see far beyond the appearances in time and space. Al Razi was a polymath, Islamic scholar and a pioneer of inductive logic. He wrote various works in the fields of medicine, chemistry, physics, astronomy, cosmology, literature, theology, ontology, philosophy, history and jurisprudence. He left a very rich corpus of philosophical and theological works that reveals influence from the works of Avicenna, Abu’l-Barakat al-Baghdadi and al-Ghazali.
He devoted himself to a wide range of studies and is said to have expended a large fortune on experiments in alchemy. He taught at Rey (Central Iran) and Ghazni (eastern Afghanistan), and became head of the university founded by Mohammed ibn Tukush at Herat (western Afghanistan). Al Khayyal is an Emirati interior designer. She is interested in introducing interactive experiences to urban environments, drawing her inspiration from history, travel and natural surroundings. She earned her Masters in design for luxury and craftsmanship from ECAL in Switzerland, with certificates in lighting design from Chelsea College of Arts, furniture design from Central Saint Martins and business in interior design.
She has worked in collaboration with Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, The Youth Office, Dubai Design District, The Cultural Office and Maison Piaget. “Most of my work tends to be inspired primarily by our Emirati culture and heritage and how to capture its essence and deliver it in a contemporary way,” she says. “While my academic concentration was particularly in interior design, I am consistently exploring various design fields. I am mostly interested in creating purposeful spaces.” 1971 — Design Space is a multi-functional design zone dedicated to the display and discussion of all forms of contemporary design, ranging from graphic, furniture to interior, interactive design, and new technologies.
With a variety of curated exhibitions and public programmes, it aims to become a regional and international design hub in the UAE, working in close proximity with local designers, architects, schools and universities. Design Space also serves as an informal meeting point, and includes a fully serviced cafe for the public.
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