There is much that I love about the Bint Battuta Diaries, especially the talented and inspirational people that I have the honor to meet, learn from and collaborate with. It strikes me every time I go onto Bint Battuta Diaries how gorgeous it looks, alhamduli Allah and Raeda Ashour, the artist behind the beautiful art piece at the top of the home page where the gems fall is definitely one of those treasures.
Another is the close friend who chose the piece depicting Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa by Raeda Ashour for the site and provided all the creative work to visually pull the site together, making it easy to navigate - for me and for you, the reader! She asked me for photos of art that I have in my home and I sent her a few. I was so happy with her choice.
I got this piece as part of a trilogy of the 3 most important mosques for Muslims, Al-Kabah, Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi, and Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem at the Dubai art fair. One of my close friends loved the pieces but didn’t get them. I did get them and am so very grateful to her for pointing them out!
EVERY time I look at them is a moment of joy and connection for me. I wondered about the artist who did them and was very happy and proud to discover that it was a Saudi woman who held this strong talent and graceful stroke in her work. I love pieces that I can viscerally identify as being done by a female artist, in a subtle elegant way. They clue me in with their delicate lines and deeply feminine colors. In this case, pastels.
Fast forward 12 or more years since buying the artworks and having started the Bint Battuta Diaries Instagram, and I was delighted to find that Raeda Ashour was following my account! Did I say I am in love with Instagram as a platform to connect through and be informed about important work and events? Well, I am totally and completely. And what a gift it was that it brought me in contact with Raeda.
I sent her a direct message and asked if I could interview her. She graciously accepted and we spoke. I immediately got the soft, flowing, responsive spirit of Raeda in her tone and speech that comes through for me so beautifully in her work.
Raeda is Saudi, from Mecca. She grew up in Jeddah then went to complete her higher studies in Egypt and worked there for a few years. And, what a journey it has been for her creating this gorgeous, purposeful art.
She co-founded a publishing house, Dar Al-Bayader, with the ambition to highlight the Palestinian Israeli conflict and the rights of Palestinians to return and to self determination, as well as, support the love of reading in the Arab world. The house didn’t survive, but it left a legacy of precious books after 8 years in operation. Gems in their own right.
Well, Raeda’s dedication to being true to herself and the causes close to her heart led her to the next chapter in her inspiring story. She volunteered with the iconic publishing house Dar Al-Fata Al-Arabi where the amazing founders Nabil Shaath and Hasnaa Mikdashi taught her so much. It had an amazing vision for children’s books. She was enraptured by the gorgeous illustrations by greats like Ihab Shakir and Adli Rizqallah. She had me at Dar Al-Fata as I collected their books and remember how much I loved them in my childhood.
She started her own artwork by making a cover for a book on Al-Aqsa using a collage technique. Friends and very talented artists that knew her encouraged her to continue, reassuring her that she had all of the talent and potential required. As she put it, her head was in a different place, so their support was pivotal to her recognizing that her true calling was in art. Bless them for being her champions and mirror, allowing her to see herself and her talent!
She started with group exhibits in Egypt then in Jeddah and eventually started working in Hafez gallery. Raeda’s artistic technique evolved to using manual embossing and photo transfer while she did the design and gilding herself. Eventually, she studied Islamic arts at The Prince's Foundation School of Traditional Arts in London. After that she was able to create the patterns by herself appreciating the beauty both in the details and the process. She loved art so much that she felt immense joy at practicing it. Her expression of love reminded me of something I learned that I have come to see as a universal truth from a Merciful God. Joy is our compass, indicating that we are in the right place or doing the right thing for us.
This mission for her is taken from our heritage. Something that is hers and she loves it. She feels like she belongs to it. To have respect for ourselves is to evolve it and to respect our history. It doesn’t work that one comes up out of nothing. She spoke of how she would often go through the intellectual exercise of imagining where Islamic arts would be if they evolved through the knowledge and care of Arab and Muslim artists and craftsmen without having passed through the period of weakness for the area and its colonization. And maybe some works by artists that are passionate about Islamic and local art and its legacy will provide some answers to this question, but God knows best.
Raeda’s inspiration for her work initially came from her fascination with cities and their architectural elements. Then came her immersing herself and researching old texts and visuals nestled at the very core of Islamic history .. sigh.. I love Raeda’s world. To my delight she mentioned, as an example, the Dalael Al-Khairat prayer book that I know of and which has a special place in my heart both for content, but also for the illustration of Al-Kabah and Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi that are usually in the heart of it. And, she introduced me to a concept, to my delight, of the hajj certificate. She wanted to revive the tradition of having one made or gifting it to a person who had just performed hajj. Be still my heart. Yes, yes, yes!!
One thing after another that Raeda mentioned with a combination of sweet nostalgia and a spirited ethic resonated inside me so deeply. She spoke of family so lovingly with a lightness and an acceptance. Her husband is the son of Fawzi Al-Qawuqji, the commander of the Arab Liberation Army during the Palestine war of 1948. Her son is married to a lovely Turkish woman and she now lives in the same city as them in Istanbul and is loving it. They started a company that makes items such as notebooks or packaging based on Raeda’s art. I love those as gifts of meaning and beauty.
Not that it is a surprise but the poignant beauty that is in Raeda’s work is very much in her character. She reflected to me that she appreciated the way I highlight those who are not super famous and known. I so appreciated that comment as it raised my self awareness and gave me a different angle that made me appreciate the work that I do with this blog even more. Those unsung heroes deserve their stories to be told, to become timeless in their message of dedication to excellence, beautiful intentions and a call to a life of meaning and true everlasting joy.
DISCOVER Raeda Ashour online
Raeda specialized in miniatures, motifs and Islamic decorative units and adapting these in a modern interpretation that can be digested by contemporary tastes, the result of which are harmonious compositions and a melody of variance in surface treatment, some were embossed celebrated with beautiful soft colors that pleases the eye.
EXPLORE Hafez Gallery
Founded in 2014, 3rd floor at Bougainvillea in Jeddah. Hafez Gallery participates in engaging local, Middle Eastern and international artists to visually converse and explore Modern and Contemporary art. Hafez gallery serves as a space to nurture the discovery of a Saudi visual identity, and participate in the international art dialogue.
ENJOY Camel Prints
CamelPrints is an arts and lifestyle brand aiming to provide well-designed, well-crafted products that are inspired by the Islamic heritage. To achieve this, CamelPrints has created a platform on which artists and designers work together to reintroduce the world-renowned beauty of Islamic architecture and design in a new fashion. Their products will not only reflect the aesthetics of Islam, but also its essence and values through environmental and social responsibilities.
To Raeda Ashour for the contribution of images.