Meet Esra Alhamal: she is a Saudi artist, teacher as well as PhD candidate. Her area of research is biomorphic Islamic art, known for symmetrical and floral patterns that symbolise rhythm and balance.
We first met Esra at one of our pop-up events in London and fell in love with her beautiful Islamic paintings. In honour of International Women’s Day, we decided to sit down with Esra and learn more about her story.
Tell us about your journey. How did you come to London?
I came to London for my Master’s degree, MA Interior Architecture and now I am doing my PhD in Architecture researching Islamic patterns. Alongside that, I attended numerous art classes and developed a keen eye for traditional arts and the beautiful methods used to paint manuscripts and tiles in the Islamic lands.A painting in progress from Esra’s Turkish Flower Painting Workshop. Photo: @islamicillumination
Why did you decide to start teaching Islamic Illumination classes? What are some of the biggest rewards and challenges from teaching Islamic Art?
I have always loved teaching and I used to teach English as a second language while I was in university, so teaching another subject like arts was a natural transition. I taught Islamic Illumination for the first time over three years ago in a gallery that displayed Arab Arts and then I wanted to do it more regularly. My friend Samira Mian suggested that I get in touch with Cass Art and I have been doing it monthly ever since. It feels great guiding students through the pattern design and watching them paint and engage with the art on a personal level. Seeing my students improve and flourish as artists is a big reward. However, every path has challenges and sometimes it takes practice to keep the class new and exciting month after month.
As an artist, what does craftsmanship mean to you?
Art and craftsmanship were not separate things in traditional Islamic arts, they always went hand in hand together, informing each other and I still think they belong in the same category, providing equal value.
Who are your favourite artists in North Africa / Middle East?
It’s really hard to choose between them since there are so many wonderfully talented artists in MENA, but I enjoy the work of Manal Aldowayan, Hassan Hajjaj and El Seed to name a few.Pattern in progress. Photo: @islamicillumination
Three values that guide your day to day?
Benefiting others, consistency and positive thoughts.
Complete the sentence - ‘#ToKnowYourArtisan is to ….”
#ToKnowYourArtisan is to try it for yourself. To learn what it takes to produce a piece of art.
Any new upcoming projects you would like to share?
I am currently working on the Art Illuminated podcast and shedding the light on contemporary artists who work with traditional methods and artists from the MENA region. I am also working on two new paintings that will include an aspect of Arabic calligraphy and brush lettering.
At Artisan & Fox, we love speaking with talented artists and artisans who continue to inspire and preserve the cultural heritage of traditional arts in the contemporary world. It was such a pleasure to speak with Esra about Islamic art, craft, and art classes in London. Learn more about her work and classes here.Esra used 22ct gold, lapis lazuli, red jasper and black Indian ink for this beautiful print. Photo: @islamicillumination